Anyone visiting the United Kingdom probably works off a list of things to do that usually starts with experiencing the amazing British capital. London’s airports are common gateways to the United States and other countries. London is one of my favorite cities in the world, one that I’ve been blessed to visit many times thanks to Stacey’s mother being British. Here are some of the top things to do in London, which is a mix of my personal favorites along with some thoughts on the typical “top things to do in London” lists that everyone else writes, too.
I’ve been to London a few times over the years and I have several favorite things to do, some of which are typical tourist stops and others that aren’t so much. I also have a few top things to do in London that are actually activities I haven’t yet experienced but hope to do one of these days.
In no particular order, here are my top things to do in London.
Attend a Premier League game
One of the top sporting experiences of my sports-obsessed life is also one of my top things to do in London. In my early days of becoming a Barclays Premier League fan, I discovered Stacey’s aunt, uncle and cousin are Tottenham Hotspur fans. I began watching Spurs after that visit in 2005 and haven’t stopped since. When we took Colby to England for his first visit in 2012, he and I went to a Spurs game at White Hart Lane. It was a thrilling experience, made all the better by watching Spurs win and finish fourth that season. Tickets aren’t easy to come by, but if you can get them, I highly recommend attending a football game, whether it’s Premier League, Championship or even a lower division club. Just go online and learn a song or two first. “Oh when the Spurs, go marching in…”
Walk the Queen’s Walk
Look, walking the Queen’s Walk along the River Thames must be one of my favorite London experiences. I have no choice. It was May 19, 1998, that I bent down on one knee along the Queen’s Walk just across from House of Parliament and Big Ben and proposed. Before that trip I read a story in Runners World magazine about running in London. It mentioned running the Queen’s Walk and I knew it was a spot to consider when it was time to propose. The walk stretches for miles along the Thames and it provides some of the best views in the city, making this one of the top things to do in London.
Sit in a pub
I’m a sucker for a good British pub. You want to know what makes a good British pub? It’s in the United Kingdom. I love tiny village pubs, sleek after-work suit-and-tie pubs, ones in the Scotland Highlands and ones in the beautiful countryside. If it’s a pub serving a proper pint of English ale (or Scottish ale in Edinburgh) I love it. On our most recent visit to London we spent a day exploring the Brick Lane area. We stopped in no fewer than three pubs that afternoon. On that trip I visited no less than 15 pubs. I probably had a 5-year-old boy for 10 of those visits. Pubs are family friendly. It’s a great spot for a good meal, a great pint and pure British experience. Sitting in a pub to enjoy a pint or three most definitely belongs on my list of the top things to do in London.
Get a curry
You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re in London, Norwich, York, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow or a hundred other cities and villages across the U.K. Just get a curry. I wish I would’ve been a young professional in one of the cities in the Midlands, going out clubbing on a Friday night and coming home to order a midnight curry. There are fantastic Indian restaurants everywhere. Whether you sit down at a curry shop on London’s Brick Lane or just order take out or delivery sitting around your rented flat at 11 p.m., it will be one of your favorite things to do in London or anywhere in Great Britain.
Visit Notting Hill
Yes, the movie probably makes it a little more famous. But the Notting Hill neighborhood is pretty fun. The houses are beautiful, and the market is a lot of fun. We spent about an hour of a Saturday roaming the street. It was pretty packed, which isn’t a great thing. But markets are part of the lifeblood of England, and Notting Hill is a fun one.
Get a Cornish Pasty
This might be the equivalent of getting fast food in the U.S. You know what? I don’t care. The West Cornwall Pasty Co. sells these amazing little meat pies that hit the spot like you wouldn’t believe. I actually have only had these as street food in Norwich. But because most travelers are likely to only visit London, I highly encourage you to stop by one of these little stands and get a hot pasty to enjoy, particularly if it’s a chilly day. There are a few in London, including one near Tower Bridge.
Mind the Gap
I include this in part because I read that the man who voiced the iconic “Mind the Gap” warning on the London Underground has died. His voice warning you to “Mind the Gap” as the doors of a London Tube train close or open is one of the great memories from my many London visits. The London Underground is a really efficient mode of transportation. If you visit London without riding the Tube, well, you’re just not experiencing the city right. Yes, riding the London Underground is one of my favorite things to do in London.
And “the list” I agree on:
OK, so those are some of my favorite things to do in London. But what about my favorite things to do in London that are on the typical to-do lists? I haven’t experienced all of the main London attractions, but I’ve seen enough to feel good about this list.
Walk Tower Bridge
The London Tower Bridge is iconic, and if you find yourself near it I definitely recommend walking across if for no other reason than to get pictures from both sides of the bridge. I haven’t done an official tour of the Tower Bridge that gives access to more than just the public spaces. It might be awesome, but it’s not necessary in my book. Just take a few minutes and walk the Tower Bridge for one of my favorite things to do in London that the guidebooks agree with me.
See a Show
Shows on London’s West End are as good if not better than New York’s Broadway, and that’s saying something. I once saw Brooke Shields perform in “Chicago” on the West End. It was a really cool experience. Seeing a show isn’t exactly a London experience; it’s pretty similar to what you can find on Broadway. But it’s still a cool experience.
Visit a museum
So many museums in London are free. Some favorites include the Tate Gallery, Tate Modern and the National Gallery. I’m sure others such as the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum are fantastic. I just haven’t visited them. I do love that these museums are free. Did I mention they’re free? Yes, well, you should take advantage of free attractions, especially when they exhibit some of the world’s great art and artifacts.
I haven’t visited Westminster Abbey since I was a college senior in 1998. A lot of time has passed since then. I remember thinking it was really cool. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066. The throne is there, as are the final resting spots of many famous Brits.
Walk St. James Park
St. James Park is just east of Buckingham Palace. It’s a beautiful spot, one that I found almost good enough to be my proposal location. There’s a really pretty bridge that goes over a little lake there where there a lot of swans swimming around.
Covent Garden is a tourist hot spot, but one I have to recommend. There are a lot of shops, restaurants, pubs and markets there. It’s worth a couple hours of your time.
I could recommend the Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace, but other than just saying you’ve seen it or taking the kids to experience it, I really can’t recommend it. I can take it or leave it.
I also should maybe recommend the London Eye. Colby loved it. I loved watching him love it. But I didn’t need it. Yes, it’s a cool view of London, but I’d rather experience the neighborhoods of London than seeing it from up high.
Visiting the London Tower was high on my list on previous trips and we finally made it happen on our last visit. It was good to see, but possibly a little underwhelming. Yes, we saw the Crown Jewels. I’m glad we saw it, but maybe because we toured with a 5-year-old on our first day on jet lag, it just didn’t meet my expectations.
There are still several experiences in London I look forward to having.
Tour the Churchill Rooms
I’ve enjoyed reading about World War II since I was a kid. The Churchill Rooms is the underground bunker where the British government continued to rule during the war.
Tour St. Paul’s Cathedral
I’ve seen the outside of St. Paul’s but haven’t had the opportunity to tour. Simply put, I want to visit.