London, the capital of the UK, is a city packed with things to see and do. With 2000 years of history on show and a vibrant cultural scene, you won’t find yourself getting bored quickly. Whether you are one of the nearly 9 million Londoners or visiting for a vacation, here are 101 things to add to your London bucket list.
London’s Big Hitters – 1 to 12
1. Spot London Bridge…from Tower Bridge
The number one mistake made by pretty much everyone (including Google Image Search) is thinking that the bridge with the towers and split in the middle is London Bridge. It isn’t; this is Tower Bridge. London Bridge is actually incredibly dull, a flat, grey, concrete road bridge with no fancy frills whatsoever.
Tower Bridge is a pretty addition to London’s skyline and of course, you can just go and see, or walk across it. However, the Tower Bridge Exhibition built inside it is very cool. You get to wobble along the glass-floored walkways across the top and see the mechanism that raises the two halves to allow tall ships through.
Entrance: Free to walk across. The exhibition costs £10.60 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
2. Join the Crowd in Trafalgar Square
Look up to the top of the 51.6m tall column and you can spot the figure of Admiral Lord Nelson, the commander at the Battle of Trafalgar. At the base is the four bronze lions that every drunk stag do in London has attempted to mount.
The fourth plinth is the short tower in the northwest of the square. The sculptures from different artists changes on average every year or two.
The two fountains in the square were first installed to counteract the heat emanating from the paving stones. They also broke up the swathe of space preventing large gatherings of people….that didn’t really work. Trafalgar Square is at London’s centre and the seats of power (Buckingham Palace and Downing Street). It is a natural place for protests. Plus, most of London’s big celebrations are centred here. Pride, West End Live, Diwali, New Year’s Eve, Russian New Year and Chinese New Year all have stages erected in the square. A huge Christmas tree is donated by Norway every year since 1947 and displayed here for 24 days.
Around the square, you will see the National Gallery. The church of St Martin-in-the-Fields (grab a coffee in the crypt cafe downstairs), Canada House and South Africa House.
3. Knock on 10 Downing Street
Whitehall runs from Parliament Square (where it is called Parliament Street) to Trafalgar Square. The street is lined for most of its length by government offices, imposing and grand in cream stone.
Black gates bar the entrance to Downing Street. Number 10 has been the house of the First Lord of the Treasury (nowadays the Prime Minister) and their family since 1732. In the 1990s, The original black door was hit by an IRA bomb strike and the one you see is a steel replica. If you go to the Churchill War Rooms, you will see the original. Tony Blair had to move into number 11 as the family didn’t fit. You are unlikely to see any politicians but keep your eyes peeled for Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (this pretty cat’s official title),
4. Ascend to the Top of The Shard
London’s tallest skyscraper is a striking slice of glass shooting into the sky. It is 72 stories tall and dominates the skyline, standing amidst London Bridge, not known for tall buildings. It opened in 2013 and has become an extremely popular tourist attraction as well as housing office space, a luxury hotel and several bars and restaurants.
Most people head to The View from The Shard, the viewing platform up on floors 68, 69 and the outside deck at 72. Usually, we suggest visiting a bar or cafe in tall buildings, but the highest restaurant here is down on the 35th floor. If you have your heart set on getting a proper birds-eye view, the viewing area is your best bet.
Entrance: Starts at £25, with an extra £8 to visit the open-air deck.
5. Meet Beefeaters and Ravens at the Tower of London
To get a true sense of London’s layers of history, head to the Tower of London. The fortress started as the sways regiment tower that now sits at the centre, renamed the White Tower. Over time, royals moved in and out, extended and set up their business enterprises. Money was minted here, Crown Jewels were (and still are) stored here. Armour was stored here, as were a fair few royal prisoners including Ann Boylen and the young nephews of Richard III. There was even a zoo here for over 600 years.
Most of this has since been moved to other locations but there are few characters left. The guards dressed in cheerful red uniforms are the Yeoman of the Guards or Beefeaters. They were personal guards of the royals but became associated exclusively with the Tower. Their constant companions are the ravens of the Tower. These mascots are living legends. If they fly away, “The Crown will collapse, and England with it” unsurprisingly, they have them kept in an aviary, so they don’t get lost.
6. Lounge in Leicester Square
Ask most Londoners and they will probably roll their eyes when Leicester Square is mentioned. It feels oddly like you could be anywhere in the world. Someone busks with a large speaker as people pass in front of the M&M store. It is interesting to walk through as it does have a fun history and after a large renovation, it is now a nice place to sit and picnic. I wouldn’t eat at the restaurants lining the square, they are almost exclusively overpriced and under seasoned.
100 years ago, Leicester Square was the centre of London’s entertainment district. Theatres that had housed ballet and nearby music halls gave it an air of class. The theatres were converted into large cinemas in the 1930s. The huge Odeon on the east side hosts many of London film premières and can seat over 1600 people. Sadly scale doesn’t result in cheaper tickets and showings can cost upwards of £20 each…and that’s before you’ve bought popcorn.
7. Wave at Royalty at Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace was originally a large townhouse, when it was built in 1703 but, it was purchased 60 years later by the monarchy. It was extended and three new sides of the square palace were constructed in a hurry ready for Queen Victoria to take up residence in 1837.
Buckingham Palace opens to the public for two months every summer. If you are due to be in London at this time, book your tickets way in advance and ensure you are on time for your slot. Tours take you through several staterooms but sadly, you won’t be poking around the late Queen Elizabeth II bedroom. If you visit outside of visiting season, you can check out the gift shop on the corner of Buckingham Gate and Palace Street (not the most original names).
Most guides recommend you go and see the Changing of the Guards but it looks like such a scrum that we have never bothered in 13 years of living here. If you do choose to do it, go early and maintain your spot fiercely. You can see the timings for the Changing of the Guards here.
(To be honest, she prefers Windsor Castle but you never know!)
8. Pose in Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is often cited as London’s Times Square but that is rather overselling it. There is a large advertising screen and often some fun dancers or musicians busking. Increasingly tacky attractions and dining establishments pop up. It seems less and less like London but the Shaftsbury Memorial Fountain is rather nice. (No, it isn’t actually Eros as many people refer to it but Anteros).
Plan to pass through en route other things on your London bucket list but make sure you get that iconic photo.
9. Get Political at The Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster, or Houses of Parliament, is the seat of the British government. Inside, the House of Commons and House of Lords sit debating the matters of the day. If you have ever seen Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday lunchtime, this is where it takes place.
The original building was built back in 1016 but getting rather decrepit and finally burned down in 1881. The current structure was rebuilt over 30 years in the Victorian Gothic style. It is possible to visit the Houses of Parliament on a guided tour but if you fancy saving some money, you can queue and attend a debate for free. You can also request a free tour through your Member of Parliament (MP) if you are a UK citizen but it may not be top of their list of things to do.
Entrance: Tours start at £19. Debates and PMQs are free.
10. Big Ben and Elizabeth Tower
The clock tower commonly referred to as Big Ben is actually called Elizabeth Tower. It is actually the huge bell inside that has the moniker, Big Ben. The clock chimes every 15 minutes, bonging out the hours, on the hour, in its deep E note. There are actually four bells in the tower including Big Ben. Each is struck by a hammer, playing its famous tune the Westminster Quarters.
Remember that Big Ben is currently undergoing renovations and is sure to be under some level of scaffolding until at least 2022. Happily, the clock face is back on show as of September 2020. Soon, tours will resume.
For a great angle, take the footpath under Westminster Bridge on the south side of the river and grab a seat on the raised benches here. It is much less busy than the direction towards the London Eye.
11. Take in the View at Sky Garden
For a cheaper (free) alternative to the expensive View at the Shard, take a lift up to the 43rd floor of the Walkie Talkie skyscraper in Fenchurch Street. The Sky Garden viewing floor here is a large open garden spread over three floors and with 360° views across London. It also has an outside balcony. Tickets must be booked in advance but at 0.00p it is worth the hassle.
To read more about Sky Garden and its nearby neighbour Garden at 120 Fenchurch Street, check out our full blog review.
12. Hop into a Pod at the London Eye
The London Eye was opened to celebrate the new millennium in 2000. It became an instant classic and is on every London skyline silhouette. It is not technically a Ferris wheel as it is cantilevered on one side. Look out for the giant white poles that support it and if the pod starts to wobble, check them to make they are still there! The wheel with its 32 pods (one for each London Borough) slowly rotates, taking excited visitors up to 135m above the River Thames. The ride takes around 30 minutes and gives a lovely view of London as there isn’t a lot around it. Tablets within the pod point out local landmarks so you can give yourself and your party a guided tour.
On average there are around 420 marriage proposals a year on the London Eye, so if you see any couples with one nervous half, wish them good luck.
Entrance: From £34.50 for adults with discounts for children and concessions. Private pods cost from £185 so if you are one of those proposals, you can have it all to yourselves…just remember there are cameras.
London’s Big Museums – 13 to 22
13. Dig Into the Ancient World at the British Museum
The UK’s most important museum tracking the history of human civilisation. There are exhibits in The British Museum from across the globe. From real Egyptian mummies to a large collection of carved Chinese jade, and even some rather naughty Greek pottery, you can dip and out of the museum for years. There is a big movement to take some of the artefacts kept here back to their original homes (the Elgin Marbles for example) so if there something you really want to see, go sooner rather than later.
14. Learn All About London at the London Museum
If you are wondering how London grew from a small village to a large Roman settlement and into one of the world’s most important cities, then the Museum of London should be your first stop. It traces the whole of London’s backstory with some great articles like plague registers and whole Lord Mayor coaches! It is excellent for families, with really fun worksheets. Perfect for any Horrible Histories fans out there.
15. Discover Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is housed in an astonishing Victorian gothic revival building that looks more like a cathedral than a museum. There are some very famous spots. The dinosaurs, mini beast, earthquake and bodies galleries seem to get the most attention. However, make sure you head upstairs and get lost for an hour or two. These areas can seem entirely deserted sometimes, but the displays of bugs, rocks and plants here are such a labour of love. There are around 80 million exhibits and most are tucked away up here.
16. See European Masters at the National Gallery
The National Gallery is the quintessential art gallery. Long rooms, with slightly creaky floorboards and a huge array of stunning paintings. There are plenty of works from the big hitters like Monet, Cezanne, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. We have always been partial to the life-sized painting Whistlejacket, a rearing racehorse painted in the 1700s and in superb condition.
17. Take a Moment at the Imperial War Museum
A trip to the Imperial War Museum is a strange blend of heartbreaking and fascinating. The Holocaust exhibition leaves you breathless. Climbing through pretend World War I trenches is quite fun and very interesting. No, this war museum isn’t all pomp and circumstance but a thoughtful look at how war affects the people involved. If you are having a tough time with it, head down to the basement where there is an intriguing look at the UK’s cold war strategy.
18. Explore & Indulge in Art & Design at the V&A
The V&A (Victoria & Albert) Museum is all about the beautiful things in life. From ancient carvings to fashion through the ages, there is plenty to wander around. They also host some amazing temporary exhibitions including famous costumes of Hollywood, furniture design, Kylie Minogue’s costumes, and surrealism in the home. If you have some time, grab a drink and slice of cake in the reasonably priced cafe. The tiling is gorgeous and then you can take a seat on the grass outside.
Entrance: Free but temporary exhibitions cost extra.
19. Delve Into World War History in Churchill War Rooms
Under the streets of Whitehall, a series of secret tunnels were constructed in 1938 and used during World War II for the business of government. Visitors to Churchill War Rooms are able to explore the War Cabinet Rooms with their mix of functionality and little homey touches. It is heaven for those who love vintage. There is also an exhibition all about Winston Churchill, Prime Minister throughout the war. The museum’s links to the Imperial War Museum mean it is an excellent and informative spot but sadly, as it is a private museum there is a steep entrance fee.
Entrance: £27.60 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
20. Hop On Board at the Transport Museum
Some of London’s biggest brand images are their modes of transport. The Roundel; the logo of London Underground is recognised across the world and what would London be without its red double-decker buses? Well, did you know that they used to be trolleybuses pulled by horses? Even if you don’t think you are interested in tram design, you will have a whole lot of fun at the Transport for London Museum. Even if you aren’t going around the museum, pop into the shop which has public access from Covent Garden for all kinds of branded goodies from books to furniture.
Entrance: £18.50 with discounts for children and concessions.
21. Play and Learn at the Science Museum
Many a child has fond memories of playing in the Science Museum’s hands-on section “Launchpad” which has now been changed into new galleries. As we age, we appreciate the magic of the large engineering hall, space exploration and even the lift mechanisms. It is strange to think that I found such joy in scanning my own supermarket items in the Food Technology section and now we all do it at self-checkouts all the time!These days the best interactive opportunities come with the Wonderlab experiences. Help create lightning, explore the nature of matter in the Chemistry Bar and try out friction by taking to the specially designed slides. If you are a budding science whizz, paying the extra is worth it.
Entrance: Free. Wonderlab costs from £8 for the day & £13 a year.
22. Get Terribly Tudor at Hampton Court Palace
In a city full of palaces, how do you pick which ones to visit? Well, Hampton Court Palace is unusual as it celebrates the lives of those “below stairs” as well as the Royalty who lived within its grand banqueting halls and lavish bedrooms. Hampton Court Palace was the favourite home of Henry VIII so if you know your Tudor history, it will really bring it to life.
The gardens are beautiful, with several different styles, a maze to explore and even the Royal Tennis Courts, where players still enjoy a games as part of the “Real Tennis Club”.
Entrance: £25.30 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
London’s Little Museums – 23 to 31
23. Feel at Home at the Geffrye Museum
The Geffrye Museum of The Home is all about regular people and how they live. As you pass through the rooms, you move through time, observing how our living spaces have evolved. Marvel at the inventions designed to help us cook, clean and enjoy ourselves. Remember when all furniture was pointed at the fireplace? Now we all have radiators and our sofa is aimed at the telly! It really makes you look at the world around us in a new way and reexamine those things in our houses we take for granted.
24. Give Way to Nostalgia at the V&A Museum of Childhood
Who doesn’t love looking back at things they remember from their childhoods? Well, you could bring the whole family here, including your great, great grandma and you would all find something to reminisce over. The V&A Museum of Childhood is getting an overhaul to make it a creative and interactive space for children. (It was uniquely frustrating to see so many toys but have them all stuck behind glass).
25. Gross Yourself Out at the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Tucked in the shadow of The Shard is a small slice (no pun intended) of surgical history. The Old Operating Theatre occupies the top floor of the St Thomas’ church, linked to the 18th-century hospital. This tiny museum is packed with historical medical paraphernalia and one of the oldest operating theatres in the country. Students would gather in the stands that surround the operating table, and visitors retrace their steps. Hopefully, they aren’t running in a mob from nearby lectures as they did in the height of its use. If you have a good imagination, we hope you aren’t squeamish!
Entrance: £7.50 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
26. Feel All A-Flutter at the Fan Museum
Did you know that fans were at one time a means of communication, pieces of art and their own little source of information? The small Fan Museum houses a strangely absorbing collection of fans dating back centuries. You will discover that there is SO much more to these than shifting air around.
The Orangery does a gorgeous little afternoon tea on Tuesdays and Sundays for less than £10 a head! Sitting in the Georgian surroundings, it is just perfect.
Entrance: £5 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
27. Enjoy the Eclectic Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum’s founder Frederick John Horniman was the epitome of a gentleman explorer. His inherited fortune allowed him to travel the world, collecting a huge variety of curiosities. From natural history specimens to important objects from cultures worldwide like musical instruments, the museum has a charmingly eclectic personality. There is a small aquarium to wander around and huge taxidermy walrus to gaze at. Even the building and gardens are beautiful, so it is well worth the train ride to Forest Hill.
28. Get Your Hands on some Gold at the Bank of England Museum
The Bank of England with its impressive frontage and huge windowless walls doesn’t seem like it wants visitors, but they actually have a cool little museum. It traces the history of the bank, how they literally print money and how fraud has forced them to up their game time and time again. Visitors can pop their hands into a special perspex box and grab hold of a gold bar worth around £30,000. It feels pretty good but trust us, you won’t be able to pocket it.
The museum is only open during banking hours (not bank holidays or weekends).
29. Get to Know a Literary Hero at Charles Dickens Museum
Charles Dickens is truly intertwined with London in the imaginations of many people visiting the city. Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Little Dorit are all based here. In fact, Oliver Twist was written to promote the plight of the poor in the city. Luckily for fans of the author, his house at 48 Doughty Street, near Russell Square has been preserved as a museum where you will learn about the man himself and his family. There are also exhibitions about Victorian London and its customs, art and how it changed over time.
Entrance: £9.50 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
30. Cure Your Ills at Wellcome Collection
Art meets science at the Wellcome Collection. This is actually the medicine branch of the Science Museum, but it often hosts very conceptual exhibitions that change frequently. The cafe is a nice place to sit and regroup during a long day of sightseeing.
On the next floor up, afternoon teas are offered for the bargain price of £11 each. If you come on the weekend, they cost a little more but are focussed on innovative tastes and textures.
31. All Aboard the HMS Belfast
Another private outpost of the Imperial War Museum, this genuine warship floats on the River Thames by Tower Bridge. It can be explored from top to bottom and is in excellent condition. Learn about life at sea in times of peace and at war. There are some great interviews with chaps who really served on the HMS Belfast with the Royal Navy, reminding us that it was their home as well as their place of work.
Check their website for special events. They often run vintage dances and other awesome activities.
Entrance: £18 for adults with discounts for children and concessions.
Architecture Moments – 32 to 39
32. Crick Your Neck at Canary Wharf
Unless you’re a financial trader or business mogul, there isn’t much you can get involved with at Canary Wharf. One Canada Square, lined with banks is absolutely worth a wander through. Huge, shiny skyscrapers rise above the perfectly manicured gardens and canals.
Combining the two is the Canary Wharf Crossrail Roof Gardens. They often hold events here like workshops and performances. The greenery here is a nod to the Docklands past as the port for London. Plants come from the trading posts of the former British empire.@zoltangabor at DepositPhotos.com
One rather geeky thing we enjoy is taking the DLR light railway. As it is driverless, you can sit right at the front and enjoy the view…whilst you pretend to drive.
33. Discover the Old Naval College
Set against a stunningly green lawn, the cream front of the Old Naval College is clearly the mark of rich history. The British once had the most powerful navy in the world and these buildings were constructed as a hospital for the sailors. In 1870, it was converted into a training college for the Royal Navy.
Apart from its Baroque exterior, the highlight is the gorgeous Painted Hall. The ceiling is an explosion of colour. It was painted by Sir James Thornhill over 19 years in the Italian Baroque style. It’s our own mini Vatican ceiling.
34. Sit and Reflect at One New Change
This is a bit of a two for one. One New Change is a modern glass shopping centre. It has a rather lovely rooftop with a bar and restaurant called Madisons but you don’t have to buy anything. They also throw several events throughout the year like free yoga sessions. Open from 6 am to midnight, you will not have to worry about arriving at the wrong time if you’re out and about sightseeing.
Downstairs is a killer location for an Instagram photo of St Paul’s Cathedral. The glass of the shops reflects the dome giving a striking image. When it is raining, it is grey but you get a few extra reflections.
35. March Through Marble Arch
A white marble triumphal arch stands in the giant roundabout at the western end of Oxford Street. The arch was designed by John Nash, the architect of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, some of Buckingham Palace, Regents (both Canal and Street) and plenty of other London landmarks. Originally it was planned to be a ceremonial entrance to Buckingham Palace in the area the giant balcony is now. It was relocated here in 1851.
36. Kings Cross & St Pancras Stations
Fifteen years ago, the area around Kings Cross was pretty gritty but with millions of pounds of investment and two gorgeous station renovations, it is now a thriving spot. Across the road from each other are St Pancras and King Cross but they couldn’t look more different.
The facade of St Pancras is a bright red brick delight designed by William Henry Barlow. It is a beautiful example of Victorian gothic architecture. Inside you will find a shiny, modern shopping concourse with a few fabulous statues, Europe’s longest champagne bar (Searcy’s) and the less than stellar Eurostar station.
Kings Cross was completely overhauled a little more recently. The outside was spruced up a little but the inside is where the action really is. The intriguing ceiling is reminiscent of the British Museum. Heading up you will find the brilliant pub The Parcel Yard which used to be the post room and retains lots of its original features. Downstairs, join the line of people taking turns to take their photos with the Harry Potter Platform 9 3/4 trolley.
37. Load Up on Tasty Treats at Leadenhall Market
There has been a market at the Leadenhall Market location since the 14th century but the reason we are here is the Victorian structure that soars above the cobbled street. It was built in 1881 and great care is taken to maintain it. Painted in red, green and cream with plenty of light streaming in from the frosted windows, it makes for a very striking photo and a wonderful place to buy some amazing produce.
38. Get Brutal at Barbican
The 1960s was not a particularly lovely time for architecture in London. Concrete monstrosities replaced a fair few gorgeous older building when bulldozed. Weirdly, the area of Barbican seems to be both horrific and kind of cool. The great experiment of huge concrete blocks, connected by raised pedestrian walkways very nearly worked. Most of the shops are now shut but the flats in the brutalist blocks are worth a small fortune.
Wander the area and end at the Barbican Centre, itself a brick and concrete mess. The conservatory garden is rather charming with a bar.
39. Navigate the Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Greenwich foot tunnel was built in 1902, crossing below the River Thames. It allowed workers to cross the river safely and get to their jobs at the Docks, but now principally takes tourists from the Cutty Sark to Island Gardens park. Visitors can enjoy the ride in the large lift operated by an attendant or take the stairs that wrap around it. The 370m long tunnel takes around ten minutes to walk through.
Places of Worship – 40 to 43
40. Climb the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is a true icon of London. The dome was the tallest building in the city for 253 years, only overtaken in 1963! Miraculously it survived the bombing in WWI & II intact, becoming a symbol of strength for the decimated east end of the city. It is especially impressive as this is actually the 4th iteration of a church on this spot. The first church to St Paul was constructed here in 604AD.
If you come with a friend, head to opposite sides of the whispering gallery and see if you can hear each other’s secrets as you whisper them across the space. Prepare for sore legs, to reach the Golden Gallery viewing gallery, you need to tackle over 500 steps.
Entrance: £17 for adults with discounts for concessions and children. Free entry for disabled visitors and carers. Attending a service is free.
41. Wat Buddahapadipa
Wimbledon in South London is home to the UK’s first Thai Buddhist temple. When the sky is blue it is almost impossible to believe you are in London at all. The bright red roof with its gorgeous gold details contrasts nicely with its whitewashed walls. All visitors are welcome and the temple runs free meditation sessions and talks. The gardens surrounding the temple are perfectly kept and a haven of relaxation.
Entrance: Free but a donation is encouraged.
42. Wonderful Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is not just the church you have seen in many a Royal wedding. There is a world of ancient history behind this and it actually takes a couple of hours to visit.
The church started life as a Benedictine monastery in 960AD. There were other buildings here prior to the main church’s construction which started in 1245. The church continued as a Catholic space until it was dissolved by Henry VII in 1555. It spent 5 years as an Anglican cathedral but since 1560, it hasn’t been an abbey or a cathedral but “a Royal Peculiar”. Westminister Abbey upholds its position as an important church for the Royal family. It has longevity as a royal spot as every coronation has been held here since 1066!
As you tour the Abbey, you see the different phases of building and rebuilding it has gone through. The last place visitors enter is the main church itself, it is a fun and slightly macabre pastime to spot the famous names buried here, marked by plaques on the walls and floor.
Entrance: £18 for adults with discounts for concessions and children. Attending a service is free.
43. Bow at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is informally known as Neasdon Temple. It is was built in the early 1980s to serve the growing Hindu community in north-west London. It was built of a whopping 3000 tonnes of limestone and 2000 tonnes of marble, using exclusively traditional techniques. The intricate carvings were created by artisans in India and then shipped to this quiet corner of London. The outside glows cream but inside, bright colours pop and shine.
London’s Foodie Treats – 44 to 50
44. Eat Your Way Around the World – Soho
You could happily spend a year eating out every day in Soho. There are restaurants showcasing tastes from all over the globe. Instead of listing my favourites here, check out this blog post all about Soho’s food scene.
45. Feel Fancy at Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is not an everyday occurrence. In fact, we tend to go for an afternoon as a special treat but it definitely emerged as a tradition in England in the 1800s. It usually consists of plenty of tea and three plates, one with finger sandwiches, one with scones (with jam and cream) and one with little cakes and desserts. Don’t be fooled by the itty bitty baked goods, you will probably be stuffed by the end of the “tea”. Don’t book a fancy dinner for the same evening!
We have recommended a few cheap afternoon teas throughout this London bucket list but if you want something a little more high end, check out this list of the best teas on offer.
46. Find a Decent Fish and Chips – Poppies
Don’t fall into the trap of trying expensive and poor fish and chips at a pub. Anywhere that says “Traditional Fish and Chips” can be avoided. In central London, the most reliable spot to try this British classic without breaking the bank is Poppie’s. They even do the classic chippy sides of mushy peas and curry sauce.
47. Taste the Rainbow (Bagel) – Beigel Shop
The Beigel Shop has been serving up chewy, delicious bagels to the residents of Brick Lane since 1855. They specialise in salt beef topped with mustard and bottomed with pickles. You can opt for the rainbow bagel for a touch of fun. The best thing about this spot is that it is open late. Oh, and if the queue is huge, the Beigal Bake a few doors up is equally as fantastic.
48. Try the Cuisines of Asia in Chinatown
Chinatown in London has cuisine from all over Asia and much of it is fantastic.
- For lunch, dim sum at Dumplings Legend is an absolute must. Service is indifferent but the dumplings are fresh and perfectly plump.
- Misato does huge portions of cheap but tasty Japanese food. There is often a queue but it’s a testament to the quality.
- Four Seasons does the best Cantonese roast meat (look for the ducks in the window).
- Finally, Rasa Sayang is the spot for excellent Malaysian and Indonesian food, much of which is based around super yummy street food.
49. Instagram Your Way Around Notting Hill’s Cafes
Notting Hill is full of some seriously image-conscious cafes. luckily, the food and drinks live up to the look. Here are a few top picks.
- The Notting Hill location of Biscuiteers is utterly adorable and its monochrome facade looks fabulous in a photo. You can come here just to buy adorably iced biscuits, or join in with one of their icing lessons.
- Granger and Co is a top brunch spot in Notting Hill. The Aussie dishes spring from the brain of the celebrity chef, Bill Granger. There are wonderful options if you are a savoury person or have a sweet tooth. Try the ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter and get a bowl of grains and fruit or a brightly coloured smoothie on the side for a gorgeous shot.
- Farm Girl focuses on whole foods and interesting flavour combinations. The Seoul Eggs is a traditional mix of scrambled eggs, veggies and Korean kimchee spice. Plus, turmeric, charcoal or butterfly coloured lattes are very photogenic. (Sit outside for the best lighting)
50. Lose Yourself in Camden’s Markets
Camden is utterly stuffed with food. There is going to be something for everyone.
- Oli Baba’s does deep-fried halloumi fries which are a delight, and they should be; they claim to be the first guys to create them! They top them with all sorts of interesting toppings.
- The Cheese Bar does just what it says on the…packet. Cheese is the star here with interesting cheeseburgers, toasties and plenty of fun drinks to wash them down with.
- If cheese isn’t your thing, Lords of Poke serves up fresh fish and tonnes of tasty veggies all topped with a tangy sauce.
London’s Brilliant Beverages – 51 to 56
51. Slurp Coffee at the Urinals – Attendant Fitzrovia
Writing about all the cool cafes would create a whole new London bucket list, but this one is really worth mentioning. A gentleman’s loo, dating back to 1890, in Fitzrovia has been renovated and given a new lease of life as Attendant Coffee Roasters. A line of urinals gleam and the original Victorian tiling is always spotless. It is not all about novelty though as the coffee is genuinely fantastic and they use rather fancy loose leaf tea.
52. Try Some Real Cider – The Harp
Everyone grabs a beer in England but don’t leave London without trying proper cider. Fermenting apples into delicious booze has been part of British life for over 1000 years and they have really perfected it. Don’t bother with the bottled stuff in the fridges, these are drinks that use cider as a base. Oh, and PLEASE avoid Strongbow. Seek out anything in a pub such as The Harp that has a rotating selection, or anywhere that serves it in a box. If that isn’t available, Aspall’s, Old Rosie or Cornish Orchard on tap are a reasonable substitution.
53. Take a Gin Distillery Tour – Sipsmith Chiswick
Gin may have originated in The Netherlands, but we like to think London really perfected it. In fact, the method of making dry London gin is now a protected method. The popularity of gin in the 1700s and the destruction addiction was causing led the government to pass The Gin Act making small gin shops illegal. Big distilleries survived but it wasn’t until 2008 that it was repealed and new players could enter the market.
The founders of Sipsmith were instrumental in changing the law and since being able to begin producing gin in 2009, Sipsmith has built up a fantastic reputation. The Sipsmith distillery in Chiswick is open for tours. You will learn all about the distilling process and even get to try the gin.
Entrance: £55 for two
54. Have a Swift Half in a 500-Year-Old Pub – Prospect of Whitby
Who doesn’t like there London pub with a touch of history? Well, the Prospect of Whitby was built in 1520, celebrating its 500th birthday recently. It was called The Pelican but was nicknamed Devil’s Tavern as it was a famous spot for smugglers to plot. The pub suffered badly from a fire in the 1700s but the flagstones are original.
The rebuild came with the new name of Prospect of Whitby, the name of a ship that was docked there. The wonky wooden beams, view of the River Thames and nautical antiques make this whole pub feel like a ship. Catch the attention of the bar staff over Europe’s longest pewter top bar and ask for a recommendation. They have cask ales, craft beers, a great gin selection and sometimes they even have proper cider.
If you follow the steps down to the side of the tavern, you will find a noose. It commemorates the executioner that hung pirates in nearby Wapping Dock and who loved to grab his own swift half here.
55. Whet Your Whistle at Waxy O’Connor’s
Don’t get us wrong, this is not a classy joint but it is a lot of fun. The various rooms of Waxy O’Connor’s are dark and rowdy, all connected by a series of little rooms and staircases. If you pop to the bathroom, you might struggle to find your way back if you have had a few drinks. It is vaguely Irish and vaguely treehouse-y. On a Saturday night, the music is usually singalong hits and spirits are high….because spirits are cheap.
56. Go Back in Time for Cocktails in the 1940s – Cahoots
A visit to Cahoots, London feels lie slipping into a warm bath. From the spot-on 1940s patter of the staff to the cosily familiar WWII paraphernalia, you are both completely out of place and entirely at home. There are a couple of rooms in the original bar, including a fabulous old London Underground carriage, and lots of room in the new ticket hall section upstairs. If you love the tube, vintage novelty or really delicious cocktails, there is something here for you.
Culture Vulture Activities – 57 to 61
57. Take in a West End Show
London’s West End is equal to Broadway as the most famous theatre district in the world….but we like to think we are winning! World-class musicals and plays are performed nightly in the 38 main theatres of Theatreland. There are those that swear by finding cheap tickets at the last minute but we are all for booking way in advance to make sure you can get tickets to show you really want to see. This is especially important if it is a popular show or you are visiting at the weekend. You can always book a second show at the last minute while you are in London!
Remember that food and drinks in theatres cost a small fortune, so pop into a pub for a drink beforehand. If you are getting a drink in-house, preorder interval drinks before you take your seats. You won’t spend the whole break waiting to get a beverage….and instead can spend it queueing at the always oversubscribed and undersized ladies loos. (Some Victorian theatres weren’t even built with toilets…they were far too disgusting to consider. They have had to squeeze them in wherever possible).
58. Become a Groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is undoubtedly England’s most famous playwright. At the height of his career, he was raking in pennies, courting royal favour from Elizabeth I, and showing his works in the newly built Globe Theatre. It lasted from 1599-13 before burning to the ground. It was rebuilt and this time lasted 1614 but was closed by the Puritans in 1642 and pulled down.
Shakespeare’s Globe was lovingly rebuilt in the 1990s. It was entirely reconstructed using traditional techniques like wooden joints and with a thatched roof…but this time it has sprinklers. Plays are performed in the main space over summer and customers have two choices. You can either take a seat around the edge (cushions can be rented) or stand in the central area. Traditionally, these standing audience members were called Groundlings. They ate noisily, threw things at the stage, solicited for sex workers and chatted loudly. Don’t try any of these today!
59. Watch a Street Performer at Covent Garden
The Punch and Judy pub, in London’s Covent Garden, was named for the puppet shows that were performed here many years ago. They entertained the children whose mothers were busy selling flowers in the famous market. Those shows were just a small part of the great theatrical tradition of street performers in Covent Garden.
Highly skilled performers have been backflipping, singing their hearts out, blowing their instruments and wowing audiences throughout the cobbled area for years. They even need to audition now for a license to perform. You can be sure of a great show! Donations are welcome as this is how these performers make their living.
60. Enjoy a Free Concert at Southbank Centre
The Southbank Centre, includes the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. It is a large glass-fronted building rising from the riverside, on many different levels. They often hold free lunchtime concerts so you can sit inside and watch a top-class musician, a local choir or join in with a workshop.
61. Prom All Summer at the Royal Albert Hall
From mid-July to mid-September, the Royal Albert Hall and the BBC put on an amazing series of concerts called The Proms. Most take place in a gorgeous Victorian concert venue, The Royal Albert Hall. It is a grand building, and with some of the world’s top musical artists on the bill, you may think it would break your London budget BUT you can attend a Prom for just £6! You can prom in the Arena (this is standing in the central area just in front of the stage) or in the Gallery with a bird’s eye view of the action. We prefer the Gallery as you can sit on the floor.
Don’t think this is your only chance to visit the Royal Albert Hall. There is a huge variety of shows all year and tours daily.
London’s Outdoor Spaces – 62 to 76
62. Float a Boat Along Regent’s Canal
Regents Canal is a fabulous mix of urban realism and green lawned fantasy. There are two perfect ways to see it. The first is to walk the section between Camden and Paddington. Its nice enough but the more enjoyable option (especially if you have walked lots) is to hire a GoBoat. These fun little electric boats glide along at a slow 5mph, giving you just enough time to float from Paddington to Camden Lock and back. There is a little picnic table in the centre of the boat so you can pack a picnic and enjoy it as you wave to walkers you are just about overtaking.
63. Get Lost in Kensington Gardens
The western half of Hyde Park is actually called Kensington Gardens. It was once the back garden of Kensington Palace (now home to Prince William and Princess Kate). Hyde Park had been created by Henry VIII as a hunting ground and it was open to the public by 1637. Royals, living in Kensington Palace between 1690-1730, took chunks of land from this western side to add to the garden. They spent thousands of pounds to transform it from open fields to the most fashionable place to stroll on a Saturday (if you were invited to do so). The designs of Queen Caroline, and then Queen Anne…or their gardeners, make Kensington Gardens a delight to walk around, with fun features and well-considered vistas.
As you wander around keep an eye out for:
- The Long Water section of the Serpentine lake was dammed to sculpt it “naturally”. This was the first foray into informal gardens after years of overly neat gardens.
- In contrast, the Italian Garden is a pleasingly symmetrical series of pools and fountains.
- See if you can find the Peter Pan statue. The charming character was originally placed here in 1912 and has been given a revamp. Use your smartphone to bring it to life.
- The Round Pond is just what it sounds like. A circular pond with a radial series of paths leading away from it.
- Children absolutely love the Diana Memorial Playground with its interactive musical games, huge wooden pirate ship and fun play sculptures.
- Is it a space ship? Is it a temple? No, it is the Albert Memorial. It commemorates the husband of Queen Victoria who passed away at the age of just 42. Victoria was heartbroken and had this constructed along with renaming the concert hall opposite, the Royal Albert Hall.
64. Spend a Day in Kew Gardens
Hop on the District Line and head out west to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This is the UK’s most important botanical garden. It has some of the world’s most important botanical research going on in its building but for the public, it is just a truly gorgeous place to walk around.
The soaring curves of the Palm House and intricate metalwork rusted by the steamy atmosphere within are a real highlight for most visitors. The great Victorian plant houses are a reminder that this was established as a place of study and enjoyment back in 1840 when horiculture was extremely popular. It is interesting to note the Kew has recently released a statement about its past and links to colonialism, redeveloping several of its attractions to discuss these topics.
As you navigate the huge site, look out for The Hive, an exciting new art piece, the waterlily house with its grant lilypads and the incredible Japanese pagoda.
Entrance: £11 for adults with discounts for concessions and children. Free for visually impaired visitors and their carers.
65. Find Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery might sound depressing but Highgate Cemetery is both fascinating and beautiful. Interesting statues, monuments and gravestones dot a lush green area. The shifting earth gives many a jaunty angle and the diverse styles keep the walk interesting. It is divided into two sides. The east is open for people to wander freely but you must book a tour to visit the west.
Keep an eye out for famous names like Douglas Adams, the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital and even Jeremy Beadle.
Entrance: East side £4 for adults / West side £14 (includes the tour and entrance to east side too.
66. Spot Deer in Richmond Park
Richmond Park in west London is the city’s biggest park. It is not a manicured space, but rolling fields and woodland. It has a special status as a wildlife reserve, and its most famous inhabitants are the herds of 650 deer that roam the park. The lovely cream stately home, White Lodge is home to another rare creature that moves in herds, the students of the Royal Ballet School.
Richmond Park is great for outdoor pursuits.
- Fishing is allowed in Pen Ponds.
- Bicycles are available to rent from Parkcycle (at the Roehampton car park entrance) and there is a great trail to tear along.
- As most of west London is under a flight path, the Flying Field is one of the only places you can fly drones or model aeroplanes.
- Hike up to King Henry’s Mound for a lovely view across the surrounding area. You can even spot St Paul’s Cathedral if you have good eyesight!
- Find some beautiful blooms at Isabella Plantation.
67. Explore the Suburbs on the Capital Ring Walk
You may need a few days for this one. The Capital Ring covers 78 miles of public footpath that surrounds London, officially becoming one route in 2005. Walkers pass through marshlands in East London, go along canals in West London, meander parks in North London and take in some beautiful sights along the way like Syon House and Eltham Palace. Transport for London (TfL) has divided it into 15 short walks so you can tackle it a little at a time if that is easier.
68. Slip and Slide at an Outdoor Skating Rink
When the weather cools, several skating rinks pop up throughout London. The most picturesque is probably the Natural History Museum but it is not our favourite because:
- People line up around the railings to watch and if you aren’t the most confident skater, it can be offputting.
- The food and drinks offerings aren’t that great.
Instead, our preference is the is Somerset House rink. It is enclosed on all sides by Somerset House (itself a fun place to explore with its art galleries) and the drinks in the marquee next to the rink are fabulous. Hot cider is always a winner. Finally, the bathrooms are clean and warm (everything you need when you are feeling chilly).
69. Swim Under the Stars at Hampton Pool
London has several outside swimming pools but they can be rather chilly. The 36m Hampton Pool is heated to a comfortable 28°C. Once a month, the pool hosts a late-night swim. From 10pm to midnight you can float on your back, under the fairy lights and do a little stargazing.
Entrance: Adult swims cost £7.50.
70. Marvel at Mistakes in Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace is a large park in south London. It once housed the giant glass and metal building that was built for the 1851 Great Exhibition but sadly, it burnt down in the 1930s. The Victorians created Crystal Palace as a pleasure garden full of fun attractions. The most popular attraction was the 30+ statues of prehistoric creatures that occupy an area of the park. These were created in 1853-55 and were the first attempt to create lifesize dinosaur models anywhere in the world. The landscape around the statues was also part of the design. Looking at them now, they seem completely charmingly inaccurate but realistically, nobody really knows and what a fantastic moment in our understanding of natural history.
71. Study Herbal Botany at Chelsea Physic Garden
Kew Gardens may have the accolade of the biggest Botanical garden in London, but Chelsea Physic Garden is the oldest. It was established in the 1670s as the Apothecaries’ Garden. They grew important herbs here for medicines and organised one of the world’s most important seed exchanges. Check out the Pharmaceutical Garden, where the plants are sorted by the disease they are used to treat.
Wandering around the garden, it is easy to forget the madness of the city over the walls. The heat, trapped by the garden’s brick walls gives it a special little microclimate. It allows the largest fruiting olive tree in the UK to thrive.
Entrance: £13.50 for adults with discounts for concessions and children.
72. Find Your Zen at Kyoto Garden Holland Park
Holland Park is Notting Hill’s local bit of green. Forested areas give way to the more formal gardens around the 17th century Holland House. Holland House was damaged by bombing in WWII and its partial ruin is the home of the excellent Holland Park Opera every year.
The most popular part of the park is the beautiful Kyoto Garden. The garden was a gift from the city of Kyoto and opened in 1991. The clean lines, Japanese planting and small statues transport you straight to Japan, 5,886 away. Close your eyes and you will hear the trickling waters of the small waterfalls and you may even hear the cry of the peacocks.
73. Birdspot with Binoculars at WWT West London Wetlands Centre
On a bend in the river Thames by Barnes, south-west London, is a 105-acre wildlife sanctuary. WWT West London Wetland Centre is home to thousands of birds not seen anywhere else in London. Migrating flocks pass through every year. Great White Egrets stand tall in the reeds in summer while a large number of shovellers and geese make this their home all year.
Don’t leave without visiting the Asian short-clawed otters. Whether they are gliding and spinning through the water, squeaking to each other in conversation or munching on their lunch, you can’t help but fall in love with them.
Entrance: £14.75 for adults with discounts for concessions and children.
74. Luxuriate in Lavender at Mayfield Lavender Farm
Every summer, the edge of London bursts into bloom. A rolling purple field attracts both flower fans and influencers alike. Sit. Relax. Watch the honey bees. Enjoy the rich lavender aroma. Sip on a lavender lemonade or cider. Purple perfection. Mayfield Lavender Farm is just on the edge of London and is such a lovely place to get away from the hustle and bustle in town.
75. Ride the Slide at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The 2012 Olympics in London completely transformed the east London borough of Newham. The biggest construction project was the huge Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Within the area was the Athlete’s Village, The London Stadium and the London Aquatics Stadium.
Overlooking it all was the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the UK’s largest piece of art designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond. Some of the concepts included the idea of electrons moving in space, creating something almost impossible with hints of the Eiffel Tower and creating the Tower of Babel. It stretches 114.5m towards the sky and has two observation platforms. In 2014 it was converted and is now London’s coolest slide! In fact, it has the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide. It makes sense for a country that still loves the helter-skelter.
76. Don’t Pet the Pelicans in St James’s Park
St James’ Park is a swathe of green that links Downing Street to Buckingham Palace. It is one of London’s loveliest parks, especially on a nice sunny day. (Explore St James’ Park with us in this blog post). The park has a few famous residents, but the biggest and most impressive is the collection of pelicans that have been here since the 1600s. These bright, white beasts can be as tall as this five-foot blogger and can be seen on the water or wandering the paths of the park. We don’t suggest you approach them, but you can see them being fed fish between 2:30pm and 3:00pm daily.
A Spot of Shopping 77 to 83
77. Spoil Yourself in Shoreditch
Once the preserve of the utterly alternative, the shopping scene around Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane is now more hipster and hippie than truly edgy. Brick Lane is still packed with excellent vintage shops chockfull of 80s jumpers, mom jeans and softened leather. Spitalfields has some cool shops but the best finds are on the stalls. Artisans, fun designers and lifestyle brands all sell their best goods here. BOXPARK at Shoreditch hosts a changing selection of pop-up stores. There is lots of street fashion and some great places to grab a bite to eat too.
78. Shop Til you Drop at Harrods
Harrods has been on this spot since 1851 when the founder Charles Henry Harrod purchased a shop to snap up passing business going to the nearby Great Exhibition. The business quickly grew and evolved into a huge department shop that sold everything possible. A lion cub, a million-pound snooker table and the UK’s first Krispy Kremes were sold under the famous dome. It is no wonder when the store’s motto is “Omnia Omnibus Ubique” which means “All things for all people, everywhere”. Head to the middle of the store to ride the famous Egyptian Escalator, installed by the previous owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. The most intriguing departments are the toys (OK, I used to work there so I am biased), the pet shop, and the stunning tiled food halls. Downstairs you will find desks for Harrod’s Aviation, theatre tickets and even a bank to buy gold bullion.
79. Hunt for Antiques on Portobello Road
Notting Hill is famous for its antique and vintage shops. There are a fair few tourist tat shops, but look past these and you are still in with a good chance of finding some real gems on Portobello Road. There are plenty of food, fashion and Bric-à-brac stalls here throughout the week but for a proper antique hunt, you need to come on a Friday or Saturday. It can get incredibly crowded from lunch onwards so come early for a good rummage!
80. Pick a Posie at Columbia Road Flower Market
If you are feeling bright and bushy-tailed on a Sunday morning, make your way to Hoxton for the Columbia Road Flower Market. To find the best blooms and avoid the crowds, get there when it opens at 8:00 am. Alternatively, for a steal arrive at 2:30pm when vendors start to close up. Flowers are heavily discounted so you could walk away with an arm full of beautiful bouquets for a bargain-basement price.
81. Browse for Books
London has some venerable old book shops and we adore getting lost in them. London’s history is intriguingly intertwined with the UK’s literary life. Here are a few of the greatest spots to find a good read:
- Hatchards is a wonky-walled, creaky-floored delight full of oak bookcases groaning with every kind of book. Opened in its current location in 1801, it is the UK’s oldest book shop and holds not one, but three Royal Warrants.
- Let’s face it, Daunt Books is a bibliophile’s dream. The Marylebone location isn’t just stuffed with books including new releases and signed copies but it is also gorgeous. The long, oak bookcases and skylights flooding the store with natural light, it is awfully tempting to grab a book and find a corner to stop and read in.
- If you are a travel fan, Stanfords is basically Mecca. Destination guides, fiction books, travelogues, maps and more grace the shelves. You can also pick up all kinds of travel gear, board games and gorgeous travel-themed homewares.
- A 100 year old Dutch barge floats on the Regent’s Canal near Kings Cross. It houses bookseller, Word on the Water. These guys have a great selection of new and used publications. in summer, check out the books outside. In winter head inside to browse in warmth with the lovely wood stove.
82. Go Print Crazy at Liberty London
At the top of Carnaby Street, a striking mock-Tudor building is home to Liberty London department store, known as Liberty’s. It was built in the 1920s using the timbers of two old ships, giving it a truly rustic feeling. The shop has been famed for its dedication to stunning furniture, fashion-forward clothing and the stunning Liberty prints designed in-house. Most of us can dream of owning a roll of Liberty print wrapping paper or maybe a print silk scarf if it is on sale, but it still a lovely place to look around. Plus, they always have gorgeous Christmas decorations.
The bridge outside used to connect Liberty’s two buildings but now it is closed. St George’s Clock on the north side of the bridge is fun. Every 15 minutes, George runs after the dragon and he manages to slay it on the hour, every hour.
83. Food & Fantasy at Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason has been trading here since the 1700s. They started with some rather royal fans which didn’t hurt the expansion of the business. They soon gained a reputation for selling the best quality foods around. The store claims to have invented the scotch egg in 1738 for which, we are very grateful. It has gorgeous window displays that are always worth a look. They were the first place to sell Heinz baked beans in 1886, changing the face of British breakfasts forever! If you want some utterly delicious biscuits or a tin of proper loose leaf tea, put Fortnum’s on your London bucket list.
In Memorium 84 to 88
84. Animals in the War Memorial
Unveiled in 2004, this memorial commemorates animals from teeny tiny glow worms used in WWI for map reading, to the larger four-legged animals that were used throughout wars. The two donkeys plodding slowly through the centre seem to bear the burden of war on their broken backs as well as their physical loads.
85. David Bowie Memorial
The David Bowie memorial first appeared in 2013 opposite Brixton Underground Station. When the music star passed away in 2016 it became a focal point for the grief of his fans.
The mural shows the head and shoulders of David Bowie in his famous 1973 Aladdin Sane album cover makeup. It is covered with plastic to preserve it, but it remains to be seen if the public continues to add their own messages, stickers and cards as they did with the previous cover.
86. Broad Street Pump
This unassuming Victorian water pump in Soho doesn’t attract an awful lot of attention, but it marks an incredibly important turning point in our understanding of epidemiology. In 1854, a cholera outbreak killed around 500 people in just 10 days here. The thinking of the time was that disease was caused by miasma (bad air).
Doctor John Snow was the first to recognise the pattern of disease stemming from this contaminated water pump. People who took water home from here, had sherbert drinks from a nearby stall, or had a quick sip en route to work were all ill. The men who worked at a nearby distillery used their own well and so avoided the disease. He forced the council to remove the handle so water could no longer be drawn here and the epidemic was stopped in its tracks. The Broad Street Pump is located just outside of the John Snow pub.
87. RAF Bomber Command Memorial
The RAF Bomber Command Memorial is one of our favourites. It was only revealed in 2012 but it has a timeless ability to make you stop and take a breath. The memorial was constructed to commemorate the 55,573 allied servicemen killed in WWII bombing raids. Not only that though, it also remembers civilian losses all over the world who were killed when bombs fell from the sky. It is incredibly moving.
Within the stone structure stands a group of seven men, immortalised in bronze. Every rumple in their clothes and their far off stares frozen on their features reminds you that these were just normal people who had a horrible job to do.
Some More Fun Ideas for You London Bucket List 88 to 101
88. Master the London Underground
London Underground is the fastest way to get around the city but getting used to reading the maps and navigating can take a bit of getting used to. Learning your way around the tube can click into place halfway through a trip to London…and it feels pretty good when it does.
The most important things to learn are:
- On escalators walk on the left, stand on the right.
- To pay, use a contactless phone, bank card or oyster card.
- Check which direction your destination is before you head down to the platforms. It is much easier if you know whether you need northbound or southbound/westbound or eastbound.
- Avoid Euston until you are a pro!
89. Snap Your Iconic Red Phone Box Shot
Have you even been to London if you don’t have a moment with a red phonebox?! London’s red telephone boxes first appeared in 1924, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. They were coloured red so they would be easy to spot and quickly became a very recognisable sight. Despite production ending in 1985, there are still plenty in London. One of the things you can’t see in photos is the slightly whiffy urine smell that is often a feature so stay outside for your snaps.
90. Grunt and Squeak and Squawk with the Animals at ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo is a magical way to see some of the most gorgeous creatures from around the world. Gorillas, lions, meerkats and adorable penguins abound. London Zoo doesn’t make a profit as every penny is invested into their animals and incredibly important wildlife research projects around the world.
To get truly up close and personal to the animals, consider sleeping the night in one of their amazing Lion enclosure rooms. You could also try out the Zookeeper for a Day experience. Guests can feed, muck out and interact with some of the wildlife.
Entrance: Adults from £26 with discounts for children and concessions
91. Get Lights in Your Eyes at God’s Own Junkyard
Walthamstow Village is the cutest little pocket of London. It was its own village for hundreds of years before London slowly grew towards it, engulfed it and inherited it. Take a stroll through the sweet village until you reach Ravenswood Industrial Estate. If the sun is out, grab a pint at Wildcard Brewery and then head into God’s Own Junkyard.
God’s Own Junkyard is part-shop/part-museum. Every wall is covered in bold and bright neon signs many of which have appeared on the big screen. Who knew there were celebrity signs? If your eyes can take it, there is a cafe inside. The shop is open Friday – Sunday and they allow photos but not using professional/DSLR cameras.
Entrance: Free but donations are welcome.
92. A Bus Tour with a Twist
Brigit’s Bakery runs a classic red double-decker bus around London and as guests enjoy the sights, they are treated to a fabulous afternoon tea. The classic tour takes you past Buckingham Palace, Harrods and Hyde Park. You’ll receive a reusable plastic coffee cup that is too cute! It makes an excellent London souvenir.
Entrance: Tours are £55 per person.
93. Get your True Crime on With a Jack the Ripper Tour
The world’s most famous serial killer has long been painted as a character from a gothic novel, but he actually killed at least five women in the Whitechapel area in 1888. To learn more about the man, his victims and the urban myths that have grown over the last 130 years, join a Jack the Ripper tour. You will get to explore the areas frequented by the killer and hear the stories told by an enigmatic guide. While you are at it, if you want to learn even more check out The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. It is fascinating!
94. See London on Two Wheels
London has a great bike hire scheme. It is currently sponsored by the Santander bank and is branded thus. Bikes are heavy, and only have one gear so don’t attempt any major hills. Instead, they are lovely for whizzing around London Parks and along the miles of bike paths in London. Download the app, the quickest way to see where bikes and spaces are available. Otherwise, you can just use the hub screens.
For £2/day you can hire bikes as often as you like for up to 30 minutes within 24 hours. If you keep hold of a bike for longer than 30 minutes you will pay another £2 per half an hour. Check the website for some great sightseeing routes.
95. Recreate “That Photo” at Abbey Road Studios
Another classic London photo moment is to be found in a quiet area of north-west London. Abbey Road studios leapt to fame when The Beatles recorded their ground-breaking album there. Just outside is the famous zebra crossing that graced the cover.
It is possible to take your own version, but do remember that this is a road and there is traffic. Cars have to stop as you cross but you’ll have to be speedy with your snap. Prepare, run into place, get the shot and go, go, go!
96. Party at Pride
London has several parades every year but the biggest, brightest and boldest is Pride. This is celebrated every June in an explosion of rainbow flags and facepaint. London’s Soho has a long history of welcoming LGBTQIA+ communities and is still full of fantastic gay bars. As a result, after the main Pride parade has made its way down Regent Street, passed Trafalgar Square and along to Victoria embankment, the party in Soho kicks into high gear. The main stage in Trafalgar Square plays hosts to major London talent and the cabaret stage in south Soho plays a series of fabulous performers. Be prepared to get stuck in crowds, covered in glitter and generally pretty messy.
97. Marvel at the Mosaic House
Just a few minutes from my flat, Carrie Reichardt’s house is a work of art. From top to bottom it is completely covered in mosaic tiles, creating a colourful masterpiece. Both the front and back of the house are bedecked in the shining squares so remember to walk around the corner and see the whole thing. Carrie, fed up with the restrictions galleries were putting on her artwork, decided to use her own house in the quiet Chiswick Road to make a statement. It took 20 years but we think it is amazing. Check out this blog post by inspiringcity.com to spot all the details you might have missed.
Combine the Mosaic House with a trip to nearby Chiswick House and Gardens or Kew gardens for a fun West London adventure.
98. Join a Street Art Tour in East London
East London has a vibrant street art scene, and you will get a great overview if you have a wander around Brick Lane. However, you will absolutely get the most out of it by taking a street art tour. Learn about the artists, the message behind the pieces and the history of the scene. There are lots to choose from, some focussing on photography of the art, some of the east London cultures in the surrounding areas and some even end in a workshop where you get to try out the art of spray painting.
99. Watch the Changing of the Guards at Horseguards Parade
Forget the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, for a ceremony you don’t have to fight to see, make sure you are at Horse Guards Parade for the changing of the Life Guard. You may recognise these soldiers from the photos of the back of Horse Guards where they stand like statues. There has been a post since 1660.
Mounted Calvery swap at 10:00am daily (11:00am on Sundays). Their red-tailed helmets and perfectly polished breastplates are glorious in the sunshine. Plus, the horses are incredibly well trained and very impressive.
100. Walk the Length of Fleet Street
Fleet Street is a little treasure trove of history. Running between The Strand in the west and Ludgate Hill to the east. There are three top features to look out for as you pass along.
- The Legal Stuff – In the west is a captivating Victorian gothic building that holds the Royal Courts of Justice, purpose-built courts opened in 1882. Carry on east and on the right is Temple, the site of the 12th century Temple Church and the offices of many barristers and venerated law firms. Finally, at the eastern end is The old Bailey Crown court. Atop the building is Lady Justice with her scales in one hand and a sword in the other.
- The Pubs – Two of London’s oldest pubs lie along the road from each other. Ye Olde Cock Tavern and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese are both hundreds of years old. The Old Bank of England used to be the legal branch of the Bank, but is now a cool pub with ties to the fictional story of Sweeney Todd. Needless to say, they serve meat pies.
- The Plaques – On the north side of the street, a series of bronze plaques on the floor document the publishing history of the area. It was the heart of publishing from the first printing presses to the move out of the big newspapers in the 1980s.
101. Sing-Along at the Prince Charles Cinema
Prince Charles Cinema may not be the prettiest cinema in London but it is definitely the most fun! They run all night film-a-thons, sing-a-long showings of musicals and Disney films, even quote-a-longs for cult classics like Mean Girls. Considering its location between Leicester Square and Chinatown, it maintains a defiantly independent spirit and even Quentin Tarantino loves it, saying “The Prince Charles Cinema is everything an independent movie theatre should be…I was so honoured when Reservoir Dogs hit so big there that they started playing it at midnight and all the lads would show up in the black suits with little squirt guns“. Basically, it is as much fun as you can have (legally) in a darkened public room.
Final Thoughts on this London Bucket List
Filling a London bucket list is worryingly easy to do but ticking it all off can take a little time. This list is an excellent start and we hope that you have found some new ideas. Get out there and explore this sometimes sunny (often grey) eclectic city that we call home.