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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

Exploring London-All the top sights to see!

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

It is so hard for me to mention all that I love about London in one post, so I’ll divide into many posts, which will make it easier for you to navigate as well.

So let’s start this one with all the monuments of historical importance that you should visit. Chances are that that’s exactly what you are going to do on your first trip to London. That’s what I did.

Should you take the Hop on Hop Off bus?

After I walked about a bit, I got myself a pass on a Hop on/Hop Off bus which got me discounted entry into all the attractions, and transport to all of them. It’s not necessary to see London this way, it is a very touristy way to do it, but I was with my mother, and we had just a couple of days to see all the attractions in the city, so that was the best option for us at that time.

There are many companies offering the Hop On Hop Off services. All of them come with a 1 day, 2 day or 3 day ticket, which means your ticket is valid for that many days.

I visited London many times after that, and lived there for a brief period as well, so I found exploring London is best done without a tourist bus. But all the places that the tourist bus takes you to, are usually on the list of all first time tourists to London, so it really is up to you what you want to do.

-I am listing out the monuments & locations of historical importance below.

-What I'm also going to do is help you with the orientation, so if you aren't getting on a hop on hop off bus, you can plan your day/days better knowing which of these sights are near each other so you can club them together.

-I will also mention how to see some of them on a budget, or see them quickly, if you are on a whirlwind tour of London.

Check out my Museum Guide to London! I've listed out all the best museums in the city, according to interest, kid friendliness, & genre!

Explore the most beautiful neighbourhoods in London with my guide!

1. Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is a gothic church built in 1245, but there was a church at this site as early as the 7th century. It is here that coronations of the royal family is held. The church has also hosted royal weddings, and is the resting place of many British monarchs.

Interesting fact about Westminster Abbey

It boasts of the oldest door in UK! It isn’t any of the main doors, but a rather small door that leads to the Chapter House. The door is dated back to the 1050s! It is made of oak wood planks, held together by three horizontal battens and iron straps.

When visiting the Westminster Abbey, try to go for a mass. There is a service held every day, but if you visit on a Sunday, you are in for a treat, because their choir is fantastic! Attending a church service gives you the full experience of having visited it.

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! The abbey is a quick visit for most people, a walk around the premises, and a few pictures, and you can be off! There is no entry fee to see the main hall where mass is held.

2. Palace of Westminster

The Houses of Parliament are hard to miss when you are in central London, it is the most magnificent building along the Thames. The best picture of the Palace of Westminster is from across the river!

Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London
Palace of Westminster & Big Ben

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! Most people don't go into the Palace of Westminster, so walking around its perimeter is what everyone does, but you can schedule a visit of the interiors-details are available online. If you aren't going inside, it is free to walk about and photograph as many times as you want!

Thinking of going up north to Manchester? Check out my detailed guide for Manchester

I have also compiled my favourite places to shop in Manchester-check out my shopping guide to Manchester!

You have to read my Offbeat Guide to Manchester, if you are looking to see more than just the 'sights' in Manchester!

3. Big Ben

Now there is no way you are going to London and not seeing the Big Ben. All your souvenirs will have the Big Ben emblazoned on it. But if for some reason you aren’t sure of what the Big Ben is, it is the tall clocktower at the end of the Palace of Westminster. The Big Ben was completed in 1859, and at the time of its completion it was the largest & most accurate four faced striking & chiming clock in the world.

It is possible to tour the Big Ben only if you are a resident of the UK, for everyone else, looking at it from the outside will have to suffice. UK residents have to contact their Member of Parliament at least 6 months in advance to schedule a date for the visit.

Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London
Big Ben

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! Since most tourists aren't allowed to go to the belfry of the Big Ben, everyone just sees it from outside, and goes to different vantage points to get a good picture of it. If you aren't going in for a tour, then you are seeing it for free!

4. Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is a public space that has a large fountain featuring sculptures of mermaids, tritons, and dolphins. Trafalgar Square is used as an event space, and has played host to many a protests. On regular days it is crowded with tourists, and a few musicians & other street performers.

For Christmas, Trafalgar Square is lit up with lights, the centrepiece being the magnificently large Christmas tree!

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! There is nothing in particular to see here, other than the fountain, and to photograph it, and unless you are there really early in the morning, chances are that you won't get a single photograph without at least 10 people in the background. Spending time at Trafalgar Square is free of cost.

5. Harrods

Harrods is the most iconic shopping destination in London. The present building was completed in 1905, and it is over 1 million square feet of shopping paradise! If you are in London around Christmas, Harrods is just magical! You have to make a stop there. The shops in Harrods range from high street to luxury brands. They have a fantastic food hall downstairs where you can grab a bite to eat!

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

No! Now Harrods you will have to keep some time aside for. The building from the outside is worthy of photographing, but you should definitely go in and get a sense of it. If you don't want to splurge on senseless shopping, go to the food hall and get yourself a meal or some 'food souvenirs' to take home. There is obviously no charge to go inside Harrods, but, you will end up buying something or the other from there, so the cost of 'seeing' Harrods is completely up to you.

6. Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace needs no introduction, it is known the world over as the home of the Queen of England. You can tour the interiors of the palace from July -October, but they are open on select dates in Spring & Winter (check their website for details).

St James' Park, Hyde Park,  Buckingham Palace, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London
Buckingham Palace

Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London, Buckingham Palace, Change of Guard
Change of the guard

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! So this iconic spot in London, is again easy to 'see' quickly. Most people spend their time outside the gates and in the gardens around the palace, and don't go in. So if you are going to be outside the palace, it is of course free of cost. Time wise, the palace too can be done with quickly, unless you are staying to watch the change of the guard, or going inside for a visit.

How do you know when the Queen is in?

If you look closely at the flag that’s displayed on top of Buckingham Palace, you can tell whether the sovereign is in. The Royal standard flag( which is used on the queen’s cars as well), indicates that she is in the palace, whereas the Union flag indicates that she is out.

Try to catch the change of the guard at the palace. It does not occur every day, so check online at the time of your visit to see when it is on. It usually occurs on alternate days (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun ) in the mornings. Do check online for exact timings of when it starts, and get there early to get a good view of the ceremony, because it gets quite crowded.

7. Tower of London

This castle at the north bank of the Thames was built in 1078. It served as a royal residence, and part of it was used as a prison from 1100 to 1952! The palace has many buildings within its defensive walls, and even a moat! The tower of London has been besieged many times in history’s controlling it was important to controlling the country.

If you want to see the crown jewels, it is on display here, and that’s why you should visit (in case you were wondering)

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

No. Since you have to go inside the Tower of London to see it as it is meant to be seen, it will take over an hour at least, and you have to buy a ticket to enter.

8. Tower Bridge

Tower bridge is often mistaken for London Bridge which is little further down the road, probably because we assume that the grander bridge should be called ‘London Bridge’. The tower bridge has two levels, the upper level is accessible if you buy a ticket (available online). The upper level has a glass floor, and is accessible through stairs the are hidden inside the two towers! There is a gift shop one level below the lower level, near the engine rooms to buy souvenirs as well.

Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London
Tower Bridge

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes & No. So if you are not going to the upper level, and just seeing it as you walk through it or from either side, it is free, and you won't be spending much time, but to experience it fully, it will take at least an hour, and you have to buy a ticket.

Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London
Tower Bridge

Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London, Tower Bridge, Tickets for Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

9. London Bridge

The London Bridge is a rather humble bridge in comparison to the Tower bridge which it usually is mistaken for, but it grants such beautiful views of the Thames and the building on either side.

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! You will most probably walk across London Bridge to get to somewhere, and I don't think I need to say, it, but it is free, and you aren't really spending much time here. You don't even have to have London Bridge on your list of places to see, but people always talk about wanting to see ' London Bridge' (probably imagining tower bridge in their minds, and because of memories of the famous nursery rhyme).

10. St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s is the second largest church building in area in the UK. (the largest in area is the Liverpool cathedral) The dome of St. Paul’s is an icon of London, and you might have seen many pictures of London featuring the dome. There are a few spots in the city from where you can take pictures with the dome in the background. (I’ll do a post on that later)

St. Paul’s cathedral should not be missed when in London, and if you are in London around Christmas (which I feel is one of the best times in the year to be here), please go for midnight mass on Christmas Eve to hear the choir. (you might have to even stand outside in the cold, but it is worth it!)

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! You can send as much or as little time at the cathedral, there is no entry fee. If you plan on attending mass, keep aside at least an hour.

St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Things to do in London, London on a budget, Free things to do in London
St. Paul's Cathedral

11. Hampton Court Palace

The Hampton Court Palace is the quieter alternative for you if exploring a palace without the crowds is something you want to do. It is not in central London, and obviously not as famous as the Buckingham palace, which makes it the ideal place for people who want a taste of history but without having to jostle a stranger. The 16th century palace has 60 acres of parkland, and with one ticket you are free to roam the grounds and the interiors. Or if you just want pictures at palace that not many people know about, Hampton Court palace fits the bill for that as well!

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

No. So you aren't going to go all the way to Hampton Court just to see it from its gate. You have to go in, and have a slow day-and of course buy a ticket for it.

12. Kensington Palace

Located in the Kensington borough, it was the official residence of Princess Diana, and has an exhibit dedicated to her. On display are some of the gowns worn by Princess Diana, her photographs, and a video montage of her public life. My mother is a big fan of Princess Diana, and was very eager to go here, so I went with her. We didn’t have time for any of the other exhibits or any other parts of the palace, we went straight to see the Princess Diana exhibit, and headed out to our next on the list.

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

No. Another place you go to, because you want to see the exhibits, and not just return from its gates. So prepare to spend some time here, and buy a ticket.

13. Marble Arch

As the name suggests, the arch is made of marble, and is now located at Hyde Park. It was designed by John Nash in 1827 to commemorate the status victory at Waterloo & Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars. It was initially at the entrance to the Buckingham Palace, but in1851 when a new wing was added to the palace, and the arch no longer fit in the space, so it was moved to Hyde Park.

Can you see it quickly? Is it cheap to visit?

Yes! It is free to see the arch, and if you are in a hurry all you have to do is photograph it and run! But you can run into Hyde Park or make yourself a picnic there!


Start at Palace of Westminster, and walk from there to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, & Buckingham Palace. The London Eye is around here too. If you are ok to walk, all of this is walking distance from each other.

London Bridge and Tower Bridge are within walking distance from each other, and St. Paul's cathedral & Tower of London are a short walk (15 minutes) away from the bridges.

Kensington Palace is in central London but you have to take public transport or a cab to get there, it isn't at walking distance from any of the above mentioned places.

Marble Arch is at one end of Hyde Park, and across Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens is Kensington Palace. So even though it isn't walkable, you can take a quick cab ride there.

Harrods is closest to Marble Arch, but it is still over 20 minute walk, so either take public transport or a cab to get there.

Hampton Court Palace is not in central London, so you have to travel a bit to get there.


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