Packed with history and crammed with culture, London is a city that has something for everyone. Our sprawling capital isn’t only huge, it’s also incredibly diverse.
Whether your favourite way to explore a new place is to visit museums and galleries, stretch your legs in gardens and parks, immerse yourself in ancient history, or visit as many food markets as possible – London offers visitors a wealth of opportunity. It’s also the perfect place to rediscover the unique charm and historic beauty of our small but sensational island.
With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Buckingham & Lloyds to inspire you to plan a London city break. Known for their range of luxury ApartHotels, Buckingham & Lloyds are passionate about giving people the hallmarks of a hotel stay with all the freedom of a private place – while making sure that you have plenty of London’s best attractions on your doorstep.
So together, we’ve picked 14 of the most unmissable things to do and places to visit in our cultural capital. Rest Less members can also get 15% off stays at Buckingham & Lloyds apartments by entering code RESTLESS15 in their designated promo code box at checkout, or clicking the booking link here.
1. The V&A
As the world’s leading museum of art and design (and one of the UK’s most magnificent museums) the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is well worth a visit. There are more than 140 galleries spread over seven floors, so deciding which you want to check out can be tricky.
But if this is your first visit, the Jewellery Gallery is a must. Showcasing over 3,000 jewels and going back thousands of years, this is one of the most extensive collections of priceless jewellery in the world.
The fashion gallery is also home to over 500 years of fashion and has the world’s largest collection of dresses. Here you can admire everything from unique 17th-century gowns to 1960s daywear. Whichever galleries you’re most drawn to, part of the fun of the V&A is getting lost in the maze of corridors and galleries – so it’s best to give yourself as much time as possible.
If you’re interested in joining a guided tour, there are several free tours each day, with themes including Britain 1500-1900, medieval and renaissance, designing the V&A, female voices, and historical and hidden Caribbean. If all this learning makes you hungry, you can head to the opulently designed V&A Café (the world’s oldest museum restaurant) and enjoy a hot meal or tasty snack.
2. Kensington Palace
If you’re fascinated by history, one of the very best things about London is the way that it breathes life into historical figures, events, and buildings. The capital city definitely isn’t short of historic royal palaces, but Kensington Palace is one of the very best. It was here that Queen Victoria was born and raised, Princess Margaret lived for 42 years, and Princess Diana first began living with Prince Charles.
Today, the palace is home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and while their apartment is off limits, much of the palace is open to the public. You can visit the lavish King’s State Apartments, with its imposing King’s Gallery, wander through the Queen’s State Apartments, where William III and Mary II lived in the 1690s, and visit Victoria’s apartments, where Queen Victoria was born and raised.
There’s also lots to see and do in the impeccably groomed grounds and gardens. You can browse contemporary art and architecture exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, pay tribute to the Peoples’ Princess on the seven-mile Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, or admire the grand splendour of the Albert Memorial. Then for an exceptional afternoon tea, why not finish off in the Orangery?
3. Borough Market
If you’re a foodie, you’ll soon discover that London is a culinary melting pot, home to some of the world’s best restaurants, delis, cafes, and food markets. But one of the city’s most beloved dining destinations is Borough Market – and if you have a passion for all things gastronomic, visiting this bustling, vibrant food market should be high up on your London to-do list.
The history of Borough Market stretches all the way back to the thirteenth century, and over the many centuries since it hasn’t stopped evolving. Only a few decades ago it was a wholesale fruit and veg market for South London greengrocers. And today, it’s a beacon of sustainable food from all around the world.
The only requirement of visiting Borough Market is that you should come on an empty stomach – as you’ll want to sample everything! The food stalls sell anything from sizzling bratwurst to Ethiopian curries and Iraqi stuffed dumplings, so you’re sure to find something to whet your appetite. There’s also top-quality produce to take home; from handmade preserves and condiments to exotic fresh fruit and veg.
4. Tower of London
London’s history is long, compelling, and at times truly terrifying – and one of the best places in the city to learn about it is the Tower of London.
Over the years this formidable eleventh-century fortress has been many things: a royal home, a treasury, a mint, an armoury, and even a zoo. But it’s best known as the infamous prison where a king, three queens, and numerous nobles met their deaths.
You’ll need at least half a day to make the most of your time here, as there’s plenty to see. In the Waterloo Barracks you can marvel at the magnificent Crown Jewels, and at Tower Green (if you fancy it) you can walk in the footsteps of those condemned to die by beheading, like Henry VIII’s wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Henry VIII’s famous codpiece is also on display here!
The Bloody Tower, where 12-year-old Edward V and his younger brother Richard were kept prisoner (and ostensibly murdered), is another one of the Tower’s top attractions – though keep an eye out for the famous ravens. Legend has it that when they leave, the kingdom will collapse! If you enjoy guided tours, the Yeoman Warders (better known as “Beefeaters”) lead free tours on the hour.
5. Science Museum
South Kensington is home to London’s best museums, and aside from the V&A, the Science Museum is another must-visit.
No matter how old you are or how much of the world you’ve seen, the Science Museum has the power to mesmerise and impress – and with seven floors of fascinating exhibits to explore, you could spend all day here and barely scratch the surface.
In the Making the Modern World Gallery you can admire some of the very first locomotives, planes, and cars as you see how industrialisation has progressed from the 1750s to the present day. The Exploring Space Gallery with its displays of rockets and satellites, and full-size models of the Huygens Titan probe and Beagle 2 Mars Lander, will open your eyes to the true complexities of the cosmos.
There’s also an Information Age Gallery, where you can learn about the evolution of communication (from telegrams to smartphones) and a Medicine Gallery, a Maths Gallery, and a Flight Gallery.
Over in the museum’s IMAX cinema, you can also make use of the 3D technology to see what it’s like to be suspended in space, or submerged in the depths of the shadowy ocean.
6. South Bank
If you’re interested in art, theatre, and culture in general, then one of the best places to stretch your legs in the city is the South Bank.
Tucked along the River Thames, this once-neglected part of London is now a two-mile-long hub of culture and creativity. Just as popular with locals as visitors, it’s a place where you can visit museums, sample delicious food, or simply sit and enjoy the views.
Art lovers will certainly want to visit the Tate Modern, and architectural enthusiasts will surely want to check out the London Eye – one of the world’s largest observation wheels. Plus, The National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Millennium Bridge, and Shakespeare’s Globe are all located along the South Bank, so you can spend your day visiting some of the city’s top cultural attractions.
But one of the main pleasures of visiting the South Bank is soaking up its laidback ambiance – and it’s an ideal place for a leisurely, culture-soaked riverside stroll. If you’re into street food, the Southbank Centre hosts an excellent food market where you can treat yourself to all kinds of mouthwatering delights, from indulgent Sicilian pastries and seasonal cocktails to wholesome vegan food and Korean BBQs.
7. Buckingham Palace
If you had to pick one place in London that’s iconically British, most people would probably pick Buckingham Palace. It’s the home of the Queen, after all – but it’s also the focus of both national and royal celebrations, as well as the setting of the Changing the Guard ceremony.
First built in 1703, Buckingham Palace has been the monarch’s official London residence since 1837, and it’s one of the most popular attractions in the city.
The sheer size of Buckingham Palace is hard to convey – that’s why visiting it is a good idea! With 828,000 square feet of living space, the palace has 775 rooms, 240 of which are bedrooms. While only 19 rooms are open to the public (only when the Queen is away), they include the Grand Hall, State Dining Room, Blue Drawing Room, White Drawing Room, and monumental Grand Staircase.
If the palace isn’t open when you visit, you can still catch the Changing of the Guard at 11am. Just check the website to see which days it’s happening on (it occurs every day during summer).
In the summer months, you can also explore Buckingham Palace Garden and admire its 156-metre herbaceous border, Horse Chestnut Avenue, plane trees (planted by Queen Victoria), and the famous lake.
8. Portobello Road Market
If you love nothing more than browsing markets for trinkets and treasures, you’ll definitely want to visit Portobello Road Market, which is another iconic London attraction.
Portobello is actually made up of several different markets that line one long road – and whether you’re hoping to pick up some high-quality antiques, vintage clothes or classic vinyl, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Saturdays at Portobello can be seriously chaotic, so it’s best to head here early if you want to avoid the crowds. Although if you’re looking to buy vintage clothing or fashion from emerging designers, Saturday is when the fashion market is in full swing. The fashion market is located under the Westway flyover, and you can also pick up unique accessories, shoes, and jewellery here too.
If you’re hoping to buy some antiques, the section of the market you want is by Notting Hill station. There are hundreds of stalls along this half-mile stretch of road, and you can find everything from art deco glassware to rare books. If you leave empty-handed, that’s fine. Portobello is all about soaking up the atmosphere, not just shopping. And there are also lots of street-food stalls if you get peckish!
9. Natural History Museum
Ever since it first opened in 1881, the Natural History Museum has inspired and enthralled – and more than 140 years later, it’s lost none of its magic.
This is a place where you can learn all about planet Earth and human biology. Although the museum is best known for its dinosaur exhibition, which has everything from tiny fossils to hyge triceratops skills, and a scarily realistic animatronic T-rex.
In the Blue Zone, you can check out the biology displays (which include an illuminated, adult-sized model of a foetus), before journeying back into the prehistoric times as you visit the dinosaurs and then learn about mammals, both current and extinct. You definitely won’t miss the enormous model of a blue whale that hangs dramatically from the ceiling!
The Green Zone is packed with intriguing treasures; from a dodo skeleton to a cross-section of a Giant Sequoia and a slab of moon rock. In the Red Zone, you can ride through the centre of the Earth to experience the earthquake simulator, and learn about the natural forces that have shaped our world. And finally, in the Orange Zone, you can peek through glass windows to watch scientists at work!
10. Holland Park
Central London isn’t short of green spaces, and while Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Regents Park may be the best known, Holland Park is arguably the most beautiful.
With dense woodland, pristine lawns, gorgeous gardens and even some sports fields where you can stay active, there’s a lot going on. But if you have a green thumb, the history of this park is especially interesting.
The park circles Holland House; the grand Jacobean mansion where the Earl of Holland and his wife lived in the early 1800s. Lady Holland became the first person in the country to successfully grow dahlias, and today, the dahlias are still grown here. There’s also the Japanese-style Kyoto Garden, which has koi carp, a waterfall, and a pretty bridge – and is a lovely place to sit and reflect.
Keep an eye out for the beautiful peacocks who strut freely through the park, and if you visit during the warmer months, why not see if you can catch an open-air play or opera?
Holland Park also happens to be one of the prettiest neighbourhoods in London and is within easy walking distance of the city’s best museums, as well as many of its finest restaurants and shops. Just don’t forget to bring your camera!
11. The Shard
The splinter-like silhouette of the Shard is unmissable in the London skyline, and if you’re one for views, visiting this extraordinary building is a must.
Designed by Renzo Piano, this tripod-shaped, mirror-like building stands a lofty 310 metres high, making it the tallest tower in Western Europe. The Shard is home to a bit of everything (offices, restaurants and bars, and a hotel) – though, it’s the viewing deck that’s truly unmissable.
This is no ordinary viewing deck; it’s a four-storey observatory deck that stretches from floors 68 to 72. The excitement will start as soon as you enter the lift and see the screens in the ceiling come alive with enthralling visuals and facts. But when you get to the wall of windows on the viewing deck and see the city unfold beneath you, it’s truly breathtaking. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Southend-on-Sea.
Once you’ve had your fill of this sensational 360-degree panorama, there’s plenty more to do in the Shard. If you’re hungry, there are excellent restaurants that serve everything from modern British fare to diverse Chinese cuisine. Or, if you fancy a drink, the cocktail bars here are some of the swankiest in the city, and arguably some of the best places in London to enjoy a sundowner with a view.
12. Westminster Abbey
Famous all over the world for its splendid architectural style, Westminster Abbey has been the site of numerous royal weddings, funerals, and each and every coronation since 1066.
Viewed as one of the best examples of Early English Gothic, this is a place where history happens. Although the Abbey is still a working church today, and you might be lucky enough to catch a choral performance here.
There are over 3,000 people honoured in the Abbey, and history buffs will enjoy studying the graves and busts of the many important figures who are buried here – from kings and queens to celebrated academics like Darwin and Dickens. Literary lovers should head to the South Transept, where writers like Shakespeare, DH Lawrence, Jane Austen, and Dylan Thomas are honoured.
The most revered spot is the shrine of St Edward the Confessor – though due to the delicacy of the 13th century flooring, you can only visit this on a guided tour.
Henry VII’s splendid Gothic-style Lady Chapel lies at the Eastern edge of the Abbey, and its stately fan-vaulted ceiling and awe-inspiring stained-glass windows are definitely worth checking out. And a stroll in the Abbey Gardens is a lovely way to finish your visit.
13. West End
If you’re interested in the arts, you can’t come to London and not catch a show in the West End. As well as being home to many of the city’s swankiest neighbourhoods and iconic landmarks, the West End is also home to what’s known as London’s Theatreland – the around 40 or so theatres where you can watch the best shows in the city.
Whether you’re into uplifting musicals, cheeky comedies or classic plays, the West End is where to catch a show and see some of the world’s brightest stars as they tread the boards.
If you’re into musicals, both Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon are always running in the West End – and if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you might want to check out The Mousetrap, which is the city’s longest-running play.
If you’re more into ballet or opera, there are many excellent shows at the London Coliseum and Royal Opera House. For last-minute tickets, you can visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.
The West End is also one of London’s top dining destinations, so if you’re looking to enjoy dinner before your show starts, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
14. Kew Gardens
And finally, if you’re interested in plants and flowers, there’s Kew Gardens. With 250 years of history behind it, Kew Gardens stands at an enormous 300 acres, so you can spend all day here and still have so much more to see. The gardens started off small, in the back garden of what was once the royal palace, but today comprises wild meadows, Victorian glasshouses, and tree-canopy walkways.
One of the oldest parts of the gardens is the towering 10-storey Chinese Pagoda, which was built in 1762. But the balmy Victorian Palm House and climate-controlled Princess of Wales Conservatory are equally impressive.
The Temperate House is also the world’s largest ornamental glasshouse, and from the 18-metre Tree Top Walkway, you can enjoy wonderful views over the grounds. Then, in the Southern two-thirds of the gardens lives the arboretum, where you can stroll along 14,000 trees (from eucalyptus trees to giant redwoods) and enjoy the sense of being among nature.
The Kew Explorer train is a great way to see all the main sights if you don’t have much time here. Although, with different restaurants and cafes, a trip to Kew Gardens is a great way to spend the day.
As this article hopefully shows, London is diverse, historic, beautiful, and full of unique charm. There’s truly something for everyone here, whether you’re into culture and learning, exploring parks and gardens, trying mouthwatering new food, or simply strolling soaking up the atmosphere.
London isn’t short of hotels, but if you like the idea of having your own private space while still having the luxury of service, one of Buckingham & Lloyd’s ApartHotels might be a perfect choice. Not only are these ApartHotels slick, stylish, and competitively priced, they’re also located in Kensington, which is just a short hop and skip away from many of the city’s best attractions.
Or, if you’re thinking about heading abroad for a holiday, you might want to check out Buckingham & Lloyd’s range of villas and apartments in Ibiza and soon Italy, France, and Poland. And remember, Rest Less members can also get 15% off stays at Buckingham & Lloyds apartments by entering code RESTLESS15 in their designated promo code box at checkout, or clicking the booking link here.
For more ideas for staycations, days out, and trips abroad, head over to the travel section of our website.