1. Borough Market
Located just on the south bank of the river, Borough Market is London‘s best known food market and is a great place for a wander and a bite to eat. British and international produce compete on the many stalls, while regular live events and the constant flow of people watching keep things interesting. This area is also a good place to start a wander along the river towards the Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge and the Southbank Centre and get a feel for how the city is laid out along the Thames.
Top tip: Go as early as possible, especially on Saturdays. The full market is open 8am Sat (and 10am Wed - Fri). Check the website for foodie events as well to make your visit even tastier.
2. Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge has been an icon on the London skyline since the Victorian age, and stands testament to British engineering achievement in a golden age for innovation. A visit to Tower Bridge includes a fascinating exhibition but the highlight is the high level walkway that stands at a precarious 42 metres above the River Thames. From here you can admire the river skyline in all its glory, and take in highly photogenic views of St Paul‘s Cathedral and the forest of glass skyscrapers sprouting to the east.
Top tip: Try and schedule your visit for suspension bridge opening times (approximately 3 times daily, available on the website) - it‘s an impressive spectacle. Visit at sunset to take the best pictures of the river and city skyline.
Greenwich has a charming village feel with cobbled streets, food markets and ancient pubs but it’s far from quaint: the looming towers of Canary Wharf are visible around the curve of the river so you still feel in touch with the City of London, and the Royal Museums Greenwich have plenty for you to discover. These include the Cutty Sark sailing ship, a chance to look at the meridian line where time zones are measured from and discover astronomy both modern and ancient at the Royal Observatory.
Top tip: Take the commuter boat run by Thames Clippers from the London Eye pier as far east as Greenwich - it‘s a fast way to do sightseeing as you‘ll pass many major sights along the way.
4. Hyde Park
One of London’s eight Royal Parks (although you’re unlikely to see the Queen), Hyde Park stretches over 350 acres and is perfect for a breath of fresh air on a hot day. At the heart of the park is the Serpentine Lido, with daily public swimming and boating available in summer, and the 7-mile long Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. A firm favourite among Londoners, there’s nowhere nicer than Hyde Park when you’re in the mood for a picnic.
Top tip: Hire bikes from the city bike share scheme (known locally as Boris Bikes after the London mayor who introduced them) to enjoy traffic free routes and allow you to see more of the park.
5. Tate Modern
Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, Tate Modern immediately impresses thanks to its location in the former Bankside Power Station. The industrial dimensions of the setting, especially the Turbine Hall, make for an intriguing backdrop for enjoying the huge collection of art from 1900 onwards. Entry to the permanent collection is free, while you are advised to buy tickets well in advance for the many hugely popular temporary exhibitions that come to visit.
Top tip: Join a free guided tour with an expert guide from the museum (daily at 11am, 12pm, 2pm & 3pm) where you will be introduced to highlights from the collection on different themes.
6. St Pauls Cathedral
An iconic sight on the city skyline, St Paul‘s Cathedral has a venerable history that stretches back over 1400 years. The dome is one of the largest in the world and rises more than 100m high, but anyone who can manage the climb up is richly rewarded: the Golden Gallery offers panoramic views of that take in the River Thames, Tate Modern and Shakespeares Globe Theatre while the Whispering Gallery is famous the world over for a charming quirk that allows whispers to be audible on the opposite side of its walls.
Top tip: Make sure to visit the crypt as well as the dome - it has a collection of fascinating monuments to notable Britons, including the tombs of Lords Nelson and Wellington.
7. British Museum
One of London’s great free museums, the British Museum holds an incredible array of artefacts and art from all over the world and from many civilisations. It’s well worth a visit just for the soaring atrium space but the 8 million-strong collection will certainly give you pause for thought. Make sure to schedule in enough time to wander back in history, and look out for the regular roster of exciting temporary exhibitions that explore the history of human civilisation in all its varied and wonderful forms.
Top tip: Contrast the modern with the ancient and visit the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. Presented in an archaic setting constructed from mahogany & oak, this unusual exhibit displays an awe-inspiring collection of curious and weird artefacts brought back in the golden age of scientific exploration.
8. Kew Gardens
If the hustle and bustle of downtown London is making you weary, add a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to your itinerary and you’ll soon find an antidote to the traffic and crowds. A 30 minute train ride transports you to one of the oldest and most famous botanic gardens in the world, complete with manicured landscapes, shady woods, lush glasshouses and a superb education programme that makes it an excellent choice for a family day out. You can also find out more about rare and exotic plant species, of which Kew has an incredible variety.
Top tip: Head for the peaceful surroundings of the Dukes Garden, a pretty cottage garden with a collection of lavender species and velvety lawns hidden by high walls that is often overlooked due to its secluded setting.
9. Buckingham Palace
Every visitor to London should pay a visit to the Queen! Whether you are a fervent monarchist or you just enjoy looking at fancy houses, Buckingham Palace is just the ticket. Since Buckingham is a working palace, you unfortunately are not allowed free rein to wander; however, visitors can tour the nineteen State Rooms that form the heart of the Palace and they are impressive enough to give you a taste of being the Queen for a day. Tours are usually only offered in the summer when the Queen is not in residence: check the website for up-to-date tour dates for this season.
Top tip: Time your visit to coincide with the Changing of the Guard, a free, ceremonial royal performance that takes place every day. Arrive by 10.30 to get a good viewpoint.
10. Visit Harrods in Knightsbridge
If you need to shop for souvenirs, head to Harrods in Knightsbridge. Arguably the most famous department store in the world, it is worth a visit just for the sheer luxury of its wares. The beautiful building is home to some of the most exclusive fashions, beauty and homewares money can buy, as well as an astounding foodhall. Even if you aren‘t feeling rich, it‘s quite a spectacle.
Top tip: Harrods Foodhall is an ideal place to find typical British foodie gifts to take home with you, and if you really want to impress you friends, order them a hamper stuffed with goodies - it‘s a great British luxury tradition to share.