London is one of the most-visited cities in the world. I myself have been to London more than a dozen times, and have cumulatively spent months in the UK capital.
What I love about London is probably what a lot of other people love about it, too: the fact that London is dynamic. It's full of history but also modernity. You can visit a centuries-old church or castle, then turn around and go into a brand new skyscraper or sip cocktails at a trendy new bar.
And while I enjoy discovering new things to do and see in London on each trip, there's no denying that the city's top attractions are popular for good reason.
If you're heading to London for the first time, here are my opinions on which of the city's top tourist attractions are actually worth your time and money – and which ones you can probably skip.
12 London tourist attractions worth your time (and money)
Note that this list is very subjective, and based on my personal experiences and opinions. But perhaps they can still help you make some decisions of your own!
1. Tower of London
The Tower of London is the London tourist attraction I have visited the most often. In fact, I worked it out and discovered that I've been to the Tower of London four different times!
The Tower of London (or, more officially, Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London) was first conceived in 1066, and the White Tower at the complex's center was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. The Tower was built as a royal residence, but is generally more infamous as a prison and place of torture.
Tourists have been visiting the Tower of London for centuries (the first ticket booth was put up in the 1850s!), and it's still a fascinating place to spend a few hours today. You can take a guided tour with one of the Yeomen Warders (i.e. the Beefeaters), who are the ones currently in charge of guarding the Tower and the Crown Jewels.
You can also see exhibits inside the White Tower and Bloody Tower, gawk at the Crown Jewels, visit the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula where people like Anne Boleyn are buried, learn about the Tower's resident ravens, and more.
Allow yourself at least a couple hours to fully explore and get the most out of your ticket.
Average price: £30 per ticket
Tower of London tours and tickets:
- Tower of London Early Access + Opening Ceremony and Crown Jewels – This tour is really cool; you get to be first into the Tower, and get to watch the Opening Ceremony where the Chief Yeoman Warder unlocks the Tower gates for the day. Then you get to see the Crown Jewels before the lines form, and get a fully guided tour of the Tower of London.
- Tower of London ticket – Don't want a tour? You can pre-book your ticket here.
2. Tower Bridge Exhibition
Right next to the Tower of London sits Tower Bridge (it's the one many people mistakenly think is London Bridge!). The bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge that was built over the Thames from 1886-1894, and has been iconic and essential in London ever since (on average, 40,000 people cross over this bridge every single day!).
Many people walk across this bridge to take photos of the beautiful Neo-Gothic towers and Thames views, but some don't realize there's a full museum inside those towers and the walkways above the road!
The Tower Bridge Exhibition is a small museum that encompasses both towers and skywalks of the bridge, plus the bridge's original Victorian engine rooms. You'll learn all about how and why the bridge was originally built, and get to see how the bascules used to be raised/lowered to allow ships to pass.
The skywalks are probably the highlight, as they offer excellent views out over central London, and include sections with glass floors that you can sit, jump, or lay down on.
Price: £12 per ticket
Tower Bridge tickets:
- Tower Bridge timed tickets – Book directly in advance. (You can sometimes buy tickets on-site if it's not too busy, but I'd recommend booking ahead if you can.)
- Tower of London and Tower Bridge Early-Access Tour – Combine a guided tour of the Tower of London with a visit to the Tower Bridge Exhibition.
3. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is the gothic cathedral located near London's Parliament buildings where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066, and also where many royal weddings and funerals have taken place.
Visiting Westminster Abbey is a must-do for many visitors to London, and I personally think if you're only going to visit one famous church, it should probably be this one. Westminster is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is beautiful both inside and out.
Also unique to Westminster are all the famous graves and burial sites within its walls. The likes of Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and more are buried in Westminster.
You can either wander around inside the Abbey on your own, or opt for an audio guide. Either way, allow at least 1.5 hours to fully see it all.
(And yes, photos without flash are now permitted inside Westminster Abbey!)
Price: £25 per timed ticket
Westminster Abbey tours and tickets:
- Westminster Abbey Entrance Ticket – Pre-book your timed entrance ticket here.
- Westminster Walking Tour & Westminster Abbey Entry – Go on a walking tour to see the main sites around Westminster, and then have time to explore Westminster Abbey.
4. St. Paul's Cathedral
The other church worth paying to visit in central London is St. Paul's Cathedral. Sitting at the highest point of the City of London atop Ludgate Hill, the cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London and dates back to the late 1600s.
St. Paul's was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London destroyed the original St. Paul's. Wren's version is now one of the most recognizable buildings in London, with its massive dome that reaches 365 feet into the sky.
The cathedral survived The Blitz during WWII, and was famously the place where Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer got married in 1981.
Visitors today can tour the interior of the church, wander down into the crypts (where men like Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke Of Wellington are interred), and climb 530 steps to the top of the dome. (Though note that the dome hasn't been open during the pandemic.)
Price: £18 per ticket, though if you'd like to attend a church service, that's free
St. Paul's tours and tickets:
- St Paul's Cathedral Entry Ticket – Book tickets online in advance here; tickets include an audio guide.
5. London museums
London is home to many world-class museums, and the vast majority of them are completely free to visit. So, while they won't cost you any money, I still think they can be worth your time (especially if you hit London during bad weather).
Some of the top museums in London that I think are worth it (assuming you're a museum person) include*:
- The British Museum – This iconic museum houses more than 13 million artifacts from the ancient world, from Assyria to China to Egypt and beyond. There's been some recent controversy about whether the British Museum should give some of these (mostly stolen) artifacts back, but even if they do they're still going to have millions of things on display. Free to visit, but it's recommended you book a visit time online.
- National Galley – Sitting on the famous Trafalgar Square, this art museum has 2,300+ works spanning from the 1200s to early 1900s. You'll find pieces by famous names like Van Gogh, Monet, Raphael, da Vinci, and more. Free to visit, but it's recommended you book ahead online.
- Natural History Museum – This is my personal favorite museum in London. It's housed in a beautiful building, and has exhibits on dinosaurs, volcanoes, gemstones, and more. This one is great for kids! Free to visit, but it's recommended you book a timeslot online in advance.
- Victoria and Albert Museum – The V&A is one of the largest applied art and design museums in the world, and showcases everything from fashion to furniture. It also has a lovely cafe and garden. Free to visit, and no booking is required.
- Tate Modern – Located on the South Bank, the Tate Modern houses a large collection of modern and contemporary art from all around the world. It also has a rooftop terrace and cafe atop the Blavatnik Building with some of the best London skyline views. Free to visit, and no booking is required.
*Note: These museums all tend to be the most busy on weekends. If you want to visit during a more relaxed time, definitely plan to go on a weekday! (Most are open 7 days a week.)
And there's one paid museum in particular that I think is worth it for any history nerd:
Churchill War Rooms
Just around the corner from 10 Downing Street, you can visit a very unique place: the underground offices where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff plotted Allied military campaigns (and eventual victory) during World War II.
Referred to now as the “Churchill War Rooms,” this collection of basement offices is extra unique in that many rooms look exactly as they did when the War Cabinet left them at the end of the war. You'll feel like you're stepping back in time to get a tiny taste of what wartime would have been like here.
Visiting includes getting to see several important rooms and offices, as well as an audio guide that explains them all.
Even if you aren't a huge history buff, this is still a pretty fascinating place to visit.
Price: £26.35 per adult timed ticket
Churchill War Rooms tickets and tours
- War Rooms timed entry ticket (book direct)
- Historical Westminster Walking Tour & Churchill War Rooms Entry – Learn about London during WWII and the Blitz, and then visit the Churchill War Rooms with an audio guide.
6. Going for afternoon tea
I'm a huge, huge fan of traditional afternoon tea, and have had afternoon/high tea in countries all around the world. But the tradition was of course started in the UK, and London does some of the best afternoon teas in the world.
Whether you're looking for an elegant high tea, a more laid-back tea, or a themed afternoon tea, you can find them all in London at different price points.
I have a whole post about themed afternoon tea in London, but here's a quick guide to spots I'd personally recommend for afternoon tea:
- Tea at Swan at Shakespeare's Globe – This restaurant right next to the Globe theater on the South Bank is a great spot for afternoon tea. The tea here is loosely Shakespeare-themed, and the room offers up some stunning views over the Thames toward St. Paul's Cathedral. Tea starts around £35 per person.
- Science Tea at The Ampersand – If it's a fun themed tea you're after, you can't go wrong with the science-themed tea at the Drawing Rooms inside The Ampersand hotel. The tea comes out bubbling with dry ice and is so much fun. The hotel is also really close to many of London's top museums in South Kensington. Tea is around £50 for adults and £35 for kids.
- Tea at The Lanesborough – The Lanesborough hotel in Knightsbridge has one of the more beautiful conservatory-style restaurant spaces I've seen in London. The afternoon tea here is both fancy and delicious, but it's on the more expensive end starting at £65 per person.
The are also the famous teas at places like Fortnum & Mason, The Savoy, and Claridge’s, plus other themed teas covering everything from Harry Potter to Alice in Wonderland. It's likely your hotel may even offer an afternoon tea.
And despite most afternoon teas being on the expensive end for a meal, I think it's worth it!
RELATED: A Guide to the Most Unique Themed Afternoon Teas in London
7. Parks and gardens
London may be a megacity, but even at its very center you can find pockets of calm and little green oases to enjoy.
London's most famous park is probably Hyde Park, the largest of four Royal Parks that more or less connect Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace. It's a park I visit on every single trip to London; I love watching people walking their dogs, and going over to the Serpentine to see the swans.
Like in most large cities, I feel like a lot of Londoners take Hyde Park for granted – it's an awesome green space, and is always free to visit!
The other Royal Parks that are connected to Hyde Park (and also free to visit) include Kensington Gardens, Green Park, and St. James' Park.
Elsewhere in London, Regent's Park is also a beautiful place to go for a stroll, and further out Richmond Park is home to hundreds of free-roaming deer.
And when it comes to parks/gardens worth paying for, I have to mention Kew Gardens. Kew is a large botanic garden in southwest London, and is so special that it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. (Get tickets here.)
8. Jack the Ripper tour
Okay, this one maybe sounds out of left field, but hear me out! London's East End (which includes places you've probably heard of like Whitechapel, Brick Lane, and Shoreditch) is a part of London that I think is worth exploring. It's an area full of street art and international food and the famous Cockney rhyming slang.
And one reason you might find yourself in the East End is if you were to book a Jack the Ripper walking tour.
Jack the Ripper was a (still as-yet unidentified) serial killer who terrorized the Whitechapel area in 1888. His murders have always been intriguing in a grisly sort of way, and the proliferation of true crime podcasts in recent years has led to an increase in the number of Jack the Ripper walking tours in the East End.
Most Jack the Ripper walking tours will wind through the streets of Whitechapel after dark, telling the stories of the women he killed while you stand sometimes in the exact spots where their bodies were found.
Having been on more than one of these myself, I DO actually think they are good – in a really morbid, macabre kind of way.
Price: Varies, but usually around £16-£20
Jack the Ripper walking tours:
- Jack the Ripper Tour with ‘Ripper-Vision' – A nighttime walking tour that uses projections to help take you back to Victorian London.
- Afternoon Jack the Ripper Walking Tour – The same tour as above, but during daylight hours.
RELATED: London's East End: A Weekend Guide
9. Camden Town
Speaking of neighborhoods outside of central London that I think are worth exploring, you can also head north to Camden Town. Known for its distinct punk-ish feel, the Camden Market is a fun and always colorful spot to explore – and an affordable place to grab a bite to eat.
Camden is also close to a beautiful park with great views at Primrose Hill, and also right next to Regent's Park where you can visit the large rose garden, go boating, or visit the ZSL London Zoo. The Regent's Canal also runs right through Camden; you can even take a boat ride from here to an area called Little Venice.
- Camden Town Pub Crawl: 5 Pubs – This 4-hour pub crawl says it's “ideal for party animals and lovers of alternative nightlife.”
- Regent’s Canal Waterbus Trip to Little Venice – Take a boat ride on the canal to Little Venice.
10. All the Instagrammable neighborhoods
While Camden is decidedly a little grungy in spots, you've no doubt seen some of the more polished neighborhoods in London, too. The wisteria-draped Kensington, the pastel-drenched Notting Hill, the upmarket Knightsbridge and Mayfair and Belgravia.
And, while some of these neighborhoods do get inundated with Instagrammers (#wisteriahysteria is real), they ARE beautiful and definitely worth visiting.
(Though when it comes to stopping at some of the most famous photo spots within these neighborhoods? I don't feel like Peggy Porschen Cakes is worth it, while having a pint at the Churchill Arms probably is!)
Just remember, though, that these are mostly residential neighborhoods; people live here! So please respect signs asking you to keep your distance from doorways or to not take photos at all.
11. Famous markets
I've already mentioned Camden Market as a market that can be fun to explore, but there are so many markets in London that are worth the trip! Just a few more that I enjoy:
- Borough Market – This famous food market beneath London Bridge is probably the most-recommended market to visit in London. There's certainly a lot to choose from, but I'd avoid lunchtime as it does get busy. (You can also take a food tour here!)
- Covent Garden Markets – The Covent Garden market building houses a couple different markets, including the Apple Market, which is open every day of the week.
- Portobello Road Market – Head to Notting Hill for this large street market, featuring antiques, vintage clothings, and more. (Saturday is the main market day.)
- Old Spitalfields Market – Shop for everything from clothing to gourmet food items at this indoor East End market.
- Columbia Road Flower Market – This street market in Bethnal Green (East End) is open on Sundays.
Visiting markets like these is a great rainy day activity, as well as a great activity for anyone traveling on a budget. Shopping costs money, but simply walking around is free!
12. Harry Potter Studio Tour
Lastly, while this one isn't technically IN London, it's close enough (and popular enough) that I'm going to list it here.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour take place at the Warner Brothers studios just north of London in Leavesden. The majority of the Harry Potter films were shot in these studios, and they have now been transformed into a museum-like experience for fans.
You can see actual film sets, costumes, props, and concept art from the movies, and enjoy interactive experiences that capture the magic of the Harry Potter world. You can walk through the Great Hall (which they decorate for different holidays), bow to a hippogriff in the Forbidden Forest, walk through the actual Diagon Alley, poke around in Dumbledore's office, have a cold glass of butterbeer, and much more.
I've been to the Harry Potter Studio Tour twice, and it was just as magical the second time around. Even if you're just a mild Harry Potter fan, this experience will wow you.
(Just be sure to allow at least 3-4 hours to see everything!)
Harry Potter Studio Tour tickets:
- Harry Potter Tour of Warner Bros. Studio with Transport from London – Entrance tickets plus return bus transport from central London.
RELATED: 11 Magical Harry Potter Things to Do in London
3 London attractions I'm on the fence about
I've shared all the things in London that I think are always worth it. But now let's talk about a few things that I waffle back and forth about. These next London tourist attractions are super popular – but might not be right for you, depending on your travel style.
1. The London Eye
The London Eye has become one of the most recognizable features in the London skyline. The 443-foot-tall cantilevered wheel is one of the world's largest observation wheels, offering up views over Westminster and the South Bank of the Thames.
I've actually ridden the London Eye twice – once on a sunny, blue-sky day and once at night – and still can't decide whether it's actually worth it or not.
In the pros column, the views really are spectacular (as long as you hit a good-weather day). And both times I went, the pod I was in was only half full, meaning there was plenty of room to move around and take good photos.
The cons, however, include the fact that lines can get absolutely insane, and skip-the-line tickets are quite expensive for what's really only a 30-minute ride.
So my verdict is: you'll have to decide for yourself on this one. If you've never done anything like this before and it's a nice day, go for it. Otherwise you can probably skip it and save some money.
Price: Starting at £29.50, or £39.50 for fast-track tickets
London Eye tickets:
- London Eye tickets – I'd personally go with the Fast Track option!
2. View from the Shard
Speaking of expensive views… another place you can easily drop some cash is at the View From the Shard, an observation deck atop the pointy Shard building in Southwark.
From the 72nd floor (about 800 feet up), you do indeed get incredible 360-degree views out over London. But it comes at a pretty steep price (£28 for the cheapest ticket), and of course if you want a drink at the bar up there it'll cost more.
I treated myself to a glass of champagne at the Shard for my birthday a few years ago. And while it was nice to watch the sun set from up so high, I found the outdoor observation platform to be fairly small and cramped at times.
Honestly? There are other ways to access the Shard views that make more sense, like booking a table at one of the restaurants or bars inside. My husband Elliot and I did afternoon tea at Aqua Shard and got similarly great views AND a whole meal.
Price: Starting at £28
View from the Shard tickets:
- The Shard Entry Ticket – If you do want to go, I recommend going up before sunset and staying until the city lights come on. Just be sure to book tickets in advance, as entry is timed!
3. Hop-on-Hop-off buses
HOHO buses tend to illicit strong opinions from people everywhere in the world, and it's no different in London. I feel like hop-on hop-off buses definitely have their place, though, and I've used them before! For example, I sometimes use them to get an overview of a city on a first visit, or when I'm traveling with someone with slightly limited mobility who can't walk miles every day.
There are situations where a hop-on hop-off bus might be a great way to see and get around London, so I won't say you should never do one of these. I will point out, though, that London traffic can be BRUTAL, and you'll likely spend a lot of time on the bus itself.
Price: Starting around £37 per person
London bus tours:
- Big Bus Open-Top Hop-on, Hop-off Sightseeing Tour – You can opt for 24, 48, or 72 hour tickets, and they come with a one-way Thames cruise included.
5 Touristy things in London you can skip
And now to the part of the post you've probably been most curious to read (c'mon, admit it, you scrolled down here first didn't you?). Here are a handful of things that I DON'T think are worth your time in London.
These are “touristy” things that I just don't really love – but I'll offer up some alternatives that you might like instead!
1. Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
It's perhaps the most iconic bit of pomp and circumstance you can witness in London, I know. But I honestly think going to see a Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace is a terrible use of your time.
Why? Because it's SO popular during the summer months that in order to get close enough to actually see anything, you have to arrive at the Buckingham Palace gates an hour (or more) in advance of the 11 a.m. ceremony. The whole thing – which includes guards marching and music being played – lasts for about 40 minutes, so you'll essentially have to devote an entire morning to it.
The ceremony takes place in front of the palace every day in June and July, but only on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays from August-May (and it can be canceled due to weather or other events). Hence why it can get so crowded!
Instead: Horse Guards Parade
If you really want to see a ceremony, I recommend going to watch the smaller Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard ceremony at Horse Guards Parade. This ceremony happens at at 11 a.m. during the week and 10 a.m. on Sundays. It's similar, but not as popular – plus it has horses!
(If you're visiting London outside of the busy summer months, then maybe you want to try it at Buckingham Palace. Just note that the Changing of the Guard doesn't happen every day, and the guards have different uniforms in winter!)
2. Sky Garden
When it comes to free things to do in London, a lot of people recommend going up to the Sky Garden, a mostly-indoor garden and observation deck inside the “Walkie Talkie” building (20 Fenchurch Street).
In theory, this place sounds great: a free spot with lots of greenery and London views?
But in practice, it's kind of a pain to visit. First of all, even though it's free, you do still need to reserve a time to visit online (very rarely they have open walk-up spots), and slots DO fill up in advance. Once you get there, you have to wait in line to go through airport-style security and then to board the elevator.
There are two bars, various seating areas, and plenty of plants once you get up to the Sky Garden itself. But I've been twice and both times it's been quite crowded – even on overcast/rainy days!
My second visit was in spring 2022 when there were open walk-up slots, but the space was still packed and the small outdoor observation platform was closed. We didn't stay long.
Instead: Garden at 120
As an alternative, check out the nearby Garden at 120 for an actual rooftop garden that's usually not as busy. (Or check out my other London skyline views suggestions.)
I just think there are better options than the Sky Garden, especially if the last couple years have made you a little crowd-averse.
3. Oxford Street
Shopping on Oxford Street is often something people want to do in London – Oxford Street is Europe's busiest shopping street, after all! But shopping here is really meh, if you ask me.
The street is busy and loud (it's a major road with lots of traffic), and is lined with a lot of big chain stores that you can frankly find anywhere in the world. If that's what you're looking for, of course, then have at it and enjoy! But other than popping in to Selfridges just to say I did, Oxford Street isn't really for me.
Instead: Carnaby Street
I'd prefer to shop at markets like in Covent Garden, or at a slightly less busy (but still very cool) area like Carnaby Street in Soho.
4. Abbey Road
The zebra crossing made famous by The Beatles on the Abbey Road album cover is, in reality, nothing more. It's just a pedestrian crossing across a fairly busy road in north London.
Have I had my photo snapped here? Of course! Do I think it's a must-do for most people? Definitely not.
Abbey Road is kind of out of the way (it's near St John's Wood Tube station), and it probably wouldn't even be notable if there weren't always people stopping traffic there to take photos.
If you really want to see it, though, then I recommend going on a proper Beatles/rock n' roll tour around London with a stop at Abbey Road (like this tour).
5. Thames dinner cruise
Lastly, you may see dinner cruises on the River Thames advertised around London. And I'm gonna be honest here: the Thames is not really the most beautiful or romantic river, and I don't think dinner cruises here are usually good value for money.
Instead: Regular cruise
Just go for a regular cruise down the Thames if it's on your bucket list. You can ride a short distance on an Uber Boat, go on a full cruise with commentary, or even go on a high-speed RIB boat ride on the Thames.
Nighttime Thames cruises can also be kind of cool if you want to see the city from a different perspective after dark.
There are admittedly some touristy things that I haven't even included on this list. Things like the London Dungeon (basically a haunted house attraction based on London history) or Madame Tussauds (wax museum) are omitted because I've never felt like they were worth spending the money on, and likely wouldn't recommend them to you anyway.
Other popular attractions outside of London (like Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, etc.) are better covered in this post about the best London day trips.
And of course I'm sure there are some awesome things that I just haven't done yet, and therefore don't have an opinion on. Feel free to suggest other things you think I should add in the comments below!
I’ll have to put it on my list to check out next time!