Most Popular Tourist Attractions in London - Top 10
You don’t have to wander very far in London before stumbling across a household-name attraction. That’s because many of the big-hitters – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, the West End – are within a short stroll of each other. Indeed, with so many bucket listers in such a relatively small area, it’s inevitable that those that require a longer train or Tube ride to visit (looking at you, Hampton Court Palace and Kew Gardens) will fall just short of claiming a place in London’s top 10 most popular tourist attractions, despite being wildly popular in their own right. But what landmarks, monuments, museums and districts did make the top 10? You’re about to find out…
Basically one great big open-air museum, Parliament Square is where you can set your watch by the chimes of Big Ben, ogle the grand gothic confection that is the Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament), and visit what is perhaps London’s most stunning landmark. No, we don’t mean the statue of Winston Churchill (though that’s worth a look, too). We’re talking about Westminster Abbey, a monumental edifice for which the phrase ‘wow factor’ might well have been invented. Wander the vast, hushed halls of this architectural masterpiece and immerse yourself in 1,000 years of British history. Hatches, matches and dispatches: these soaring stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings have seen 'em all, and then some. Don’t miss Poets’ Corner, last resting place of some of literature’s most famous figures, among them Browning, Chaucer, Dickens and Shakespeare.
Natural History Museum
Hands-down the most popular museum in London, Kensington’s Natural History Museum is a treasure trove of weird, wonderful and unimaginably ancient exhibits that’s sure to charm all but the most jaded of sightseers. Step inside, where no less than 80 million objects run the gamut from huge triceratops skulls to tiny chunks of 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite. Take a walk through the entire history of our planet and allow yourself to be flabbergasted by humanity’s teeny tiny place in the grand scheme of things. Then treat yourself to a consoling t-rex cuddly toy in the gift shop.
The London Eye
This South Bank whopper is Europe’s largest cantilevered observation wheel and a great way to take in some of London’s best views without, you know, all that tedious walking around. Hop aboard for a thrilling 30-minute spin that takes you 443 feet above Old Father Thames, affording birds-eye views of many of London’s most iconic landmarks. We’re talking St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, The Shard and even – on clear days – the fairytale turrets of Windsor Castle, way out west of the city.
The British Museum
It may not have quite the pulling power of the Natural History Museum, but the British Museum is no slouch, and easily claims its place in the top 10 most popular tourist attractions in London. The most eye-popping highlights of this enormous and endlessly fascinating collection are also some of the most controversial. Don’t miss, for example, the Rosetta Stone, the fearsome two-headed Aztec Serpent, a bona fide Easter Island statue and, perhaps most contentiously of all, the Parthenon sculptures, aka the Elgin Marbles.
London Eye not high enough for ya? Well, you’re in luck: The Shard is the UK’s tallest building and its 72nd-floor observation deck is as close as you can get to entering the stratosphere, short of chartering an actual plane or space rocket. Take the 60-second elevator ride up to The View from The Shard where, some 1,000 feet above the streets of Southwark, you can see for miles and miles. Around 40 on a clear day, in fact. Better still, there’s a champagne bar on the 69th floor, ideal for steadying the nerves before or after braving the platform.
Tower of London
There’s more murder, mystery and intrigue between the walls of the Tower of London than in any number of episodes of Game of Thrones. Here’s where the kids of Edward IV (aka the Princes in the Tower) vanished without a trace in 1483, where Henry VI was murdered in 1471, and where not one but two of gouty serial monogamist Henry VIII’s wives lost their heads (Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, fact fans). Cast your beady eyes over the Tower’s priceless collection of Crown Jewels, including swords, scepters, and regal rings and amulets plus, of course, the legendary St Edward’s Crown, as worn by Elizabeth II and Charles III at their coronations. And don’t forget to say hey to the resident ravens and their pet Beefeaters!
Set inside an imposing former power station on the South Bank of the Thames, the building that houses the Tate Modern is a work of art in its own right. Admire its glorious red-brick facade and soaring chimney stack before stepping into the cavernous Turbine Hall, a vast five-story space that has hosted commissioned installations from the likes of Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor and Louise Bourgeois. This epic gallery also contains more modern masterpieces than you can shake a paintbrush at, including iconic pieces by Picasso, Pollock, Klee, Lichtenstein and Warhol, plus must-see selections from Monet’s iconic Water-Lilies series.
The West End
Can you even say you’ve been to London if you haven’t experienced the bright lights and grease paint of its theater district? No, dear reader, you cannot. Here’s where you can catch classics including Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap (a 70-something stalwart of the West End), as well as relative newbies like Wicked and Matilda. Check out our tips on bagging cheap tickets to London’s top West End shows here.
St Paul’s Cathedral
One of the London skyline’s most iconic landmarks, St Paul’s Cathedral rose majestically out of the ashes of the Great Fire of London and has since survived two World Wars as well as bearing witness to innumerable state funerals, royal weddings and other national occasions. Designed, of course, by the mighty Sir Christopher Wren, its huge gilded altar and 17th-century Grand Organ should be considered London sightseeing essentials. Pay your respects to Admiral Lord Nelson, scientist Alexander Fleming and ol’ Chrissy W himself in the cathedral’s cavernous crypt.
Last but by no means least in our rundown of London’s 10 most popular attractions, Buckingham Palace requires little introduction. Check out pieces from the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery, set on the former site of Queen Victoria’s chapel, just next to the Palace. Or just turn up around 11am most days to do battle with the crowds for those prized selfies during the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Either way, a visit to this most regal of royal residences should be considered essential on any London trip.