Itâ€™s little wonder London is one of the worldâ€™s top tourist destinations, attracting upward of 15 million visitors each and every year. Britainâ€™s capital city is a vibrant arts and entertainment center (its theaters are always busy), and 50 years after the Beatles, the countryâ€™s music scene still rocks.
Built to mark Londonâ€™s millennium celebrations in 2000, the London Eye is Europeâ€™s largest observation wheel. Its individual glass capsules offer the most spectacular views of the city as you embark on a circular tour rising 443 ft above the Thames. The journey lasts 30-minutes, often quicker than the time spent queuing for your turn. If you can, reserve your time in advance.
One of Britainâ€™s most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoriaâ€™s accession time. If youâ€™re wondering whether the Queenâ€™s in, take a peek at the flagpole atop the building: if the royal standard is flying day and night, sheâ€™s at home. On special state occasions she and members of the Royal Family may even put in an appearance on the central balcony.
When sheâ€™s away at her summer palace in Scotland, visitors can purchase tickets for tours of the State Rooms, the Queenâ€™s Gallery and the Royal Mews (from Â£34.50), while the wonderful Changing of the Guard ceremony can be seen most days at 11.30am (free).
3. The Tower of London
From prison to palace, treasure vault to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has fulfilled many different roles down the centuries. One of Britainâ€™s most iconic structures, this spectacular World Heritage Site offers many hours of fun and fascination for visitors curious about the countryâ€™s rich history â€“ after all, so much of it happened here.
The massive White Tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, victor of the famous Battle of Hastings, dominates the 18-acre property and is home to the worldâ€™s oldest visitor attraction, the amazing 17th century Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armaments and armor. Other highlights include the famous Crown Jewels exhibition, the Beefeaters, the Royal Mint, and gruesome exhibits about the executions that took place on the grounds.
4.Â Westminster Abbey
Another location with a long association with British royalty, Westminster Abbey stands on a site thatâ€™s been associated with Christianity since the early 7th century. Officially known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment.
From his burial in 1066 until that of George II almost 700 years later, most sovereigns were not only crowned here but they were buried here too. More recently, itâ€™s become famous as the preferred location for Royal Weddings.
5.Â Hampton Court Palace
Another great Thames-side attraction, Hampton Court is one of Europeâ€™s most famous palaces. Its Great Hall dates from Henry VIIIâ€™s time (two of his six wives supposedly haunt the palace), and itâ€™s where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Other interesting features include the Clock Court with its fascinating astronomical clock dating from 1540, the State Apartments with their Haunted Gallery, the Chapel, the Kingâ€™s Apartments and the Tudor tennis court.
The gardens are also worth visiting â€“ especially in mid-May when in full bloom â€“ and include the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, an area known as the Wilderness and, of course, the palaceâ€™s famous Maze.
6.Â Trafalgar Square and Nelsonâ€™s Column
Trafalgar Square is one of Londonâ€™s best-known tourist spots. Built to commemorate Lord Horatio Nelsonâ€™s victory over the French and Spanish at Trafalgar in 1805, its most notable feature is Nelsonâ€™s Column.
Constructed entirely from granite, this 185 ft high monument overlooks the squareâ€™s fountains and bronze reliefs, cast from French cannons and depicting Englandâ€™s greatest victories at Cape St Vincent, the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar.
Circling Trafalgar Square are numerous other interesting attractions, including the imposing Admiralty Arch, St Martin-in-the-Fields (the royal parish church), the superb National Gallery with its valuable painting collection, and the Whitehall area, home to the Houses of Parliament.
7.Â Greenwich â€“ Home of Britainâ€™s Seafaring History
Greenwich is a highlight of any visit to London. For centuries the hub of Britainâ€™s naval power, the area boasts numerous attractions and can take hours, if not days, to explore properly. First stop should be the Cutty Sark, the last of the 19th century tea clippers that once sailed between Britain and China, the fastest ship of its day. The ship is located adjacent to the Old Royal Naval College, the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre with its exhibits showcasing over 500 years of maritime history, and the Palladian mansion known as Queenâ€™s House.
Thereâ€™s also the impressive collection of the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world and illustrating the history of the Royal Navy from Tudor and Stuart times to the Napoleonic Wars. Afterwards, take a stroll around the 183-acre Greenwich Park, the oldest of Londonâ€™s eight Royal Parks with its many beautiful gardens and walking paths.
8. Hyde Park
Covering 350 acres, Hyde Park is Londonâ€˜s largest open space and has been a destination for sightseers since 1635. One of the parkâ€™s highlights is the Serpentine, an 18th century man-made lake popular for boating and swimming. Hyde Park is also where youâ€™ll find Speakersâ€™ Corner, a traditional forum for free speech (and heckling).
Another Hyde Park landmark is Apsley House, former home of the first Duke of Wellington and purchased after his famous victory at Waterloo. Now a museum, it houses Wellingtonâ€™s magnificent collections of paintings, including VelÃ¡zquezâ€™s Waterseller of Seville, along with gifts presented by grateful European kings and emperors. Englandâ€™s greatest hero is also commemorated at the Wellington Arch
9. The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A) is part of a South Kensington-based group of museums that includes the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.
Founded in 1852, the V&A covers close to 13 acres and contains 145 galleries spanning some 5,000 years of art and related artifacts. Exhibits include ceramics and glass, textiles and costumes, silver and jewelry, ironwork, sculpture, prints and photos.
10.Â St Paulâ€™s Cathedral
The largest and most famous of Londonâ€˜s many churches â€“ and undoubtedly one of the most spectacular cathedralâ€™s in the world â€“ St Paulâ€™s Cathedral sits atop the site of a Roman temple. The previous church structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and Sir Christopher Wren designed the re-build.
Today, the twin Baroque towers and magnificent 365 ft dome of St Paulâ€™s are a masterpiece of English architecture. If youâ€™re up to it, be sure to walk the stairs with their spectacular views of the domeâ€™s interior, including the Whispering Gallery.