Big Ben & Houses of Parliament
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Big Ben

Perhaps the most famous of all London attractions, Big Ben is the nickname of the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, though it actually consists of three distinct parts: the Elizabeth Tower, the Great Clock, and the Great Bell. The tower stands 11 stories tall and strikes every hour. Big Ben is really just to be admired from the outside, though there are tours available to UK residents. Website

Houses of Parliament

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which are the two houses of the UK Parliament. A standard ticket (£18) includes an audio tour, but we’d recommend the guided tour for £25 instead. The guided tour is 90 minutes, offered in a variety of languages, and takes you through some of the major rooms and areas of the palace while providing detailed information about the history and workings of the building. You are also free to ask any questions you might have and for those who wish to gain a base understanding of the workings of the UK Parliament, this is a great opportunity. Website

The London Eye

One of the most recognizable attractions in London, the London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the Southbank and is Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel. It used to be the highest public viewing point in London, but was overtaken by the observation deck on the 72nd floor of the Shard. The London Eye is open daily from morning until late evening. Standard tickets cost £21.20 (with the online discount) and include a 30-minute rotation on the wheel at your ticketed time.  Fast track and other special tickets start at £10 more. Website

Westminster Abbey (1)
Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

The most famous church in the UK, Westminster Abbey is a large, Gothic style abbey church just west of the Palace of Westminster. It was founded in 960, but the church was rebuilt in 1517 and the towers were rebuilt in the 19th century. Westminster Abbey has huge historical and social significance to British history, having been the setting for every coronation since 1066 and numerous other royal occasions, including sixteen royal weddings. It is still a church dedicated to regular worship. Tickets cost £20 and it is highly advisable to check opening times in advance as the abbey is open different hours and different days each week and could be closed for a variety of special occasions. Website

London Skyline (1)
Tower of London

Tower of London

This is a historic castle located in the borough of Tower Hamlets. It was founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England and is generally considered a tourist favorite for a variety of reasons, one of which is certainly that it is home to the crown jewels. Tickets cost £25 (cheaper online) and include access to the Tower, the Crown Jewels display, all exhibits, the Yeoman Warder guided tour (a crowd favorite), and the live historical re-enactments that take place throughout the day. The Tower of London gets incredibly crowded, particularly the area in which the Crown Jewels are displayed, so it is highly advisable to go during off-peak times, particularly very early morning. The Yeoman Warders Tour, led by one of the Yeoman Warders (“Beefeaters”), lasts approximately 60 minutes (beginning every 30 minutes) and is a highly entertaining tour with stories about the tower’s history and happenings, though do note that these tours get quite large in size. Additional audio guides are available for an extra £4. Website

st. paul
St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s is an Anglican cathedral, which holds the second largest cathedral dome in the world, and has been a cherished icon of London for centuries. When the old St. Paul’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the cathedral was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and remained the tallest building in London until 1962. You can visit St. Paul’s for £18 (or purchase tickets online for £16) and then climb 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery, 376 steps to the Stone Gallery, and 528 steps to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome for amazing views of the city.

You can also book a guided tour for a £3 fee or a one-hour Triforium Tour (£8 extra fee), which offers a visit to the library, Geometric Staircase, and a view from the nave. The Triforium Tours are offered only a few times per month, so should be booked in advance.

Alternatively, you can attend one of the daily masses or evensong at St. Paul’s, which allows you to enter free of charge, though you won’t have access to the dome. During these times, you can come and go as you please – there is no obligation to stay for the duration of the mass or choral performance. Website

General Schedule of Free Ceremonies – Monday-Saturday

Morning prayer: 7:30-8 am
Eucharist: 8-8:30 am
Eucharist: 12:30-1:15 pm
Choral Evensong: 5-5:45 pm

General Schedule of Free Ceremonies – Sunday

Holy Communion: 8-8:30 am
Choral Mattins: 10:15-11:15 am
Sung Eucharist: 11:30-12:30 pm
Choral Evensong: 3:15-4 pm
Eucharist: 6-7 pm

Buckingham Palace

This is the official London residence of the Queen (and all former sovereigns since 1837) and is also the administrative headquarters of the Monarch. Though much of a palace is closed to the public, the State Rooms are open to visitors for several months of the year. The State Rooms are the public rooms of the Palace where monarchs receive and entertain visitors. There are guided tours starting from £21.50 for just the State Rooms, though there are other tours as well which include admission to areas such as the Gardens or the Royal Mews. Website

Changing the Guard

Changing the guard generally refers to the change in the shift of the guards outside of Buckingham Palace, though there is a changing the guard ceremony at Windsor Castle as well. All the guards taking part in the ceremony are dressed in traditional red tunics and bearskin hats and the ceremony is set to music for a bit of pomp and circumstance. Changing the guard at Buckingham Palace takes place on certain pre-determined days (generally every other day) beginning around 11 am. The event tends to draw large crowds, so if you want to get one of the better spots, it is recommended to arrive an hour in advance.

Tower Bridge (1)
Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is a bridge over the Thames in East London that has two ornate towers rising from its supports. The bridge, completed in 1894, has a walkway 143 feet above the river with a glass floor, allowing pedestrians to see great views of the city and startling views of the road below. This walkway was designed to allow pedestrians to cross when the bridge was raised for boats to pass through, and you can still watch this happening today. To do so, you must be willing to climb 239 steps to the top and to book tickets at least 24 hours in advance (this can be done online, and tickets are valid for one year from purchase) for £8. Do be prepared to wait in line and go through security checks. This bridge is often mistaken for London Bridge, given that it is the most recognizable. However, though London Bridge is more famous by name, it is actually rather ordinary looking in comparison to Tower Bridge. Website

The Shard

The Shard

The Shard is a 95-story pyramid-shaped glass skyscraper on the South side of the Thames, below London Bridge. It is the tallest building in London, as well as the tallest building in the EU. The Shard, like many other skyscrapers, is a very new addition to the London skyline, with construction having been completed in 2012. The observation deck, the View from the Shard, provides excellent views of London and tickets may be booked in advance for a specific date and time for £25.95 (once you arrive at the specified time, you can stay as long as you like). If you don’t want to pay this steep price, you should consider an advance booking to the Sky Garden observation deck of the Walkie Talkie building, which is free.