1. Do a walking tour
Whatever you’re interested in, I guarantee there’ll be a walking tour geared around it. There are many companies, but London Walks is the most popular, best known for its Jack the Ripper, Shakespeare, and pub walks.
London Walks last between two and two and a half hours and cost £15 for adults, £10 for students and £5 for kids. Due to the outbreak, you now have to pre-book and pay on the night buy you really get your money’s worth!
Free and ‘pay what you can’ walking tours can be found around the city, or you can opt for a bus tour, which tend to cost more. That being said, it’s worth paying more for the chance to talk to experienced guides and learn everything you can about this amazing city.
2. Go up The Shard
If you fancy tackling your fear of heights, The Shard is one of London’s most iconic buildings and you can visit its observation area situated 800 feet (or 244m) above the city. On a clear day you can see for over 40 miles and spot other classic landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.
The incredible view certainly isn’t cheap - you’ll need to pay between £25 to £29 for the pleasure but it’s still something everyone should do at least once. And no, you don’t need to climb hundreds of flights of stairs for this one, there’s lift.
If you didn’t recoil at the admission price, there are also a few bars and restaurants which o?er glamourous drinks and luxurious food so you can take in the views while dining like a king. Try the Aqua Shard or Oblix for the full experience.
3. Climb the O2
The O2 Arena is a massive arena in South East London. It houses world-famous and iconic sports, music, comedy and entertainment events, a cinema, shopping centre and a whole range of restaurants... and you can walk on top of it.
Another one for people who love to take in views, this 365m journey takes you 52m above the ground where you can catch views of Greenwich, the Olympic Park, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Canary Wharf and the Shard.
Choose from daytime, sunset and twilight climbs to see a totally 360 degree view of East London. They also o?er celebration and even dining packages, but best to opt for a non-windy day if you’re going to treat yourself (or a special someone) to the latter…
4. See the Ceremony of the Keys
This is by far one of the most iconic events to happen in London.
The Ceremony of the Keys is an ancient ritual that takes place at the Tower of London every single night, when the gates of the Tower are ceremonially locked. It’s incredible to behold, truly atmospheric and you will feel like you’re ‘watching’ history happen.
Tickets cost just £5 and can be booked via the Historic Royal Palaces website but sell out fast, sometimes months in advance, so make sure you keep an eye out for upcoming releases.
5. Watch the Changing of the Guards
In the same vein as the changing of the keys, the Changing of the Guards is also an elaborate display marking the moment the Old Guard is replaced by the New Guard.
It starts at 11:00 at Buckingham Palace, lasts 45 minutes and is totally free.
Booking isn’t required, but keep checking the website to make sure there’s no last-minute changes to the schedule.
Visit this website to check the schedule.
6. Visit Buckingham Palace Gardens
Continuing the Royal theme, Buckingham Palace gardens have been opened to the public for the first time this year (2021).
You can opt to just stroll and/or picnic in the gardens for £16.50 per person (£15 for students) or you can take a tour of the state rooms and gardens for £60 per person (£54 for students).
The garden is usually reserved for the Queen and her guests, so the chance to see such phenomenal gardens deserves a place on any bucket list.
The vast, perfectly curated space is dotted with hidden gems like the royal beehives, wildflower meadow and the Waterloo Vase. Tickets and more info can be found on the Royal Collection Trust website.
7. Go to a museum late at night
It’s all very well and nice to go to a museum during the day, but the atmosphere completely changes past dark (unfortunately not in a ‘Night at the Museum’ kind of way).
Numerous museums across the city o?er so-called ‘latest’ (entry after normal opening hours), but some are more frequent than others.
Although they’ve been postponed due to the pandemic (boo), the British Museum hosts lates on Fridays until 10.30pm. The Hayward Gallery is open until 9pm on Thursdays, and the National Gallery does the same on Fridays.
Another popular option is the Natural History Museum, which is open until 10pm on the last Friday of every month, sometimes with a silent disco to round o? the night.
The Royal Academy, the Tate Modern, The V&A and loads of other classic London museums and galleries also o?er lates, complete with drinks, guided tours, engaging talks and even silent discoes. It’s worth checking out their websites for details.
8. See a West End show
Visit London’s West End (up there with Broadway in terms of reputation, we'd say it's better...) and experience the magic of a theatre!
With so much choice, from adaptions of your favourite books through quirky musicals to award- winning dramas and pantomimes, you’re bound to find something which draws your eye.
As we all come out of ‘hibernation’ over the pandemic, London’s theatres are bringing back some classic, and some more nouvelle, musicals and shows.
Catch The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, sing along to Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre or watch 16-year-old Jamie live out his drag dream in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre.
Book tickets in advance for the best deals and be aware that, since ‘Freedom Day’ theatres have been operating at full capacity with only limited social distancing.
9. Read a book at the British Library
The British Library is one of the largest libraries in the world, containing an estimated 170-200 million items from across the world and the famous Magna Carta.
To access the Reading Rooms, you need to register for a Reader card, which does involve some forward-planning as you need to book an in-person appointment. The appointment involves handing over some ID, and getting a photo card. It’s free, lasts for 4 years, and in return you get access to the BL’s collection, so it is worth it in the end.
Once registered, you can book a spot in any of the 11 Reading Rooms and while away the hours amidst intellectual people buried in one of many interesting books.
10. Ride a bus/tube to the end of the line
Pretty self-explanatory and fairly pointless…but oddly relaxing.
If you don’t want to hop back off on the train home, there are plenty of places to explore at the end of the line, including the famous pubs of Richmond, the Mother’s Ruin distillery in Walthamstow, and the sausage rolls at High Barnet’s Victoria Bakery.
11. Ride the Emirates cable car
Catch the cable car at the Greenwich Peninsula and gaze at London’s iconic skyline as you glide over the Thames all the way to the Royal Docks.
The best, and of course most popular, time to go is sunset, but extended rides are available after dark so you can really see the city light up.
The car comes around every 30 seconds and the journey takes just under 10 minutes. A single ticket costs £4 and you can use your Oyster Card to pay!
12. Climb the monument
‘The Monument’ is a permanent reminder of the Great Fire of London of 1066, a defining moment in London’s history.
It’s 311 steps to the top but you’re rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views over the city.
Tickets cost £5.40 (£4.10 for students with ID) and can be booked on the website or bought on the day.
13. Visit the Kyoto Garden
You haven’t known true inner peace until you’ve watched the waterfall at the Kyoto Garden, nestled inside Holland Park.
The Kyoto Garden is a traditional Japanese-style garden, with tiered waterfalls, a koi pond, stone lanterns and Japanese maple trees.
Opened in 1991, the garden was a gift from the city of Kyoto to celebrate the long friendship between Britain and Japan. The garden is free to visit and opens from 7.30am, closing 30 minutes before dusk. The ideal space for reflection and relaxation when you need a break from London life!
14. Ride the London Eye
It’s a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason.
The iconic London Eye has been one of London’s most popular visitor attractions for over a decade, o?ering one of the more unique ways to admire London’s skyline.
It’s essentially a massive ferris wheel, and involves stepping into a pod that slowly rotates allowing you to take in the breathtaking views.
At the top, you’re up 135m in the air, overlooking landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. On a clear day you should be able to see up to 40km, all the way out to Windsor Castle!
It’s also where the New Years’ fireworks take place which you can watch from several viewpoints around Westminster Bridge.
A standard ticket will set you back £24.50 while a fast-track ticket is £34.50.
15. Visit an exclusive members’ club
This one could be tricky, and you’re going to need to make some connections.
London’s private members’ clubs are world famous, both for their sheer number and their exclusivity.
Often, any prospect of membership requires ‘seconders’ (people you know already in the club who can vouch for you) and a heck of a lot of money (although a touch of fame also helps).
If you do however happen to befriend someone who is a member of such a club, they’re usually allowed to bring guests. You must be on your best behaviour and obey any draconian rules, because any trouble will reflect badly on the friend who so kindly granted you access to this elite world of pomp and indulgence.
Trying to get yourself inside a private members’ club is something well worth doing…even if it is just to sit at the table and read a newspaper like you’re a 19th century gentleperson.
16. Go for Afternoon Tea
An absolute classic, afternoon tea is wonderfully and quintessentially English. No trip or stay in London is complete without it.
Afternoon Tea can be as bougie or as basic as you like as there are places across the city to suit any budget and taste.
For the most upmarket of experiences, head to The Langham, which has been serving afternoon tea since 1865. The hotel’s famous afternoon tea includes treats such as baked tarts, custard creams and caramel digestives, in a quirky homage to the nation’s favourite biscuits.
The most traditional afternoon tea is obviously to be found at Fortnum & Mason and at £52.50 per person it’s definitely a treat.
The best value afternoon tea in the city is at The Delaunay. Finger sandwiches, pastries and cakes come served on a traditional three-tiered stand, all for just £19.75 per person (plus £10 if you fancy some champagne with your poppyseed sponge cakes).
For a more unusual experience, order a Japanese-themed afternoon tea at Kaia, The Ned. Nibble on a raspberry and lychee chow bun, sushi and matcha-infused cakes and sample their impressive collection of teas, all for £30 per person.
17. See a show at the Globe
Not quite as old as you’d think since it opened in 1997, the Globe Theatre is a truly unique place (and not just because it’s the only thatched-roof building in London).
Performances of - you guessed it - Shakespeare’s plays are performed year-round, despite the open-air structure.
If you’re feeling flush, or don't fancy standing up the whole way through Hamlet, you can opt for a seat in the galleries but if not, you can fight the other ‘groundlings’ for the best views from the yard.
18. Swim in the Heath
All year round, even in the depths of winter, people flock to swim in the open water pools at Hampstead Heath.
There are three di?erent ponds at the Heath - the mixed pond, the ladies’ pond, and the men’s pond. It could be quite embarrassing should you wander into the wrong pond, so make sure to check where you’re going before you dive in
19. Observe a case at the Old Bailey
The UK observes an open justice law so most court hearings are open to the public, except for cases where it would infringe on another person’s human rights and other special cases.
The Old Bailey, the central Criminal Court draws the most ‘spectators’ into its public galleries and has heard some of the most famous cases in history, including Doctor Crippen, the Yorkshire Ripper, Jeremy Thorpe and the Kray Twins.
Access is free but seats are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis, and any disruption during the hearing will be punished, sometimes with a hefty fine but sometimes with contempt of court proceedings - so be on your best behaviour.
Rather than just rocking up, it’s a good idea to have a browse of the court listings, which are published daily on the court’s website. Your best bet is probably sentencing hearings, where the prosecution will outline the case, the defence will ask for mitigation and the Judge will sentence the defendant.
To watch justice be done is a truly fascinating, if not a slightly morbid, thing to behold – a worthy addition to any bucket list.
20. Have a pub roast
Another British classic, a roast lunch (or dinner) is a staple of many people’s week.
The meat (or alternative for) is the supposed star of the show, but everyone knows it’s the trimmings that make a good roast. Plenty of roast potatoes, a couple of Yorkshire puddings, and a good assortment of vegetables all doused in litres of gravy. Delicious.
You can definitely get a bad roast, so be wary of where you decide to tick this item o? your bucket list. Top-tier recommendations include Blacklock Shoreditch, The Quality Chop House (Farringdon) and Roast (SE1). Toby Carvery is a classic student favourite and on Sundays you can enjoy a classic roast from £11.29.
21. Try a curry on Brick Lane
There’s a food theme emerging here, but London’s just has so many great places to eat!
In the 1960s and 1970s, Bengali migrants set up Indian restaurants in Brick Lane which became THE place to go for a curry and bring-your-own beer night.
Head to The Famous Curry Bazaar between 12-5pm on weekdays for 50% o?, or to Bengal Village for incredible Bangladeshi fish specialties.
More recently Brick Lane’s o?erings have diversified. Alongside the famous curry houses you’ll now find bagels, street food and some pretty upmarket restaurants o?ering a range of delicious and exotic meals. Cult favourites include Beigels (traditional Jewish bagels) from Beigel Bake - freshly baked and stu?ed with salmon and cream cheese. The fact that this bakery it open 24/7 is extremely dangerous.
22. Visit a flower market
It’s an Instagrammer’s dream and a millennial stereotype, but London’s flower markets are breathtakingly beautiful places.
Are you a sucker for a peony? Then you’ll love the ones that come beautifully wrapped in crisp brown paper and you can even pop into a ‘hipster’ cafe for a co?ee with your new purchase… all in the name of self-care, of course.
Columbia Road Flower Market is probably the most famous one, based in Hackney. This narrow road fills up with colour and sweet floral scents on a Sunday, attracting Londoners and tourists alike from across the city.
If you want to get the pick of the bunch, it’s best to head over early in the morning, usually around 8am but, if you’re searching for a bargain, some pretty sweet deals can be found around 3pm, when the sellers are packing up.
23. Ice skate at Somerset House
From around November through until January, the stunning neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House is transformed into a giant ice rink.
It marks the start of the festive season for many Londoners and, with special events like Skate Lates and DJ sets, this isn’t the same as fumbling your way around endless laps of the local rink.
Prices start at £11 for adults (£8.50 for concession), but it’s worth it for the festive spirit you’re sure to come away infected with!
24. Get a doughnut at Bread Ahead, Borough Market
If you need a sign to go and get a doughnut, this is it. You won’t go back to soggy supermarket o?erings ever again.
Borough Market is a must-visit for anyone visiting, staying or living in London, but if there’s one place you should go, it’s Bread Ahead.
Maybe the most photographed and instagrammed doughnuts out there, a Bread Ahead donut is so incredibly delicious that people are sometimes willing to queue for hours for a fresh batch.
The doughnuts are made on-site, so are always fresh and bursting with filling. Flavours include vanilla, chocolate and honeycomb, but there’s usually a rotating selection of other flavours and you can’t really go wrong with any of them - not to be dramatic but the strawberry cheesecake one is life-changing.
Bake Ahead doughnuts often sell out before noon, so get there early to enjoy the delightful doughnuts you’ve ever had!
Most of all, enjoy yourself!