London city guide: What to see and do in London
Read our comprehensive guide to planning a trip to the city, and find out the best neighborhoods and sites to check out no matter what you're interested in.
London calling! England’s capital city is a hub for everything from entertainment to fashion to food to history to business and so much more. Vacationers to London will find no shortage of things to see and do no matter what their interests are. But with so much on offer, how do you even begin planning? You’ve come to the right place.
In short, no matter which London neighbourhood you’re in, you’ll be met with world-class options for dining, lodging, shopping, sightseeing, and theatregoing. Some neighbourhoods are more famous for some of these things than others — Mayfair, for example, is a prime shopping centre, and the West End at large is shorthand for London theatre. Which neighbourhoods you choose to explore depends on what you want to do — catch a show, shop ‘til you drop, museum hop, or have family-friendly fun with the kids.
In this article, we’ve provided a rundown of London’s best theatre, attractions, and experiences; must-see landmarks for first-time visitors to discover; and guidance on where to eat, stay, and explore. Find links to our other guides for more in-depth information about the London cultural experiences on offer, and get tickets to all sorts of London events right here on London Theatre.
Best West End shows in London
The West End is not only London’s premier theatre district but one of the most famous theatre hubs in the world. It’s not a trip to London without catching at least one show there! If you’re new to the West End, a long-running favourite like The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, or The Mousetrap (the longest-running play in history) is a great place to start. Or, if you want to be adventurous, you can be among the first audiences to see something new.
From plays to musicals, comedies to dramas, classical Shakespeare to contemporary premieres, there’s a show for everyone to love in the West End. That includes all ages, too, as there are plenty of kid-friendly shows to check out if you’re on a family trip.
Read our guides to:
- The top 10 West End musicals to see
- The top 10 West End plays to see
- The best-reviewed West End shows playing now
- The best West End shows for kids
- Shakespeare plays to see in London
- West End shows starring celebrities
Get West End show tickets on London Theatre.
What to see and do in London
If you’re visiting London for the first time, you will surely want to see the most famous sights: the London Eye (and the view from it), London Bridge, Big Ben, and Trafalgar Square. Those are good places to start. You can also visit London’s eight Royal Parks, like Kensington Gardens and Regent’s Park — the latter can make for a day trip all its own, as it encompasses an open-air theatre, the London Zoo, and a boating lake.
But London has so much more to offer than its most touristy spots. For example, you may have heard of the British Museum and the Tate Modern, but did you know about the Postal Museum or the London Transit Museum? You may want to look at Buckingham Palace, but why not also explore Blenheim Palace or Hampton Court Palace and dive even deeper into royal history?
Plus, walking through London is an experience in itself. The city has a unique mix of historic shops and sites amid modern attractions, and you might stumble upon your favorite London spot without even planning it.
Best London attractions and experiences
London has attractions that cater to every visitor’s unique interests. If you’re here to see theatre, traditional West End shows are far from the only entertainment on offer — see a stand-up comedy show, a symphony, a ballet, or a pantomime at theatres all across London.
Adrenaline junkies will enjoy a trip to a theme park like Thorpe Park, or for a more chilling kind of thrill, journey through London’s darkest histories during the London Dungeons tour. Cruise lovers can have afternoon tea on a riverboat on the Thames, or they can take a different river cruise to see the London Eye and other sights without having to soar high up.
Check out our guides to the top London attractions and experiences, and browse our full list of London experiences on offer on London Theatre.
Get tickets to London attractions and experiences on London Theatre.
Best London neighborhoods to visit
There’s no singular “best” neighborhood to visit in London — it all depends on what you want to do. That said, Soho is one of London’s most famous neighbourhoods, boasting a high concentration of West End theatres, top-rated restaurants, and gorgeous shops. Nearby is Covent Garden, another theatre hub that also has a piazza with lots of quaint florists, merchants, and food.
The waterside Camden Town is another must-see, offering the best of both these neighborhoods: Take in street art and shop at vintage stores and craft markets, step into the posh Primrose Hill neighborhood and its picturesque parks, or catch live music at one of the area’s iconic entertainment venues.
Oxford Street in the Mayfair neighbourhood is London’s premier shopping district, so go there if you’re in need of a new wardrobe. If you want to learn some of London's history, visit the London Bridge neighbourhood, where you can go on walking tours to learn more about how some of the city’s most famous landmarks were built. Or, you can visit the many bookshops and historical museums in the Bloomsbury neighbourhood.
Where to eat in London
One great food hub in London is Borough Market in Southwark, with more than 100 food vendors selling every type of global cuisine imaginable, right along the riverbank. Or, have a one-of-a-kind afternoon tea at the Garden Cafe located right on the Buckingham Palace grounds. If you’re on a budget or simply want to try a British food chain, you can probably find a Nando’s, Greggs, Wetherspoons, Wagamama, or Giraffe nearby, no matter where in the city you are.
As one of London’s most bustling cultural centers at large, Soho is a great go-to neighbourhood for food. You can also check out Islington — whose Upper Street has been unofficially nicknamed “Supper Street” thanks to its numerous restaurants — or Notting Hill, a quaint little neighbourhood with a long history of dining excellence.
Where to stay in London
London is a huge city, so where to stay all depends on your itinerary. Yes, the Tube can easily get you across the city, but if you don’t want to spend half your trip just riding it, find a central neighbourhood to stay in that’s between all the ones you plan to visit. That way, you’re never too far away from the sights you plan to see. Of course, if all your plans are concentrated in one neighbourhood, or in a couple adjacent neighbourhoods, that makes it easy to decide where to stay!
There are no shortage of hotels to choose from, and the type of hotel, too, depends on the purpose of your trip. Do you plan on spending a lot of time in the hotel, and therefore want one with more luxuries? Do you need a kid- or pet-friendly hotel? Are you staying for one night or several? All these are factors to keep in mind.
If your trip to London is a once-in-a-lifetime or otherwise special event, you might want to stay in one of its famous historic hotels, like the Savoy or Claridge. If you want a tried-and-true staple, chains like Marriotts, CitizenMs, Best Westerns, and Premier Inns are scattered all over London.
Things to do in London with kids
London has so many family-friendly shows, attractions, and experiences that you can take kids of all ages to. Go for thrills at an amusement park like Alton Towers or Legoland Windsor Resort, introduce your kids to “celebrities” at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, or get up close and personal with aquatic animals at Sea Life London.
There are also lots of great choices for West End shows to see with kids — Disney musicals like Frozen and The Lion King are great options, along with the stage musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book Matilda.
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