History meets modernity on the streets of London, from the neon signs in Piccadilly Circus to the ancient Egyptian ruins in the British Museum. Whether you ride atop a double-decker bus, hop aboard the Tube or simply walk from place to place, there are many sightseeing highlights throughout the city.
Art lovers will be in heaven at the Tate Modern Gallery, shoppers can spend hours at Portobello Market in Notting Hill and theater-goers can camp out in Leicester Square for the best show tickets. Many sites are perfect for every traveler, though, and you won't want to miss any of them on a trip to London.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous image of London is Big Ben, the bell inside the clocktower at Westminster, home to the British Parliament. Situated beside the Thames River and visible from many parts of the city, you might want to snap a picture of yourself and Big Ben from St. James Park, a few blocks away. Make sure to stick around long enough to hear the bells' chimes, which occur every 15 minutes.
Palace of Westminster
Designed by Charles Barry, the Palace of Westminster – which comprises the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben - is now a wonderful mish-mash of styles, dominated by Gothic buttresses, towers and arches
The cultural significance of Westminster Abbey is hard to overstate. Its popularity can only have increased since the wedding in April 2011 of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Poets' Corner is the final resting place of Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Browning.
Home to the British royal family, Buckingham Palace is a must-see on a holiday to London. Come at 11:30 a.m. to see the Changing the Guards ceremony that takes place daily from May to July, and on alternate dates throughout the rest of the year. Visit during the summer when nineteen State Rooms are open for public tours, or see the palace's horses and stables on a tour of the Royal Mews.
Taking place on alternate days, this ceremony sees soldiers, accompanied by their regimental band, march between Buckingham Palace and Birdcage Walk. After a symbolic handing-over of the Palace keys, the posting of sentries and other military formalities, the Old Guard and the New Guard proceed to alternate their posts.
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Churchyard
The passing of three centuries has done nothing to diminish the magnificence of St Paul's Cathedral, Christopher Wren's masterpiece and London's most famous cathedral. A £40 million restoration project has revived the extravagant main façade.
On a clear day the London Eye, the world's largest observation wheel, offers views as far as 25 miles away. Booking is advised but a number of tickets are held back for same-day sale on site, although weekends and school holidays tend to sell out in advance.
Built to coincide with the millennium, the London Eye is one of the tallest observation wheels in the world, and it towers over the city from south bank of the Thames. Take a ride on the giant wheel and see many of city's most famous sites, like the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and the spires of Westminster Abbey.
This powerhouse of modern art is awe-inspiring even before you enter, thanks to its industrial architecture. It opened as an art museum in 2000 and has enjoyed spectacular popularity ever since.
Tower of London
First founded in 1066, the Tower of London is truly a picture of the city's history and evolution. Join a tour led by a Beefeater and see the Crown Jewels, the gruesomely-named Bloody Tower and Tower Green, where famous prisoners, such as two of Henry VIII's wives, were beheaded in centuries past. You can also see old instruments of torture, like the Rack, and graffiti on the walls from 16th Century prisoners.
Despite what its name may imply, Piccadilly Circus is actually an open area at the junction of several major roads, much like Times Square in New York. Marvel at the profusion of bright lights and noise, snap a picture, then head to a nearby theater on Shaftesbury Avenue or the busy Trocadero entertainment complex.
For a respite from the bustling streets, head to Hyde Park, the large public green space in the center of London. Don't miss sites like the Serpentine Bridge and the Diana Memorial Fountain, and if you're visiting on Sunday, head to Speaker's Corner where citizens orate about anything under the sun. Take advantage of the activities offered at Hyde Park such as swimming, boating, tennis, horseback riding and cycling.
Royal Albert Hall
Built as a memorial to Queen Victoria's husband in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall's vast rotunda was once described by the monarch as looking like 'the British constitution'. It has been the venue for the (now BBC) Proms since 1941.
The Mall is the grand processional route that runs along the north side of St James's Park from Buckingham Palace through Admiralty Arch down to Trafalgar Square. The Mall became a ceremonial route in the early twentieth century – on state occasions the Queen rides her golden carriage down The Mall past waving crowds.
Europe's largest cruiser from WWII, HMS Belfast is now a floating naval museum, a landmark on the Thames near Tower Bridge. The HMS Belfast makes an unlikely playground for children, who tear around its cramped complex with ease.