London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is among the oldest of the world’s great cities—its history spanning almost two millennia—and one of the most cosmopolitan. Deeply multicultural, with one in three Londoners foreign-born, London is a city of imagination and innovation—and it always has been. From its instantly recognizable landmarks (the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben) to stunning examples of modern architecture (the Shard, the Tate Modern extension, the Sky Garden), you can walk around inside ideas that changed the world.
For the official London visitor's guide, click here.
Westminster Abbey, in the center of London, is the site of coronations and other ceremonies of national significance. Initially built by Henry III in 1245, it is one of the most important Gothic buildings in England. Equally iconic, St. Paul's Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London. Visitors are invited to climb the dome to try the acoustics of the Whispering Gallery, enjoy the views of London from the Stone and Golden Galleries, or head down to the crypt where national heroes are buried.
To experience some of London's unique local flair, visitors are encouraged to explore the cafes and shops in these unique and interesting areas. Covent Gardens pedestrian piazza is home to fashion stores and handicrafts at the historic Apple Market, while Neal's Yard is a colorful courtyard of hidden shops. The Carnaby shopping area boasts more 100 international and British labels, independent boutiques, one-off concepts, beauty emporiums, grooming salons, and bespoke jewelry specialists, and plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes. On Saturdays, Portobello Road in Notting Hill is home to the world's largest antiques market, with more than 1,000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectible. On other days throughout the week, the stalls can be found offering everything from fruit and bread to posters, vintage clothes, ceramics, and music.
The British Museum, founded in 1753, was the first national public museum in the world. From the beginning it granted free admission to all "studious and curious persons," and its collections, covering over two million years of human history and culture, are still free to visitors today. Some of the world-famous objects include the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies.
Natural History Museum
In addition to its well-known dinosaur exhibition, the Natural History Museum holds a collection of the biggest, tallest, and rarest animals in the world. See a life-sized blue whale and a 40-million-year-old spider, all housed inside one of Britain’s most striking examples of Romanesque architecture.
The National Gallery tells the story of European art, masterpiece by masterpiece, with a collection that includes works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Titian, Turner, Renoir, and Van Gogh. Enjoy free entrance 361 days a year.
Sea Life London Aquarium
The Sea Life London Aquarium can be found on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank of the River Thames in central London. A glass tunnel walkway offers guests a unique perspective by strolling underneath a Tropical Ocean. After visiting the aquarium, be sure to try getting a birds-eye view on the nearby London Eye.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament's iconic clock tower, Big Ben, is one of London's most famous landmarks. While it is not possible for overseas visitors to go inside the clock tower, one may take a tour of the Houses of Parliament. Tours generally include the Central Lobby, the Commons Chamber, and the 900-year-old Westminster Hall where Guy Fawkes was tried.
A tour of London's government landmarks wouldn't be complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace, the Queen's official residence. Though the palace isn't open to the public for most of the year, the pomp and pageantry of the Changing the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace is not to be missed! This famous free ceremony occurs at 10:45 am on certain days.
A trip to London wouldn't be complete without the quintessential dining experiences of afternoon tea, beer at a classic pub, and dinner at one of London's amazing Indian restaurants! For tea, reserve a table at the Savoy or the Ritz or, if you're on a more thrifty budget, try Fortnum and Mason. If the weather is in our favor, enjoying beer or fish and chips at a riverside pub is a must! Or for an indoor option, try the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden, an establishment over 400 years old, or The Marylebone, a favorite of Program Chair Costas Markides. For a curry dinner, check out Tamarind, Veeraswamy, Cinnamon Club, or the more affordable options Masala Zone and Dishoom. Finally, for nightlife, visit the Soho area of West End, where you'll find plenty of live entertainment and chic bars.
Tower of London visitors can experience 1,000 years of history at the iconic castle and World Heritage Site. At this fortress, royal palace, and infamous prison, one can be dazzled by the Crown Jewels, take a legendary Yeoman Warder tour, and meet the local ravens. Kensington Palace is the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, and it is where, for more than 300 years, many young royals have lived. Visitors can walk in the footsteps of royalty in the King’s State Apartments, the Queen's Apartments, and the Sunken Garden.
Just two and a half hours outside London sits one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments. The unique stone circle, Stonehenge, was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2,500 BC. Another hour's drive will bring you to the city of Bath, founded as “Aquae Sulis” by the Romans in the 1st century, thanks to its thermal mineral springs. The site of the Roman bathing complex is now a world-class museum giving a glimpse into life in the city 2,000 years ago.