With its history, art and architecture, and all things royal, plus Harry Potter, the city of London is teeming with fun things to do on vacation.
The challenge can be narrowing down all that good stuff to a manageable list of absolute must-sees — whether you’re visiting on your own, as a couple, or with friends or family.
You could have a brilliant time just focusing on bucket-list basics, like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Or you could take in the sights while strolling the city’s famous streets (or meandering off the beaten path).
Why not do a little bit of everything? Thanks to loads of intel from seasoned travelers about the best things to do in London, here is a list of can’t-miss adventures. You’ll also learn tips and tricks for making your vacation as smooth and affordable as possible.
Best Times to Go to London
The weather can be unpredictable in London — just as it is in the U.S. — but the summer months, June to August, are typically the warmest and sunniest. If you’re opting for summer travel, though, it can also be the most crowded time to visit, with kids out of school and lots of sporting events, festivals, and concerts scheduled. That also usually means that prices may be higher.
Spring and fall are trickier weatherwise, but less crowded. And though it’s colder and wetter in the winter months, visiting London at Christmas time could be a dream-come-true for Dickens fans. Just be aware that many attractions are closed around the major holidays.
Bad Times to Go to London
January and February can be gloomy and gray in London, there are fewer events, and the city is a bit quieter at this time of year. If you dream of shopping for antique treasures at Portobello Road in T-shirt weather, this is not going to be ideal for you.
But lodging prices may be lower, so this can be a good way to save on hotels. Also, lines at popular attractions will likely be shorter, and there’s still plenty to see.
Average Cost of a London Vacation
The cost of a London vacation can vary significantly, depending on how long you stay, when and where you stay, and other factors. But travel sites generally put the average cost of a weeklong trip at about $1,000 to $2,500 for an individual and $1,700 to $4,000 for a couple, not including airfare. (If you’re bringing your kids or traveling with pets, the cost could be significantly more.)
Here are just a few of the costs you may want to consider when you’re budgeting for your trip (and when you’re figuring out how to make the most of your credit card rewards):
Roundtrip airfare to London can average from about $600 to $1,200, based on where you’re flying from and when you’re traveling. (Don’t forget to look at how credit card travel insurance works, just in case your flight is canceled, your luggage gets lost, or some other mishap occurs.)
If you’re willing to stay at a budget hotel or a hotel outside the city, you may be able to save some serious money in this category. Otherwise, you can expect to pay about $150 to $250 (or more) per night for a mid-range to luxury hotel in London.
The average spend per person for food in London can range from $25 to $45 per day. But your tab may go up or down (just like at home) based on how often you dine out, the pubs and restaurants you choose, and if, say, you like a nice bottle of wine with your dinner. A pub meal, for example, can cost less than $15, while a three-course meal in a nice restaurant might be $50 or more per person.
There are many free things to do in London, including many of the top museums and attractions. Tickets for other attractions typically cost $35 or less for an adult.
Depending on where your hotel is, you may be able to walk to many attractions in London. If your destination is farther out, you can get one of London’s famous black cabs, or take the Tube (the subway), or a bus. Black cabs are metered, and the minimum fare is $3.93. Fares may be higher for rides to and from Heathrow, and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Bus fares vary based on the rider’s age: An adult “hopper fare” allows passengers to make as many changes as they want in an hour for $2.15; the daily cap is $6.45 and the weekly cap is $30.33. The cost of a ride on the Tube will depend on where you’re going. Taking public transportation can be an affordable way to get from one neighborhood to another and can also make you feel like a real Londoner.
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10 Fun Must-Dos in London
It would be impossible to squeeze all of the best things to do in London into a single visit. That said, regardless of how long you have to spend in the city, there are amazing attractions that will make incredible memories.
To help get you started, consider these 10 fun things to do in London, culled from dozens of travel sites, blogs, and “best of” lists.
1. Explore the Tower of London
Starting your vacation with the Tower of London can help you get a real feel for London’s grand history. Inside, you’ll find the Crown Jewels, an extensive armory, and amazing architecture. And, of course, you’ll want to check out the Tower Green, where several members of the upper class were executed, including three former queens. You can learn their stories and more with a self-guided tour. Don’t forget to look for the resident ravens. HRP.org.uk/tower-of-london/visit/#gs.t79gau
2. Catch the Changing the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace
The iconic Changing the Guard ceremony takes place at 10:45am every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday outside Buckingham Palace, and lasts about 45 minutes. It’s very popular, so you’ll want to arrive early. It’s also free, so it’s a good way that families can afford to travel and see amazing things without breaking the bank.
King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla currently reside at Clarence House, a short walk away, but the palace remains the center of operations, so keep an eye out if you hope to spot a royal. Want to go inside? Parts of the palace are open to the public on select dates in winter and spring and for several weeks during the summer.
3. Tour the Harry Potter Movie Sets
If you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan, “The Making of Harry Potter” tour at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London will likely be a worthwhile stop on your itinerary. You’ll get to visit the sets, see the props and costumes, and learn more about how the movies were made. The tour is in Leavesden, England, which is about 20 miles from central London, so you may want to rent a car or travel by bus, the Tube, or taxi. (To be sure you can get tickets, book in advance.) WBStudiotour.co.uk/
4. Visit the Churchill War Rooms
Another of the top things to do in London: Visit the Churchill War Rooms. World War II buffs and anyone interested in history can get an up-close look at the underground nerve center where British leaders met to plan an Allied victory. Then it’s on to the extensive and interactive Churchill Museum for more exhibits and information about the intriguing Prime Minister himself. IWM.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms
5. Sip Afternoon Tea at Sketch London
If your goal is to enjoy afternoon tea, why not do it in style in The Gallery at Sketch? It’s a quirky yet elegant venue located in an old Georgetown townhouse in London’s chic Mayfair district. Afternoon tea is a splurge (75 pounds for adults), but you’ll feast on finger sandwiches, scones, passionfruit and mango tarts, and have the opportunity to pick your pot from a dozen or more tea varieties. Afterward, you can do some shopping, or wander down the road to people-watch at the historic Piccadilly Circus. Sketch.london/the-gallery/
6. See the Sights from the London Eye
For a truly unique view of the city, you can climb into one of the glass pods of the London Eye (like a gigantic enclosed ferris wheel) and rise 443 feet above the Thames River. The ride lasts 30 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to spot Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and other landmarks. Time it right, and you could see the sunset or the lights of the city at night. This can be a fun and memorable thing to do in London with kids. LondonEye.com/tickets-and-prices/
7. Take a Day Trip to Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle, the historic home of the British monarchy, is open to the public from Thursday to Sunday year-round, so visitors can see its magnificent rooms and royal treasures. While you’re there, you may also want to visit St. George’s Chapel, which has been the site of several royal weddings, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aka Harry and Meghan. (The tombs of 11 monarchs are also located there.) You could also wander over to the nearby pub at The George Inn for a pint and a bite to eat. The castle is about a 22-mile trip from the city. RCT.uk/visit/windsor-castle
8. Step Back in Time at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey has been the monarchy’s coronation church since 1066, and in May 2023, was the site of the coronation of King Charles III. It was also the site of the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in 1947. The public is welcome to tour the famous abbey every day except Sunday and when it’s closed for special events. You can attend most religious services there free of charge.
When you’re done with your guided or self-guided tour — and you’ve seen the Coronation Chair, visited the garden, and learned about all the famous people buried at the Abbey — you can take a short walk to see Big Ben. The iconic clock tower has been going through a yearslong renovation, but Big Ben is now ringing again. (Access to the inside of Big Ben is limited, however.) Westminster-Abbey.org/visit-us
9. Museum Hop
The British Museum is known around the world for its vast collection of ancient artifacts. Must-sees like the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies have made it the most-visited attraction in England. To make your visit more manageable, the museum offers three different “Object Trails” that highlight the most popular objects on display. BritishMuseum.org/visit
Ready for something a little more contemporary? At the Tate Modern, visitors can shake off the traditional and gaze upon amazing modern and contemporary works by artists like Picasso and Cezanne. And the museum’s location, on the Thames River, is breathtaking. You can see the permanent collection for free, and if you bring children, there are creative activities just for them. Tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern
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10. See a Show
Whether you want to see Shakespeare, a musical, a comedy, or something avant garde, see what’s available at the West End theaters and elsewhere. You might see anyone from Oscar-winner Mark Rylance to singer-songwriter-actor Lily Allen on stage.
Another option: Take a backstage tour of the National Theatre to gain a bit of context about the London stage scene. NationalTheatre.org.uk/your-visit/things-to-do/theatre-tours/
While researching the top things to do in London, we picked up a few insider tips that could improve your trip, including:
Choose Your Home Base
To help make your London trip more manageable, you may want to keep your sightseeing goals in mind when choosing your accommodations. The Southbank neighborhood may be your best bet, for example, if you want to be close to popular tourist attractions, including the London Eye and Tate Modern. The West End is another popular area for tourists looking to stay in the city center, and it’s known for its shopping and nightlife. And the Mayfair area, near Hyde Park, is a posh yet welcoming place to explore.
No matter where you stay, it’s a good idea to make sure you have easy access to London’s public transportation system, so you can get where you need to go quickly and inexpensively.
Avoid the Long Lines at Attractions
The lines can be long at London attractions, but there may be ways to get around them. If you can, avoid peak hours and dates when visiting popular attractions. And look for “skip-the-line” entrance tickets you can purchase in advance on many attraction websites.
Have a Plan for How You’ll Pay
It can be a good idea to bring some cash, your debit card, and a couple of credit cards to pay for various things when you’re in London. (VISA and Mastercard may be more widely accepted than other cards.)
You also may want to bring at least one travel credit card so you can get rewarded for qualifying purchases while you’re abroad. And if you can, bring a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
It can be wise to budget for the amount of money you’ll bring with you as well as how you will pay for some larger expenses. Those can earn you rewards that, whether you opt for cash back vs. miles, can help you afford your next trip.
London is full of historic delights, whether that means watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony, touring the Tower of London, or taking in a show in the West End. Because there’s so much to do in London, planning your trip can be a little daunting. Deciding which experiences are on your personal list of top things to do, however, can be a good place to start. Having a “must” list can help you decide where to stay, how much you’ll need to budget, and how you’ll pay for it all. That way, you can be sure that whatever activity you daydream about most (from high tea to seeing where Harry Potter was filmed) can be accommodated.
Whether you want to travel more or get a better ROI for your travel dollar, SoFi can help. SoFi Travel is a new service exclusively for SoFi members that lets you budget, plan, and book your next trip in a convenient one-stop shop. SoFi takes the guessing game out of how much you can afford for that honeymoon, family vacation, or quick getaway — and we help you save too.
Where can you see art in London?
You can see great art in museums all over London or simply by strolling through the city and keeping an eye out for street art. Look for some amazing (and ever-changing) art in the Leake Street Tunnel in Central London, in the Shoreditch area of East London, and on the Millennium Bridge, which pedestrians use to cross the Thames.
What’s the nightlife like in London?
Like any major city, there’s a wide variety of clubs, bars, pubs, and other activities for night owls to enjoy in London. You can ask your hotel concierge for suggestions or research your options online.
What are some off-the-beaten-path things to do in London?
For unusual things to do in London, you might visit one of the quirky historic homes/museums in the city, like Leighton House or Sir John Soane’s Museum. You might also take a colorfully painted London “waterbus,” a picturesque ride down a canal linking Camden Market and Little Venice neighborhoods.
Photo credit: iStock/TomasSereda
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