There are countless places to visit in London, but what are the best London landmarks that you absolutely must see? Many of the most popular landmarks in London are in the central part of the city, but some of the best London tourist attractions are spread out around the outskirts of the city.
We’ve compiled this list of the best landmarks of London to help you plan your London sightseeing, especially if time is at a premium. We’ve included the best famous buildings in London, both new and old. We take you to the best-known icons of London, but also show you a few of London hidden gems you might not otherwise see.
Our landmarks London guide can help you narrow down what you want to see, and help you decide on which area to stay in London may be best for you.
The Queen’s city centre des res, ‘Buck House’ is top of many people’s list of things to see in London. It’s one of the focal points of royal London, with the processional avenue The Mall leading to it. It’s also surrounded by glorious Royal Parks, and is the backdrop for the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which is the highlight of many people’s London visit.
Tip: Buckingham Palace also opens its doors to visitors between July and September each year.
Nearest Tube: Victoria or Green Park.
BEST OF THE LONDON LANDMARKS: BIG BEN
Big Ben is the most iconic landmark London has. It’s what the Leaning Tower of Pisa is to Italy, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris: the most obvious symbol of the city to the rest of the world.
It’s now officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, and Big Ben is the name of the bell that chimes the hours inside. At the time of writing, it’s cloaked in scaffolding for the first time in (my) living memory for urgently needed restoration work. This is due to be removed some time in 2020. Before the restoration programme began, it was open to visitors on a guided tour. These are due to resume in 2021.
Nearest Tube: Westminster.
Trafalgar Square is close to the official centre of London, and one of the city’s favourite meeting points. It’s one of the busiest places in London, often the venue for events.
Its name commemorates a famous naval victory by Lord Nelson, who stands 60 metres above the hubbub on top of his Column surveying the scene. The Square is actually a collection of landmarks. As well as Nelson’s Column, there are the famous bronze lions around its base, the lovely Baroque St Martin in the Fields church and the National Gallery, one of the best museums in London and, for that matter, one of the best art galleries in the world.
Tip: The Cafe in the Crypt below St Martin in the Fields is a great place for lunch or a snack, one of the best in the centre of London.
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross.
Westminster Abbey church is situated in Parliament Square, across the street from the Houses of Parliament. It’s where the nation’s kings and queens are crowned, and the resting place for many of them, as well as many other great British figures. It should be on any London must see list: it’s also one of the country’s great Gothic churches, and is the venue for some royal weddings, including that of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
Tip: Get there for opening time at 9.30 am.
Nearest Tube: Westminster
The Coca-Cola London Eye has been one of the top London attractions since the day it opened. If you plan to visit London for the first time, this vast ferris wheel is a great place from which you can get your bearings. It’s over 500 feet above the city, and gives great views across London.
Tip: If you can, keep a close eye on the weather forecast so that you get the best views possible. Your best chance of doing this, and having maximum flexibility, is during the winter ‘low season’, which isn’t especially low. Also, sunset and dusk are magical times for your ‘flight’ above the city.
Nearest Tube: Waterloo or Westminster.
ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
This magnificent cathedral is one of the most enduring symbols of London, and has been top of my personal list of what to see in London since I was a kid. The dome of the cathedral has dominated the western end of the City of London skyline since the 17th century, when it was built by Sir Christopher Wren to replace Old St Paul’s, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
It’s not just one of the finest London monuments, but one of the greatest of its age. It’s impressive enough outside, but be prepared to be blown away by the glittering golden Baroque interior.
Tip: You can also climb the dome for some of the best views in London.
Nearest Tube: St Paul’s (Central Line)
CITY OF LONDON SKYLINE
The modern skyline of the city of London, 500 metres or so to the east of St Paul’s, now dwarfs the great old cathedral. It has long been one of the financial powerhouses of the world, and has been acquiring a skyline to match its status over the last two decades or so.
Some of its skyscrapers resemble household gadgets and implements, like the Walkie-Talkie and Cheese Grater. Another, the Gherkin, is an elegant glass and steel structure in the shape of a humble vegetable. More skyscrapers are being added as we write this.
Tip: Some of the best viewpoints of the City aren’t the most obvious. The walkway just to the east of Southwark Bridge is one. The front of the DLR train from Shadwell offers another, very dynamic view of it.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill, Liverpool Street, Monument or London Bridge.
TOWER OF LONDON
The Tower is one of the most famous places in London to visit. This fortress is over 900 years old, built by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century to consolidate his hold over his new realm. It has served as a castle, prison, home to the Royal Menagerie and now home to the Crown Jewels. It’s also home to some of the most famous London icons, the uniformed Beefeaters, or Yeomen Warders, who help show visitors around.
Tip: Don’t miss the gorgeous St John’s Chapel in the White Tower – it’s one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in the UK.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill, and Tower Gateway on the DLR.
One of the most beautiful bridges in London, this unique bascule and suspension bridge has spanned the Thames since the late 19th century. Its middle section is occasionally raised to allow tall vessels to pass through. It also makes for a stunning viewpoint over the Tower of London, the City, the Shard and down river to the skyline of the financial district of Canary Wharf. It’s perennially one of the most popular places to see in London, and justifiably so.
Tip: One of the best viewpoints is from near St Katharine’s Dock, form a jetty on the riverfront. It’s also magical at dawn in winter.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill, or Tower Gateway DLR.
The tallest building in western Europe has been around less than a decade, but it’s firmly established as one of the main places to go in London. At over 1,000 feet in height, it’s certainly impossible to miss.
The View from the Shard gives the highest view of London, which looks like a giant toytown metropolis from such a height. You can also stay there, eat there or do yoga there.
Tip: You’re likely to get the best views of London from the Shard in clear weather following rain.
Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Piccadilly Circus is one of the best-known London tourist places, a meeting point at the busy junction of several major streets in the heart of London‘s West End. The best-known Piccadilly sights are the statue of Eros in the heart of the square and the huge advertising screens across the street. It’s not really one of the best places to visit in London – if anything, it’s just famous for, well, being famous. Still, it’s one of the most Instagrammable places in London, and its busy future is assured for a long time yet.
Tip: The best time to visit Piccadilly Circus is at dusk, but bear in mind that it’s also popular with groups of pickpockets.
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
When I was a child, the tallest building in London was the space-age (well, it seemed like it at the time) Post Office Tower. It was opened in 1965, and in its early years the upper area was home to a revolving restaurant (these were de rigueur back in the day).
Now known as the BT Tower, it’s a very important telecommunications hub, but no longer open to the public. Nowadays it’s somewhat forgotten in Fitzrovia, but still one of the most prominent landmarks in north London. The best place to see it is from the Regent’s Park.
Tip: The BT Tower is only open to the public one weekend a year – Open House Weekend, which is usually in September. The BT Tower is one of the most popular buildings to visit, so entry is decided by ballot in advance.
Nearest Tube: Goodge Street, Warren Street or Great Portland Street.
Camden became a kind of alternative cultural nexus in the 1970s, with music venues like the Roundhouse and Electric Ballroom hosting many punk gigs. Camden Market opened in 1974, with just 16 stalls near another music venue, Dingwalls. Out of the music scene Camden became one of the main centres of London fashion.
Since then, Camden Market and Camden Stables Market have become as much a part of the London tourist trail as Big Ben and Trafalgar Square. It’s especially busy at weekends, when the throngs descend to explore the hundreds of clothes, music, craft and street food stalls.
Tip: Kim’s Vietnamese Food Hut, in the Stables part of the Market, serves fantastic food – we’ve been returning there for over a decade.
Nearest Tube: Camden Town or Chalk Farm.
One of the newer must do in London sights is Tate Modern, home to one of the best modern art museums in the world. It’s housed in the vast former Bankside Power Station, an awesome exhibition and performance space. It’s at the southern end of the Millennium Bridge, the famous formerly wobbly footbridge that spans the River Thames, leading directly north to St Paul’s.
Tip: The Tate Modern Switch House is an extension of the original gallery, and its rooftop 65 metres above the ground offers wonderful panoramas of London and the Thames.
Nearest Tube: Southwark
The Albert Bridge links the suburbs of Chelsea and Battersea. It’s a unique bridge that’s part beam bridge, part suspension bridge and part Ordish-Lefeuvre design (no, I hadn’t heard of it either). It’s another of my personal favourite London landmarks, partly because I’ve passed it hundreds of times on the Cardiff-London coach route I used.
It’s a little off the beaten path in London terms, and its relatively long distance from Tube stations keeps it that way. If you’re wondering where to go in London away from the crowds, the Albert Bridge, along with nearby historic Cheyne Walk, is a great place to start.
Tip: It’s lit up beautifully at night.
Nearest Tube: Sloane Square or South Kensington, both around a mile (1.6km) away. The 170 bus from Victoria stops right next to it.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.