There are so many things to do in London that it’s easy to overlook most of them. You could spend a lifetime there and never run out of London sightseeing. And there’s always the dilemma of which London attractions to see or not to see. We’ve lived in London ourselves, and have been amazed by how many things to do in West London there are during our recent stay in the area.
So what do we mean by ‘West London’, exactly? It begins in the western part of central London, including many of the best-known London tourist attractions. The theatres and nightlife of the West End are many people’s main reason to visit London, but there’s much more besides.
Many beat a path to popular places to visit in London including Notting Hill and the South Kensington museums. We’ve extended our scope to include the western suburbs of London, which are very different in feel to the bustle of the capital city. We found some of the most rewarding things to see in London ‘out west’.
Read on for the best things to do West London has to offer.
- 1 CHISWICK HOUSE
- 2 CATCH A SHOW IN THE LONDON WEST END
- 3 KENSINGTON GARDENS
- 4 ALBERT BRIDGE
- 5 NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
- 6 LITTLE VENICE, PADDINGTON
- 7 A PINT BY THE RIVER AT YE WHITE HART PUB BARNES
- 8 RICHMOND PARK DEER SPOTTING
- 9 MARC BOLAN SHRINE
- 10 SYON PARK AND HOUSE
- 11 TRY SOME OF THE BEST PUB FOOD IN LONDON AT THE GRIFFIN, BRENTFORD
- 12 LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER AND STEAM, KEW BRIDGE
- 13 HIGHLIGHTS OF WEST LONDON
- 14 HIGHLIGHTS OF SOUTHWEST LONDON
Chiswick House and Gardens is a lovely bucolic retreat from the busyness of London. As soon as you enter the gardens, you’re in a different world.
Chiswick was the estate of Richard Boyle, the 3rd earl of Burlington. He built a Palladian-style villa in the early 18th century: the triple-window in the dome is a feature of some of Palladio’s churches in Venice, including San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore. Burlington was also inspired by the work of Inigo Jones (who built Banqueting House in Whitehall). He even transferred one of his archways to Chiswick, brick-by-brick.
The house later came into the ownership of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, who leased it out as an Asylum for many years. The interior is sumptuous, worth visiting for the beautifully decorated Blue Velvet room alone.
The gardens are also well worth visiting. There are several long pathways through the woodland, leading you to surprises such as an Ionic temple and a garden with an elegant statue of Venus. They’re also very popular with locals, from dog walkers to an extended family we saw playing cricket in a garden surrounded by ancient Greek and Roman-style statues.
CATCH A SHOW IN THE LONDON WEST END
West End London is as far as many visitors venture. London Theatreland is amazing, with 39 theatres spread across The Strand, Covent Garden, Soho, Shaftesbury Avenue and Regent Street. We’ve been to shows at several of the best London theatres, including the Palladium and Palace Theatre (pictured), and after having lived in London and visited countless times besides, seeing a London West End show is one of the best London experiences you could have.
The strategy for getting hold of your West End tickets will probably vary depending on your circumstances – if you’re staying in London you’ll need to book well in advance. If you live in or near London and are more flexible, you can often pick up West End theatre tickets at half the usual price on the day of the show.
Kensington Gardens is one of the Royal Parks of London, and one of the best free places to visit in London. They stretch from Kensington Palace in the west to the Serpentine lake and Hyde Park in the east. Notting Hill, Bayswater and Paddington lie to the north, and one of the most popular London landmarks, the Royal Albert Hall, is on the southern side.
The Gardens contain two of the best attractions in London for kids. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is in the northern part of the Gardens, a stone’s throw from Queensway Tube station. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is on the opposite side of the Gardens, close to the Serpentine lake and the bridge to Hyde Park.
Otherwise, the Gardens are a great place to relax and wander for an hour or three. You can rent a deckchair next to the Round Pond, or take a walk to Henry Moore’s The Arch, which frames an impressive vista back to Kensington Palace.
The 19th century Albert Bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges in London, and because of its location away from the centre it doesn’t get the attention some of the bridges in central London do. It spans the Thames between Chelsea and Battersea, and it’s a splendid white suspension, cable and beam bridge by day, turned into a twinkling beauty by night as it’s illuminated by thousands of tiny bulbs. The Albert Bridge was also London’s first wobbly bridge, long before the Millennium Bridge – there’s even a sign on. The Bridge asking soldiers to walk rather than march across it, to maintain its stability. It’s also across the road from Cheyne Walk, one of the most famous streets in London.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The Natural History Museum is one of the best museums in London – if not one of the best museums in the world. It’s perennially one of the best places to visit in London, and suitable for visitors of all ages.
It’s housed in a stunning 19th century Victorian Gothic building, with one of the grandest entrance halls you’ll ever see. The Hintze Hall was, for many years, home to a massive cast of a diplodocus skeleton. ‘Dippy’ is currently on tour around the UK, and has been replaced by ‘Bluey’, a skeleton of a blue whale. This creature is magnificent, no less imposing that the great dinosaur he replaced.
The Natural History Museum is one of the principal free attractions in London, along with many other museums and galleries. Some exhibitions – such as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year – are ticketed. Otherwise you can visit everywhere else.
At the time of writing, this includes a compelling dinosaur exhibition, including a snarling animatronic T-Rex and the Museum of the Moon. The latter consists of a long, darkened room, mostly illuminated by the light of a large-scale model of the Moon.
It’s consistently one of the best things to do in Central London, and also a great standby if you’re looking for somewhere to go if you’re visiting London in the rain.
LITTLE VENICE, PADDINGTON
For sheer convenience and transport links, Paddington is one of the best areas to stay in London, but there are also plenty of things to do in its environs. As you’ll have almost certainly deduced from its name, it’s the place to be if you’re interested in London canals. It’s the junction of the Grand Union and Regent’s Canals, and a pleasant spot to while away an hour or two.
The canals are lined with narrowboats, and you can indulge in one of the most relaxing activities in London, taking a ride east along the Regent’s Canal, to London Zoo (ZSL), Camden Lock and the nearby Camden markets. You could also take a leisurely stroll along the towpath in the same direction, or linger at one of the cafes. It’s a place to sit back, relax and enjoy London at a much gentler pace than usual.
A PINT BY THE RIVER AT YE WHITE HART PUB BARNES
The pleasant riverside suburb of Barnes wouldn’t be near the top of many visitors’ list of things to visit in London. It’s mainly the haunt of locals and Londoners from further across the city.
Barnes occupies a patch of land sandwiched by the river Thames, with Putney to the east and Chiswick to the west. Barnes Bridge is one of the best-known landmarks of the University Boat Race, a famous annual contest between crews from Oxford and Cambridge.
Barnes and some of the other London villages to the west have an almost bucolic feel in comparison with the rest of the city. Barnes has several great pubs, including the Sun Inn and Bull’s Head. The latter is on the riverfront just to the north of Barnes Bridge, and makes for a great place to while away a couple of hours of a summer’s evening.
However, we mention Barnes because of Ye White Hart It has an incomparable setting overlooking the river, with seats outside next to its bank. It’s a different side of London to what most people will experience. But that pint of Peroni was one of the most satisfying things to do around London that I can possibly recommend.
RICHMOND PARK DEER SPOTTING
Richmond Park is beloved by Londoners and the nearby commuter belt. It was one of the final things to see in London on my list, and I finally accomplished the feat while living nearby in West London.
Many people come to visit to try to see the wild Richmond Park deer. Around 600 of these beautiful creatures roam the vast parkland, and it’s largely pot luck as to where they’ll be on any given day.
We spotted several in the woods along Queen’s Road, then had an unavoidable close encounter with some near the Isabella Plantation. You’re supposed to keep 50 metres away from them, which is simple enough until they decide they want a closer look at you, as they did with my son. He was thrilled to see them up close and wanted to pat them – sadly a strict no-no. I told them he was extremely luck to see them as close as he did.
Richmond Park becomes one of the most popular places to photograph in London during autumn, usually mid-October to early November. This is the deer rutting season, when the impressive males bellow to attract females and ward off potential rivals. The stags make a particularly impressive sight in the morning mists, but keep your distance and use a long lens.
The Isabella Plantation is a large woodland garden in the south of Richmond Park. My son and I visited in late June and were very impressed with it. The best times to visit, however, are between late April (when the azaleas bloom) through May to early June when the camellias and rhododendrons flower.
One of the most famous views in London is from King Henry’s Mound, off Queen’s Road near Pembroke Lodge. You need a telescope to spot a tiny gap in the trees a few hundred metres away – and this gap frames the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, around ten miles (16 km) away. The view has been preserved for posterity because there is a ban on any tall buildings that might obstruct the view. I showed my son, as he had thoroughly enjoyed our climb to the top of the dome the week before. “It was much better up close,” he harrumphed. He has a point though!
MARC BOLAN SHRINE
The Marc Bolan rock shrine in Barnes, west London is somewhere music fans still seek out, over 40 years after his death in a car crash. My first musical memories are of his band, T-Rex, so it’s deeply embedded in my DNA, and one afternoon, while taking my son to the nearby Barnes Wetlands Centre, we paid the shrine a brief visit.
Bolan died aged 29 in 1977 when the car driven by his partner, Gloria Jones, collided with a fence post and tree. He died instantly in the collision. A shrine just below the crash site has been maintained for many years, with a statue, plaque, and various pictures and T-Rex memorabilia. If you have any interest in the glam rock era (the early 1970s) or London music history in general, it’s worth the journey to see it. The shrine is located on Gipsy Lane, a few minutes’ walk from Barnes railway station. Some London rock tours also include it on their itinerary.
SYON PARK AND HOUSE
Syon House and Park is the London residence of the Duke of Northumberland, and one of the finest stately homes near London. It’s been in the family since 1594, and the Park in particular has undergone many changes since. Syon Park is between Brentford and Isleworth, in the far west of London, on the road to Hounslow, its westernmost borough.
The House was built in 1547 by its then owner, the 1st Duke of Somerset, but the interior has been remodelled at least twice since. Much of this dates from the 1762 refurbishment by Robert Adam, mostly in a Neoclassical style but with Baroque and Romantic flourishes.
Unfortunately the House was closed when I visited, but the Park and Gardens are well worth the trip out west. You can take a long walk through the gardens to the tidal meadow next to the Thames – this field is submerged by the river’s waters twice daily. The highlight for me is the Great Conservatory, a magnificent, elegant domed edifice mostly built from steel and glass. When I walked around the interior I kept thinking I had seen it before. A week or so later the penny finally dropped – it’s the setting for the video for The Caterpillar by The Cure.
The Park, Gardens and House are open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays during the season, which runs from March to the end of October. If you’re looking something different to do in London without the crowds this is a great place to visit.
TRY SOME OF THE BEST PUB FOOD IN LONDON AT THE GRIFFIN, BRENTFORD
Between us, we’ve visited many of the best pubs in London. We’ve enjoyed drinks and meals all over the city, from the main London tourist places to the outlying London villages. And somehow it came to pass that probably the best London pub food we had ever had out in far west London.
The Griffin is located next to Griffin Park, home to English Championship football team Brentford FC until August 2020. We went out of season for a late Sunday lunch, with Faye opting for a chicken roast and me the Thai red curry.
I’ve never been a fan of roasts, but Faye’s meal was incredible, by far the best roast I’d ever had. It was simply perfection. I ordered my Thai red curry as I was still getting withdrawal symptoms from Thailand, but this was also as good as anything I’d had in Asia.
LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER AND STEAM, KEW BRIDGE
The tall, tapering tower of the London Museum of Water and Steam is a prominent west London landmark. It stands out from the cluster of office blocks and towers at the beginning of the M4 motorway that takes you to Bath, Bristol and South Wales. I had passed it many hundreds of times before, never knowing what it is. It was too secular to be a church tower, too elegant to be industrial.
It turns out that it is one of the last remaining standpipe towers in the world, and is attached to a former waterworks. It’s one of the most unique places of interest in London, and one of the best small museums in London.
I’ve always been more of an arts, culture and history person, but this Museum made a big impression on me. The objects on display are fascinating, from enormous engines and pumps to a vintage early Crapper model toilet. The history of water usage in London is also very intriguing. Model houses show how our medieval ancestors disposed of their waste – by throwing buckets of pee out of the window.
You’re then taken through the ages. High tea was hugely popular in (late 18th century) Georgian society – and this was partly because, as the water was boiled, it was the one way to drink the stuff without coming down with cholera.
All in all, a wonderful surprise, and one of the most enjoyable small visitor attractions in London.
HIGHLIGHTS OF WEST LONDON
- Natural History Museum
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Kew Gardens
- Richmond Park
HIGHLIGHTS OF SOUTHWEST LONDON
- Kensington Palace
- Science Museum
- Chelsea Physic Gardens