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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. On match days (usually Saturdays, sometimes midweek). 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 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
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. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.