Heading to London this year?
When you arrive in the UK capital there are a few things you’ll notice. First of all, it will likely be rainy (unless you are lucky enough to get one of those rare sunny summer days). Secondly, the architecture is old and gorgeous and the city is steeped in history – you’re likely to stumble over pubs where the list of previous clientele reads like the cast of your history textbook.
Also, you’ll notice that it is a huge sprawling city. The London Underground makes it easier to get around Greater London to all of the attractions and boroughs and each neighborhood has its own distinct character. You’ll want to bring your walking shoes – there is so much to explore in the English capital.
London is so packed with world class culture, art, dining, nightlife and more that I could easily list 18,000 things to do. However, that would be a very long blog post indeed. Instead, here are 18 of the best things to do in London in 2018.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea
Having afternoon tea is a quintessentially English experience that you should absolutely have while you are in London.
How did this tradition start? The legend is that the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, would get hungry in the afternoons and couldn’t make it until dinnertime without a snack. She would ask her servants to bring her bread and hot tea in the late afternoon.
Her friends liked the idea and she invited them to join her. Eventually, the meal became a popular trend in the upper echelons of British society.
There are so many great places to enjoy a classic afternoon tea in London, but here are some recommendations for the best afternoon tea in London for 2018 from Conde Nast Traveller.
Hang Out in Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath is one of the largest parks in London and it covers an area of 790 acres. Located atop one of the highest points in the city, it offers stunning views from Parliament Hill.
There’s plenty to explore on the Heath, including wooded areas, grassy fields and several large ponds. There are even swimming pools for those who are brave enough to take the plunge. Or, you can pay a visit to Kenwood House, an elegant historic home with a curated art collection.
Try The Food at Borough Market
Borough Market dates back to 1885 and it is one of the most famous markets in London for fresh organic produce and unique, artisanal food. It’s a foodie hotspot, offering up delicious street food, baked goods and much more. As you can see in this video by foodie blogger Mark Wiens from Migrationology, you’ll be spoiled for choice – so bring your appetite.
Drink at the Mysterious Sherlock Holmes Pub
When you step inside the Sherlock Holmes pub it seems like any other typical London pub. However, when you venture upstairs you’ll find something special. There is a recreation of the fictional apartment shared by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in the famous books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The depiction of the fictional apartment at 221b Baker Street is incredibly detailed, including the famous pipe and violin as well as scientific equipment and gunshots in the walls. The apartment also has plenty of cool depictions of Holmes and Watson as they have been portrayed on the screen and stage over the years.
Visit Hampton Court Palace
This ridiculously ornate palace was the former home of King Henry VII, who has known for being flamboyant and excessive. He decorated it with elaborate tapestries and beautiful paintings after acquiring it in the 1520s and the many royal occupants over the years since have also added their personal touches.
There are a lot of impressive things to see here, including a huge Tudor kitchen where food was prepared to feed the entire court and the 60 acre gardens filled with lush greenery and beautiful statuary. You can also get lost in the Hampton Court Maze, a hedge maze planted in the late 1600s for William III of Orange.
Climb the Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most important and impressive churches in London. There has been a cathedral dedicated to St. Paul on this spot for over 1400 years and the current one is one of the largest cathedrals in the world.
The dome rises 111 metres above the streets of London, making it the second largest in the world after the one at the Vatican. If you are up to it, you can climb the 528 stairs all the way to the top and enjoy a spectacular view of London from above.
Watch the Changing of the Guard
Big fluffy hats, elaborate uniforms, lots of marching around and saluting – it’s a great deal of pomp and circumstance for what is essentially a shift change. The Changing of the Guard is one of the most iconic London things to see and it takes place at 11am on Fridays, Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.
Make sure that you check the schedule in advance, as the dates are subject to change.
Watch Matilda on the West End
Okay, there are a lot of musicals that you can watch on the West End and they are all spectacular. However, Matilda has a special place in my heart and I highly recommend it.
Lee and I went to see it a couple of years ago and it was incredible. The classic Roald Dahl story is brought to life with the perfect mix of humour, grotesque, magic, silliness and heart.
The set design is creative, the choreography is beautiful and the songs are written by one of my favourite songwriters in the world – Tim Minchin. His lyrics are so wonderfully witty and heartfelt. He can sing about the silliest, most ridiculous things and then turn around and hit you right in the feels. Just try to watch the video above without getting goosebumps. 🙂
Admire the View From the SkyGarden
Want to see an amazing view of London, without having to spend money to visit the observation deck at the Shard? Check out the Sky Garden, a free observation deck at 20 Fenchurch Street, a building known as the Walkie Talkie due to its shape.
When you reach the top you’ll find an expansive garden and coffee shop with huge glass windows and a terrace, offering an incredible panorama of the city.
The Sky Garden is free to visit, but you’ll need to plan ahead. You can book tickets online for a particular one hour time slot and when you arrive you’ll need to bring your passport to verify your identity.
Feast on Curry on Brick Lane
The Brick Lane neighborhood is the heart of the Bangladeshi community in London and it even has signs in both Bengali and English. It is known for its many fantastic, authentic curry houses where you can indulge in delicious, spicy, fragrant dishes.
Brick Lane also has a beautiful collection of street art, with many colourful paintings adorning the walls. It’s a great spot for a night out and there are a number of trendy bars along the street.
Spend an Evening at a Museum
The museums in London are excellent and worth visiting at any time of day. However, it can be a lot of fun to visit during a late opening event and see the museum in a different light.
Several museums in London host evening events that include drinks, music, performances, talks, tours and more. For example, the National Portrait Gallery stays open on Thursdays and Fridays until 9pm so that you can enjoy talks, drawing classes and live music. Or, you can head to the National Gallery on a Friday night to take part in guided tours and more.
Here is a guide from LondonTown to even more late museum opening events.
Shop at Leadenhall Market
This stunning Victorian marketplace was the setting for the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films and when you walk through the cobbled floors and ornate 19th century painted roof you will feel like you have stepped into a fantasy world.
It’s one of the oldest markets in London and vendors have been peddling their fish and meat here since the 14th century. You might not find any magical items for sale here, but you will find lots of quirky little shops, cafes and boutiques.
Sip a Cuppa at Twinings Tea Shop
There’s nothing more British than a good cup of tea. Since I’ve had an English boyfriend for the last 8 years, I’ve had plenty of practice making the perfect brew. British people seem to run on the stuff and they often drink several cups per day.
While in London, be sure to pay a visit to the original Twinings tea shop at 216 Strand and pick up a bit of tea to bring home with you. The shop dates back 300 years, which explains the stereotypical Chinamen figures who sit atop the doorway – pretty offensive by today’s standards!
It’s amazing to think that this shop has been in business in this location for about twice as long as Canada has been a country. Plus, the logo has been in use since 1787, making it the oldest corporate logo in the world.
Check Out Churchill’s Hidden War Rooms
By Attribution 3.0, CC BY 3.0
While the UK was under attack by the Germans during the Blitz, Churchill was in an underground bunker plotting the defense against the invasion. You can actually take a tour of these war rooms, as they have been preserved and look exactly as they did in 1945.
The tour includes a visit to the Map Room where Churchill would have marked out the enemy’s movements and the secure and scrambled telephone line that he would have used to contact Roosevelt directly.
See a Play at Shakespeare’s Globe
Do you wish you could go back in time and see what London was like during the time of Shakespeare? You can do the next best thing by purchasing a “groundling” ticket for £5 at Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theatre and watching a play from the standing area in front of the stage like the common folk would have back in the day. (Although, it would have only cost a penny back then.)
It’s quite an exciting experience, as the exuberant performers are known for venturing out into the crowd during dramatic moments. Plus, personal hygiene standards are a lot better these days than they were in the Middle Ages, so your experience amongst the groundlings will be much more pleasant.
Here is a guide to what’s on during the summer theatre season of 2018 at the Globe Theatre.
Drink in the History at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Where would you find the oldest pub in London? It’s a question that is up for debate and the answer is hard to verify, but Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is certainly one of the contenders.
This pub dates back to the 17th century and it’s lower vaults are even older, as they are thought to have been part of a monastery from the 13th century. Some pretty famous names have drank here, including Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Chill Out in Hyde Park
Hyde Park is the largest of the royal parks in London and on a sunny summer day there’s nothing better than relaxing in the sunshine and having a picnic on the grass. You can wander so deep into this park that you will forget that you are in the city.
Stop and smell the roses in the Rose Garden, pay your respects at the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or sit by Serpentine Lake and watch the ducks.
Wander Across to Eel Pie Island
By Des Blenkinsopp, CC BY-SA 2.0
Escape to this strange little island on the River Thames and you’ll find a small community that was once a chilled out hippie haven in the 70s. You can get there by taking a boat, or by crossing the footbridge. Once you get across, you’ll find 25 quirky and intriguing little artist studios along with a working boatyard and plenty of friendly locals. Occasionally the local artists will open up their studios and give tours to visitors, so that you can learn more about their creative process.
These are just 18 of the best things you can do when visiting London in 2018. When you arrive, you’ll have so many things to choose from that it will be tricky to narrow it down!