Iconic London landmarks
It's little wonder London is one of the world's top tourist destinations, attracting upward of 15 million visitors each and every year. Britain's capital city is a vibrant arts and entertainment center (its theaters are always busy), and 50 years after the Beatles, the country's music scene still rocks.
London also boasts one of the planet's greatest concentrations of cultural attractions. From royal palaces to the people's parliament, from Roman ruins to castles and cathedrals, you could spend endless days exploring London's sites without ever running out of unique things to see and do.
1 Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
One of Britain's most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace is also the scene of London's most popular display of pomp and circumstance, the Changing of the Guard. Drawing crowds at 11:30am in every season, this colorful and free display of precision marching and music also takes place at St James's Palace where you can follow the band along The Mall as they march between sites.
Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria's accession. If you're wondering whether the Queen is in, look at the flagpole atop the building: if the royal standard is flying day and night, she's at home. On special state occasions, she and members of the Royal Family may even emerge on the central balcony.
When she's away at her summer palace in Scotland, visitors can purchase tickets for tours of the State Rooms, the Queen's Gallery and the Royal Mews. One of the best ways to tour the palace, see the Changing of the Guard, and experience a traditional afternoon tea, is on a 4.5 hour . This tour is a very efficient way of seeing the highlights in a short period of time, and having a knowledgeable guide to explain the history makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable and relevant for first time visitors.
2 The British Museum
Displaying one of the world's finest collections of antiquities, the British Museum contains more than 13 million artifacts from the ancient world. With priceless objects from Assyria, Babylonia, China, Europe, and elsewhere, it's hard to know where to begin. But most tourists head first for the museum's most famous exhibits: the controversial Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, the colossal bust of Rameses II, the Egyptian mummies, and the spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver known as the Mildenhall Treasure.
3 The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
From prison to palace, treasure vault to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has fulfilled many different roles down the centuries. One of Britain's most iconic structures, this spectacular World Heritage Site offers hours of fascination for visitors curious about the country's rich history - after all, so much of it happened here. Inside the massive White Tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the 17th-century Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armaments and armor. Other highlights include the famous Crown Jewels exhibition, the Beefeaters, the Royal Mint, and gruesome exhibits about the executions that took place on the grounds. The adjacent Tower Bridge, its two huge towers rising 61 meters above the River Thames, is one of London's best-known landmarks.
For the best use of your time, especially during the busy summer season, purchase the in advance, to bypass the ticket office lines. This ticket guarantees the lowest price, helps avoid the crowds, and saves time and hassle.
4 Big Ben and Parliament
Nothing says "London" more emphatically than the 97-meter tower housing the giant clock and its resounding bell known as Big Ben. It's as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge. The tolling of Big Ben is known throughout the world as the time signal of BBC radio. Below it, stretching along the Thames, are the Houses of Parliament, seat of Britain's government for many centuries and once the site of the royal Westminster Palace occupied by William the Conqueror. Tours of the parliament buildings offer a unique chance to see real-time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehall is lined by so many government buildings that its name has become synonymous with the British government.