London’s 10 Best Cultural Attractions
Given Europe’s long and rich history, its cities host numerous cultural treasures dating from the dawn of humanity to the present day. Standing out in this crowded field is not easy, but London manages to do just that. Fine arts, religious relics, and architectural wonders are found next to masterpieces of contemporary visual arts.
For this reason, it’s not easy to narrow down London’s top 100 cultural attractions, let alone the top 10, but we have tried our best to recommend a balanced mix of new and old, as well as the more abstract and down-to-earth.
Table of Contents
Visit the British Museum: one of London’s top cultural attractions
The British Museum’s collection of millions of historical items offers a comprehensive journey through time, covering the entire span of human existence, from prehistoric times to our modern world.
Are you into pharaohs and pyramids? If so you’re in luck, because the British Museum has the largest collection of ancient Egyptian items in the world. Or perhaps you prefer the classical Graeco-Roman world? Have no fear, you found just the right place to delve into the times of philosophers, senators, and emperors.
One of my favorites is the section dedicated to the oldest cradles of civilization, the Middle Eastern department. Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Persian — they have it all.
Whatever historical age or place fascinates you, rest assured that the British Museum’s collection covers every era and every continent. And I haven’t even mentioned the best thing about the British Museum: you can visit it for free.
Learn about the Tower of London’s varied history
Want to visit the Tower of London but worried about climbing a lot of stairs to reach the top? Well, don’t worry. Despite its name, it is not so much a tower but a historic castle located on the banks of the River Thames.
Officially called His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, it is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. The Tower of London was used as a prison during the middle ages, so, unsurprisingly, it has been associated with torture and execution for much of its existence. Some of its prisoners were kept there for years or even decades, slowly wasting away in the damp and dark dungeons.
During World War II, the Tower resumed its role as a prison, Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, being held there for a short time. And in 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs became the last person to be executed there.
Many foreign visitors are intrigued by the Royal Menagerie. English kings and queens kept wild animals in the Tower of London, including lions and leopards, from the early 13th century, and by the 16th century, the medieval zoo had opened to the larger public. In 1835, the animals were transferred to London Zoo after one of them bit either a soldier or a sailor — the details are unclear.
Apart from the impressive building complex and its rich history, the Tower houses the Crown Jewels. Some of the jewels on display are in regular use today, while many others were used in royal ceremonies for centuries. The exhibition includes a staggering 23,578 gemstones, St Edward’s Crown (the crown placed on the monarch’s head during coronation), the Imperial State Crown, and the centuries-old Coronation Spoon.
Feel like royalty at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a large Gothic church in London’s City of Westminster area. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, every English and British monarch has been crowned there, making it one of the primary religious buildings in the United Kingdom, and one of the best cultural attractions in London.
Furthermore, over 3,000 people are buried at the church, most of them of historical significance: monarchs, prime ministers, military leaders, poets, scientists, and actors.
Even if you are not Christian or into history or architecture, there is another compelling reason to visit. Westminster Abbey has witnessed no less than 16 royal weddings. The earliest ceremony was in 1100 when King Henry I wed Matilda of Scotland, and the most recent in 2011 when Prince William married Kate Middleton. So if you’d like to walk in the footsteps of real-life princes and princesses, there is no better place to visit than Westminster Abbey.
Take in the majestic Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is the administrative center of the British monarchy — and became the reigning monarch’s principal residence during the reign of Queen Victoria.
To this day, Buckingham Palace plays a significant role during important state occasions and major events, the monarch receiving high-ranking guests there.
You can pretend to be a visiting president, prime minister, or royalty if you visit in summer during the palace’s opening. Wander through the palace’s gardens, visit the majestic State Rooms, and gawk at the King’s art collection.
Experience the magic of the Warner Bros Studio Tour
Every age group has its own iconic, formative, generation-defining works of popular art, be they novels, songs, or movies. The “Harry Potter” movies (and books) are undoubtedly one of those extraordinary works. But, have you ever wondered how they were made? Well, wonder no more and take the Warner Bros Studio Tour while in London.
Visit the Great Hall at Hogwarts and feel like a student of magic for a few minutes. Then walk into the Forbidden Forest, take in the eerie atmosphere, and meet some of its inhabitants. Don’t forget to browse the shops of Diagon Alley and equip yourself with everything a witch or wizard needs. Once ready for the journey, hop on the Hogwarts Express from the iconic Platform 9¾.
Step back in time in the Churchill War Rooms
Everyone has seen at least one image of the larger-than-life British wartime leader, cigar in one hand and a glass of cognac in the other. Churchill’s dogged determination, unique charisma, and world-famous speeches played a fundamental role in the Allied victory of World War II.
Follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest history-makers by visiting the actual rooms from where the British war effort was coordinated. Little has changed since Churchill’s days in the underground bunker hosting the Cabinet War Rooms, so much so that you can easily imagine the choking smell of cigar smoke, and the raised voices of the prime minister and his cabinet, as they debated major decisions of World War II.
Marvel at some of the greatest artistic works at the Victoria and Albert Museum
With over 2 million items, the Victoria and Albert Museum, or V&A, is probably the largest museum dedicated to applied arts, design, and decorative arts worldwide.
Founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, it displays art spanning 5,000 years. Fashion items, textiles, clothing, ceramics, glass, and jewelry, you can and find it all at the V&A.
Do you want to know more about Safflower Red in Japanese fashion? Or perhaps you’d like to learn about the art of men’s tailoring? If so, then you are in the right place. Also, you have the option to participate in different workshops, from embroidery to fashion photography, and enjoy the creation of artworks by yourself.
As a plus, a visit to the museum is free of charge. However, you may have to pay for workshops or special events and exhibitions, so check the availability and price in advance.
Explore the Tate Britain and Tate Modern
Dedicated to art created in Britain, Tate Britain houses works made from 1545 to the present day. While Tate Britain focuses on traditional British art, its counterpart, Tate Modern, has a more contemporary and broader international collection, making it one of the best modern cultural attractions in London. If you are interested in 20th- and 21st-century art, you should drop by Tate Modern and see masterpieces by the likes of Picasso. Admission to the gallery is free, but some temporary exhibitions might require a ticket.
Wander through majestic St Paul's Cathedral
This impressive building and its famous dome dominated the London skyline for over 300 years. Actually, St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in the city until 1963. And interestingly, the monumental church that we see today wouldn’t have existed if not for an unfortunate string of tragedies.
Originally built by the Saxons in 604 AD, Saint Paul’s burned down several times over the centuries, including in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Although Old St Paul’s could have been restored, the decision was made to erect a brand new cathedral.
The current building designed by Sir Christopher Wren has stood the test of time, being one of the most celebrated religious buildings in the world and a top London cultural attraction.
To make the most of your visit, you should explore the crypts, climb to the cathedral’s galleries, and enjoy a grand London vista from the top of the dome. To avoid disappointment during busy periods, book the tour in advance.
Laugh and cry at Shakespeare's Globe
Probably the most famous author, William Shakespeare wrote his plays for the former Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse. Although the original building was demolished, the current one was built following the original designs.
The site also includes a smaller, candle-lit space based on the indoor playhouses of London during the 17th century.
Even if you are not planning to enjoy one of the performances, it is still worth admiring Shakespeare’s Globe from the outside.