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Things to Do in London, England for First Time Visitors

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If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “What are some fun things to do and places to visit in London, England?”, you’re not alone. This bustling metropolis is known for its rich history, iconic landmarks, and vibrant culture. From exploring the historic bridges to watching a play in the West End, there’s no shortage of experiences that shouldn’t be missed when visiting London.

Is there anything fun to do in London?

London is full of things to do. Whatever you’re looking for, this city has plenty to offer. I believe it’s truly a playground for history buffs, art lovers, theatre geeks, foodies, pub goers, vintage shop enthusiasts, those who just love big cities, and more.

What should not be missed in London?

There are so many places to visit in London, it can make your head spin. Though this isn’t a complete list, I believe the following should not be missed for first time visitors:

Places to Visit in London and Unique Things to Do in London, England

There are many places to visit in London that are also unique to the area. For example, there is only one Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, etc. I visited the first three, and I think every first-timer should make seeing those a priority.

I saw Tower Bridge from an observation deck. It’s definitely on my bucket list for when I return to London. That is a popular spot. Whether you walk over it or take a tour, it looks amazing.

I also think observation decks are a must do thing because you can get an incredible view of London and see many exciting spots from up above. Many people like the Shard. You have to pay for that one. I opted for anything free for my first time around. I mention some free ones to visit on the podcast.

Though plays and musicals can be seen all over the world, seeing one in the West End is super special. It’s world famous! Though you can catch modern plays and musicals, The Mousetrap is considered unique to London. It’s been playing for over 70+ years.

Here’s my short list of what you should see if you’ve never been there. Obviously, if you’re from England, chances are you’ve had afternoon tea or English cuisine so you can ignore those if you like.

  • Big Ben
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Tower Bridge
  • An observation deck
  • Seeing a play or musical in the West End
  • Trying English cuisine
  • Visit a market
  • Catch a ride on a double decker bus
  • Have afternoon tea

Unlock the Best Things to Do in London: Explore Iconic Attractions, Savor Local Cuisine, and Avoid Common Mistakes

[00:00:00] Karen: Welcome to the Everyday Bucket List Podcast. Get ideas, tips, and inspiration from locals, subject matter experts, and yours truly to pursue travel goals and other bucket list ideas, both big and small. We saw something unique to London and it was The Mousetrap. It was the Agatha Christie story.

[00:00:21] And, there are a lot of modern musicals going on, I think it’s Hadestown, Wicked is very big there. There were other ones . . . Hamilton. If you’re listening to the Everyday Bucket List podcast, please fasten your seatbelts, and no matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, put your phone on airplane mode because free time should never be interrupted.

[00:00:44] Hey everyone, we are so happy to be back. Once again, we’re happy that you are back with us. It’s me, Karen Cordaway, your host and author of the Everyday Bucket List Book. And, I’m Little Robot. I’m the sometimes snarky fact-checker that chimes in when needed. I’m also known to give unsolicited comments.

[00:01:06] Abigail: Karen’s husband, Rich, is also here. I’m Abigail. I’m going to be helping Little Robot today since she’s going to pack for her own vacation soon.

Karen: Hey everyone, we’re super excited. We got back from London a few weeks ago, and we can’t wait to tell you all about it. And, unless you live on another planet, and you have never heard of London.

[00:01:28] London to me . . . what comes to mind right away, what it’s known for are Royals and pubs and tabloids and iconic buildings like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. And, there is so much more to explore there and the culture and the people are so much fun. So we can’t wait to talk about it with you. And, if you’ve been wondering, do I have some sort of hole on my bucket list of places to visit?

[00:01:52] This might be it. So we don’t want you to have a hole in your bucket or your list. So definitely stay tuned and listen in on what we did and what we think are must-see attractions. We’ll fill you in on restaurants and we’ll tell you what to avoid and some mistakes that we made along the way. We hope you take these tips and learn from us.

Experience Big Ben and More: Discover the Charm and History of London’s Iconic Landmarks

[00:02:11] Karen: So starting off, my number one thing is Big Ben. You can see it from a tourist bus, you can see it from a regular bus, or you can take the bus there to take pictures with Big Ben in the background and it’s a fun spot. There are loads of people there, but it’s still manageable. At least for when we went in April and you could get like a touristy pic and put your finger on top of Big Ben. It’s just a silly thing to do.

[00:02:37] I noticed these people, they put on UK hats. They bought these hats and took a picture with Big Ben in the background. I guess it just depends on how touristy, you want to be, or what is your idea of an awesome picture with a big iconic place to visit in the background? Yeah, I was amazed that all those places like famous places were all in one area.

[00:02:59] Rich: For example, Big Ben was right next to the London Eye and it was right next to Westminster Abbey. So we were able to just walk around in that area and get some good pics all in the span of like half an hour or so.

Karen: Yeah, so literally, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey are right across the street from each other. The architecture is very beautiful. That’s where the royals get married. Take a tour. You have to pay to go in and it’s just an amazing sight. You see these things on TV and then you can’t believe you’re there and you’re able to see all of this. So that was very exciting. Also, there’s like this little park and they have statues.

[00:03:34] I want to say there was Gandhi and Mandela and other people that were actually from England as well. And, it was just a nice spot to take pictures and walk around. You could sit a little bit. So that was a lot of fun.

Experience the Majesty of Buckingham Palace and the Unforgettable Views from London’s Free Sky Garden

Karen: Moving on to Buckingham Palace. You have to see that if this is your first time.

[00:03:54] It’s another spot that I couldn’t believe I was there. We were located close by. Our hotel was like a 10-minute walk to Buckingham Palace. So that was one of the first things that we did.

Rich: Yeah. And, we caught the end of the changing of the guards. So it was interesting to see them go through the process of that. And, it’s really formal, but you can tell that there’s a lot of history there. I don’t know how long they’ve been doing that, but I’m sure it’s a few hundred years.

Abigail: According to HouseholdDivision. org, it has been over 520 years. Karen: Right, and that all depends on when you go, how much you like crowds, can you get there to be up close to the fence before everyone else, and I don’t know if people are pushing or whatever.

[00:04:37] We were more on the side, not where a ton of people were, so we were able to snap photos and take videos from the side so that was fun.

Also, we went to the Sky Garden. Observation decks in general are super popular everywhere. London has a lot of great ones and this one was free.

[00:04:57] I could not believe it was free. It was so beautiful. You can walk all around. They show you where things are located. So there are these little signs. So if you’re looking for Tower Bridge or the Shard, or any other significant places in the London skyline, you can catch those and you can also relax. You could just get something to drink or a little snack, but they also have places where you can have a formal dinner.

[00:05:24] I think it was close to six o’clock where the people who are sitting, they let people have reservations at this time, but it’s very relaxing. That was one of the special things that we did while there. I mean, I thought everything was special, but it was unbelievable.

[00:05:41] Like I said, I couldn’t believe it was free. And, you have to get reservations in advance. So, I want to say I did it two to three weeks in advance. And, there was availability on a Monday. Check the website cause it will tell you when you should go on there and just snag a spot. The only downside is if you pick a day where it’s rainy or cloudy, it might not be as great, but we took our chances and we thought it was nice.

[00:06:05] Rich: It was a great place to unwind. We went there later in the afternoon. So we were kind of tired and we just sat there and had drinks and enjoyed the view.

Karen: Right, and take note of places that are inside because, as many people say, the weather is very temperamental. It could rain, but then it could be sunny so it’s nice to take note of places that you can go inside and still have an enjoyable time and it was a great view for sure.

Experience the Charm of London’s Iconic Bridges: A Fun Adventure for All Ages

[00:06:33] Karen: So moving on, we loved all of the bridges that we were able to see on this trip. There’s Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and the Millennium Bridge. The Millennium one is more modern. The other two are older and you could do something where you could take a tour of the bridge. You could just walk over Tower Bridge.

[00:06:52] It’s very pretty. London Bridge is more plain. We walked over that. I still thought it was fun. You get to wave to people who go by on a boat and it’s just a lot of fun to cross over bridges. We also did that for the Millennium Bridge and, this is something that, if you’re a couple, it could be like a nice romantic thing.

[00:07:11] If you’re traveling with friends, whatever, it’s also fun to do. And, even with kids. Kids get a kick out of seeing boats. I think at one point a tugboat went under so that was like a draw for people.

You could see up close when you’re looking off of the bridge. You could even go on one of the boats if you wanted to use it for transportation to get from one point to another. If you plot out your itinerary a certain way, that could be another exciting thing to do.

Maximize Your London Experience: Tips for Enjoying Musicals and Plays Comfortably

[00:07:36] Karen: Also, I think a must-do or see thing is a musical.

Abigail: As a heads up, Karen keeps saying musical, but she also means play. Obviously, if you hate musicals, then don’t do it, but we saw something unique to London. It was The Mousetrap. It was the Agatha Christie story and there are a lot of modern musicals going on.

I think it’s Hadestown. Wicked is very big there. There were other ones. Hamilton. And, you can get tickets in advance. You could get them last minute. I hear you get discounts if you’re more flexible and you could do it the day of. We wanted to make sure that we had tickets.

[00:08:19] So we ordered in advance. And like I said, I enjoyed it because I love plays and I wanted something unique to London. I don’t know if The Mousetrap is for everyone. I was into Agatha Christie in middle school and so it was kind of fun to revisit that story. And, I think if you’re there, why not?

[00:08:39] And anytime you could be flexible with what you do. If you have these set things that you’re doing, you’re like, hey, we’re in this area, why don’t we try to do this? That is a way to maximize your time there.

Rich: Yeah, we ordered our tickets before our trip and one little tip, we got our tickets in the stalls and we got it so we had leg room because it’s kind of tight in there.

[00:09:00] Those buildings are older. They’re built for people at a time when people were a lot smaller than we are now in 2024. So, there was an aisle in front of us. We had plenty of legroom. I can’t recommend that enough because I know the people I saw who weren’t in our row were really like jammed in there.

[00:09:18] Karen: Yeah, we like to pick that in general. We like to be in the first row of the second section. So there’s a lot of legroom. That’s a really good tip that you pointed out, Rich. And this area, I want to say was close to Seven Dials and I can have Rich explain what Seven Dials is. It was a really fun area and we can even explain where to eat.

Exploring Seven Dials: A Unique Cultural and Culinary Adventure

[00:09:39] Rich: Yeah, Seven Dials is a little, area in a neighborhood in Covent Garden where seven roads converge into this little roundabout and there’s a sundial in the middle. It’s just a cool little place to take pictures. People are sitting in the middle of the roundabout on the dial and there are all kinds of cool little shops and interesting little cafes.

[00:10:00] We got ice cream at a little place right off of one of those streets. Then we also found the Seven Dials public food market, which I’ll let Karen explain.

Karen: Right, I heard about this. It’s actually, I believe it’s a more recent thing and it’s another place where you can go indoors, which I think whenever you’re on a trip and you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like it’s great to put this into your itinerary.

[00:10:25] It was such a lively place to eat. There are so many different types of ethnic cuisine and there’s a lot of seating. We had tacos. I’ll have to have a Lil’ Robot look up the exact name of the restaurant.

Lil’ Robot: It was called Los Gordos.

Karen: And most places, I want to say there is a variety of gluten-free and vegan options.

[00:10:50] And I heard about this place that had gluten-free items and sometimes I’ll just pick vegan too. Just to try something different. They had these awesome mushroom tacos and they had some sort of crispy like crunchy onions on top. It was just really good. So here you are eating this great food.

[00:11:10] There’s like this lively atmosphere you can sit in the individual restaurants if they’re seating. Sometimes there’s limited seating or you could just kind of come out and you’re overlooking the seating below and there’s a DJ and all these lights and it was. I almost felt like I was at a club. It was kind of cool. there were all different age groups.

[00:11:29] It wasn’t like just a 20-something thing and in general, it always seems like there’s a variety of age groups. I’ve experienced that in Europe where you don’t feel out of place if there are younger people there. It’s kind of like everybody is together. This is my first time, but it was a great experience.

Savor the Authentic Local & International Cuisine: Unleashing the Foodie in You

[00:11:48] Okay, another restaurant that we went to right before the musical, it was called Brown’s. This was one of our only sit-down places, and one of the reasons why I don’t normally do sit down is because it takes a while. I rather sightsee than just eat something unless it’s like truly special or you can only get it in the area.

[00:12:09] This place was good. It’s very pretty. It has a nice atmosphere. You feel very comfortable. There were a lot of people with casual clothes, but not super casual. So it’s something where if you walk in jeans or whatever during lunchtime, you won’t feel awkward and the food was just really good.

[00:12:27] Rich had like a traditional English type of meal. I just had chicken and I think it was like a kale salad, but it was seasoned really well. But the only drawback was it took a while and in a lot of these restaurants you can stay a lot longer in Europe and we really needed to get out and go to the musical so that you have to think about when you’re planning.

[00:12:49] Rich: Yeah, I ordered the chicken and leek pie and it also came with mashed potatoes on the side and it was by far my favorite meal of the trip because the pie was like, you could tell it was fresh. The crust was crispy and then I remember telling you that it wasn’t a large pie. It didn’t look like it was going to be that big in terms of me eating it, but there was so much chicken in it that I just kept eating more chicken.

[00:13:15] So I was full afterward. It was just an awesome meal.

Karen: Right, we wanted to try some things that were from the area that you can only have in England, but there’s so much international cuisine. You have to try a variety, in my opinion. Another thing that we did, we had a traditional English breakfast, which some people might say, well, it’s eggs and potatoes or whatever they actually serve beans, they have roasted tomatoes,etc.

[00:13:44] We wanted a full English breakfast just to say that we did it and we went to The Breakfast Club that was near Chinatown. The people were nice. I think it was like maybe those $2 signs.

Abigail: $2 signs, meaning the symbol for the price points. It’s a lot to pay for eggs, but like I said, we’re there, we just wanted to do it, and we really liked it.

If you need a fast, casual restaurant, we hit up this place a lot. It was called Leon. Once again, they had gluten-free and vegan options. They have wraps. We actually had this chicken satay in a box, and they served it with rice. They also have breakfast there.

[00:14:24] We went there and they had these little pots and it’s literally like a little cup with an egg or two in it with avocado and salmon. It’s like, oh, I wish they had this in the States. It was healthy. It was quick and I couldn’t say enough about it. I definitely hit that spot a lot and it’s economical.

[00:14:41] It’s a great place for kids if you don’t have to worry about keeping them quiet. And, there’s a variety of options there. So you could keep everybody happy. And, they even have arancini, which is something that people have in Sicily. Obviously, you could get it in different parts of the world.

[00:14:55] And, they had gluten-free arancini. I was blown away. Whether you’re gluten-free or not, everything tasted so awesome. Another place I wanted to mention is Cutter and Squidge. They serve tea. You can get scones there and other desserts.

Abigail: Excuse me. I just wanted to mention that the scones in London are plainer. You can put clotted cream and jam on them. They are delicious and go great with tea.

Karen: If you don’t have time for a formal afternoon tea (not done there), they also have gluten-free options. I really loved it. They were nice there. It’s a cute little spot and definitely worth checking out. Chinatown is really cool.

[00:15:32] I had ice cream there. I believe it was Filipino ice cream and the flavor was uve. So it’s like this cool purple ice cream, and I can’t say enough about it. I cannot wait to go back. So now we also wanted to just give pointers for anyone really, but also to couples or kids, this could very easily just be very romantic.

[00:15:56] Like I said, you could go on a boat ride. You could go over the bridge. Go to a fancy restaurant if you feel like you want it to be romantic. With kids, we found it so easy to get around. The double-decker buses were so awesome. We were sitting and there was a mom who put her kid on the top.

[00:16:13] We liked going on the top because we can’t do that here. Maybe in New York, but those are just like tourist buses, but the red double-deckers, you can also just get a regular one in London. So we liked going to the top and you could see right in the front. There were these little kids who wanted to sit in the front badly and there was, on one side, not on the other.

[00:16:31] The mom just put them in the front. They looked like three or four. They just wanted to sit in the front. And, we ended up asking her if she wanted to switch with us so she could sit near her kids. So that’s a fun experience for kids. Even the Tube, like we were on the Elizabeth line. It felt very manageable.

[00:16:46] We got around just with credit cards. It’s very much a cashless society. However, if you do decide to take public transportation I want to say at least on the Tube, you have to get an Oyster card because each person has to pay for themselves, right?

[00:17:00] Abigail: You need the Oyster card if you bring children because your credit card can only be used by one person to track when you get on and off the Tube. Then they know how to charge you appropriately.

[00:17:11] Karen: So if you have a credit card when you’re getting on the Tube, you have to keep that credit card and use the same one when you’re getting off because they want to know how long you’ve been on the transportation. But like I said, when you’re on the Tube, you would need an Oyster card because obviously, a little kid’s not going to have a credit card.

[00:17:28] Also, I just felt like there’s so much to do there. You could bring your kid to a play if you think they can endure that. Rich, what did you think? There’s also parks and stuff. It’s all gauging like what you think your kid could handle. And, but there are places where you can just stop and unwind a little bit.

[00:17:50] If they need to decompress a little bit, if you have a little too much activity, there’s also street performers. That’s a lot of fun. People have their kids on their shoulders or there are places where you could sit a little high up so you can watch and there are ice cream places and I think the casual spots lend themselves to being a little more kid-friendly because you could be in and out and there’s a variety of things. They even had chicken nuggets at that Leon place.

Rich: For couples, definitely Sky Garden. It is a place where you’d want to visit. As Karen said, make sure you get your reservation tickets before you go to London though. And, the other thing is I read that London is considered the world’s most walkable city.

[00:18:25] I found that to be true. We walked around a lot. We took a lot of public transportation, but walking was so pleasant that it’s just an interesting experience. And, when we got tired, we would go into a cafe and get a cup of tea and a little snack. And, then we just kept going.

So it’s a great place to walk. That’s when you discover interesting little neighborhoods, too, and little streets and shops. So I would definitely suggest that couples spend some time walking around London.

Karen: Right. Another very popular thing is, sometimes people hire photographers when they go to places like that, a big epic bucket list location or sometimes if somebody’s engaged or whatever your anniversary special occasion or just for the fun of it.

And I was listening to this other podcast called UK Travel Planning and she has a photographer that’s been on a few different episodes that she’s for hire or she’ll even tell you locations of where you should take photos.

[00:19:15] So if you’re that person when you travel and you really want to get all those great photos that’s something to check out. That is the UK Travel Planning Podcast. It is episode 94. Another place that we didn’t mention is Neil’s Yard which is near Seven Dials. That’s like an Instagrammable spot.

[00:19:32] It’s a lot of fun. Definitely, you can take so many photos, and if you can hire someone, that would be a cool thing to do. And, I just wanted to mention a few mistakes. I don’t think anybody’s 100 percent perfect, but you can buy a travel adapter for your phone.

[00:19:51] You have to be careful with a hair dryer. You have to really look into the details of what you can use it for. Some of the hotels have them for you. So we bought two of them, not knowing that the hotel provided that. At the same time, we were happy to have our adapter because sometimes when you’re out and you’re using your phone for maps, you could kind of drain your battery or you’re taking a lot of photos and videos.

[00:20:12] So it was nice to have it on us because if we stopped for coffee, we could just re-up. So that’s something to keep in mind. Another thing is to make sure you check your credit cards, and transaction fees. Some cards don’t have any fees. I know the Discover card doesn’t and Chase Sapphire.

[00:20:31] Unfortunately, we used one of our cards and there was like a 3 percent charge on everything that we purchased. And, it’s funny because we ended up getting 3 percent back. So we were kind of like at zero. We broke even on that, but it’s good to keep in mind. The other thing is, because I did make reservations for the play and the Sky Garden, I didn’t leave enough time in my schedule for afternoon tea.

[00:20:51] So I was really bummed out about that. So if you really want to have afternoon tea, it’s only at a certain time. Some people have it like 12 to 3 or 12 to 4. Some people start later. And, there are a variety of places where you can do it. There’s a variety of price points too. If it’s something you really want to do, you just have to nail it down on your schedule and say, okay, these are the things I definitely want to do.

[00:21:12] But we were thinking about if we went back, what would we like to do? And that was like one of the biggest things I wanted to do. So I was bummed out and I just wasn’t thinking about that.

Also, I would like to get closer to Tower Bridge. We saw it from the Sky Garden and we’re able to view it from other areas. It’s just where we were at the time. It would have been a long walk and we’re already tired and we had other areas we wanted to visit. So I would try to walk. Over Tower Bridge. Another thing I would probably see is another musical like Wicked or try to do more of the last minute thing and have more flexible plans and kind of like do more of an outline.

[00:21:52] I don’t like to be tied to reservations unless I have to. So that is something to keep in mind. I would probably try other observation decks. There’s another one close by to the Sky Garden that you don’t need a reservation for. So that’s another thing to keep in mind, I think it’s Garden at 120, so that would be a nice place to visit another time.

[00:22:12] And, Rich, is there anything else that, when you go back, you, you’d want to hit these other places that we didn’t go to? The Tower Bridge is someplace that we didn’t get a chance to visit that I want to visit next time. Right, and I think maybe Notting Hill and Greenwich. Greenwich has the Prime Meridian, and it just depends on how you want to plot everything out.

[00:22:33] I usually pick the spots that I want to see the most, and then you get the most bang for your buck in the area. In terms of it being close to this, and then we could go eat here, or some of the markets, they’re very popular. We went to Borough Market, but you definitely want to plot it out.

Okay, we could go to this market then we could see this big epic thing  going to Greenwich just seemed a little out of our way at this time. Like I said, we would love to go back and see the Prime Meridian and hit up some other markets maybe or go to places where like there’s music history.

[00:23:11] We were able to see Abbey Road, which we had to go a little bit out of our way and find the bus to go there, but it was worth it. And that is pretty much it. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on X, I still call it Twitter, at Karen Cordway, K A R E N, C as in cat, O R D A W A Y. You can also email me at Hello at KarenCordaway.

[00:23:36] com. I love your questions and thank you so much for listening. Please share this episode if someone can get use out of it. Also, check out my Buy Me a Coffee page, if you would like to support the show, we have arrived at our destination, you can unfasten your seatbelts and we’ll see you next time for another episode of The Everyday Bucket List podcast. Bye.