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Long story short: London is a fantastic vacation spot. It isn’t just an American-based fascination with our neighbors across the pond—although national exports like Doctor Who, James Bond, and the collected works of Benedict Cumberbatch might have helped to fan the flames. From notable sites like the Globe Theatre that seemingly scream “we keep the history here!” to an array of West End plays ready to tell new stories, and adventures like Thames Rockets, that allow you to take sightseeing at (literally) a different speed, there might not be something for everyone—but it’s pretty darn close.
Bonus: it’s certainly possible to spend your entire trip living it up in the city limits. But thanks to the UK’s relatively compact size, other locations like the Cotswolds’ (think peaceful nature), Bath (get ready for cool history), or Brigham (complete with a cool undercover art scene), are a short train ride away.
Ready to cross the ocean? We’ve got you covered. Here’s a quick introduction to some of the city’s most interesting, Instagrammable, and just straight-up enjoyable locations.
Stroll By Iconic Sites
You can’t go wrong with the classics, right? London has plenty of them. Pack a pair of walking shoes and stroll along the River Thames for all the postcard worthy views. Feeling ambitious? Start with Tower Bridge (pictured), and walk into the city center. Along the way you’ll see London Tower, Millennium Bridge (that would be the big silver foot bridge leading towards Tate Modern), Houses of Parliament (with Big Ben chilling on one side), and The London Eye. Speaking of which…
Get High (Up)
Continue your explorations by rising above it all on The London Eye (opens in new tab), which at 443 feet tall was Europe’s largest Ferris wheels (that is, until Brexit). The structure, which gives a birds-eye view of the city over the course of its 30-minute rotation, was supposed to be temporary, but it was so popular with visitors that it’s now a permanent part of the London skyline. Just be sure to grab tickets in advance—it’s the UK’s most visited tourist destination.
Visit a Legend
Is there anything more British than David Bowie? While the force behind Ziggy Stardust may have moved on, his legacy carries on in the Brixton neighborhood where he was born. The mural, featuring Bowie in full Aladdin Sane makeup was painted by street artist Jimmy C, became a memorial after the musician’s death in 2016, and is still known to collect trinkets on the anniversary in January.
Eat On the Run
For a meal that you’ll never forget, try Bustronome London. The restaurant on wheels crisscrosses through central London while serving up three course meals. (If you’re feeling fancy, try the wine parings.) Thanks to their 360° panoramic view roof, you won’t miss any of the local sites while you dine.
Light It Up
You won’t find God’s Own Junkyard on many London to-do lists, which is why you should absolutely pay a visit to this North-East London treasure. More than just an Instagram pit—although it is endlessly photogenic—the warehouse turned showroom is the work of Chris Bracey, who graduated from designing signs for Soho’s strip clubs and brothels to crafting custom pieces for the likes of filmmakers like Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, and Christopher Nolan. It’s free to visit—but if you get thirsty you can also linger at their on-site café, The Rolling Scones, or head next door for a sip at Mother’s Ruin gin bar.
Take a Royal Walk
It probably won’t surprise you that Kew Gardens used to belong to the royal family. However, since its time when royals exclusively strolled, it’s become an egalitarian, Richmond-area nature preserve, with more than 50,000 different types of plants. (Nope not a typo!) Explore exotic flowers in its multiple greenhouses, walk through tree canopies 18 meters above the ground, or visit The Hive (pictured above), a mesmerizing installation where LEDs pulsate in time with the bees’ movements across the garden, and a low hum provides visitors with a surreal soundtrack.
Get Your Art On
Thanks to government funding, a large portion of London's art galleries are free—making them the perfect stop, regardless of whether or not you’re an art history buff, or just want to spend a few minutes looking at something pretty. Stop by the National Portrait Gallery to visit iconic images of people you’re likely to recognize, gawk at dinosaur skeletons at the Natural History Museum, or visit Tate Modern (pictured above), where for a small additional fee, you can also visit Kusama’s iconic infinity rooms.
Go For a Science-Based Tea
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Located at the Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington, The Drawing Rooms offer the opportunity to get with your scientific side while snacking on a decadent array of treats. Dig for chocolate dinos, and decorate your scones with moon rocks. But whatever you do, be sure to keep your cameras ready when your server asks if you’re ready for take-off.
Seriously…Go Get More Tea
Honestly, you’ve got to love a nation that invented an entire meal based on consuming sugar and caffeine. Head over to the Shard and peer over London while you enjoy Peter Pan-inspired bites. Stop by Sketch for a sip in their newly refurbished golden dining room. Or stop by Peggy Porschen (shown above), to snack on adorable seasonal cakes in their picture-perfect pink parlor.
Stay Somewhere Cute
Mama Shelter in Shoreditch (pictured above) offers karaoke for the social crowd, and king-sized beds and free streaming movies for the solitary set. Bonus: from their breakfast room to striped bar, there isn’t a corner of the building that doesn’t benefit from their highly instagramable “more is more” décor. For a more budget, yet still playful option, head over to CitizenM Shoreditch (opens in new tab), a funky hotel chain that features party-sized beds and lux lobby work stations featuring locally-created art. Finally, if you want to go all-out, book at the Shangri-la. Located in The Shard, aka the tallest building in London, the hotel not only features some of the best service and views in the city, but a calming infinity pool that will allow you to enjoy both at the same time.
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