London's Top Cultural Attractions
Timeless tragedies, Victorian novels, punk music…The Spice Girls—the British capital has inspired infinite artists through the centuries. Check out our top picks of landmarks, attractions and experiences that evoke London’s brilliant cultural heritage.
The classics:Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest grand music hall in the world, the Royal Albert Hall has hosted concerts since 1871, and Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House stands on almost 300 years of operatic excellence. Don’t forget the house of famed composer George Frideric Handel, now a museum called the Handel & Hendrix, because guitar legend Jimi Hendrix’s flat is right next door.
Legendary venues:Many of London’s iconic venues still endure, such as Ronnie Scott's, a famous basement jazz bar, as well as punk-rock landmarks like the Roundhouse and The 100 Club, that showcased bands like the Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and The Clash. Other surviving musical locales of note include Brit Pop hotspot The Good Mixer, the Amy Winehouse haunt The Hawley Arms, Camden classic The Dublin Castle, and The Troubadour where Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Adele have all played.
Cover art:Reproduce your fave album covers! Head to Camden Market for the debut album of The Clash, Heddon Street for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Berwick Street for Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and, of course, Abbey Road for that iconic shot of The Beatles crossing the street where they recorded the album of the same name.
Denmark Street:Nicknamed Tin Pan Alley for its instrument stores, Denmark Street was once the HQ for the British music world. The Sex Pistols lived and recorded at 6 Denmark Street, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and The Kinks all recorded at 4 Denmark Street (now a guitar shop), and David Bowie was a regular of the shops and cafés of the legendary alley.
Studio time:Pop quiz! What do Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, Duran Duran, and The Spice Girls have in common? They all recorded albums at Olympic Studios! It’s now a cozy, independent cinema with a café, dining room and…stellar sound system. While you’re south of the Thames, you might also want to check out the David Bowie mural in his birthplace of Brixton.
The Bard:See Shakespeare’s most famous plays at Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the 17th-century theatre where the prolific playwright staged his most famous works. Have a pint at the historic George Inn, a popular haunt of his in his early days, and take a day-trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to wander around his hometown and visit his childhood house.
Wander west:London’s West End is its undisputed theatre hub, home to an assortment of popular productions, classic plays and must-see musicals. Snag tickets to long-running hot shows, such as Wicked or The Lion King, at venues like The Apollo Victoria Theatre, the Lyceum Theatre, the Novello Theatre and the Theatre Royal, one of Europe’s oldest.
Never gets old:For a 200-year old theatre, the Old Vic likes to keep things fresh. Most British acting legends, from Laurence Olivier to Judi Dench, have graced its stage, and it remains one of the world’s go-to spots for innovative productions.
Al fresco:Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always rain in London. In fact, warm summers set the stage for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre where Shakespeare classics, comedies, dramas and critically-acclaimed musicals are performed outdoors.
The ins-and-outs of theatre:With four auditoriums, bars, restaurants, a bookshop, and exhibition halls, the National Theatre presents an immersive exploration of London’s theatre world. Aside from its amazing plays, it also offers backstage tours, talks, courses and visits to its archives for screenings of its impressive past productions.
The British Library:Formerly housed in the British Museum, the largest national library in the world now has its own home for about 200 million items from around the world. A Gutenberg Bible, a 14th-century edition of The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s First Folio, the Magna Carta, and the oldest surviving printed document—they’re all here.
Solve this:Follow the trail of one of the world’s most famous detectives at The Sherlock Holmes Museum, which is almost located at 221b Baker Street (actually between 237 and 241). Toast his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub that was a popular watering hole for writers and poets, from Mark Twain and W.B. Yeats to Conan Doyle himself.
Stock up:We won’t name all the bookstores in London, because there are literally hundreds, but here are some of our faves: Foyles and all the shops of Charing Cross Road, Daunt Books, the London Review Bookshop, Libreria, Skoob Books, Bookmongers, Stanfords, and Hatchards, the UK’s oldest surviving bookshop. Hope you’re bringing extra luggage!
Where the magic happens:Embrace your inner nerd at King’s Cross Station where you can attempt to cross Platform 9 ¾ and head to Hogwarts—you can even get your own wand at The Harry Potter Shop! For the ultimate fantasy experience, take a day trip to Oxford where J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, between pints at The Eagle and Child pub with his pal C.S. Lewis, creator of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Pottermania:More Potter? Why not! Serious fans should tour Warner Bros. Studio London, where all 8 Harry Potter films were made, for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the franchise, including a look at props, sets (the Great Hall!) and costumes. Keep your eyes peeled for filming locations across the city, including Leadenhall Market which doubled as Diagon Alley.
Location, location:Cruise down the River Thames like James Bond, passing by the riverside headquarters of MI5 and MI6. Emulate Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts at the Notting Hill Book Shop. Stomp across the Old Royal Naval College or Trafalgar Square, used in countless movies, including Thor, The Dark Knight Rises, Les Misérables, Love Actually, Wonder Woman, and loads more.
Shhhh…:Don’t tell anyone, but there’s nothing quite like London’s Secret Cinema, an immersive cinematic experience that brings your fave films to life through theatre, dance and music. You even get to join in—you’ll be sent a character and dress code, as well as the secret location, beforehand!
The best cinemas:If you rather just sit and watch, London teems with historic and cutting-edge cinemas. Step into the birthplace of British cinema, the Regent Street Cinema, the vintage, neon-lit Screen on the Green or the retro-cool Phoenix Cinema. Pencil in unique film events (Disney Pyjama Party? Dirty Dancing sing-a-long?) at The Prince Charles Cinema, or look for luxury on the plush, front-row beds of Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema.
Open-air screenings:For summer movie nights, join the Rooftop Film Club at different high-altitude venues, watch Movies on the River, cinematic cruises on the Thames, or settle in for projections on the gorgeous Somerset House at Film4 Summer Screen. The Nomad Cinema pops up at squares, parks, and cemeteries, and even sets up a Christmas igloo for winter screenings, while the Luna Cinema opts for the gorgeous outdoors during summer and hops to elegant locales during winter.
Must-see museum:Pieces of the Parthenon, Egyptian mummies, ornate Renaissance objects, an Easter Island statue, the Rosetta Stone—it’s all here, at London’s one-stop shop for world wonders: the illustrious British Museum.
Modern takes:Meander through modern masterpieces at the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern. The Tate Britain focuses on British art from 1500 to today, while the Tate Modern, located in a former power station, houses works from international art icons, from Picasso and Matisse to Magritte and Lichtenstein.
Architecture:Admire the Brutalist building of the Barbican Centre, a world-class arts complex, and look up at the oddly shaped Shard and Gherkin skyscrapers. Of course, you can’t visit London without appreciating the Gothic grandeur of the Tower Bridge, as well as the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben clock tower.
Design dreams:Housed in elegant Victorian-era buildings, the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) is not only one of the world’s most beautiful museums, but it also tops the list of best in art and design with millions of objects pertaining to furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, jewellery, and more! London’s spectacular Design Museum should also not be missed.
Street Art:The city where Banksy began is big on street art and graffiti. Walk through the Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel, embark on neighbourhood tours of street-savvy spots like Soho and Shoreditch, where Banksy art still adorns walls. Cut to Croydon to discover the RISEgallery, which brings art outside its walls with its Arts Quarter project, focused on colouring Croydon with innovative street art.
What’s NextOverwhelmed by all of London’s top attractions? Don’t worry—we’re here to help you see the most of the British capital! To ease with planning, opt for one of our tour packages, like Classic London, England Past, Present, and Future or Historical Retreat.
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