Now that you’ve read my list of Do’s and Don’ts for when your family comes to town, we’re on to the next crucial part of any trip – sightseeing! There are sooo many things to see while you’re in London it can be overwhelming, so here’s the ones I visited with my family for a starting point. I’ve divvied them up into ones that are free, and ones you have to pay for. Happy exploring!
Tate Modern: The Tate Modern is London’s premier modern art gallery, and it’s located in a prime spot, on the south bank of the Thames next door to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. My parents stayed close to the Tate Britain, another member of the Tate family, which is located in Pimlico, and we enjoyed a lovely stroll from the Tate Britain up to the Tate Modern. It is a bit of a far walk, so there’s a boat running from one museum to the other that you can use your Oyster card on, which is very handy! The Tate also opened up a viewing platform ten stories up, which is fantastic for a 360° view of central London. Not to mention that there’s always amazing exhibitions on!
Imperial War Museum: I’d never been to the IWM before, and I was pleasantly surprised by how nice of a museum it was! The exhibitions were very informative, and interior of the museum felt very fresh and new. Since most of us only know about American involvement in World Wars I and II, it was really interesting to read more about Britain’s involvement in the wars as well. Definitely worth a visit if you’re around in south London!
Victoria and Albert Museum: The V & A is another perfect place to take your parents whilst in London. Not only is the museum itself a gorgeous building from the outside, it has a stunning interior to match, and with over 4.5 million objects housed within its walls, you definitely won’t run out of things to look at! The V & A is located in Knightsbridge, a posh and beautiful neighbourhood in London that’s perfect to wonder about after you’re done at the museum. If you get tired of taking in art, the V & A also has a gorgeous courtyard in the centre, where you can get a snack and enjoy the view. Finally, if your parents still have the energy, head over to the Natural History Museum next door!
British Museum: This one is a classic and a must for any parents’ visit to London! The building has such impressive architecture, but very interesting exhibits and artefacts to check out as well. The British Museum is so chock full of historical artefacts, you basically walk straight into the Rosetta Stone as you enter the building! My personal favourite is the Sunken Cities: Egypt’s lost worlds – I can’t get enough of the sphinxes and sarcophagi, but there’s definitely something for everyone at the British Museum.
Westminster Abbey/ Big Ben/Houses of Parliament: The area leading from Westminster Bridge into Parliament Square is one the busiest in London, and for good reason. This is where you’ll want to take your parents, just maybe not on the weekend when it’s totally mobbed with tourists. It’s the quintessential sightseeing spot—there’s nothing that screams London more than good ‘ol Big Ben, with the Houses of Parliament beside him! Once you’ve taken the classic photo in the red phone booths with Big Ben behind you, head over to Westminster Abbey to check out the famous church where Will and Kate got married. Unfortunately this time around we got to the Abbey just after it closed and weren’t able to go inside, but definitely try to see the inside if you’ve got the time!
Buckingham Palace: This is another classic stop you’ve got to take your parents to on a tour of London. It’s free to stand outside and take a million pictures of the iconic palace, as most of us do, but if you want to actually go inside and see the Queen’s residence, you may buy tickets as well. If you’re about in the mornings on certain days throughout the year, you might be able to catch the Changing of the Guard! From Buckingham, walk through Green Park, St. James Park, or down the Mall to visit 10 Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives), Horse Guards Parade, or Trafalgar Square, all great London sights on their own. All of this is just a stone’s throw away from Big Ben and Parliament Square, so it’s actually quite easy to knock out most of the classic London monuments in a day.
Richmond Park: It might be a little off the beaten path for most tourists, but since I live semi-close to Richmond in south west London, I really wanted to show my parents a different part of this huge city too. One of my favourite things about London is how well it does green space, and Richmond, with its wild deer and huge expanses of forest, meadows and lakes, is such a beauty. There are tonnes of cosy pubs and shops around the centre of Richmond as well, which makes it seem like you’re in the English countryside, not just in London’s zone 4. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city while sightseeing, or if your parents want to go on a scenic walk to combat jet lag, this is the place to go!
St. Paul’s Cathedral: I’ve walked past St. Paul’s a million times and admired its beauty from the street, but have never paid to go in, so I’m really glad my mom convinced me and dad to do it! Paying for an audio guided tour of the cathedral was totally worth it – the dome, chapels, and all the mosaics are all absolutely breath-taking! It’s insane to think that such a beautiful work of art, with so much rich history, is just smack dab in the middle of London’s Fleet Street. Beneath the cathedral you can also tour the crypt, where several of Britain’s war heroes are buried – more captivating than creepy, I promise!
Churchill’s War Rooms: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, one of the most iconic leaders of British history, took refuge during the Blitz of London in WWII in a bunker underneath 10 Downing Street, and a lot of it is still intact today. They’ve also done a whole museum dedicated Winston Churchill’s entire life, in addition to his wartime contributions, which I found super interesting. I would recommend buying tickets in advance as it’s not a roomy museum and queues can build up! Also, if you’re claustrophobic like me, I’ll warn you that some of the hallways are quite narrow.
Tower of London: As an English history nerd, I’m a huge fan of the Tower of London, and luckily my parents were too. Out of all the palaces in London, I would posit that the Tower of London might be the most interesting one if I’m being honest! You’ve got dungeons, torture, kings and queens, and the Crown Jewels themselves – what can get more English than that? Since the Tower is huge, I would highly recommend taking a free Yeomen’s Tour of the grounds. Not only do they have a great knowledge of the Tower’s history, but the Yeomen are hilarious and charismatic as well! We spent nearly four hours in the Tower, so be sure to block out some considerable time if you’re going to visit.
London Eye: Though some might tell you that the London Eye isn’t worth paying to go up, don’t take their word for it! And if your parents are paying, definitely take a trip to the top. It’s best to buy tickets in advance, and if you do it online, you can get a cheap combo ticket to do a riverboat cruise too. Since I’ve been up the Eye about five times, I put my parents on it while I was at work, and they absolutely loved it! I think it was one of their favourite parts of the trip, as there’s really nothing like the pure, unfettered view of London you’ll get while on the Eye – you can see for miles!
Now that you’ve got all the stops on the sightseeing itinerary figured out, let’s get to the best part – food!