When you're not into the royal family...
Reputation: everything’s about the royal family: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London. The food’s bad, and it rains all the time.
Why you should go: a truly multi-cultural city with some of the best museums, art galleries and parks in the world. English pubs. A heaven for sports fans. The shopping, oh the glorious shopping.
A quick note about accessibility in London: London is flat and its buildings are required to be accessible for people with restricted mobility, so everything listed here can be visited by people with mobility devices and pushchairs, even the Cutty Sark.
Don't be put off by the name 'Royal' in many place names. Everything’s free unless stated.
Relax in London’s green spaces and public parks
London has some outstanding parks. Our favourites include St James’s Park (we love the pelicans), Kensington Garden (check out its formal avenues) and Hyde Park (go cycling, swimming and horse riding). The parks are huge with lots of grass to lounge on and walking paths to explore. You can let the kids run wild. The parks are officially called Royal Parks but don't let that put you off. Over summer, you can hire a deck chair at St James’s Park and relax in the sun.
Gardeners will love Kew Gardens for its glorious glasshouses, historic buildings and rare plants. An entry fee applies. A little further afield is Greenwich Park, which dates back to Roman times. It's a popular spot with locals on the weekends. If we had a pound for every group of picnickers we saw…
If you’re not looking for grass, kick back at Trafalgar Square and enjoy the very good buskers. Or check out the ‘circuses’: Oxford and Piccadilly. They are hubs of activity, and close to popular shops and the theatre district.
Some of London's gorgeous green spaces: St James's Park and Greenwich. Trafalgar Square with its great buskers, and Oxford Circus.
Get lost in the museums
The National History Museum is awesome. Think dinosaur bones, volcanoes and fossils. You'll learn something without even meaning to. It's a blast for grown-ups and kids alike with 36 galleries to discover. It's a great day out.
Around the corner is the popular Science Museum. It’s highly interactive and kids of all ages will love it too.
The British Museum is fantastic - and controversial - and is worth a visit but do your homework first! It's very popular and even if you arrive as the doors open, you'll still be dealing with crowds. Before you go, decide what you want to see as you'll never see everything in a single visit. The museum has great suggestions on its website of what to see if you've got an hour, three hours or are visiting with children. The museum is also where you'll find the Elgin Marbles, originally from the Parthenon in Greece (this is where the controversy comes in).
The London Library may not immediately spring to mind as a tourist destination, but if you're in the neighbourhood (St James's Square), pop in and see a notebook from Leonardo da Vinci, letters from Galileo or Handel's original manuscript for the Messiah. There's also a copy of the Magna Carta (yes, we know you're not into royal history but think of it as an agreement with the people). Famous members include Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf and Agatha Christie.
Scenes of London: the London Eye - great for views of the city. Shopping's never dull when the shopping bags look like this. Regent Street. There's only one way to travel: on the Tube.
Okay, so maybe Shakespeare wasn't your favourite at school. But give him another go by touring the recreated Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames. Or grab yourself tickets for a performance. Tickets start from 5 pounds (5 pounds!) and regularly feature Oscar-winning actors. Plus, they really know how to bring a play to life. We promise. Tip: if you're booking a seat, pay extra to book a cushion. The seats are rock-hard and cushions only cost an extra pound.
Discover amazing art
The National Gallery is a remarkable place to visit, even if you don't like art. Think of a famous old painter and they'll find at least one of their works here. It's big so decide what you want to see before you go. Our favourite painting is Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers, which looks like it glows.
For modern art, head to the Tate Modern. We love the room dedicated to Mark Rothko. There’s also Pollock, Dali and Monet. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You may not be a modern art fan (“I could have done that”) but there’s something here for everyone. There's a great view of London from level 10. If you’re travelling with kids, give them a penny and see how far they can roll it from the top of the ramp on the ground floor. We saw a little boy get his penny right to the other end - 200m (650 feet) away - which is pretty impressive.
Hungry? Gail’s Artisan Bakery behind the Tate Modern does yummy food.
Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' at the National Gallery. The Tate Modern, and nearby Gail's Artisan Bakery if you're feeling hungry. Shakespeare's Globe will change your mind about the Bard.
Uncover London's dark underbelly
Despite it being over 125 years since Jack the Ripper terrorised Whitechapel, it's still possible to visit the streets and even the pub where he committed his crimes. So grab a map and head to Durward Street, Hanbury Street, Henriques Street, Mitre Square (which can all be explored from Aldgate East Tube station) and Dorset Street (Tube: Bond Street or Marble Arch). This is where his five victims were found.
Then, have a beer at The Ten Bells pub, where victim Annie Chapman is believed to have had a drink the night she died and where Mary Kelly, another victim, met her clients. Regardless of its history, The Ten Bells is a great place for a pint. It's located at 84 Commercial Street in Spitalfields.
Tour your favourite sports ground
Cricket fans will love touring Lord’s. Visit the Long Room, the players’ changing rooms and the media centre, and see the Ashes trophy. A fee applies and we recommending buying tickets in advance on the Lord's website as they tend to sell out. If you want to catch a game, consider a county match. This is Middlesex’s home ground and tickets are considerably cheaper and easier to get than watching an international match. When we visited we were allowed on the sacred ground during the lunch break (yes, we got to walk on the grass!), but we can't guarantee that this happens every time.
While you're in the neighbourhood, Abbey Road (of Beatles-crossing-the-road fame) is just down the road. Just don't be that person who stands in the middle of the road to get a photo and blocks traffic.
Football (that’s soccer to some of you) fans will love touring Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s home ground. The self-guided tour covers the players’ changing rooms, stands and the club’s museum. A fee applies.
Other sites to see, which we haven’t visited yet, include Wimbledon (technically the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and Tours at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Whew!) for tennis and Twickenham for rugby.
Lord's cricket ground. Stop by Abbey Road on the way for your Beatle's moment. Emirates Stadium, home to the Arsenal football team. And a pub lunch is the perfect way to fill up before a match.
The shopping in London is literally wow. Our favourite store in London is Dover Street Market for dead-cool clothing and accessories. The staff are very friendly despite being so hip it hurts. The Rose Bakery on the top floor sells yummy snacks if you need a pick-me-up.
Our pick of department store is Liberty in its gorgeous black and white Tudor building, although it's a close call. The brands stocked here are top-notch and the cosmetics halls have the very best, coolest make-up and skincare. Check out the perfect flowers for sale at the main entrance. Other options are Harrod’s and Selfridge’s, which need no introduction and deserve their excellent reputations.
For high street labels, head to Oxford Street. For designer goodies, you’ll love New Bond Street. Covent Garden will make everyone happy and has everything you could ever want, from the very fabulous and expensive to affordable, high street wares. Covent Garden can get very busy so take your time and go with the flow. Tip: if you get here by Tube, don’t take the stairs! There are nearly 200 of them. Wait for the lifts instead. You can thank us later.
If malls are more your style, head to Westfield London for a combination of luxury and high street brands under one roof.
If you're serious about designer clothing and shoes, head to Bicester Village. It's about 40 minutes from London and well worth the trip. Every designer you can imagine - think Gucci, Prada, Michael Kors - has an outlet here and the savings are awesome.
Uber-cool Dover Street Market (it's neither a market nor in Dover Street). Liberty's gorgeous Tudor-style building is our pick of London's department stores. If you're a book fan, check out Selfridge's book section. Bicester Village for all your cut-price designer goodies.
Admire the architecture
London is heaven for architecture buffs. London was founded by the Romans in 43AD and some parts of the wall are still visible near Tower Hill Tube station.
The White Castle at the Tower of London dates back over 1,000 years and is a fabulous example of Norman architecture. An entry fee applies and we strongly recommend booking online, in advance. You can ignore all the royal stuff, although the armour display is kinda fun.
Check out 17th century neo-classicism by Sir Christopher Wren at St Paul’s Cathedral and Greenwich’s Royal Naval College, and Inago Jones’s Queen’s House, also in Greenwich. An entry fee applies to St Paul's and the Queen's House if you'd like to go inside.
For mid-20th century Brutalism, see the Barbican by Chamberlain, Powell and Bon.
For something a little more modern, check out the Lloyd’s of London building by Richard Rogers. Or Herzog and de Meuron’s transformation of an old power station into the Tate Modern. Or marvel at The Shard by our fav architect Renzo Piano and 30 St Mary’s Axe – AKA The Gherkin – by Norman Foster.
The White Castle is over 1,000 years old and was built by the Normans. Sir Christopher Wren's St Paul's still holds its own in London nearly 400 years after being built. The 'inside out' Lloyd's of London Building, with the Shard peaking over the top. A better view of the Shard.
Travel on the Tube
We reckon that you haven’t been to London unless you’ve travelled on the Tube. It goes everywhere and is often quicker than other forms of transport. Plus, the names of the stations are brilliant (Elephant and Castle!) and the route names are iconic (Piccadilly!).
Grab an Oyster card and Tube map from your nearest station, and get going. Just remember to stand on the right when you’re on an escalator and to mind the gap. Tip: if you’re only planning to travel one station it's often quicker to walk.
While you’re in London, try a trip on one of London’s iconic red buses (they also take Oyster cards) and maybe even grab a black cab and enjoy a bit of banter with the driver.
Explore the 'burbs
Get out of the CBD and head to one of London's diverse neighbourhoods, like posh Kensington with it's fancy shops or, our favourite, Shoreditch. It's not all hipster cafes. You'll also find great shopping, street art and it's right next to Brick Lane with its curry houses, vintage shops and markets.
Fab Shoreditch and Brick Lane - very Instagram worthy.
Revisit London’s WWII history
London will keep the WWII buff occupied for days. Start with the Imperial War Museum, which also has exhibitions about WWI and Britain’s more recent conflicts. The main gallery has a Harrier Jump Jet and a Spitfire hanging from the ceiling. It's a commemoration of wars rather than a glorification, and even non-historians will get a lot out of this museum.
Aircraft buffs will LOVE the RAF Museum. It has six hangers of planes dating from WWI until the present. Kids will love former warship HMS Belfast and can climb by and down the ship's decks and see life in the navy in the old days. The Churchill War Rooms provide a glimpse into Britain’s dark days of WWII. The government was essentially run from this underground bunker from 1939 until 1945. An entry fee applies to the last two
There are memorials to WWII all over London. The Battle of Britain Memorial on Victoria Embankment is especially good and commemorates the few who gave so much for so many. And whenever you’re in a Tube station, keep in mind that these were used as air raid shelters during the war.
The Imperial War Museum, HMS Belfast, the RAF Museum and the Battle of Britain Memorial by the Thames.
Take a trip to Greenwich
We love Greenwich. It’s got a gorgeous village atmosphere and feels miles from the city even though it's only 30 minutes away. Start at the Cutty Sark, a restored 1869 clipper ship which transported tea from China and then wool from Australia. Most parts of the ship can be explored including the captain’s cabin and crew quarters. There’s lots for kids to explore too. Make sure you have a mug of ship’s tea at the café before you leave. An entry fee applies.
Next, take a walk through the grounds of the former Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who is responsible for many of London’s post-Great Fire buildings. Film junkies will recognise it from the second Thor movie.
Cross the road to the National Maritime Museum, which traces England’s navy history. We really like the display of old ship mastheads and got a lot out of the section on Lord Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar. Make sure you see the painting by JMW Turner on the ground floor. It got lousy reviews from those who fought in the battle, but it’s very successful at conveying the utter chaos and destruction of war.
Finally, head up the hill to the Royal Observatory for great views of Greenwich and London, and for the Prime Meridian, from which point time and longitude are measured. An entry fee applies. Tip: buy a combined ticket for the Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory and save a few pounds.
The village of Greenwich itself is nice to explore. It has a cute market and great pubs. It’s only half an hour from London's CBD on the Dockland Light Rail (DLR). Jump on at Bank and off at Cutty Sark. You can use your Oyster card. The Tube also travels to Greenwich but the DLR gets you much closer to the action.
Greenwich - a great way to spend a day: the Cutty Sark clipper ship, Greenwich village, fun for everyone at the Helter Skelter, and the Royal Navy College.
Explore the icons
Red phone boxes? Yes. Black cabs? Check. Abbey Road? Yeap. Big Ben? Yes. Fish and chips? Definitely. The London Eye (which has great views of London, by the way)? Affirmative. London still has all the great icons that it's famous for. So go for a wonder and see what you find.
And that isn't even half of it
London has loads of other things to do that we haven't covered here, like the markets, Hampstead Heath, cruising on the Thames, the theatre, day trips to places like Bath and Oxford...There is so much to do in London that you'll forget that there's a royal family. So go nuts and enjoy yourself.
If you visit just one thing to do with history...
The Tower of London is history with a capital 'H' but is a huge amount of fun. There's the Crown Jewels, ravens, the spot where a queen lost her head, torture devices and armour. Join a tour with a Yeomen Warder (Beefeater). The retired Beefeaters will take you through the highlights of the Tower in just an hour. The tours are hugely entertaining and are included in the ticket price.
We strongly recommend buying tickets online, in advance from the Tower's website.
Scenes of London: you may not be a fan of the royals but you'll love the Lego at Hamley's toy store. Westminster, currently under renovation. Street art in Hackney. The Tube - mind the gap!
Where to stay
We have a couple of options for you.
The Nadler in Kensington is an affordable option in an otherwise expensive city. It's just around the corner from various supermarkets where we pick up yummy, cheap heat-and-eat meals and heat them up in the microwave in our room. It's also really close to the Tube (Earl's Court) and walking distance to the Natural History Museum and Kensington Gardens. The rooms are small but they are well-equipped, super-clean and comfortable, with good bathrooms and free wifi.
We also like Leman Locke, which has huge rooms (for London) and include a full kitchen, big sofa and big bathroom (for London!). The location isn't great, although you're only 30 seconds away from the Tube (Aldgate East) and walking distance to Brick Lane.
For the best rates at both hotels, book well in advance and pay in full when you book.
Contributors: Ann-Marie Nansett, Teresa Amey, Bridget Young, Michael Nansett, Kevin Greaney
Updated: 7 August 2018