Travel

Planning A Euro Summer? Make Sure This Cultural Melting Pot Makes The Cut

By David Congram
10th Apr 2024

Everything you’ve heard is true: the pavements heave, the pubs swell, and the queues might just make you faint. 

Luckily, you won’t need to ‘keep calm and carry on’ because this local is willing to share his secrets for getting the most from London’s 1,572 square-kilometres, without the queues.  

Here are the best things to do in London in 2024.

Take The Train

a train driving along tracks

If you’ve just stepped foot on London soil, chances are you’ll find yourself at one of its six airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southend or London City. They're all a fair distance from the good stuff, so here’s your first tip. To make your way to the heart of the city, do not fall to temptation and join an enormous line at the cab rank. Instead, save your precious time (and pounds!) by dragging your suitcase onto a train.

London is incredibly well-connected by a comprehensive overground and underground train network, allowing you to navigate the city with ease. Now handily outfitted with pay-as-you-go contactless card turnstiles at all stops, you can purchase an Oyster Card at any station master’s kiosk, or simply use your contactless bank card or app like a real local (costs are comparable).

There’s plenty to see and do on the train network, too. From Heathrow, you’ll take the city’s newest line, The Elizabeth, to central, passing through stations designed by renowned architects to look every inch like the future. Connect onto the Tube network, and wherever you alight at any of the city’s 272 stations, you’ll likely encounter an art installation in Transport For London’s Art On The Underground year-round project. I advise you to keep your eyes peeled for pickpockets, but it’s worthwhile to keep them open for many artworks by Turner Prize-winning contemporary artists too.

For the young (at heart), it is essential to call at Paddington Station and hug the Paddington Bear statue, or dodge the owls at Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station (but do note, the Hogwarts Express departs promptly at 11am, only six times per year.)

Go For A Walk

Because London was banked into the lowland floodplains of the River Thames all the way back in 47AD, it is relatively flat—perfect for exploring by foot. 

On most street corners of its 32 district boroughs, you will be able to consult a large-scale map with directions for nearby sights and essential services. If, however, you are brave enough to steer off the beaten path, the city’s many walking tour services operate at all hours of the day and night, catering to every niche interest imaginable: mediaeval history, East End gangsters, award-winning gardens, Jack The Ripper, art deco architecture, cakes, curries, English novelists, Love Actually, Princess Diana…you name it.

For those wanting to stroll at their own pace, I recommend downloading a London walking app to gain a little local knowledge.

English Heritage’s Blue Plaques App offers a selection of free self-guided walking tours of the 900+ blue plaques linking the city’s buildings with the notable people who have lived or worked in them over the centuries.

For more details about London’s built environment, download the Architecture Foundation’s free London Architecture Guide app, describing the history, engineering and design of more than 1,000 significant works built across the ages.

Music lovers might like to download the Singing Streets app, for the cute price of £3.99, to explore more than 2,000 locations around the city where music history was made.

And, for discovering those secret locations which might confound even the most well-informed tour guide, download the Uncovered London app before heading off into 2000-year-old Roman forts, down Victorian catacombs, through ghost stations and even to WW2 hidden fortifications.

Have A Pint

a pub covered in flowers

Well done ol’ chap, that’s your 10,000 steps done and dusted. Thirsty? Rightio. 

No matter wherever you ramble, you’ll only ever be a few metres from one of London’s squillion pubs. Do as the locals do, stop for a pint in a dusty boozer. Nobody truly knows how many pubs the city boasts, but whichever one you find will invariably lay claim to being London’s oldest. 

Depending whom you ask, most grant this title to The Seven Stars in Aldwych, built in 1602 behind the Royal Courts of Justice. It’s a favourite of the city’s silks, and often the watering hole for toasting favourable verdicts or where knee-knocking defendants take Dutch courage.

Keeping in theme, pay a visit to the Viaduct Tavern near St Paul’s Cathedral to clink glasses with the vicars and bankers in this former gin palace and jail, widely considered one of the most beautiful little drinking haunts.

Head out west to Kensington for what has to be easily one of the city’s prettiest pubs, The Churchill Arms, bedecked pavement-to-roof in flowers and filled floor-to-ceiling in Winston Churchill tat. This real ale inn is renowned for tourist snaps, bowls of Thai noodles and seasonal floral displays.

Join A Members’ Club

Once you tire of rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed, mix with the top end of town at one of the city’s private members’ clubs. 

Such establishments have been the preserve of wealthy noblemen since the mid-seventeenth century, particularly in the areas of St James and Pall Mall (known as Clubland). To this day, clubs are designed for different clientele—politicians still attend the Reform Club; gallery folk the Arts Club; or the Groucho Club for publishers and media hacks like yours truly. 

Competition is rife for memberships, fees often mighty, and admission is sometimes complex business indeed. 

Annabel’s, for instance, remains a favourite for A-listers and those with great thumping bank accounts. Its gatekeepers and gateleapers are thus renowned. For initiates, Annabel’s requires a letter of support from a current member to access its Michelin-star restaurants, dance floors, outdoor terraces, concerts and invitations to infamous costume balls.

Giving Annabel’s a run for its money, new kid on the block, The Century Club, is so named for the art-filled 100 stairs one must climb to access its panoramic rooftop in the heart of Soho (fear not, there are also lifts). Catering to those on business, on holiday and on a night-on-the-town, The Century Club’s membership permits access to sister clubs worldwide.

The little jewellery box of Home House, set within the Georgian Marylebone townhouse of Elizabeth Countess of Home is a club for the pinkies-up among us. With 23 bedrooms and suites, a restaurant, elegant drawing rooms, bars, a gym and steam room, the club offers members a calendar of events including fashion shows, art exhibitions, poetry readings, talks and live music.

Perhaps the leader of the pack right now is Soho House, an international consortium of private members’ clubs and associations in the UK, Europe, the Americas and Asia, operating from its flagship base in London. Membership tiers promise different levels of access to private suites, restaurants, cinemas, workspaces, spas and bars globally. 

See A Show

people walking along a crowded street

If “all the world’s a stage” then London has to be the world capital of stages. After all, that line was first uttered from the world’s OG theatre, the Globe Theatre, during the original performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in 1599.

Paying a visit to the reconstructed Globe on the Thames south bank is a theatre-going experience like no other. Educational tours are available daily, as is a hearty calendar of performances, including seven plays originally performed at the Globe: As You Like It, Hamlet, Measure For Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth and Antony And Cleopatra.

Cross the Thames via the Millenium Bridge to make your way to London’s official theatre district, the West End, budging up next to your fellow literati at any one of the area’s 39 playhouses. From major touring shows—musicals, dramatic plays, comedic revues and more—to the more impenetrable highbrow stuff underground, the West End offers entertainment for all, including many theatrical offerings for families and children. You’re advised to secure tickets ahead of time, at the theatre itself, or more conveniently at London Theatre to peruse all playbills and show listings for West End and off-West-End stages.

The hottest ticket in town is, naturally, to see an elite thespian, prima donna or ballerina at The National Theatre, the Royal Opera House or the Royal Ballet. If you’re fortunate in scoring a ticket, be prepared to drop your jaw for the architectural interiors. Be sure to scrub up, because the fashions on the field prove just as impressive as whatever is illuminated by the footlights.

Visit A Museum And Gallery

Trust me, it’s not all just suits of armour and sarcophagi in London’s hundreds of museums and galleries. Do you want to learn about the history of comedy? London has a museum for that. Maybe cartoons? That too. What about fans? Yep. Silverware? For sure. Packaging? You bet.

Most tourists hoping to soak up some culture and history beeline for London’s behemoth British Museum. It’s older than the United States of America and home to more than eight-million artefacts. The British Museum’s main galleries – including the star exhibits, the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles—are free and open to the public every day of the week.

In the west, the Victoria And Albert Museum, commonly known as the V&A, is a trove of 2.3 million permanent artefacts telling the stories of art, design and performance history. Discover the world of decorative arts, fashion history, furniture, digital art, publishing, theatre and more before spending the afternoon in the sunny Italianate café and courtyard.

The Design Museum, also in London’s west, is one of the world’s leading organisations devoted to contemporary design in every form—architecture, fashion, graphics, industrial design and beyond. Frequent temporary shows explore topics as diverse as Amy Winehouse, surrealist furniture, ASMR, football, tiny cars, luxury watches. The list goes on.

London’s abundant micro-museums—the charming ‘house museum’—offer a more intimately scaled and, often, more accessible opportunity to get up close and personal with the life and works of real (and unreal) people. At 221B Baker Street you can poke about Sherlock Holmes’s flat. The Dickens House Museum in King’s Cross affords visitors the chance to tour the Dickens family home, see manuscripts and first editions of London’s beloved novelist.

The Sir John Soanes Museum, in the home of one of Britain’s most prolific architects, is an unforgettable journey into Soanes’ personal collections of antiquities, architectural drawings, painted miniatures, books and other oddments all crammed floor-to-ceiling over the Georgian terrace’s multiple storeys. Your phone must be checked at the door, but you’ll be too engrossed to miss it—especially on evenings when the whole house is lit only by candles.

Many of the world’s treasures have found their way to London—often, it should be noted, under unfavourable circumstances. Today, gallery and museum staff are working hard to investigate the provenance of many works and artefacts displayed, ensuring these items are showcased accurately and, in special cases, returned to the site of their initial appropriation.

The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill is taking a proactive position in this movement, and was the first to break ranks when it admirably sent its Benin Bronzes back to Nigeria. It rarely makes lists of this kind, however, the Horniman’s extraordinary anthropological, natural historical, botanical and musical collections are well worth a visit—no less for the pioneering position the institution is proud to practise.

For art lovers, history nerds, or simply just the wide-eyed and curious among us, purchasing a membership to the National Art Pass makes navigating London’s many galleries and museums easier than ever. For a nominal annual fee, members can access blockbuster shows at major institutions like the National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts, and also journey beyond London to institutions all over the British Isles. An initiative of the Art Fund, proceeds finance the UK’s galleries and museums, allowing them to enrich their collections, train museum professionals and support these vital public institutions.

Spend Some Money

markets in london

It’s not materialism, it’s supporting the economy, so go ahead, you get rid of those pennies! 

London has long been a shopaholic’s playground, and it’s not hard to see why. Across its 32 boroughs, more than 162 markets take shopping to the city streets. Many of these markets have been operating exactly so for generations, including Covent Garden Markets, Portobello Road Markets and Columbia Road Flower Markets. Hit the pavement and find a true treasure, for a fraction of the price.

Or pay through the nose like a real devotee fashionista in central London. Along Regent Street, through Piccadilly, up Savile Row, down the Strand and across Mayfair, big names, bigger brands, luxury houses and ateliers hang out their shingles, attracting pop icons, royalty, fashion greats and chic well-to-doers from afar. Definitely stop by Dover Street Market for a taste of the avant-garde, or for more traditional consumer fare head to stalwarts Liberty, Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason.

Go Out

So now you’re all pretty and preened, time prance. With scores of nightlife districts, underground venues, members’ clubs, concert halls and other nocturnal haunting grounds, London is begging you to strut your stuff. 

The city definitely transforms at night, so the best way to get the nighttime lay of the land is to familiarise yourself with the four major neighbourhoods dedicated to giving you a good time.

In central London, start at Soho. Truly in the thick of things, Soho has long been the city’s pleasure playground and is home to award-winning bars, restaurants and famed pubs. Also London’s unofficial LGBTQ+ neighbourhood, the streets are bedecked in rainbow flags year-round, identifying safe establishments for drinking, dancing, dining and finding your community. 

Out east, everyone raves about Shoreditch – and they have good reason. In recent years, Shoreditch has emerged as the up-and-coming nightlife hotspot, boasting a thriving bar culture and plenty of live music. If you dance the night away, you might as well stick around for sunrise when all the coffee shops and cafes reopen, welcoming coffee orders with whatever trendy nut milk your heart desires.

In the south, you would be remiss not to spend a night or two out by Brixton. The burough’s music and dance culture serves up a healthy year-round street festival lineup, attracting goodtimers from all over the UK. 

Head west toward Notting Hill for a slightly more elegant, sit-down affair. Restaurants, wine bars, jazz clubs and beer gardens bring the sleepy village atmosphere of the suburb alive. Kick off down to Holland Park for more gourmet dining, or over to Kensington Park Gardens where festivals, fairs, outdoor cinemas and concerts are held come rain or shine.

A little north, you will want to drop in on Camden. The home of London’s alternative rock, punk and metal scene, the high streets are crammed full with mohawks and Dr Martens, shredding guitars and heart-palpitating drums. It is a rite of passage to go on a pub crawl from Mornington Crescent Tube stop all the way to Camden Lock and Camden Town Tube at the opposite end of the street. It’ll take you from KOKO where it’s flashy to The World’s End where it’s trashy (but you are warned, do not go in the opposite direction!)

Stroll Through A Park

a busy harbourside park

If you’re lucky enough to visit London at springtime, bring antihistamines, the place is blooming.

More than 3000 of London’s parks and gardens display the nation’s green-thumbed reputation and offer visitors myriad merrymaking pastimes from picnicking to fine dining, concerts to theatrical performances, botanical tours to horse riding, archery, cycling and more.

In central you will find the “best arse in London” on the statue of Achilles in Hyde Park, or so says Laurence Olivier. You’ll also discover the Serpentine Lake (in which you can swim), the Serpentine Gallery, the Wellington Arch, a hidden pet cemetery, the Diana Memorial and more than 350 acres of rolling green.

In the shadow of Buckingham Palace and hundreds of oaks you will find the most tranquil of London’s parks, Green Park. A mysterious circle of plane trees is rumoured to be an ancient Druidic landmark, and is often reported to be visited by ghosts. Spend an afternoon in the shade, visit London’s last porter’s rest and see if you can find the buried River Tyburn.

Kensington Park was once the private gardens of neighbouring Kensington Palace, but is now home to Peter Pan and open to the public. Replete with fountains, floral displays, cafes and more, noteworthy sites include the Elfin Oak and the Esme Percy Fountain. The park’s friendly parakeets will eat, literally, right from your hand, so keep your cameras at the ready and sandwiches out of sight.

See The Palace

You haven’t been to London unless you’ve visited the palace but with 11 palaces in Greater London, which is The Palace?

While Buckingham Palace might be the official residence of the Royal Family, it is by no means the city’s original royal home. Tours of Buckingham run daily, allowing visitors to see select public and private areas of the residence. Highlights include the Queen’s Gallery, the Throne Room, the White Drawing Room and, of course, the Changing of the Guard.

Nearby in Westminster, St James’s Palace remains the most senior working palace of the United Kingdom, built by order of Henry VIII in 1531. Home to Princesses Anne, Beatrice and Alexandra, St James’s Palace is the official Royal Court.

In Winchester Palace out in Southwark, you’ll spend about ten minutes exploring this (relatively small) fourteenth-century townhome of the Bishops of Winchester. Located in the Liberty Of The Clink, couple your visit of the Palace with a visit to The Clink—the notorious mediaeval prison, now museum, next door.

The Tower Of London has, at times, been a palace, a castle, a fortress, a prison, an armoury and, now, both a museum and the home of the Crown Jewels, the Yeoman Warders, the Royal Guards and their families. Spend the morning learning about bloodshed and warfare at the Tower, before crossing Tower Bridge and stopping for lunch in Borough Market on the other side of the Thames. 

Always consult the Historic Royal Palaces website before heading out, as the following sites close to the public on occasions of State ceremony: Banqueting House, Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, Lambeth Palace, Palace of Westminster, St James’s Palace, Tower Of London, Whitehall Palace and Windsor Castle.

No matter if you’re in town for a whirlwind weekend or planning to spend a year (or two), you’ll never manage to tire of the place. It’s true what they say—when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. I bet you’ll be back before you know it. 

So, until then, cheerio. 

When it comes to your next adventure, Flight Centre is your perfect partner for letting you book your way with ease. With deals for everyone on flights, accommodation and packages, book now instore, online or via the app.

Understandably, you'll have worked up quite an appetite so why not check out London's best restaurants?

Editor's note: Urban List editors independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. Urban List has affiliate partnerships, and if you purchase something through the links in this article, we will earn a commission from those partners. Additionally, this article is sponsored by Flight Centre and proudly endorsed by Urban List. To find out more about who we work with and why read our editorial policy here.

Image credit: Urban List, Tomas Anton Edcobar, Vincent Creton, Eamonn Wang, Lorenzo Gerosa, Fred Rivett

Get our top stories direct to your inbox.

Get our top stories direct to your inbox.