Planning a trip to London? You’ll be happy to know that the UK’s top 5 tourist attractions are all in London, according to figures released in 2016 by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).
In fact, the top 10 attractions are in London! They’re all easily accessible by foot or on the tube (check out our handy guide for navigating the London public transport system), kid friendly, and, best of all the top 5 attractions are totally free!
Before we tell you about them, a couple of tips for a pro-active and well planned savvy traveller like you travelling to London include getting a local UK SIM Card for your phone with data so you don’t have to keep searching for free Wi-Fi (or arrive back home with a huge international roaming bill) and downloading the Citymapper app to your Smartphone which will make navigating London on foot, tube, bus and train super easy.
In this post we’ll tell you about the top 5 attractions. If you already know about them, then why not check out some of these other less known London museums and these less known attractions, that you may not have already come across.
Number 1: British Museum
Number of visitors in 2016: 6.4 million
Nearest tube station: Russell Square
The British Museum opened its doors in 1759 and back then it was the first national museum to be open to the public anywhere in the world. It was free to visit back then, and it’s still free today.
As soon as you enter, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful glass-roofed Great Court that reflects the sounds of all the happy people filing into the museum and gives you a sense of awe and exciting even before you’ve started looking at the exhibits on display. The British Museum galleries are divided by different locations and periods in human history – from Ancient Iran, Greece, China from 5000BC onwards to Roman Britain and so on. There’s a free 20-minute overview tour on Friday’s, and there’s also daily free activities for kids. If you’ve got just an hour, check out this guide for a quick tour of the most important displays. Or spend a leisurely half day seeing exhibits including the Rosetta Stone and the Ancient Egyptian Mummy of Katebet.
There’s also a great cafe serving delicious coffee, cakes and sandwiches too.
Number 2: National Gallery
Number of visitors in 2016: 6.2 million
Nearest tube station: Charring Cross
The National Gallery was founded in 1824 and houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. This is the true paradise for any art lover and a must see London attraction.
Artists on display include Cézanne, Monet, Rembrandt and Michelangelo. You can see a list of the top 30 paintings here.
Plan your visit around current and upcoming exhibitions and displays to ensure you don’t miss your favorite artist.
The National Gallery is open daily from 9am to 6pm, with extended hours until 9pm on Friday. And if you fancy a meal, there’s a number of food options, including the ultra chic National Dining Rooms, or for a more casual affair then the National Cafe and if you just need a caffeine hit, try the Espresso Bar.
Number 3: Tate Modern
Number of visitors in 2016: 5.8 million
Nearest tube station: Southwark or London Bridge
The Tate Modern is housed within a decommissioned 1950s coal fired power station. The power station shut down in 1981, and nearly 20 years later, the Tate Modern opened.
At the Tate Modern you’ll see the UKs national collection of British art as well as international modern and contemporary art. The 10 unmissable works at Tate Modern include Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol, Nude Woman with Necklace by Pablo Picasso and Mountain Lake by Salvador Dali. And make sure to visit the massive Turbine Hall where you’ll see large scale sculptures and site specific installation art. The Turbine Hall is 85 feet high, 500 feet long, 75 feet wide and an art space of 35,520 sq ft.
The Tate Modern is open every day from 10am, closing at 6pm Sunday to Thursday, with extended hours until 10pm on Friday and Saturday.
Number 4: Natural History Museum
Number of visitors in 2016: 4.6 million
Nearest tube station: South Kensington
The Natural History Museum exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It was opened in a Romanesque cathedral in 1881 and today is one of London’s top tourist attractions. Today, the museum has more than 350 scientists working in earth and life sciences, publishes more than 700 scientific papers a year with international collaborators and has more than 80 million specimens spanning 4.5 billion years, from the formation of the solar system to the present day.
One of the highlights is Dippy the Diplodocus, which is an 85 foot long plaster-cast replica of a Diplodocus skeleton. And it doesn’t stop after you visit because the museum has a very informative website that is a great learning resource for your children for years to come.
Number 5: Southbank Center
Number of visitors in 2016: 3.9 million
Nearest tube station: Waterloo
The Southbank Center is an area of artistic venues on the South Bank of the River Thames. It comprises three main performance venues, together with the Hayward Gallery, and is Europe’s largest centre for the arts.
There are so many things to see and do, from Icelandic dance, to dance and music created by children, to spoken word and live literature, to delicious food markets: there’s truly something for everyone. Check out what’s on in advance and plan your visit accordingly.
And if this list isn’t enough, check out the remaining 236 top attractions on the ALVA website.