20 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Greater London
Greater London is a vast sprawling metropolis that's home to more than eight million people and covers an area over 600 sq mi. While the vast majority of the 15 million people who visit London each year concentrate on the cultural and tourist attractions within the City of London and its immediate surrounds - the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the like - there are many wonderful experiences to be had for those willing to explore a little further afield. From Hampton Court and wonderful Wimbledon to beautiful Richmond upon Thames, there's enough to keep you busy for days. And each is an easy ride from the city center via public transit.
1 Hampton Court Palace
Perhaps the most interesting of Britain's royal palaces, Hampton Court lies southwest of London on the north bank of the Thames. The Great Hall and other parts of the palace date from Henry VIII's time (five of his six wives lived here as Queen, and the ghosts of two of them are said to still haunt the palace). It was also where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Features of interest include the Clock Court with its astronomical clock (1540), the State Apartments (including the Haunted Gallery), the Chapel, the King's Apartments and the Tudor tennis court. Visitors should also explore the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk and the Wilderness, especially in mid-May when in full bloom. Another great attraction, particularly for children, is the palace's famous Maze.
Location: East Molesey, Surrey
2 Kew Gardens: Royal Botanic Gardens
Officially called the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Gardens is situated in southwest London on the south bank of the Thames. Numerous plants are grown here, and the Herbarium alone contains a collection of over seven million dried plants while the Library has more than 50,000 volumes of botanical literature. The gardens were laid out in 1759 and became government property in 1841. In 1897, Queen Victoria added Queen's Cottage and the adjoining woodland. Free tours are available, and a river cruise down the Thames is a great way to get to this spectacular 300-acre garden with its many musical and cultural events.
Hours: Daily, 9:30am-5pm
Admission: Adults, £14.50; Children (under 16), free
Location: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey
3 Anyone for Tennis: Wimbledon
Just 6 mi south of the center of London, Wimbledon is most famous as the venue of the world's most famous tennis tournament - a highlight of the UK's summer social and sporting calendars. The site is also home to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, perhaps the most modern, cutting edge attraction of its kind. Featuring a multitude of exhibits and interactive displays, the museum includes a 200-degree, 3D cinema that allows visitors to experience the thrill of being on center court.
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm (Last entry, 4:30pm)
Admission: Adults, £12 (with Tour, £22); Children, £7 (with Tour, £13)
Location: Church Rd, Wimbledon, London
4 Camden's Markets
Located north of Regent's Park and to the west of Islington, Camden is most famous for its popular markets. Camden Lock Market has been around since 1972 and today attracts millions of visitors for its crafts, clothing, souvenirs and knickknacks. Also worth checking out is Camden Passage Market, a great place for antiques, collectibles, and other rare finds, and the historic Stables and Buck Street Markets If time permits, visit the Jewish Museum London, a fascinating celebration of Jewish life and culture.
Hours: Daily, 10am-6pm
Location: Chalk Farm Rd, London
5 Richmond Park
Covering an area of 2,300 acres, Richmond Park is the largest city park in Britain and the largest of London's eight Royal Parks. Enclosed in 1637 as a deer park for Charles I, it's now a popular place for walks and picnics, with its numerous footpaths connecting with other areas of interest such as Ham and Petersham Commons. Among the most attractive features of the park are the Isabella Plantation, a woodland garden laid out in 1831, and the Prince Charles Spinney in which some 5,300 trees (including oak, beech, chestnut, ash and maple) were planted in 1949. The park has 10 gates and contains a number of old mansions including the lovely White Lodge.
While in Richmond, visit Ham House, a National Trust property set in a large park famous for its collection of paintings, furniture and textiles (it's also one of the most haunted houses in England).
Hours: Daily, dawn-dusk
Location: Holly Lodge, Richmond Park, Surrey
6 Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath is a pleasant open space in North London with attractive woodland, grassy slopes and ponds, as well as the city's highest point (476 ft), made famous in a painting by John Constable. It was also popular amongst writers, including Robert Louis Stevenson, John Keats, D. H. Lawrence and George Orwell, all of whom lived here. Two houses in Old Hampstead are of particular interest: the beautifully furnished 17th century Fenton House with its collection of porcelain and keyboard-instruments (concerts of Baroque music are occasionally given); and Kenwood House, a neo-classical mansion standing on beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking a lake.
Nearby Highgate Cemetery is also of interest and is where Karl Marx and George Eliot are buried, along with at least 850 other notable people (18 Royal Academicians, six Lord Mayors, 48 Fellows of the Royal Society, and countless founders of London businesses).
Address: Heathfield House, 432 Archway Rd, London
7 Chessington World of Adventures Resort
After all that historic sightseeing, Chessington World of Adventures is a great place to unwind, particularly for those travelling with kids. One of Britain's biggest theme parks, Chessington features numerous thrilling roller-coasters and rides in fun themed areas including the Market Square, Mystic East, Pirates Cove, Transylvania and Land of the Dragons. Chessington is also famous for its zoo (it's how the park began in 1931), today split into areas including the Children's Zoo, the Sea Life Centre and AMAZU Treetop Adventure.
Location: Leatherhead Rd, Chessington, Surrey
8 Wembley Stadium
Famous the world over as the home of football (or soccer), Wembley Stadium was built on the site of the British Empire Exhibition of 1920. This huge all-seater stadium accommodates up to 80,000 spectators at some of the country's greatest sporting events, including the FA Cup Final (the climax of the football season) and the Rugby League Cup Final. Wembley Stadium is also a venue for music concerts, and 75-minute guided tours are available.
Hours: Daily (pre-booking advised)
Admission: Tours - Adults, £16; Children (under 16), £9; Families, £41
Location: Wembley, London
9 Dulwich Picture Gallery
Barely 6 mi south of central London is Dulwich, with its village-like atmosphere, handsome Georgian villas, and the city's only surviving Tollhouse. Opened in 1814, Dulwich Picture Gallery was the first public art gallery in London. Today, its collection contains works of various Dutch schools (Rembrandt, J. van Ruisdael), 17th and 18th century portraits by British painters (Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds), and works by Italian (Raphael, Canaletto), Flemish (Rubens, van Dyck), Spanish (Murillo) and French (Watteau, Le Brun) Masters. Free guided tours are available Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm.
Hours: Tues-Fri, 10am-5pm (Last entry, 4:30pm); Sat-Sun, 11am-5pm (Last entry, 4:30pm)
Admission: Adults, £6; Children, free
Location: Gallery Rd, Dulwich, Southwark London
10 Royal Air Force Museum London
The Royal Air Force Museum occupies the former factory site and aerodrome of pioneer pilot Claude Grahame-White. Today, the museum houses more than 70 military planes as well as a comprehensive collection of official records, decorations and technical displays. Milestones of Flight includes an aviation history timeline along with a 3D cinema and flight simulator, while the Battle of Britain Hall includes 14 British, German and Italian aircraft dating from WWII. The Bomber Hall exhibits intact British and American bombers, mainly from WWII, including exhibits relating to Barnes Wallis, inventor of the Bouncing Bomb.
Hours: Daily, 10am-6pm (Last entry, 5:30pm)
Location: Grahame Park Way, London
11 Battersea Park
Covering an area of 200 acres, Battersea Park was laid out in the mid-19th century on the south bank of the Thames. Sports grounds, open spaces, a boating lake and cafés make the park a popular rendezvous, particularly during the warmer months of the year. Other highlights include the Henry Moore Sculptures, a sculpture marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and the Peace Pagoda. Also of interest are the Pump House Gallery, a venue for contemporary visual arts, the Children's Zoo, and the Battersea Park Nature Area with its wildlife and views of iconic Battersea Power Station. Other nearby parks worthy of a stroll are Morden Hall Park with its waterways, trees, Elizabethan meadow and rose garden, and historic Crystal Palace Park, site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and offering superb city views.
Hours: Daily, 8am-dusk
Location: Albert Bridge, London
12 Museum of The Order of St John
Located in St John's Gate - originally the main entrance to a priory built in 1504 - this fascinating museum is dedicated to the history of the Order of St John and the famous ambulance service it spawned. The Order Collection contains archeological finds, coins, weapons, armor, medals, ceramics, glass, silver, furniture and jewelry, as well as a religious art collection. The St John Ambulance collection displays materials related to the history of the organization, including early first aid kits, medical equipment and uniforms. Free 80-minute tours are available. Another faith-based museum worthy of a visit is the Museum of Methodism which relates the story of founder John Wesley.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm; Tours - Tues, Fri-Sat, 11am and 2:30pm
Admission: Free (donations accepted)
Location: St John's Gate, St John's Lane, Clerkenwell, London
13 Syon House and Conservatory
Originally a 15th century monastery, Syon House in Brentford was one of the architectural jewels on the periphery of London - especially from the point of view of its interior, redesigned in the 18th century by architect Robert Adam. As well as its imposing columns and statues, valuable paintings and fine silken wall coverings, Syon House is noted for its 54-acre park and gardens, which include the magnificent Great Conservatory built in the 1920s. Two other excellent museums in Brentford are the Kew Bridge Steam Museum with its working steam engines, and the Musical Museum at Kew Bridge with its fine collection of automated musical instruments.
Admission: Adults, £11.50; Children (5-16), £5; Families, £26
Location: London Rd, Brentford, Middlesex
14 RHS Garden Wisley
The Royal Horticultural Society's showpiece garden, RHS Garden Wisley, is set amidst 250 acres and boasts the widest range of gardening styles and techniques in the world. There are four main gardens, including the spectacular rose gardens and other innovative plantings. The Glasshouse features plants from tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate habitats.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10am-4:30pm; Sat-Sun, 9am-4:30pm (Last admission, 3:30pm)
Admission: Adults, £12.20; Children (5-16), £5.25; Families, £31.50
Location: Woking, Surrey
15 Where Charles Darwin Evolved: Down House
Down House was the home of Charles Darwin for 40 years and was where he worked on the theories published in his most famous work, On the Origin of Species. The house has been preserved in much the same fashion as when Darwin himself lived here and provides a sense of the things that inspired him to make his discoveries, including the wonderful gardens. Also included are interactive displays narrated by naturalist David Attenborough.
Admission: Adults, £10; Children (5-15), £6; Families, £26
Location: Luxted Rd, Downe, Kent
16 Osterley Park and House
This National Trust property located near Heathrow Airport is a stunning 18th century Georgian villa set in 140 acres of parkland with an interior designed by Robert Adam. Once the home of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange and described in his time as the "palace of palaces", the house is preserved exactly as it would have looked in the 1780s, complete with colorful formal gardens, roses and vegetables beds, as well as a lovely summer house with lemon trees and scented shrubs.
Admission: Adults, £9.25; Children, £4.65; Families, £22.95
Location: Jersey Rd, Isleworth, Middlesex
17 Hogarth's House
The country home of William Hogarth from 1749 until his death in 1764, Hogarth's House in Chiswick was where the great painter, engraver and satirist lived off the proceeds of his famous artwork A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress. His real-life work was so successful it became much copied, causing Hogarth to become instrumental in establishing the first copyright legislation in 1735. The interior of the house has been painstakingly renovated and features exhibits documenting the artist's life and work. Hogarth's tomb is just a short walk away in St Nicholas' churchyard, adjacent the Thames. Another interesting landmark is Chiswick House, built in 1725 with its magnificently restored period gardens.
Hours: Tues-Sun, 12pm-5pm
Location: Hogarth Lane, Great West Rd, London
18 Claremont Landscape Garden
This lovely 300-year old National Trust property features a serpentine lake, an island with a pavilion, a turf amphitheater, and numerous pleasant viewpoints and vistas. Located within easy reach of London, these grounds are where many of England's best-known gardeners have left their mark, most notably Capability Brown. Other highlights include a grotto, Camellia Terrace, Belvedere Tower and a café. There's also the Victorian Thatched Cottage, a great place for younger kids to play and dress up in period costumes.
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults, £7; Children, £3.50; Families, £17.50
Location: Portsmouth Rd, Esher, Surrey
19 Brooklands Museum
The Brooklands Museum in Weybridge is one of Surrey's most popular museums and is home to the only Concorde in the southeast with public access. Brooklands opened as a racetrack in 1907 and is now famous as the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation. The museum contains the Malcolm Campbell Workshop, a racing car collection, a Wellington bomber rescued from Loch Ness and an aircraft collection spanning 85 years. Another excellent display of aircraft can be seen at the De Havilland Aircraft Museum in London Colney, Hertfordshire. The oldest aviation museum in Britain, the museum has three historic Mosquito fighter-bombers as well as a variety of jet fighters.
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults, £10; Children (5-16), £5.50; Families, £27
Location: Brookland Rd, Weybridge
20 Hatfield House
This imposing Jacobean manor house is surrounded by beautiful parkland and was designed at the beginning of the 17th century for the Earl of Salisbury (the home remains in the family today). The magnificent interior contains valuable period furniture, paintings and 17th century tapestries in one of the largest and most impressive Jacobean mansions in England. In addition to the house, the spectacular gardens and park encompass Hatfield Park Farm - complete with animals, a fun miniature train, play areas and a restaurant.
Hours: Early Apr to late Sept, 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults, £15.50; Children, £8.50