12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in London's West End
London's exciting West End is famous as the city's entertainment and shopping district. Located smack-bang in the middle of London - hence its position as the second most expensive location in the world after Tokyo - it's where you'll find exclusive shops and famous department stores kitty-corner to superb boutique hotels, restaurants and cafés. It's also where you'll find the city's best theaters and biggest cinemas.
The area has long been a favorite of the rich as it was usually upwind of the pollution from the more crowded parts of the city. It was also close to the seat of power at Westminster. The West End includes the entertainment districts of Leicester Square and Soho and the shopping districts of Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets.
1 Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus, one of the great centers of London life, is named after the "picadils" (ruffs) made by a well-known 18th century tailor. It's also one of the busiest parts of London and is where five major streets intersect. In the center of the Circus stands the Shaftesbury Memorial commemorating the Earl of Shaftesbury with a bronze fountain topped by a cast aluminum figure of an archer universally known as Eros. Piccadilly, one of London's most fashionable streets, runs west from the Circus and is where you'll find iconic shops such as Fortnum and Masons.
2 Royal Academy of Arts
Founded in 1768 under the patronage of George III, the Royal Academy of Arts is housed in Burlington House, an imposing mansion with a Renaissance-style facade. A self-governing and self-supporting society of artists and architects, the Academy's art school boasts distinguished pupils such as Constable, Turner and Millais, and every year hosts a summer exhibition of work by contemporary British artists. Special exhibitions are also held in private apartments not normally open to the public, providing an opportunity to see the Academy's greatest treasure, the Michelangelo Tondo, the only example of the famed artist's work in Britain.
Hours: Sat-Thurs, 10am-6pm (last admission, 5:30pm); Fri, 10am-10pm (last admission, 9:30pm)
Admission: Varies depending upon the current exhibition
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London
3 Burlington Arcade
One of the first glass arcades in Europe, Burlington Arcade is a very attractive high-end Regency-style shopping area in the heart of the West End. Not much has changed since it opened, including the old rules relating to the type of goods on sale ("haberdashery, clothing and other articles which offended neither sight nor smell") and its clientele (no "whistling, singing, playing a musical instrument, carrying a parcel and putting up an umbrella within its precincts"). And these rules are still enforced by costumed security types known as Beadles.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9am-8pm; Sun, 11am-6pm
Address: 51 Piccadilly, London
The trendy Soho area - bounded by Regent and Oxford Streets, Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue - has long been popular with film companies, publishers, and record companies. It's also popular amongst diners due to its many specialized food and delicatessen shops, as well as restaurants offering international cuisine. In addition to high-end restaurants, there are many affordable dining options worth checking out (you can always save money by dining at lunchtime). For theatergoers, Soho boasts a concentration of the most famous West End theaters.
5 Leicester Square
Long famous as a place of entertainment, Leicester Square was built around a small 19th century garden with a statue of Shakespeare and the busts of four famous former residents, including Sir Isaac Newton (there's also a statue of Charlie Chaplin nearby). Now a pedestrian precinct, the area around the square and its surrounds include London's best-known cinemas - the locations for all major film premiers in the UK. A little to the north is London's Chinatown and (still) hip Carnaby Street.
6 Marble Arch
On an island in the middle of London's rushing traffic stands Marble Arch, an imposing triumphal arch designed by John Nash on the model of the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Originally intended to serve as the main gateway to Buckingham Palace, it was found to be too narrow to admit the royal coach so was moved in 1851 to its present site at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. It stands close to Tyburn, infamous as the place where most of London's executions were held for over 600 years.
7 Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is one of the most valuable art collections presented to the nation by a private individual. Housed in 25 galleries in a mansion built for the Duke of Manchester in 1776, it officially opened in 1900 and hasn't been altered since. The collection contains a wide range of works in many different styles plus furniture by celebrated French designers Boulle (1642-1732), Cressent (1685-1768) and Riesener (1734-1806).
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
Address: Hertford House, Manchester Square, London
8 Regent's Park
Originally a royal hunting ground, spectacular Regent's Park is now a popular place of recreation. Covering 395 acres, the park includes lakes, a boating pond and playgrounds for kids, tennis courts and a cricket ground. There's also an open-air theater (check out the Shakespeare plays and concerts), and Queen Mary's Gardens has a restaurant and cafeteria. The north boundary of the park is Regent's Canal (part of the Grand Union Canal) on which pleasant boat trips are offered.
Address: 58 Camden Lock Place, London
9 London Zoo
Founded in 1829, London Zoo is one of the oldest in the world and remains one of the city's most popular attractions. Run by the Zoological Society of London, it's also a place of research focusing on the conservation of endangered animals. Popular displays include rare Asiatic lions, nocturnal animals, and a children's zoo. A number of excellent experiential packages are available, including Keeper for a Day, sleepovers and workshops.
Hours: Various depending upon the season
Admission: Various depending upon the season (online discounts available)
Address: Outer Circle, Regent's Park, London
10 L Ron Hubbard's Fitzroy House
Set in the heart of Fitzrovia - an area famed for its writers and artists - Fitzroy House (1791) was inhabited by playwright George Bernard Shaw as well as writer and philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. Now a museum, the library contains hundreds of Hubbard's published works (he holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for 'Most Published Author'). The building is reminiscent of the 1950s, complete with Adler typewriters, Grundig tape recorders and Western Union telefax.
Hours: Daily, 11am-5pm
Address: 37 Fitzroy St, London
11 Lord's: The Home of Cricket
The home of that most British of sports, cricket, Lord's is a fun place to spend a few hours either as a spectator or in its excellent museum. Guided tours include the Long Room (a cricket shrine and art gallery), the MCC Museum with its history of the Marylebone Cricket Club (established 1787), and a cricket school. Want more fun things to do? Partake in an exquisite afternoon tea or enjoy a unique dining experience.
Address: Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood, London
12 Sherlock Holmes Museum
One of London's most famous addresses is in fact home to fictional characters - number 221b Baker Street was home to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and his friend and companion Dr Watson from 1881-1904. Protected by the government due to its "special architectural and historical interest", the building's first floor study overlooking Baker Street has been left exactly as it was in Conan Doyle's day.
Hours: Daily, 9:30am-6pm
Admission: Adults, £8; Children, £5
Location: Marylebone Rd, London