- Cross from St Paul's Cathedral via the Millennium Bridge...
Just minutes from the Old Bailey, St Paul's Cathedral was built in the 1600s and was the tallest building in London for several hundred years. It has seen the funerals, memorials, and weddings of many famous or royal persons throughout England's history. Perhaps most famous of those laid to rest there are Admiral Horatio Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill.
Entry is Monday to Saturday during working hours and tickets are roughly fifteen pounds for adults, but seeing just the outside is worth it, too.
Continuing southward on foot, one finds themselves at the Millennium Bridge. A modern-style suspension footbridge, the Millennium Bridge is interesting during the day and beautiful at night. It closed for several years after its initial grand opening to eliminate a much-complained-of 'wobble,' and now has been open for several years.
In popular culture, fans of Harry Potter might remember the Milennium Bridge as having been blown up by Death Eaters in the opening of Half-Blood Prince, and also as having offered Irene Adler a picturesque backdrop for one of her many calls to the titular protagonist in BBC's Sherlock.
The closest tube exit is appropriately named St Paul's Station. The Millennium Bridge's north side is also a short walk from Mansion House and London Blackfriars Stations.
- ...to the Globe Theater
Upon crossing to the other side and veering left before the Tate Modern, one finds themselves face-to-face with the modern reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. Nowadays it looks small, even unremarkable; but in its heyday it would have dominated the surrounding landscape. The original Elizabethan-style Globe wasn't open for fifteen years before it was destryoed by fire; however, during its years of use it served as the setting of some of the most famous plays known the the English language. Take the tour if you like - or just wave at it when you pass by.
Fans of Doctor Who will know it as the setting of The Shakespeare Code in Series Three.
- (Maybe Don't Ride) the London Eye
A 25 minute walk west from Shakespeare's Globe, the massive London Eye - or Millennium Wheel, as it was built in the year 2000 - sits on the south bank of the Thames. One of the world's largest ferris wheels at 443 feet tall, it spins slowly - imperceptible from far away - and lights up a beautiful blue at night.
It has appeared in numerous London-based films, including 28 Days Later, A Knight's Tale, and Harry Potter. It was also used as a massive alien signal conductor in the first episode in Series One of Doctor Who.
Tickets to ride are about 30 pounds for adults and are not suggested for the seasick-prone or those strapped for cash - go just for the view from below.
The London Eye is a short walk from Waterloo Station.
- Marvel at Big Ben/the Houses of Parliament, the Statue of Boadicea, and Westminster Abbey
Just across Westminster Bridge from the London Eye, Big Ben (or 'Elizabeth Tower,' its clock faces, and great bell) is one of the most iconic sights in London. A three hundred foot four-faced clock tower, it was erected late in the 19th century.
Built in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 19th after a fire, the attached Houses of Parliament - properly known as the 'Palace of Westminster' - have seen their own share of history, including Guy Fawkes's attempt to blow them up on the 5th of November in 1605. Gothic and intricately carved in a way impossible to detect from afar (or indeed from most photographs), the Houses put many of the other famous stone buildings of London - like Buckingham Palace - to shame. They are still in use by the modern House of Commons and House of Lords. Today you can attend debates and visit the Parliamentary archives, and guided tours of the opulent interior are just over fifteen pounds. However, the iconic views are all photographable for free from the street.
You can see the Houses of Parliament in many shows and movies, most notably including their triumphant and spectacular demolition at the end of V for Vendetta. Big Ben featured heavily in episodes of Doctor Who and The Prisoner, as well as ringing in the London Olympic Games.
The famous if innaccurate statue of Boadicea (traditionally and correctly 'Boudica') and her daughters stands at the end of Westminster Bridge, facing Parliament. It was erected in 1905 as a symbol of her rebellion (for those not in the know, she spent a fantastic if tragically short while kicking the Romans' asses), and shows her in a horse-drawn chariot complete with a scythe on each wheel.
Westminster Abbey - just down the road from Parliament - is towering, white, and was constructed in the 13th century. Historically a site of royal coronations (starting with William the Conquerer) and weddings (most recently Prince William and Kate Middleton), it now also houses as a burial chamber some of the most famous names in British history, including St Edward the Confessor, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Charles Dickens. It commemmorates hundreds more. It is a living church, and therefore is open to the public for between fifteen and twenty pounds.
In popular culture it appeared in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus novels, but the real thing is rarely seen in film as it usually does not allow commercial filming.
All of these locations are immediately accessible from Westminster Station on the tube.
- Feel Vaguely Puzzled at Buckingham Palace
There's no nice way to put this: Buckingham Palace (a 15-minute walk westnorthwest of Westminster), for all its fame, is a thoroughly unattractive building. If 'butt-ugly' is too harsh a term, then after the likes of the Houses of Parliament it is puzzlingly, almost offensively plain, golden gates aside. Even the famous Palace Guards are rarely outside the gates on off-hours. However, the changing of the guard is worth a look; it happens every day or every other day, before noon.
Much more attractive is the facing Victoria Monument with its many (unfortunately colonialist-themed) statues and fountains.
Buckingham Palace is a ten minute walk from Hyde Park Corner, St James's Park, and Victoria Stations on the underground.
- Visit Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, and the National Gallery
Massive, stretching nearly 170 feet tall, and a 15-minute walk northeast along The Mall from Buckingham Palace, Nelson's Column - named after and bearing at its top the statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of England's heroes in the war against Napoleon - is mind-bogglingly large. Built in the 19th century after Nelson's death, the column is surrounded by great bronze lion statues and a beautiful fountain.
The surrounding Trafalgar Square is one of London's most famous landmarks, and has been used for celebrations during some of the nation's biggest holidays. It is also used for demonstrations, and has seen protesters and rioters gather there for over a hundred years. It has been featured in productions like James Bond, Doctor Who, and BBC's Sherlock.
At the back of the Square is the National Gallery, started in the 1820's and home to some of the most famous paintings in the world, including Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' and Velazquez's 'Toilet of Venus.' No photography is allowed, though of course if you don't use flash and they don't catch you... well. It is open every day. The admittance fee, excluding special exhibitions, is 'suggested' only.
All these attractions are directly across from Charing Cross Station.
- Explore the British Museum
If you like history and art museums, London has a huge amount to offer; however, the British Museum may be the best.
A twenty-minute walk north-northeast of Trafalgar, the British Museum was founded in 1753 with the collections of plunders worldwide and has been showing off the fruits of England's colonialist efforts ever since. Even now, many of the exhibits are items of contention, which their countries of origin argue should rightly belong to them and not to Britain. It has the largest collection in the world - over eight million items - as well as a number of curatorial research departments, and activities worldwide. Its most famous objects include the Rosetta Stone, the Sutton Hoo burial ship, Michaelangelo's drawings, Lindow Man, friezes from the Parthenon on the Acropolis, an Easter Island Statue, and Egyptian mummies. Entry is free aside from exibitions, and it is open daily.
The British Museum is near Tottenham Court Road and Holborn Stations.
- Slam into the Brick Wall at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station
It's always worth a try.
King's Cross is a 25-minute walk north from the British Museum. Platform 9 3/4 can be found halfway between Platforms 9 and 10 on King's Cross's National Rail line.
(For an extra challenge, try to find the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron near Charing Cross Station.)
- Rock Out in Camden Town
A 25-minute walk northwest from King's Cross, Camden Town is legendary for having one of the best live music scenes in London. Whether you are looking for cheap underground venues that support up-and-coming bands, open mic nights full of passionate poetry slam artists, or concert halls with years of cred and precious history, Camden is still a great place for punk fashion and rock music. Create your own rock n' roll walking tour, or visit the markets, bars, parks, and waterways.
The nearest Underground exit is Camden Town Underground Station.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum
Also worth a look (take the tube) is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was built in 1852 and houses over two million items. The most exciting among these include a reproduction of Trajan's Column, the Flanders unicorn tapestry, a reproduction of Michaelangelo's David, and numerous works from Rome and throughout Asia. Entry is free aside from special exibitions, and it is open daily except for around Christmas.
This museum is close to South Kensington Station.
- Feel Glad You're Not Locked in the Tower of London
This stone fortress on the north side of the Thames was originally built in the 11th century during the Norman Conquest, and it served most famously as a prison for over eight hundred and fifty years. It has held and/or executed thousands of prisoners including Guy Fawkes, Anne Boleyn, William Wallace, a young Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and in the 20th centrury two high-profile members of the Nazi Party. It has also seen various other usages such as military stronghold, residential palace, and royal armoury. For the past few hundred years it has housed the Crown Jewels.
The inside of the Tower follows a complicated design that speaks of the many times it has been expanded and rebuilt throughout the years. There are towers, keeps, courts, chapels, belfries, kitchens, great halls, and dungeons ready for the exploring. In the 1200s, there was even a royal menagerie.
It is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list as a museum and tourist site. It costs around 20 pounds for adults per entry (if you'd rather not pay the fee, it's still worth a good look from the outside). It is open every day during regular working hours. It is also included on several of London's Ghost Tours, as it is said to be extremely haunted. Famous ghosts include Anne Boleyn, and a polar bear.
The Tower of London is a short walk from Tower Hill Station on the tube.
- (Do Not Blow Up) the Old Bailey
A half hour walk westward of the Tower, the Old Bailey has been the site of proceedings in the criminal court since at least the 1500's. Destroyed in a fire one hundred years later, it has been refaced and rebuilt multiple times. The version that now stands was erected in the early 1900s, and still holds trials on many of the major criminal cases in the United Kingdom.
It is also known to fans of V for Vendetta as the opening act in vigilante V's rebellion, where on November the 5th it exploded spectacularly to the soundtrack of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Less famously, it held master criminal Jim Morriarty for his trial in BBC Sherlock.
The Old Bailey is a five minute walk from St Paul's Station on the underground.
- Tour the (Real and) Filming Locations of BBC's Sherlock and Doctor Who
BBC's Sherlock is set in London, and therefore the city is full of fun locations for fans to visit even outside the aforementioned places that are culturally significant in and of themselves.
Sherlock's fake 221B Baker Street is next to Speedy's Cafe on North Gower Street, reachable via underpass from Euston Square Station.
Irene Adler's house is at 44 Eaton Square, one of the many affluent streets west of Victoria Station and northeast of Sloane Square Station in Belgravia.
Alberto's Italian restaurant is a small place called Tapas Brandisa in Soho, located on Broadwick Street at the end of Lexington (check for the cobblestones under your feet) and a ten minute walk north of Piccadilly Circus.
The real New Scotland Yard is just south of St James's Park Station. St Bart's Hospital - the site of Sherlock's great Fall and as well as the building behind which John Watson was so cleverly made to position himself - is just northwest of St Paul's Station.
Doctor Who has a fair share of London locations as well, aside from those already listed. Among them are Canary Wharf - the site of Doomsday - which is very close to Canary Wharf Station, 10 Downing Street - host of the real Prime Minister and area of the occasional alien takeover - just a walk from Westminster, Battersea Power Station - which fell to the Cybermen - west of Vauxhall on the tube or north of Battersea Park on the National Rail, and the Shard - taken over by UNIT in The Bells of Saint John - is just southwest of London Bridge Station on the tube.
- Take a Ghost Walk
With its numerous plague pits, execution sites, cemetaries, and houses with murderous histories, London has its fair share of ghosts. The spirits of those executed at the Tower of London are said to roam the grounds, hounds are heard howling at Sutton House, and a modern-day book dealer's was the location of so many unexplained deaths that it has been given the official title of Most Haunted House in London and is regulated to this day by a law that states no one is allowed to be on the top floor alone after dark.
You can scope out locations on your own or take an official walking or bus tour (tickets are often available on sale). Either way - if you intend to go at night, we recommend that you always bring a friend.
- Crawl the Pubs
If the idea of one big beer/shot-soaked, marked-up-t-shirt-wearing, rambling night out is your idea of a good time, them a London pub crawl is for you. You can get tickets for an official guided crawl tour (often hilarious thanks to the guide and often with at least one free drink per pub) or plot a course all your own with free maps from the internet (all it takes is a Google search). Mix, match, create your own themes, bring some friends along, and... try not to spend too much money. Your night is unfortunately unlikely to end up as a fight for your like against aliens full of blue stuff as you race toward The World's End, but you should still have a good time.
Tip: For the love of all that is holy, wear. flat. shoes.