Ah, London. Black cabs. Big Ben. The rush of Oxford Street and the lush peace of the royal parks. Has there ever been a more storied city than this? People travel from all over the world to discover the nation’s capital. But truth is, there’s so much to see and do that even the locals find a new favourite spot every time they visit. Whether you’re looking for a tour of legendary history, some family fun in the big city, or the finest dining in the world, here you’ll find some of our top picks for a weekend break in London.
With so much to see and do in London, it can be hard to know where to start. Never fear! We’ve split out our favourite places into four different categories, so you can just pick the one you fancy and go. Of course, you might want to return again and again to try out the others, too! Luckily, it’s never been easier to get to the capital city with our regular trains to London.
Here are some of the best stops for a weekend break in London.
When it comes to iconic landmarks, the first ones you think of may be Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. And for good reason! These famous sites have stood tall throughout much of London’s legendary history. But there’s also a few newcomers which bring a whole new style to the city’s skyline. Many of these places can be reached on foot from London Waterloo or Vauxhall station. Let’s take a closer look into these stunning stops…
1. Big Ben
This striking bell tower is attached to the Palace of Westminster, just steps away from the River Thames. Construction of the gothic landmark was completed in 1859 and it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The bell has been silent since new renovations began in 2017, but it’s set to resume its chiming in 2021. UK residents are usually able to take a tour inside Big Ben, but visits are currently closed until further notice.
2. Buckingham Palace
Located at the meeting point of three large parks, Buckingham Palace is an iconic haven right in the middle of the big city. Visitors with tickets are welcomed to this working royal palace, which first opened in 1705. If you get there in the summer before 11:00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, you can even see the Changing the Guard ceremony from outside the front gate, though you might want to check the website for schedule changes before you go.
3. The London Eye
Get a bird’s-eye view of the whole city with a trip around the London Eye. A full circle of the Millennium Wheel takes around 30 minutes, plenty of time to enjoy the view and spot all of the landmarks on this list from afar! Located under 10 minutes’ walk from Waterloo Station, this is the perfect end to a day out before heading home. Just be sure to book your tickets in advance for a sunset viewing. When you travel by train, you can even snag our family discount to save £40!
4. The City of London
Here’s a fact that may trip up those who aren’t regulars: The City of London is not another name for London. It’s actually a small, 3km area to the eastern side of the city that was the historical banking district. Today, it’s still home to the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England. We recommend visiting this beautiful area during the weekend, when many of the shops close and the streets are eerily quiet from the usual hustle and bustle of the city.
5. St Paul’s Cathedral
You may recognise the domed roof of St Paul’s Cathedral from renditions of London’s iconic skyline. Set at the highest point of the City of London, this Grade I listed building is a jaw-dropping feat of architecture by Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Regular services that welcome people of all faiths are held, which you can attend for an entrance fee, and you can even catch a musical performance in the stunning interiors. Don’t forget, you can save on the entry fee when you travel by train with our 2-4-1 deal!
6. The “Walkie-Talkie”
The building at 20 Fenchurch St, affectionately nicknamed the “Walkie-Talkie”, is a lesser-known addition to this list. Located 35 minutes’ walk from London Waterloo across London Bridge, this stop is perfect for a romantic weekend. Book your free ticket and take the elevator up to the top floor to visit the Sky Garden, where a bar, restaurant, and panoramic views of the city await. It’s worth noting that depending on the time of your visit, entry fees may apply. If you want to drink or dine, it’s also worth booking in advance.
7. The Monument
The Monument to the Great Fire of London stands just off Pudding Lane, the spot where the disaster started in 1666. The Doric column is located just north of London Bridge, and was first opened in 1677. The construction is noted in the works of Charles Dickens, among others, and offered one of the first 365-degree views of London. You can follow in their footsteps and buy a ticket to climb the 311 steps to the top.
History and Art
Recommending the best museums and art galleries in London is a hard task – there are just too many world-class options to choose from. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites here, but if you’re interested in something specific, it’s worth having a look before you travel – you might just find the exact exhibition you’re looking for is open now.
1. Art Galleries
Where else to start your adventure into the history of art than at Britain’s very own National Gallery. Located in Trafalgar Square, this collection includes works from the mid-13thcentury to the early 20th century, and entry is free.
After that, head to the V&A, the world’s leading museum of art, design, and performance, located in Kensington. If you’d prefer to stay closer to the centre of London, the Tate Modern is another fantastic choice to see what innovative new work is being created. Entrance to the V&A and the Tate Modern is also free, although some exhibitions may carry a charge.
2. History & Science Museums
If you only have time for one stop, make it The British Museum. With over eight million artefacts, including the Rosetta Stone, the first national museum in the world has even been featured in its own documentary series. While you’re there, the treasures gallery of the nearby British Library is also worth a stop. Both museums are free to enter.
For all things David Attenborough, the whole family will love the Natural History Museum, in South Kensington, where the skeleton of a blue whale hangs over visitors’ heads. During the holidays, they’ve even hosted an ice-skating rink and other festive activities. The nearby Science Museum is another fantastic stop for space suits, flying machines and other educational exhibits. Again, entry to both museums is free.
3. Lesser-Known Treasures
The stunning Leighton House in Holland Park is a must-see for interiors enthusiasts. The former home of painter Frederic Leighton is an elaborate example of design inspired by oriental art and aesthetic art movement.
If you’re coming from Waterloo Station, the free National Portrait Gallery is easily walkable, home to the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. There you’ll find many famous British faces from William Shakespeare to Ed Sheeran. Last, but certainly not least, the London Transport Museum is also easily accessed on foot, and a fantastic stop for families and auto enthusiasts alike. There you’ll find life-size buses, trains and other vehicles from the last 200 years. Tickets are available online.
Fashion and Shopping
As the host one of the top four fashion shows in the world, it’s no wonder that people flock to London when it comes to the best in style. Whatever your taste, you’ll find the best places for unique clothing, homeware, and other treasures here.
1. High street
No shopping trip to London would be complete without a stop at Oxford Street. Or rather, don’t stop – the rush of the crowds might just whirl you away! There’s a reason this iconic shopping strip is so popular, with stores including the historic Selfridges, which offers the original high-end department store experience. If you get tired of the buzz, wander down Carnaby Street for car-free high street browsing.
If you headed to Carnaby Street, you might notice the majestic Tudor-style building at one end of the street. That’s Liberty London, one of the most famous places to stock up on the latest luxury goods – if you like crafts, they even have their own fabric line. Another must-stop for the finer things has to be Harrods. Founded in 1849, this London store started with two employees and soon grew into one of the most famous luxury department stores in the world. Once you’re done shopping, you can even take a breather at the iconic food hall.
Vintage goods have taken London by storm, so you’re sure to cross paths with plenty of stores wherever you’re headed. Some of the best places to find the cream of the crop include Beyond Retro, which has a flagship store on Brick Lane as well as other branches in Soho and Dalston. Rokit is another local favourite, with stores in Brick Lane, Covent Garden and Camden.
As you can see from the stores in Brick Lane, East London is a haven for vintage clothes and pop-up stores. Head into Shoreditch for an eclectic mix of shopping options, including the Old Spitalfields Market, which always hosts a fantastic range of vendors offering homewares, clothes, and antiquities.
Speaking of markets, there’s no better way to shop in London than by wandering through some of the locals’ favourite destinations. As mentioned earlier, the market on Brick Lane operates every Sunday between 9-5. There you’ll find homewares, clothes, and delectable foodstuffs up for offer. If you fancy a longer walk, you can also catch the Columbia Road Flower Market on Sundays. If you go closer to 3/4pm, you can haggle some great deals on fresh cut flowers and other plants.
You may recognise the name from the Mary Poppins song, and Portobello Road is every bit as legendary as the lyrics suggest. The street market in West London offers different kinds of goods on different days of the week, so be sure to check the website to see what’s open. In North London, you could spend all day exploring the nooks and crannies of the famous Camden Market, where artists vend their wares alongside brand stores. The market is open throughout the week, and there’s also fantastic food options available.
Food and Drinks
Where do we even start with the food and drinks? London has so many options available, you’re sure to find anything you’re craving at all hours of the day. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer:
1. Food Markets and Street Food
If the last section tells us anything, it’s that London is the market capital of the world. And food markets are no different! For a sit-down meal, you’ll love the diverse range of options and on-site bar available at Box Park in Shoreditch. The communal outdoor dining areas are great for friends and family with different food tastes, and the site often hosts events and screenings for entertainment. If you’re heading into or out of Waterloo Station, try out the nearby South Bank Centre Food Market, open on Fridays and weekends, or the legendary Borough Market, now open every day, though the best time to visit is Thursday-Saturday when the market is in full swing.
Foodies will love exploring the artisanal offerings of the outdoor Broadway Market in Hoxton, open 365 days a year, or Brixton Village & Market Row, a street market with an indoor arcade of independent vendors selling international foodstuffs from charcuterie to Chinese tea.
2. Afternoon Tea
Where would we be without afternoon tea? You can find the traditional offering of sweet and savoury goodies with a good, strong tea at many hotels and cafes around the London. Why not follow in the footsteps of the Queen and treat yourself to a dining experience fit for royalty at the Ritz Hotel? The traditional afternoon tea at the Ritz costs around £55 per head.
Alternatively, try the unique experience of the Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, which includes all the goodies as well as a full sight-seeing tour for £45. For a great deal on afternoon tea, it’s worth checking our list of current offers when you travel by train.
3. Weekend Brunch
Ask any Londoner what their weekend plans are, and they’re sure to mention one word: brunch. This combination of breakfast and lunch is perfect for the lazy day lie-in and has become something of a phenomenon in this busy city. For an easy, classic diner experience we love The Breakfast Club, which has various branches around London. Lines get long on the weekends, so you’ll want to book in advance.
For an iconic meal, head to the Duck and Waffle in East London for their classic crispy duck-leg confit topped with a fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup. It’s a little more expensive than the last option at around £25 per person, but certainly worth the trip. In the same area, you’ll find the famous bottomless brunch at Bad Egg, ringing in at around £40 a head but including bottomless prosecco, mimosas, and Bloody Mary’s.
4. Fine Dining
So, you’re in the big city and ready to experience some of the finest dining the world has to offer. Look no further! We love Sketch (The Lecture Room & Library) in Mayfair. This exceptional dining experience was awarded three Michelin stars and is decorated by artist David Shrigley. A three-course lunch with drinks starts at around £145 per person.
The Michelin-starred Pétrus by Gordon Ramsay is another top stop for fine French dining with fantastic vegetarian options. Three lunch courses start at £55 per person. For a romantic evening, look no further than The Soak in Victoria, one of London’s newest cocktail bars and restaurants with live jazz throughout the week. The three-course set dinner menu starts at £30 per person including a glass of wine.
5. Budget-Friendly Bites on the Go
If you’re after a quick bite before heading to your next destination, try Crust Bros on Waterloo Road for margherita pizzas under £7 and vegan options available. Masters Superfish lies a five-minute walk away from Waterloo Station and offers some of the best fish and chips in the city. Burgers and grilled halloumi with chips start at £8 while cod rings in at £10.25.
Further afield, the Leather Lane food market runs on Thursdays and Fridays and offers an abundance of cheap eats, including a delicious tempeh curry for £5.50 from The Tempeh Man.