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Great Heights and Hidden Delights: Unmissable Sightseeing in London



Westminster Abbey, St Paul's, the London Eye – these aren't just some of the city's most astonishing sights, they're some of the most breathtaking icons of sightseeing gold in the western world. London has been home to revolutions and fiery infernos, scandals, dynasties, religious icons, and pure, unadulterated human innovation. No traveler to London needs to be told that the city is jam-packed with history, culture, architectural behemoths, and invaluable art ( --at least we hope they don't!), but London is nothing except fluid and ever-changing, reinventing itself year on year to honor its rich history and new visionaries. In a nutshell: keeping up with London is hard work! And we've just about managed to whittle down its countless treasures to the ten that truly can't be missed. Many require walking shoes (that heath gets muddy!), some require floatation jackets, and one requires a bit of a taste for danger. And what with London's long-standing respect for its broke students and crafty bohemians, not all of them require loads and loads of dosh. But we're certain that hitting these landmarks will ensure memories to last a lifetime, and potentially overload your Instagram feed. Get those cameras ready and those coffees in take away cups.


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If you couldn't find who you were looking for in Westminster Abbey, and you're craving some of the rich greenery offered up by north London's less tread territory, then a serene visit to Highgate Cemetery is a must. Nestled in the quiet landscape along Hampstead Heath's periphery, the cemetery is the final resting place to Douglas Adams, Karl Marx, and Patrick Caulfield. A cemetery might not sound like the most cheerful of afternoon outings, but rest assured: Highgate's beauty attracts thousands of visitors each year, and the walk into Gospel Oak is a perfect way to reinvigorate yourself before a leisurely heath day or an indulgent brunch.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It's a truly unique celebration of life and death on some of London's most beautiful terrain.

Arianna's expert tip: Leave a pen for Douglas Adams. Devoted fans from around the world have been leaving them in a poignant display since the Hitchhiker's Guide author passed away in 2001.

Read more about Highgate Cemetery →




Hampstead Heath used to be the last stretch of countryside for travelers coming into London from the north. It was home to Keats, and a much-visited haven for Dickens and Byron. It is 790 acres of lush forests, rolling hills, and still ponds (unless it's swimming season – the mixed pond is frequented by the likes of Kate Moss and Benedict Cumberbatch), and oozes London's particular brand of magic and versatility. It's perfect for a sunny gin and tonic picnic or a muddy, misty trudge. Bring the dogs, the kids, or simply your sketchpad for a poetic afternoon worthy of the Romantics.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It's almost a borough unto itself, and a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arianna's expert tip: Make sure to devote at least two hours to Kenwood House, the stately house whose art collection includes pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt.

Read more about Hampstead Heath →


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South Bank


The Shard might be London's most controversial, complex, and – oh yes – BIG piece of modern architecture, but love it or hate it, very few skyscrapers would claim to be "a vertical city". We've got to say, that kind of gumption alone makes the semi-pyramid tower worth the visit. Though it will set you back as much as £29.95, the view from the top are unlike anything else you'll find in Europe, offering a forty-mile vision radius. If you can splash out, book at the sleek Oblix restaurant, or even book a night in the sky-high Shangri-La Hotel. (All suites come with binoculars)

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It's the most controversial addition to London's skyline since the Gherkin.

Arianna's expert tip: Make a day of The Shard's surrounding areas. Pick up mulled wine from Borough Market, and take a trip down into the famous Clink prison.

Read more about The Shard →


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Don't be fooled by its grisly reputation and overwhelming antiquity: The Tower of London has had millennial makeover. Its moat was recently host to the stunning Armistice Day memorial display of close to one million ceramic poppies, and a brand new Glass Floor was recently installed at adjacent Tower Bridge (which chillingly cracked a few days after opening – goosebumps!) which gives visitors a view of the Thames from 137 feet above water. The sprawling grounds are truly the heart of London's historic center, a stunning glimpse into its bloody past. It seems quite fitting that Game Of Thrones has chosen it for its premiere venue.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: How could you miss the home of London's most notorious king, and, of course, his six illustrious wives.

Arianna's expert tip: Be sure to get a glimpse of the Crown Jewels, held in ultra-secure lockdown inside the grounds.

Read more about Tower of London →




If Harrod's has left you broke and claustrophobic, and your trip to the Royal Albert Hall has left you wanting to cosplay Victorian dandies, then a promenade along the Serpentine is most certainly in order. The snaking lake, connected through underground waterways to the Thames, has remained an iconic part of London's most illustrious aristocracy, artists, and society scandal (Shelley's first wife drowned herself in the waters in 1816). Now the lake sits within a stone's throw of the Diana Memorial Fountain, bustling Speakers' Corner, and, of course, the Serpentine Gallery. While the perfect spot for a summer stroll, The Serpentine is especially beautiful in the cold seasons. If you're lucky enough to spend your holiday season in London, make your way there for an authentic Boxing Day outing.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It's like walking round the set of a period drama – don't forget your cummerbund.

Arianna's expert tip: The Serpentine Bar and Kitchen is the perfect place to charge your batteries with a hot chocolate or prosecco.

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Warwick Avenue, The London Zoo, Camden Lock, Central St Martin's and King's Cross's trendy new foodie hub Granary Square – it might sound like too much to fit into one day of London sightseeing. Turn out it's possible, and all you've got to do is look down. Regent's Canal is London's vibrant and beautifully preserved walkway along the water bisecting central London and some of its most fascinating bits. Starting at Warwick Avenue, you can get from west to east in an hour-ish, and pop out to Camden's famous markets, the paddle boats of Regent's Park, and idyllic Primrose Hill all the way to Angel. The primary goal of any London vacation should be uncovering its hidden treasures, and when you're face to face with the back end of a century-old aviary or emerging from an antique bookshop housed within one of the canal's houseboats, you'll be thrilled that you took the road less traveled.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It's a brilliant hack for getting the best of central London in one leisurely walk

Arianna's expert tip: If you've got the energy, take the canal all the way over to Hackney and get your lit fix at Word On The Water.

Read more about Regent's Canal →


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Bermondsey


It might be hard to tell, what with sitting in the shadow of the newly erected Shard, but some of Dickens's meandering, smoky-bricked London is preserved in historic Bermondsey. And nowhere is this more apparently than in the hustle and bustle of Maltby Street and its surrounding areas. Largely dominated by one of London's most impressive and somehow lesser-known food markets, Ropewalk, Maltby Street is also home to antique shops, distilleries, bakeries, and access to the high street (where you can stumble into the White Cube Gallery and a charming little coffee shop christened F*ckoffee). All within a stone's throw of the tourist-thronged Tower Of London, Maltby Street feels like a haven under the railway arches, and a little taste of the past.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It's a little taste of Industrial Era London, without the pesky smog

Arianna's expert tip: You could lose hours inside LASSCO, one of London's most prestigious (and reasonably priced) antique markets. Check out the lost luggage pile selling unclaimed items from stations dating back to nearly a century.

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London is truly a city which rewards those who wander off the beaten track. Just a stone's throw further east of trendy Shoreditch sits Columbia Road, and idyllic bit of old-school East End charm. And every Sunday its already colorful main drage becomes swamped with Cockney flower-sellers, peddling their wares and shouting out deals like a scene from Oliver Twist. If flowers aren't so much your thing (or if you're simply an allergy-sufferer) pop into one of the vintage shops for hand-crafted upholstery and gadgetry. The charms of Hackney's most beloved cobblestone road could eat up your entire Sunday, especially if you pop into the Royal Oak for a bloody mary.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Shard is currently the most talked about building in London and provides you with stunning views.

Arianna's expert tip: Keep an eye out for Hackney celebs like Alexa Chung and Ben Whishaw. Columbia Road is the coveted home for the stylish and craft-minded.

Read more about Columbia Road Flower Market →


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Pimlico

Art float your boat? (Excuse us while we chuckle to ourselves for twenty minutes.) With the Thamesclipper Tate To Tate service ferrying museum-goers along the might River Thames between Pimlico and Bankside, you no longer have to decide between modern or classical art. Keep up to speed on the cutting edge (with David Hockney, Marlene Dumas, and the Surrealists) and stroll through stalwarts like Turner and Bacon. And at fifteen minutes, the journey itself will help you get economical with your sightseeing: You'll take in Victoria Embankment, the London Eye, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. Expect to pay £12.60 for an adult return and £6.30 for children, and be sure to book at least 24 hours in advance.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Culture vultures are rarely given such a literal opportunity to set sail.

Arianna's expert tip: Be sure to check what's going on in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, where big, sometimes mysterious exhibitions are installed on a semi-seasonal basis.

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It's the final resting place of kings and queens, thinkers and visionaries. Since 1090 AD, Westminster Abbey has been welcoming visitors to bask in its grandeur and take selfies by Isaac Newton's headstone. It's got a hefty name, and sometimes the Abbey gets a bad name – relegated to overwrought tourist megazones. And while common sense should be every savvy tourist's guide (so maybe don't stop by in the sweltering heat of an August Saturday) Westminster Abbey should never, ever be underestimated or under-appreciated. It's one of those landmarks which you can't help but be moved by, and which gets more wondrous with every visit.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: At nearly 1,000 years old Westminster Abbey has maintained its place among London's most iconic religious structures.

Arianna's expert tip: Get there just before sundown to watch impossibly gorgeous golden light fill the abbey's massive space.

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Meet Arianna Reiche

Arianna Reiche is a London-based writer and publisher. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied at the University of Edinburgh before working with Vice, New Scientist,...  More About Arianna

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