Visiting London for the first time is incredibly exciting – there’s so much to see and do, it can be difficult figuring out where to start! From the must-see attractions to tips for your first time in London, we’ll run through all the information you need to plan your trip. 

First Time in London: The Places You Have To See

There are many iconic attractions dotted around the capital that are well worth checking out, especially if it’s your very first trip to London. From Buckingham Palace to Big Ben, here are six famous attractions you’ll definitely want to tick off your list.

Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, London

Perhaps the most famous building in London has to be Buckingham Palace, where you can get a glimpse at the lives of royalty. Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official home, and, if the Royal Standard flag is flying, you’ll know she’s inside. Arrive in time for the Changing of the Guard which happens at 11.30 am daily April-July and on alternate days throughout the rest of the year. This 45-minute historical ceremony is one of the most traditionally English sights you’ll see on your trip to the capital.

Big Ben

Big Ben is the unmissable clock that forms part of Westminster Palace, the official home to the UK’s government, better known as the House of Commons. Snap a picture of Big Ben from the bridge, before heading to another nearby attraction… 

The London Eye

The London Eye on the River Thames, London

The London Eye is just over the river from Big Ben, so it’s easy to tick both famous attractions off your list in one go. This impressive observation wheel has become an instantly recognisable part of London’s skyline. Take a stroll down the river alongside the London Eye, or take a ride to enjoy amazing views across the entire city. 

Oxford Street 

Your first trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Oxford Street. As London’s most famous high street, Oxford Street is a shoppers paradise, full of beautiful flagship stores including the iconic Selfridges. Whether you’re headed to London for a full shopping trip or just fancy a browse, Oxford Street is the place to be.

The Tower of London 

Ravens inside the Tower of London

This historic attraction has been a royal residence, a prison, and even a zoo! From the 1200s through to 1835 the Tower housed a variety of exotic animals, including an elephant and a polar bear who used to swim and hunt for fish in the Thames. Unfortunately, you won’t encounter any (real) polar bears today, but you can still spot the Tower’s iconic ravens, along with the Crown Jewels.

West End

Catching a show is a great way to kick off an evening out in the city, and where better to do it than London’s famous West End? Whether you’re a theatre buff or just want to explore iconic sights, you should definitely put aside time during your first trip to London for a visit to the West End. If you’re looking to check out some of the most prominent theatre streets, head to the Strand, Drury Lane or Shaftesbury Avenue. 

A map of the London Underground


Using The Tube in London

The tube is such an iconic part of London, it’s almost an attraction itself! On your first visit to London, you’re sure to have a long list of places to visit, and the Underground is ideal for getting across London quickly. The different lines can all seem complicated at first, but we promise, after a couple of journeys you’ll be a pro! 

If you’re looking to get the hang of the tube system, there are a range of apps that contain tube maps and route planners showing both the quickest and the fastest routes across the city. Just double check your route before you head underground and have it ready to view on your phone – phone signal is unfortunately one area in which the tube is lacking! 

If you’re wondering how to pay for the tube, there are a number of options. You can buy a physical single journey or day ticket from the ticket machines in the station, or live like a true Londoner with an Oyster Card. For a quick and easy option, and a great way to cut the queues, you can simply use your contactless card or Apple Pay to tap in and out of stations. The cost of your journeys will be calculated at the end of the day and caps at the price of a day ticket, making this a great value way to get around.

One final tube tip; if you’re getting off the tube at Covent Garden and there’s a huge queue for the lift, always wait rather than taking the stairs – trust us! 

Where To Stay On Your First Time In London

If you’re visiting London for the first time, staying central will make the whole trip so much easier. A central London hotel will save you time and money on getting around the capital, plus you can start exploring the second you step out of the door. If you’re looking for a central London hotel for a base to return to after shopping or before an evening out, we have a number of Thistle hotels that will help you fully experience the city. Check out our Thistle Piccadilly, Thistle Trafalgar Square or Thistle Holborn hotels for some of the best hotels in London for first time visitors.