There are so many activities in London to enjoy. The entire capital is spread out before you like a glittering prize, a magical place packed with history and creativity, ancient architecture, contemporary art, and of course loads of top class entertainment. Here's a look at some of the best things to do in London for people of every age and inclination, from amazing buildings to hilarious comedy, remarkable city views to excellent shopping with an international flavour. Here are just a few of the capital's very best bits.
The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament are where the government of the UK does their business. The two houses, namely the House of Commons and the House of Lords, both have a similar job – to make laws, check the work the government does, and debate the issues the nation faces. It's a fascinating place and you can experience it in a variety of ways: on a tour of Parliament, at a public talk or event, by visiting the ancient Parliamentary Archives or attending events held within the buildings. The House of Lords is open to the public, which means you can actually watch business being done in the chamber and select committees. It's free. You can also take a tour of the Houses of Parliament as a guest of a member – also free – or as a visitor on Saturdays and right through the summer.
Old Spitalfields Market
Fascinatingly, the name Spitalfields comes from the ancient hospital and priory St. Mary's Spittel, founded way back in 1197. It's a great place, so step off the main tourist trail and enjoy original London via the pleasures of Old Spitalfields Market. Spitalfields itself is a vibrant area full of artists and creatives, with a colourful Bangladeshi community to brighten things up even more. Brick Lane is packed with excellent curry houses and the market itself, a Victorian masterpiece, is home to all sorts of wonders including crafts, foods, fashion, jewellery, street art and independent stalls. It's also home to loads of really good eateries frequented by the City workers you'll see scurrying around, right in the heart of the nation's world-famous financial services sector. For art and concerts head for the gorgeous 18th-century Christ Church Spitalfields.
A trip up the Shard
The Shard is a relatively new kid on the block and it is fast becoming one of the most popular activities in London. It's incredibly high, an eye-watering 95-storey skyscraper designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, and you'll find it in Southwark. It measures 310m high and, as you can imagine, the view from the top is nothing short of spectacular. This is Western Europe's tallest tower, but one brave urban fox decided to live there, surviving on food left by the builders and only discovered later. He was named Romeo, and he was discovered on the 72nd floor. This is the best view of London, without a doubt. There are two viewing platforms and you can eat there too. Head for floors 31 to 33 for a New York grill-inspired menu at Oblix, northern Chinese cuisine at Hutong and contemporary British food at Aqua Shard.
Shop Oxford Street
London's Oxford Street is a lively, vibrant destination for shoppers wanting to enjoy every imaginable high street brand via some of the biggest branches of Britain's favourite stores. It runs from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch via Oxford Circus and is the busiest shopping street in Europe, with more than 300 shops and half a million visitors every single day. It's also full of pubs, bars and places to eat, a proper one-stop shopping destination in the capital's heart.
Explore Carnaby Street
Shop Carnaby Street for quirky independent shops selling extraordinary shoes, steampunk clothing, off-the-cuff clothing from creative geniuses and more, all with that unmistakable Soho vibe, both rebellious and fun. During the days of the Black Death the street was home to a terrible pest house, where plague sufferers were 'cared for' in a rudimentary sort of way. There's even a deep mass grave under the street where the dead were buried. On the bright side, it's also close to Liberty's, one of the nation's best-loved and most exclusive department stores!
Lose yourself in the British Museum
The British Museum contains the world's biggest and best collection of Egyptian antiquities, more than a hundred thousand of them including the Rosetta Stone. Here you'll find ancient marvels like the extraordinary Parthenon Marbles, plus the Sutton Hoo mask and ship burial collection. It's stacked with amazing Egyptian mummies and the Enlightenment Gallery uses thousands of amazing objects to demonstrate how the British understood their world in past times. There's the magical Standard of Ur, mind-blowing exhibits from Mesopotamia and endless wonderful things from the Renaissance and Medieval era, the Tomb of Mausolus... it's huge, and you could easily spend days there.
Rock your world at the Hackney Empire
The Hackney Empire theatre on Mare Street in Hackney was built in 1901 as a music hall. Now it's home to an amazing variety of entertainment, from big nights out with some of the country's best-loved comedy acts to gigs and concerts, choirs and cabaret, dance and drama, musical theatre, opera, panto, workshops, talks and more. You'll find activities in London for adults and people of every age at this splendid venue.
Laugh your socks off at The Apollo
Now called the Eventim Apollo, the Hammersmith Apollo is a dazzlingly good entertainment venue as well as a Grade II listed masterpiece of a building, a real Deco triumph. It opened in 1932 as the Gaumont Palace, then was renamed the Hammersmith Odeon in 1962. It has changed names a few times since but whatever you call it, this is home to one of the nation's best-loved comedy club nights, hugely popular on British TV. It has recently been refurbished so it's super-smart as well as a brilliant place to see everything from musical theatre to talent shows and TV's Horrible Histories.
Discover Leicester Square
Leicester Square is all about entertainment, a hub for fun, laughter and great nights out. Here you'll find some of the capital's best shows in some of the best theatres in town. You can watch fantastic films including more than 52 star-studded red-carpet premieres every year at the famous Odeon Leicester Square, and more at Vue and Cineworld. M&M's World is Europe's biggest sweet shop and there's also the world's biggest Lego shop. There's amazing food and quirky gifts at the Japan Centre, and plenty of cool places for a good meal at every turn. Last but not least how about sampling one of the capital's best casinos? You'll find the Hippodrome Casino and the Empire Casino, the Grosvenor and Napoleons. If you just want to soak up some really lovely old London buildings, it's great for that too.
Explore the West End – Welcome to theatreland!
Some people visit London simply for the West End, taking in a stage show every night and sometimes even adding matinees to the mix as well. The West End theatre district is where you'll find many of the world's best, longest-running musicals and shows including Les Miserables, the Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and a whole load of brand new shows that premiere here in our version of Broadway.
Cheap things to do in London – Get on your bike, or enjoy a walk
One of the best things to do in London that also costs the least? Really cheap things to do in London include discovering the city on foot or on a Santander bicycle. You can travel the river to get from A to B, a treat in itself, or take a city bus tour to discover all the best bits in comfort and style on a red double-decker bus.