Buckingham Palace is considered a must-see for any first-time visitors to London.
With 775 rooms and the largest private garden in London, it has been the official London residence of UK sovereigns since 1837 and today is the administrative headquarters of the Monarch. In short, it’s where the Queen lives, splitting her time between here and Windsor Castle in Berkshire.
The Changing of the Guard is one of the best cost-free attractions in the capital, so once you’ve witnessed this mesmerising display – which takes place shortly before noon – how else can you busy yourself in the area surrounding Buckingham Palace?
Imagine if you’re stood looking through the gates of Buckingham Palace, Green Park is just to the right on the other side of the road.
At just over 40 acres, it is the smallest of London’s eight royal parks, with Hyde Park near the Grand Royale London Hyde Park Hotel being the largest.
Green Park is a peaceful and popular area for couples and families to enjoy a relaxing picnic in fine weather, and in the spring, more than 250,000 daffodils burst into life.
It may be compact compared to other royal parks, but it still manages to cram in some fantastic landmarks, most notably the Bomber Command Memorial, which commemorates those who died while serving in the Bomber Command during the Second World War, and Canada Memorial, which remembers the one million Canadians who served with British forces during the two World Wars.
There’s also the magnificent Canada Gate, which was gifted by Canada to celebrate its contribution to the then-British Empire.
Just a few hundred down the Mall on the left is Clarence House, which was home to Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother for almost 50 years prior to her passing in 2002. It is now the official residence of TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
It is usually closed to the public through the year but every summer, it is open to visitors for around a month – usually August – with guided tours of the ground floor reception.
This after-hours guided tour includes the Cornwall Room, which is not seen as part of a normal day visit and is hung with 22 of The Prince of Wales’s watercolours painted between 1998 and 2006.
The tour concludes with a glass of Champagne and a view of the garden.
St. James’s Palace
Just behind Clarence House is St. James’s Palace, built in the 16th century. It is the UK’s most senior royal palace and contains the London residences of The Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra.
The State Apartments are sometimes used for entertaining during in-coming state visits, and for other ceremonial and formal occasions. Over the course of a typical year, they host around 100 receptions for charities with which members of the royal family are involved.
Less than a mile’s walk down The Mall brings you to Trafalgar Square, another essential location to tick off any London tourist’s list.
Recognised around the world, this public square features the 169-foot Nelson’s Column, surrounding by four lion statues, and is often used for community gatherings and political demonstrations.
It was well-known for its feral pigeons until action was taken to remove them in the 2000s.
Before reaching Trafalgar Square, you’ll encounter Admiralty Arch, which regularly plays an important role during ceremonial occasions, such as royal weddings, funerals, coronations and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The building was refurbished at the turn of the Millennium, and in 2012, plans were agreed to turn the building into a luxury hotel, offering views over Buckingham Palace.
St. James’s Park
The oldest of London’s eight royal parks, the 57-acre St. James’s Park is often at the heart of ceremonial London and provides the setting for pageants including the annual Trooping the Colour.
It has a small lake with two islands and its resident colony of pelicans has been a feature of the park since they were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664.
Horse Guards Parade
This large parade ground off Whitehall is used as the site for the Trooping the Colour to commemorate the monarch’s official birthday, as well as the Beating Retreat. It also hosted the beach volleyball during the 2012 Olympics.
No. 10 Downing Street
Number 10 Downing Street has been the residence of the UK Prime Minister since 1735.
It contains around 100 rooms but sadly, the house isn’t open to the public. That hasn’t prevented it from becoming one of the most visited tourist spots though.
Red phone boxes
Not quite a conventional location in the same way as other sites mentioned so far, but the capital’s red phone boxes are as much of a London icon as Big Ben or Buckingham Palace.
The ‘currant red’ K2 telephone boxes were voted as one of the top ten design icons, alongside the Mini, London Tube map and Routemaster bus, so it’s easy to understand why getting a quick snap with one is a necessity for many tourists.
The smaller K6 boxes are more prolific with around 73,000 dotted across London, but you’ll find a row of the classic K2 kiosks on Broad Court in Covent Garden.
Walking for less than a mile east from Buckingham Palace down Birdcage Walk towards the River Thames brings you to Big Ben.
It is arguably the most recognisable UK landmark and without doubt, a must-see for any first-time visitor to London.
This 700-year-old Gothic abbey church is one of the UK’s most notable religious buildings, attracting more than one million visitors.
It has been the setting for many royal weddings over the centuries, including Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 and most recently, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.