Photos of famous London landmarks like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace in real life look nothing like you'd expect

London: home to red phone booths, Big Ben, and, of course, Queen Elizabeth.

The capital of the United Kingdom remains one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. The city is rich in literary history, having been home to writers ranging from William Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot, and is also full of art in museums such as the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the TATE Modern.

Along with its royal family, London is known for its gorgeous parks. However, much like other capital cities, London’s top attractions are often crowded by tourists during peak visiting times.

Read more: 34 under-the-radar things everyone should do on a weekend in London, according to Londoners

Since 2017, the iconic Elizabeth Tower – more commonly nicknamed “Big Ben” – has been under construction and will remain scaffolded until 2020. While these repairs are necessary to preserve the landmark’s architectural beauty, unprepared tourists may be disappointed upon arrival.

Regardless of the repairs, hordes of tourists will still flock to see Big Ben along with other attractions. To avoid these crowds, it is best to visit during colder months, when fewer people are apt to visit.

Keep reading to see photos from a tourist’s point of view, as visitors navigate one of the largest cities in Europe.

One of the largest cities in Europe, London is a popular urban destination for travellers.

Source: World Atlas

It is known for its easy-to-use and efficient public transportation …

Source: CNN Travel

… iconic red phone booths …

Source: BBC News

… and multitude of historical sites.

The city also has noteworthy museums such as the National Gallery …

… and the British Museum.

Songquan Deng/ShutterstockThe British Museum is home to the Rosetta Stone, along with many other artifacts.

In addition, the city is famed for its lively pub culture.

London is a major meeting spot for business trips …

… and with five major airports, the city is often a launching point for broader UK or European travels, too.

London Heathrow AirportA plane takes off at one of London’s five major airports, Heathrow International.

Source: Visit London

However, if you’re planning on visiting during prime tourist season, it’s best to know what you might be getting into, crowd-wise.


The past few years have shown record numbers of visitors. According to The Guardian, 2017 saw 39.9 million tourists, and numbers are expected to continuing rising over 40 million.

Source: The Guardian

Peak months are usually considered the summertime …

Source: U.S. News & World Report

… and major holidays.

Jorge Franganillo/FlickrLondon’s Covent Garden is busy with visitors during the holiday season.

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Crowds can get dense in the big tourist hotspots …

Marco Verch/FlickrA crowd gathers to watch the Queen’s Life Guards, or Horse Guards, arrive near Buckingham Palace in Westminster.

… causing locals to stay far away from the city’s famous sites, especially on weekends.

Arguably the most iconic London site, the Elizabeth Tower, is in Westminster …

… near the equally famous Westminster Abbey.

Renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee in 2012, the landmark was originally called “Clock Tower.”

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Source: BBC News

Completed in 1859, the structure remains one of the city’s oldest and most well-known attractions …


… but not everyone knows that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower.

DS Pugh / Big Ben / Wikimedia CommonsBig Ben first chimed in 1859.

Source: The Telegraph

The bell made headlines in 2017 when it was announced that it will be silent for four years …

Source: NY Times, BBC News, TIME

… with the exception of New Years.

Source: BBC News

Restoration of sites like this is necessary, but it makes for disappointing photos …

Getty Images News

… as scaffolding now covers most of the tower …

… and the clock’s hands were briefly removed, so the face no longer told time.

Source: BBC News,

Regardless of construction, getting a perfect photo without other tourists in it may prove difficult. If you were expecting Westminster Bridge to look like this …

pcruciatti/Getty ImagesWestminster Bridge at dawn, without any foot or car traffic.

… you may be surprised to find it looking more like this.

Across the Westminster Bridge, on the other side of the River Thames, you may find footpaths just as crowded …

… due to tourists waiting to ride the London Eye. Originally constructed as a temporary attraction with a five-year lease …

Source: The Londonist

… the attraction was made permanent, and is now sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Source: BBC News

But if you were expecting to just walk aboard, you may be surprised to find lines of an hour or more during peak times. That being said, you can shorten your wait time by pre-purchasing tickets, or by paying extra for a fast pass.

Source: Coca-Cola London Eye

The view is impressive, but it’s worth noting that you will have to share the car with up to 28 people.

Source: Coca-Cola London Eye

Even if you are visiting during the slow season, be sure to check the calendar: The Eye is closed annually for maintenance for a few weeks in January.

Russell Trow/Flickr

Source: Coca-Cola London Eye

Similar to the Eye, The Shard is another observation spot, opened to the public in 2013 and equally as expensive. The cheapest ticket package for adults is £32 (approximately $US42).

Source: BBC News

You may want to consider spending the money on a drink at the building’s upscale bar or restaurant instead, which feature similar views as the public deck.

Marissa Perino/Business InsiderThe view from the observation deck.

Source: TripAdvisor

Since 1837, Buckingham Palace has been the official residence and administrative headquarters of the monarchy, making it a popular tourist attraction.


But oftentimes, you’ll have to fight your way through tour groups with selfie sticks to snap a good picture.

Luckily, there’s space to walk around the plaza …

… but if you were planning on watching the Changing of the Guard during the summertime, prepare to arrive early …

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… especially if you don’t want other people’s cameras in your shot.

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Her Majesty does not always stay at Buckingham Palace, which may be a disappointing realisation for some. But here’s a tip: Visitors can tell if the Queen is inside if the Royal Standard is being flown instead of the traditional British Union Flag.

Source: The Telegraph, Royal Central

Similarly, prime shopping areas such as Oxford street can also be crowded, especially at rush hour.

Source: Time Out London

Perhaps the smallest tourist attraction in London is also one of the most crowded: Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.

A dedication to the famous Harry Potter series by British author J.K. Rowling, the attraction is beloved by fans from around the world.

However, fans be warned: The wait line to get your photo taken can be upwards of an hour long …

Source: TripAdvisor

… and the tiny gift shop tends to be crowded.

Source: TripAdvisor

To avoid these crowds, veterans actually recommend visiting late at night. Staff members remove the props from the trolley display, but if you bring your own, the photo will look nearly the same.

Source: TripAdvisor

Regardless of the crowds, London is still an incredible place to visit.

Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesA general view of the London skyline on October 24, 2013 in London, England.

With so many side streets and restaurants off the beaten path, it may be worth skipping some of the long wait lines …

Marissa Perino/Business Insider

… or doing your research to ensure you make the most of your UK stay.

Marissa Perino/Business Insider

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