The National Gallery, which overlooks Nelson's Column in historic Trafalgar Square, houses Britain's national collection of Western European paintings from the 13th to 19th centuries. There are charges for temporary exhibitions but the huge permanent collection is free.
With a huge glass roof designed by Norman Foster, the British Museum's architecture is a draw in its own right. But even that can't compete with its collection of seven million objects spanning two million years of human history, including artefacts from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Entry is free.
VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
Affectionately known as the V&A, this is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design. The museum was built after the 1851 Great Exhibition in which Prince Albert, the much-loved husband of Queen Victoria, played a major role. It was also the first museum in the world to have its own restaurant. The collection spans 5,000 years, with furniture from Japan and China jostling with fine fabrics from all over the world. Free entry.
The Courtauld Gallery is one of the world's finest small galleries, featuring some of the key works from the Impressionist movement. They include Edouard Manet's "Dejeuner sur l'herbe", Paul Gauguin's "Nevermore" and Vincent van Gogh's "Self-portrait with a bandaged ear". There are also some sumptous bronze statues of dancers by Edgar Degas. Entry costs £6.
THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE
The Royal Opera House is the third to be built on the site, with the two previous theatres having been destroyed by fire. The current example was built in the 1990s and is now home to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. A special box is reserved for the royal family, and Queen Elizabeth II is patron of the Royal Ballet, while heir to the throne Prince Charles is president of the Royal Ballet and Patron of the Royal Opera. But ticket prices are fit for royalty, and can be high.
The modern facade of Sadler's Wells hides a beautiful interior dedicated to international dance in all its forms, from contemporary to ballet to hip hop, with an annual flamenco festival.
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
The vast circular auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall famously plays host to The Proms, the world's largest classical music festival, arranged annually by the BBC. Standing tickets by the stage at the Proms can cost as little as £5, while during the "Last Night of the Proms" every year the audience joins in with a selection of patriotic British classics.
Its huge brick chimney shows its past as a power station but since it opened in 2000, Tate Modern has become one of London's top cultural venues. It features seven levels dedicated to art from the 20th and 21st centuries, with regular special features in its gigantic central turbine hall. The nearby Millennium Bridge over the Thames offers one of the most stunning views of the capital.
The brutalist concrete architecture of the South Bank centre, on the southern bank of the Thames, has long been controversial but it hosts several major venues. The Royal Festival Hall is home to a number of orchestras including the London Philharmonic while the Hayward Gallery, perched on one of the corners of the complex, shows some of the most cutting edge modern art in the capital. The National Theatre is one of the most creative in London.