Almost everybody has heard of England’s capital city, wherever they are in the world. Everybody wants a bite from the big apple at least once in a lifetime; after all, London is a city full of promise. London is a 21st-century city with so much history. In Central London you can find impressive buildings like the Houses of Parliament, the ‘Big Ben’ clock tower, and Westminster Abbey.
The banking area, East Central London is full of amazing architecture that shouldn’t be missed, and then there’s the Thames River, where you can also find the big wheel dubbed the London Eye. In the guide below, you’ll find several tips for navigating, sleeping, and eating, as well as some great activities to help you make the most of your trip.
Getting around London
London is exceptionally well organised when it comes to transport links. The easiest way of getting around is via the London Underground, as every area of London has at least one station. The underground system can be a little daunting to newcomers as it’s so vast, but grab yourself a tube map and you will figure it out.
London’s famous red double-decker buses are another good way of getting around. They’re a little cheaper than the underground, and they run regularly between every locality. If you want to avoid public transport, Uber is a good option.
For the underground and buses, Oyster cards are the way to go. You can buy one, upload some cash and then just tap it on the card readers to access the transport. Fares are cheapest with this card – machine tickets will cost significantly more. At the end of your trip you can get a refund for your oyster card and any unused cash on it.
What to do in London
Visit some traditional English pubs
It would be a shame to visit London and not immerse yourself into the English pub atmosphere at least once. It doesn’t mean you have to get plastered (although many will be, especially in the summertime), but England has a big beer garden culture – it’s the ‘done thing’ to spend a few weekend hours soaking up rays with a cold pint and some traditional English food out the back of the pubs.
Covent Garden has some good pubs (try the Nag’s Head for one), but you can find them literally anywhere. You’ll know an English pub by the funny names they’ve got, often related to animals: The Black Horse, The Fox and Hounds, The Red Lion, The Kings Arms… if there is patterned carpet, a juke box and a fruit machine, and one or two old men propping up the bar, you’ve found a traditional English pub.
Check out Brick Lane
Brick Lane even had a book written about it. It’s an East London street with a very arty, alternative vibe. Originally made famous for having more than 90 Indian curry houses on it, it’s evolved into a fashion hub with its own bar scene. Here you can find everything from amateur designer and boutique stores to hookah bars and bagel shops. If you want to try out an awesome curry, this is your street. Preem is a particularly good one.
Soho is an interesting place. Some would call it seedy, some would call it exciting. It certainly has plenty of class, and in Soho, anything goes. There’s a thriving LGBT scene here with lots of bars and shops catering for it, but that’s not all.
Soho lovers are a mixed crowd; the area has some of London’s best restaurants and bars, and you can find West End shows here as well as the famous Chinatown. In Soho you’ll find some of the best people watching opportunities in London.
Walk or cruise along the River Thames
Strolling along the Thames is a great thing to do at any time of year, but especially so in the summer. The Thames Path stretches 294 km from the source of the River Thames in the Cotswolds to the sea.
If you prefer to take a boat trip, that’s also a great option. Underground stations like Embankment and Blackfriars will bring you out to the banks of the Thames where you can find lots of boat tours. Check out the Visit Thames website for more information.
London is one of the best cities in the world for shopping. The main (and most famous) street is Oxford Street (Oxford Circus) with its endless high street stores, and then there is Regent Street with its upmarket department stores set in fabulous architecture.
Covent Garden has lots of designer stores and a lovely relaxed vibe with street performers, markets and cobbled streets. Camden is a vibrant area, but in a more ‘grungy’ way; so head to Camden market with the rockers, indies and alternative minded folk if you like festival clobber, unusual clothing and jewelry.
Explore Hyde Park
Hyde Park is a Grade I-listed major park in Central London, and the biggest of four Royal Parks forming a chain between Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, Hyde Park Corner, Green Park and Buckingham Palace. It’s so vast that you can always find places to relax, even in this busy city. It has lakes and bandstands, and there are huge concerts here all year round too.
Visit the tourist sites
There are so many tourist sites that it would be hard to list them all, but the below are some of London’s ‘must see’ attractions:
- Buckingham Palace (for an insight into the Royal Family and some amazing architecture)
- London Bridge (for sights over the Thames, access to great markets and spooky experiences)
- Big Ben (The iconic clock tower that looms over the city)
- The London eye (for panoramic views of the South Bank and the entire city)
- Trafalgar Square (for amazing architecture, the fountain, and pigeon communities!)
- Madame Tussauds (for amazingly lifelike waxworks of world-famous celebrities)
Where to stay in London
London has a mind-boggling array of options, but it’s certainly not a cheap city. Where you stay will largely depend on your budget. If you prefer to explore some cool localities, check out the Shoreditch area in East London. You will be able to find hotels and hostels in the area, and they’ll be cheaper than in Central London. A nearby budget lodging option is Point A Hotel in Liverpool Street.
If you are able to splash out, you could stay somewhere like the Cumberland Hotel near Hyde Park. The place is phenomenal with its huge, bizarre sculptures in the expanse of foyer and the high-class décor throughout. It oozes luxury, so expect to pay at between £167 and £350 per night.
Best time to go to London
There is never really a bad time to go to London – it really depends on how important weather is to you. The British climate is somewhat unpredictable, but a London summer is a lot of fun.
When the sun is shining over this city, it is teeming with activity and the vibe is high. If that sounds like fun, head over between May and September; July and August are the warmest months.
Christmas in London is also vibrant, with sparkling lights dripping from trees and adorning the city’s architectural masterpieces. Between November and February London is at its coldest, but it can be fun to wrap up in a thick winter jacket and wander the streets.
There is something for everyone in London, and so much to see and do that you would be wise to extend your stay for as long as your schedule allows. Have fun in the big city!