London Travel: A Guide To One Of The World’s Most Vibrant Cities
Diverse, vibrant and steeped in history, London is truly a megalopolis of ideas, people and frenzied energy. Full of iconic landmarks and mesmerizing sights, the capital of the United Kingdom is also a melting pot of world-class attractions, multi-cultural vibe, Michelin-star restaurants, street markets, five-star hotels and theaters. Deemed as one the leading global cities in the world, London is an international capital of trade, fashion, education, music and culture, making it an irresistible destination for casual tourists and backpackers alike.
Planning a trip to London can be rather overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors. After all, it is the largest and most populous city in the United Kingdom as well as the most visited destination in the world. Fortunately, though, you can make your travel planning a lot simpler and easier on your end by checking out this London travel guide.
Why visit London
London is a sprawling and colorful city where modernity clasps hands with the antiquated. You will find the avant-garde Tate Modern and the historic Tower of London both deemed as big must-see London attractions. The legendary sonnets of Shakespeare are still being articulated by talented actors who don contemporary garb. Londoners still respect and admire the royals, but they jam to the likes of Adele and Arctic Monkeys as well. And though they have retained their tea traditions, Londoners now make room for pressed juice and some Starbucks as well.
A pacesetter in everything from music and fashion to banking and politics, the culture compass of London, UK is everlastingly attuned to what is next. And as far as I’m concerned, London is the NYC, DC and LA of Britain.
London is also to some of the world’s famous landmarks. From the Big Ben and the House of Parliament to the Buckingham Palace, England’s capital is brimming with gorgeous sights and notable landmarks that will give you an urge to snap hundreds of photographs. What’s more, it dotted with internationally renowned galleries and museums, many of which can be accessed for free.
Language and currency
Although England is the birthplace of the English language, you still need to study up on the city’s local lingo, to avoid being lost in transportation. The English dialect of England includes a lot of words not used in the United States.
Here are a few British slang words and expressions that may come in handy during your London trip:
- Ta – it basically means “thank you”
- Cheerio – a friendly way of saying goodbye
- Have a good one – good luck or be safe
- Take it easy – look after yourself
- Knees up – have a good time
- Budge up – make some room or move over
- Get stuffed – no chance
- Bomb – really fast, well or expensive
- Bloody – used to emphasize almost everything
- Not my cup of tea – not to my liking
- Blinding – amazing or fantastic
- Fit – attractive or good looking
- Donkey’s years – a very time
The official currency of London is the British Pound (GBP). Since the US dollar to pound exchange rate constantly fluctuates, make sure to check what the most recent exchange rate is, before leaving.
When to visit London
The best time to visit England’s capital is during springtime, when the weather is mild and the city’s parks are blooming and green. But, late spring and summer are prime tourist seasons too, and prices for flights and hotels reflect the surge.
You are more likely find affordable accommodation and airfare deals in winter and fall, though you will encounter chilly temperatures as well. London is a super popular destination during the holiday season, so expect the streets of the city to be crowded with both international and English tourists in December.
Also, keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to escape the crowds in this dynamic European hub. Not only it is one of the biggest European cities, but it is also one of the world’s popular cities to visit. So, no matter what time of the year you visit London, you are bound to run into flocks of tourists.
Do I need a visa to enter London?
Swiss, EEA and EU citizens are not required to secure a visa, and can enter the United Kingdom with either a valid passport or identity card. They also have the right to work and reside in the United Kingdom. Maltese, Cypriot and Irish citizens have additional rights, such as being able to stand in and vote in the UK Parliamentary elections.
Citizens of the countries listed below can enter the city with only their passports. They are also not required to secure a visa, unless their visit goes beyond 6 months.
|Andorra||Costa Rica||Malaysia||Panama||St. Helena|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Dominica||Maldives||Papua New Guinea||Taiwan|
|Argentina||East Timor||Marshall Islands||Paraguay||Tonga|
|Australia||El Salvador||Mauritius||Pitcairn Islands||Trinidad and Tobago|
|Bahamas||Falkland Islands||Mexico||Saint Kitts and Nevis||Tristan da Cunha|
|Barbados||Grenada||Micronesia||Saint Vincent and the Grenadine||Tuvalu|
|Belize||Guatemala||Monaco||Samoa||Turks and Caicos Islands|
|Botswana||Hong Kong||Namibia||Seychelles||United States|
|British Virgin Islands||Japan||New Zealand||South Korea||Vatican City|
How to get there
London has four airports – the London Lutton, London Stansted, London Gatwick and London Heathrow (the busiest airport in the world) – that connect the city to a myriad of places and cities all over the world.
London, as the hub of the road network in the United Kingdom, is pretty easy to reach by car. Greater London is enveloped by the M25 Orbital Motorway, which has major trunk routes to Wales, Scotland as well as the rest of England radiate.
Each major city in Britain mainland has a regular train service to London, and most of the large towns as well as smaller provincial cities have also direct rail connection to the capital of some sort. However, the quality and frequency of service can considerably vary from place to place. Check out this Rail Travel guide in the United Kingdom for more information.
Coach (Bus in the United States)
Most domestic and international long-distance coach service depart from and arrive at a complex of stations off Westminster’s Buckingham Palace Road, which is near London Victoria rail station.
How to get around
The best way to get around the city is through it super-fast London Underground, or also called as “the Tube”. Not only is it easy to use, but it also has extensive routes throughout London as well as its neighboring counties. We recommended that you purchase an Oyster card, if you opt to prefer to take this means of transportation in London. Even if you won’t be using the transit throughout your entire visit, buying an Oyster card will always be cheaper than buying a single-fare tickets.
The infamous black cabs of London can be found all over the metropolis as well as in designated lines at hotels, airports and busy train stations. Keep in mind that when hailing a cab on the street, an illuminated taxi sign means it is available. Taxis in the city are metered, and the minimum fee for a ride is 2.40 pounds. You can pay your ride with cash, but there are many cabs that accept credit cards (with a surcharge).
One of the cheapest ways to get around the city, as a tourist, is through the London Underground. With an Oyster Card, you only have to spend 1.50 pound on the Underground per journey. You are, however, going to miss out on the scenic London sights with this option since you will be traveling underground.
Think twice before renting or hiring a car in London. For American travelers, take note that the people in London drive on the left side. The cars are, for the most part, manual because automatics cost more. Moreover, park and traffic are bloody awful, and gas (or petrol) comes at a steep price.
There are bike rentals available in East and Central London. You will need a credit or debit card with your PIN, in order to rent one.
Other things to keep in mind
London map – The city is big and diverse, so bringing a London tourist map will really come in handy. Alternatively, you can use apps like Google Maps to help you navigate through the city.
London timezone – Greenwich Mean Time Zone UTC 00:00
Bring an umbrella – No matter when you visit it, don’t forget to bring an umbrella. The city of London is known for experiencing showers and misty days year-round.
Electric – Three-prong plug (Type G)
Top things to do in London
Visit the British Museum
One of the top free attractions in London, and considered by many as its best museum, the British Museum is truly an architectural beauty, and a spectacular trove of some of the most noted antiquities in the world. From the Lindow Man and Elgin Marbles to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is a nirvana for history buffs, containing millions of artifacts from around the world. The museum’s immense collection can make your initial visit rather overwhelming. I suggest that you pick the exhibits that interest you the most, and plan a return visit if you feel inclined.
See Tower of London
While its exterior may look unimpressive and grim, the interior of Tower of London is always buzzing with activity. Here, you can gaze at the Crown Jewels exhibition, enjoy a fabulous view of the Tower Bridge, and snap a selfie with a guard. Admission is 24.50
Swing by Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace – the home of Queen Elizabeth II in London, is open for tours during summertime, except of course for the queen’s private quarters. With this royal tour, you’ll get access to the palace’s 19 State Rooms wherein her royal majesty and the other royal family members host guests for official, ceremonial and state affairs.
Accented opulently with exquisite French and English furniture, paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt, candelabra and chandeliers, these stately rooms display some of the Royal Collection’s most magnificent pieces. Also, a visit here gives you an opportunity to catch the world-famous changing of the guard, which is by far a fine example of British pageantry.
Experience a walking tour in London for free
Experience the city from a local’s perspective by taking a free London sightseeing and walking tour. Not only will it give you some interesting facts about the city, but it also let you take in a plethora of mesmerizing London sights, including the Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament and the Trafalgar Square. Plus, it will take you to the city’s hidden treasures and unsung sights.
Take a Thames River Cruise
See the city from a completely different perspective by taking a fun Tames River Cruise trip. With this cruise ride, you’ll get a unique view of London from the river as well as spot all its iconic landmarks, such as the O2, London Eye, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. From Westminster to Greenwich, this cruise lets you meander through the heart of the city and see all the top London sights along the way.
See Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a striking gothic church that sits grandly behind the Houses of Parliament. A lot of famous names are part of Westminster Abbey’s history, from poets and scientists to aristocrats. In fact, it was the church where Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot in 2011. To me, Westminster Abbey has got to be one of the city’s most important landmarks and top attractions.
Visit Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is one of the most beloved palaces in London, and was once the residence of King Henry VIII. An impressive and sprawling building, Hampton Court Palace beckons travelers with its world renowned hedge maze, stunning gardens and the sole surviving Royal kitchen, which dates back to the 1600s.
Experience ZSL London Zoo with the family
Looking for fun things to do in London with the entire family? Then, pay a visit to the ZSL London Zoo – the oldest scientific zoo in the world, and home to a broad range of animals, including lemurs, lions, meerkats, otters, pygmy hippos, Galapagos Tortoises, and a whole lot more.
Take in the sights at Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is, in many ways, the heart of London. And there’s no cost attached to spending a few hours and enjoying views of its well-known landmarks here, like Nelson’s Column. Tons of people roam around and hang out in this square, making it a great place to do people-watching.
Where to sleep in London
There is no shortage of hotels in London. Although it’s a pretty expensive city in global terms, those who are traveling on a budget have plenty of options, when it comes to hotels in London.
Cheap accommodations in London
- Tune Hotel Westminster
- Hampstead Guest House
- Hoxton Hotel
- The Zetter
- The Soho Hotel
Luxury hotels in London
- The Ritz
- The Dorchester
- The Savoy
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