London has to be the most exciting city in the world! It is a fascinating mix of old and new, combined with fantastic food and great shopping. A London vacation gives you a bit of everything. This destination guide will cover the key London attractions, places to see in London, London restaurants and where to visit in London.
London’s Main Attractions
There are SO many things to see in London! 15 years after moving here I am often still a tourist! But, of course, you can’t visit all of them so here are the essentials:
The London Eye
The London Eye is the classic giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames and a key place to see in London. It has a pretty amazing location nearly opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It is open every day apart from. Christmas. Opening times are generally between 1100 and 1800. Of course, your view will be best on a clear day which is a crap shoot in London! I suggest you book tickets before you leave as the Eye regularly sells out and it will get you in a shorter queue.
The British Museum
The British Museum is one of the most prestigious in the world and is particularly known for its ancient Egypt collection. It is also a magnificent building. The museum is open every day from 10 till 1730 and until 2030 on a Friday night. Entry is free – as is the case with many other London Museums.
Tower Bridge is perhaps the most attractive of the many London bridges in its bright blue. And it also still opens up at certain times of the day! These vary by day but you can check them ahead of time on the Tower Bridge website. Whilst in town you can visit the Tower Bridge Experience. There is a fantastic high-level glass walkway that allows you to “walk” across the bridge. Not for those with a fear of heights!
The Tower of London
Conveniently located near Tower Bridge the Tower of London is a classic must do for any trip to London. You can’t leave without seeing the Queen’s crown jewels! It is still the fortress of London and an actual castle. It is open every day from 10 till 1730.
Big Ben is currently silent and alas will be until 2021 – apart from key days like New Year’s Eve. It was possible to walk up Elizabeth tower which houses Big Ben but these tours are also on hold until 2021. You can take a tour of the houses of parliament on a Saturday or on weekdays when Parliament is in recess.
However, none of this will stop you taking photos of this iconic clock – you will get great views from the London Eye or more close up views from underneath the tower when you get out at Westminster tube.
The sight of all key royal weddings and funerals lovely Westminster Abbey is literally next door to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The Abbey is generally open Monday to Saturday all year round. There are different types of tour options and the Abbey is open late on Wednesday nights.
Yes, the home of the Queen! You can only go inside the palace during the summer months of June, July and August as the Queen is then not in residence – make sure you pre-book your tickets!
However, you can see the outside of the Palace of course as well as the changing of the guard all year round. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place at 11am and lasts for 45 minutes. The ceremony is on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all year round and daily during the British summer.
Best Food and Drink
London restaurants have been through a food revolution in the last 10 years. It used to be known for old-fashioned expensive food apart from fish and chips. That has all changed – there is innovation at all price points and in so many areas. London is now one of the most exciting food cities in the world and food is one of the major London attractions. The difficult thing now is how to decide which ones to enjoy!
Borough Market is one of the oldest food markets in London and was made famous by Jamie Oliver. It is unique in that it is frequented by top restauranteurs, locals, and tourists! There are many stalls selling every type of food, wine, cheese etc that you can think of. There are also many restaurants and bars within and around the market. Check out Maria’s if you want a traditional London bacon butty breakfast with the stall holders of the market (you will need to get there early!) and join the queue at Monmouth coffee for the best flat white in town!
When I am asked where to visit in London for a great food experience the Wolseley is my standard response. The Wolseley is a fantastic European restaurant located on Piccadilly just near the Ritz. Where it really comes into its own though is breakfast. This is still the spot in London for breakfast and you will see a complete mix of London’s movers and shakers! It is a fantastic and extensive breakfast menu and the building and interiors are absolutely stunning.
The Churchill Arms
This classic London pub is filled with Winston Churchill memorabilia and a classic London pub feel. It is also very photo friendly outside as it is covered in flowers particularly in the spring and summer. It is also home to a great Thai restaurant. It is a little-known fact that some of London’s best pubs have Thai food restaurants rather than traditional English meals and this is one of the best.
The Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea Party
There are many afternoon teas in London – as you would expect! However, this one is my absolute favorite. It is held at the swish Sanderson Hotel in Soho. The entire area has been decked out to match the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea Party. The level of detail is incredible – every serving card, every display, every menu item – it is like stepping into a storybook! And absolutely delicious!
If you want a classic English roast lunch you cannot beat Hawksmoor on a Sunday. Hawksmoor is renowned for its meat – particularly steak – and its roast dinner. The original restaurant is in east London in Spitalfields and in my opinion, this is still the best. However, if you can’t get in or it isn’t convenient the food will be just as good at one of their other locations. The steaks are also brilliant and the staff always super friendly.
London now has many chain restaurants and cafes. The original one was Wagamama. This communal eating noodle focused restaurant opened in Soho over 20 years ago and was a complete innovation in the London food scene. There are now many imitators and many branches of Wagamamas but you are still guaranteed a quick and tasty decent value Asian meal.
A Brick Lane Curry
The English love their Indian food! The center of Indian food in London is Brick Lane. Indian restaurants line Brick Lane and are flanked by determined sales people flaunting their menus! Brick Lane has gone more upmarket in recent years so you will now find cool cafes mixed in with the traditional Indian eateries. Brick Lane is also renowned for its salt beef bagels – on sale till the early hours of the morning!
Getting Around London
Central London is actually a lot smaller than most people think and the majority of key tourist attractions are quite close to each other and can be visited on foot. London is kind of the opposite of a grid system so it is not super easy to find your way around but there are many signs.
Of course, the key way to get around London is the famous underground train the Tube. The Tube has 11 different lines that cross London and are easily figured out using its iconic map. At peak hour at key stations trains will run literally every 1-2 minutes. At their slowest, on a Sunday they will be every 6-7 minutes.
Several tube lines now run 24 hours a day keeping costs down for getting home after the pub! The night tube runs on Friday and Saturday nights on the Central, Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria and Northern Lines.
London also has several overground train stations. Some of these do run within London but the tube is the main way of getting around. There is also the “orange” line or the relatively knew overground train line that can be a great way to get from east to west London.
You cannot leave London without getting on at least one red bus! You can no longer hop on and off these buses but they are still a great way of getting around that also allow you to see London. And they are very much used by locals.
Despite the launch of Uber the London Black Cab still has a strong business – and better knowledge of the streets of London than anyone else! Just give them a street name and a general area and they will get you there the fastest way possible – and probably have a chat on the way. They are not cheap but you can count this as a London attraction!
The cheapest way to get around London is to get a visitor’s, Oyster Card. You can order this before you leave and pick it up on arrival where you can top it up. This card guarantees you will always get the best rate so you don’t need to worry about what kind of ticket to buy. You can use it on the tube, the overground, buses, DLR, tram – any form of public transport.
The Visitor’s Oyster Card is capped at £6.60 per day if you stay within Zones 1 and 2 (which most tourists will do). By comparison, a standard day travel card is £12.30. And do note that buses in London no longer take cash so you will need some type of card for payment.
Places to stay in London
Figuring out which of the London hotels to stay in can be daunting! There are a lot of London hotels! If possible you should stay in central London or within zone 1 of the tube. This will give you a good easy location for exploring. The key areas where there are many hotels are:
- Paddington/Bayswater: West London and filled with cheaper London hotels
- Kensington: pure west London and some nicer options
- West End: the heart of London and some pricier options
- Southbank: great spot for going out with a more limited pricier hotel selection
- The City: many hotels designed for business travelers
- East London: home of the hippest hotels in London
If you are looking to save on accommodation there are several great “boutique” youth hostel options:
- Hostel Equity Point London in Paddington
- Clink 78 or 261 near Kings Cross: a former courthouse turned youth hostel!
A few middle of the road options:
- DoubleTree Hilton in Chelsea
- Hotel Indigo London in Paddington
Cool new options that are pricier but won’t break the bank:
- The Hoxton in Holborn
- Mondrian Sea Containers on South Bank
If you want to splash out and really be in the most happening of the London Hotels there is no better place than The Ned. The Ned is the latest offering from the Soho House group. It is a fantastic hotel that has about 8 great restaurants and bars in it and one of the most popular spots in London. It is conveniently located near Bank tube in the City.
Don’t miss out on London’s…
Churchill War Rooms
This is number one on my London Attractions list and a very helpful place to help you understand London. The Blitz and WW2 are still very much the backbone of the London spirit – keep calm and carry on. These underground rooms are where Churchill and his cabinet literally ran the war. When the war was over they exited and these rooms were kept exactly as they were and have not been moved since. It is fascinating to see everything from where Churchill slept to the maps where they plotted troop movements to the old telephones. Nearest tube is Westminster.
Street Art has exploded in London in the last 10 years thanks to Banksy and other famous artists. There are now many companies offering street art tours – often combined with your own street art workshop or street food. The key areas for seeing street art have now become important places to see in London. The 2 best in my view are near Old Street and near Brick Lane. Nearest tubes are Old Street or Aldwych East.
Dennis Sever’s House
I have never been anywhere else like Dennis Sever’s House! This extraordinary museum aims to recreate the London life of the 18th century. It essentially seeks to be a time capsule of sorts with authentic furniture, clothes etc from the period. But what really sets it apart is its use of all of your senses. There are smells and sounds in addition to the visuals that make you feel like you have gone back in time – and feel like someone has just left the room as you enter. It is one of my favorite London attractions. Nearest tube is Liverpool Street.
London Things to Know
The number one thing you must know in London is to stand on the right of the escalators in the tube if you are not walking down them. Standing on the left-hand side and not moving is a guarantee that a busy Londoner will briskly ask you to move.
Like all of the UK Londoners love a queue. Never, never, never jump the queue. This is considered the height of rudeness.
There are not many rubbish bins in central London. This is due to terrorism problems in the past. There are now some clear rubbish bags but you may have to carry your coffee cup for some time.
Never, never, never leave your luggage or bag unattended. Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a Londoner like an unattended bag on a tube platform. People will immediately ask loudly whose bag it is and if it is not claimed within 30 seconds authorities will be advised.
Many London restaurants and coffee shops are chains. The majority of them are quite good and perfect for lunch. You can’t go wrong at Pret A Manger, Leon, Eat, Itsu or Wasabi. For coffee check out Café Nero, Pret A Manger again and Costa. The latte in England will be very milky so if you like your coffee stronger order a flat white.
Londoners always carry an oyster card and an umbrella.
There are free newspapers and magazines on offer on the tube. The Metro is the free morning paper and The Evening Standard for the afternoon. Time Out and Stylist are free magazines that come out on a Tuesday. The Evening Standard free magazine is on offer Thursdays and Fridays.
Many of hottest London restaurants don’t take reservations which can be frustrating – but see the above regarding a queue! Most are near a pub though so you can take shelter with a pint!
At peak hour in particular Londoners do not speak on public transport. Most are travelling on their own to and from work and like the silence. Loud conversations are not appreciated. However outside of that Londoners will be very helpful with providing assistance on where things are, which tube line to get on etc.
The Boutique Adventurer was started by Amanda O’Brien in November 2016. Amanda spent over 15 years working for big global companies in marketing. During that time she took every possible day of holidays and managed to visit over 70 countries with her beloved Nikon DSLR in hand. Her blog focusses on luxury adventures in emerging destinations that end with a high thread count on the sheets in the evening.
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