Everyone always asks about London. I get it. It’s cool.
While I don’t live in the city, it’s a great place to start if you plan on visiting England. It can be quite a challenge fitting in as much as you can during your trip so below are some starting points to help your visit to London! These tend to be the most common activities if you want to see the main stuff in the city.
Getting around the city is pretty easy, thanks to the Underground. If you’re going to be in the city for more than a day or two, I would suggest getting a Tube pass (like a Visitor Oyster Card) rather than the pay-as-you-go options. The Tube will take you anywhere. Seriously. But don’t spend all your holiday underground since you miss so much of the streets, shops and sights. Also be aware that during rush hour, the tube is absolutely packed and you’ll be squished in like sardines. The buses are also great but you cannot pay with cash, it has to be a Oyster Card, contactless card or a pre-bought bus fare.
If you’re flying in, the Gatwick Express from Gatwick Airport is an easy (although expensive) way to get into the heart of the city, or take the Tube from Heathrow.
There is a pub on every corner, little shops on every street and enough restaurants to keep you busy for years. Once you’ve picked a hotel/hostel to stay, I would research local places for grub nearby so you always have a back up. The dinner chains you might know are Pizza Express, Nandos, Frankie & Benny’s, Café Nero for the morning coffee or EAT or Pret A Manger for a quick lunch. You’ll find them pretty much everywhere but please avoid McDonalds!
When I’ve stayed in the city, I’ve always done hostels. It’s a great way to save money when you’ve just shelled out lots for plane tickets. If you’re worried about sleeping in a room with 20 others, it might be worth paying slightly more and getting a private room. Do some research about where you’d like to be as it’s a big city but luckily there’s tons of options. If you’re staying for longer, you might want to use AirBnB for accommodations instead.
Free Attractions – Museums
I always vow to pay as little as possible for attractions, which is totally possible. Museums, except special exhibitions, are free. Hallelujah!
British Museum – Incredible! You can spend days wandering around and it has some extensive collections, including the Rosetta Stone.
V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) – A really lovely building in a beautiful neighbourhood! Here you’ll see ceramics, textiles, sculpture, paintings, jewelry and such. It houses one of the oldest and most ornate rugs in the world (it’s cooler than it sounds).
Natural History Museum – What you’d expect to find in a museum like this: animals, skeletons, precious gems, bugs and dinosaurs. I found this museum aimed at children but still a fun afternoon. Cool tidbit: the first adult Neanderthal cranium ever discovered is shown here.
National Gallery – Lots and lots of art. Located in the heart of Trafalgar Square, there’s around 2,000 pieces of art from just about every style. Here you’ll see some Monet and Van Gogh.
Tate Britain – If you’re still looking for more art, this one is a great place to head. It’s smaller but holds some great pieces.
Tate Modern – Housed in a weird giant building on the Thames, the art you’ll find here is very out of the box. A massive museum with something different than your usual paintings.
Science Museum – This is the only one listed that I haven’t had a chance to see but I’ve heard some great things! Lots of exhibits about space, medicine and technology.
Free Attractions – Other
Aside from museums, there’s tons to see in the city without braking the bank.
Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard – When you wake up and it’s a nice day outside, make sure to plan this in! The crowds are usually quite big and full of tourists so be wary of pickpocketing. While you’re in the area, there’s tons of beautiful green spaces to explore, like Hyde Park and St. James’s Park.
Outside Parliament & Big Ben – Walking over the Thames River gets you a great view of the Parliament buildings, Big Ben and the London Eye. The architecture is incredible.
Tower Bridge – Often called “London Bridge”, Tower Bridge is
probably the one you’re imagining. Lovely shots along the river. If you want to pay for it, you can do the “glass floor” exhibition in the bridge.
Borough Market – Although it’s insanely busy, make sure to check out the market if you’re in town while it’s running. So much food!!!!
Neighbourhoods – Similar to NYC, London has tons of unique neighbourhoods around the city. Just take a walk! Travel through Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, Soho, the West End, Kensington or Spitalfields to name a few. Bring decent walking shoes!
Attractions – Paid
If budgeting isn’t an issue, there’s tons of activities that will cost you.
The London Eye – I’ve never done it myself since I avoid line-ups and expensive entry fees like the plague, but you should be get able get some beautiful views of the city on the nice day.
Sea Life London Aquarium – Right outside the London Eye is the Sea Life Aquarium. Great option if you’re stuck indoors on a rainy day (it happens!)
Tower of London – Great spot along the river with views of Tower Bridge, the Tower was founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror. You’ll learn stories of all those convicted of treason who were kept there along with the 22 executions taken place on the grounds. Also, crown jewels!
Clink Prison Museum – Currently on my To-Do list, the Clink Prison is one of the oldest and most notorious prisons. The museum is built on the same site, dating back to 1144.
Churches & Cathedrals
St. Paul’s Cathedral – I absolutely love this place and was able to find discounted tickets online as it can be expensive (look around, you might find something online, too!) Here you can walk up to the Whispering Gallery then continue on to the roof of the building. Great shots of London on a nice day! While you’re here, take a walk across the Millennium Bridge over the Thames.
Southwark Cathedral – Unfortunately this one has burned down a few times but the current building was done in 1106. Check out the nearby Borough Market while you’re here!
Westminster Abbey – Definitely visit but tickets can be expensive. However
it’s free to attend church service, which is what I did. Although I couldn’t explore the building, I sat in the pews during Evensong and listened to the choir and church service which was a really special experience.
Temple Church – Built by the Knights Templar around 1185, it’s one of the oldest buildings in London and right along the river.
While this is only a very small list, hopefully it helps planning your new adventure!