Guide to London
London’s history has always been a fascinating one. From exploring famous landmarks (no need for introduction), to the hidden gems, places to eat and sleep, London has it all. Every time visitors come to London they always say there’s always something new to explore. Find out below.
LONDON TRAVEL GUIDE
Maybe I’ve said it a thousand times on this website. One way to describe London is its richness in culture and tourism. There are so many things to do and so little time. You’d think just because it’s an island, you’d cover every nooks and cranny that London has to offer. Nope. Just as you think you covered the best parts of London, on your last day, you wished you could have had more time in a particular area. Everywhere you turn, there’s always something quirky, unique, and different. That’s why I’m quite lucky to be living here and you could be lucky too if you plan ahead and read this post.
This post doesn’t just cover facts and figures of London, it also covers what people don’t tell you about London. Have you ever thought of visiting a place and when you get there, it’s not what you thought it was? Well, this guide will tell you that.
Click on the photos below to find out more on the subject.
How much does an average trip to London cost?
An average cost to travel to London for 4 days is £750 ($1,000USD) for a solo traveller, £1,400 for couples ($1,800USD), and £1,800 ($2,500USD) for a family of 4. London hotels cost around £40 – £50 to £260 per night and an average of £110. You can also find cheap hostels for around £10 ($15) – £15 ($20) per person, per night.
Is 4 days enough for London?
On average, people usually spend 4 days in London if they want to visit all the famous attractions. It may not be enough to visit the hidden gems, considering most attractions take 1 – 2 hours to enter. All the major attractions get busy during the day so every website will advise to get to all the attractions early as possible. Just prioritise what you want to see and do first. If you want to visit the hidden gems, go further out of Central London, or go on a day trip, spend 7 days in London. Click for 4 days in London itinerary.
If you don’t want to spend money to go inside all the attractions, as an alternative, visit my Free Attractions Guide.
Alternatively, spend some time visiting free museums and galleries such as the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and many others, which is included in this itinerary. Visit my Museums and Galleries guide for information on free museums and galleries.
How to navigate around London: The Perfect Local’s Guide to London
How can a small island like the UK colonise so many countries around the world, and spread the English language as an international language? This guide to London doesn’t just cover facts and figures, it covers insider’s tips and the realities of visiting London from a local. Have you ever thought of visiting a place and when you get there, it’s not what you thought it was? Well, this post is right for you.
Maybe I’ve said it a thousand times. One way to describe London is its richness in culture and tourism. There are so many things to do and see in so little time. You’d think just because it’s an island, you’d cover every nooks and cranny that London has to offer. Nope. Just as you think you covered the best parts of London, on your last day, you wished you could have had more time in a particular area. Everywhere you turn, there’s always something quirky, unique, and different. That’s why I’m quite lucky to be living here and you could be lucky too if you plan and read this post.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
So, you think you know London? People go on about how London is a cosmopolitan country with so many things to do and see, and little time. Before you book your hotel overlooking the River Thames, make sure you read up on the realities of visiting us. What if there’s an emergency? Do you know the different numbers to call? What’s the difference between calling 999 and 111? Is it convenient to use buses, the tube, the train, or just walk?
Londoners are avid walkers. Everyone walks from A to B, if not, they use the tube or the bus, and to get around Central London, they avoid the black taxis waiting by the street corners. Are you okay with walking around? What do you want to do after you checked into your hotel? What areas are great for children of 5 years or under? Teenagers? Consider that most attractions take one to three hours, like the Tower of London Wardour Tour. You won’t have time to visit everything in one day. What about the Southbank area? There are more than 10 attractions to see that takes an hour each to visit, you’d have to save two days to visit all of them.
Paying in shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and public transport
As everyone knows, we have left the EU, so London may do things differently from the rest of the European countries. Our currency is Pound Sterling, so make sure to shop around for currency exchange deals.
London’s technology is quite advanced compared to its European counterparts. In 2020, we are able to pay with our phones by downloading the Google Pay App. We also have a contactless card where we won’t have to sign or put in our chip and pin, we just have to tap it on the payment system.
Since COVID-19, some large estbalished pubs and restaurants allow you to pay and order at the table, so you won’t have to wait any longer for the waiters’ attention. Not all pubs and restaurants have this service. It’s still a new thing. Trust me, pubs and restaurants can be busy unless you go to local British cafes outside of Central London, where locals live, they still don’t have the pay and order at the table service yet.
As for using public transport, bus drivers don’t really accept cash anymore, and you can’t buy your tickets on the buses. It’s very rare for people to do that, especially the locals. Just top up your Oyster Card or Contactless payment in the local newsagents (corner shop) that has the Oyster Card sticker on their windows, or top-up at the station, and you’re good to go.
The first thing you should do is get an Oyster Card at the nearest newsagents or corner shop and major train stations. This guide to London is not complete if you don’t know anything about the Oyster Card. You pay £5 for the Oyster Card but can redeem it back along with any spare top-ups unused. For example, if you had £10 left on your Oyster Card, you’d get that refunded back before you leave London.
When jumping on the bus, drivers don’t usually take cash payments anymore to buy a ticket. You either pay with your Oyster Card, Contactless debit card, or Google Pay on your phone.
London is quite advanced when it comes to technology compared to other European countries. I guess it goes back to the Industrial Revolution. Read up on it 😊.
Getting around by bus can be a nightmare, although convenient. It’s because traffic mainly from Central London go in and out of North, East, South, and West London all the time, not to mention other people like to squeeze past you to get on. Several tube lines can be quiet, like the Bakerloo Line compared to the busy Central Line. The Central Line is always busy because it runs into the centre from east to west and business commuters and tourists get on this line at the same time. Avoid the tubes if you feel claustrophobic, not everyone is a fan of the tube.
Make sure you download WhatsApp on your phone. Many restaurants, bars, pubs, and hotels offer free wi-fi. It depends on whether the location has a good signal and the quality of your phone too 😊. The internet connection in London is usually great.
I’m not a tech-savvy person, but if you run into any problems, visit Carphone Warehouse, they’ll be more than happy to assist you.
Where are the safest areas to stay? Use your common sense. A lot of rough areas have had a bad reputation because of its crime history, but now, the rough areas are impoverished, messy and grubby more than dangerous. Read the 5 Safety Tip in London for more information.
Children are welcome in many pubs. Check what time they’re able to stay and which pubs allow children under 18 years. Always bring ID with you if you’re young and want to buy alcohol. In the UK, we have a challenge 25, if you look between the ages of 18 – 25, then, they’re going to ask for ID. Most places are extremely strict here.
GUIDE TO LONDON: ESSENTIAL BRITISH ETTIQUETTES
Locals will appreciate you more when you speak English because if you want to blend in with us, you must try and learn a few etiquettes. Even when you say, “thank you” and “please” will go a long way.
When asking for directions, always start with a question. “Which direction is it to the nearest bus stop, please? Thank you!!!
Always ask with a question “Can I have a pint of beer, please? Thank you!!!”
We usually say “sorry?” when we didn’t hear a word the other person is saying. We’re apologising because we didn’t hear what that person said.
We have a very polite culture here, and everyone is nice and will help you when you need help…especially when it comes to directions.
You don’t have to try and sound British, just be yourself, but keywords are “Please” and “Thank You”.
Try to speak to the locals in English.
Handshakes are common among those who just met, but don’t shake hands to waiters, passers-by, or transport for London staff. It will look awkward.
Between close friends and family, we usually hug them when we greet them.
Always stand on the right on the escalators and walk on the left. We tend to get annoyed when people don’t follow rules here.
Lunch is between 12 pm – 3 pm. Dinner is between 6pm – 8pm. A lot of people drink wine and beer after dinner and get drunk, especially during the weekends.
Click for more information on London for First Time Visitors.
Bruce Castle Museum
North London consists of Barnet, Haringey, and Enfield. You will often hear trains, buses and the honking of vehicles driving by as Asian and Afro-Caribbean shopkeepers sell their goods, from food and drink, fish, and vegetable markets. It’s an easy commute to Central London and you can feel the busy urban and multicultural life in London. North London is also a great starting point for day trips to some English country sides like Hertfordshire, north of Barnet. Places like Colney Health, Preston, Braughing and Cottered in Hertfordshire are all beautiful. When COVID-19 is over, I’ll make sure to post more on these places.
If you stay south of Barnet and South West of Haringey, you can start your day from Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, or Westminster.
Although not in the major top 10 attractions, Haringey has many things to do for all ages. The peaceful Bruce Castle Museum is something different from the top busy London museums. The museum consists of oil, watercolour, and acrylic paintings of North London in the 18th – 19th Century, London screen archives and many more. Other than Bruce Castle Museum, you can visit Alexander Palace and Park and enjoy 186 acres of greenery with deer enclosure and a great view of London.
Other places to look out for
Why not head over to Tottenham Green Market and experience authentic British food market, from homemade bread, cheese, and cakes and you’ll see how locals live. You’ll feel the crowd and the buzz of British life here. Not enough?
After COVID, I would love to write a review on this. Be patient!
Experience the outdoor swimming in Park Road Lido during the summer located in Crouch End or swim in the public lake at Hampstead Heath with the wildlife.
As for British pubs, The King’s Head and Beavertown Brewery are great places to have fish and chips and traditional British pies.
Hampstead Heath is a quiet rural area in an urban city. It’s a great location to get away from the busy Central London. After COVID is over, I’ll write a post on Hampstead Heath and its surrounding areas.
Alexander Park and Alexander Palace are beautiful all year round. Although people don’t sit on the grass in winter as they do in summer, they use Alexander Park to jog or take their dogs for a walk. Like many places in London, there are many event happenings in Alexander Park, and you can also see a great view of industrial London at the top of the park. Visit their website to get a sneak peak of what Alexander Park and Palace looks like. The park and palace is exactly what it says on the website.
Like North London, East of London is very multicultural, and you would often hear trains, buses, and cars driving past. Although many people have defined East London as poor, grubby, and impoverished, it’s conveniently accessible to great attractions in London. There are more upcoming trendy bars and restaurants for the young and the fashionable. If you stay around Newham and Waltham Forest, you can easily start your day in the Tower Hamlets and City & Hackney. Further out of East London, you’ll be experiencing residential areas like Redbridge, Barking, Dagenham, and Havering.
If you want to visit Essex, you can commute there from East London, through Havering or Dagenham. I’ll post more on Essex once COVID restrictions have been lifted. Essex has always been a great rural living for Central London commuters, with easy access to Liverpool Street. Places like Clacton-on-Sea, Southend-on-Sea, Epping, and Chelmsford are great areas to visit.
Aside from great access to Central London, there are several attractions in the Borough of Newham and easy access on the DLR to City Airport. You can hop on the cable car above an outdoor swimming pool or slide the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a 114.5 metre spiral slide (if you’re brave enough) down to the ground for 40 seconds. Aside from the slide, you can see views of London from the top, from The Shard, The Gherkin, The Olympic Park, 20 miles away, and many more. This attraction is a great day out with the kids.
Although the slide was amazing, in my opinion, £10 for adults and £5 for children just for a 40-second slide and a view of London is quite expensive. It’s better to pay more and get more value for money like the Shard and Sky Garden.
There are many local parks around Newham, but I suggest visiting these parks a day before you go home or after you checked in at your hotel for a leisurely walk and relax after a tiring trip to Central London or from a long plane journey.
Check out West Ham Park, the free Newham City Farm, great for the kids, and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, situated near the ArcelorMittal Orbit and London Stadium, where the Olympics 2012 was held. If you’re interested in the Olympics, you can go on a guided tour of the stadium. Now, these parks near here are ghosts of the Olympic past, but other than that, these are secondary attractions that can be missed and something to do if you have spare time.
- God’s Own Junk Yard
Located in Walthamstow, East London, God’s Own Junk Yard is one of London’s hidden gems and offers multi coloured neon art gallery. Where it’s located, it’s not the best area in London and when I visited, I went past the place. Easily missed! Some of the items include a multi coloured neon arrow pointing downwards with bulbs around the edges. The bright neon “Laughter” lit in the middle of the arrow. Why not see the British Union Jack flag brightly lit in red and blue neon lights? Or see a bright neon Santa next to his sleigh with his red and white costume? The creator, Chris Bracey, has worked with Vivienne Westwood’s store to install neon lights for her store front, David La Chapelle, and Selfridges in the past. There’s hundreds more to choose from. If you have a retail fashion store, a bar or night club, ask in store for details. Just imagine being a neon bar with bright multi-coloured lights surrounding you. Enjoy cakes and coffees and spend at least an hour here.
Compared to North and East London, South London is more peaceful. It’s also easily accessible to Central London. There aren’t many tourists in South London, although there are many secondary attractions you can visit. Here are some areas that are worth reading.
Croydon has great transportation links to Central London, you can find many accommodations and places to get your essentials like supermarkets, restaurants, and bars, as well as the Box Park, a food and beverage outlet holding many live events such as the World Cup and Rugby, situated near the train station. Croydon is a great spot for tourists who don’t want to stay in Central London, although you’ll be spending more money on transport when you top up your Oyster Card. Croydon is conveniently located because you can get to London Bridge and Gatwick in less than half an hour. The downside is that there are no tube lines that go to Croydon and not many attractions worth the visit since its location is mainly for business people to commute in and out of Central London. Read my post on things to do in Croydon.
Greenwich’s location is better than Croydon. It has great transportation links to Central London with the DLR and tube lines. It also has a great view of Canary Wharf, the River Thames, and Greenwich Park, a great day out with the kids.
You can spend a whole day or two days in Greenwich because there are so many attractions worth visiting. For example, the Cutty Sark Clipper Ship travelled around the world selling teas from China and wool from Australia. You can hear audio actors acting as sailors and captains talking about their experiences in the ship, the long and treacherous journey through the ocean, the sickness they had to endure, and how they survived really captured my imaginations. Although the entry price was quite expensive at just £17.50 for adults in 2019, the tour takes around 40 to 1 hour to visit. Prices may change, so check out their website for more details.
The Queen’s House
You can also visit The Queen’s House, a resident of one of the minor royal families during the 15th to the 16th Century. The famous spiral staircase and the Great Hall are worth the visit. I’ll post more on the Queen’s House after the COVID restriction eases.
Did you ever think about how a small country island like England is able to colonise so many countries around the world? It’s because of the Royal Navy, the English Channel prevented attacks from enemies accessing the UK. We are an island after all, and the British were able to attack their enemies using naval ships wherever possible since we had the best compared to our European counterparts. Therefore it’s a great chance to visit the Maritime Museum.
The Maritime Museum is just around the corner and it consists of many maritime artifacts and treasures dating back to the 18th Century. Find out more about Lord Horatio Nelson, a Naval Officer, and his team where they sailed around the world to fight against the French Napoleonic War.
This museum is free to enter but spend no more than 1 hour here. Other attractions include the Planetarium and learn about the Greenwich Mean Time, the Meridien Line where East meets West. The tour can last up to 2 – 3 hours.
You also have Greenwich Park of course where you can spend a whole day just walking your dog, relaxing on the grass, see the view of Greenwich, Bank and Canary Wharf from the top of the hill as well as the many Tudor and Victorian houses that surround the park. Click for my guest post for Food Wine Sunshine on Things to do in Greenwich.
Richmond Upon Thames
If you love rural villages in London, visit Richmond Upon Thames. It’s an area not to be missed. Located in South West London, further away from Central London compared to Greenwich and Croydon, you’ll feel at peace if you want to get away from the busy city life. If you can rent a car for the day, you’ll see beautiful English villages along the way, otherwise, take the District and Circle Line to Richmond on the tube.
One of the 8 royal parks of London, Richmond Park is beautiful if you take the car because you’ll get to experience 2,500 acres of woodland, greenery, and wild deer as you drive by. You can also park your car and walk, enjoy the breeze and the birds chirping. You can easily get lost here. As you go further up the hill, you will see the view of the River Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Check out Richmond Park for more details on different attractions to see.
Drive or walk to Downe House, 116 Richmond Hill where Mick Jagger used to live with his then-wife Jerry Hall in the 1990s.
The village of Richmond is also not to be missed. In contrast to Central London, the village has a rural feel to it. With rows of small quirky upmarket high street shops and cobbled streets, pubs, bars, and clubs by the river, you’ll feel at peace and there aren’t many tourists here. A few miles from Kew Gardens, Richmond upon Thames is by far the best place to get away from city life.
West London is like the North and East London. You can feel the multicultural vibe to the area. With South Eastern and Oriental Asian shops, restaurants and the Indian and Pakistani community, West London is also conveniently located near Central London. The community in West London comes together culturally and people will treat you like equals. One minute you’ll be in the richest area of West London, and the next minute, you’ll be in the grubbiest part.
Posh, pretentious, and clean are what describes some of the areas in West London. Places like Chiswick and Acton will have a quiet urban British atmosphere, and some areas of West London have become trendy with upcoming bars, restaurants, and pubs in every corner. Like Croydon, Ealing is a great location to buy your essentials if you stay near Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre and it’s also accessible to Heathrow Airport, alongside Hounslow. Although Hounslow can be a little grubby, it’s one of the areas you’ll see when you step out of Heathrow Airport.
Check out Gunnersbury Park between Ealing and Hounslow and PM Gallery and House, a contemporary art gallery like Tate Modern. Gunnersbury Park has less visitors compared to Tate Modern, but if you want to get away from the big top 5 museums like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, then Gunnersbury Park is the one to visit. You’ll also learn about Sir John Soane, the architect who bought and designed the PM Gallery in the 19th Century. Once COVID restrictions has been lifted, I’ll post a review of this gallery.
Other attractions include London Transport Museum Depot for transportation lovers, Walpole Park for day outs with the kids, and The Rose and Crown pub and The Duke of Kent for traditional fish and chips.
London on a budget
London is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and there’s so many things to see and do with so little time. However, if you’re on a budget, there are so many free attractions that worth the visit, including the hidden gems, a guest post I did for Eternal Arrival, the West End walk has all the top 10 free attractions worth visit, the top 8 free museums, the 8 Royal parks of London, several British markets selling vintage, retro and food and drinks. Aside from going on the London Eye, Sea Life, London Dungeon and Shrek Adventures, which you have to pay, there are many free things you can do in the Southbank, click for more infomration on things to do in the Southbank, Sky Garden, and the view of The Shard.
There are also many places where you can eat and where to stay on a budget. If you want to save on public transport, check out the TfL website for many ways you can save money according to your budget. The London Pass also gives you many benefits with the Oyster Card.
If you plan and know how to save without spending a lot, your trip could be worthwhile. Click each attraction, where to eat and how to use public transport to find out more. If you can’t click on some of the attractions, that means I haven’t had a chance to review it because of COVID. Be patient!!!
Restaurants, bars, and pubs
Coppa Club Tower Bridge
Coppa Club Tower Bridge Restaurant
Coppa Club Tower Bridge Restaurant is located opposite The Shard. 5 clear igloos surrounded by green plants sits overlooking the River Thames and they look even better and larger in the naked eye than in photos.
Opened in 2016 in London, Coppa Club has been a popular visit for locals and tourists, and it has been a top recommendation from travel articles around London.
Coppa Club Tower Bridge restaurant serves general European/Italian dishes including pizza, pasta, salad, wines, and cocktails. On the website it says they provide an undisturbed working environment but during dinner it was super busy. Maybe during the afternoon, it is quiet. Better check it out during the day.
Click the Coppa Club Tower Bridge Restaurant link for more details on my experience.
Vapiano’s Italian Restaurant is always busy, and the line can be long with up to a 10-minute wait. The way it works is you arrive at the restaurant, each section is categorised by different Italian dishes; pasta, or pizza. You take a tray and cutleries with you and line up. There are as many as 10 chefs cooking behind a hot frying pan in heat while you wait and you can usually smell the strong garlic, herbs, and spices. You can hear the sizzling of the frying pan and crowds of people talking among themselves. Although the restaurant can be cramped, the dishes are what matters. Go to the first floor for a quieter area if you’re lucky! Usually upstairs is always half full, and downstairs will be packed.
Depending on which restaurant you visit, the menus include antipasti and soup which consists of tomato soup with Italian hard cheese, croutons, as well as fresh strawberries. Pastas include campanelle, spaghetti (of course), fusilli, linguine, penne, tagliatelle, the brown spelt spaghetti, spelt fusilli, and zoodles. My recommendation is the Salmone which consists of hot fillet salmon, white wine, creme, creme fraiche, cherry tomatoes and rocket salad.
Other dishes include a selection of pizza, insalata, risotto, and dolci (desserts) and you can order hot and cold alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at the bar. The team will always give you a 5-star service.
The Moon and Stars Gastro Pub
Situated in Leicester Square, The Moon and Stars Gastro Pub is always busy with people. When you want to order food in the pub, you’d have to order at the bar with your drinks. The Moon and Stars Gastro Pub is under Wetherspoons franchise and Wetherspoons don’t offer table service, although some pubs under different franchises do. Since the Moon and Star Gastropub is quite busy, you may have to get there once it opens just after breakfast or during brunch for fish and chips.
The pub looks small from the outside, but as you step inside, you’ll see how long and big it is. You can feel the British 19th Century atmosphere and this pub is ideal for pre-theatre dinner in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Basil and Grape in Croydon Surrey
Basil and Grape is an Italian Wine Bar and Restaurant. From paninis, cheese platters with different flavours, paninis, wines, and cocktails from around the world, they have kept their promise with their use of adjective words on the website.
Set in the heart of Central Croydon, the location is in a perfect place. A short minute walk will take you to Basil and Grape if you are staying in one of the hotels nearby. If not, take the tram and stop at George Street, it will be right in front of you as you get off. It’s also helpful if you’re staying near East Croydon Station, just a 10-minute walk to your right from the station and you’re there.
Draughts Board Game Cafe
Draughts Board Game Cafe is situated in either Hackney or Waterloo. We went in the Waterloo branch. The menu consists of average British selections from burgers, chips, onion rings, nachos and more. The flavour is no different to other average small cafes serving British dishes. However, because of their board game concept, it has become a popular restaurant.
As you step into the cafe, you are surrounded by thousands of board games stacked on bookshelves. The colourful board game boxes will make you feel indecisive to choose what to play. From Battleship to Cluedo, to Monopoly, to family orientated Guess Who, there’s surely laughter and fun among family and friends. The one in Hackney is a recommendation since it’s larger with around 100 tables and chairs and the team will help you choose which board games to play.
Christmas in London
Although London can be simple when it comes to Christmas decorations and Christmas lights, we do get very festive. Although simple, there are so many activities for the family to enjoy to a point where 7 days might not be enough to visit them all. People can spend hours in one attraction alone and it’s easy to miss the rest of the attractions during winter.
Here are some suggestions: