Travelling to London for the First Time
How do I plan a trip to London England?
Preparing for a trip to London is crucial. Here are some general guidance. Read below on what’s covered in the London Travel Guide.
Book in advanced. Summer is the busiest and the most expensive time of the year. Although Winter can be busy during Christmas, it’s cheaper but colder. I have linked to several websites to compare flights, and accommodation, travel insurance and visa so you can organise well.
The second point is to think about getting by using public transport and how to visit famous landmarks and small attractions.
I have also included a section on what people don’t tell you when you want to go to London.
London is always in any travellers’ bucket list when travelling to Europe. When asked which places in Europe people would like to visit, they would say London. It might not be the first on their bucket list, but London always comes up. This London Travel Guide will give you tips and recommendations on getting around this incredible city.
The best thing about London is everything is all in one place. If it’s not walking distance from one another, you can take the tube or bus and it will take you there in no time. Every adjective you’ll find on the dictionary, is what London is all about. Cosmopolitan, quirky, unique, cheap, expensive (in a good way), multicultural, old, new, antique, vintage, unusual, you name it.
If you’re looking for rich British history, the longest monarchy in Europe, amazing Instagram photos, delicious food from around the world, the multicultural community in its own location and friendly and polite people, then, this post is for you!
How much time do you need to spend time in London?
Well, only you can answer that. Ideally, if you want to go inside all the attractions, 7 days is enough for you. This is because most attractions take at least 1 – 3 hours to go inside, not to mention the fact people like to hang around in the various markets for an hour like Camden, Borough Market, Portobello Market, not to mention a few others. People can spend at least 3 hours getting lost in Portobello Market. You also have time to relax and enjoy the environment.
Read my safety tips in London.
If you are on a budget, 3 – 4 days is enough for you, assuming you just want to take photos outside of the attractions. There are also free attractions and areas that are quirky yet interesting to visit. Visit my itinerary guide for more information on how long each attraction takes. Although it’s a one day itinerary guide, focus more on how long you want to take in each attraction. Take this as your guide and plan which attractions you want to visit inside and outside. Read my London on a budget guide.
How can I spend 48 hours in London?
Although this is quite a short amount of time to spend in London, it’s possible to see the major attractions in 2 days. Buy The London Pass and read my 2 days in London itinerary for a guide. There, you will find out how long each attraction takes to enter. If you only have 2 days to spare, I recommend going in to 2 attractions per day and spend your time taking beautiful photos otuside and hanging around in the free attractions like Trafalgar Square and the 8 Royal Parks.
It’s possible to visit all the top 10 attractions in 1 or 2 days without going inside. The most important thing is not to rush your time when visiting London. It’s just not enjoyable.
What should I know before travelling to London?
Visa in London
Before visiting London, check what visas are required. We are not in the EU anymore so, it’s crucial to check whether you need a visa visiting us.
Whether you’re from the Americas, Europe, Africa, or Asia, there are different regulations regarding your purpose of visit to the UK. After Brexit (a decision to leave the EU), there may be different regulations when entering the country.
It really depends on your circumstances. Visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/visiting-the-uk-after-brexit, for more information on visiting the UK after Brexit.
Visit https://www.gov.uk/apply-to-come-to-the-uk for more information on visa applications and whether they apply to you.
Generally, www.gov.uk is a great website relating to your visit to anywhere in the UK.
Money in London
Another thing to think about before travelling London is dealing with money matters. Plan ahead on how you are going to handle money. Convenience, security, and value of various options to open bank accounts if you want to stay here for at least 6 months.
As most of you know, our currency is British Pound Sterling. London is an expensive city so it’s advisable to save and spend wisely if you’re on a budget. Even though there may be attractions that are discounted, it’s still expensive. Compared to many European countries, London IS expensive.
You can change money at airports, major train stations like Victoria, London Bridge, King’s Cross St. Pancras, department stores, and major high streets around London.
Visit the Tripsavvy website to find out the best way to spend money in the UK.
Visit www.comparethemarket.com for travel insurance.
https://www.moneysupermarket.com/travel-money/ to compare exchange rates.
ATMs are used around Central London and most of them are free. We also use the chip and pin and contactless system here.
Contactless cards work as you tap your card on the payment device without entering your pin. If you have contactless, you can use it on public transport, supermarkets, and all shops around London.
Transportation in London
Public transport in London is the best in Europe in my opinion. The best thing about London’s public transport is its convenience to get from A to B and there are several options you can take. The bad thing about London’s transport is the crowds of people on tubes, buses and trains, especially during rush hour. During working hours, it’s not tht bad as people are usually at work. Avoid the hours of 8 am – 9 pm and 5 pm – 6 pm.
There is rail, tube, buses, trams, taxis, Ubers and cycling. The quickest way to get around London is to use tube services.
I cannot stress enough on getting an Oyster Card the first thing you’ll do when you land. It’s the cheapest and best option to take. Travel cards are mainly used for travel outside London since they don’t use Oyster cards beyond London. You can use your Oyster card on National Rail trains, tubes, buses and trams. You can spend at most £10 on train and tube fares entering and exiting, depending on how many journeys you take. You won’t be charged for interconnecting between tube lines though.
Tips on using Oyster Card
- At the airport, follow the instructions on the ticket machine to get your Oyster Card. It’s £5 for the card. On your last day, the remaining money in your card will be refunded back to you or you can give the Oyster Card to someone else.
- You Top-up how much money you want to put into your Oyster Card. You can pay by cash or debit card. For a day, I usually spend at least £20 since I make a lot of journeys using tubes and buses. If I still have money on the card, I can use that the next day, you won’t lose it.
Check out https://tfl.gov.uk/fares/how-to-pay-and-where-to-buy-tickets-and-oyster/pay-as-you-go/oyster-pay-as-you-go for more information on Oyster Cards and other travel cards in general.
An addition to an Oyster Card, download the City Mapper app to easily find your way around. Compared to to TfL, City Mapper is more realiable in my opinion. You can compare which one is right for you.
Buses and trams
Using buses are the cheapest means of transport for only £1.50 per journey. The buses here are usually packed with people, most of the times, you’d have to stand up and be prepared to be squashed with other people. Getting from A to B can be long so it’s advisable to walk if you’re going to places nearby.
It’s advisable to walk from A to B if it’s more convenient, although taking bus journeys, no matter how long it takes will cost you £1.50 per journey (most attractions are next to each other). A lot of people walk anyway.
Brits rarely use their cars to go to work unless necessary. If you see a red C sign painted on the roads and a “Congestion Charge zone” you are going to get charged between £10 – £14 for driving in Central London to reduce pollution. Most cars and trucks are usually construction workers, business cars, black taxis or people living within the city.
If you’re not used to driving cars in London, it’s best to avoid it. We drive on the left side of the road and can be dangerous driving within the Central. Parking is very inconvenient because 1. It’s expensive for an hour and 2. You’ll be lucky to get a spot if you decide to park on the side of the roads in Central London. Car Parks are usually more expensive than parking on the side roads.
The roads here can be hectic especially in the Inner Central areas of London. Even if you’re staying in either in the East, West, North or South of London, it can still be terribly busy, public transport or no public transport.
When it comes to cycling, like using cars, it can be dangerous if you’re not used to the system. Cycle in quiet roads and use the cycling paths provided. Even if you use the cycle paths in busy roads, it can still be dangerous as you may have to swerve out into the main road from parked cars and bus drivers pulling out.
People will frown upon cycling on the pavement. Find out more about The Boris bike if you’re an experienced cyclist. If you do want to cycle, try cycling in quiet areas in most of the major parks around London. I’ve seen people cycle in The Mall (the street connecting Buckingham Palace and Admiralty Arch.
Best things to do in London
Visit the Top 10 Attractions
Buckingham Palace is the number one attraction that people think of when they come to London. Around 50 thousand people visit the palace each year. People from all over the world and other’s dream to visit the palace. Home to the British royal family and used for administrative businesses and state functions, Buckingham Palace has many reasons why we should visit it each year. Close to St. James’ Park, The Green Park and visiting the State Rooms every summer, not to mention a short walk away from Trafalgar Square and Horseguard Parade, no wonder it’s the most visited tourist attraction in London.
The London Eye opened a day before the 2000 millennium, 31 December 1999 to be exact by Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister then. It was to celebrate the start of the new millennium. There are several attractions you can see from the top of the wheel including Big Ben, River Thames, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and so much more. There are 32 capsules and takes 30 minutes to go round. It is also the main area where New Year’s Eve’s fireworks happen, just before the clock strikes midnight.
Sea Life London Aquarium
Sealife London is a great day out for the family and it’s in the top 10 London attractions. If you’re into marines, bugs, insects and turtles, then visit Sealife London while you’re here. Touch a live starfish, go through the arch under the big white sharks, visit the Amazon rainforest and learn and seee beetles, spiders and fossils of piranhas. Why not see the penguins in the Polar Experience? Everything you’ve always wanted to see are here.
Meet A-List celebrities from Hollywood and Bollywood with the likes of Marilyn Monrow, Johnny Depp, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hardy and many more. Meet A-List musicians with the likes of Britney, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and Kanye West. Take photos with the British Royal Family and step into the world of Hollywood films. Meet the face of King Kong, E.T., Audrey Hepburn and many more.
Take a train ride and step back to 250 years of British history. Meet Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I, hear children laughing as they go on the carousel ride and watch an animated 4D cinema where the 4 superheroes like Superman, Captain America, Spiderman and Batman try to save the world in London.
Step back into British history, as far back as the 17th Century to the 19th Century. London was very bloody, gruesome and dirty. Heads being chopped off, imprisoned for no offenses at all and many more. Learn about Henry VIII and how he beheaded some of his wives for treason and adultery. Learn about the 1666 greaat fire of London which started in an old bakery. What about learning about the life of Sweeney Todd and his so called partner Mrs. Lovett. A barber who dropped his victims into the basement and cut their body parts and made them into pies. You can visit Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop and could become her victim too. Enjoy the drop where British prisoners were dropped to their death after their release. Whatever British history you want to hear about, check out London Dungeon.
Harry Potter Tour
Step into the world of Harry Potter. Remember Harry’s first few years at Hogwarts? Well, you can see all the adventures he went to in this studio tour. You will see the Great Room where Harry was put under the Sorting Hat to see which house he would be in and the many feasts that happened during special occasions. Why not explore the Forbidden Forest, Diagon Alley and find out what Butterbeer tastes like? You will also learn about the props and costumes as well as the many exhibitons and events that’s happening throughout the tour. The Harry Potter Tour is not situated in Central London though but you can get there from King’s Cross Station.
London Zoo has been one of the most visited tourist attractions in London. With nearly 2 million visitors a year, they can enjoy visiting some of the big 5 cats, giraffes, marine mammals and insects, gorrilas, penguins, goats, pelicans and many more. Yes, maybe what I’ve written here is what you’d expect from a zoo but what’s so special about this zoo is that it’s situated in Regent’s Park and across the road, you’d find Madame Tussauds, another top 10 tourist attraction to visit. This place is good for families with young kids as well as nature and animal lovers.
Built in 1066, Westminster Abbey has been visited by more than a million visitors each year. You will learn about British history and the burials and memorials of British kings, queens, poets, scientists and writers. You will also be given an audio guide with more than ten languages. Just click on the numbers on the audio guide to find out more about the history and story about that burial, memorial or object. Click on the picture to find out more of what I got up to. Find out about the Abbey on their website here.
Hop on Hop Off
The Hop on Hop Off Tour takes you around London in a day. This is ideal if you only have three days or less to spend in London. I recommend you take Golden Tours, it’s the best one in London. Golden Tours is great because the Hop on Hop off bus takes you to London within 24 hours and you get 24 hours complimentary. You also get a walking tour around London too. There are four routes you can take. Click here for more information on the routes.
With Golden Tours, you will also get a complimentary Cruise Tour on the River Thames looking at the main sights of London. Walking tours are also available which includes The Changing of the Guards and The Beatles Walking Tour.
Check out other Things to do in London for more ideas.
Comparing flights and accommodation
If you are thinking of find places to stay and flights, you might have to compare reasonable prices to suit your budget.
Here are a few websites worth visiting.
www.tripadvisor.com for reviews and opinions from fellow travellers on flights, attractions, hotels and more.
Things no one tells you when you go to London
What should I know before travelling to London?
As a Londoner, there are certain things I don’t like to do when I’m in Central London. I looked at the pros when travelling around Europe and going back to London, I realised the cons London have other European countries do better. Here are some examples:
Eating etiquette in London
Most European countries don’t charge 12.5% on their restaurant bills. You see these in most gastro pubs, middle and upper range restaurants. Be prepared and ask whether they charge 12.5% on top of your bill.
Eating around Leicester Square and can be packed too so better to reserve a table if you want to eat around these areas. Some gastro pubs will accept table bookings, some don’t so make sure you find out. You have to pay first in pubs and bars. The food etiquette in gastro pubs is save a seat so no one takes it, go up to the bar to order your food and sit down. Your will be served to you within 20 to 30 minutes.
In restaurants, they will usually escort you to your table and either, they’ll take your order straight away or someone will be with you shortly. Either way, you have to wait until someone comes to you at your table while you choose your meal from the menu.
When you’re ready for your bill, ask someone for attention, they’ll give you your bill on a plate or docket. They’ll usually disappear for a while and come back to you when THEY’RE ready. You have to wait for them to come to you. You don’t go to them.
You’ll often see loud Londoners standing around drinking pints, squashed together watching football. The majority of the times, the food and drink quality is the same as the food quality in other areas of London where there are nicer settings and environment.
Shopping in London
Shopping in Oxford Street, Regent Street and Tottenham Court Road is a nightmare. It gets very busy, you’ll be swerving past people walking slowly. Don’t expect to walk in a straight line. Shopping in Primark can also give you headaches. Londoners don’t really shop in Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols. As for John Lewis, a lot of people shop online for that. Pretty much all the shopping areas in London are very busy so be prepared.
Westfield Shopping Centre in Straford, Soho and Covent Garden can also be very busy.
I advise finding accommodations outside Central London near local shopping centres. It’s less hectic and you can spend time with the locals. The same can be said finding a restaurant, find a restaurant outside Central London. Transportation to Central London is very convenient and in some instances, you’ll be there in less than 10 minutes.
Buses in London
Although the cheapest means to go around London for £1.50 per Oyster tap, it can be long to get from A and B. It can also be crowded with people. You’d be lucky to get a seat, otherwise, you’d have to stand with the rest of the people. They can be packed to a point you can’t move. If you happen to go out during the night, night buses tend to be quieter but less safe. Although nothing has happened to me, you should be aware of drunk people and fights on the buses.
The West End
To many first timers, you think the West End is the place to be because it’s trendy and so many things to do and see. Well, don’t get me wrong, it is trendy and there are places to see and do but there are downsides. Food and drinks can SUPER expensive and locals and tourists mix together. It can also be crowded and you’ll have little patience. You’ll often see crowds of people standing outside pubs and restaurants can be packed, you may have to reserve a table.
I hope there’s a lot of useful information for you to take for your trip to London. The information here is for your guide, don’t follow it religiously. If you have more questions, feel free to contact me.