London has to be one of our favourite cities. It’s full of museums, beautiful buildings, and awesome places to just explore. Living in Manchester means that we get to visit quite often. Every time we go we turn into instant tourists, cameras at the ready. There is so much to see and do in the city, which is why we have put together this ultimate guide to being a tourist in London.
London is probably one of the easiest cities to get to. There are 4 airports that you can fly into including, London City, Stansted, Gatwick, and the busiest, Heathrow. There are good public transport links from all airports and you can easily hop onto the tube and get yourself into central London. If you are arriving from within the UK the train is usually your best option, with most National Rail services stopping at Euston Station. We recommend looking at the Virgin Trains website for some great deals. You can even get the bus to Victoria Station if you are trying to save your pennies.
Once you are in London the easiest way to get around is via the Tube. You should purchase an Oyster card and top up with the required credit. For more information on this we recommend having a look at the Transport for Greater London website. Public transport is brilliant in London and most major attractions can be accessed by Tube, but admittedly it can get tricky when signal failures or planned engineering works strike. It can look daunting at first but study the Tube map, and once you know how the stations connect you will be commuting like a pro in no time.
Where to stay
Accommodation in London ranges from the super expensive to the more budget friendly options. Just keep in mind the more budget you go, the less amenities in the hotel and the further away it will be from the main city attractions. We have found some excellent deals at hotels.com over the years so we do recommend starting there.
What to do
London can be really daunting, because there is literally so much that you can see and do. Sometimes this can be overwhelming so it is good to have a plan. These are our recommendations.
Every time we come to London we take a walk along this bridge. To me this really symbolises London. Get off at Westminster Station and the first thing you will be greeted with is the Houses of Parliament looming over you. I like to start the walk on Westminster Bridge on the left side walking towards the London Eye. You can then cross over on the way back and face the Houses of Parliament for an excellent view.
This is one of our favourite places just to people watch. Here you will find street performers, and skateboarders, as well as tourists gazing out at the Houses of Parliament. The Sealife centre is also here, if time allows.
The London Eye
We have done this a few times now and whilst some people may say it is over rated we love it.It costs about £25 although if you get advance tickets this can be cheaper. You can visit their website for further information. It takes about 30 minutes to do a full rotation and you really do get an amazing view of London.
Westminster Abbey is a beautiful gothic cathedral which is a short walk from the Houses of Parliament. If you are into the Royal Family, then you will recognise it from a lot of Royal Weddings, most recently Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton. You can do a tour of the Abbey or if you are short on funds you can admire it from the outside.
This may be one of the most photographed public squares in London. Trafalgar Square was built to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar that took place in 1805. These days it is swarming with tourists all trying to get those iconic shots of the fountains and the lions. I actually remember visiting the Square as a kid and it being filled with pigeons, in fact I even remember feeding bird seed to them. If you visit these days however you won’t find many. In fact you may even see some of the trained birds of prey that fly around discouraging pigeons to visit. Apparently pigeon droppings caused some of the Square’s monuments to erode and so pigeon feeding was banned.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery which is located right at Trafalgar Square, houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings. Entry into the main exhibits is free although for special or visiting exhibits you do need to pay for entry.
The Palace is the official headquarters and residence of the British Royal Family. It is a must see on any visit to London, although it does get really busy with tourists. One of the most amazing things to witness is the changing of the guards. It is a daily ceremony where the old guards welcome the new guards to take over the duty of guarding the Palace and St James Park. You really do need to get in early for a good view and it is best to check the Palace website for up to date information on times.
St James Park
Located just next to Buckingham Palace St James Park is a lovely place to take a stroll. It also has a wonderful view of Westminster Abbey and the London Eye when you stand on the Blue Bridge and look west.
Speaking of parks, the ultimate park in London to visit is of course Hyde Park. It is a wonderful place to sit and feed the ducks, go for a stroll or rollerblade, or even take a boat ride on one of the lakes. The Park is huge but some of our highlights include Speakers Corner. This is a place where speakers get on soap boxes to try and convert the masses to their way of thinking. There is no set schedule to whom you may find here but if you like your debates then this is the place for you. Famous speakers have included Karl Marx and George Orwell. The park also includes the famous pedal boats you can hire on the Serpentine, which makes for a really beautiful summers day out. There is also the Diana Memorial which is a must for any Royal fans.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is the place to go for all your natural history needs. With exhibits ranging from dinosaur bones to collections relating to botany and zoology. The best thing is this museum is free, although be prepared to wait in line especially during peak season in the summer (usually around the August summer holidays). Even if you aren’t into museums it is a great place to visit to marvel at the architecture. Construction was finished on the museum in 1880 and it really is an architectural dream.
St Pauls Cathedral
The cathedral is one of the most famous sights in London and has been the location for a number of Royal weddings and funerals, much like Westminster Abbey. The interior is worth a view, and if you are brave enough you can actually climb to the viewing platform for some incredible sights over London.
If you are looking for restaurants and quirky bars then head to Covent Garden. One of our favourite places is the newly opened Milk Train which has become an Instagrammer’s dream. And yes we followed suit! You can buy ice cream including the hipsters favourite Matcha flavour, with a cloud of candy floss surrounding it. It’s sticky, it’s messy and it’s a real sugar overload but my gosh the pictures are awesome. Another place to visit in Covent Garden is Neal’s Yard. A small alley with restaurants and shops and very colourful buildings.
Ok so Camden is our absolute favourite part of London. It is sort of an alternative/indie paradise. You can explore the markets and pick up some quirky T-Shirts. There are also some amazing indie music inspired bars where you can sit and have a drink. Our favourite bar has to be the World’s End located just across from the Camden Tube Station. Overall Camden is a great place to go if you want to buy anything from funky jewellery, to souvenirs, to fake ray bans. The atmosphere in Camden is almost an anything goes kind of feel. It’s also a great place for people watching.
If you are looking for the prettiest pub in London then look no further than the Churchill Arms. Its located a short walk from Notting Hill Gate Tube Station, and it is a great place for a pint or some pub food. The pub is decorated form head to toe in flowers and its even quirkier inside.
Another of London’s most famous monuments that often gets confused with London Bridge, is Tower Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1894 which makes it nearly 123 years old. You can pay for entry into the Tower Bridge Exhibition, and more information can be found here.
Tower of London
Located next to Tower Bridge is the Tower of London a historic castle founded in 1066. If you are into history this is a fascinating place to visit as you get a full understanding of the history of the castle. This includes its time as a Royal residence and even a prison. Entry for adults is £21.50 but do keep in mind that this is a popular attraction and the queues can be long.
Home to the iconic advertising hoarding that you will see other tourists trying to get a picture of, Piccadilly Circus is one of London’s busiest squares. I should also note that if you are expecting to find a circus acts this is not your place. In this context circus actually refers to the fact that it used to be a roundabout.
St Dunstan in the East
This is a quaint little garden on the site of a former church that was damaged in 1941. Whilst they decided not the rebuild the church the remains add to the atmosphere in this secluded garden. This is a real hidden gem in London.
If you are looking for some spectacular views of London then the Shard is the place to go. It’s 95 stories high and apart from the viewing platform the Shard is home to offices, restaurants, and hotel rooms. If you are looking to book tickets in advance it is recommended that you visit the website to do so.
See a broadway show
If you get a chance to see a broadway show in London then definitely take it up. There is nothing more exciting then having a meal and a few drinks and then seeing a show in Britain’s entertainment capital.
Do a Thames cruise
Departing from Westminster Bridge a Thames cruise is a really nice way to see London from the water. Plus its also an awesome opportunity to get up close to some of London’s beautiful bridges.
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