London, England, is a must-see destination for any world traveler. If you’re getting ready for your first trip to London, you probably have a lot of questions about what to see and do during your visit. Our travel tips for first-time visitors will ensure that you don’t miss a thing!
As a major city in Europe, London is relatively accessible by air. Heathrow is the central hub and is the airport most tourists go through when they come from the United States or other countries outside of Europe. From Heathrow, you can easily take the tube to get into central London. Trains run every few minutes and take about 45 minutes to get into the heart of the city.
Another option is the Heathrow Express, which is a more comfortable train that gets you to Paddington station in just 15 minutes. Book ahead for the cheapest rates.
If you would rather take a cab and avoid navigating the tube with all your luggage, you can also easily find on-the-spot taxi cabs outside of the airport that can get you into central London in about a half-hour. This is the most expensive option, but it can also be the most comfortable and least stressful way to start your vacation.
Gatwick Airport is the next largest airport in London. It’s 25 miles outside of London, which means it can be more expensive and time-consuming to get into the city. Make sure you book your transportation ahead of time if you fly into Gatwick. You can take a coach to Victoria station from Gatwick Airport. If you prefer a cab, it can take as long as 90 minutes to get into the city.
Stansted Airport is popular for travelers coming to London from the European continent. This smaller airport has more flights going to the continent than any other airport in the U.K. You can take the Stansted Express, which runs every 15 minutes, and be in the heart of London’s financial district in about 45 minutes.
London City Airport is located just a few miles east of the city’s commercial center. It’s arguably the most convenient airport in town and generally only offers short-haul flights to business people. If you are travelling from close by, look into getting tickets into London City Airport for the most convenient travel into and out of the city.
The top places to stay are in Central London. It’s true that the accommodation here may be more expensive than what you will find in areas outside the city, but the amount of time and money that you save commuting every day will likely be well worth it.
Central London contains several neighbourhoods. When planning your trip, think about who you are travelling with and what you plan to do with your stay to determine the best location. Don’t worry too much, though. It’s hard to go wrong staying anywhere in London!
If you are traveling with kids, then staying close to the city of London will give you the best access to historical attractions and museums. London is very walkable, so you can easily head out for a day of sightseeing and still be able to pop back into your lodgings for a diaper change or nap during the day without much disruption.
If you’re looking for more of a nightlife and party scene, then you may prefer to stay in London’s East End. Shoreditch/Spitalfields is an up and coming neighbourhood that comes to life when the sun goes down. You’ll also find great food from all over the world, plus open-air markets and street vendors.
Soho is another excellent neighbourhood for those who enjoy a bit of noisy nightlife. It has tons of restaurants, bars, pubs, and all-night coffee shops. It’s only about a 20-minute walk away from other London attractions, including London’s infamous West End theatres.
For historical buffs, Kensington or South Kensington might be calling your name. This location is near the Victoria & Albert Museum, Science Center, and Hyde Park. It’s peaceful and quiet in the evening, which can be ideal for families and those looking for some rest during their vacation.
Another must-see neighbourhood for history lovers is Southwark. This is where you’ll find Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theatre as well as the Tate Modern. The scenic walk along the Thames is a must-do for any traveller, and if you stay here, you can appreciate the walk every night of your vacation!
Once you have settled into your lodging, it’s time to explore the city! There are so many things to see and do, it’s hard to pack it all into one trip. Here are some of the must-see attractions that we think all first-time visitors should make time for while in London.
This historical monument is where the crown jewels are housed. It has a rich 1,000-year history full of tales of horror, deception, and murder. Yeoman warders are positioned throughout the Tower of London to enlighten you with interesting facts and stories about the Tower. You can easily spend a whole day here. If you’re short on time, then a quick self-tour is still worth it. Kids under five get in for free.
The infamous Westminster Abbey sits on the West End of London. It has been the coronation church since 1066. It is open daily for traditional Christian masses. You can also visit it during the day and see the Royal Tombs, where 30 members of royalty are laid to rest. The Coronation Chair is also housed here, which has been used for every coronation since 1308. If you can’t wait until your visit to tour the Abbey, you can take a virtual tour from their website.
Cross two items off your list when you visit Big Ben, which is connected to the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is arguably the most famous clock in the world, sitting 96 meters high above London. When Parliament is in session at night, a light will shine above the clock face. Big Ben is only open for tours from U.K. residents, although anyone can tour the Houses of Parliament on Sundays and some weekdays when Parliament is in recess.
Get breathtaking views and gorgeous pictures from the London Eye. This Ferris wheel contains giant capsules that allow visitors to walk around and get a 360-degree view of London from 400 feet in the air. The trip takes about 30 minutes total, and groups of up to 25 people are allowed in each capsule.
Finally, no trip to London is complete without a trip to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s London residence Stateroom tours can give you a glimpse of what it’s like to live like royalty, while outside the palace you can watch the changing of the guard at 11:00 AM most days. Check the British Army’s schedule before you visit to make sure you don’t miss it.
Before leaving home, make sure you have these tools and apps ready to help you maximize your time in London with helpful services.
The visitor Oyster card is a smart card that allows you to pay for transportation like tube rides, coach fares, and train tickets at a discounted rate. You can buy one ahead of time and pre-load it. These are not available once you get to London, so order one early.
If you’re an avid photographer, you’ll want to make sure every picture you take is perfect. Fortunately, photo editing tools like Picverse, Pixlr, and PicMonkey can help you get the lighting and staging of each image just right. You can spend time editing pictures on the go or wait until you get home.
The handy app Citymapper will save you when you feel lost in London and can’t figure out how to get where you need to be. Simply open it up, type where you are and where you want to go, and the app will tell you the fastest route to take, including the price for getting a cab, renting a bike, or hopping on the tube.
This app will help you discover hundreds of properties throughout the U.K. that are managed by the National Trust. Find prices, hours, and events taking place at any of the sites on the days you plan to visit them.
Take an insider’s guide to London with you everywhere you go using the convenient Visit London app. Discover free attractions and see what’s happening every day of your visit so you can make plans.
London is a beautiful city with lots of things to do at any time of the year. Use these tips to get ready for your first-time visit to London.