My Complete London Travel Guide
The first place I ever dreamed of exploring EVER was… London. At the time, I had nothing but the Harry Potter series to blame for this obsession (thanks J.K. Rowling)! After reading the first book, I told my grandmother that I was one day going to live in England. And as time passed and I grew older, the obsession with London didn’t really fade away. I swooned over the ivy covered houses, the weighted accents, the notion of having afternoon tea and scones. I even dreamt of having Big Ben as my personal alarm clock. In my heart of hearts, I knew that London was a place I’d always have a kinship towards.
So, when Luke and I finally packed our bags last summer to explore London for three glorious weeks, you can imagine my excitement. LONDON! Rainy, aged, beautiful… London. I came in with extremely high expectations and, truthfully, I feared that I’d be brutally disappointed (especially considering how much I had hoped for this city). But let me tell you, London overcame each and every expectation I had. I’m getting teary eyed just typing this. My love for London now truly overwhelms me even more. And, hey, who knows? Life is short. Maybe I will one day call London home!
If you’re planning a trip to jolly ol’ London, I’m so excited for you! If you’re just dreaming, well, I’m sorry in advance. Because today I’m going to share alllllll the secrets, tips and tricks that made our time in London one of my most favorite singular cities I’ve ever visited. Here we go!
At A Glance…
Best Time To Visit - London is beautiful year round, but I’m told their winters can be nasty! I’d recommend travelers visit anytime between March - October.
Currency - The British Pound. I’d highly recommend ladies to bring a wallet that has ample room for coinage! You might hear some lovely slang to explain currency while in London. So, here’s my crash course for ya!
100 pence = 1 pound. Pence is also referred to as “p” (for example 50 pence = “50 p”).
“Quid” = a pound
“Fiver” = five pounds
“Tenner” = ten pounds
Getting There - There are 3 major airports in London. Heathrow, London City and Stansted. If you booked a cheaper flight, it’s probably landing in Stansted. All airports have some sort of train system that will get you into the city center, making transportation a breeze in and out of the city. One thing to note, however, is that if you have any early morning/super late flight departing from Stansted, you’ll have to arrange a taxi to get you there!
Getting Around - Simply put, no matter where you’re headed in London city proper… pop into the “tube”! London’s infrastructure and railways are top notch. Besides maybe Tokyo, I don’t think the Underground can be beat in terms of reliability and ease.
Be sure to get yourself an Oyster card when you land. It’s free and it’ll save you time and money - because they offer discounts on far and max you out after a certain amount is spent in one day! Kids under 11 are free and don’t need a card! Children 11-15 years old get a reduced rate (just ask a staff member to set them up for a young visitor discount). These handy little cards can be tapped on a sensor when entering and are easily refilled at most stops. I still have mine as a momento from our time! And do a ride on top of a double-decker bus at least once. London buses don’t accept cash, so use your Oyster card! Easy peasy.
What To Do
First things first, savor each little delicious moment because you’re in London! But seriously. Some of my favorite "oh my god, we’re in LONDON” moments came from dodging raindrops on our way to the tube (I mean, c’mon how British could that be?), sipping tea in the afternoon, bundling up when it got brisk, knocking back a pint at the pub, and just lapping up all the wonderful, thick accents we were surrounded by.
London is a charmer. Especially for anyone who’s already fallen in love with its quirks and history. So before I even list off the sights to see and things to do… remember this… check in with yourself when you’re having one of those quintessential London moments. They’re so special. Anyway! Here are some of my favorite things we got up to!
Museums and galleries are FREE! Take advantage of this because not only are they some of the best in the world, but London can get to be quite expensive when it’s all said and done. Some favorites were The National Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, and the National Portrait Gallery. There are some incredible pieces on display, so if you love art like I do… you’ll be in heaven. I’d definitely recommend coming as soon as they open so you can savor the pieces one on one.
Natural History Museum - a real life Hogwarts-esque experience for this Harry Potter nerd. We almost skipped this one (mostly because we were feeling fatigued by the amount of sightseeing we had been doing), but I’m so glad we didn’t. I could have photographed the building alone for hours!
London has a ton of food markets with uniquely famous treats from around the world. Be sure to add Borough Market and Camden Market to your itinerary for delicious eats. More on this later in the post!
For the shopping enthusiast, Portobello Road and Brick Lane Market will be your own personal form of heaven for antiques and vintage fashion. It’s a feast for the senses and you can really find some unique gift options for yourself or friends/family back at home. Luke and I window shopped for hours around Portobello Road. The area is super cool and stocked with lots of cafes and coffee shops too. Oxford Street is a great place for more mainstream shopping!
Your classic London attractions that cannot be missed are Big Ben, Parliament Buildings, The London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. Are they touristy and overcrowded during midday? Yes, yes they are. Are they worth it? I’d say absolutely yes. Do your research. Plan to come early or late to avoid the tourist craze. No trip to London is fulfilled without seeing at least some of these historic relics. Especially for anyone who’s long dreamed of exploring London!
Take a long walk along the South Bank of the Thames River. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon and take in all that London goodness you’ve been dreaming of.
Be sure to get out of the tourist hubs and explore some of London’s quaint neighborhoods. My favorites? Chelsea, Notting Hill, Kensington and Hampstead. Or, on the other hand, explore “the Brooklyn” of London in Shoreditch. Each one of London’s neighborhoods has a unique history, architecture style, and vibe to it. Schedule some time to just walk around one of these neighborhoods. It’s a must, in my opinion!
If you need some time to just chill in between sight seeing, take advantage of London’s pristine parks! You’ll see Londoners laying in the sun, having picnics and hanging out. I loved Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Regent’s Park. One thing I loved about London is that it’s stocked with old, beautiful greenery just as much as it is with skyscrapers and modern buildings.
My Top Five London Photo Spots
It’s too hard to pick, truthfully! Here are my favorite spots that I couldn’t seem to put my camera down when we were exploring them.
The adorable side alleys and mews of Kensington and Notting Hill
London Sky Garden
Neal’s Yard’s quintessential London architecture and charm
The Churchill Arms
The Natural History Museum
Where To Stay
As I mentioned before, I definitely believe it’s important to choose your lodgings to be close to the areas you’d like to explore by foot! Otherwise, you’ll be spending lots of money and time on the tube/on public transport. Some safe and beautiful neighborhoods are Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea, Notting Hill, Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Southwark!
The Bayswater Inn Hotel - $ - This is where Luke and I spent our first half of our time in London! It does the job and is located in the cutest little spot in the city, very close to the tube, great coffee shops and restaurants. It certainly isn’t a five star place, but we enjoyed our humble little abode!
The Darlington Hyde Park - $ - This guest house is perfectly situated near Hyde Park and is walking distance to most of the major sights. Reviews are mixed and I can’t speak first-hand, but I do believe it has a dynamite location.
The Ace Hotel Shoreditch - $$$ - This chic little hotel has become sort of a cult favorite in major cities around the world. It has a great feel and is located in the heart of London’s “hipster” neighborhood. If you have the money to splurge, I’d definitely recommend this place!
The Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard - $$$$ - Oh man, this is the most luxurious hotel I could find and I’m still dreaming about it. Talk about a view!
Where/What To Eat
Are you guys even ready for this list? We ate like kings in London, so I’m so excited to share this list!
Before I begin with some of my favorites… something to keep in mind. British food is basically like the best comfort food for a rainy, cold day. Enjoy it! It’s the most warming food in the world. Healthy? Eh… not so much. But definitely be sure to hit up an old inn or pub for the history, charm and to fill up. There’s nothing more British than downing a pint with a warm meal. Excited but not sure what to order? I love this round up of classic British foods to try while in the U.K!
Indian food is also incredible in the city… as is all the incredible multi-cultural food! We were so blown away by the amount of global foods. Although we were told how awesome the food scene has become in London, I can’t tell you just how incredible it truly was.
Here are some of my must-go-to restaurants, bars and more! Add these to itinerary STAT. As I mentioned in my ultimate guide to Rome, I don’t care what you do… just eat at some of these places. Thank me later!
Dishoom - So good we came back again a few days later. Dishoom pays homage to the Irani cafes and food of Bombay. We drooled over every dish! Just be sure to make sure to show up early to avoid major lines. Dishoom has a great vibe, an awesome bar to sip at while you wait for your table… and hands down some of the best food we had in London!
Borough Market - Oh boy, I should honestly do a whole post on Borough Market’s food. But in the meantime, this is a good place to start. My favorite finds? Kappacasein’s grilled cheese (life changing, magical!) Bread Ahead’s donuts, Gelateria 3BIS, Gourmet Goat and Roast. Just get lost in here! It’s a food-lover’s haven in a super cool location.
Franco Manca - We stumbled upon this place and were delighted by the price point AND the delicious sourdough bread pizzas. Delicious!
Morito - This was recommended to us by Food Busker (who we actually met during our trip!?)… and boy was it a treat. This tiny tapas place was so attentive to every detail of the meal. And it’s also located on one of the coolest little pedestrian streets near Columbia Market. Love it!
The Chipping Forecast - The classic fish and chips we were dreaming of, but with a modern, cool spin. This was touted as one of the best places to get fish and chips in the city. We loved it!
Duck & Waffle - Come here for a swanky date for drinks and some appetizers. Stay for the view of the Gerkin. We came here right at midnight and hoped we’d snag a reservation. We didn’t! But hey, we had a ball just noshing here.
Fabrique Bakery - The most hygge of hygge cafes with traditionally made cardamom rolls. Heaven for a gal like me who loves Scandinavian goodness.
Pizza Pilgrims - You know I had to do my pizza research when in London, and this one was well loved by locals. Pizza Pilgrims has a vintage-y, arcade-like feel but with some delicious wood fired pizzas. We were torn between this place and Franco Manca. Both were incredible! So, if you’re craving a slice, you have some awesome options.
Dumplings’ Legend - The best dumplings in London? Count me in. London’s Chinatown was a cool little quarter of the city to explore.
Comptoir Libanais - We came here to meet up with a London local we met earlier in our trip and loved the Lebanese menu! I ordered an excellent mezze platter with some amazing hummus and falafel.
Cafe De Nata - Right around the corner from Comptoir Libanais was this gem of a place. If you haven’t had a pasteis de nata… treat yourself to one here. I’m obsessed!
Hummingbird Bakery - Right off of Notting Hill and Portobello Road. Stop here for a red velvet cupcake and coffee if you need to escape the rain or cold!
Electric Cinema - Best reuben I’ve ever had in my life. This unassuming restaurant delighted us with its American-style of menu but with some classic British twists.
Things To Know
London is HUGE. Try to explore your a few neighborhoods as best you can. It’s a good idea to also choose your lodgings based on where you’d like to see most on foot!
Stand on the right at tube stations! It’s pretty much a cardinal sin to stand on the left side of the escalator when exiting or entering the tube.
No matter what season you’re visiting… rain is expected. Bring an umbrella. Find a small, packable option or pick one up when you arrive!
Tipping isn’t really a thing in London as most places include a service fee already in the bill. But usually a small 10-15% tip is fine at a restaurant. Tipping is not necessary for bars/drinks or for cab rides... however, if you’re like me and you just can’t seem to stop yourself from tipping, simply round up to the nearest pound.
Be sure to pack the correct adaptor! The U.K. uses a “type G” with 3 pins, voltage 220-240v. Or, just be safe and buy yourself a universal adaptor!
Brits can seem a bit standoffish and won’t normally interject themselves into situations unless prompted. But, when invited by a smiling face (and maybe a free pint), they’re incredibly friendly! But, don’t talk about Brexit. Just, don’t. The Brits don’t really see politic talk as small talk, and controversy is avoided in most casual settings.
Yes, those iconic phone booths are everywhere. And they’re just as cute as you’d ever hoped they’d be.
Grab a paper on your way into the tube on the early mornings. You’ll feel like a local in no time!
What To Wear
Truthfully, anything goes when it comes to dressing in London. You’ll see some of the most unique fashion choices in this metropolis! However, there are some things to keep in mind. For example, London’s notoriously rainy, grey weather will mean that you should always opt for laters, a great pair of boots or walking shoes that are water proof and a dressy/casual feel for most of your clothing.
Brits love to dress up when going out. So have fun with your look! But be sure that your clothing items do the job, too!
Trips Outside Of The City
London’s train system is well connected to so many incredible day trip or weekend trip options if you’re looking to get out of the city for a bit. Which, I’d highly recommend if you have enough time! I’ll be creating a guide to the Cotswolds later, so be sure to check that out if you’re obsessed with the quaint cottages of the English country side. But, in the meantime, here are some of the most highly recommended trips you can take outside of the city!
P.S. I’m planning on doing a few posts on our time in Oxford, Bath and the Cotswolds soon. If you want to see what I got up to in the meantime, feel free to check out my Instagram. I went a little snap happy while in England. No regrets!
I hope you a killer time in London… and I’d love to see what you get up to over on Instagram! So feel free to tag me while you’re exploring the city that will never cease to inspire me. Cheers!