Bustling Markets & Quiet Side-Streets, There's Something for Everyone in London, England
Exploring the Square Mile
London is one of the top tourist attractions in the world — for good reason.
This huge city is packed with museums, bars, restaurants, art galleries and many centuries of history. London is a hotbed of art and culture and one of the best places in the world for enjoying live theater and music.
Also, the cuisine and nightlife are superb — wander through the city at any hour and there is always something delicious to eat and somewhere cool to mingle. There is much more to do in London than you could squeeze into any visit, so don’t try to cover it all (for some help, you can check out this three-day London itinerary, though!). Take the time to narrow down your list to the things you really want to see the most.
Don’t forget to leave time just for aimlessly exploring the streets. There’s nothing quite like a peaceful stroll along the banks of the Thames or walking through a bustling marketplace. And if even that leaves you wanting more, there’s always the option of moving to London… In the meantime, here’s what you need to get the most out of your time there.
Top London Attractions
Many trips to the United Kingdom will have you flying into and out of London. Even if it’s not your final destination, London is a top destination in the United Kingdom and needs to be experienced. What are some of the essential London attractions you shouldn’t miss during your stay? Here are a few of the best things to do in London that should be on your list:
The Tower of London
This fascinating historic site has been a prison, a private zoo, a treasure vault and a palace. It is also where the famous Crown Jewels are kept.
Be sure to check out the White Tower, filled with impressive royal armaments and constructed in 1078 by William the Conqueror.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
First of all, just to clarify, it’s actually the enormous bell inside that is called “Big Ben” and not the tower itself. Underneath this iconic building you will find the ornate Houses of Parliament, the home of Britain’s government.
You can take a tour and witness politics in action. You’ll also see these famous sights and more if you take a European river cruise along the Thames.
The British Museum
Check out this incredible collection of priceless works — one of the best in Europe. You’ll see the famous Rosetta Stone, the controversial Elgin Marbles, an Egyptian mummy and the legendary ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Plus, the museum offers free entry.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
This stunning cathedral with its famous Dome is one of the most impressive buildings in London. Take a look inside to see the elaborate stone carvings, gold mosaics and more.
You can also climb to the top to see stunning views of all of London.
Churchill’s War Rooms
Did you know that you can go underground and find the secure underground bunker where Churchill plotted the defense against the Nazis, perfectly preserved as it looked in 1945? You’ll see the telephone that Churchill used to contact Roosevelt directly and the fascinating Map Room where he marked the movements of the enemy.
The Sky Garden
Heading to the top of the Shard to admire the view costs £25, but you can see a view that is just as impressive from the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch St. for free. All you have to do is book in advance and bring along your passport.
You’ll get a specific time for entry and you’ll be allowed to linger at the top for an hour, admiring the stunning view of the city and dining at the cafe.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
If you’re looking for London entertainment, for only £5 you can get a “groundling” ticket that will allow you to stand on the ground near the stage and watch a Shakespeare play in the historic Globe Theatre. The performers are passionate and have been known to venture out into the crowd during some of the most intense moments.
The West End
London’s West End is known for offering some of the highest quality theater in the world — it is the British equivalent of Broadway in New York. While you are in London, seeing a West End show is an absolute must.
There are many superb musicals to choose from, including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Matilda,” “Mamma Mia,” “The Lion King” and much more. Check out the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for half price tickets at the last minute.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
The claim of “London’s Oldest Pub” is disputed, but this historic public house is certainly one of the main contenders. The upper story dates to the 17th century and the lower vaults are thought to have belonged to a monastery in the 13th century.
Some very famous people have sipped pints here, including Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
What could be more British than this? This famous display of pomp and circumstance happens every morning at 11:30 a.m. at St. James’s Palace and includes music and elaborately costumed guards marching stiffly around.
It’s quite a lot of fuss and a lot of fun to watch, especially for kids. There’s a reason why London makes such a good destination for family vacations in Europe.
If you want to take a breather and enjoy some peace and quiet, this is one of the loveliest green spaces in the city. It contains 250 acres of park and gardens where you can relax with a picnic and a good book.
This market is a great place to pick up some souvenirs from your trip and do some serious people-watching. There are many interesting things for sale here, from clothing to jewelry to handicrafts and more.
The Best Time to Visit
No matter what time of year you travel to London, be prepared for rain. Bring along a rainproof layer, waterproof shoes and an umbrella.
The summer months of June to August provide the warmest weather, offering the best opportunity to enjoy London’s beer gardens, rooftop bars and public parks. However, this is the most popular time to visit London so prices and crowds will be at their peak.
Consider visiting London during the shoulder seasons of autumn and spring. The weather will still be mild and pleasant, but there will be fewer crowds and better deals.
The Christmas season is an enchanting time of year to visit, as the city will be lit up with decorations and many exciting seasonal events will be taking place.
If you want to visit during the quietest and cheapest time of year, plan your trip for January and February — just bundle up against the chilly weather!
If you need emergency help, call 999. This is the number for the police, ambulance and fire service.
London is generally a safe city to visit, but of course it is important to take common sense precautions as you would in any city. Be careful when walking alone at night and keep to the well-lit main roads.
Violent crime is not common and it usually happens in poorer neighborhoods where visitors are unlikely to accidentally wander. It is a good habit to keep your mobile phone out of sight, as it can be snatched from a restaurant table.
When you are withdrawing money from an ATM, check that no one is looking over your shoulder and that the ATM hasn’t been tampered with.
If you are planning to enjoy London’s nightlife and are worried about safety, go to one of the popular areas such as the West End where the streets will always be filled with people even at 4 a.m.
Watch out for scammers and con-artists. For example, the “Cup and Ball” game where you have to guess which cup the ball is under is rigged — don’t stop and play at all.
Also, avoid overzealous street performers who will grab you, pose for a photo and then ask for money for the photo opportunity. Be firm and tell them to leave you alone.
Cost: What to Expect
Wondering how much you will need to budget for your trip to London? Keep in mind that this is an expensive destination, so the more you save the better.
To give you a general idea of what to expect:
When it comes to hotels in London, you can find a bed in a hostel dorm room for around £15 to £40 per night, or a private room in a hostel for around £50. A room in a budget hotel near the city center will cost around £100 or more.
You can find budget hotel rooms for around £40 per night if you are willing to stay on the outskirts of the city. Airbnb offers some great deals — you can sometimes find an entire apartment for around £90 per night.
The average restaurant meal in London will cost around £15 to £25. In a mid-priced, slightly more fancy restaurant you can expect to pay around £50 to £60 for a meal for two.
You can find cheaper options, such as fast food, Asian cuisine or Middle Eastern kebabs for around £5. To save money on food, stay in an accommodation with a kitchen and shop at the local supermarket so you can cook your own food.
The best way to get around London is to use the public transportation. Many locals don’t drive cars because Central London is too busy and compact and it takes forever to find somewhere to park.
Plus, driving in Central London incurs a congestion charge. It’s much easier and faster to get around the city by using The Tube. London has one of the most comprehensive public transport systems in the world.
In order to use the Tube, you will need to purchase an Oyster Card from any Tube station, for a deposit of £5. You can top it up with the funds you need and the money will be deducted accordingly.
The Oyster Card is valid on all red London Buses and all Tube and Rail services. The fare will depend where you start and end your journey and it is usually between £5 and £15.
London is also quite compact and pleasant to walk around. It can sometimes be faster and easier to walk your route than taking the Tube, especially between busy stations such as Leicester Square and Covent Garden.
Plus, you’ll have a chance to see more of the city. Avoid taking cabs — they are very expensive and due to the traffic, not necessarily faster than public transport.
Tips for Saving Money
Visiting London on a tight budget? Here are some tips for making your travel fund stretch further.
- Check out all of the superb free attractions, such as the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the British Library, Hyde Park and much more. You can spend several days sightseeing without spending a thing on attractions.
- Consider buying a London Pass. It includes admission to several popular attractions as well as public transportation.
- Stay at a hostel or Airbnb accommodation with a kitchen and cook your own meals occasionally, which will be cheaper than eating in restaurants every night.
- Another way to save money is the Tastecard, which offers 50% discounts on thousands of different restaurants throughout London.
- Sometimes tickets for the big attractions, such as the London Eye, are cheaper if you book them online in advance.
- Check out some of the smaller live music, cabaret and comedy venues. They are usually a lot more affordable than the traditional big name gigs or theater shows.
- For cheap eats, London has a number of delicious food trucks serving up yummy and affordable treats.
- Get a map of the night bus routes so that if you stay out late you can still take the bus back to your accommodation rather than an expensive cab.
- London has a number of free walking tours throughout the city, offering historical insight and hours of entertainment.
- When you go out sightseeing for the day, take a packed lunch with you rather than stopping for lunch in a restaurant. Not only will it be cheaper, but it’s also a chance to to have a picnic in a lovely park and enjoy the atmosphere.
- Watch out for food places and shops that are located close to popular tourist attractions. They will target tourists and will have high prices.