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London – A First Timer’s Guide (2023)

WELCOME TO LONDON TRAVEL GUIDE

Come explore this beautiful and culturally rich booming metropolis. From an afternoon tea to enjoying a pint at a pub, from a cruise down the Thames to a ride on the iconic London Eye – London has something for everyone!

Need to Know for London:

Currency: Pound Sterling (GBP)

Check conversion here

Language: English

Airports:

LHR – London Heathrow 

LGW – London Gatwick 

Electrical Outlets: 230V supply voltage and 50Hz, Type G plugs

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – We have family that lives north of London so we mostly stayed with them and took the train into the city to explore. There is so much accessible public transportation that makes this very possible. The one night we stayed in London, we stayed at Hyatt Regency London Albert Embankment. This was a great option that was easy walking distance from Big Ben and right on the River Thames!

Getting to London:

By Train: Getting to London from anywhere in the UK is very easy via train. We traveled from Milton Keynes to London and from Edinburgh to London by train. Trainline became our best friend. This is an official website/app where you can buy train tickets. You can also give seat preference and it will assign you a seat so that you are ensured a spot on your train.

By Plane: From anywhere outside of the UK, flying to London is probably your best bet. We flew into Heathrow airport and took an Uber to our accommodations. You can take the train into central London from the airport with ease, but getting further north was such a long journey that we opted for an Uber.

Getting Around:

The Tube: The London Underground is going to become your best friend while traveling here. It is quite easy to navigate if you just map your route on Google Maps and follow the instructions. Getting on and off is also easy if you have a credit card or Apple wallet with touchless payment. When you enter the underground station, just tap you touchless payment at the gate and then tap the same card when you exit. Make sure you use the same card and only use this card for one person as to avoid messing up the transaction.

Walking: Lace up your walking shoes because you will need to do a lot of walking in London. The downside of this is that London is not very handicap accessible – so this is something to take into account. I recommend using Google Maps with live view to navigate around the city.

Bus: Everyone knows of the iconic red double decker buses. Although these are known by tourists all over the world, they are actually just the everyday city buses that the locals use as well. We actually didn’t ride the bus at all, but they are available pretty much everywhere.

London Underground
Train to Edinburgh
London bus double decker

Things to See and Do in London

Big Ben and House of Parliament: Make sure you stop by the iconic London site. Walk over Westminster Bridge for the best view of the House of Parliament situated on the banks of the Thames (pronounced “Temz”) River. We didn’t prioritize going inside the Parliament via tour – but this is an option for tourists. Take some time to admire Big Ben and click some nice photos! Fun fact – Big Ben actually refers to the bell inside the tower. The tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower. Even though this is the official name, everyone including locals calls it Big Ben. 

Westminster Abbey: This famous Anglican church located in central London is the home of countless historic coronations, funerals, and events. You can go inside and view this beautiful church for £27 per person. One budget hack is to attend the FREE organ recital on Sunday evenings at 5:30 PM. Make sure you arrive plenty early to claim a spot since this is a popular event.

Buckingham Palace: The residence and headquarters of the British Royal Family. If you have a fascination with the royals, you might want to book a tour to go inside Buckingham Palace. We didn’t go inside, but instead watched the pomp and circumstance of the famous Changing of the Guards from outside. 

British Museum: A great FREE activity to enjoy in London. This museum is dedicated to human history, exhibiting a wide variety of human artifacts from all over the world. In other words – as my friends and I joked – come see all the stuff the British stole. My highlight from the museum was seeing the original Rosetta Stone! 

Big Ben and House of Parliament
Buckingham Palace
British Museum

London Eye: Located on the south bank of the River Thames, come see Europe’s tallest cantilevered (supported from one side only) observation wheel! Also known as the Millennium Wheel, you can ride this observation tower for some of the best views of London. If you want to ride the Eye, be sure to book your tickets ahead of time!  

Tower Bridge: Commonly mistaken as the London Bridge, Tower Bridge is the iconic suspension bridge with two elegant towers. For the best view of the Tower Bridge, go to Potters Field Park. You can hang out here, have a drink or a snack, and enjoy the views! 

Tower of London: For £33.60 a person, you can explore the Tower of London. This is London’s iconic castle that is now turned into a museum that is home to the Crown Jewels. This castle has a prominent role in English history having been besieged multiple times, then used as a prison in the 16th and 17th century. This is what led to the use of the phrase “sent to the tower!”

 

London Eye
Tower Bridge

Borough Market: Make sure to check out this diverse and bustling market in Southwark London. You’ll find a wide variety of vendors from wholesale fish markets to mushroom risotto, from the tik tok viral chocolate strawberries to french cheese. This market is always crazy busy so plan to wait in line for whatever you’re looking to try. 

Piccadilly Circus: I think of this as like the “Times Square” of London. It’s really just a road junction that is filled with lighted billboards, street performers, and the Eros statue in the middle of the central traffic circle. It’s worth swinging by to see this iconic area and it is also filled with gift shops if that is something you want to explore. 

King’s Cross Station: We actually didn’t have time to make it here, but it was on my list as a Harry Potter lover to see Platform 9 3/4. Along with this being a destination for Harry Potter, it is a central transit hub for trains coming in and out of London. 

Borough Market
Borough Market Mushroom Risotto
Piccadilly Circus

Fortnum & Mason: When in London – do as the royals do! Stop by Fortnum & Mason, the official grocer of the royal family. The multi level department store has something for everyone. We loved buying biscuits and tea for friends and family back home. 

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater: Calling all Shakespeare fans – make sure to plan a stop at the Globe Theater. This is a true-to-life reconstruction of Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theater. This playhouse is on the south bank of the Thames and regularly hosts plays. Keep in mind that seating is very limited and Shakespeare plays are long – so you might be on your feet for hours. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral: This famous cathedral is located on Ludgate Hill at the highest point in London. Visitors are allowed inside but it is best to book tickets ahead of time. Entrance for adults is £20.50 when you book online ahead of time. This dome is now an iconic feature of London’s skyline and is worth checking out! 

Fortnum and Mason
Shard

Our Top Experiences in London:

1
Premiere League Football Match I am a Chelsea fan so we went to a home game at Stamford Bridge and it was hands-down the highlight of our trip! The energy, excitement, and experience of a premier league game is unmatched. You can buy tickets online ahead of time!
2
Thames River Cruise This was definitely another highlight of our trip. One of the more budget friendly tours at only £17.50 per person, this 45 minute cruise down the Thames highlights many of the key sights including Tower Bridge, House of Parliament, Globe Theater, Millennium Bridge, and more!
3
Brunch at Aqua Shard Definitely a splurge option - but both the food and the views were incredible. We had a lovely brunch here and spent a few hours enjoying the 3-course meal. We even wandered around the restaurant to see the view from different angles. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time!
Chelsea Game
Thames River Cruise
Aqua Shard

My London Essentials

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