THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO LONDON

Prepare yourselves, this is going to be a long one.

I felt it was about time that I created an ‘Ultimate Guide’ to my favorite city in the world. I am actually extremely proud of how many things I accomplished while living in London. It’s true that you will never find yourself complaining of boredom in London. To create this guide, I simply sat down one night and began listing the places I visited and the meaningful experiences I shared, and so began the guide to England’s largest, and most diverse, city.

And guys, there is still so much more to explore of this metropolis. How does one do it all?

When to plan a visit:

London is not known for it’s spectacular weather. Quite the contrary actually… Most people will cringe when they hear you are  visiting England in general. They will warn you of the grey skies and definite rain that will welcome you upon arrival. It’s ironic because the majority of these people we come across in our lives have never actually stepped foot in London.

While it may be the case that grey clouds are more frequent than in other cities of the world, the ‘bad weather’ hype is somewhat over-dramatic. You can look through each and every post about London here on the blog, and nine times out of ten, you will find blue skies as the backdrop to whatever activity I was documenting at the time. With all of that being said, there isn’t really a bad time to visit London. You will have the same chance of rain in the middle of July as you would the end of January. You will also have the same odds regarding blue skies.

I would recommend visiting in Spring as the flowers will be in bloom and the city truly comes to life. Winter’s are cold AF, so be prepared. And summer is very mild with the temperatures rarely rising about 70 degrees fahrenheit. We had a nationwide ‘heat wave‘ last year which included two days of 80 degree weather.

London is expensive, so visiting during the off-peak season may be ideal in terms of booking flights and accommodation.

How to get around:

You can fly into one of three London airports, though Heathrow is the most accessible. If riding in a black cabbie upon arrival to London has been on your bucket list, I recommend saving it for a shorter trip within the city. Depending on how much luggage you bring with you, the tube is the cheapest and most convenient form of transportation. The Piccadilly line runs directly from Heathrow Airport into central London.

You will want to purchase an oyster card {5 GBP} to travel throughout the city using public transportation. This will decrease the cost of each individual trip you take on the tube {or bus!}, and you can easily refill the card at any point during your visit. I still keep my oyster card in my wallet for sentimental purposes, and I know I will be returning later this  year. However, if you return the card at the end of your holiday, you will receive a reimbursement for the five pounds you intitally spent as a deposit.

The tube is extremely easy to navigate. TFL has not created an app to use within the city {ugh, frustrating I know}, but if you download Citymapper {which I highly suggest}, you can utilize their journey planner to get from point A to B. This can be used for bus service as well! Unfortunately, Lyft is only available in the states, and although I cannot advocate for Uber due to the political nature of the company, it is always an affordable option.

Where to eat & drink:

I didn’t do a lot of eating out in London, but when I did it was usually brunch. There are an infinite amount of restaurants and bars throughout the city. Lucky for you I recently created two blog posts on the subject. You can find the best places to brunch {especially if you are gluten free!} here, and here is an entire guide to bars in London. Go wild.

Where to stay:

Additionally, I never had a reason to stay anywhere outside of my home in London, and therefore do not have much insight to the hotels or hostels within the city. This being said, I recently published a Quick Neighborhood Guide to London that may or may not be insightful to someone looking for an area of the city to consider a home base.

What to do:

There a million and ten things to do in London. Seriously, you can never run out of things to do and see. Which is fabulous, and also absolutely daunting without a bit of direction. To narrow down your options, check out my Top 10 Things to do in London. Otherwise, here are a plethora of ideas for what to do and see in London:

Big Ben

On any trip to London, visiting Big Ben is a must. Hands down. 100%.  It is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Although overly crowded, Big Ben and the House of Parliament truly deserve recognition. An alternative to seeing these beauties during peak time is to come back at night when the tourists have found a pub to crawl into.

Westminster Abbey 

Close to House of Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey is a sight to be seen. The cathedral is absolutely stunning and makes you feel extremely small in comparison. Make sure to walk around the entire building to catch it from all angles. Trust me, it keeps getting better and better as you circle around.

The London Eye

If heights aren’t  your thing, then this next recommendation may not be for you. However, it is well worth facing your fears for the views on offer. The London Eye is the second largest observation wheel in the world {the first being Las Vegas, NV as of recently}. But it is easily numbero uno when it comes to views!

St. Pauls Cathedral

If you think the outside of this cathedral is incredible, just wait until you step inside… entry is free, but for a ‘tour’ you will gain access to the rooftop where you will find some of the most spectacular views of the city. To include St. Paul’s Cathedral in your skyline view, head across the street to Madison bar for a free rooftop experience.

Globe Theater

For a true Shakespeare experience, attend a play a the Globe Theater. Tickets are dirt cheap and you will transport back in time as you perch on the wooden stadium seating.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is another London icon that is worth the hype. You can admire the bridge from afar while lounging on the grass and sipping a cocktail. Or you can take a walk across the bridge and overlook the Thames. Either way you are gifted with a stunning view. You have the option of walking across the towers as well, but I haven’t experienced it first hand so cannot recommend one way or another.

Tower of London

I didn’t personally visit the Tower of London, but I know a couple of friends who have. The main exhibit, of course, is the crown jewels, but I simply couldn’t justify spending nearly 25 GBP to see jewelry.  That being said, if you’ve always wanted to see the treasures enclosed in glass, be my guest!

Cruise the Thames

From the moment I arrived in London, I was not necessarily impressed with the River Thames. Coming from California, I am not a fan of brown rivers. Not that anyone really is? However, a friend of mine proposed to his girlfriend while we were all in London via boat under Tower Bridge, and it immediately changed my outlook on the entire thing. I was enchanted by the photos he captured during the proposal and it became the most romantic location in all of London for me.

Neal’s Yard

If you do happen to come across one of those grey days all your friends warned you about, head to Neal’s Yard to brighten up your afternoon. Take a seat in one of the outdoor cafes and people watch. It’s my favorite secret in London.

Borough Market

Located in central London, Borough Market is a great stop on your visit for cheese tasting, wine, and allergy free goodies. Be wary, the market is completely closed on Sundays!

Boxpark

Boxpark is a pop-up mall made solely of shipping containers. If that is not intriguing enough, go for the open roof deck with communal tables and an outdoor cinema.

National History Museum

Another popular London activity I missed while residing across the pond was the National History Museum. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know I am not a museum-goer. I generally tend to enjoy my time spent outdoors, rain or shine.  This being said, I had wanted to visit the National History Museum for quite some time, and am super bummed that I missed out. If you get the chance, I have only heard great things! And the best part, it’s FREE!

Explore Shoreditch

Shoreditch is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in London. You can find hipsters, vintage stores, cheap curries, and lots of graffiti down Brick Lane market.

Brick Lane Market

Speaking of Brick Lane Market, this was one of the first locations I explored in February of last year. The street food is better than any other I’ve tried and you can’t beat the thrift shop prices on clothes!

Abbey Road Crossing/Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road was made famous thanks to The Beatles  and now is one of the biggest pain in the asses for drivers in London. Walk across the famous intersection with a group of gal pals like the rest of the world. Just try to avoid the oncoming traffic! They rarely stop for an amateur photoshoot.

Primrose Hill

If you are blessed with a sunny day in London, find a park as soon as possible. You won’t be lacking in options.  Primrose Hill is a favorite of mine. It offers a skyline view of London with the greenery and atmosphere desirable for a picnic. There are no ‘open container’ laws in London, so bring your wine and cheese and treat yourself.

The Churchill Arms

You can’t visit London and not visit a traditional English pub. Sorry, but you can’t. Order a pint and a traditional Thai meal {say whaaaat? yeah I know} at The Churchill Arms and fall back in time. Winston Churchill’s grandparents were once locals here!

Regent Park

Regent Park truly comes to life in the spring and summer. As crowded as it becomes, you will always be able to find a place to picnic. Take a look at Queen Mary’s Gardens for some magnificent color, located within the park.

Camden Market

This quirky market offers a variety of divine cuisine at an affordable cost. This was one of the first places I visited upon arrival in London and it holds a special place in my heart. If you are looking for something, Camden Market will probably have it. It’s just one of the places. And if you fancy walking in Amy Winehouse’s footsteps, take a walk around the corner and order a drink at her old local pub.

London Zoo

Located within Regent Park, the London Zoo holds most of the animals you would expect to find in a zoo of it’s size. It’s a great place to take kids; I would know. As an au pair, I accompanied a trip to the zoo with at least ten little humans. By the end of it I was feeling as exhausted as one of the sloths on exhibit.

Concert at Wembley Stadium

One of the highlights of my time in London was attending a Coldplay concert in the famous Wembley Stadium. This place is incredible. Other than the overpriced drinks, I couldn’t find a fault with the stadium. It didn’t hurt that I was witnessing one of the greatest bands of ALL TIME live. If you get the opportunity, go go go!

See a West End Show

I have seen multiple shows in London, each offering something different. I am a big musical buff and could spend the rest of my life in the theater. If you share my love of musicals, or not, seeing a show in the West End is an unforgettable experience.

China Town

Are you even considered a city if you don’t have a China Town? The biggest and best China Town’s I have ever experienced can be found in London. Second to San Francisco that is…

British Museum

On an inevitably rainy afternoon, take advatange of another free museum! The British Museum gives you access to most of the exhibits and is an easy way to kill a few hours.

Hampstead Heath

Needing some nature in your life? Like nature, nature. Hampstead Heath provides you with 790 acres of free space and green rolling hills. It’s absolutely worth a visit, especially on a clear day.

Shop on Oxford Street

I have a shopping addiction. I can admit that. Let’s just say, Oxford Street didn’t help.

Buckingham Palace

Say cheerio to the Queen! Buckingham Palace is another location you simply cannot miss when you visit London. If you get the opportunity and plan accordingly, you should attempt to witness a changing of the guards. As touristy of an activity as it is, it is something you’ll hold on to and remember. Typically, the changing of the guards occurs at 11:00 AM which gives you plenty of time to catch some breakfast before walking down the mall to snag a good lookout point.

Chelsea Flower Market

I attended the Chelsea Flower Market on Mother’s Day last year. Let it be known, I wouldn’t recommend this to my worst enemy. The market is narrow as it is, but add a haggle of mothers and daughters wanting the perfect tulip and it becomes a mess. That being said, the market is lovely and deserves a visit. Maybe just save it for a random Sunday…

Traflager Square

Somehow, I am really excellent at sniffing out protests. It’s happened multiple times since living in New York City, but it truly began in London when I accidentally found myself in the middle of an anti-Brexit protest. Traflager Square is a photogenic location in London and backs up to the National Gallery. You will find concerts, flash mobs, and performers of all kind on a regular basis in Traflager Square.

Hyde Park

On the warmest day in London last year, I grabbed a picnic and some rose and met my friends in Hyde Park for what became one of my favorite afternoons in the city. I recommend hiring a bike and pedaling your way through the park. It’s simply the best way to experience it.

Portobello Road Market

Another ‘you-can’t-leave-London-without’ destination is the Portobello Road Market, or Notting Hill in general. Notting Hill quickly became my favorite borough of London. You will find pastel colored buildings down every road and charming home decor on each door stoop. The Portobello Road Market offers trinkets of all sorts, fresh fruit, and delicious BBQ.

And there you have it! How many of these experiences have you been lucky enough to enjoy? What did I miss out on?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *