I always loved London's expansive culture, electric energy, and amazing beauty. The people are also interesting (albeit a little hard to open up) and often delightfully witty. I hope you all get a chance to visit soon!
Get In / Get Around
HEATHROW AIRPORT There are a couple options to get to the city center from Heathrow. Try to book your tickets ahead of time online for the lowest fares.
- HEATHROW EXPRESS: every 15 min at around £32 for a round trip ticket, reaches Paddington station around 12-15 minutes
- HEATHROW CONNECT: every 30 in at around £16.50 for a round trip ticket, reaches Paddington station in around 30 minutes
- There are also a few other options like the Tube (great because it allows the use of the Oyster card), Southwest trains, and buses, but they take a longer time and are more complicated, so I generally stick to the first two
GATWICK AIRPORT There are a couple options to get to the city center from Gatwick. I prefer the Thameslink because it's a pretty fast & convenient option that's much cheaper than some of the other options. Try to book your tickets ahead of time online for the lowest fares.
- GATWICK EXPRESS: every 15 min starting around £33 for a round trip ticket that reaches Victoria in 30-35 minutes
- SOUTHERN RAILWAY: every 15 minutes starting around £27 for a round trip ticket (not valid for trains marked express)
- THAMESLINK: every 15 minutes starting around £10 one way that reaches Blackfriars in about 35 minutes
OYSTER CARD This card is essential to using public transportation in London, including buses, trams, the Tube, etc. Get an Oyster card with a deposit of £5. If you stay in London for a few days, getting an Oyster card will be more cost effective than buying single trip paper tickets. When you leave London, you can get your deposit back when you return your card (but you will only get £3 back for shorter trips).
APPLEPAY You can also use ApplePay for public transportation instead of getting an Oyster card. Just make sure that you are consistently charging the same credit/debit card on the same device, or it will go in the system as separate accounts. (For instance, even if your Apple Watch and iPhone link to the same card, it will show up as separate accounts.) Using a consistent payment account will ensure you get charged accurately for distance and transfers.
UBER I was happy to see that Uber was available in London. Perfect for rides home after nights out in an unfamiliar city.
BUCKINGHAM PALACE Situated between GREEN PARK and ST JAMES'S PARK, this is known as where the Queen officially lives. Try to time your visit with the changing of the guard. It usually takes place daily at 11:30AM and lasts for about 45 minutes. From Buckingham, start walking towards Big Ben through St. James's Park, which I loved due to its romantic, picnic-perfect beauty and also because it was full of interesting birds (pelicans, tufted duck, swans, and more!)
WALK ALONG RIVER THAMES Start at BIG BEN and WESTMINSTER ABBEY and head towards the river. Make sure to hit some of the key attractions on your way to the TOWER BRIDGE and LONDON TOWER. (Or do this walk in reverse & start at London Tower instead!)
- LONDON EYE (I find it a bit expensive, so I've never ridden it but love looking at it)
- MILLENNIUM BRIDGE
- SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE
- LONDON BRIDGE (cue Fergie)
PARKS London has so many beautiful green spaces in the center of the hustle and bustle. Here are a couple you should try to explore in addition to Green Park and St. James's Park (mentioned above):
- HYDE PARK and KENSINGTON GARDENS: One of the largest parks in London. Don't miss the rose garden, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and the many other fountains scattered throughout the park!
- REGENT PARK: A beautiful park with many gardens (Queen Mary's garden, Avenue Gardens, St. John Lodge Gardens, and more) and one of my favorite places in London, PRIMROSE HILL, which gives you a great birdseye view of the city. There is also a lake where you can take a calming ride in a rowboat.
- VICTORIA PARK: A romantic, gorgeous park that is loved by locals and lesser known by tourists and therefore a bit more quiet. Victoria Park is one of the oldest parks (with recent extensive renovations). It features a large rowing lake, ponds, a stunning pagoda, and regularly hosts various sporting events.
NOTTING HILL This beautiful neighborhood hosts many gorgeous and expensive stone buildings, in addition to many streets that are classy British pastel explosions. Right nearby is the PORTOBELLO ROAD MARKET, where you can find eclectic goods, ranging from jewelry and antiques to food on Fridays and Saturdays.
BOROUGH MARKET Don't expect especially low prices here, but expect high quality. Try out BRINDISA (Spanish chorizo sandwiches), BREAD AHEAD (try their focaccia and donuts), MONMOUTH (one of the best places for coffee in London), THE HAM & CHEESE CO (I can't ever say no to Parmiaggiano Reggiano), and GREEDY GOAT (yum, ice cream!).
PICCADILLY CIRCUS London's version of Times Square with bright lights and great shopping.
HARROD'S This is a gorgeous and iconic department store. Spend hours getting lost, taking pictures of cute bear statues, and buying souvenirs for your friends & family back home.
MUSEUMS London has many awesome museums, especially since many of them offer free admission to their permanent collections. Here are some of my favorite:
- BRITISH MUSEUM: Free entry with beautiful art from many different eras and countries. Don't miss the Parthenon marbles and Rosetta Stone. It's also housed in a beautiful, architectural gem (the ceilings of the courtyard are amazing!
- TATE MODERN: Also has free entry and features modern and contemporary art with a unique architectural component in the Turbine Hall. There is also a VIEWING LEVEL that has awesome views over River Thames and the London skyline.
- VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM: Free entry (or donation) that features decorative arts, including tapestries, jewelry, fashion articles, and art galleries from Europe, Asia, and Middle East.
DUCK & WAFFLE Enjoy an incredible view of London 40 floors up at this charming, beautiful spot. It's open 24-hours, so try to nab a reservation at sunset, or if you're feeling active, at sunrise. Or maybe stumble in after enjoying London's amazing nightlife. The Duck & Waffle dish is always a good choice.
THE SHARD If you feel okay with spending a bit more for amazing atmosphere with spectacular views, head to the Shard. You can choose to go there just for THE VIEW observation deck on floors 68, 69 and 72, or go to one of the select RESTAURANTS OR BARS and enjoy the view over food or drinks.
HONEST BURGERS The burger scene has really took off in the past few years and this is one of my favorite places. Visually the locations are well designed and awesome, and more importantly the burgers are well-made with high quality ingredients.
GRANGER & CO I love this brunch place (I went to the one in Notthing Hill). I don't love the long lines but the food was awesome. I absolutely loved their Ricotta Hot Cakes, they were so fluffy and amazing. It's a cute place for a date or to start off your day.
SUSHISAMBA The London location is absolutely stunning. I fell in love with the modern decor, the high ceilings and unique lighting. The food is fantastic, Japanese sushi with a Brazilian twist. It's pretty popular so try to nab a reservation in advance! It can be a bit pricey but definitely worth it for the views and ambiance.
THE DORCHESTER While there are many places to enjoy afternoon tea, delight in a luxe experience at the Dorchester Hotel. Prices aren't cheap, but match the high quality savory and sweet goods and gorgeous settings. Other notable places to enjoy high tea include MAD HATTERS (cute Alice in Wonderland theme, as the name suggests), AFTERNOON TEA BUS TOUR (enjoy a unique afternoon tea experience while riding around in a classic double decker red bus), and TING AT THE SHANGRI LA (located at the Shard and boasts impressive views over the city).
WHITE MULBERRIES Perfect for coffee, simple breakfast/brunch, or lunch, this place has super cute decor in a unique location, St. Katharine's docks. It's close enough to Tower of London & Tower Bridge, so make sure you make a quick stop while sightseeing!
GOLDEN UNION FISH BAR I had to highlight fish & chips on my London food list. There are endless amounts of popular fish & chips places to try, but this place in Soho is a good starting point, with its flaky and tasty fish covered in the perfect chewy-yet-crispy beer batter. They also source sustainable fish and have great chips.
FOUNDERS ARMS The perfect bar on the River Thames. It's not the cheapest place ever but has a great, fun atmosphere, especially on days that it's bright & warm enough to sit outside.
MILK & HONEY Beautiful speakeasy with great cocktails with just a hint of a pretentious vibe (but still unstuffy!) It's members only, but non-members can book until 11pm, ground floor or basement bar only. They might kick you out at 11pm, so book enough time. Or you can try to walk-in early (6-7pm).
THE CROSS KEYS A quintessential London pub loved by locals. Enjoy a great selection of beer and take a step outside to sip beer next to the beautiful foliage-covered entrance.
DRINK SHOP DO Cafe by day, bar by night, this place always has fun events going on, such as calligraphy classes, dance classes, Lego building workshops, etc. They also offer bottomless brunch on the weekends. Check their EVENTS CALENDAR and prepare to drink & have fun!
THE ESCAPOLOGIST A cool Victorian old gentlemen's club vibe with amazing cocktails, secret rooms, and a classy atmosphere.
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