London is an Alpha++ Global city and arguably the greatest city in the world, the only other comparable city and main bragging rights rival; New York. It’s common knowledge that London is vast in almost every aspect, but it’s not until trying to navigate the city that the scale becomes apparent and overwhelming for those not used to big cities.
London has been my home for more than six years at time of writing and even though I’ve made a good go of it, I am still far from seeing and experiencing all that London has to offer. I haven’t even been to half the suburbs. I haven’t ‘spent much time west’ for example, replace west with any direction and that sentence could be used by the majority of Londoners. It’s because wherever you are, everything can be found at your doorstep, and your doorstep is constantly growing and changing.
So I’m not going to try and cover everything. This little London guide, much like everything to come about other places, will be a short outline of my advice and experience, intended to assist visitors and travellers to this great city.
Well it really depends on where you’re coming from, but London has the world’s largest city airport system, so it’s quite likely the best option is to arrive by plane.
All airports have express train options to the city and I would recommend paying the bit extra and going with one of these. For example, the Heathrow Express takes 20 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington and you can get a one way ticket from £5.50 if you book 90 days in advance. Closer to the travel date you might pay around £22 for a one way ticket, so plan ahead. The same journey on the tube is a less comfortable journey with one change, it takes an hour and tickets are £5.10. Other airports have comparable services, but the main point I’m trying to make is to avoid the bus at all costs, unless you are on a strict budget, but then…..London.
Once at a station you can either buy an oyster card (£5 refundable deposit), or use your contactless credit/debit card to travel on any TFL (Transport For London) services; including the tube, overground, national rail, DLR and busses. Download the TFL or tube map app and you are all set.
When approaching the ticket barrier, always have your ticket ready. When using the escalator, remember; walk on the left stand on the right. A great general rule for tourists; if you don’t know where you’re going, move to the side, away from exits/entrances and out of the flow of people before you check your phone/map or ask for help. Ask for help! Londoners are actually very nice and will be willing to help out providing you follow the guidelines above.
Go to TFL for prices and ticket info.
Also, don’t forget about taxis. Quite often a taxi within central london shared among 4-5 people will be equal to the price of 4-5 train tickets and can save some painful bus journeys. The iconic Black Cabs give an authentic experience, their drivers are very knowledgeable, and for short distances are fair value for money. Black Cabs operate a running meter charge. Other main taxi services are Addison Lee and Uber, you can book a car to your location at a requested time using the respective apps and you get a fixed price fare.
Expect all the options of any major city and more. Depending on budget you can stay anywhere from a shared dorm to a luxury hotel. Personally, I’ve found that the best value for money is Airbnb as London hotels are very hit and miss. Either you get a cheap room in your worst nightmare, or a gorgeous room way outside of budget; hotels can be a huge pain if you don’t have the means to spend big. Add to this the confusion of location and zones and finding a bed is no simple task.
Here’s what you can expect to pay on average within zones 1-3, per night per person, based on a double room for 4 nights (after a very basic search).
Another common option for those on a tight budget (or those who prefer it) is couchsurfing
Try to stay somewhere within zones 1-3, any further out and you are looking at longer travel times and ticket prices. As for area, see below for general outlines.
It’s really as simple as picking the area most well known for your interests. From there, London is fairly easy to navigate. For example;
Going to the theatre? Stay somewhere with easy access to the West-end.
Shopping? Stay west of Kensington for easy access to west and central shopping districts.
Want cool nightlife? Stay east close to Shoreditch, Hoxton, Dalston & Hackney.
Live music? Stay north near Camden & Islington.
Beer Lover? Stay south near Bermondsey & the Bermondsey beer mile.
Foodie? Borough, Brockley, Brick Lane, Kingsland Road (or just about anywhere really).
Want a dose of the authentic London melting pot? Brixton, Peckham, Lewisham, Deptford.
Clubs and restaurants? Make sure it’s easy to get to Soho!
Nature, parks & rivers? South-west near Richmond or north near Hampstead.
There are a ton of sights and tourist traps in London, some to avoid and a lot to experience. Again, it’s entirely interest based, some people have no interest in museums, some have no interest in restaurants, some don’t care for sex shops. My main advice would be to do your research based on what you love and tailor your London trip to suit. That being said, here are a few major attractions I can comment on.
The London Eye – Meh. Pretty awesome view on a clear day, something like £18 per person, takes around 2 hours (30 mins actual ride time). Hint – If you go to Sushi Samba on Bishopsgate, you can get a view just as good for the price of an expensive drink.
Tower Of London – Awesome and well worth it. Something like £19 including the crown jewels. You can spend an hour or hours depending on your pace.
Westminster/Big Ben – Best viewed from Southbank and Westminster Bridge. Mind the scammers on the bridge.
Buckingham Palace – Worth a visit but the crowds are a bit gross most of the time. Walk through the lovely St James’s Park.
The parks – Hyde park, Regents park etc are huge parks and can be nice on a fine day. For something a little different, try Victoria, Richmond or Greenwich parks.
10 Downing Street – It’s just a door with guards and a gate, but it’s on the way to Trafalgar Square.
Trafalgar Square – Busy but pretty cool. Always something to see and the National Gallery is there.
Greenwich Meridian Line/Observatory – Greenwich is nice and worth a stroll, the view from the observatory is epic. Hint – The observatory has a planetarium that has cheap tickets and is a great experience.
Tower Bridge – It’s a pretty bridge and an impressive sight best viewed from Southbank.
London Bridge – It’s actually just a boring ugly bridge, but underneath the bridge is food heaven at Borough Markets. Hint – The markets are closed Sundays.
St Paul’s Cathedral – Pretty awesome and worth a look. Grab a drink in the basement cafe.
Should we do this all day? There’s just too many things to list. Maybe take note of the major places I haven’t visited, like Madame Tussauds, and put them down as being traps.
Make sure to check out Timeout for loads of information about everything London.
Hint – Be careful and pick your days and times for attractions. For monuments and buildings, weekday evenings will have the least people and London is beautiful at night. Most paid attractions will close around 6pm and you’re best off going as early as possible.
This section will be different than usual, but here’s a few tips for an authentic London experience.
Underneath Embankment, on Villiers st, there’s a Vaulted Cellar that’s now a Wine bar called Gordon’s. Go before 5pm when the work crowd means you won’t get a seat.
A great way to see the city is by boat. Jump on at Embankment and ride a river taxi all the way to greenwich.
Visiting Camden Markets? Head north along the canal to Primrose Hill and take in the view.
Speaking of Canals, you can walk along the canals from Camden all the way to Victoria Park and beyond. Take a few drinks for the journey.
On Saturdays visit the Bermondsey Beer Mile, a mile long stretch of rail arches housing breweries, distilleries and food markets. The London craft beer scene is pumping and this is the centre of the action.
Brick Lane for curries, Kingsland Road for Vietnamese, Chinatown for Chinese, Brixton or Notting Hill for Caribbean, Edgware Road for Middle Eastern. Not the best in each example, but a good start.
London is a big expensive city, it’s not going to be cheap. However, it doesn’t have to be expensive either. The beauty of London is that there are loads of experiences that don’t need to cost money, you really can see London in your own style. Fancy restaurants, hotels and attractions? Amazing. Riverside picnics, couchsurfing and culture walks? Even better.
Since I can’t really do a cost breakdown, here’s a few basic guidelines;
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