“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” -Samuel Johnson.
This post is all about the Ultimate London Travel Guide.
London Town…my favorite city in the world, it is the heart and soul of the UK. London is fast-paced, edgy, and different. There are different boroughs all over the city, each one unique- to the point where you can find different London accents in each part of the city. There are a million things to do at all times, which can be pretty overwhelming at first, but this London Travel Guide is here to sort you out.
This guide will show you the best bits of London, while also navigating the city on different budgets.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND IN THIS LONDON TRAVEL GUIDE
· When to Visit London
· Pros and Cons of London
· Things to Do and See
· Where to stay in London
· Food & Drink
· London Nightlife
· How to Get Around London
· Packing Guide
A bit of history on London: London started to become the hub of the area in the sixteenth century, as the Tudors expanded the maritime trade of the city. However, London hit a bit of a stall as the Great Plague destroyed the population and the London Fires destroyed the infrastructure of the city. It took over 10 years to rebuild the city, and the entrance of a central banking system once again allowed the city to flourish. The industrial revolution spurred the growth into the London that we now know. In 1963, the city was officially sanctioned into 32 metropolitan boroughs, which are the divisions you can see today.
From the ancient Romans that founded the city, to the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval times, the history of London is extensive and absolutely fascinating. If you want to read more about the history, click here.
WHEN TO VISIT LONDON
I know I’m biased, but I truly think anytime is a good time to visit London, as each season brings something new. However, if you’re only there for a short time, there are better times than others to visit the city. In the Winter, daylight hours are particularly limited, as the sun can set as early as 3:30 in the afternoon. In terms of weather and daylight, the best time to visit London is going to be March through July. However, late Spring through Summer is when tourist season hits pretty heavily, so flights will be a bit more expensive. In terms of budgeting, Fall is going to be more affordable for flights, although the weather will be colder.
I recommend spending a minimum of 4-6 days in the city.
PROS AND CONS OF LONDON
The Pros: Where can I even begin? As I’ve said, there are always a million things going on within the city. Traveling in London is easy for female and solo travelers, as London is considered a very safe city and is super easy to get around. Additionally, the history is extensive, and can be learned about in any of London’s free museums. In addition to all of the activities during the day, London also has amazing pubs and nightlife. The city is welcoming and diverse, giving any traveler what they could want.
The Cons: If you can’t tell, I LOVE London, so much of the city is considered a pro to me. However, there are a couple of negatives to London. First, if you are on a budget, the city is going to challenge that- it is not a very cheap place to visit. Luckily (based on my mistakes), this guide will give you some pointers on how to explore London on a budget. Second, London is a truly massive city. If you are trying to experience it in 2-3 days, it is going to be difficult.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE
With so much to do and see in London, I’m going to give you some of my favorite touristy and non-touristy activities.
Touristy Sights You Have to See:
I would recommend spending your first day in London hitting all of the touristy sights, as you get a real feel of the history.
Tower Bridge and Tower of London
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge have become the iconic symbol of the city. Do not confuse the Tower Bridge with the London Bridge, as they are completely separate. You can access both from the same area with a short walk. The Tower of London was built in 1070 by William the Conqueror and currently is home to the crown jewels. The Tower boasts a brutal history, as it has a past of murderous plots, prisoners, and war. There are many discounts if you purchase a combined ticket package, but you can purchase a ticket for a flat price of £24.70 (US $32). Take the tube to Tower Hill station via the Circle or District lines.
Big Ben and House of Parliament
Another two sights you can see at the same time are Big Ben and the house of Parliament. Although you can’t go into the actual building of Big Ben, you can view it from the House of Parliament. However, the best view of Big Ben is across the river near the London Eye. You can get a tour of the House of Parliament for £22.50 (US $31). Note: Big Ben is currently under construction and scaffolding will remain until some point in 2020. The closest tube line is Westminster, which has the Circle, District, and Jubilee lines.
Westminster Abbey is located closely to Big Ben and the House of Parliament, making this another spot to easily cross off your list. Westminster Abbey is the traditional site that the monarchs are crowned at, and is one of the most religious buildings in the country. It also serves as a burial site, housing the bodies of monarchs, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, etc. If you’d like to take a tour, you can save a couple of bucks if you purchase tickets online for £21 (US $29). Like Big Ben and the House of Parliament, the closest tube line is Westminster, which serves the Circle, District, and Jubilee lines.
This is probably the most famous spot in the city, as it houses Queen Elizabeth. Beware, this is without a doubt the most touristy spot in the city, with people roaming EVERYWHERE. Nevertheless, it is a must see. The palace is only open to the public during the summer months, but you can see the changing of the guards at any point during the year for free. Booking a tour of the palace isn’t cheap, as it costs £49 (US $60). The closest tube stations are Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, and Victoria.
Check out this guide to the changing of the guards!
Trafalgar Square is a beautiful place to relax and hang out, and is another free activity in London. The Trafalgar Square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar, and houses statues that commemorate the battle. You can grab a coffee and head into the National Portrait Gallery or watch street performers. The closest tube station is Charing Cross, which serves the Northern and Bakerloo lines.
This is the largest green space in the city, and is a great place to go for a stroll or play some games. The park was established in 1536 by Henry VIII and contains beautiful art and landmarks. Hyde Park is also surrounded by great restaurants, so you can grab nice bite after you explore the park. Highstreet Kensington, Hyde Park Corner, and Notting Hill Gate are all close to the park.
Other Things to See and Do:
Camden Market is edgy and eclectic, and is one of my favorite spots in the city. There are over 1000 shops and is open every day of the week from 10am to 6pm. The market features craft shops and clothing stores, as well as delicious street food and pubs. I recommend trying to visit this market during a weekday, as Saturday and Sunday are extremely busy. You can get to Camden market via the tube at Camden Town station.
Get Tickets to a Football Game
If you can plan it in advance, try to hit a football game while you’re in London. This is one of my absolute must-do’s. There is nothing like the atmosphere of a football match and the environment of one. To be fair, this is not going to be a budget activity for your time in London. It can be difficult to purchase tickets, but typically the easiest clubs to get tickets to are Arsenal and Tottenham. To get Arsenal tickets, you will need to subscribe to their club, which membership can cost around £29 (US $38).
If you are looking for top of the line street food/food market, Borough Market should be your go-to. It is London’s oldest food market, located in Southwark, and dates back to the 12th century. If you’re on a budget, take a trip to the market and grab yourself a bite. Tip: the cheese raclette is Instagram worthy AND delicious. London Bridge station and Southwark Station are going to be your closest stations.
One of the most unique things about London are the free museums. This is a great way to explore and learn about the history of the city on a budget. My favorite of the free museums in London are: the British Museum, the Science Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and Tate Modern.
Check out more free London museums here!
A trendy and artsy part of London, Covent Garden has fun shops and restaurants that are different than any other part of the city. Covent Garden is located on the edges of the West End and has many nooks and crannies to explore. The area used to be an Anglo-Saxon trading town, and now is home to various markets, street performers, and more. Scroll down to Food & Drink for my top place to eat in the city, located in Covent Garden.
Check out the Top 9 Non Touristy Things to Do in London.
WHERE TO STAY IN LONDON
In London, there are many housing options for each type of budget. From the uber-luxurious to good ole hostels, there is a place for every type of traveler. As always, if you are a budget traveler, I recommend checking out Hostelworld. Here are some of Hostelworld’s top hostels in London:
Hostels are going to run around £27 (US $35).
A great tip about London is that hotels can be pretty inexpensive too, if you do your research. Here are some top-rated, inexpensive hotels in London:
Travelodge London Central City Road
Hub by Premier Inn London Covent Garden
Hotels are going to run about £69 (US $90).
FOOD & DRINK
England is universally known for its pubs…for obvious reasons. Who doesn’t love a pint and pie? You can check out this guide to the 6 best pubs in London here. The guide includes independently owned and unique pubs around the city. Here are 3 of my favorite pubs:
Never would I have thought that my favorite pizza in the entire world would be served in London, of all places. You can find this divine pizza at Homeslice in Neal’s Yard (Covent Garden). It is an absolute unit of a thin-crust pizza, with unique flavors. This is a teeny restaurant, so I would try to get here for lunch or before the dinner rush. Getting to Homeslice might be one of the most exciting parts of the whole experience. Neal’s Yard is quite literally a small alley in Covent Garden that houses unique restaurants and shops…and finding it can be a bit time consuming. To find this hidden gem, you can access it via two alleyways- Short’s Garden off Neal Street and another alley on Monmouth Street.
Alright, I’m going to be honest with you. The experience of this restaurant is going to be better than the food (although the food IS good!). You can take a stroll through Russel Square and grab brunch or a coffee at Caffe Tropea, and eat in their outside dining area. There was nothing better than relaxing in the square with a proper English breakfast. You can get here via tube to Russell Square station.
Pret A Manger
Three words, 15 letters: CHEAP GOOD COFFEE. Pret is my go-to coffee shop, as it is truly all over the city. They offer milk alternatives and decent grab-and-go foods, which can help you stay on a budget. Is this luxurious? No. Is it convenient? Yes.
London is known for its Indian food, and there are sooo many options available. I’m going to preface this with the fact that I am not a personal fan of Indian food, but my roommate (shoutout to Chloe!) was. The ruby chicken at Dishoom was her recommendation for the best Indian dish and restaurant in London. There are two locations, one in Covent Garden and the other in Shoreditch.
Oh man…where do I even begin with London Nightlife? After living in London for months, I don’t think I could ever tire of the places to go there.
I’m going to start off with a very trendy chain bar/restaurant. This is where I would take all of my friends and family that visited me. The Alchemist has super unique drinks that are science-themed. This is not going to be an on-budget place as drinks are a pretty penny, but this is a place I think everyone should try at least once. The Alchemist is located in Shoreditch, which is a hot spot for trendy bars.
Bevis Marks, London EC3A 7BA, United Kingdom
Let’s talk about one of the most unique clubs in London…Ballie Ballerson. If you cant tell by the name, the club is essentially a massive ball pit with cocktails. If you’re worried about germs, rest assured, the balls are cleaned regularly. There are now two locations in London, Shoreditch and Soho.
97-113 Curtain Rd, Hackney, London EC2A 3BS, United Kingdom
If you’re looking for a non-touristy, true underground London club, XOYO is for you. This East London club is authentic as it gets, with 2 floors of DJs. XOYO is another club located in Shoreditch (are you seeing a trend here?).
32-37 Cowper St, Shoreditch, London EC2A 4AP, United Kingdom
KOKO is a club in Camden, created out of an old theater house. Concerts and DJs are regular events here, so I would check their website to see if you need a ticket, depending on the night. Note, the club is currently under renovation, planning on opening again Spring 2020.
1A Camden High St, London NW1 7JE, United Kingdom
If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know I always suggest a pub crawl. Heck, I lived here and still went on one every once in a while. This is a good way to see hit a bunch of bars on a budget and meet new people. I recommend the Camden Pub Crawl and The Original Shoreditch Pub Crawl.
HOW TO GET AROUND LONDON
Public transportation in London is world-renowned for its convenience. You can get what is called an Oyster Card, which allows you to travel around on the bus and tube, with a simple tap-in and tap-out. Buying an Oyster card is £5 (US $6.50) and then you can choose how much to load on your card. I recommend getting a day card for £7 (US $9), meaning no matter how much you ride, it will cap-off at £7. Remember, TAP OUT! (Or you can be charged heavily.)
Ubers are always an option, but they are not as cost effective as public transportation.
I highly suggest downloading the app Citymapper, which is unique to London. Citymapper will let you plug in your current location and desired location, and suggest the best routes for you and how much it will cost.
What clothes to pack for a trip in London:
· 1 pair of jeans
· 1 pair of black denim
· 1 pair of leggings
· 1 skirt
· 2 sweaters
· 2 long-sleeved shirts
· 1 tank top
· 1 pair of boots
· 1 pair of sneakers
· 1 cardigan
· 4 pairs of underwear and socks
· 2 sleeping tshirts and sleeping shorts
· 1 heavy jacket
· 1 beanie
What toiletries to pack for London:
· 1 razor
· 1 tube of toothpaste
· 1 mini bottle of shampoo and conditioner
· Makeup you use
· Hair bands and bobbi pins
· Mini baby powder (can work as dry shampoo)
Miscellaneous Items to Pack:
· Zip Lock Bags (for liquids)
· Combination Lock (for your locker at your hostel)
· Universal Charger for the UK
· Passport and ID