London is a historic city with a lot of modern liveliness, which makes it an exciting adventure. It is the capital of the United Kingdom and a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The weather in the city is mild, but especially in the winter (when I visited), it can be cold and raining a lot of the time. Nonetheless, London is a great city to visit, any time of the year. It is also one of the more expensive cities in Europe, so plan for that!
London is a big city with big city traffic, but luckily it is home to the oldest underground subway system, “The Tube.” Stations are rather far apart, especially outside of the center city. However, it is pretty straight forward to use. They do have lines that only run to certain stops after certain times of the day as well as some lines that will actually split and have two different end destinations, so make sure to look at which train it is when approaching the station! The Tube does run all the way out to London Heathrow Airport, so it is an easy option for coming into the city if you fly in.
If you plan on staying in London longer than a day or two, I suggest getting an Oyster Card. You can purchase the Oyster Card at any Tube ticketing station with a £5 deposit. Once you have the card you can either re-load it with the desired amount or select the weekly rate. The minimum credit card purchase to reload is £5, although less can be added using coins.
On the last day of your travels, once you exit the Tube for the last time, you can actually get a refund for the remaining balance and the original deposit (WHAT!?! I know!!). Despite how you paid, it will give you back the change in cash. One thing that confused me at first and is different than most of the metro systems I have traveled on is that not only do you scan your ticket or card when you enter the station, but you also have to scan it on your way out!
The Tower Bridge is one of the most notable icons of London. It is often confused with the London Bridge, which is only about half a mile down the Thames, but far less eye-catching. The tower has been standing since 1894 and the lower crossing raises over 850 times per year to allow ships to pass. The bridge itself is a sight to see, but the views from the top are incredible!
You can buy tickets online and save money, also you can also purchase them at the entrance or in the Tower Bridge Gift Shop. The ticket includes access to the Tower Engine Rooms, where you can see where the bridge gets its power. They do offer discounts for students, seniors, and children, as well as family packages. Afterward, head to either side of the river to get a picture-perfect view of the bridge.
Camden Market is arguably my favorite spot in London. It is home to over 1,000 different independent shops, food stops, and so much more. Whether you’re looking for something in particular, a bite to eat, live music or just want to wander around, Camden is the place for you. The walkways are constantly filled with life, and artistic decorations hang around the market.
Shoreditch has been known as the entertainment area since the 16th century, and I now understand why. It is a trendy, edgy and diverse area full of pubs, bars, and nightclubs; as well as more vintage and second-hand shops than you could imagine. The streets are covered with graffiti art and at night you can hear the roaring club music from the streets.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the magnificence of the Sky Garden first hand but after reading about it, I couldn’t help but add it as a must-do. Book tickets in advance; although tickets are free, space is limited.
Sitting on the south bank of the Thames River, the London Eye is one of the most popular tourist destinations in London and the second tallest public viewing point in the city. There are great viewpoints of The Eye from the bank across the river and just under the eye. If you plan to go up, you can purchase tickets online (save some moneyyy) or on-site. Be prepared for long waiting lines to go up. Also, if you plan to do more than one of the “top attractions” you can book a combination ticket at a discount, that gives access to 2, 3, or 4 extra attractions in addition to the London Eye.
London is filled with a countless variety of museums. They are not only interesting but are also a great way to spend a rainy day in the city. Some of the most notable museums are the Tate Modern, The National Gallery, V&A Museum, the British Museum, and many more. Admission to most museums (all listed) is free; even so, there may be security checks at the entrance.
The infamous district of Notting Hill is a quaint and charming area lined with pastel homes and street-side shops. Portobello Road is the main road that runs through the Notting Hill area. It features the Portobello Road Market, which is one of London’s best-known markets. Although the beautiful colors of the houses may be intriguing, when snapping photos, remember that these are people’s homes and please, be respectful!
Buckingham Palace is a magnificent structure fit for a queen… oh, wait! The Queen of England DOES live here! Because of this, the Palace is only open to visitors in the summer months as well as a limited number of tours in January, February and around Easter. Despite only being able to see the inside of the Palace during those times, the Changing the Guard ceremony takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings at 11, weather permitting. The ceremony also takes place every day during the summer. Make sure to arrive early to get a good viewing spot!
St. James Park
This 56+ acre park sits just across from Buckingham Palace. St. James Park Lake runs through the center of the park and is surrounded by green grass and the famous park flowerbeds. But until spring, you can wander through and marvel at the pelicans, which were originally a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles ll. Side note: Whatever you do, please do not feed the squirrels or the birds! They have become reliant on humans for food, but because of that can become aggressive or dangerous.
Big Ben & Parliament
Big Ben and the Parliament building are iconic symbols of London. Unfortunately, Big Ben and part of the Parliament building have been covered in scaffolding since 2017. Due to this, it doesn’t leave much to see, but you are still able to see one of Big Ben’s clock faces! Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
The Times Square of London! Piccadilly Circus is filled with big illuminated billboards, street performers, entertainment areas, and more! The Picadilly Circus Tube station is directly under the square itself, with exits at each corner.
Westminster is the government district in London, home to Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and much more. Because of that, it is also one of the main tourist areas of the city. One of the prominent churches in the area, and quite possibly all of London, is Westminster Abbey, located just behind Parliament. Along the river, you’ll also find the Whitehall Gardens. These gardens sit right in front of the Royal Horseguards Hotel, which closely resembles a French Chateau.
A short walk from Whitehall Gardens, you’ll find the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. Covent Garden is filled with shopping, street decorations and even live music in the evenings and sits just behind the National Gallery! The whole Westminster area is filled with lovely historical buildings and picturesque scenery, no matter where you wander, it will surely be a sight to see!