London is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is a great place for your first international trip because English the first language and its similarity to many other big cities in the world. Although it is definitely not a cheap destination it is a great escape for your first European city whether you’re going for just a few days or for a couple of weeks.
Looking for a quick guide? SEE ALSO: My Top 10 Things To Do in London
Most people will fly when they visit London. London has three airports (Heathrow/Stanstead/Gatwick) and they all have shuttle trains into Central London so the expense of a taxi is unnecessary. There are different trains at different prices (usually indicating the speed) but the signs are very clear and there are people to help you everywhere.
I flew into Heathrow and took the Heathrow Express, there are cheaper options but it will get you into Paddington Station in just 15 minutes. The prices vary by time of day and how long the ticket is valid. You can purchase them online, from a Heathrow Express agent or from the ticket machine near the tracks.
London is a very walkable city. There are numerous walking tour routes you can search for online. My favorite is the path starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral, then walking across Millennium Bridge to the Tate, then up along the river to the Eye and back across London Bridge to end in Westminster at Parliament and the Abbey.
Tube: Fares depend on the “Zone” that you are traveling. Make sure you tap in and out every time with your Oyster card.
Buses: My favorite way to get around London! Unlike the Tube, the fare is flat rate no matter where you are going. Just tap your Oyster card to get on. They also accept credit/debit cards that use the contactless payment system if you don’t have an Oyster card (each card can only be used for one person at a time).
Taxi: Black cabs are available everywhere.
Uber: Grab an Uber like you would anywhere else.
Bike: London does have a bike share program, the red Santander bikes. I didn’t get a chance to try it but saw lots of people out using them. Make sure you check the signs in parks for where you are allowed to bike.
Currency: British Pound (£1 British Pound = $1.25 USD)
ATMs: There ATMs (cash points) almost everywhere.
Hotels: Accept credit cards and cash.
Restaurants: Accept credit cards and cash.
Shops: Accept credit cards and cash.
London Eye: Book your tickets online, and a note that the Eye is closed in January for maintenance.
Big Ben and Parliament
Buckingham Palace: Say hi to the Queen if she’s home!
Leicester Square: See a show! Buy tickets ahead of time online or check the TKTS booth on the Square the day of for discounted last minute tickets.
Tower of London
Tower Bridge: Most people think this iconic bridge is London Bridge but it isn’t. Get a great view along the water while you’re visiting the Tower of London or get tickets to go inside.
The Monument: Climb to the top and get your certificate showing that you climbed all 311 steps!
St. Paul’s Cathedral: Visit for free on Sundays during services.
Millennium Bridge: My favorite pedestrian only bridge that connects St Paul’s and the Tate Modern.
Brick Lane: Visit for the street art, I recommend the Alternative London walking tour.
Hyde Park: Visit with the Swans, see Kensington Palace or relax for the day on the lawn chairs.
The Shard: Book tickets to go to the top or have a meal or drink with a view of the city.
Sky Garden: Free! Book your ticket online.
Primrose Hill: Climb to the top of the park for a view of the city and then wander through the nearby neighborhood to see its famous colorful neighborhood.
SEE ALSO: The Best Place to See London From Above
Harry Potter Experience: I didn’t make it here but apparently it’s the number one attraction in the UK and a must for Harry Potter fans.
Greenwich: Take one of the Thames River boats from central London straight there. Stand on the Greenwich Mean Time line, visit the National Maritime Museum, stop in for Chips at The Pier or have a traditional pie at Goddards.
There are many organized tours you can book with companies that will arrange buses or transport but if you are on a budget or don’t like the restrictions of a group tour most are accessible by train from Paddington or Victoria Station. Visit their websites for train schedules.
Oxford/Blenheim Palace/The Costwolds
Oxford Circus: There is shopping all over London but Oxford Circus is the most famous area to shop in. Home to the famous department store Selfridges, the first Flagship Topshop and lots of other chain stores like my favorites Cos, Primark and & Other Stories.
Liberty London: My favorite store in London. If you are a big fabric collector go upstairs and see the beautiful Liberty London fabrics that you can purchase. During sales they often have small sample baskets.
Harrods: Even if you don’t buy anything here it’s still worth a stop in just to see the Food Hall. My favorite budget tea is at the Harrods Cafe (Cream Tea – Two scones with clotted cream & jam with a pot of tea).
Harvey Nichols: If you are more serious about your department store shopping and looking for somewhere a little less filled with tourists.
Mayfair: Luxury shopping. Even if you don’t buy anything it’s a beautiful neighborhood to walk around.
Soho & Covent Garden: Always filled with lots of people Soho & Covent Garden are filled with lots of bars, restaurants and shops.
And you can’t forget markets on your shopping list! Markets are a huge part of London shopping. There are numerous markets all over the city each with a different feel and atmosphere.
London has an amazing collection of Museums. And the best part? Most of them are free! You will usually have to buy and reserve tickets ahead of time for special exhibits but for the rest of most museums they are just donation based and you can just walk in. There are endless museums but these are the ones I’d put at the top of your list.
Natural History Museum
Victoria & Albert
Imperial War Museum
Quick Bites: Pret, Cafe Nero
Afternoon Tea: Fortnum & Mason, Prêt-à-Portea at the Berkeley, Sketch, Harrods just to name a few. Most will require a reservation ahead of time as they book up quickly.
Markets: Most of the shopping markets all have a section dedicated to just food. I recommend stopping in Borough Market which is dedicated just to food!
Pubs: A beer and a burger is a classic and easy London meal. Order at the bar, they don’t have table service.
Shoreditch: Shoreditch is an up and coming neighborhood for London’s younger crowd. A bit of Brooklyn in London filled with lots of bars and restaurants, a good place to go if you’re looking for a night out.