Your Trip to London: The Complete Guide

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London is a popular travel destination thanks to its culture, lively food scene, and royal ties. The British city attracts millions of visitors from all over the world year every year, including many Americans, who find London easy to navigate (especially since the main language is English). Whether you're planning an extensive trip to explore London or including it as a stop on an itinerary of other European cities, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning. Consider what you want to see and do, and plan accordingly. And don't forget the umbrella.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: London welcomes travelers all year, but the best times to visit can be spring and late fall thanks to the mild weather. Summer can be especially crowded, so you may find fewer lines and throngs of tourists during more off-peak times. The winter holidays can also be a great time to visit London, which gets very festive and well-decorated in December.

Language: English is the primary language spoken in London and the U.K., however Londoners come from all over the world, so it's not surprising to hear multiple other languages spoken around the city.

Currency: The currency in the U.K. is the pound sterling, also known as GBP or just "the pound."

Getting Around: Transport for London has a vast network of public transportation options, including the Tube, buses, trains, and boats. It's recommended to avoid driving into the city center and use public transportation, or opt for a taxi or Uber. Black cabs are the official taxis in London and easy to hail anywhere around town.

Travel Tip: London is a very walkable city and one of the best ways to see different areas is to go by foot. Plan your days by neighborhood or general area, and stroll from attraction to attraction to make the most of your experience. For example, see Kensington Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill in the same day, or hit up the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tate Modern in one swing.

 Kyle Fewell / TripSavvy

Things to Do

There's a lot to see and do in London, from historical sites like Buckingham Palace to cultural institutions like the National Portrait Gallery. A trip to London typically consists of a mixture of iconic attractions, including Big Ben and the London Eye, and neighborhood exploration in areas like Notting Hill. Consider purchasing a London Pass to make the most of popular attractions. Don't miss theater in the West End, shopping around Covent Garden and snacking in London's many outdoor markets, including Borough Market and Broadway Market.

Explore more attractions with our full-length articles on what to see if you only have a few hours, what to do in the West End and things to do when it rains.

What to Eat and Drink

London's food scene is an eclectic mix of British and international eateries, with cuisine from all over the world available in the city's diverse neighborhoods. A classic experience is to dine (and grab a pint) in a local pub, which can be a great way to try British dishes like fish and chips and bangers and mash. London's ever-growing food scene isn't limited to just those well-known dishes, though: Look for hip spots like The Barbary, Barrafina and Caravan to experience a vibrant melange of internationally-inspired dishes.

London is also well-known for its impressive cocktail bars, many of which are nearly a century old. Don't miss a martini in The American Bar or Duke's, and consider exploring newer cocktail spots like Satan's Whiskers in Bethnal Green. Of course, you'll also want to book an afternoon tea somewhere classy. Look for high-end spots like Fortnum and Mason, The Savoy Hotel and The Ritz to make the most of your experience.

Where to Stay

London is a large city, with many different areas, but most visitors find that it's convenient to stay centrally. Central neighborhoods like Covent Garden, Mayfair, Marylebone, Victoria and Kensington provide easy access to many popular attractions, as well as nearby restaurants and nightlife. Staying in adjacent areas like Fitzrovia, Pimlico, St. John's Wood and Southbank can be a good way to avoid crowds but keep the journey to the tourist spots quick and hassle-free. While many visitors elect to stay in a hotel, there are also many options for AirBnB and other vacation rental services. Those who want to splurge should look into iconic hotels like The Connaught, The Ritz and the Mandarin Oriental, which overlooks Hyde Park.

Getting There

Most travelers arrive in London by plane, flying in to nearby airports like Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and City. Visitors coming from Europe can also arrive via the Eurostar, which comes into to St. Pancras Station, or via ferry. Trains link London with the rest of England, as well as Scotland and Wales, and cruise ships typically port in the nearby city of Southampton. Most travelers don't rent a car when visiting London, but a car can be handy if you plan to explore other areas of the U.K.

  • Heathrow International Airport: Heathrow, located west of London, is the primary airport used by international travelers. It can be accessed by Tube, train, bus or taxi, and it's recommended to look into public transportation when arriving during rush hour. The Heathrow Express gets passengers from the airport in to Paddington Station in only 15 minutes (and is significantly cheaper when booked more than 30 days in advance online).
  • Gatwick Airport: Gatwick, also known as London Gatwick, is located to the south of central London and can boast cheaper flights than Heathrow. It's also a hub for EasyJet, a budget airline. The airport is best accessed via the Gatwick Express from Victoria Station or a train from London Bridge Station.
  • London Luton Airport: Luton can be found to the north of London and is frequently used for flights to the rest of Europe. Look for the Thames Link train or bus services to access the airport since a taxi can be quite expensive.
  • London Stansted Airport: Stansted, also to the north of the city, is an international airport, but typically used for shorter flights rather than big international arrivals. Trains and buses are the best way to get to and from Stansted, which can be an inconvenient and disorganized airport experience.
  • London City Airport: Located on the Royal Docks, London City is popular with short haul flights to Europe, but also services the U.S. via New York City. The airport is fairly central, so taxis or public transportation are both good options.

Culture and Customs

While London can feel similar to the U.S., there are a few differences, particularly when it comes to tipping. All restaurants and bars will include a service charge (usually 12.5 percent) on the bill, so there's not need to leave extra cash. Tip taxi drivers a few pounds if you appreciate their service, but unlike in the States employees in the U.K. don't expect large tips.

One other important thing to be aware of is that British culture is fairly reserved. When using public transportation, especially the bus or the Tube, keep your voice low and be polite. Londoners also appreciate a good queue, so never skip the line or push your way to the front.

Money Saving Tips

  • Take advantage of free museums. Many of London's museums are free to enter, including the British Museum, the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain. This can be a great way to see iconic spots without spending any of your travel budget.
  • Get a free view. While high-up attractions like the London Eye and the Shard's viewing gallery can be pricy, the Tate Modern's 10th floor viewing deck is free, as is Sky Garden, which allows visitors to book a complimentary ticket in advance online.
  • Picnic in one of the parks. On a sunny day, Londoners love a good park outing. Head to Marks & Spencer or Pret to stock up on sandwiches and drinks, and find a spot in one of London's many parks. Some of the parks, including London Fields, even allow portable BBQs.
  • Purchase a London Pass. The London Pass includes entry to over 80 attractions, so can help save money if you plan to do a lot of sight-seeing. It also allows for fast-track entry at several of the attractions, which can be great when visiting during a busy time of year.
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