London, the city of infinite possibilities welcomes you!
The capital of the United Kingdom is one of the oldest among the world’s great cities with the history of almost two millennia. With a population of over 8.1 million people, it is by far the largest city in the UK. It is also Britain’s largest metropolis and the country’s economic, transportation and cultural center. The city is home to more than 300 nationalities and that diversity really shaped the city culture.
Here you have some practical information about what to expect in this remarkable town!
Table of Contents
Getting to London
Being it one of the largest and most important European cities, London is well connected with the rest of Europe and the world. Regardless of the transportation means you choose, you’ll certainly be able to find an adequate solution. Below you can find all the main airports, bus and train stations from which you can start your visit to London.
London by plane:
The metropolitan area of London is served by six international airports. Together, they make the busiest airport system in the world by passenger numbers. London airports handle 60% of the UK’s air traffic and cover up to 400 international destinations.
- Heathrow airport is located 23 km west of Central London. It is the world’s third busiest airport in terms of international passenger traffic. Heathrow is the primary hub for British Airways. Last year, it handled 80.1 million passengers.
- Gatwick airport is situated 50 km from the city center. It is the second busiest London airport for international flights. Last year, 46.1 million passengers passed through the airport.
- Stansted airport is located 50 km northeast of Central London. It is another international airport which serves as a base for a number of low-cost airlines; moreover, it is the largest base for Ryanair airline. Last year Stansted had the busiest year ever, as it welcomed over 28 million passengers.
- Luton airport is placed 47 km away from center. It is the fifth busiest airport in the UK with over 16.5 million passengers served last year. Majority of the routes serve Europe and the airport itself is a base for low-cost airlines like EasyJet, TUI Airways, Ryanair and Wizz Air.
- London City airport is placed 11 km east of London. Due to its size, arrivals and departures are usually much quicker than in other London airports. Last year, it served more than 4.8 million passengers.
- Southend airport is situated 58 km from the city. This international airport serves more than 30 domestic and European destinations. Last year it was a record year for Southend, a total of nearly 1.1 million travellers passed through the airport.
London by train:
London is well connected with train routes throughout the UK and the entire Europe. Traveling to London by train, especially when traveling within the country is often faster than driving or flying. In case you are coming from continental Europe, the Eurostar train via the Channel Tunnel is the best option.
Main train stations used when travelling to and from London are:
- Waterloo station is located in Central London, close to Lambeth and Southwark. Tourist attractions you can find nearby are London Eye, Southbank and County Hall.
- Victoria station is situated close to Westminster, Pimlico and Belgravia. Tourist attractions in the area include Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park.
- Liverpool Street station is placed close to Shoreditch, the Barbican and Whitechapel. Tourist attractions nearby are Spitalfields Market, the Whitechapel Gallery and the Bank of England.
- London Bridge station is a station close to Bankside, Borough and Southwark. Tourist attractions close to the station are London Bridge, Tower Bridge and Tate Modern.
- Euston station is located close to Kings Cross, Regent’s Park, Somers Town and Bloomsbury. Tourist attractions nearby include the British Library and Regent’s Park.
- Stratford station serves the district of Stratford, in the London Borough of Newham.
- Paddington station is situated close to Bayswater and Marylebone. The Heathrow Express leaves directly from the station to the airport. Tourist attractions in this area are Hyde Park, Regents Canal and the Serpentine.
- St Pancras station is located in the Borough of Camden. Tourist attractions in this area are the British Library and The British Museum.
- King’s Cross station is placed close to King’s Cross, Regent’s Park, Somers Town and Bloomsbury. It is home to the legendary Platform 9 3/4 where the train to Hogwarts departs.
- Charing Cross station is situated in Central London, close to Embankment and The Strand. There are many tourist attractions nearby, including The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.
- Fenchurch Street is located in the City of London. Tourist attractions in this area are the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
All the previously mentioned train stations have direct Tube links.
London by bus:
Coaches are a relatively cheap way to travel to London but rides are longer than those operated by trains. There are train connections to the rest of the cities in the United Kingdom and international connections to the continental Europe.
Victoria Coach Station is the largest coach station in London, situated in the central district of Victoria in the City of Westminster. The station handles up to 14 million passengers a year. The station has separate arrival and departure terminals that are located on the opposite sides of Elizabeth Street. There are 21 departure gates.
Getting around London
Public transportation: London has an excellent public transportation network that includes rail services, public bus and tram. All the transport is operated by Transport for London or TFL. Most services operate in travel zones 1-6, while Tube, London Overground and National Rail also operate in zones 7-9.
- Tube: The London Underground or the Tube is the oldest underground network in the world. Underground stops can be found all over London. Tube is the fastest way to get around town. The network has 11 lines that handle up to 5 million passengers a day. You can buy single tickets for each ride but most visitors get an Oyster Card which allows traveling with almost all transit options, including journeys on bus, Tube, Tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, River Bus and most National Rail Services in London. When paying with Oyster (or using Travelcard or contactless card), you will pay an adult rate fare. Children under 11 years of age travel free and children aged 11-15 can get a young visitor discount, allowing them to pay a half-adult rate. With London Travelcard you get unlimited travel with all mentioned transit options, apart from River Bus. Another easy option is to use a contactless card. Mobile payments are also possible and you can make them with devices such as phones, watches, key fobs etc. Regular tickets can be purchased from ticket machines at the entrances.
- Overground was launched to provide better connections between areas outside of Central London. There are 9 different routes that are complementary to the London Underground.
- DLR or the Docklands Light Railways is fully automated rail system covering the docklands area of London, the area east and southeast of Central London. The system uses minimum staff on trains.
- London buses, double-decker buses, serve a huge area and there are numerous bus routes. The number of journeys taken on buses goes over two billion a year. The journey usually takes a little longer than the one with rail service due to traffic jams.
- London Tramlink is a tram service which operates from Wimbledon to Croydon and Beckenham. It is the only tram service in town.
- London River Services is a division of TFL which manages passenger transport on the river Thames. Thames Clipper is a river bus service that is very useful when it comes to avoiding traffic.
Taxi: The most famous way of transport in London, after red double-decker buses, is the black cab. In case the taxi light is illuminated, flag it down by waving at it. Beware that in a taxi you cannot pay with Oyster, only by cash or credit cards.
Bicycle has appeared in 2010 as a form of London public transport and it’s getting more and more popular ever since. There are hundreds of cycling points all around town. Bicycles are the best option when taking short trips and you can hire one with a debit or credit card.
NOTE: Rush hour happens on weekdays in the morning between 7:30 and 09:30 and between 17:00 and 19:00 in the evening. Those are the peak times of travel on the Tube that you should try to avoid.
The list of the attractions in London is quite long. However, here is our recommendation of some of the most popular sights and places to visit in London:
Big Ben is the world’s most famous bell of the clock and definitely one of the best known symbols of London. Although the whole tower is usually referred to as Big Ben, it is actually the bell that is named Big Ben. The official name of the clock tower is Elizabeth Tower. Unfortunately, the bell is under renovation which is expected to last until 2021 so you won’t hear it ring.
Buckingham Palace is one of the most iconic buildings in London and it has been the residence of the Royal family since Queen Victoria’s accession. It is also the home of one of London’s most popular displays, the Changing of the Guard, which takes place every second day at 11:00 o’clock. In order to get a decent spot to watch the show, you should be there an hour in advance. The best view you can get is from the Victoria Monument in front of the Palace, from the Friary Court – the courtyard at St. James Palace or at Buckingham Palace gates.
London Eye is located on the south bank of the river Thames and at a height of 135 meters it is the world’s tallest observation wheel. It contains 32 capsules that can carry around 10,000 visitors each day. This experience offers an amazing 360-degree panoramic view of the capital. The rotation lasts half an hour and if the weather is nice, you’ll have the opportunity to see up to 40 kilometers across the horizon. The queues can get really long so it is recommended to book a ticket online in order to save money and time. Near London Eye you can find London Sea Life Aquarium and London Dungeon.
Tower Bridge is often confused for London Bridge. The bridge is special for its architecture and Tower Bridge Exhibition which offers a walkway with a glass-bottom floor located 34 meters above the ground. Our recommendation is to check the schedule of the bridge’s lift-times so you can witness one out of 1000 bridge openings per year. Also, London Monument, commemorating the Great Fire of London is within walking distance of the bridge.
Tower of London has fulfilled several roles over the centuries; it was a prison, an armory and a palace. This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s highlights are the Crown Jewels, the White Tower and the Torture Tower. Don’t miss a tour given by Beefeaters because you will learn a lot about London’s history and British humor.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is the largest cathedral in London, located near the western part of Cannon street. Its dome is recognizable in the city’s skyline and it can be reached by climbing a 538 stairs in total. The cathedral and its galleries are really popular among tourists so booking a ticket online is recommended. Free entry is possible if you visit the cathedral during mass, so make sure to check the schedule. A special experience is also the Evensong, a prayer happening from Monday to Friday at 17:00.
Trafalgar Square is one of the public squares in London, famous for Nelson’s Column and the golden statue of a lion. The largest building on the square is the National Gallery. The gallery holds masterpieces of some of the most popular artists in history, such as Monet or Picasso. Continuing the walk, you will come along London’s Chinatown, a great place to dine out in the evening.
The Shard is one of the many London’s skyscrapers. It is a home to a hotel, few restaurants, shops, offices and a viewing gallery. With its 87 floors, it is the tallest building in Western Europe. Entry tickets can be bought online.
Sky Garden is another viewpoint that offers memorable views. It is London’s highest public garden. Unlike the Shard, this view you get for free but you have to reserve a spot up to 3 weeks in advance. In case all the free slots are already taken, you can still make a reservation for a bar inside.
Piccadilly Circus, with nearly 100 million people walking through it every year, is probably the most famous square in London, also a home to the iconic Piccadilly screens and the statue of Eros. Giant screens with various advertisements light up the entire circle day and night.
There are numerous parks you can enjoy when the city gets too much. They are perfect for refreshing walks and sport activities or for picnics and sunbathing.
Hyde Park is one of the largest Royal Parks in London and its about 1.5 miles long and 1 mile wide. You can enjoy cycling, skating, swimming and boating. In the park, there are two lakeside restaurants. If you have some spare time, you could visit Windsor castle, which is about 10 minutes of walking time from Hyde Park’s northeast side.
Regent’s Park hosts London Zoo which is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. It houses more than 750 species of animals. The park is famous for the largest outdoor sports area with a football, softball, rugby and cricket pitch, but also for an open-air theatre. You can have a break in the park’s several cafes. London’s Central Mosque is also located nearby, so it’s a perfect opportunity to explore it when visiting the park.
St. James’s Park is located in the heart of London. The park is known for pelicans that are fed every day at 2:30 p.m. Park has a typical British restaurant/cafe where you can have a snack. Finish line of the famous London marathon is also located alongside the park.
Kew Gardens are located in the south-west London and they hold the largest plant collection in the world. The vast grounds have walkways and historic buildings such as Chinese pavilion. While you are there, don’t miss the treetop walkway which stretches above woodland.
Greenwich Park is a World Heritage ensemble that is home to the Old Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum and to the Royal Observatory. Royal Observatory houses Greenwich Mean Time, the Prime Meridian of the world and London’s Planetarium. The top of the hill gives panoramic views of the Thames and Canary Wharf – London’s financial center with some of the tallest buildings in the city.
A visit to London is not complete without checking out the amazing selection of museums and galleries. What is more, entry to state museums in London and the UK is free of charge.
British Museum is a world-famous museum dedicated to the human history, culture and art with incredible collection of rare artifacts. Some of the most famous objects are the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian Mummies and Parthenon sculptures.
Victoria & Albert Museum (V & A) houses a permanent collection of more than 2 million objects from ancient times until today.
Natural History Museum has 5 different galleries which include collections from science fields such as botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. It is famous for the exhibition of dinosaur skeletons.
Science Museum is the place where you can follow the journey of scientific developments with an amazing collection of scientific, technological and medical achievements from all over the world.
National Gallery is an art gallery that houses over 2,300 works of art dating from the 13th century to 1900. Masterful works by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh can be seen inside.There are different art exhibitions in the gallery that are paid separately.
Tate Modern is the national museum of modern and contemporary art where you can admire the works of Picasso, Bourgeois, Warhol and many more.
Madame Tussauds, one of the major tourist attractions in London, is a museum which displays the waxworks of historic and famous people but also popular movie and television characters. Note that Tussauds is not a state museum so check the price list.
World-class London theatres offer the most memorable musical shows.
From Wicked to The Lion King, every show is worth the visit. One of the most popular musicals is Hamilton, an award-winning musical that is both sung and rapped. For every musical, make sure you book a ticket in advance. The official London theatre ticket booth is located in Leicester Square and it sells discounted and last minute tickets for performances on the day or the day after.
Queen’s Theatre is a theatre with the longest-running West End musical in history, Les Misérables.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, huge reconstructed complex of the original Globe theatre, today holds outdoor theatre, a winter theatre, a museum and an education centre. Plays are staged in the summer months, from May to October, as it was done during the 16th century.
Royal Albert Hall, the world’s most famous stage, over the years has been hosting the greatest performances; from Wagner to Sinatra, from The Beatles to Beyonce, this stage has seen it all. During the day, the building is open for guided tours, lunch or coffee.
Food in London
What to eat in London
Despite the common belief, the British have a range of typical dishes that are delicious. Here you have a list of traditional dishes.
- Fish and chips – Typical British food that consists of fried battered fish that is usually cod or haddock and hot potato chips. Onions might come as a side dish.
- English breakfast – This hearty breakfast in its full version includes: fried egg, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, white and black pudding, hash browns, toast and half a tomato.
- Sunday roast – Typically served on Sundays, the dish includes roasted meat and potato, most often accompanied with sausages, vegetables, gravy and Yorkshire pudding. The meat used in the dish can be beef, pork, chicken, turkey and lamb.
- Yorkshire pudding -This is not a dessert as the name could suggest. It is made of flour, milk and eggs, later baked in the oven and most often served with beef roast.
- Pie and mash – Traditionally, it is a dish of working class that consists of minced beef and pastry pie served with mashed potatoes.
- Eton mess – It is a typical English dessert that consists of broken meringue, strawberries and whipped heavy cream.
- Afternoon tea – The most famous British tradition is surely afternoon tea. It is served between 3:30 PM and 5 PM. Finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream or some pastry are often served with afternoon tea.
Where to eat in London
London might easily be the world’s greatest food city with over 18,000 restaurants. The food scene in this town is like a playground for every food lover. You can choose between different restaurants offering national or international dishes. There are two categories that are special for London, the first one is Michelin Star restaurants and the second one is reserved for food markets.
Michelin Star restaurants – London has a fair few Michelin Star restaurants, at the moment there are 70 of them, including 10 that have earned 2 stars and one with 3 Michelin stars. Here you will definitely find some of the most delicious dishes and epic tasting menus. Expect prices up to 300 pounds but keep in mind that many of them offer less-priced meals at lunch time.
Food markets – In case Michelin Star restaurants doesn’t fit your budget, head to any food market in London. Only a few cities in the world can rival London’s street-food scene. There are plenty of food markets to choose from but perhaps the most special is Borough Market that was originally opened in 1014. On the Borough Market you can find a few restaurants, cafes and demonstration kitchens but true gems are hidden at the food stalls from all over the world. Some of the best London dishes are eaten with a plastic fork.
It is kind of impossible to visit London without going shopping. It wouldn’t be unusual if you ended up buying another suitcase to put all the goods you have purchased. Check out all the new trends in several shopping streets and areas:
Oxford Street is the most famous shopping area, located in the heart of London. With over 300 shops, it is one of the busiest shopping streets in London. Londoners’ favorite store Selfridges occupies the entire street block.
Regent Street is located right next to the Oxford Street and it is filled with world famous flagship stores such as Apple Store or Burberry Store.
Knightsbridge is another famous retail district. Harrods offers luxury but also everyday goods spread throughout seven floors. All the designer shops like Gucci and Armani are located on Sloane Street but there are also high-street brands such as Topshop.
London Silver Vaults is an underground labyrinth of retail selection of fine and antique silver with over 30 specialist shops.
Covent Garden is a place where you can find handmade jewelry and different homemade sweets.
Camden Market is the market that houses some of the most unusual shops. If you are searching for something more alternative and edgy, you will find it there.
London is famous for its nightlife and there are numerous options to choose from so there is a party for everyone. Check out London’s top clubs:
Fabric is one of the most famous clubbing spots that became legendary for bodysonic dancefloor. The club features three rooms with electro, techno and disco music. It hosts world’s top DJs.
Heaven is another legendary club with three floors that can host up to 1,000 party-people. It is famous for theme parties.
Ministry of Sounds is one of the most popular clubs in town with four bars, four dancefloors and five different rooms. It is recommended to book tickets in advance.
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club is one of the most respected jazz clubs in the world so it is not surprising that some of the greatest jazz artists of all time performed there, including Buddy Getz and Ella Fitzgerald.
The Jazz Cafe in London is the place where modern legends of jazz, soul, funk and hip hop music perform.
Lamb & Flag Pub was Charles Dickens’ favourite pub in London. The pub dates back to 1772 and it is quite authentic.
Prospect of Whitby Pub dates back to the 16th century. It is the oldest riverside pub that used to be a popular place with sailors, smugglers and pirates. Today it offers good food and great atmosphere.
Good to know when travelling to London
London WiFi – International travelers often seek for some online connection; in London you can connect to WiFi in hotel or hostel rooms, train stations, airports, libraries, public places like parks, cafes, pubs and restaurants. The City of London has partnered with The Cloud to bring public WiFi coverage, but you need to create a Cloud account before using it. O2 WiFi also offers free service in many fast food chains.
Travel adaptor in London – The power plugs and sockets in the UK are of type G which means the standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. To charge your devices, you will have to buy the appropriate adapter online, at the airport or high street shops. If a device runs on a lower voltage, you will also need a converter to stop overheating.
Exchange money – The currency used in London is Great Britain Pound (GBP). When you withdraw pounds from ATM, your bank will calculate the exchange rate, often better than the one offered by money changers. Thomas Global Exchange or Ace-FX generally have good rates. Using cards is really easy and convenient but make sure you notify your financial institution about the trip in order to avoid security alerts on your account.
Left luggage – Left luggage services are available at every London airport. Excess Baggage operates left luggage services at London’s main train stations. In the city, there are hundreds of storage locations where you can store your luggage safely.
Tipping in London – Tipping in London is appreciated, but sometimes not appropriate. When eating out, it is customary to leave 10-15% percent of the bill. Some restaurants may add on a service charge that is generally 12.5%, so check your bill if you don’t want to tip twice. Paying a tip for fast food, self-service or takeaway meals is not customary. Also, people usually do not tip in pubs in London.
Emergency 112 or 999 for police, ambulance and fire department
Police 101 for non-urgent situations
The Royal London Hospital 020 7377 7000, Whitechapel Road
24/7 Pharmacy Zafash Pharmacy +4420 7373 2798, Old Brompton Road, Earls Court