33+ Essential Things to know Before Traveling to London

River Thames Cruise, London

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London is one of the most visited cities in the world for a reason, and if you are planning on traveling to London soon we are here to help with our personal insider London travel tips!

Westminster Abby, London
In front of Westminster Abby

This city has world-class museums, unique tourist attractions, iconic landmarks and architecture, ancient history, a vibrant arts culture, and unrivaled pub scene and diversity of people and neighborhoods.

I lived in London for two years in the late 90s, returned there several times with Craig when we lived in Dublin, and finally 23 years later, recently revisited for 10 days with our two daughters.

I was so happy to return to the home of my early twenties, relive those happy memories and form new ones with my family. That London trip was the best family trip experience we’ve had (and we’ve had so many).

The London Eye on the River Thames
Great view of the London Eye from the Golden Jubilee Bridge

I can tell you from my well-rounded experience and expertise as a professional traveler and blogger, London is one of the best tourist experiences you could ever ask for.

But, it’s one of those destinations that requires careful planning so you don’t waste time and money.

Below are our top travel tips for London and essential things to know before you visit London.

Get Travel Insurance

Beautiful St James Park, London
Beautiful St James Park in London

I can’t tell you how safe I felt knowing that if any of us failed the mandatory COVID test coming home to the USA, our travel insurance would help protect the cost of remaining in London.

Travel insurance is the first thing we purchase before booking a trip so we’re protected should something go wrong while you’re waiting for your trip to begin!

The world is far too uncertain at the moment to take the risk of losing your travel investment AND having to pay more should something unfortunate happen.

It’s such a small price to pay for peace of mind and security. And as we’ve always said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.

View from Tower Bridge, London

We are ambassadors for Allianz Travel and recommend them for your travel insurance plans. Consider their OneTrip Prime and OneTrip Premier travel insurance plans for a ton of Smart-Benefits.

We personally have an annual policy as we’re frequent travelers.

The free Allianz TravelSmart™ App makes it easy to manage your Allianz Travel Insurance plan on the go. It also has features to help you track flights, get updates about events that may impact your travels, and handy emergency numbers for the destination you are traveling to.

When is the best time to visit London?

River Thames Cruise, London
View of Houses of Parliament from River Thames cruise

London is a year-round destination, but it really comes alive in the warmer, summer months with people out enjoying the parks, riverside bars, festivals, music events and, of course, Wimbledon.

When you travel to London during the summer months the days are much longer with the sun setting around 10pm. Although traveling in summer will mean bigger crowds and higher prices.

Spring is pretty with blooming flowers and weather that is warming up. We visited in late March (spring) and had a run of five warm (ish) clear, sunny days – a rarity even in summer. We were 1-2 weeks too early for spring blooms but did catch some on our last couple of days, including cherry blossoms.

Regents Park, London
Pretty flowers in Regents Park during Spring

Spring is a great time to plan your London trip as it will be the shoulder season with fewer crowds and cheaper prices, but with nice enough weather for you to enjoy your stay. September – October will be a similar experience.

The festive season will bring Christmas lights and holiday events. But the winter months will be bleak, cold, and dark with very pronounced Tube Faces.

Do your best to avoid the busiest times, which are bank holiday weekends (public holidays), school breaks, and July and August. US school breaks will be mostly different to the UK, which could work in your favor.

How long do you need in London?

Buckingham Palace, London
Out the front of Buckingham Palace

We stayed for 10 days in London and still didn’t see it all. How long you stay depends on what you want to see and do, and how busy, or slow you want your days to be.

If you just want to experience the top London attractions, then I’d say at least three days. If you want to explore a little deeper into London’s neighborhoods, festivals, and events, then you can extend that for at least five days or as long as you want.

I think five days in London would be optimal for most visitors. Plan for 7-10 if you’re adding in day trips or getaways.

What is the weather like in London?

Trafalgar Square, London, England
Beautiful blue skies over Trafalgar Square

When the sun is shining and the temperatures warm, it’s hard to find a happier, more buzzing place than London.

It makes you want to live there, until a few days later when the typical London gray gloom and drizzle sets in and can go for days and days.

The weather in London can be tough to handle, but for a short London vacation, you should be fine.

You aren’t going to experience any weather extremes, from freezing cold to melting. You will definitely need layers year round – at least in the evening if you do get one of those warm days.

Average weather temperatures for London are:

  • Nov – Jan: 45F – 53F
  • Feb – Apr: 40F – 49F
  • May – Jul: 51F – 74F
  • Aug – Oct: 59F – 73F

What to pack for London?

Layers and a rain jacket is always a good idea

As you’ll be busy exploring a lot on foot, one of our top London travel tips is to pack comfortable clothes and footwear to suit the weather. Unless you are visiting a fancy restaurant, dress can be as casual as you like in London.

Most packing checklists for London will include:

  • A rain jacket. I prefer raincoats over umbrellas as it’s more versatile and easier to pack and carry. Umbrellas can be very awkward in a city as busy as London and annoying having to put them up and down when going inside and out.
  • Pack layers. We had one day in Bath where it went from feeling warm in the sun, to snowing, and then back and forth again about three times!
  • Sturdy and supportive pair of walking shoes with adequate tread.
  • Bring a comfortable day pack for carrying around your layers, water bottle, and personal belongings.

Where is the best place to stay in London?

Kensington, London
Kensington is a fabulous area to stay in London

Central London, or Zones 1 & 2 will be the best places to stay in London for most tourists, especially first-time visitors.

This is where most of the top London sightseeing attractions are and so will save you time and money getting around.

Some of the popular areas to stay in London are:

  • Victoria
  • Kensington
  • Waterloo
  • Hyde Park
  • St Pancras
  • Westminster
  • Southwark

You can stay further out of the city to save some money, but sometimes the trade-off between saving money and saving time on commuting by being central to the action cancels each other out, particularly on short getaways!

Wherever you stay in London, the efficient and fantastic London public transport system will be close by.

London Tube Station
The London Tube makes it easy to get around

We recommend booking your London accommodation near a Tube Station. It will save you so much time, cost, and hassle.

The best Tube lines to get you around to the major tourist attractions in London will be the:

  • Piccadilly Line (dark blue)
  • Circle Line (yellow)
  • Central Line (red)

The three hotels we stayed in during our London trip were all just minutes’ walk to tube stations and it was heaven. Staying in Zones 1 or 2 is also your best option as a tourist to London.

Hotels we stayed at:

  • Millennium Gloucester (Kensington – near Gloucester Road Tube),
  • Hilton London Kensington (near Shepherds Bush and Holland Park tube)
  • Holiday Inn Camden Lockhttps://www.stay22.com/allez/booking?aid=ytravelmedia&campaign=lma22-gettingaround&link=https://www.booking.com/hotel/gb/londoncamdenlock.en.html?aid=822205&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2&label=gettingaround(near Camden Town tube)

Changing hotels may be great for variety and to be closer to certain neighborhoods or attractions. But, it can also be a hassle and eat into your time. Do your due diligence to work out what is best for your time and budget.

Accommodation in London

Millenium Hotel, Kensington, London
Our Millennium Hotel was right near Kensington Tube Station

Did you know that London has more 5-star hotels than any other city in the world? Lux travelers are in luck!

You can find accommodation to suit any budget and style in London. Backpackers will love the many hostel options, especially further out from Central London.

Keep in mind, hotel rooms in London tend to be small with many old, or outdated buildings and rooms.

Double rooms typically have two double beds. Family suites are two double beds, just a slightly bigger room. Always check with the particular hotel’s room descriptions, as we found the room classifications confusing.

Some hotels will offer interconnecting rooms for families, but that will be the extra expense of two hotel rooms.

If you are traveling to London from the USA, hotel servicing won’t be as great as you’re used to, and some amenities may be missing like body lotion and tissues!

Shepards Bush, London
View from our Hilton Hotel near Shepherd’s Bush

Some hotels may have buffet breakfast included, or for an additional fee. Do the math. Included breakfast with your hotel will save you time seeking out local spots. But, if you just want to grab a quick croissant, pastie, or bagel for breakfast this will be a much cheaper option.

We found the breakfasts in the hotels to be quite good with plenty of options, including a Full Hot English breakfast. They are definitely better than standard US hotel continental breakfasts.

Of course, it’s best to book your accommodation in advance, especially during the busy summer months!

Flights to London

Tower Bridge, London, England
Tower Bridge, London

I can’t offer too many tips on flying to London as it’s a loaded topic with too many variables. Use your normal strategies for finding cheap flights.

One important thing to know before visiting London is that they impose high airport taxes. Many travelers will avoid flying in and out of London to escape the fees.

If you travel to London from the USA, it can often be cheaper to pay for your flights instead of using your mileage points, as you have to pay those higher fees.

We somehow booked our flights using points through the Chase portal and did not get any tax charges. I’m sure they included the taxes in the entire “(point) price” rather than paying as an extra.

You may find low-cost flights to one of the smaller London airports like London Luton, London Stansted, and London Southend.

They’ll be cheaper than places like Heathrow or London City but be sure to factor in additional travel time and transport costs into the city.

London Airport: Heathrow and Gatwick

Relaxing in Hyde Park, London
Hyde Park, London

London Heathrow is the major airport in London where most international travelers will arrive. Gatwick is the second biggest. You can read more tips ongetting to and from London airports.

If you have a child under twelve, you can join the family express line when getting through immigration. An attendant escorted us to the front of those long lines.

This was the first time in all my years passing through UK Immigration that the officer did not ask a million questions, and was friendly and efficient. Be prepared to tell them where you are traveling, how long for, and why. They may even ask questions about your work situation and finances for your trip, 

Heathrow is a fantastic airport. It’s huge so give yourself time when leaving London to get yourself cleared and walking around. You’ll find lots of great stores and places to eat.

It’s a refreshing change to US airports which are terrible (except for our own small RDU). It’s embarrassing when you compare JFK to Heathrow.

Getting around London

London Underground
We love the London Tube!

We have an entire blog post on getting around London which describes in detail the transport types including the London underground (tube), buses, cabs and ferries, plus ticket options and prices including the Oyster Card vs contactless payment.

For a first-time visitor, it can feel complicated, but once you understand it you will LOVE the ease and efficiency of the London Transport Network!

Our number one tip for traveling to London is to walk as much as you. We walked from 8-12 miles per day and loved it!

The Millennium Bridge, London, England
Walking across the The Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral

Not only was walking fantastic for our health, but it also really helped us to see so much of London as we moved from A to B.

It’s often faster to walk between tube stations than to catch the tube. So, map it out. Our rule of thumb was if it was a 20-minute walk, we’d just walk as by the time you get in and out of Tube stations, and wait for the trains, and then ride to your destination twenty minutes could have passed.

Accessing and Using Money in England (The British Pound)

Camden Town, London
Exploring the popular Camden Town Markets

The UK uses pounds and pence, not dollars and cents! English people tend to use the colloquial “quid” in place of pounds. So, if they say, “it’s five quid,” they mean five pounds.

On this London trip, it was the first time we visited a country without using local cash once. We didn’t even touch or exchange any British money, only using our credit card.

As exchanging money can be stressful, we loved this newfound ease.

You can use all major credit cards, but most common will be VISA and Mastercard. Some places will accept American Express, but I’d have a backup to be safe!

You will find ATMs, or cash machines as the English typically say, everywhere so accessing money if you need it is easy.

I was surprised how common and natural it was for everyone to pay by tapping their cards – or bt payment apps. It’s pretty much the only way cashiers offer payment.

If you don’t have the tap feature on your card, they still take the insert and swipe.

TOP TIPS:

  • Make sure you have a credit card that doesn’t charge a fee for international transactions as that will be a big hidden cost and cash will be better. However, we noticed several establishments in London were cashless, so you will need cards as a backup.
  • The danger of paying for everything on a card is you don’t often pay attention to prices, nor do as many currency conversions in your head to figure out your hometown price. Stay vigilant or you may go over your budget quickly.
  • Always pay in local currency if they ask e.g. when finalizing a bill at your hotel. Otherwise you will lose a lot in currency exchange. It’s called dynamic currency conversion and it’s a SCAM by the banks to make money off you by giving you much lower exchange rates.
  • Let your card merchant know you are traveling overseas and for how long so you don’t get pinged for suspicious activity and have your card blocked.

Tipping in England (and service)

London pub lunch, Oxford Street
Enjoying a pint in a pub (and not having to tip)

While we’re on money in England, I’ll answer the question, “Do you have to tip in London?”

No. No. No.

My favorite thing about London travel and being in England was not having to tip. In America, tipping adds a lot of extra cost to your bill, especially now it’s common for them to expect 25%.

I loved being able to walk into any café or pub, know that they are getting paid a good wage, order, tap and go. The price is as it says, and I can walk away.

If you eat at restaurants with table service, they will typically add on a service charge of around 7.5%. But it can go up to 12.5%. If service charge is not included you can leave a 10% tip if you like.

Be sure to check your bill so you don’t tip more than necessary.

Camden Head Pub, The Angle, London, England
Loved our pub lunches

You don’t need to tip anyone, including housekeeping, bell boys etc. No one in England expects it.

For our Americans, I will warn you, you will not get service like you do back home…and that’s okay. Not better or worse, just different.

We’ll share more through this post, but basically, you’ll be self-serving, or seeking out help a lot of the time. While it’s not as attentive, it is still friendly and helpful.

For our Aussie friends, it’s just like home!

Cost of Travel in London

Oyster Card, London Tube
Oyster Card used for the London Tube

This is a complicated question to answer as it depends on when you are traveling (and what current economic conditions are); your particular currency conversion rates, your spending habits and your style of travel i.e. do you prefer more luxury or budget.

London is one of the biggest cities in the world so it will not be a true budget destination. I didn’t find it much more expensive than traveling in the USA.

For a family of four, you can expect to spend around £250 – £500 a day (factoring in accommodation).

Power in London

Borough Market, London
Exploring the popular Borough Markets

The United Kingdom uses Type G outlets. These sockets have three rectangular holes, including a ground. You’ll need a power adaptor for the UK – we travel with a universal one so it covers most countries we visit.

Don’t forget to turn on the small switch on the outlet, or the electricity won’t flow!

UK’s frequency is 50Hz and the standard voltage is 230V. Appliances rated between 220 and 240V can be safely used without a voltage converter.

If you are from the US, you’ll need a converter if traveling with electric razors, hair dryers, or curling irons. It can blow up your device and start a fire otherwise!

We recommend leaving all of them at home. Hotels will have hair dryers to cover you! English people aren’t as image conscious as Americans and you won’t be judged.

And you won’t need convertors for laptops, phones and cameras.

It’s a clever idea to have a portable charger for your phone as you may not be able to find many power points throughout your day exploring. With all those photos and videos you’re capturing for memories, your battery will drain quickly.

Finding Wi-Fi in London

Anchor Bankside, London Pubs
Taking a photo of the River Thames from the Anchor Pub, Bankside

We did not realize that AT&T had locked our mobile phones. We’re on a monthly payment plan so phones are locked until you pay your phones off!

How is this helping travelers stay connected abroad? They charge $10 a day for roaming fees, which is a rip off considering their connection was awful and hardly ever worked.

As we work and travel, we had to turn on the roaming for just one of our phones, as the free wifi wasn’t reliable enough. But, often the free wifi was better than what we were getting on our phones and paying for.

Because of the terrible service, we missed our exclusive River Thames sunset cruise. We could not connect to quickly figure out an alternative route after someone jumped on the tracks and halted the tubes.

We had to wing it and ended up running for twenty minutes along the river and missed it by five minutes. Be sure to download any maps and directions you need first.

The Shard, London
Amazing views of the River Thames from the Shard

Had our phones been unlocked, we would have purchased an eSim from Airola, the world’s first and largest eSIM store. You can get connected the moment you land and avoid those nasty roaming charges.

It’s so easy to sign up and activate it for your phone, and at $10 for 3 GB over 30 days, you can’t beat it. All you do is install the app, choose your destination and package, install the eSim and then activate it.

You can also grab a local Sim card from most electronic stores, but why bother when you can do it digitally.

Just be careful, uploading Tik Toks and video streaming can chew up data fast.

You will find free Wi-Fi in a lot of places, but it’s unreliable and often choked and slow. Some of them are extremely painful to log onto.

You typically need to sign up for most – either through Facebook or by email. Some would only let you connect by sending you a text message. “Hello, I’m international, so I can’t receive any text messages!”

And the WIFI on the great Western Railroad was dreadful. So don’t get excited by that wonderful benefit of catching the train!

Honestly, get the eSim.

WARNING:

I recommend you turn off your roaming and make sure you tell your phone company as they try to sneak it on as soon as you arrive. My daughter missed the text message telling her it was turned on – and even though we had international roaming AND mobile data turned off they still charged us $10 a day for her phone.

They did remove it once I discovered this and complained.

Drinking Water

Camden Head Pub, The Angle, London, England
Beer is easy to come by in London, lol

This may seem like one of our most unusual London travel tips, but it’s one of the biggest things that bothered or impacted us the most.

Now that we’ve been living in the USA for over 10 years, we’ve become so used to easy access to drinking water. Public water fountains are usually ubiquitous so I can easily fill up when I’m out and about.

When I sit down at a café or restaurant in the US, the first thing the waiter does is place a pint of ice water down in front of me, and then fills it up throughout the duration of our meal. I NEVER have to ask for water.

I’ve become so used to not asking for water, that I didn’t when we first arrived in London. I didn’t even realize I wasn’t drinking water until the end of the first day when I felt so dehydrated.

The Anchor, Bankside
Don’t just hydrate with beer

You have to ask for water in the UK. Or, they’ll have a self-serving jug on the counter with really SMALL cups.

Guzzle three glasses before taking one back to your seat.

It was also hard to find public water fountains. Fill up before you leave your hotel and whenever you stop for food.

You’re overcoming jet lag, you’re walking around a lot and exploring, drinking plenty of water is very important, even in cold weather when you don’t feel as thirsty!

We DO NOT recommend buying single use plastic water bottles. They are TERRIBLE for the environment and your wallet.

Safety in London

Kensington Gardens, London
Walking through Kensington Gardens

Top safety tip no matter where you travel is to be alert, aware, and prepared. Anything can happen anywhere.

I don’t think of traveling to London as dangerous, nor have I ever felt unsafe or afraid. And I used to walk around at night on my own a lot when I lived in London (not saying I recommend this btw as a solo female traveler. You do have to still remain cautious and vigilant).

Central London is usually busy with people moving around until at least 10pm which helps you feel safer.

The police force is also excellent in London with surveillance cameras everywhere and quick response times.

You may come across someone on the tube who may be a little drunk, disorderly, or a little on edge. Don’t give them any eye contact or pay attention. Other passengers will be there to help, and you can speak to the guards. You can always get off the tube if you’re uncomfortable and catch the next one coming soon after.

You will see lots of signs warning you about pickpockets and thieves so be vigilant in looking after your possessions.

English Culture & Etiquette

Afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington was fantastic!
Afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington was fantastic!

English people are generally friendly and helpful. You may find them more reserved than Americans and Australians but they are less serious and image conscious than Americans.

They have a fun sense of humor, enjoy “taking the mickey” out of people, and love a little boisterousness when spending time with others.

They love music (and have a stellar history of top musicians in the world) and sports, and are pretty well-educated when it comes to politics and world affairs.

The English have a reputation for politeness and good manners, so remember to add in your “Excuse me, Pardon me, and thank you.”

This politeness extends to never jumping a queue (line) and standing to the right while going up and down escalators in the Tube stations.

London Underground
Stay to the right when riding the escalator down to a tube station

You’ll soon discover an impolite English person if you break these rules. I agree, England. I agree!

The culture in London is also very diverse, which is one of the many reasons we love it!

You can find cuisines, celebrations, festivals, and representation from many countries around the world.

I can imagine most cultures around the world will then feel somewhat welcome or have a place to connect to their own culture.

London is HUGE. Explore By Neighborhood

Camden Town, London
We took a canal boat to Camden Town

It’s easy to feel intimidated by a city the size of London. Not just for its 607 sq. miles (double NYC) and population of 9 million people, but for the intensity of the experiences and attractions that lie within its sprawling streets and neighborhoods.

A trip to London requires careful planning in advance. We had almost everything booked before we arrived in London and an itinerary mapped out for each day.

To save money on transportation and time wasted on moving between attractions, explore London each day by neighborhood or area.

Remembering that you’ll spend most of your time in Central London, which is not just one area, but a combination of many neighborhoods spread out throughout Zones 1 & 2.

To plan your London Itinerary:

  1. Plot out what you want to see and do London on a Google Map. See ours here.
  2. Group those attractions into regions you can organize a day around.
  3. Book your attractions and tours in each particular neighborhood
  4. Plan for places to eat and drink for these particular London areas.

We will be sharing our London itinerary guides soon. Jump in our virtual suitcase so you don’t miss it. (That is our email community).

Click here to subscribe now

Book online in advance

Shoreditch, LondonShoreditch, London
Mural in Shoreditch (East London)

From history and Royalty to art and culture, amazing theater shows, and buzzing neighborhoods with different personalities, there are so many things to do in London for any interest.

Research your tours and attractions and book them in advance. They can book out quickly and they even may only operate on certain days. We missed a couple of tours we wanted to do because of this reason.

Tickets booked online in advance can also be cheaper than buying in person at the attraction. And some attractions like the Shard and the (free) Sky Garden require advance reservations.

3D verification

We ran into an issue when trying to book train tickets on the Great Western Railroad from London to Bath and Oxford with our US credit card. It wouldn’t accept our card as it wasn’t 3D verified, and Chase Visa could not 3D verify our card for some reason.

I’m told this is a widespread problem in Europe now. It happens only for online transactions and only for some companies.

We only encountered it this one time and were able to book our tickets through Trainline instead.

Arrive Early to London Attractions and Tours

The Tower of London
The Tower of London gets super busy!

For popular tourist attractions like the Tower of London, arrive early to beat long lines. Again careful research and planning is needed to know the busiest attractions and how you can fit it into your daily schedule.

Our Beefeater guide told us lines to see the Crown Jewels are often 2 hours long, and while the London Eye can move fast, wait times can still be long. Thankfully, given we were traveling in London during March 2022 when tourist numbers were still low, we did not have any wait.

Fast Track or Skip the Line Tickets

The London Eye
The London Eye is also extremely popular!

Time is of the essence when you visit London. A great idea, if your budget allows, is to purchase skip the line tickets whenever you can.

If you get the London Go City Pass you will have many top London attractions included. However, some will not be, like the London Eye.

Also, some included attractions like the Tower of London don’t have the skip the line feature, and you can’t reserve your place in advance.

In those instances it might be better for you to use the London Pass for other attractions and pay separately for the top attractions.

You will have to do the math and research to figure out what works best for your budget and period.

The London Pass by Go City

The Go City Pass for London

If you are visiting several London tourist attractions it will be worth purchasing a London Go City attraction pass.

It’s a discount attraction card which will save you money on admission prices. You can purchase a card that has 2, 3, 5, 6 or 7 attractions.

Do your research to see which of the attractions on the card you want to do before you select the type of card you want.

We had a 3-pass attraction given to us by Go City to trial. For our 10 days in London a 7-attraction pass would have been more beneficial.

Choose the attractions that are the most expensive to use with the cards, and then maybe pay for the other attractions you want to do that are less expensive.

DO THE MATH for the different scenarios to see whether it’s cheaper to buy individual tickets or the London Pass, or a bit of both.

River Thames Cruise, London
The Tower of London is a top attraction

There is also the London Sightseeing Pass, which we did not get to evaluate while in London so cannot give a personal recommendation, and I’ve recently experienced terrible customer service with them.

However, we have used them before in the USA and loved it, especially for their more local experiences. I also like how they have multi-day passes instead of attractions.

If you want just the top London attractions though, I think the London Pass will be better.

Free things to do in London

British Museum, London
The British Museum is fantastic, and free!

One of the best things about travel to London is that so many of their museums are free! And their museums are exceptional.

Here are a few free Museums: British Museum, Tate Modern National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum

The Changing of the Guards, a popular thing to do at Buckingham palace, is also free!

As mentioned, walking around London is a wonderful way to absorb the culture – and it’s FREE.

We also enjoyed walking around to the Harry Potter Film locations in London (post coming soon). It’s free, but you can also join a guided walking tour if you don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself.

Platform 9 3/4, Kings Cross Station, London
Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station in London

For a densely packed city of people and buildings, you’ll find a vast number of open green spaces with charming Royal Parks and gardens, and the beautiful Thames River meandering through the city. We love St James Park, Hyde Park, and Regents Park.

And, many of the best views in London are free!

Shopping in London

Camden Markets, London
Camden Markets

There are so many markets in London that are fun just for browsing and people watching.

 Some of our favorites are:

  • Camden Markets – an alternative neighborhood and iconic market. See our post on how to experience the ultimate day in Camden
  • Borough Market – a vibrant, local food market. Yum!
  • Portobello Road Market – a Saturday market renowned for its antique wares.

Other popular shopping areas include:

  • Covent Garden – although a tourist area, it’s one of my favorite places to visit in London. Plenty of big name brands and boutique stores (with lots of restaurants). Expect higher prices though.
  • Oxford Street – one of the busiest streets in London with big name brands and deals. Avoid on a Saturday as it’s shoulder to shoulder.

We didn’t do much shopping in London as I think prices are cheaper in the USA. It’s a fun London activity for teens though, and Kalyra bought some clothes from Brandy Melville – which was cheaper than the US.

West End Theater Tickets

matilda cambridge theater
Matilda at the Cambridge Theater. Image by DepositPhotos.com

A highlight of any trip to London is a theater show in the West End. London is renowned as one of the best places in the world for theater with over forty venues in the West End.

On this family vacation to London, Kalyra, Savannah and I went to see Matilda in the Cambridge Theater in Covent Garden and loved it!

Kalyra did the research to find the best price tickets and booked it while we were in London. We booked through LondonTheatre.co.uk and got some of the last seats.

But, since it was a small theater, all seats had great views, and we somehow ended up with seats near the front and for what we thought was a great deal.

I recommend booking as far out as you can, especially for popular productions and if you want a good seat.

You can snag cheaper West End theater tickets by opting for stand by tickets, which you buy on the day at the venue.

Of course, you run the risk of missing the show or getting a terrible seat, but if you are okay with just experiencing the West End rather than passionate about a particular show, this is a great way to save money.

You can also get last-minute tickets from the TKTS ticket booth on Leicester Sq. However, I did not see any of these booths on our visit. Not sure if it’s because travel had just restarted after the pandemic.

Consider London Planning Assistance

St Paul's Cathedral, London, England
Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral was a highlight

Want to travel to London but don’t want the hassle of booking your trip and arranging your itinerary?

Monograms Travel is a tour style from Globus Travel. I experienced their Choice style touring on my Northern California trip, and their Globus Escapes in Jordan.

They hosted us for the first four nights in Gloucester London to experience their more independent tour style, Monograms.

Monograms act more like a concierge or travel agent service. They take care of any planning you choose such as booking flights, accommodation, and tours.

They offer airport transfers and a local host on site at the hotel to help you with any concerns or daily travel logistics in London. We loved this friendly, local touch and knowing someone was on hand to take care of any issues.

With Monograms, you also get a half day tour of London with a guide which we really enjoyed. Our guide was fantastic – so knowledgeable on the history of London and its attractions and offered many helpful tips.

Eating Out

The Ampersand Hotel, South Kensington, London
Creating special memories over afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel

Whatever you like to eat, you’ll find it in London.

There are plenty of places you can grab and go in London. Look for bakeries with delicious sausage rolls, Cornish pastries, and sandwiches. Marks & Spencer’s and other grocery stores will have premade meals (sandwiches and salads) that are a more affordable eating out option.

When I lived in London we used to love getting kebabs from our local store near the Tube (especially after a night out!). You tend to find these more once you get out of Central London.

Plan for a high tea (afternoon tea), it is a great English cultural experience and if you are traveling with kids they’ll love it. (see our Science themed high tea in Kensington in this post).

Book in advance for any restaurants if possible.

Pubs are a great place to eat. We loved it for the English pub cultural experience, but also because their menus suit most people.

You’ll find many English favorites like fish and chips, steak pies, and Sunday Roasts. And of course, a pint of English ale to wash it all down with.

Weatherspoon pubs are one of the cheapest places to eat food in London.

England gets a bad rap for food, and in some areas that can be so. But, with London’s diversity, you are sure to find good meals wherever you go. We had decent food the entire time.

Be sure to eat as many hot chips with mayo as you can for me! Yum!

Self-service in London

Be aware that service is very different to the US. Only restaurants will have hosted seating (and not all).

Most of the time you’re walking around to find your own spare table, or seat at the bar. There won’t be a waiting list for establishments like this – you’ll just have to be quick to jump in the next available seat.

You’ll order and pay at the bar as well for food and drinks. And will often serve your own water. You won’t get much table service, unless to clear dirty plates.

Gluten free + Vegan in London

I felt so well looked after in London with the abundance of gluten free food options which included fish and chips, Sunday roast (with gravy), scones with jam and cream, lamingtons, and delicious ciders and beers – and I mean beer!

THANK YOU London. It makes such a difference. Just another reason I miss you so much!

Vegan options are prolific across the city as well, as are many other dietary conditions.

Coffee in London

Monmouth Coffee Co at Borough Market, London, England
Monmouth Coffee Co. at Borough Market was a standout

I was surprised at how good the coffee scene was in London, especially since England is more known for its tea drinking.

I never had a bad cup of coffee in London. I had some that were just okay, but there were none that I had to throw in the bin, which happens more than it should in the USA.

Be prepared though – coffee sizes in England are smaller then the US. You will not find 16oz large here. Their large size is 12oz and 8oz is regular (and typical).

Unless you go to Starbucks, which sadly is on every corner now in London.

Don’t go to Starbucks. Just don’t. Support the local coffee shops. Their coffee is good, their stories unique, ambiance warm, and the service friendly and welcoming.

We’ll be sharing a post with some of our favorite coffee we found in London soon.

Drinking in London

Founder's Arms Pub, London
Enjoying a Guinness and a Pimm’s & Lemonade at Founder’s Arms Pub on the Thames

You will not be short on places to have a drink in London. There are pubs on every corner, plus really cool bars.

If the sun is out, head down to the river for a pint with a view. We’ll be sharing posts with plenty of our recommendations over the coming weeks.

On warm dry days, patrons will spill over onto the sidewalks outside pubs which brings such a lively atmosphere. The cobblestone streets and alleyways of Covent Garden will be packed.

A lot of pubs in the West End will stop allowing children after 5pm. Most pubs in London will shut at 11pm with a last drinks closing call at 10:30pm!

One thing we LOVED about having a drink in England is the lower ABV% of the alcohol. The beer is just getting far too strong in the US for Craig’s liking, and he doesn’t want to be drinking 6.5% – 9% beers anymore. In London, they averaged about 4.9% – 5.2% which he is used to from Australia.

By the way, if you’re a Guinness drinker, the Guinness in London is way better than the USA, the closer to Dublin the better.

the plough pub holborn london
We enjoyed a drink at The Plough Pub near the British Museum

And it was so nice to have a 4% ABV cider and not feel over buzzed and have it impact my sleep.

I was thrilled that there were a few gluten free beer options for me as well.

The craft brew scene has really taken off since I lived in London. We only saw one Fosters tap our entire time in London, whereas when I worked there it felt like every pub served it. This is a GOOD thing.

Now you’ll find local breweries taking center stage at the taps. Craig really enjoyed drinking the local English cask ales from the pump.

The pump is a unique way of pumping the Real Ale from the keg in the cooler cellars up into the bar. It’s uniquely British and specifically appropriate for traditional cask-conditioned ales.

Camden Head Pub in The Angel District
Enjoying a local cask ale at the Camden Head Pub in The Angel District

I LOVED the Old Mount Berries and Cherries cider. Put that in a glass with ice and try not to drink its sweet goodness too fast!

Two other famous English drinks to enjoy are:

  • Pimm’s and Lemonade – England’s favorite summer drink, especially for women.
  • Gin Spritzers – You’ll find a whole menu of gin options in almost every place you go. I took a liking to the various flavors of gin spritzers you’ll find.

Read More – 16 great pubs in London

Day Trips from London (or overnight stays)

Overlooking Oxford from St Mary’s Church Tower
Overlooking Oxford from St Mary’s Church Tower

As you’re planning your trip to London, consider if you want to take any day trips.

As an Australian, and now US resident, I forget just how vast our countries are and how small others are in comparison, like England.

That means you have many fantastic UK destinations as easy day trips from London. It’s a good way to break up the intensity of London and experience a wider English culture.

We recommend going by train as it’s cheaper and easier than car rental. You could also do the National Express bus service.

Bath Abbey, England
Bath is a fantastic day trip from London (or overnight stay)

We caught the train to Bath from London for two nights, and Oxford for two nights in the middle of our London trip. Both were fantastic.

Instead of a day trip, we recommend an overnight stay, so it is not as rushed.

Other top places to visit in England close to London include Stonehenge, Brighton, Cambridge, and the Cotswolds.

There you have it, our top London travel tips and the essential things to know before traveling to London. Please share any of your own tips, or ask any questions in the comments below!