Oh, London. Where do I even start? Land of Paddington Bear and home to crumpets at tea time, it has always been one of my favorites! The city has so much to offer that it can be a little overwhelming for first-time visitors, so we’ve put together a travel guide for London with the highlights you don’t want to miss!
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Best Things To See in London
Visiting London can be overwhelming. The city itself has so much to offer and if you add in some of the day trips you can also do, it quickly gets hard to pick what you should do. From Big Ben to Hampton Court and from the culinary scene to its pop-culture points of interest, there is always something to do in London. Here are the top things to do for first-time visitors and our travel guide for London.
The first time I went to London, was pre-blog when I was only 9 years old. And I was obsessed with the idea of a living breathing Queen who ruled from a palace! My mom tells me that I use to ask her all the time as we walked the streets or rode on the underground what she thought the Queen was doing right then at that moment. While I was too young to understand the political ideals that the Queen represents, I did have a lot of fairytale references to go off of! No travel guide for London would be complete without mentioning the Queen’s London home.
The iconic palace has served as the official London residence of the United Kingdoms’ sovereigns since 1837! Buckingham Palace has a whopping 775 rooms. These include 19 Staterooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. Today, Buckingham Palace is very much a working building and the centerpiece of the Monarchy.
And whilst Buckingham Palace is seen as the administrative HQ of the Monarchy, it is still very much a family home! While the Queen is in London, she stays at Buckingham. The Queen gave birth to Prince Charles and Prince Andrew at the Palace. And to this day, the much-loved tradition of having the notice of royal births and deaths attached to the front railings for members of the public to read is still practiced.
Buckingham Palace is open to the public a few times a year. During the summer months and for a limited number of tours in December, January and at Easter each year you can go inside. To find out more about visiting the Buckingham, go to the Royal Collection Trust website. This is one of the things that we weren’t able to do while we were in London and It is totally on my bucket list now!
If you are unable to go inside like me, don’t worry! You should still definitely go to the palace! You can see the iconic changing of the guard every day, visit the famous roundabout in front of the palace with the Victoria Monument, and take a picture in front of the gilded gates.
Big Ben and Westminster Abbey
Elizabeth Tower, or as it is more lovingly and commonly known, Big Ben is one of London’s most iconic sites. The name Big Ben is often used to describe the tower, the clock and the bell but originally the name was first given to the Great Bell. You can tour Westminster and Big Ben, so if you have time to do so, I highly recommend it! Find out how to tour the Elizabeth Tower in Parliament’s Visiting section.
If you love history, I also recommend attending one of the Big Ben lectures they offer! You’ll get to meet members of the Big Ben team during these free talks. They’ll tell you about the history and workings of the famous clock and its iconic tower and you’ll get to hear their stories about working up close to Big Ben.
Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge) is one of London’s top landmarks that truly defines the city’s skyline. This still operating bridge is beautiful with its blue accents and also serves as a museum for those looking to learn a little bit more about its history. Just be warned, it is not for those with a fear of height because the only thing standing between you and the River Thames below is a thick glass floor. I’m terrified of heights and if you ask me, it is worth it to see the gorgeous panoramic views of the city!
The London Eye
The London Eye was once the tallest Ferris wheel in the world so you can imagine how breathtaking the views are from the top! It is the most visited, and some would argue expensive, tourist attraction in the UK.
The eye gives obviously gives you a great vantage point of the entire city which for photographers and those doing it for the ‘gram might make the admission price worth it. Many will tell you to ride the Eye around sunset to get a beautiful view of London swirled in golden light but honestly no matter what time you go, you are sure to see the city in a stunning way.
Tips for a perfect trip to London
Guide for London on a budget
London can be very expensive but there are plenty of things you can do with having to spend too much money. Is London the most budget-friendly destination? No, but there are economical ways to soak in the city if you know where to look!
Many museums in London are free! The Victoria and Albert Museum is a huge complex you can easily spend a whole day exploring, especially if you are interested in art and fashion. And if you want more science-based museums, head over to the Natural History and Science Museum to hang out with some dinos or the Hunterian Museums for more medical museum musings.
A big part of seeing London is walking around and many points of interest like Notting Hill or Oxford Street are areas of the city you can explore. Make sure you get to know Piccadilly Circus and stop by Harrod’s to see the famed department store. I suggest planning your day to include a picnic at one of London’s many, gorgeous parks so stop by the Harrod’s food hall to pick up somethings to munch on. I promise not everything is expensive!
London is also home to many parks and green areas worth spending some time in. Richmond Park, for example, is the largest royal park and is a National Nature Reserve in London. If you’re going to be exploring London’s Royal Parks, don’t forget to stop by Bushy Park to see the Diana Fountain. The park, named after the Roman goddess Diana, is famed for its mix of waterways, gardens and grassland, and roaming herds of red and fallow deer. Hyde Park is another favorite where you can find the Peter Pan statue! And, depending on the time of year you visit its always worth seeing a Queens rose garden! Queen Mary’s Gardens has more than 12,000 roses and is free!
Don’t stay in the city the whole time
If you get the chance, I highly encourage you to plan a visit to the countryside or take a day trip outside of the city. You can easily head to Stonehenge, The Roman Baths, Cotswolds, Windsor Castle, Oxford University City, Edinburgh & Edinburgh Castle, as well as many others!
It will rain, trust me.
You’ve heard that London is rainy and I am here to tell you that that is in fact true. Because it rains almost a third of the year in the city, if you are in London for a week you should expect it to rain at least twice while you are there. Make sure you pack an umbrella or rain jacket – Tim and I LOVE our Patagonia rain jackets because they are light and easy to pack. And since you know that rain is unavoidable, pre-plan some indoor days.
Mind the gap and watch for traffic
The United Kingdom is backwards Americans when we go across the pond to visit since they drive on the other side of the road. In London, as in all of the UK, cars drive on the left which can take some getting used to. Make sure you look both right AND left when crossing any roads to avoid accidents. And when you are riding the underground, make sure you mind the gap between the platform and the train cart.
One last thing…
London is a huge city that has so so much to offer visitors! But there are some classic things that never change so when you are planning your trip make sure you include those classic things like eating fish and chips or taking a picture in a red phone booth. The city is full of history and charm, so don’t be surprised if it becomes one of your favorite cities in Europe!
We hope our travel guide for London helps you plan your trip, but keep in mind we only covered the basics. Here are some books to check out before your trip. And even though researching ahead of your trip is always the goal we definitely suggest bringing a guidebook along with you.