You’re probably wondering why I even bothered creating my own London guide when there are so many guides out there which are far more detailed than this. What sets this guide apart from everything else? Everything you’ll find here are based on my own personal experiences.
I’ve been receiving a lot of London questions recently so I thought of compiling everything I know (and everything I’ve done) about this wonderful city so it’ll be easier for me to direct them here. I don’t claim to be an expert of London because I’m far from it, like you – I am still exploring this city at a much slower pace.
A bit about me, I moved to London August of 2016 and I promised myself that I will not take it for granted. I will make the most out of my time here, making sure that I am exploring something new every week. The good news is I kept to my promise and found treasures in and around London every time I’m off from work. This city is amazing, you’ll never run out of things to do and places to see. I will be updating this page from time to time to add all of the adventures that will come my way in the future.
Country: England Airport Code: LHR/LGW/STN/LCY/LTN Currency: GBP Area Code: +44 Time Zone: UTC+00:00
GETTING A UK VISA:
Depending on where you are and the passport you’re holding, the process of applying for a UK visa may be slightly different. I have written about my own UK visa application from Dubai and from Doha. I’ve also written about my EEA FM Residence Card when I arrived here. It is definitely recommended that you double check with the UK Embassy to make sure that you have the correct details.
TRAVELING FROM AND TO THE AIRPORT:
Whichever airport you’re taking, London will have a public transportation available to you. You can access these websites for all your public transportation options:
WHERE TO STAY:
There is no BEST place to stay in London unfortunately because it’s all about individual preferences and budget. Budget is a huge deal if I’m being honest because prices can drastically change based on what postcode your choice of hotel is in. To make it even more confusing, the farther you are from the city center the cheaper the price will be but the transportation fee to get to Central London will be more expensive.
London is very well-connected by public transportation so whichever area you choose to stay in, you’ll be able to see all the London sights easily. Be aware as well that the sights in London are spread out, there is no particular area where you will see everything the city has to offer. This means that even if you’re staying in Central London, you will have to take a public transportation to see some other sites or if like me you enjoy walking around, you can do this as well if you have a lot of time here. London is a very pedestrian-friendly place.
I stayed in a very small hotel in Kensington when I visited as a tourist in 2012 and from my hotel, I basically walked almost everywhere. Unlike the central city of London where 4 to 5 star properties are dominating, Kensington offers a lot of accommodation range depending on your budget. Having said that, I’d say that Kensington would be my personal choice if I ever visit London as a tourist again.
Also, I would highly recommend any Premier Inn Hotels in and around London. I have stayed in so many Premier Inn’s across England and I have to say that the quality of the hotel is outstanding. Location is always central, rooms are always clean and breakfast is amazing!
GETTING AROUND LONDON
As previously mentioned, the whole city of London is very well-connected by public transportation. It may be daunting for the first timers to see the very complicated tube maps or bus routes so let the Citymapper app do the dirty work for you. Seriously, this app is the best thing ever! It can get you from point A to point B without any hassle. If you don’t have enough space in your phone to download yet another app, google maps work perfectly as well.
Some people would advice you to get an oyster card but if you have a contactless card, you may also use it. I prefer to pay as I go and not buy the Travelcard since most of the time, I’d be walking around the city anyway. Pay as you go is also the cheaper option as it has a daily limit depending on which zones you’ll be traveling to. This means that once you’ve spent the limit amount, you won’t have to pay for any more journeys for the rest of the day.
The price cap for a day of a normal oyster/contactless card for zones 1-4 is £9.5 while the 1-day travelcard is £12.30.
THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
Here’s the fun part of this guide (not so fun for me as I’m not sure how to categorize it) all the places I’ve seen and things I’ve done in this city. I created a list as it’s easily read as such, you can click on the individual links to learn more about it. Some places might appear twice.
Cutty Sark, the world’s only surviving tea clipper and fastest ship of her time. Very family-friendly as it has a lot of activities for kids to do onboard the ship.
Shakespeare Globe Theatre, a glimpse of how 15th century London used to be like. It’s not the original theatre where Shakespeare plays were shown but it’s a remarkable replica and they made absolutely sure that the materials used to build it will be somehow similar to the original.
The London Dungeon, a fun and interesting way to learn about the history of London. I’ve also done the Tower Bridge Experience but if I’m being honest, I didn’t like it at all and The London Dungeon is wayyy better!
Houses of Parliament, one of London’s most iconic buildings where laws of the land are created (or ended). It’s an interesting building to explore because you’ll normally only see it on TV.
Sky Garden, this was a huge surprise for me as I can’t believe that entry to this place is free of charge. You’ll just have to book it in advance. From the Sky Garden, you’ll be able to see fantastic aerial views of London.
Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s majestic palace with its well-preserved state apartments. This is definitely the best palace I’ve ever visited here in London, it’s well-preserved and extremely informative.
Kensington Palace, the official royal residence of Prince William and Kate. The area that you can explore is quite small though but the grounds are gorgeous. I personally wouldn’t recommend a visit inside because the price of the ticket is quite expensive but if you’re into palaces and Royal family, then its a must.
Tower of London, a fortress, a palace and a prison all in one place. It’s interesting to explore the grounds and make sure that you’d be able to catch the complimentary with a Beefeater.
Kew Palace, King George III’s residence while he was being treated for his “madness”. It’s a small and a very humble palace but the gardens is absolutely fantastic!
If you’re planning to visit all of the Royal Palaces while here, I suggest that you buy the annual ticket which is cheaper than buying individual tickets for all of the palaces. Apart from the fact that you can visit all of the palaces, you can also do it unlimited times – works well if there are events in any of the palaces during your visit.
Highgate Cemetery, home to some of the finest funerary architecture in the country. I like visiting cemeteries because I’m such a weirdo and I think this is the best one I’ve visited as of yet. I enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and finding tombstones of famous people.
The Lion King, the best play I’ve ever seen so far. It was so good that I had goosebumps the entire time I was watching it and ok, I also cried a little. :p
The Book of Mormon, funny as hell! It’s definitely not for everyone though specially if you’re a prude or easily offended. If you’re looking for a good laugh, this show is definitely for you.
The Comedy About Bank Robbery, another funny play that we’ve seen. The scene shown from the ceiling (you’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it) was mind-boggling for me. :p
Mousetrap, the longest running theatre show in London which is in its 66th year. I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie and this didn’t disappoint. It’s possibly my favorite amongst all the plays I’ve seen here as of yet.
Unique Tours Around London
Liar Liar Tour, a very fun and interactive tour. The guide will tell you three statements about the place that you’re visiting and you’ll have to guess which one is a lie among all the three. It”s fun, great for a group of friends.
Hidden London Tour, a great way to explore the forgotten stories of historic London.
Shoreditch Street Art tour, showcases the street art culture of the city.
Murder Mile Walk, if you’re interested to know about all the gory details of the murders which happened in London.
Painted Hall Ceiling Tour, a once-in-a-lifetime experience which gives you a chance to see the painted ceiling up close. You can only do this tour until September 2018.
Hampton Court Bike Tour, a fun and great way to explore the Hampton grounds with an informative guide.
Parks Around London
There are so many parks around London, there’s always one in each Borough. I normally like walking through the parks when I’m on my way somewhere, it’s more scenic and makes the walk less excruciating. :p
Holland Park, contains an extensive woodland for a central London park. Don’t miss the Kyoto Garden inside it.
Kew Gardens, the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world and a World Heritage Site.
Richmond Park, largest of the Royal Parks in London and my favorite of all since it’s very close to my apartment. 🙂
Bushy Park, I took a cycling tour around here and it’s a gem! It also holds a very important account in world history as this is where D-day landing was planned.
Self-guided walks around London
London is an extremely pedestrian-friendly city and I love walking around and exploring new places. I have done quite a few self-guided walks in different suburbs of the city, most of which are based on the itineraries featured in London’s Hidden Walks: Volumes 1-3 series. Here are some of the itineraries I’ve already completed:
Museums in London
There are loads of museums to visit in London, there’s a museum for just about everything. It is a must to see at least one of them when you visit specially because most of the museums are free of charge.
Geffrye Museum is a museum of home which shows how living rooms evolved based on necessity from the 16th century to present. I found it extremely interesting to see how people lived through the years.
Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, some areas of the museum are quite interactive too. There is a beautiful cafe inside the museum that you shouldn’t miss.
British Museum is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. I was very interested to see the stolen caryatid from Greece. :p
Natural History Museum exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history, I love their late evening openings. You can go around the museum with a prosecco in hand. :p
National Maritime Museum is the largest museum of its kind which features a vast collection of ship models, artworks, maps and charts and memorabilia from maritime history. I wasn’t very keen about it though if I’m being honest.
Royal Observatory is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that alone should make you want to visit it. 🙂
Madamme Tussaud’s, best visited with a group of friends who share the same level of craziness as you do. 🙂
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
I love going out for a meal and some drinks, I don’t get the time to write all about them though unfortunately. I’m trying harder but for now, here’s a list of restaurants/pubs/bars that are my personal favorites.
Pubs in London
Counting House Pub which used to be a bank in the late 18th century, old fixtures and fittings are still being used.
Boater’s Inn, my favorite riverside pub in Kingston. The view from there is gorgeous!
Pitcher and Piano, food wasn’t so great but it offers the best view of the River Thames in Richmond.
Waxy O Connor’s, my favorite pub in Central London. It’s a 3-level pub which offers live music and great food!
The Gipsy Moth, my go-to pub whenever I find myself in Greenwich. Food served is good and outdoor seating area is quite cozy.
The Dove, we discovered this by accident and what a nice accident it was. Food served here is amazing and the riverside location gives a great ambiance.
Unique Dining Experiences in London
Sarastro Restaurant, if the decor alone won’t impress you maybe the live opera acts will.
The Piano Works, a live venue which plays your song requests all night long.
Bunga Bunga, an Italian-themed restaurant offering an immersive live entertainment.
Petersham Nurseries, offering seasonal dishes in a plant-filled glasshouse.
Hideaway, a non-pretentious jazz club in Streatham.
606 Club, a live music venue featuring great jazz bands. It was however quite too jazzy for our liking but it sure is a great place to go to if you’re a hardcore jazz fan or looking for a unique and intimate venue for dining.
Restaurants in London
Franco Manca, a sourdough pizza business with 39 pizzeria in London and southern England.
Viet Food, if you’re craving for a Vietnames pho I highly recommend a visit here.
The Ivy Cafe, I’ve only been to their branch in Richmond and I was extremely impressed. Food served was great and the decor was outstanding.
Jackson and Rye, I’ve been to their branch in Richmond a couple of times and have never been disappointed. Serving American style food, their corn dogs will make you come back for more.
Pottery Tapas Bar, friendly and casual local tapas bar serving Spanish food and drinks.
Grand Imperial London, an authentic Chinese restaurant in Central London – all the Chinese diners will attest to that. Their peking duck is an absolute must!
Romulo Cafe London, the best Filipino restaurant in the city according to myself. I must admit that I’ve only visited it three times but I’ve never had a bad meal yet.
Smok’d, a casual pub/bar by Kingston rail station serving barbecued meat. Reasonable price for London standards.
Butler’s Wharf Chophouse, offers a superb view of the Tower of London from their dining area.
Sticks’n’Sushi, they serve one of the best yakitoris I’ve ever had so far here in London.
Sake no Hana, Japanese fine dining restaurant in a modern space in Mayfair.
JW Steakhouse, we went there specifically for the Tomahawk steak and we were not disappointed at all. It’s the best steakhouse I’ve ever tried here in London so far.
Babylon, one of my favorite restaurants to bring visiting friends and family to. The views are amazing and the food is highly rated!
DAY TOURS FROM LONDON
There are so many places you can visit from London and it’s extremely easy to do it via train or with your own car. I have visited most of these places as a day trip but if you have time, at least a night’s stay would be great.
Bath, famous for its well-preserved Roman Baths.
Bradford-on-Avon, a charming Cotswolds village in Wiltshire and a popular tourist destination for its history and centuries-old village charm.
Brighton, an English seaside resort town.
Canterbury, a historic English cathedral city and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Oxford, a beautiful university town in the south of England.
Royal Tunbridge Wells, famous for the historic Pantiles, an affluent town in Western Kent.
Wiltshire, a county in South England with half of it designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
CHRISTMAS IN LONDON
It’s the most wonderful time of the year indeed, London goes all out during Christmas time. Streets are dressed up in Christmas lights, shops are decorated in beautiful and dreamy Christmas-themed displays, Christmas markets are abundant and lots of ice rinks. Of course the main event I will have to say is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, it’s the grandest Christmas destination in London – a market, a fair and they also have an ice rink!
Christmas Lights 2016
Christmas Ice Rinks 2016
EVENTS IN LONDON
I’ll be updating this page as I go along. Hopefully, this guide helped you one way or another in planning your holiday to London! 🙂
Last updated: 15FEB18
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