London Travel Guide
Ah, London — home to world-class restaurants, an unparalleled music scene, and some seriously rich history. Plus, tea. Who could forget the tea? London is a wonderful city to visit, and with England's fantastic public transportation, it's a breeze to get from point A to point B. You could easily spend a week or more exploring all that each London neighborhood has to offer, and still have things left over for your next visit.
With sites and cultural hubs like the National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Kensington Gardens, and all manner of food, drink, shopping, history, and culture, it's no wonder why the 'Big Smoke' is a top travel destination.
Greenwich Mean Time during the winter, British Summer Time during the rest of the year (starting at Daylight Saving Time)
Best Time to Go
England experiences relatively mild and somewhat rainy weather year-round, and when you should go depends on what you'd most like to experience. Spring, summer, and fall allow for taking in the parks and getting the most out of how walkable London is, while winter is beautiful and festive for those looking to get their fill of Christmas markets and traditional cheer.
Things to Know
London is filled with neighborhoods brimming with great things to do and England's exceptional public transportation makes it simple and stress-free to travel between them.
Londoners, and English people in general, have a much different manner of interacting with one another than Americans do — while an American might think nothing of smiling at a stranger they pass on the sidewalk or asking about work in the first few minutes of a conversation, etiquette in London errs on the more private, respectful, and more distant. Don't mistake this for aloofness or consider those you meet unfriendly; it's just a difference in cultural norms. Instead, talk about things like movies, TV shows, books, your travels, and the like, instead of work or family.
A fun, and somewhat reassuring fact: London has much better takeaway sandwiches than the US does. If your day is too packed to have a sit-down lunch, a sandwich from a chain will be legitimately delicious. Most importantly, all British museums are free, meaning anyone can wander to their heart's content no matter their budget.
How to Get Around
Getting around London is unbelievably easy thanks to the well-maintained and extensive Underground (also known as the Tube). The Underground, unlike American transportation systems which often pay per ride or pay per length of trip, are paid in zones. Fare also varies based on time of day and the method you use to pay. It's worth getting an Oyster card — the Underground's MetroCard or SmarTrip Card — to make your life that much simpler.
There are 11 Underground lines servicing all nine zones. Maps of these zones are in every Tube station. Most of the popular sites in London are in Zone 1, which covers central London. The Tube runs daily from 5am to midnight and with reduced hours on Sunday. Some late-night services are available on the weekend, but generally, you'll want to be prepared to take one of the easily-found London taxis or use a rideshare app if you're out and about after midnight.
Things to Do
Neighborhoods to Know
Shoreditch: A trendy neighborhood chock full of vintage shops, cafes, art galleries, and clubs. The neighborhood skews young, and boasts everything from artisan coffee shops and fine dining to chain restaurants. Wander around here for some of the best shopping in London.
Notting Hill: Yes, that Notting Hill. It's as charming as you imagine it to be. Famed for Portobello Road Market and the antiques and vintage stores that line it, Notting Hill is also home to high-end restaurants, the Ladbroke Square Garden, and some of the most charming and beautiful residential streets in London.
Covent Garden: Synonymous with the Covent Garden Market, this much-loved neighborhood is filled with odd little gems like tiny toy stores, bookstores, clothing boutiques, and more — plus an array of restaurants and eateries. Covent Garden is not a mall; it is, truly, a garden, and a lively and beautiful place to sit, have a coffee, and people-watch.
Camden: Also known as Camden Town, though no one really calls it that anymore. Home to Camden Market and the famed venue Electric Ballroom, it abuts The Regent's with easy walking access to the London Zoo and a bit of a longer walk to Queen Mary's Rose Gardens.
Kings Cross: Not only a rail station, but a neighborhood! Historic Kings Cross Station is a big draw, though, with a photo area for Platform 9 ¾ and a Harry Potter gift shop right nearby. Kings Cross was once heavily industrial, but has been made over with gardens and small green sitting areas.
Soho: Lively, theater-dotted Soho in the West End is the place to go for nightlife of all stripes. Take in a show, go dancing, enjoy a late-night movie or dinner, or a few of the above. It's one of the most popular tourist destinations in London, being an easy walk from Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.
The West End: The West End is London's Broadway. But don't be fooled — it's not just international stagings of Broadway shows. The West End is a thriving theater scene with original work going up regularly.
On one hand, the weather in London does not tend to fluctuate between highs and lows, no matter the season. On the other, it rains in London — a lot. About nine to 10 days a month on average. No matter when you go, pack some waterproof layers; odds are you'll be glad you brought them.
Spring: Spring in London, and England as a whole, is beautiful. London is a very green city, and spring brings the parks and gardens to blooming, fragrant life. Early spring can be a little chilly, but it might be worth going then to beat the tourist boom from late spring through summer.
Summer: Summer in England is mild and lovely, and London is no exception. Temperatures rarely climb above 75°F. For this reason, it is by far the most popular season for travel, and hotel and flight prices tend to reflect that — however, it's also inherently a bit more lively, with a lot going on.
Fall: Again, fall is temperate, with a little more rain than summer. If you want to beat the summer rush but still want warmer weather, you might want to wait until fall for your trip.
Winter: Winter can get cold, but not bitterly so; average temperatures rarely fall below 30°F. England is big on Christmas, and holiday markets and cheer abound. If you love the winter holidays, London might be a perfect choice for you — it's hard not to feel festive in the land of A Christmas Carol.
Apps to Download
London Theatre Direct: Showtimes and tickets for London plays and musicals, including last-minute deals and discounts.