London is rich with history, buzzing with activity, and oh so proper. There are endless ways to enjoy this cultural capital of the world – from strolling down the River Thames, to shopping on Oxford Street, to a quite morning stroll through Hyde Park. London is sure to be on the top of any traveler’s list of favorite cities. Despite the influence from the many expats and international visitors each year, Londoners have clung tightly to their English traditions, making for an indistinguishable culture full of social norms that are charming albeit a bit puzzling to outsiders. It’s quite impossible to make it through even the rainiest day in London without grinning ear to ear. Whether it’s from the sight of Big Ben, or your first taste of sticky toffee pudding, or the way you overhear someone pronounce the word controversy – this city will make you smile.
For The Plane Ride
Here are some suggestions for great London-themed reading, classic movies and some of England’s most important musical artists for your in-flight playlist to help you get into the spirit.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Harry Potter – all seven of them if you have the time!
Bridget Jones’ Diary
The Crown (Netflix Series)
Shakespeare in Love
The Tudors (TV Series)
The Young Victoria
Arriving at LHR there are a few ways to get into central London.
The Heathrow Express is the most popular option, taking you to Paddington Station in only 15 minutes. From there you will need to take the underground or a taxi to your hotel. Trains to London leave Heathrow Airport from approximately 5am – midnight. Standard adult fares are £21.50
People who don’t mind the price tag can jump in a cab or call an Uber outside the airport. This is easiest if you have a lot of luggage, but will set you back about £50-£70 depending on where you are headed. The journey is about an hour to central London.
The Underground is the cheapest and in most cases, the most convenient way of traveling to central London. Heathrow airport has three underground stations connected to the London Underground on the Piccadilly Line. A tram connects the terminals to the station to get on the tube, and everything is very clearly marked at the airport. If your hotel is near a stop on this line then is a great way to travel, otherwise you will need to look at the map and transfer to get to your destination. It takes about an hour once abroad to get to Piccadilly Circus stop.
If you are arriving in Gatwick, the Gatwick express train is the fastest way into Central London, running every 15 minutes. It takes 30 minutes and takes you nonstop to London Victoria Station every day from 5 am to 12:30am.
Getting Around Town
First thing to do in London is buy and “top-up” an Oyster Card. This card costs 5 GPB, but you can turn it in and get your pounds back before leaving. The Oyster card is used for the buses and underground (or as the locals say “the tube”). Neither system will take cash so this is a must to get around. London’s underground is incredibly clean, efficient, and fast. Grab a map and don’t be afraid to take this everywhere you need to go! The buses are also a fantastic and convenient way to get around, but traffic can be an issue.
Cabs are everywhere and accept credit cards. Proper etiquette is to hail a cab, approach the driver’s widow and tell him where you would like to go. He will accept, and then you get in. London’s cabbies go to school for years and have to pass tests before being receiving their license. They know their way around the city and never get lost, but this level of expertise comes with a price tag!
London has a city-bicycle scheme that is cheap and a great way to get around if you know how to navigate the streets. But for a first-timer, this method can be a bit confusing.
Don’t forget your own two feet – London is a fabulous city for walking! It’s the best way to truly explore where you are, learn your way around, and stumble upon something magical.
What To Do
Stroll Through the Columbia Road Flower Market
Sunday morning from 8am-1pm this is best place to be in London! Vendors packs into the tiny Columbia Road with their bouquets and baskets full of fresh flowers. As you walk along the road you’ll be both charmed and entertained by the colorful salesman and their witty banter to their clientele. Every shop on Columbia Road is one-of-kind (this is a requirement of the tenants) and locally owned. So after you’ve got your stems browse around to pick up some truly unique goods.
Tour the Tower of London
This is one of those rare, totally touristy things that is actually fantastic. Touring the Tower of London is hilarious, fun, and you learn a lot about the history of the city. Guided by your very own beefeater (their official name is the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary) you learn the fascinating history of the tower and the city, and stories of all the monarchs who have ruled over it. On a sunny day, the tower grounds and views are stunning.
Explore Portobello Road
Notting Hill is famous for its candy-colored houses, lovely little shops, and small, winding streets. On a Saturday the Portobello Road Market brings excitement to this otherwise sleepy area as tons of vendors line Portobello Road selling crafts, clothing, and food. It can be a bit chaotic, so if you’d rather explore without the crowds come on a quite weekday and have the place to yourself.
Eat Your Way Around Borough Market
The most delicious day in London is spent at the Borough Market! Check the hours and days ahead of time to plan your trip. Although crowded, Saturday is the best time to visit with the most vendors, and samples galore! No matter when you choose to visit – come hungry! From giant pots of paella to lovely breads cooked in mini flower pots, to the cheesiest, bubbliest raclette served over potatoes – you’re going to want to eat everything you see. While in the area, coffee-lovers should grab a latte a Monmouth and cheese-lovers should seek-out Neil’s Yard Dairy – both among the most wonderful specialty shops in the city.
Stroll Down Southbank
Southbank is a wide pedestrian spanning the length of the Thames River. It offers both stunning views of the city, Big Ben and Parliament, and tons of things to see and do. In the summer there are art instillations, pop-up carnivals, outdoor space for drinking and dining, and in the winter there is a German-style Christmas market. This is also where you can access the London Eye.
Visit Amazing Museums for Free
London has some of the world’s best museums and they are all absolutely FREE. Take advantage of this amazing perk and visit the finest modern art collection at The Tate Modern, the fashion exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum(V&A), The British Museum to see Rosetta Stone (just to name a few!)
Ride the No 11 Bus
The double-decker red buses are iconic London, and you can’t leave without riding one. Jump on the No. 11 bus one day from the Beaufort Street Stop and ride it to the finish. It’s essentially a tour a London for the cost of one bus fare, taking you up the King’s Road in Chelsea, past Victoria Station, to Westminster Abbey, Mayfair, Trafalgar Square, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and ends by Liverpool Street.
Shop In Unique Department Stores
London has some of the world’s best shopping, but skip the high-street shops you can find in any big city and head to some of the most beautiful, unique department stores that are stepped in history. Liberty of London is famous for its textiles, homeware, and the trendiest fashion. Fortnum and Masons is like stepping into a time machine back to the turn of the century. It’s filled with beautiful things of the old world and a lovely food hall. And nothing is more iconic London than Harrods that has everything from a pet fashion department to a stunning display of shoes.
Wander Around Primrose Hill & Regent’s Park
North of the city is a lovely, quite bit of town called Primrose Hill where you can wander in and out of small specialty shops and dine at some of London’s best-kept secret restaurants among the locals. The best way to reach this area is by walking through Regent’s Park, one of London’s lovely spans of green that features a rose garden, a zoo, and shady spots for an afternoon snooze.
Pop Over to Brixton
If you’re the kind of person who prefers Williamsburg to Manhattan, then make your way out to Brixton, the area that has become London’s Brooklyn. Artsy, independent, and a little rough around the edges – this area is full of young people and offers a much more affordable side of London. The Brixton Village Market is an enclosed market with several drool-worthy food stalls and the nearby vintage shops and art galleries make a great way to work up an appetite.
Hike Hampstead Heath
Travel a bit far away from it all out to Hampstead Heath for a taste of the English countryside. This park is massive – it has an open air Lido, swimming ponds, splash pools, countless sports pitches and facilities, athletics track, playgrounds, a stunning pergola and enough green space to really feel like you have escaped the city.
Check-out Shoreditch & Spitalfields Market
Shoredtich is London’s hipster haven. Come explore the funkiest shops, bars, and restaurants that the city has to offer. At night this area is a cool hangout, or a great day to visit this area is Sunday, when the Spitalfields Market is on and you can stop in and see clothing and goods from some seriously cool up and coming designers (All Saints started at this market!) and grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls. Make sure to check out BoxPark, the world’s first pop-up mall assembled in old shipping containers.
Treat Yourself to Afternoon Tea
Nothing is more iconic London than sitting down for a long and lovely afternoon tea. Most hotels and restaurants offer tea from around 2pm – 5pm, so skip lunch to leave room for the three-tiered tray of warm scones smothered in cream and jam, crustless cucumber sandwiches and sugary sweets. Tea comes in all varieties of fanciness and price points. It can be very traditional with a coup of champagne at a hotel like The Savoy or Langham for around £70 per person, or more causal at a restaurant or bakery, like Beas of Bloomsbury or The Modern Pantry for about half that cost. Some places offer themed-teas so do a little research if you want this experience to be more eccentric than traditional. Book well in advance, and dress smart – since Londoners take their tea in style.
Take a Day Trip
England is so easy to explore, that it’s certainly worth taking a day of your trip to venture outside London. In just an hour bus ride, you visit so many beautiful places. Oxford and Cambridge make for wonderful day trips and are stepped in history and full of cute shops and cafes. Bath is an architectural dream and also offers a unique spa experience. A little further afield is The Cotswolds, perhaps the most charming and beautiful place in all of England. Sleepy, ancient towns made of golden Cotswold stone dot the countryside and offer an experience that will charm the pants off you. Other interesting places nearby are Statford-Upon-Avon for the Shakespeare lover, and Windsor for people hoping to spot the Queen!
This tiny, tucked away place in Belgravia looks like a true French country kitchen inside. It has an incredibly charming atmosphere and authentically delicious food. Everyone who works there is French so feel free to speak to your waiter en francais if you can. It’s dimly lit, cozy, and extremely romantic. While everything is delicious, the veal medallions in a mushroom cream sauce is the stuff of dreams.
This place is quintessentially English. It has an ever-changing farm-to-table menu, since they only serve what is in season and everything is brought in fresh daily from different parts of England. The food is inventive and service is spectacular. It’s very off the beaten path but well worth a visit! Book well in advance since this is a small space and very popular spot for those in the know. Dishes change daily but their homemade bread is consistently warm and fluffy.
There’s a few locations of this beloved London spot. A fresh, seasonal menu and pretty, minimalist decor – makes this is a great choice for a casual meal and some English food done right. Breakfast is stand-out spectacular here, try their truffled eggs benedict or avocado toast for a perfect start to the day.
Tucked away in Primrose Hill this is the perfect place to dine after exploring Regent’s Park. A tiny, plant-filled Greek restaurant only visited by locals is a great way to get away from the crowds of Mayfair.
This French brasserie is one of most well-known and loved restaurants in London for good reason. The atmosphere is fantastic, prices are very reasonable, and food is consistently delicious. It’s most famous for brunch because of their buttery, blueberry pancakes, but afternoon tea draws quite a crowd as well for their fine selection of sweets. No matter the time of day you visit you’re guaranteed a wonderful meal. It’s always busy here, so book well in advance. If you manage to snag a table, you’ll may spot a celebrity tucked away in a corner.
This Austrian-inspired restaurant serves up amazing schnitzels. It’s a lovely, sophisticated atmosphere inside, and a very popular place at all times of day. A small take-away counter in the front offers quick bites for those on the go. If you’re joining for dinner, save room for their amazing ice cream coupes!
With mismatched chairs and floral wallpaper, this spot oozes cute, Bumpkin is a great place to have seasonal English comfort food at really reasonably prices. For a quintessentially English meal, order the fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream. For cocktails, they have a menu devoted to different gin and tonics – including one with elderflower. There are a couple of locations of this beloved neighborhood spot in west London.
The food at Ottolegnhi is almost too beautiful to eat. You may have seen his cookbook in Anthropologie. They have small little “deli-type” locations with beautiful displays of colorful salads to choose from and baked goods to go. Their flavor combinations and freshness of ingredients is simply unparelled in the food world. This is the best spot to grab a quick and healthy lunch! Check out the sister restaurant in Soho called Nopi, which serves up food in the same style for dinner.
This hip restaurant on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower offers a wonderful view of London. It’s a stunning place inside, a little sceney- but the perfect location to take in the view of the city at night. The cocktail bar is covered in hanging strands of crystal and plants, so it is also a good place to stop in for a drink! If you’re staying for dinner, the duck & waffle is a must – a buttermilk waffle topped with crispy confit duck leg, fried egg, and mustard-maple syrup.
This is a tiny place in Soho with a cool atmosphere and a Russian-inspired menu. The emerald-green decor in an instrgrammer’s dream, and each table has its own “champagne button” that sends the champagne cart to you. Try a traditional Russian dish like chicken kiev and of course – some vodka.
This is London’s healthiest spot for amazing, uber-fresh, raw, and delicious salads and treats, alongside exercise classes with some of the city’s best fitness teachers. The initial location in soho is small, perfect for dropping by during a day of shopping. But their new, larger hub in Fitzrovia is the place for those looking for a little more space.
This is consistently rated one of the best restaurants in the world! If you want a fancy Michelin meal, this is place to go get it. Reservations should be made well in advance.
The modern pantry is a small, quite space a hidden in Clerkenwell (which is otherwise sort of devoid of good places to dine!) They do simple, healthy dishes, but all cooked to perfection. The dinner menu has a ton of little nibbles to start off with – Za’atar focaccia bread, spiced seeds and nuts, and marinated olives. This is a great spot for group dinners, since they offer a special menu.
Pop into this sweet shop for a treat or book ahead for afternoon tea. Cupcakes, giant meringues, homemade marshmallows, its heaven! Everything is homemade and fresh.
This is not your average cookie stand. Ben’s makes their inch-high cookies fresh every few minutes so they are always hot and incredible! The coconut cookie might change your life. Or at least your day.
Where to Stay
Photo courtesy of Ham Yard
Firmdale Hotels perfectly captures the charm of England with a modern fee andl is a great location to call home whilst in the London. The hotel revolves around a tree-filled garden. Colorful floral wallpapers and dreamy decor are thanks to designer Kit Kemp. There is a lot of beautiful space to spend time here – including a drawing room and library, Spa and Gym, theatre, and a 1950’s style bowling alley. Lovely views of the Soho skyline can be enjoyed from the roof terrace.
Superbly located on a quiet Mayfair square, The Beaumont recaptures the spirit of old-world luxury in a brand new space. The Beaumont is the first hotel from Corbin & King, the highly regarded restaurateurs behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay and a number of other leading restaurants in the capital. Every detail is thought of here, and the service is top notch. Perhaps their most notable feature other than the Hamam spa and gymnasium which offers a sauna, steam room and cold plunge pool, as well as a range of treatments. A sculpture by Antony Gormley, ROOM is a dark, mysterious, cave-like space where the occupant is encouraged “to enter a different state of consciousness, to enjoy at the very least a meditative pause, and the chance to withdraw, for a while, from the busy world outside.
Nothing is more classic London than The Savoy Hotel. This hotel is a landmark of London and recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation to restore it to its beauty. Their serene lobby with indoor pergola is perhaps the most beautiful setting for afternoon tea in all of London.
Staying in East London is smart if you plan to spend a lot of time exploring the hipster neighborhood of Shoreditch. The Ace is reasonably priced and exceptionally designed – making it the perfect place to call home during your trip.
Balcony suites overlooking the Thames? Only at the Mondrian at London Sea Containers. This uber-chic hotel is designed to capture the style of the original building, exuding 1920s cruise ship glamour with modern twists and sophisticated design. The cocktail rooftop bar is a popular spot to spend the evening hours taking in views of Parliament by night, and during the day it’s just a short walk to the Tate Modern.
Afternoon tea, photo courtesy of Mondrian London
For the budget traveler, Phillip Stark’s new hotel located in the heart of London’s buzzing Bankside district offers free Wi-Fi, free movies, and a tablet MoodPad to control every hi-tech detail. Other amenities include the oversized Vitra living room lobby with floor-to-ceiling stunning art, a prolific MENDO bookstor, and a 24/7 scrumptious eatery and bar which is nice for late-night eats – not an easy thing to come across in London!
Comment below if you’ve been to London or if you have any other top spots or questions about London!