Hints and Highlights from a Local
See below for information on tops things to see and do in London, free tourist attractions, maps, and transportation. Hyperlinks (underlined words) will take you to useful websites with further details. Note: London is quite an expensive city, so taking advantage of free attractions and activities is key. Much of the city is walk-able and there is great public transport, so several things can be done in one day, but remember to build in time to just stroll around, see the sights, relax, and take it all in. Check here for a calendar of events of things happening each month.
From London Heathrow Airport to Central London
Heathrow Airport is 15 miles west of central London. The quickest way to get to central London is via Heathrow Express train, which takes 15 minutes and runs every 15 minutes. Single from £22 and return £36. The train brings you to Paddington Station. A cheaper alternative, but not a non-stop route is the regular underground train on the Piccadilly Line. This costs about £6 and takes just under an hour. If you prefer private transportation information on this is available too.
From London Gatwick Airport to Central London
Gatwick airport is 22 miles south of central London. The quickest way to get to central London is via the Gatwick Express train. It runs to Victoria station every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes. There are several other train services which can be read about here. Other options include buses, either Easy Bus which runs every 15 minutes during peak time with prices from £4 and a journey time of 65 minutes or National Express with a journey time of 85 minutes. Taxis take about 65 minutes to central London.
In and Around London
London has a good public transport system consisting of trains, buses, and the London Underground (tube). If you are going to use multiple types of transport across several days the best thing to do is buy an electronic Oyster card. A full visitor guide with information about transportation and maps can be found here.
A good website for more information is: http://www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information
Top Free Things to See/Do:
⦁ Changing of the Guard: A military tradition, The Queen’s Guard in London changes in the forecourt inside the gates of Buckingham Palace at 11.30 am every day in the summer and every other day in the winter. Get there early and view the spectacle from outside the front gates.
⦁ Trafalgar Square: Trafalgar Square is a popular visitor attraction. It was designed by John Nash in the 1820’s. The square has many sights to see including Nelson’s Column & the National Gallery.
⦁ Houses of Parliament: The Houses of Parliament are only a short walk down Whitehall (road) from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. The building is stunning from Parliament Square, but it is worth taking a walk over Westminster Bridge and getting the view from the South Bank. Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the clock tower which chimes every 15 minutes
⦁ Parks/Gardens: St. James’s Park offers one of the best views of Buckingham Palace. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (side by side) are enormous and includes the Diana Memorial fountain. Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens in Regent’s Park are beautiful too. They are worth a stroll around.
⦁ South Bank, River Thames: You can see many London landmarks if you stroll along this stretch of the River Thames including the London Eye and Tate Modern art gallery. You can download free walking tours of the South Bank area here and here .
⦁ Walking Tours: Maps for other free walking tours can be found here. They also offer guided tours for which you can give whatever you feel you would like to.
⦁ Art Galleries: Tate Modern, Tate Britain, & National Gallery are exceptional art galleries housing some of the finest artworks in the world. Tate Modern focuses on contemporary art, Tate Britain displays British Art from the 16th C, and National Gallery paintings from the masters.
⦁ Museums: All of London’s major museums are free, but most offer some special exhibitions for a fee. A favourite is the Museum of London where you can learn the history of London from Roman times to today. Also popular are Victoria & Albert Museum and Natural History Museum in Kensington.
⦁ Markets: There are many popular markets in London selling everything from clothing to antiques and flowers to food. The most popular include Portobello Road and Borough Market.
⦁ Street Performers: The west piazza of Covent Garden Market has street performers to entertain you every afternoon. Enjoy a coffee or lunch in one of the outdoor eating areas and watch.
A good website for more information or other ideas is: http://www.visitlondon.com/tag/free-attractions
Other Top Visitor Attractions:
⦁ Bus Tour: Going on one of the open top sightseeing buses is a great way to get your bearings for the city and to learn some history about it too. You can hop on and off where you like. Prices are about £25-£30 adult, $15 child. Companies include: Original Tour & Big Bus Tour
⦁ Thames River Cruise: Another way to see the city is from the water – on the river Thames (pronounced Temz). You can go along a stretch of the river by boat, including under the famous Tower Bridge, and even have lunch or dinner on-board.
⦁ London Eye: The London Eye has 32 suspended capsules, which allows for a full 360 degree-panorama. Interactive maps to tell you about what you are seeing below. Tickets can be booked online or at the wheel itself. Quite pricey but wonderful views.
⦁ Tower of London: The Tower of London is where the Crown Jewels are housed. It’s also where you can stand on the execution site of 3 English queens! The Beefeaters (military men with 22 yrs service) are so knowledgeable and make the tour fun and interesting. If you go on a Sunday, there is an Anglican service in the Tower’s church. The Tower Bridge Exhibition is only a short walk away.
⦁ Watch a show. The West End in London is renowned for its excellent theatre and musical scene. There are many popular musicals and shows, including Lion King, War Horse, Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera, etc.
⦁ St. Paul’s Cathedral: St Paul’s Cathedral is a beautiful building. It is home to the tombs of historical figures such Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Climb the 530 steps from the cathedral floor to the Golden Gallery, for panoramic views of London.
⦁ Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: an identical reconstruction of the original building which housed Shakespeare’s Theatre. This open-air playhouse can be found on the banks of the Thames River and features an exhibition dedicated to the play writer.
⦁ Tea at the Ritz: Afternoon Tea at The Ritz is known worldwide. 16 teas to choose from, plus sandwiches, scones, and pastries. At close to $50 per person, it is pricey. The Orangery at Kensington palace from $25 pp ($10 child) is meant to be great. Other popular afternoon tea places can be read about here .
⦁ Westminster Abbey: Evensong at Westminster Abbey 5pm Mon, Tue, Thurs & Fri, 3pm Sat & Sundays is a beautiful service where the Abbey choir sings. You can enter for free for this service or to worship, or about £15 at other times.
⦁ Harry Potter Fans. There is a ‘Muggles’ walking tour in London or a larger Warner Bros studio tour outside of London. Both have good reviews on trip advisor.
⦁ Rent a Bike: There is a great and inexpensive public cycle hire scheme with over 400 locations in London. Swipe your credit card & hop on a bike for a few hours to explore. Drop it off at any location. A great way to see things above ground and there are numerous bike lanes to use too.
⦁ Castles: Located just outside of London, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It’s been the official residence of the British sovereign for over 900 years. Hampton Court Palace was the home of King Henry VIII. It also boasts stunning gardens. It is worth a day trip to these.
If you are seeing multiple attractions in London you might want to consider buying the London Pass.
A good website for more information or other ideas is: http://www.visitlondon.com/
There are some truly excellent restaurants and dining experiences in London, and some of the top chefs from around the world come here. There is a vast choice of all types of food from the popular Indian curries, to French, Italian, Thai, and really anything you could ask for. Becoming increasingly popular are Gastro Pubs for great food in a traditional relaxed pub setting.