London is arguably the best first-destination for those who are new to European travel. It’s overwhelmingly large, but still quite well organized and if you can read this then the language won’t be an issue for you. Plan on spending at least 3 nights here at a minimum, and 4 nights would be better.
If there really was a ‘capital of the world,’ it would probably be London. With over one thousand years of history on display alongside some of the world’s most famous modern culture, London really does feel like it has it all. This is the ideal city to start your first trip to Europe since it feels like a conglomeration of so many different cultures by itself. If you’ve been to London before then you still have a nearly infinite amount to explore because this is also among the world’s most dynamic cities and there is always something new waiting for you.
London Heathrow (LHR), London Gatwick (LGW), London Stansted (STN)
Things To Do In London
The good news is that almost all of the famous museums, including the huge and amazing British Museum, are free to enter for everyone. But most of the other famous attractions are crazy expensive, so research the many free things to do if your budget is tight. On the other hand, our review of the London Pass shows that it’s quite good value for many visitors. We’ve prepared a long article featuring the best things to do in London, which should be helpful for a first-time visitor or planner.
Our pick: The best cheap and central hostel in London
Where to eat and drink in London
Food and drinks can also be frustratingly expensive, especially if you stay in the main tourist areas. Finding your way to other residential neighborhoods is a money-saving key, and it’ll give you a better feel for the city at the same time. If you are trying to keep costs low while having a great time anyway be sure to check out our London budget travel tips. Most people stay in London, but there are many great and cheap day trips out of London to consider as well.
Breakfast is included at many hotels, often the classic and filling "full English breakfast." If not, a basic breakfast is easy to find in most neighborhoods.
$6.33 - $10.13
Food in London can be shockingly expensive. Good budget lunch choices include sandwiches and kebabs.
$10.13 - $16.46
A filling meal at a pub is a good budget choice, as is a stop at one of the many Indian or Chinese restaurants all over.
$13.92 - $22.78
Finding a cheap cup of coffee can be a challenge, and now Starbucks are popping up all over.
$1.27 - $3.80
Pint of beer
Most pubs have similar prices regardless of the decor. Some of the chain pubs run happy hour specials which can be good value.
$6.33 - $8.86
Fish and chips
London's classic tourist meal isn't always easy to find and it's usually quite expensive.
London is a huge city so there are dozens of different ways of touring the place, many of which are very affordable. The “free” walking tours given by Sandeman’s New London are excellent and worth the small tip you’ll give the guide at the end.
The most popular tours are the ubiquitous double-decker bus tours given by several different companies that follow very similar hop-on, hop-off routes. They aren’t exactly cheap, but they are the best affordable way to see a great number of London’s highlights in just a few hours.
Since London started as a few villages along them Thames River and grew from there, the Thames River cruises leaving from near Big Ben are another excellent tour choice since they move quickly and don’t have to slow down for traffic.
When to visit London
Temperature and rainfall
London Weather advice
London is known for being gray, and to a lesser extent for being rainy, but the rain rarely comes down hard so the annual rainfall totals are fairly low. Summers are usually very pleasant, almost never getting hot enough to become a problem, and winters are also usually mild with snow being fairly rare.
The gray thing is very true though and cloud cover is common at any time of the year, so take advantage of the sunny days when they come along. And it’s a good idea to pack for drizzly weather so an umbrella might come in handy.
London is one of the most expensive cities to visit on the planet. Once you learn your way around a bit you can keep your budget under control, but when you first arrive it feels like you are being beaten up by shockingly high prices. Cheap hotels are available in some neighborhoods, but expect a tiny and worn-out-looking windowless room if you go too low. See our recommended London hotels and hostels page for great value at well-located places.
London is popular throughout the year, as it’s not dependent on pleasant weather to draw visitors. The months of June through August bring the biggest crowds and the highest hotel prices, so if you are planning on a visit during the summer months it’s a good idea to book as early as possible.
Outside of the summer it’s usually easy to find a room upon arrival, but going door to door in the few neighborhoods that are dense with hotels (like Victoria or Bayswater) can be exhausting, so it’s best to book at least your first night if you can.
Standards at London hotels are noticeably lower than in most other major cities in Europe and elsewhere. In other words, rooms tend to be tiny and often look badly worn, unless you are staying at a pricey boutique or international chain hotel. Apartment life in the city is similar, so it’s just something people have grown used to, though it can be a bit shocking when you first check into a place.
If you are coming from anywhere other than France or Scotland, you’ll almost certainly be flying into London. Heathrow Airport is huge and it handles almost all of the flights into England that are longer than 3 hours or so. You’ll sometimes get good fares on flights into London-Gatwick Airport, but the Heathrow airport transportation options are more extensive and usually faster and cheaper.
Those coming from within Europe might find cheap flights into Luton Airport or Stansted Airport, both of which are a bit north of London and without fast transportation options.
If you are coming from Paris, Brussels, or Amsterdam, you can and should arrive on the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel.
Getting around London
Since London is almost completely flat and many of the top attractions are built along or near the Thames river, this is a very walkable city. That said, it’s so large and spread out that you’ll definitely want to go outside the inner walking zones so learning to use the famous Underground/Tube is important. Once you buy an Oyster Card to handle payments it becomes quite easy.
London’s famous black taxis are fairly expensive and often must fight bad traffic, but are still worth a try at least once. You can also get around in Ubers or other car-sharing services, although the Tube is probably the best bet during the day.
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