Updated August 15, 2019

London Travel Guide

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From history, pop culture, and theater to shopping and world-class dining, London has something for everyone. Keep reading for some tips, tricks, and insights before planning your trip.

Getting to London

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With a history as storied as its people, London serves as the center of government for England as well as the financial capital of the country.

The city welcomes more than 30 million visitors a year. Read on to learn what to expect when you arrive.

London Airports

With six airports within its metropolitan area, London is an easy destination to get to no matter where you are in the world. The six London area airports are:

  • London City Airport
  • Heathrow International Airport
  • Gatwick Airport
  • London Luton Airport
  • London Stansted Airport
  • Southend Airport

Once you land, you'll have to make your way through customs.

If you have items to declare, you'll need to stop here. Declare any goods that are for commercial use or potentially banned or restricted. You'll also have to declare if you have more than:

  • 1 liter of alcohol
  • 200 cigarettes
  • $518 worth of perfume and souvenirs
  • 10,000 euros ($11,300 USD) in cash

Passengers who don't have any items to declare can head straight here. The border agent will check your passport and ask you questions about your stay.

Typically, the agent will ask if you're traveling for business or pleasure, where you'll be visiting in the country, and how long you'll be staying.

Founded by Romans in 43 AD, London has been the political, economic, and cultural center of England for thousands of years.

Transportation to London

Every airport in London has:

Airport Transfer Service
These private cars come with drivers who will meet you in the terminal and take you and your luggage out to the (often) luxury car.

Costing between 50 and 90 pounds, taxis take almost an hour to get to the city but are the best option for someone with a lot of luggage.

Keep reading for more transportation options.

From Heathrow International

  • Heathrow Express
    This train service only takes 15 to 20 minutes to get from the airport to Paddington Station. It runs from 5:15 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The cost is £21.50 for a one-way ticket and £35 for a round trip.

  • Heathrow Connect
    Following the same route to Paddington Station, the Heathrow Connect makes stops at other stations along the way. It's about twice the length of time of the Express. The cost is £10.10 for a single journey and £20.20 for a round trip.

  • London Tube
    The least expensive way to the city, the Tube has three stations at Heathrow and takes about 45 minutes to get to city center. The trip will only cost you £5.70, and you can catch a train every 10 minutes.

From Gatwick Airport

  • Gatwick Express
    Trains leave the airport every 15 minutes, heading into Victoria Station. The trip takes about 30 minutes and costs £17.80 for a one-way ticket/ £32.70 for a return trip.

  • Southern Railway and First Capital Connect
    These trains will also take you to Victoria Station and will stop at London Bridge or City Thameslink along the way. Trips cost 11 to 15 pounds depending on the time of day and final destination.

  • Buses
    EasyBus costs as low as £2 per trip. The earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket. Other buses services include Terravision and National Express, both of which can get you to Central London.

From London Luton Airport

  • Trains
    The East Midlands Trains or First Capital Connect lines take passengers into St. Pancras International and London Bridge. It costs £18 for a one-way trip and takes about 30 to 50 minutes to get to city center.

  • Buses
    Terravision and easyBus run from Luton but can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and 20 minutes.

From London Stansted Airport

  • Stansted Express
    You can arrive at the Liverpool Street Station in 45 minutes via the Stansted Express. It costs £17 for a one-way trip and £29 for a return journey. Trains leave every 15 minutes.

  • Buses
    Terravision and National Express buses travel to Victoria Station or King's Cross in approximately 30 to 75 minutes. Fares cost £5 to £6 for a one-way trip.

Best Ways to Pay

The currency in the United Kingdom is the British Pound, which is similar to the U.S. dollar.

  • Pounds
    Paper notes come in several denominations, including £5, £10, £20, and £50

  • Pence
    Coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 1£, and 2£. There are 100 pence (p) to each pound (£).

Currency Exchange
The exchange rate of U.S. dollars to pounds is normally a 1:1.3 ratio. You can exchange money at several places around the city, including most banks, travel agencies, post offices, airports, train stations, and some hotels.

Consider opening a no-fee credit to use on your trip.

Many London businesses accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express cards. However, some credit card companies charge a foreign exchange fee of approximately 1–3% for each transaction.

While your debit card may be used at most ATMs around London, you may be charged ATM fees and foreign transaction fees on any withdrawals.

Transportation Within London

There are numerous transportation options to choose from when visiting.

The Tube
London was the first city in the world to have an underground subway system. The subway system is divided into nine zones, with most of the attractions and hotels in Zones 1 and 2.

Single one-way tickets on the Tube can be expensive. Consider purchasing a subway card to save some money. Options include:

  • The Oyster Card
    Best for shorter visits, as you get back your deposit and unused fare at the end of the trip.

  • The Travelcard
    Ideal for stays of a week or more, as it is a weekly or monthly based payment card.

Most trains run from 5 a.m. to midnight, with some lines running 24 hours a day.

Both the Oyster Card and Travelcard can be used when traveling by bus. With over 15,000 stops, London has a wide variety of buses to choose from, including the iconic double-decker bus.

Most buses run 24 hours, allowing you constant access to transportation.

Other transportation options include:

  • Taxi cabs
  • Bike rentals
  • Walking

Where to Stay

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London is home to several distinct neighborhoods, each with its own attractions. Keep reading for a detailed guide on the best places to stay.

Lodging Options

High-End Hotels
London has numerous high-end hotels that pamper and spoil guests.

  • The Goring Hotel
    Located at the edge of Westminster, rooms at this five-star establishment start at $1,092.00/night. The English style rooms are decked out in silk-lined walls and fine linens.

  • The Lanesborough
    Located near Hyde Park, the Lanesborough boasts 93 rooms and amenities such as 24-hour butler service and luxury car transfers. Choose from executive and premier rooms and remarkable suites. Rooms start at $771.00/night.

Chain Hotels
If you like to book hotels using points, London has hotels that are part of most major chains. Some budget-saving hotels include:

  • InterContinental Hotels Group offers some of the best point deals. There are over 95 IHG hotels throughout the city.

  • Hilton and Marriott offer the fifth night free when booking the first four nights on points, making it convenient for longer stays in the city.

Hotels near the city center and close to major attractions cost more per night.

Local Budget-Friendly Options

  • Premier Inn London Covent Garden Hotel is centrally located in SoHo, whiich makes it a convenient home base for city attractions. The rooms are compact but outfitted with modern decor and cool smart technology features. Rooms start at $108.00.

  • Point A Hotel is steps from Kings Crossing, giving you easy access to the Tube and other parts of the city. Prices start at $72.00/night for a double room.

  • Lancaster Gate Hotel offers comfortable and clean rooms, a breakfast buffet, and a convenient location across the street from Hyde Park. Double rooms start at $92.00/night.

If you're on a super-tight budget or don't want to stay in a hotel, London has numerous hostels.

  • Wombats City Hostel
    Located near Tower Bridge, Wombats City Hostel offers free Wi-Fi and an affordable breakfast buffet every morning. Private rooms start at $150.00/night. Mixed or single-sex dorms cost $33.00/bed per night.

  • SoHostel
    Just a short walk to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, six-bed, female-only dorms start at $48.00/night and four-bed, mixed-gender dorms begin at $50.00/night.

London is also home to a large network of Airbnb apartments and homes. The price range for varies depending on the location and the time of year. Private rooms in homes start at $26.00/night.

London's Neighborhoods

Home to many of London's monuments, this neighborhood has deep historical and religious roots. Main attractions include:

  • Buckingham Palace
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Big Ben
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Westminster Cathedral

St. James's
This area is full of exclusive shops and antique markets, and is considered London's version of Times Square. It's also where you'll find many of the city's best theaters. Main attractions include:

  • Piccadilly Circus
  • St. James Park

Visit Soho and Trafalgar Square for eclectic restaurants, cool bars, and London's own Chinatown.

The City
Generally quiet on the weekends, the City is London's financial and business district. Main attractions include:

  • Bank of England
  • Stock exchange
  • Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge
  • St. Paul's Cathedral

Kings Cross
This central London district has a wide range of things to do. Main attractions include:

  • Kings Cross Station
  • The British Library
  • London Canal Museum
  • St. Pancras Old Church
  • IFO Sighting
  • Canopy Market

South Kensington
One of London's elite neighborhoods, South Kensington's main attractions include:

  • Kensington Palace
  • Royal Albert Hall
  • Albert Memorial Monument
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • The Natural History Museum
  • The Science Museum
  • Hyde Park

This district in Southwark, London, is located across the Thames River. Main attractions include:

  • Shakespeare's Globe Theater
  • Tate Modern Museum of Art

What to Do

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With a city this large, it's nearly impossible to see everything at once. Here are the must-see attractions to check off your list.

Main Attractions

Buckingham Palace
Visitors to London can tour the official residence of the Queen and royal family, taking in the State Rooms and enjoying the extensive art and heirloom collections.

To see the changing of the guards, visit on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday at 11 a.m.

Coca-Cola London Eye
The 135-meter tall Ferris wheel sits right on the Thames and offers riders 360-degree, birds-eye views of the entire city. During a 30-minute rotation, you'll be able to see major landmarks and attractions and listen to a narration about the city's history.

London Bus Tour
One of the best ways to see as much as possible is through a bus tour. Several tour providers offer extras like free walking tours, river tours, and multi-language tours. Purchase a 24-hour or 48-hour ticket for unlimited trips during those time periods.

London's Theater District
Home to over 40 theaters, showing everything from musicals to comedies to independent shows. Check out the half-price ticket booths to find same-day tickets for 50% or more off the ticket price.

The area also has tons of excellent dining options. You can catch a bite before or after the show.

Free Attractions

You don't have to break the budget during your visit to London. Check out these free sites and attractions.

Tate Modern Museum of Art
With a modern and contemporary art collection you won't find anywhere in the world, the Tate Modern is a must-see. The building itself is a work of art, representing several different architectural styles. The museum is also kid-friendly, with hands-on exhibits, a digital drawing bar, and scavenger hunt.

While general dmission is free, you will pay to see special exhibits.

Abbey Road
Take the same crosswalk stroll the Beatles did on their famous Abbey Road crossing graced the cover. You can also visit Abbey Road Studios, where musicians like Pink Floyd, Kayne West, and Adele have recorded albums.

Museum of London
This museum takes you on a journey through London's varied history. Learn how the city changed under the rule of the Romans and Saxons, see medieval London, and find out how both world wars changed the face of the city forever.

Don't miss the Galleries of Modern London, walk the streets of Victorian London, and check out Lord Mayor's Coach.

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
Located near Hyde Park's Serpentine Bridge, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is a touching tribute to the city's deceased Princess of Wales. Built from 545 pieces of Cornish granite, the fountain features water flowing from two directions, mixing in a tranquil way.

Family-Friendly Sites

British Museum
The museum offers kid-centric audio tours, activity bags, and scavenger hunts, and is completely free.

London Sea Life Aquarium
Walk through 17 themed exhibits, including an ocean tunnel with sharks and an Antarctic section. Take part in feeding times at the ray and rainforest fish tanks.

London Zoo
Explore habitats including Tiger Territory, Gorilla Kingdom, Land of the Lions, Penguin Beach, and the Reptile House.

Attractions for Harry Potter Fans

Warner Bros. Studio Tour
Go behind the scenes of the movie series to view props, costumes, and full movie sets including the Great Hall, Dumbledore's office, and the Gryffindor Common Room.

Tower Bridge
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix fly along the Thames River and pass this famous landmark.

Millennium Bridge
This bridge was destroyed by Death Eaters in The Half-Blood Prince.

London Zoo
Harry first realized he could speak to snakes and set a python loose at this zoo.

Leadenhall Market
This covered market was used as Diagon Alley in the Sorcerer's Stone.

Piccadilly Circus
In Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron, and Hermione apparated to Shaftesbury Avenue when Death Eaters crashed the wedding of Bill and Fleur.

Kings Cross Station
Visit Platform 9 ¾, where you can get your picture taken with a cart crossing through the barrier.

Westminster Tube Station
Harry and Mr. Weasley enter the Ministry of Magic here in the Order of the Phoenix.

Historical Sites

Tower of London
On the tour of the grounds and armaments, you'll learn about the history of this royal palace, view the priceless crown jewels, and hear historic tales of war.

Tower Bridge
The exhibition walks visitors through the history of the bridge, the bridge's top walkway, and views of the steam-driven machinery that has raised the bridge for one hundred years.

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
Audio and guided tours take guests through the Robing Room, Royal Gallery, and Lords Chamber. You'll also get to see the Central Lobby, Members Lobby, and Commons Chamber.

Kayaking London offers kayaking tours that leave from the Houses of Parliament and Little Venice in Paddington.

Westminster Abbey
Over 700 years old, the coronation Church of England offers audio tours that are full of British history. Because it is a still-operating church, check the schedule before you go to ensure they are open for tours.

Quirky Destinations

Madame Tussauds
The wax museum has over 300 figures, including Johnny Depp, David Beckham, the Queen, and all your favorite Star Wars characters.

London Dungeon
Visitors walk through London's historic dungeon, complete with costumed actors, impressive sets, a death drop ride, and an impressive light and sound show.

Body Worlds
The Body Worlds exhibition at London Pavilion features 200 exhibits of preserved bodies showing healthy and diseased organs, and different parts of the human body.

Day Trips from London

Head outside the city for a day trip to see popular attractions surrounding the London area.

Explore the Neolithic people and history of Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the world. Walk around the 4,500-year-old prehistoric monument, taking in the quiet beauty and wonder of the stones on an English countryside.

Windsor Castle
Less than an hour from central London, Windsor Castle is the royal family's weekend and summer home. The castle is full of British history and culture. Most recently, it was the backdrop for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding.

While visiting, check out the town of Windsor: charming, quaint, and bustling with adorable boutiques and cafes.

For years, the city of Bath was a luxurious destination for royalty and society people. The city is a great shopping destination and has plenty of dining options, from casual fare to fine dining. Visitors can meander the pretty streets and wander in and out of the museums and art galleries.

Oxford is famous for its namesake university. Tour the university grounds and buildings, check out the city's museums, and stroll the gardens and arboretum.

Oxford has its own hop-on hop-off bus tour, similar to the one in London, so you can easily make your way around the city in a day. When you need to refuel, visit one of the many restaurants that line the cobblestone streets.

Where to Eat

Fine Dining
London offers numerous fine dining establishments that offer a culinary experience you'll never forget.

  • Alain Ducasse
    Located in the esteemed Dorchester hotel, this restaurant boasts three Michelin stars. Chef Alain Ducasse's presentation is playful and whimsical.

  • Marcus
    Head to the Knightsbridge neighborhood to indulge in signature dishes in The Berkeley Hotel. Created by chef Marcus Wareing, the unique menu changes with the seasons and includes a tasting menu if you want to sample it all.

  • Galvin
    With one Michelin star and three AA Rosettes, Galvin at Windows in Mayfair is the ultimate in fine dining, with views from the 28th floor of the London Hilton. The eclectic menu includes items such as pan-fried Hake, kimchi risotto, and green tea ice cream.

Dining on a Budget
London has many inexpensive dining options including fast food, casual dining, and even some higher-end options.

  • Bao
    Enjoy some of the best Taiwanese food in Soho, and try their signature buns. The buns cost less than £5 (about $5), and are stuffed with items of your choice, including pork belly, fried chicken, or ice cream.

  • Bibimbap
    Located in Fitzrovia, Bibimbap is known for a good deal on huge portions. The Korean-based menu includes bibimbap, a Korean staple of rice, veggies, and meat, topped with fried egg. Dishes start at £7 (about $7).

  • Bleecker Street
    Located in Spitalfields, this is a great place to stop for a good old-fashioned American burger. Burgers start at £6.50 (about $7) and sides like French fries are just a few bucks.

  • Brasserie Zedel
    This Piccadilly Circus restaurant offers a menu of traditional French dishes and French favorites with a twist. It costs only £9.95 (about $10) for two courses.

Dine Like a Local
London locals' favorite dining options include the classic pub fish and chips, Mexican and Indian cuisine, and more. Some options include:

  • The Chipping Forecast
    Located in Notting Hill, stop in for classic fish and chips battered in BrewDog beer batter.

  • Golden Hind
    Located in Marylebone, the Golden Hind has been serving non-greasy chips and seafood for over 100 years.

  • Barrafina
    Found in the heart of Covent Garden and the Theater District, the restaurant serves up Spanish tapas and features an open kitchen to watch the chefs put on a show right from your table.

  • La Bodegra Negra
    Disguised as a sex shop in Soho, it is easy to walk by. Inside, however, is clean fun with small plates, tacos, and freshly made margaritas.

  • Dishoom
    Also located in Covent Garden, this restaurant takes Indian cuisine to new heights with dishes such as Keema Pau spiced lamb, House Dahl, and Biryani pots.

Where to Shop

Low-Budget Shopping
London has plenty of shopping spots where you can find a great deal, including:

  • Primark
    Shopping at Primark will give you access to the latest fashions without the high price tag. There are multiple locations across the city, with the two biggest stores both on Oxford Street.

  • Topshop and Zara
    Both are popular choices for the hottest trends and great prices. There are many locations around the city.

For a hip, funkier feel, try Uniqlo and River Island.

  • Camden Market
    This shop has a flea market setup, amazing prices, and a huge selection of unique pieces.

Luxury Shopping
London has some of the best shopping in Great Britain. Neighborhoods with the most high-end shops include:

  • Knightsbridge
    Streets are lined with high-end shops such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Christian Louboutin.

  • Notting Hill
    You'll find stores such as Aime, Dolly Diamond, The Merchants, and Odabash. It is also the home of the Portobello Road Market, where you'll find antiques, clothing, and jewelry.

Money-Saving Tips

London is one of the most-visited cities in Europe and costs may run high. Keep reading for tips to save money.

Book in Advance
Book your flights and hotels as far ahead of time as possible to save the most money. Many of London's attractions will give you a discount for booking online.

Purchase the London Pass
Available for one-time purchase online, the London Pass gives you free access to over 60 city attractions. Sites include the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the London Bridge Experience, and the Thames River Cruise.

Don't Fly into London
Airports in London have some of the highest landing fees in the world. Consider flying into another city in Europe, such as Paris, Brussels, or Amsterdam, and taking the Eurostar into London.

A Eurostar ticket can save you major money AND let you check out other European cities in the process.

Safety Tips

While London is a relatively safe place to visit, always take precautions to ensure a stress-free trip.

Check Travel Warnings
The State Department issues travel advisories for every country, alerting potential visitors to travel issues and dangers.

Stay Alert
Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas. Look for emergency exits and have a contingency plan in place in case you get separated from your family or group. Keep an eye out for unattended bags and suspicious-acting people.

Don't Travel Alone at Night
Avoid walking by yourself after dark and keep to main, well-lit roads. It also helps to plan your route before you go, so that you're confident in where you're going and can get there quickly.

Watch Road Crossings
In London, cars drive on the left side of the road, not the right. When crossing roads, look down to find "Look Right" or "Look Left" signs warning you which way to look before crossing.

Bottom Line

When planning your trip to London, doing research and preparing in advance can help save you money and make your trip more enjoyable.

Use our guide to plan your entire itinerary—including choosing an airport, where to stay, what to eat, and the best attractions to see.

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