London Travel Guide
In November this year, exactly three years after my first visit, I visited London for the second time. My first visit was a college trip where I didn’t get that much chance to explore the city. But I clearly remember how excited I was to visit UK capital and how splendid (yeah, a little bit of British) 😊 my time there was. But guys, I wasn’t expecting that this time I would love the city even more. I don’t know if London got better or I forgot/ didn’t experience it right the first time, but this November trip was 100 times better then the one there years ago.
What did I like the best? It’s hard to decide among so many good things but if I need to choose one, I would go for diversity. Diversity of cultures and food, diversity of architecture and neighborhoods and diversity of people. I remember I had the same feeling when I was in New York and London is the only European city that makes me feel the same. That’s funny because back in 2016 I don’t remember this feeling: I guess it’s just me because back then I wasn’t that much of a traveling person – forgive me my old me, I knew nothing back then 😊.
Luckily for me, I live in Prague. Going to London was an easy and logical thing to do with return tickets for 20 euros. I didn’t have a choice than to visit the city once more.
What to know before coming to London
As always when writing travel guides I love to include some basic information that I think everyone should know before visiting the relevant place.
- London is an extremely popular city: while there is still no full data for 2019, in 2018, 20.4 million people visited London. For example, Rome visited 5 million people less.
- Almost 9,000,000 people are living in London. Can you believe that 2017, 3,6 million people living there were born outside of London?
- The official currency is British Pound £. For a better understanding – 1£ =1.17€ and 1.31$ (at the time this was published).
- Don’t forget that power plugs and socket in England are different types – three-pin plug. The standard voltage is 230 V so bring the adapter with yourself.
- Not a surprise but London is a home of a British Royal family for many centuries. You will be able to buy many souvenirs inspired by the Royal family.
- If you have a contactless bank card, you no longer need to use Oyster Card for public transport. More about this later in the article.
How to get to London
Well, we do speak about one of the most famous cities in the world and the fact that London has 6 airports is not making things easier for any of us. But trust me, there are more than enough ways to reach Central London. Based on your budget, desired time of traveling or simply on your preferences, you can choose between them.
However, with Heathrow being the busiest one, serving half of the London passengers and London Southend being the least busy one, the chances are that you will come to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or Luton. Below you can find the graphical overview of how much it will cost you, how much time you will need and what to use to get to central London from any of the mentioned six airports. Option “Best” is based only on my opinion and it depends on personal preferences.
Please note that prices can vary since many of the transport providers are offering discounts if you buy the ticket earlier. Also, riding with a bus can make your time of traveling very dependable on the traffic: for example, during peak time, expect to travel approx. 90 hours from Stansted to the city center.
It would be very wrong not to mention these guys who wrote the article that helped me the most so if you need any detailed explanation please check the mentioned article.
How to get around London
Well, we all know about the famous London red double-decker buses and tubes. Many of you probably also heard before that the best way to pay for them is the Oyster Card. Well, things changed: if you have a contactless bank card you don’t need an Oyster card anymore.
From 2012 London buses started to accept paying with contactless cards and in 2014 they fully stopped accepting cash. London Underground has the same system, so you don’t need any longer Oyster Card if you have a contactless bank card. You can use it for already mentioned buses and underground but also trams, DLR, London Overground and National Rail services that accept Oyster card.
For some (me being one of them) this all can seem a bit complicated. The biggest help for me was guys from Finding the Universe and their article that can be found here. I will try to summarize it for you in a few sentences:
- London is divided into 9 fare zones and the price for your trip depends on that. Zone 1 and 2 are central London.
- Using cash is by far the most expensive way of paying for public transport in London.
- The contactless card is the easiest and usually the cheapest way of paying. You don’t need any prepaying for it and you don’t need to issue any additional card.
- Oyster Card, on the other hand, requires a 5£ deposit which is refundable. You can buy it using a standard ticket machine.
- Both contactless and Oyster card support daily capping. But contactless is supporting also weekly capping. But be aware that weekly capping works from Monday to Sunday. If you start your journey on any other day and plan to stay for 7 days, Oyster card is a probably better choice. if you’re for fewer days there, contactless would be enough.
- If you’re senior or kid 11-15 years old you can drive on a discounted rate. Then you need to buy Oyster card because contactless cards still don’t support the discounted rate. Read more about that here.
- Always use the same card if you’re longer in the city. As already mentioned, the amount taken from it is calculated on a daily or weekly basis – so-called capping benefit.
Best things to do in London?
Well, I feel like this question is almost like asking: what to eat when you’re hungry? There are so many options on what to do and what to see in London that this post would never end. However, I managed to put here a list of must-see London attractions for every first-timer.
Walk over Tower Bridge
What is the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about London? For me, it’s the Tower Bridge for sure. This pedestrian bridge is an iconic landmark of British capital and it’s a must-have!
TIP: this bridge is often mistaken for London Bridge but these are two different bridges with Tower Bridge being the popular one.
South Bank – London Eye
I know everyone knows about the London Eye but how many of you explored the whole South Bank area? Right after you cross the Tower Bridge, you will face this fun and diverse part of London. This riverside walkway is a cultural center of London and an amazing space to explore, eat on nearby food markets or relax and watch the sunset.
To go back to the London Eye -it’s a well-known London landmark but do you know this is a Coca Cola observation wheel? To get up there it will cost you 27£ – all the prices you can find here. Is it worth it? I don’t know, you will have to tell me since I decided to skip this, it seems to be fun but a bit expensive experience.
TIP: To get the picture as this one below, go next to the Royal Air Force Memorial. If you’re going for a ride, make sure not to go on a cloudy day since your view will not be good.
Don’t forget we are in Europe: there is some cathedral you have to see 😊. Cathedral is an impressive piece of architecture but it’s quite expensive to have a tour inside it (prices are going up to 20 £, depending on your age and time of purchase).
TIP: I would suggest you skip the tour (unless you’re super interested in it) and explore the amazing surroundings of the cathedral (see the picture below).
A Times Square of London: it connects few popular streets and it’s a busy road and traffic junction. Most likely you will be passing here to shop either on Oxford or Regent Street.
TIP: Visit it during the day to feel the vibe or go there earlier in the morning to get the place just for yourself.
Take a stroll on Regent Street or shop on Oxford Street
These are, without doubt, the most popular centrally located streets. If you came to London for shopping, you are in the right place for sure. These streets are lively and vibrant and you will have a fun time exploring them.
Check the time on Big Ben
Or not – Big Ben is sadly closed for renovation until 2021. Ups! But anyhow – if Tower Bridge is not the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about London, Big Ben for sure then is. Although a lot of people think that the tower itself is Big Ben, Big Ben is just the clock inside it while the tower name from 2012 is Elizabeth Tower. The whole Westminster area including not only the tower but also the House of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey is an amazing place to explore.
TIP: View from the Westminster Bridge to the House of Parliament is my favorite part of this place.
See how the Royal live – Buckingham Palace
It doesn’t get more royal than the British Royal family! We all know who queen Elizabeth or Prince Harry are. Well, every royal family needs a palace: in this case, Buckingham Palace. The palace is 30 minutes walk from Westminster and it’s a straight on the end of The Mall: the road that is connecting the palace with Trafalgar Square. Between July and October, you can even visit the palace itself.
TIP: The most popular time to visit the palace is 11 am when changing of the Queen’s Guard is happening. It’s held daily in June and July and every Monday, Wednesdays, Friday, and Sunday from August to May. The schedule can change so check always before.
Explore Hyde Park and Kensington Garden
While Queen is living in Buckingham, their grandchildren have settled in 45 minutes away from Kensington Palace. While coming there, you will pass through popular Hyde Park and end in Kensington Gardens. Both of them are an excellent place to explore and chill for some time. You can rent a bike and explore the whole area. Or take a coffee to go, grab a few sandwiches at Tesco and have a picnic near Serpentine lake.
Drink coffee at famous Peggy Porschen
Peggy Porschen is what we call Instagram famous. But coffee is not bad at all. There are two locations in London: one in Belgravia (where this photo was taken) and one in Chelsea. Overall, I think the place itself is nice but there is a too big drama about it: the living proof what Instagram can do these days.
Explore the vibrant area of Notting Hill
Located conveniently 20 minutes past Kensington Gardens, Notting Hill is a home of very famous and popular pastel-colored houses. Yes, they are true symbols of this neighborhood but there is much more to do here. My favorite is Portobello Road Market where you can eat delicious food but also buy a bunch of cool stuff.
See the London from above from Sky Garden
Because every big city has it: the observation deck on the top of the building. But London made a step ahead: Sky Garden is not only an observation deck but also a literally an amazingly landscaped garden on three floors. And the best thing is that the entrance is free. The trick is that you have to book your ticket in advance online since the limited number of people are allowed per day. However, even if you forget to do so, it’s possible to go inside but it’s based on the availability of places. A must when in London.
Another option would be to visit Shard, a tall skyscraper that gives also amazing views of London. But it’s fairly expensive: 35 euros. There is an option to visit a restaurant on the 31st floor of the same building but keep in mind that the prices together with the dress code are serious. I prefer the Sky Garden.
Visit and explore some of the food markets
A must! I will say no more because below you will find a detailed guide for it below.
Check many of the free museums
If you have time and museums are your thing, you will be glad to know that London offers many museums free to visit. Find more details here.
Have an afternoon tea experience
Afternoon tea in England is everything but not only a tea. This is a whole meal between lunch and dinner and there are many options to chose from. I have tried this back in 2016 and I can honestly say that this is one of the experiences you should have in London. Since this is a whole meal a price can be pretty high (15-50 euros) but check Groupon for good deals.
Where to eat in London?
London is a city of diversity more than any other city I ever visited. Whatever you want to eat, London is a place where you will find it. And it’s going to be amazing!
I know people will expect here to find a list of restaurants. Sorry guys, not this time. But you will not be disappointed. I’m sure that London has many amazing places to dine but I fell in love with food markets.
Before we even went there, a colleague, born in London, made a big fuss about it. And he didn’t exaggerate at all: Food markets in London are not only excellent and affordable places to eat but also places with an amazing vibe and a mix of many different cultures.
During our visit, we visited a few of them and they are listed below based on how much we liked. First being the one we liked the least and the last one being the one we liked the most – continue to read to find out which one.
*All of the markets are easily reachable with public transport, either bus or tube, depending on where you’re coming from.
Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AF, open every day from 10 am till late (according to their website – check out more here)
It’s not that we didn’t like Camden Market: it’s only I didn’t felt the same vibe here as I felt it on the other three food markets. The place itself is diverse, music is playing all the time and I would call it more hipster then any other.
Covent Garden Market
Nine Elms Lane, London SW8 5BH, Open every day with shorter working time during weekends and closed during holidays
Covent Garden Market is conveniently located in the city center and it’s more of a fancy food and street market. We visited the place during Christmas time and it was beautiful. There is an indoor and outdoor market and besides food, you can buy other stuff, sit to drink coffee or simply just explore around. I think this market is definitely my style but I loved food better on the others.
8 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL, open every day from 10 am-6 pm beside Sunday with slightly different working hours on Friday and Saturday. Check more here.
This was a tight fight: the only reason why we chose Portobello over Borough is that we visited the Borough Market on Saturday. It was overfilled with people. But even then we could see and feel that the place has a special vibe. And the food looked so delicious that we had to return on Monday. Although with fewer stands there, we still tried some excellent burgers so I can recommend this place.
Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road, London, W11, closed on Sunday with different working hours during the week, check more here.
And in the first place is this Notting Hill located market. This is a long street and food market where you can find a lot of stores with regular and vintage clothes, coffee shops and a lot of stands with delicious food. We ate that much food here that we couldn’t walk back to our apartment afterward. Find a stand with Duck Confit- thank me later.
But we didn’t only eat at food markets. If you follow me for some time, you know how much I love breakfast. Of course, the English breakfast was a must.
GOOD AND AFFORDABLE BREAKFAST IN LONDON -it’s possible!
London is an expensive city when it comes to many things so I was so happy when I came upon the article from Bengeri.com (Croatian blogger) where he recommended a Wetherspoons, a chain of pubs in London with more than affordable food and drinks. They are all over the town, so you don’t have to worry about finding one near your accommodation. The food was good and the pubs are big and nice places to spend your morning.
Another place we visited for breakfast was Granger & Co. This is a healthier but also more expensive option then Wetherspoons. For breakfast for 2 people expect to pay around 30-35 euros and expect to wait for a table 20 minutes or so. I would still recommend it because the food was great. After 2 days of eating heavy English breakfast and food from food markets, a nice, healthy breakfast was all we needed.
How much money will you need?
Well, before we start a calculation here I want to emphasize once more that it all depends on you. For example, I wouldn’t call myself a budget traveler, but I do like to save the money on things that are not necessary to splurge on.
Accommodation is one of it usually. We were in London for three days and of course, I don’t need any extraordinary accommodation because we were all the time exploring the city. In some cases, if you go for a vacation and you want just to rest, better accommodation will play a big role in it.
The calculation below is based on my personal experience and online research. It’s only a basic guideline and prices are subject to change.
Accommodation in London can add a lot to your expenses. If you want to stay in a hotel room that is more or less central or with easy reach to the city center, be ready to pay 100-150 euros per night. I would even say that 150 is closer to reality then 100.
However, there are always cheaper options:
Hostels in London can be as cheap as 15 euros/night per person. However, the average price for a good hostel would be 30 euros per person. While searching for my accommodation I have found SoHostel located no more than in the city center itself. The price for one night per person for a bed in the 6-bed Mix Dormitory room was 30 euro- check more here. If you’re a genius member on Booking, you get breakfast for free. This is a great option because food can add to your expenses a lot. Not to mention, the location itself means spending less money on transport (and we know that it is not cheap in London).
However, when we were there, we used Airbnb (sign here to get a discount) where we found this great room in the apartment for 35 euro per person for one night. The room was excellent, a few minutes located from the tube station Kilburn Park Station and only 15 minutes ride from the city center.
As you can see a room for two people and a room in a hostel are costing almost the same. The advantage of SoHostel is its location but the comfort we got with not sharing the room with other, unknown people was more important to us. So once again, it’s up to you.
Cost for two nights and two people: 140 euros
Public transport in London is not cheap. I’m not going to go into the details here (check official website) but let’s say that for 3 days in London we spent 20 euros per person.
Cost for 3 days for two people: 40 euros
Going to London
Coming to London can be very cheap. There are low budget companies flight literally from all of Europe to London. We caught a deal with Ryanair: Prague-London Stansted, 20 euros return ticket (the only backpack included). Not too sure how to score a cheap deal? Check out my guide on how to find a cheap flight ticket!
What added to our expenses was transportation from the airport to the city itself: we choose to use the train, the fastest but also a more expensive option: almost 30 euros per person. There is an option to use a bus whose price can be as low as 3 euros. The ride is over 1,5 hours to the city then, contrary to the train that takes only 45 minutes.
This is one of the situations where I chose to splurge. 😊
Getting to London cost: 50 euro per person or 23 euro per person (Budget Version)
If you eat at the food markets like us, most likely you will not spend more than 10 euros per person on a meal. English breakfast at Wetherspoons, including the coffee was around 8 euros per person.
If you’ re in London for 3 days, eating at food markets mostly, you will not spend more 100 euro per person for food.
Cost for 2 people: 170 euros
Most of the things that are on the list as the things you should do in London are for free. You can spend an additional 30 euros to go for a ride on the London Eye or go to the top of the Shard. For me, it was enough to visit Sky Garden that gives also remarkable views on UK Capital for free.
So without the attraction, the average amount for a three day trip to London would be 450 euros for 2 persons.
Keep in mind that we spent even less because we didn’t eat always twice per day at food markets. Sometime we wouldn’t be hungry or sometimes we would just grab something in Tesco.
Any other additional activities such as attraction, coffees and similar were not accounted for.
What can I say at the end? Go to London and go one more time. The city is so diverse and there are many things to do. Not to mention how easy is these days to fly there from all over the world. I’m sure you will like the city and you will return.
In case of any, but literally any questions, please contact me. I’m always here to help.
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Till next reading,