Welcome to our London travel guide. Here’s you’ll find key details about the city.
Country: United Kingdom
Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time
Languages Spoken: English
Currency Used: Pound Sterling
A captivating blend of antiquity and modernity, London, England, is one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe. Some 20 million tourists flock yearly to enjoy superstar attractions like Big Ben and the British Museum. Our London Travel Guide can help you plan the perfect trip if you’re visiting the capital of the United Kingdom.
Central London has an almost unlimited supply of iconic sites and activities. This is where to come for legendary attractions, world-class museums and art galleries, beautiful parks, and outstanding shopping. It’s also a fabulously family-friendly city. Even better, many popular attractions are free.
It’s the city’s rich history that provides the biggest draw. But this is no quaint old-world toy town. London has a living, breathing, ever-changing soul. It’s sometimes exasperating, often eccentric, and always entertaining.
So let our London Travel Guide give you an insight into this most complex of cities, as well as top tips to help you feel at home here. Whether you’re interested in Harry Potter or Harrods, Queen Elizabeth II, or King’s Cross Station, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to London!
Best Time to Visit
You’ve heard it always rains in the United Kingdom; you’re worried your London visit will be a washout. Bring an umbrella or rain jacket, but don’t be overly concerned – London is Britain’s driest city, with about 150 days of rain annually. The wettest months are October through January.
Winters in London rarely see more than a dusting of snow. However, visit London in the shoulder seasons, March-April or October-November, and you’ll need a warm coat. The best weather is in June, July, and August, with temperatures up to around 75 degrees.
There’s an inevitable trade-off. Summer sees the largest influx of tourists, with all the popular attractions crowded – “heaving,” as they say here. On the other hand, London is a fun place in summer, with countless events, festivals, and celebrations taking advantage of the fine weather.
To avoid the crowds, come in March. The spring sunlight slanting through London’s historic streets gives a feeling of optimism like no other.
How to Get Around
Walking: Base yourself in central London, and tons of must-see attractions will be within walking distance – great if you want to save money. A good mid-price choice is the Strand Palace Hotel, minutes from Trafalgar Square. You’re less than 2 miles from the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
If you don’t want to walk, the best option is London’s excellent public transportation system, run by Transport for London (TfL).
Tube: Aka the London Underground, this is London’s subway system. Pay with a contactless bank card or a recognized mobile payment. (Beware: Non-UK bank cards may incur overseas transaction fees.)
Alternatively, buy a pre-paid travel card called an Oyster Card or, for tourists, a Visitor Oyster Card. This is sent to your home so you can use it when you step off the plane.
Bus: The bus network has an inexpensive flat fare for all city center journeys. Again, pay by contactless or with Oyster. Research bus routes with the TfL Go app or the excellent Citymapper app. Note that under-10s travel free on city buses.
River Bus: River Bus boats run twice hourly between Westminster and Greenwich, stopping at London Bridge and the Tower of London. They’re not cheap and get crowded on summer afternoons, but this is a fascinating way to see the big city.
Taxi: London’s Black Cabs are world famous. Though expensive, they’re reliable and safe. When crawling through London’s congested streets, remember it’s comfort, not speed, you’re paying for.
Rideshare: Uber and Bolt are the biggest rideshare names in London. Thanks to great public transportation, they’re not used as much as in other cities. They come into their own in off-the-beaten-track locations and after midnight.
Cycle: London has an ever-increasing network of cycleways. These include two-way cycle lanes that can confuse pedestrians – take care when crossing! Watch out for the 800+ Santander docking stations where you can rent cycles.
Cycle Rickshaw: In London’s West End, you’ll see cycle rickshaws or pedicabs. Though this is a fun way to go sightseeing, pedicabs aren’t licensed and may not be insured. Before setting off, agree on a fare and ensure the rider has identification.
Hop-on-hop-off Tourist Bus: Digital multi-attraction tickets like the London Pass or the Go City Explorer Pass include buses running between major attractions. A pass can save big bucks if you visit all the top venues.
How to Get There
London Heathrow Airport: One of the world’s busiest airports, Heathrow is 14 miles from central London. The Heathrow Express gets you into Paddington Station in 15 minutes. For a cheaper journey, take the Piccadilly Tube Line.
London Gatwick Airport: Gatwick is the other London airport receiving transatlantic flights. Twenty-five miles south of the city, Gatwick is the handiest for South London destinations. The quickest journey into town is via the 30-minute Gatwick Express.
London City Airport: 7 miles from central London. Flights from 35+ European destinations.
London Luton Airport, London Stansted Airport, London Southend Airport: Between 30 and 40 miles from central London. Flights from a range of destinations in Europe and North Africa.
Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner: For a much more relaxing transatlantic crossing. Book a transfer from the Southampton cruise terminal to central London.
Cultural and Social Information
London is an ancient city with its roots in the Roman era. Its historic heart is the City of London (aka the Square Mile), the city’s earliest commercial hub. After 2,000 years of expansion, Greater London now covers over 600 square miles.
This mostly came about through communities growing and merging. As a result, each London district has a unique personality. These often suggest echoes of Medieval times.
So the City of London’s fame as a financial hub reflects its early days as a River Thames trading post. Westminster – home of the Houses of Parliament and Gothic Westminster Abbey – is still a seat of political and religious influence.
And the upmarket vibe around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens? That started when wealthy aristocrats needed to settle near Westminster but well away from the grubby commerce in East London.
London’s historical star quality is showcased in four UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are the Tower of London, Westminster Palace, Maritime Greenwich, and Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Visiting these is a must to learn how politics, commerce, and royalty played a part in London’s evolution.
London is also an exceptional center for arts and culture. This huge city is home to numerous free museums and 850+ art galleries. It’s a must-play venue for entertainers of every flavor and boasts the world’s most popular music arena – the O2.
The River Thames – for centuries London’s lifeblood – guaranteed a steady influx of traders and laborers from all over the globe. So, the UK capital has always been a truly cosmopolitan city. Now, over 300 languages are spoken in London. To tap into the city’s most ancient history on your London trip, stay close to the Thames.
Local Customs and Etiquette
Etiquette: Brits are famous for two things: queueing and tea. And despite London’s cosmopolitan, melting-pot vibe, these still hold good for the UK capital.
So cutting in line (“jumping the queue”) when visiting London is frowned upon. (On the other hand, you can get a cup of tea at most tourist spots.) And keep right when standing on escalators or travelators. Those wanting to walk will expect the left side to be clear.
Though there’ll always be exceptions, Londoners like keeping themselves to themselves. If you leave London to explore other places in England, the locals become chattier the further north you go. Not sure why!
The one place locals don’t mind getting up close is on the London Tube (subway), which gets incredibly crowded at peak times. If you’re on a busy Underground train, forget that genteel bubble of personal space. Just avoid eye contact.
You might wonder if using London’s public transport is safe. Check out this report on London’s safety for more details. But know that London is generally a very safe city, and using tubes and buses is perfectly OK.
Money: Most London tourist attractions, retailers, and catering outlets accept major credit cards; cash has taken a back seat. (In the north of the United Kingdom, though, cash is likelier to be king).
If anywhere claims to accept US dollars, this will undoubtedly involve a terrible exchange rate. Before traveling, sign up with a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Cash is handy for small purchases. You can withdraw Sterling using your debit card at an ATM. No-fee cash machines can be found outside bank branches, gas stations, supermarkets, and Underground (subway) stations. Keep cash safe in a fanny pack or money belt.
Tipping: It’s customary to tip food servers, cab drivers, personal service workers, and hotel staff about 12%. Many eateries now allow for credit card tipping, though cash is more likely to find its way to the person who served you.
London is made up of 32 boroughs. Tourists usually stay within the 12 inner boroughs. Check out our list of some of the best hotels, plus an in-depth review of some of the best areas to stay in London. Let’s look at the best places and London neighborhoods you must not miss.
City of London
It’s an independent administrative district, part of London, but strangely separate. Although a cutting-edge economic center, it’s where to tap into London’s olden days.
A must-see is the Tower of London, Europe’s most complete 11th-century fortress palace. Its top attraction is the Crown Jewels – all $6 billion worth. These include the solid gold crown Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III used.
Close by is the iconic Tower Bridge. There’s also the Baroque splendor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Check out its Geometric Staircase, which is featured in the Harry Potter movies. Another gem is the 15th-century Guildhall, sitting above a Roman amphitheater.
While on this side of town, head to Brick Lane in Shoreditch for outstanding Indian food. Take one of the many walking tours to see breathtaking street art.
No London visit is complete without a selfie alongside Westminster’s Elizabeth Tower, aka Big Ben. It’s within easy walking distance of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and St. James’s Park.
Close by is Buckingham Palace – visit in summer to see the State Rooms. Swing by most mornings (check the schedule here) to see the Changing of the Guard. This is one of the best free things to do in London.
For the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, head to nearby Trafalgar Square. And history buffs shouldn’t miss the Churchill War Rooms, Winston Churchill’s HQ during World War II.
This area from Covent Garden to Mayfair is London’s theaterland, with hundreds of shows to choose from every day. Come here for Soho’s exciting nightlife and Chinatown’s incredible food.
We’re talking super-stylish here. This prime location is where to come if your London vacation demands fine dining and a stay at a luxury hotel. (Pick the legendary Dorchester to cover both bases.) There’s also world-class shopping in Covent Garden Market, Oxford Street, Burlington Arcade, and Savile Row.
Cross to the South Bank for London’s playground. For a unique city view, take a ride in the London Eye. Save money with a ticket bundle pairing the London Eye with the Sea Life Aquarium or the London Dungeon, both nearby.
The South Bank is also a cultural hub, home to Tate Modern and the National Theatre. Theater fans will love Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the 1599 wooden playhouse where Shakespeare worked.
Head to London’s highest observation deck at The Shard for more panoramic views. For great views while you dine, try the Oxo Tower. There’s more delicious food at Borough Market – come hungry.
While you’re south of the river, visit Maritime Greenwich. This beautiful place is home to the Royal Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory.
Kensington & Chelsea
This area has more than a touch of class. Fans of all things royal should visit Kensington Palace, home of the Prince and Princess of Wales (aka William and Kate). And try to catch a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
South Kensington is famous for its world-class museums: The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A). What’s extra special is that, though you can opt for skip-the-line museum tours, all these museums are free to visit.
There’s superb shopping in this part of west London in chic Notting Hill, ever-trendy King’s Road, and Portobello Road Market. And not far away is a million square feet of retail heaven at Harrods, Knightsbridge.
If you’re staying in Kensington (for example, at the comfortable Ampersand Hotel) you’re handy for day trips out west. While in the United Kingdom, why not visit Windsor, Stonehenge, or the Cotswolds?
Marylebone, just north of Hyde Park, is another London neighborhood full of fun things to do. As well as Madame Tussauds, you’ll find London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo. For one of the world’s great museums, head east to the British Museum in Great Russell St.
Sherlock Holmes, the Beatles, or Hogwarts fans will love this part of north London. The Sherlock Holmes Museum is (of course) at 221b Baker Street, while the Abbey Road Studios are a mile northwest.
Harry Potter nuts must visit Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station. For the essential Harry Potter Studio Tour, take a day trip to Warner Bros. All book lovers will want to explore the Treasures Gallery at the British Library.