Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati
From Sherlock Holmes to The Beatles to William and Kate, London is bursting with history so diverse it attracts travellers interested in everything from arts and culture to history and the monarchy. People visit London for the storied landmarks like the Tower of London, London Eye, Big Ben, and Palace of Westminster, which are pieces of architectural splendor along the River Thames. Iconic red buses and phone booths line the streets and fill with tourists hopping on and off in different destinations or posing for a quintessential London photo. You’ll notice people are multicultural, fashionable, and always prepared with an umbrella. Post-work pub visits are part of the culture, so join in for a brew or enjoy an elegant afternoon tea like a royal. Whichever you choose, our travel agents can find you the perfect London vacations to suit your style. Read on for everything you need to know about London travel, including information on the top things to do in London, England, hotels, and getting around.
Who Should Go
London appeals to a range of travellers. Literary types will appreciate the atmospheric cafes where greats wrote their classics, as well as visits to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Charles Dickens Museum. Admirers of the monarchy can’t wait to visit Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament to put themselves in the place of British royalty. Museum lovers and history buffs can spend an afternoon at the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum. And of course, Harry Potter fans will want to check platform 9 ¾ off their bucket list, and may even enjoy a Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter.
London Tourist Attractions
See the top London tourist attractions from the comfort of a hop-on, hop-off bus. Drive past the Tower Bridge, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and more, and disembark at your leisure to discover the area. Your London hop-on, hop-off bus ticket also includes a Thames River sightseeing cruise and London walking tours.
The London Pass saves you both time and money and gets you fast-track entrance into over 60 attractions and the London Underground pass. One, two, three, and six day passes are available and worth the price if you are planning on visiting some of the London highlights like the Cartoon Museum, London Zoo, Benjamin Franklin House, and many others.
If you only have a short time for London travel, most people want to check the following important landmarks off their bucket list:
- London Eye: Soaring 443 feet above the River Thames, the London Eye offers spectacular views of the city of London. Rides are about 30 minutes long. Skip the line tickets and a romantic Champagne Experience are available to book in advance.
- Buckingham Palace: Open to the public two months each year (August and September), guests can explore the public rooms of the palace on a 2-2.5 hour guided tour. In the State Rooms, you’ll get to enjoy famous paintings, furniture, sculptures, and porcelain with a glass of champagne. Tickets must be pre-booked and there is limited availability (they are often sold out*). Between April and May, the Changing Guard ceremony takes place daily at 11:30a.m. and alternate dates for the remainder of the year, but we recommend you arrive early to get a good viewing spot.
- Westminster Abbey: This Gothic church is known for being the coronation and burial spot of monarchs. It is open to visitors Monday to Saturday and hosts daily services; on Sundays it is open for worship only. This is the place Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge recently wed.
- Tower Bridge: Sometimes mistaken as the “London Bridge,” the Tower Bridge is the more aesthetic of the two. Built 120 years ago, the bridge is an engineering masterpiece: a working bridge and an iconic monument. Tickets for Tower Bridge Exhibition tour can be purchased from the ticket office in or in advance.
- Big Ben: A name now used to refer to the tower, Big Ben was originally given to the Great Bell. The Elizabeth Tower, the tower’s actual name, was built in 1859.
- St Paul’s Cathedral: The Cathedral is open for sightseeing between morning and evening prayer, from 8:30 until 4:00. Tickets are available for those who wish to visit the crypt and three galleries in the Cathedral’s iconic dome.
- Tower of London: This royal palace and fortress located on the River Thames was founded in 1066. Tickets include access to the Crown Jewels display, exhibitions, historical re-enactments, and White Tower, which gave the castle its name.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of museums in London. Research your options in advance and choose the ones you hope to see. The British Museum is home to everything from the Rosetta Stone to mummies to Parthenon sculptures. In the Museum of Natural History, you’ll discover precious metals and gems, insects, and plants while the Science Museum will give you a glimpse into medical history, contemporary science, and 3D films. The National Gallery and adjoining National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square have over 2,300 works of art and 200,000 portraits respectively. For some modern art, head on over to the Tate Gallery which houses modern, contemporary, and British art dating back to the 1500s. Madame Tussauds is also a London favourite; book your priority entrance ticket in advance online.
London Zoo: This zoo is over 170 year olds and contains an aquarium, Gorilla Kingdom, Penguin Beach, and more, welcoming over 1 million visitors every year. Skip the line with this advance pass.
Covent Garden in London’s West End is a community of shops, pubs, theatres, and hotels. Here you’ll find outdoor dining, premium brand stores and boutiques, and street performers entertaining on the cobbled streets. Everything from Aldo to Zara can be found on Oxford Street, the place for familiar brand names and crowds of shoppers strolling in and out of stores. Camden Town is the alternative shopping neighbourhood known for its markets and music venues. The Camden Market is housed in old stables, featuring many independent retail and jewellery shops, crafts, and street food. Don’t forget to make a stop at Harrods upscale department store with seven floors of collections across 4.5 acres.
Arts & Culture
For literary enthusiasts, the Charles Dickens Museum and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre are important stops, as well as many dusty but endearing bookstores where you’ll find vintage classics. Lovers of The Beatles will want to visit Abbey Road Studios and the site of the famous photo that made the cover of their last-recorded album, Abbey Road. Theatre is a huge part of London’s culture; independent theatre, big-name productions, and fringe festivals can all be experienced. Leicester Square is the prime area for theatre-goers, home to many famous and historic cinemas and theatres. Book your theatre, shows, and musicals in advance to secure your favourite!
Tours of London: There are lots of guided tours available depending on your interests. Here are some of the most popular:
- Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes Tour of Haunted London: Take a walk on the scary side of London on this 2.5-hour bus and walking tour and listen to spooky stories from a local expert.
- Beatles Evening Tour of Central London: On this magical mystery tour, view the sites of The Beatles’ home, show locations, album covers, and their final live performance on the rooftop.
- Wimbledon All England Tennis Club and Lawn Tennis Museum: This behind-the-scenes tour of Wimbledon includes commentary on the world’s oldest tennis event and the famous Grand Slam, a visit to Centre Court, Aorangi Terrace, the press interview room, and the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum.
- Harry Potter Film Location Tour of London: On this 3-hour tour, visit Platform 9 ¾ and take a photo in front of the sign, Number 12 Grimmauldi Place, home of the Black family of wizards, and the site that was used to create the Leaky Cauldron pub, all while enjoying insider tales of wizardry from your guide.
- London Street Art Walking Tour: Explore East London’s vibrant neighbourhoods and admire street art made from spray cans to stencils on this 3.5-hour walking tour through trendy off-the-beaten-path locations.
- Photography Workshop Walking Tour: On this 3-hour tour, stroll along London’s South Bank by night and capture striking photos while learning techniques with the help of a professional photographer. See Westminster Bridge, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament illuminated at night, and then continue along the river stopping at the London Eye, Tate Modern, and Millennium Bridge, before finally reaching St. Paul’s Cathedral.
- Film Location Tours: Take a comprehensive London Film Locations Walking Tour, or focus in on your favourites like Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, or James Bond.
- Food Tours: London’s pubs are hard to miss, but if you would like inside tips from a local and a guided visit to at least four of London’s finest historical pubs (included those frequented by Charles Dickens), consider the Historical Pub Walking Tour of London. The London Food Walking Tour takes you to Brixton and Borough Markets for a foodie jaunt. You’ll come across traditional British fare like fish and chips and meat pies, but also varied international cuisine.
- Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Bath Day Trip: Depart London and head towards Windsor Castle, home to the British Royal Family for 900 years, to learn about its heritage. Continue to Stonehenge to see the ancient stone collection dating back 5,000 years before setting off to the pretty city of Bath to enjoy the famous Roman spas.
- Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle Day Trip: This action-packed day trip takes you to Oxford, home of the oldest English university, where Harry Potter scenes were filmed and where Einstein studied. Move on to the charming Cotswolds and then Stratford to visit Shakespeare’s home, before journeying to Warwick Castle to explore the towers, dungeons, and gardens.
Hotels in London
London attractions are spread out over the city, and there is not one ideal neighbourhood that is best for visitors to stay in. Each area offers something unique and a closer proximity to different attractions. Your travel agent can help determine which hotel is best for you based on your budget and preferences. Here is a quick summary of some central places to stay in London that we recommend:
The West End: Home to the famous Trafalgar and Leicester squares, this area is known as the Theatre District and is close to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and Oxford St. shopping.
Covent Garden: This trendy area is where you’ll find a lively piazza, street performers, designer shopping, many pubs and outdoor patios, and theatres along its cobbled roads.
Soho: In this vibrant district, you’ll find fashionable galleries and boutiques, coffee shops, a bustling Chinatown, red light district, and a large LGBT community.
Bloomsbury: This area has a village feel, close to the shopping of Covent Garden, SoHo, and Russell Square. Here you’ll find the British Museum, Charles Dickens House, University of London, the Brunswick Centre Shopping, and many quaint cafes and bookstores.
South Bank: Along the Thames River is many of the tourist attractions: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London Eye, Tate Modern Museum, London Aquarium, Imperial War Museum, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, the London Bridge, Tower of London, Borough Market, and more. You’ll find street art and many festivals along the picturesque walkway.
When to go and for how long?
Some people visit London for only a couple of days on a Europe tour, while others choose to stay for up to a week.
Known for its rainy, mild weather, London can be unpredictable. An umbrella is always a tourist staple, with 11-15 rainy days every month. Summer is peak season, with temperatures averaging 18C with short heatwaves reaching 30C. Winter weather averages temperatures of 2C- 6C and rarely drop below freezing. Spring and autumn temperatures range between 11C and 15C.
Avoid crowds and save on flights and accommodations in the fall and winter seasons.
Many people visit London as part of an England tour where they stop at different locations in Europe and visit attractions led by a guide. Others book their London vacation independently, securing their flights and hotels, and sometimes booking attractions or tours of London advance.
Heathrow airport is located 32 km west of the city. Gatwick airport is located 48 km south of the city center. Non-stop flights to London are available country wide. Private transfers from both airports to your accommodation are available.
London is known for its world-class transport system, with red buses, black cabs, and Tube trains making getting around the city so easy.
The London Underground, also known as The Tube, is an extremely effective subway system with 11 colour-coded lines that are easy to follow. Service runs from 5a.m. until 12:30a.m.
To get from Heathrow airport to downtown, take the Piccadilly Tube line from Heathrow to the city center, approximately 50 minutes long. A taxi from Heathrow to the city center takes about 30-45 minutes.
An alternative to The Tube, the Heathrow Express train (£21.50 online, £26.50 on-board, one-way for adults) takes passengers from the airport to London Paddington, a station in the heart of London’s West End.
You can purchase an Oyster card to load fares and pay as you go, or purchase single cash fares that are valid for travel only on the date shown. A Day Travelcard, which lets you travel as much as you like for one day, may be cheaper. You can use these on the bus, Tube, tram, and London Overground. Travelcards are priced based on zones; a 1-Day Anytime pass for adults 16+ is £12 and for children 11-15 years old is £6. “1 Day Off Peak” passes are available for less, which are not valid weekdays before 9:30 am. Children under 11 year’s old travel free.
Taxis and buses are also available. Bring a comfortable (and waterproof) pair of walking shoes to wander the city.
Remember, Londoners drive on the left, so renting a car is not the best idea. Traffic is heavy, and maze-like streets are very difficult to navigate. The road system resembles a hand, not a grid. Be very aware when crossing the street to ensure your safety until you get used to looking for traffic on the opposite side of the road.
London is known as being one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit. Here are some approximate examples of prices:
Vacation Package: $1000+ for three days (includes flight and hotels)
Tours that visit London: 4 days (approx. $650); 7 days (starting at $1000); flights are extra
Flights: from $750 during low season to $1000-$1500+ during high season
Hotel: From $85 per night for airport hotels, approx. $130-300 per night for central hotels, and $600+ per night for luxury hotels
Pint of beer – £6
Fish and Chips – £13
Budget breakfast – £5-£7
Buckingham Palace (admission to The State Rooms, Buckingham Palace, The Queen’s Gallery, the royal Mews) – £35.60 for adult
Tower of London: £24.50 for adult
Many museums, such as the British Museum and the National Gallery are free of charge.
Currency: Pounds (£)
Electricity: 220 volts