London is a really big city. It Boasts an enormous range of sights, museums, entertainment and a global choice of foods. It has an excellent transportation system. It is one of our favorite Cities in the world. Our favorite time to visit is early fall, anytime after Schools starts. The crowds are usually smaller and the weather generally still pleasant. Enjoy!
Food, site seeing, shopping and entertainment are highlights. Not having to navigate the language barrier makes for a easy transition. That said, the first time visitor will quickly recognize they are not in the US and should proceed carefully until they get comfortable with some of the basics. Like looking both ways at intersections and cross walks for traffic flow. Or standing on the left on escalators so people in a hurry can use the right side.
Entertainment is plentiful and can be free to very expensive. Live theater, concerts, the opera and special concerts can be quite expensive and often sold out. If you have ‘must see’ expectations, advance research and purchase on the internet is recommended. But there is so much available, smaller venues or neighborhood events can be rewarding and much more affordable.
One of our best resources is the Half Price Ticket booth at Leicester Square (on the square, there are several ticket outlets around and off Leicester Square but only one stand alone building on the square.) Arrive before the 9 AM opening for the best options. Ask about matinees as well.
London has some of the most diverse choices for food and dining. It ranges from simple fish and chips to Superstar chefs and practically every cuisine on the planet. It is a perfect time to try something new or unavailable at home.
Do try the local pubs as they vary wildly in offerings, entertainment, history, and decor. Food options in pubs range from the old fashioned basics to world class gastronomy.
The Tube (subway) is extensive and typically the fastest way to get around. But also try the surface buses. Most have been upgraded recently and are quite comfortable and cost the same as the tube. Pick a destination or neighborhood and enjoy sightseeing you would otherwise miss using the underground. Consider a day pass good on most forms of public transportation but be aware day passes are not valid during morning rush hour before 9 AM. If you are planning to visit London more often, consider their Oyster Card. A rechargeable transit smart card good on all public transportation. The value never expires. That is what we use.
The ‘must do’ list.
Westminster Abby is a Gothic church dating back to 1090 with spires 225 feet tall. The walls and floors are a who’s who of British history including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Edward the Confessor and more. The abbey has been modified over the centuries by no less than 6 of the most prominent architects including Christopher Wren. Long lines are common. Hours are 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Admission 20 Pounds, discounts for Seniors, children and families.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is the Anglican cathedral, seat of the bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London. It sits on the highest point of the City of London, Ludgate Hill. It opened in 1708, it is the second largest cathedral in the world, standing 365 feet tall and was designed by Christopher Wren and Lorenzo Gafa in the Renaissance and English Baroque style. Hours are 8:30 AM to 4:30 AM. Admission is 18 Pounds, discounts for Seniors, children and families.
London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames. It opened in 2000, stands 443 feet high. Each capsule takes 30 minutes for a full rotation. Excellent 360 degree views are best at the top. Admission from 20 Pounds and up. Hours: 10 :00 AM (except Christmas and January 11-22), closing times vary by season and run at least until 8:30 PM.
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress known as the Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage site sitting on a 12 acre site dating back to 1078 on the River Thames. It served as the backdrop for much of British history and has had several rolls over the centuries. It currently houses the Crown Jewels of England. Hours vary by day of the week and season. Generally 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM most of the year, closing an hour later in summer. Admission: 24.50 pounds per adult, discounts for Seniors, children and families.
Houses of Parliament There are a variety of ways to visit the Houses of Parliament. Tours, watch debates and committees, visit the Parliamentary Archives, School visits, and special events. There are audio tours, guided tours, afternoon tea tours, tours of the Commons and Lords Chambers and the historic Westminster Hall. Book in advance, www.parliament.uk.
Buckingham Palace (Summer only) has served as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837. The state rooms are open to the public each year for most of August, September, December and January. It is a wonderful tour that usually includes viewing the royal picture gallery collection of art and, weather permitting, a limited stroll in the rear gardens. There is an excellent gift shop and café. July and August Hours: 9:15 AM to 7:45 PM. September Hours: 9:15 AM to 6:45 PM. “Royal Day Out” Admission is Adult 37.00 pounds, or State Rooms only 21.50 pounds, discounts for Seniors, children and families.
British Museum (free, except special exhibits) houses one of the largest collections of art and artifacts (8 million works) in the world. It is dedicated to human history, art and culture. Established in 1753 it is considered one of the best museums in the world. It houses one of the largest collection of Egyptian mummies and statues outside of Egypt. The Rosetta stone, the Elgin Marbles, and the Magna Carta are all housed there. It would take weeks or months to fully explore this museum. Map your visit in advance. Hours: 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM daily.
Windsor Castle, (Day trip) is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It has been the family home of British kings and queens for over 1000 years. It is the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen. The castle is accessible by train from either London Waterloo or London Paddington stations. Hours are 9:45 AM to 5:15 PM March to October, 9:45 AM to 4:15 PM November to February. There are numerous closures throughout the year. Check for details. www.royalcollection.org.uk. Admission is 20 Pounds, discounts for Seniors, children and families.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, (free, except special exhibits) has one of the best and largest decorative arts collection in the world. The museum has undergone restoration in recent years resulting in upgraded presentation of its collections.
The Tate Modern (free, except special exhibits) The Tate Modern is one of the greatest free modern art museums in the world. It was created from an abandoned power plant and repurposed as a museum. About half the exhibits are free, the rest require a separate ticket.
The Tate Britain (free) is a magnificent collection of over 500 years of British artwork and sculptures in over 20 galleries. Most notable is the sizable Henry Moore collection of sculptures and the over 300 pieces by the famed British painter JMW Turner. Bonus: There are numerous special event exhibitions included without extra cost, two gift shops, both excellent, a cafe serving beverages, breakfast and lunch. There is also an award winning restaurant for lunch in a room boasting Rex Whistler murals and award winning wine list.
The National Portrait Gallery (free) was founded in 1856. It houses paintings of historical importance and famous British people. The galleries are well organized and the paintings nicely displayed. There are gift shops and a café. Plan 1 to 2 hours. Hours: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM daily.
The Courtauld Gallery (Admission fee: 8 Pounds) adjacent to the Somerset House Museum complex is a true gem. An outstanding collection of art from the early Renaissance to 20th century masterpieces seen no where else are not to be missed. There is a cute cafe in the basement and an excellent gift shop across from the entrance.
For a deeper look, there are tons of specialized museums, theaters, attractions and just about anything you can imagine available. Discovery while traveling is one of the reasons to travel and explore. Enjoy.
- Avoid major attractions on holiday weekends or major holidays. The crowds can be huge making the exhibits difficult to enjoy. If your schedule is tight, plan to visit those attractions as early in the day as possible.
- Choose the lesser popular attractions or farther afield destinations to travel to instead. Large or extended families are less likely to choose those options because logistics can be more challenging.
- Try alternative sights or destinations in lieu of the most popular and save the most popular for a midweek day if possible. It could make all the difference in the world.