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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 27 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Sarah Barrell

World-class culture, fashion, music, and food – London has it all in spades. Combining a palpable sense of history with a vibrant cosmopolitan edge, this global metropolis has something for everyone.  

Traditionalists will love the royal landmarks and slew of legend-heavy heritage buildings that date back centuries. Hipsters will find inspiration in the gritty East End – a hotbed of galleries, nightclubs, funky restaurants and street markets.   

In terms of the sheer number of bucket list experiences in one place – nowhere even comes close. And yes, it rains, but the majority of London’s best bucket list experiences can be enjoyed equally whatever the weather; be it an international art museum, or a pint in a cosy 500-year-old pub.

Orientation

London’s vast size is broken down into culturally distinct suburbs.

The Thames, with many star attractions clustered around it, runs west–east through the city; central London lies between Chelsea Bridge (west) and Tower Bridge (east).

Just north of its banks, Soho and Convent Garden – which together constitute London’s so-called ‘West End’ – are the city’s beating heart, packed with restaurants, nightlife and theatres.  

Just east lies London’s financial centre, known as the ‘City of London’, then slightly further east still is the uber-trendy, edgier suburb of Shoreditch.

West of Soho lie the major museums of South Kensington and the boutiques of Knightsbridge and Notting Hill. 

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Tower of London

London, United Kingdom (UK)

The world’s most notorious medieval fortress, rich in gruesome history dating back to the 11th century. Now home to the Crown Jewels and the enigmatic, colourful Beefeaters.

Best for ages: 4+ | £25

National Gallery

London, United Kingdom (UK)

One of the world’s greatest collections of Western European paintings, with more than 2,300 works on display from Da Vinci to Monet.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Buckingham Palace

London, United Kingdom (UK)

The world’s most famous royal palace and home of the British monarchy since Queen Victoria, is a fairly bland affair. Go in summer months to see the State Rooms and gardens, and stay to see the Changing of the Guard with enjoyable, entertaining fanfare.

Best for ages: 8+ | Free

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Exterior view of the Library during the daytime
Experience

British Library

London, United Kingdom (UK)

One of the largest libraries in the world, containing an estimated 170-200 million items. Priceless exhibits include the Magna Carta, Beowulf, Captain Cook’s journal, and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Overview >
A worms eye view of people taking a ride in the cabins
Experience

Emirates Air Line

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Leaving from Greenwich, this dizzying cable-car ride takes you over the Thames and towards the Royal Docks, with exhilarating river and skyline views.

Best for ages: 6+ | £5 | 8 minutes

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A beautiful view from Hampstead Heath meadow, London
Experience

Hampstead Heath

London, United Kingdom (UK)

320 hectares of ancient London parkland, complete with woods, grassy meadow picnic spots, ponds to swim in and, set at one of the highest points in London, some of the best views over the capital.

Best for ages: Any | Free

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Mysterious black figure in shape of a man at night
Experience

Jack the Ripper Tours

London, United Kingdom (UK)

These chilling ghost walks take you back to the East End streets of the 19th century, when a serial killer known as Jack the Ripper ran riot.

Best for ages: 13+ | £55 | 4 hours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Classic London Landmarks Bicycle Tour

Classic London Landmarks Bicycle Tour

London

Get up close to some of the most powerful and historic buildings in the world on this 3.5 hour bike tour of central London. Follow a guide a...

£39 | Rating 4.84 / 5 [913 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Full Day London Private Classic Tour

Full Day London Private Classic Tour

London

All London’s iconic landmarks, 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites + 2 Tudor Palaces, secret locations and little known gems all packed into one f...

£525 | Rating 4.90 / 5 [112 ratings]

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Hidden London Walking Tour

Hidden London Walking Tour

London

An extraordinary walking tour through the nooks and crannies of old London. Journey into the past to discover the overlooked, forgotten, and...

£18 | Rating 4.84 / 5 [172 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Highlights & Hidden Gems With Locals: Best of London Private Tour

Highlights & Hidden Gems With Locals: Best of London Private Tour

London

This is not just another city tour; this is the best of London from a unique perspective! Get to know London on a city tour that gives you t...

€131 | Rating 4.83 / 5 [61 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Z Hotel Covent Garden

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A sleek, streamlined budget option with an exclusive edge, accessed via a ‘secret’ courtyard just behind Covent Garden Piazza.

Official star rating:

The Hub Covent Garden

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A super-affordable, tech-savvy stay in very centre of the capital between The Strand and Covent Garden, with a buzzy café, popular with locals.

Official star rating:

Mimi’s Hotel Soho

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A vibrant, affordable Soho base, with a lively bar that’s ideal for first-timers to the capital, who want to be in the heart of everything.

Official star rating:

Portobello Hotel

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A colourful boutique hotel with an even more colourful rock’n’roll history, in the boho-chic residential quarter between Portobello Road and Notting Hill.

Official star rating:

When to go

London teems with tourists year-round, but hotels ramp up their rates around peak holiday periods (Christmas, Easter, and summer school holidays).  

Thankfully, most of London’s biggest bucket list experiences are weather-proof (most are indoor), so can be done all year round.

Summer (July and August) usually has the best weather, but come with horribly long queues for the major sights in July and August. Better to visit outside of these months. 

May, June and September are the best months – fewer crowds and decent weather. Christmas is also a special time in London – the festive atmosphere is unrivalled. 

Getting there and away

London’s four main airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, are accessible by regular train and coach services.  

From Gatwick, take the train to London Bridge or Victoria (take the faster ones with only one or two stops). Fast trains to Luton depart from King’s Cross and from Liverpool Street to Stansted. The Heathrow Express goes direct to Paddington in 20 minutes, but you can also catch the Underground directly into the city centre – a much cheaper option and often more convenient option. 

Taxis from all the airports to the city centre are expensive and run the gauntlet of horrible rush hour traffic. Only take one if you can’t easily get there by train. 

Getting around

The cheapest and best way to explore London is on foot or by self-service bikes. Central London is not as big as it seems and most attractions are within walking distance of one another.  

If you have to travel further, the underground train network (The Tube) is extensive and efficient, though avoid the weekday rush hours if possible. Buses are an excellent, unheralded and more pleasant alternative.  

Ubiquitous black cabs are the luxury, but pricey, option. Uber taxis are widespread and efficient, especially outside the city centre where black cabs are fewer. 

Where to stay

London is vast, and getting around can be time-consuming and draining. The key to enjoying a visit here is to base yourself as close to the experiences you are coming for, to minimise travel time. Being able to walk or cycle to where you want to go will make your visit significantly more enjoyable. 

Soho & Covent Garden 

Most first-time visitors stay in the centrally-located West End (Soho and Covent Garden), an area packed with bars and restaurants. West End theatres, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and many major landmarks and museums are on the doorstep. Streets are inevitably crowded, but hotels are well-insulated from the noise, and often hidden away down quieter streets. 

South Kensington 

Upmarket South Kensington is 15 minutes from the West End, a good choice if you’re coming for the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Harrods or the Albert Hall. It’s easy to dip into the West End for sightseeing, with excellent bus and tube connections. 

The South Bank 

The South Bank (around Waterloo) is a good base if you’re coming for galleries and or the performing arts – the Hayward and Tate Modern are both on the banks of the Thames. It’s also home to the excellent National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Old Vic theatres. It’s an easy 20-minute stroll to Leicester Square and the West End. 

Around Shoreditch 

The East End of London is funky, arty and gritty, home to design hotels, hip restaurants, art studios and graffiti. Shoreditch is the focal point – it is, however, a trek on the tube or bus to the main sights and landmarks from here – not good if you’re coming for sightseeing.  

Knightsbridge 

If designer shopping and high-end dining are your priority, opt for Knightsbridge, close to Harrod’s and Harvey Nichols and a stroll from Bond Street’s exclusive boutiques. 

Richmond  

If you’re coming for Kew Gardens or Hampton Court, head for swanky, leafy Richmond. This village-like suburb has upmarket shops and restaurants on its own high street, and has lovely riverside walks and pubs. It’s only 20-minutes by (regular) trains to the West End, so a great base for those don’t want to be in the crowded centre.  

Where to eat or drink

Although London has a reputation as an expensive city, it’s possible to eat well and affordably almost anywhere if you do your research. Soho’s small grid of streets if choc-full of every type of eaterie, from Thai to Turkish, while the quiet side streets around Covent Garden also have a good mix of affordable – and upscale – restaurants.

Chinatown is a great option for Asian food, while Brick Lane – in the East End of London – is the place for curries of all kinds. For quick and easy street food, the new chain of Market Halls bring together a handful of food stands in one place, along with a bar and seating.

Upscale areas like Knightsbridge, Kensington and Mayfair are home to a high proportion of Michelin-starred restaurants, many in five-star hotels.

Where to shop

Regent Street is the place for the big designer brands, Covent Garden and Marylebone High Street for eclectic boutiques. Oxford Street has the tacky souvenir and discount stores. Bond Street has the top-end, exclusive shops and brands. Savile Row and Jermyn Street are filled with gentleman’s tailoring and dress shops. 

Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Liberty – London’s famous department stores – are a destination in their own right. London’s excellent markets are great for food and gifts. See our recommendations of where to shop.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination