First-Timers Guide to London Travel Guide
London is one of the most magical cities in the world. It has an atmosphere that you could find there. London offers you everything from legendary restaurants and palaces and world-renowned theatres. If you’re planning a trip to London for the first time, I have a few tricks and tips for you.
Getting To London
As a major tourist destination, you’ll usually have several options on how to get to London. If you’re lucky enough to live in Europe, you can get over to London on the Eurostar. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at flying. London is serviced by five airports: Luton, Stansted, London City, Heathrow, and Gatwick. It’s important to know that the City airport is the only one actually in London. International flights typically arrive in either Gatwick or Heathrow.
From Gatwick, the easiest way to get into London is by using the train service. The entrance to the train station is right beside the department’s entrance, making it easy to find. You can take the train to London Bridge and be in the city centre within 45 minutes. It’s easy to pick up a train ticket from one of the machines at the airport, or you can buy a ticket through the Trainline app when you arrive.
If you fly into Heathrow, you have two main options. You can take the Heathrow Express train direct to Paddington station. Depending on where you’re staying, it may be easier to jump on the tube.
Heathrow airport is on the Piccadilly Line, which goes right through central London. You can pay for your tube journeys using your contactless debit card. Once you get off at your tube station or train station, you have a few transport options. As well as Uber, you can use Addison Lee, which has its own app. You can also jump on the bus, using your contactless card to pay. All Transport for London transport accepts Apple Pay if you want the convenience of paying with your phone. One of my top tips is to find out what your nearest tube station is, as well as the line it is on. If you ever get lost when you’re out, just go to a tube station and find a connecting station to your tube line.
Finding The Best Theatre Tickets
London is famous for its theatres. You can experience everything from ballet and opera to Disney musicals. No trip to London is complete without a trip to theatreland. Most of the theatres are located within central London, particularly around Covent Garden. If you arrive in London without having a ticket booked, don’t worry!
One of the cheapest ways to get the best seats in the house is by day-seating a show. This process is when you go to the theatre on the same day as the show to purchase a special ticket. Not all shows offer this, but you’ll be able to tell on their website. Wicked, at the Victoria Apollo, sell their front row seats through the day-seating method for less than £30 each. Be prepared to get there several hours ahead of time for the most popular shows. Other day-seat options include the Lion King and most of the touring musicals on Shaftesbury Avenue.
One of the apps you should download ahead of time is Today Tix. They run lotteries daily for tickets to some of the most popular shows in the West End. It’s also one of the easiest ways to get a full overview of everything on offer in London. You don’t want to miss Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Six the Musical and Mamma Mia.
The Best Places to Stay in London
Thanks to their public transport, you can stay virtually anywhere in London. If you want to see all the best sights on foot, then try and stay around Westminster Bridge. There’s a variety of options from budget-friendly hotels and luxury options that are hallmark institutions in London.
The Premier Inn is one of the most popular hotel chains in the UK. You’ll find one in virtually every area in London. They’re a great option if you plan to be out all day and you can get a great location at a budget-friendly price. The chain also has a ‘Hub by Premier Inn’ collection of hotels, which are more modern and compact than their traditional counterparts. If you want a Central London location, check out the options at Leicester Square, Westminster Abbey, and County Hall.
The Park Plaza is a more upmarket Premier Inn. While the latter has only the basics, the Park Plaza comes with everything from lounges to full-service spas and pools. There are several of them dotted around Central London. The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is just across the bridge from the Houses of Parliament and is a popular location for tourists. You can also find one at Waterloo and Victoria, right next to two of the major train stations with tube services.
If you want to splurge on a luxury stay, then Claridge’s is the perfect spot. Cary Grant once said, “when I die, take me to Claridge’s”. The hotel is a national treasure in London and hosts everything from fashion shows to celebrity weddings. The art deco hotel has been around since the 1850s. If you’re not staying at Claridge’s, it’s still worth a trip to see the hotel. You can enjoy afternoon tea or a bite at one of the hotel’s many bars and restaurants.
The W London hotel is at the heart of London nightlife at Leicester Square. You’ll be right beside the theatres, on the edge of Chinatown, and just down the street from Green Park. The suites all have an electric design, and you’ll want to call into the bar to enjoy the glamourous décor. The W hotel has an AWAY Spa that offers REN spa products and every treatment that you could ever need.
The Best Places to Eat
London is one of the food capitals of Europe. There’s a mixture of different restaurants and hotels that you should visit for something to eat and drink. No trip to London is complete without a traditional afternoon tea. If you’re heading out to the theatre, almost every restaurant offers a pre-theatre menu for an early dinner sitting.
The Rivoli Bar at The Ritz
The Ritz is one of London’s most famous hotels. While staying here is not within everyone’s budget, their cocktail menu is the perfect way to treat yourself. Reservations are usually required but you might be able to slip in during off-peak times. The Rivoli Bar is an intimate cocktail bar that has an impressive selection of cocktails, wine, and champagne. You can also enjoy a quick bite of food along with your drinks. The Ritz has a strict dress code that forbids trainers and they insist on smart casual attire.
You have probably seen Sketch all over Instagram. Their bathrooms are famous for their multi-color ceiling and pods. Sketch offers five different rooms, with everything from afternoon tea through to a three-course meal. The Gallery is the most famous spot at Sketch. It’s inspired by the 18th-century tearooms and includes the most beautiful pink décor that you will ever find. You’ll want to take plenty of Instagram photos during your meal.
The Ivy Bar and Grill
If you want to experience brunch in London, the Ivy Bar and Grill is a perfect choice. It’s located in the square at Covent Garden and is a great spot for a weekend of shopping. Their menu offers everything from pancakes to minute steaks for brunch. You can enjoy a selection of English teas and an extensive cocktail menu. The Ivy Market Grill is also a great spot for a pre-theatre meal if you’re seeing a show at the Royal Opera House.
Your first trip to London should be marked by celebratory afternoon tea. It’s a tradition in England for special occasions and events like birthdays and graduations. You’ll find that most hotels in London offer their own afternoon teas, with luxury hotels offering some of the best that you can find. Fortnum and Mason is a traditional afternoon tea that you can experience in their iconic Piccadilly store. If you want a modern afternoon tea, visit the Shangri La and enjoy an afternoon tea from the Shard with breath-taking views over London.
Duck and Waffle
Speaking of the Shard, Duck and Waffle is the highest 24-hour restaurant in London, sitting 40 floors up from the ground. If you get the munchies at 2 am, you can head over to the Duck and Waffle for a dessert or even an all-day brunch. Duck and Waffle serve traditional British cuisine with European influences.
The Classic London Shops
When you visit London, make sure to leave plenty of space for shopping. There’s plenty of stores that you’ll want to visit that are tourist attractions themselves.
- Harrods – You can find everything from classic British brands to luxury boutiques. Don’t miss out on visiting Tiffany’s Café!
- Selfridges – Similar to Harrods and has its own food hall if you want to pick up some classic British treats.
- Fortnum and Mason – When it comes to traditional British food, Fortnum’s is in a league of its own. You can find everything from loose-leaf teas to biscuits and a confectionary bar that includes macaroons and cupcakes. You can also find a selection of British brands on the fashion and beauty floors.
- Regent’s Street – If you want a whistle-stop tour of stores, then you want to visit Regent’s Street. You’ll find most of the flagship stores for luxury brands in this area, which is right next to Bond Street and Oxford Street. You can find everything from Apple to Burberry and Ted Baker here.
- Hamleys – If you have a child, or are a child at heart, then you need to stop in at Hamleys. It’s a traditional toy story that began in 1760 and is considered a landmark in London. It’s Regent Street store opened in 1881 and the store has seven floors full of toys and games.
Things to do and see in London
It would be impossible to list every single place in London that you should visit. You could spend four years living in London and still not see it all. This list is just a few of the top tourist attractions that you could visit during your first trip. If you miss out on any of them, then you’ll need to book a return trip!
- House of Parliament – You can book in for a tour of the Houses of Parliament during the summer when it’s not in session. When Parliament is sitting, you can go in and watch the proceedings from the public gallery.
- Buckingham Palace – Is there anywhere more famous in London than Buckingham Palace? It opens to visitors each summer when the Queen is at Balmoral. You can take an intimate look inside the palace and explore its offerings with a guided tour. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop!
- The London Eye – If you want to see London from above, then you need to visit the London Eye. You can even book a champagne VIP package if you want to indulge in a drink above the sights of London.
- The British Museum – One of the most famous museums in the world. You can explore everything from ancient Greek monuments to the Rosetta Stone.
- The National Gallery – The National Gallery houses some of the most important paintings in history. You can see the artwork of Tudor monarchs in one room, and then contemporary pieces in the next. The National Gallery also includes the National Portrait Gallery.
- Convent Garden. The charming neighborhood of convent garden. It is famous for its vibrant apple market, theaters, trendy boutiques, and eateries. This area is perfect for shopping, exploring restaurants, or catching a show.
- Tower Bridge: Tower Bridge is one of London’s most recognized bridges. Situated close Tower of London and the intersection of the Thames, this bridge is breathtaking. This shot was taken on the tower Millennium pier right near the tower on London also on our list.
- The Abbey: The Abbey is London’s most famous church, home to Royal Weddings and Coronations. How can you leave without a picture of this stunning building?
- Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. The Palace of Westminster alongside the famous clock tower (the big ben) is one of London’s most recognizable landmarks. This candid shot was capture from the south bank.
- Parliament square. This Square Garden is a major tourist square close to the famous Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Given the large crowds of travelers snapping pictures in this square, it is evident why it makes it one of London’s 10 most Instagrammable places in London. To beat the crowd arrives early or towards the evening.
- Tower of London. Not to be confused with the tower bridge, the Tower of London is one of the world’s oldest and most famous prisons.
- Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square is a popular tourist and location in the heart of central London’s city of Westminster.
When Will You Visit London?
London is one city that should be at the top of your bucket list. It’s extremely easy to get around on public transport. You’re only ever a stone throw away from a theatre of the palace. You can come back to London several times and still not see everything.
As a first-time visitor to London, you’ll want to tick all the traditional sites off your list. Focus on seeing the palaces and experiencing the best of British culture and cuisine. Don’t forget a visit to the theatre and a trip to a tea shop to pick up some traditional English Breakfast tea. Happy Planning!