TRAVELLING TO LONDON FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Then this blog post is for you! Visiting London for the first time can be pretty daunting whether you’re travelling alone or with friends or family.
London is famous for being one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities and it truly does live up to that.
But it shouldn’t put you off! Everyone should visit London at least once in their lifetime and there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
This blog post will give you all the details you need to know to tackle London as a first-time visitor. I’ll give you all of the information you’ll need in order to pack your itinerary full of fun things to do!
How to Get from the Airport to London
London City Airport (LCY)
There are many airports around the London area – some much closer than others and some much more expensive than others. The closest airport to the centre of London is London City Airport, but many airlines do not fly to it, and if they do, it’s not cheap.
To get from London City Airport to the centre of London: Take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) service. You can then get a lift from the railway platforms to the terminal building. The Docklands Light Railway covers all of the redeveloped London Docklands area. Ticketing and fares are integrated between the Underground and DLR and you can switch trains between DLR and the Underground on a single journey/ticket. The London City Airport DLR station is connected to the airport Terminal.
It is recommended that you change from Canning Town to the Underground Jubilee Line to head to the main tourist area. If you’d prefer to wander around the business district first, however, then stay on the train until Bank.
There are not any easy-use bus services serving the airport to central London so the DLR really is your best bet. If the train isn’t for you then I recommend travelling in style and booking a private taxi transfer. You can book one here.
And by the way, tipping in London isn’t the same as the tipping culture in America, it’s a nice way to acknowledge exceptional service, but it’s not mandatory.
London Heathrow (LHR)
London Heathrow is one of the most well-connected of the London airports, there are many options that you can take to travel to the city centre.
The Heathrow Express is the newest and most efficient route from the airport to the city centre. The journey takes just 15 minutes to Paddington station where you can disembark to explore or change to the London Underground or Elizabeth Line.
You can also choose one of the 3 Underground Stations at Heathrow’s terminals to travel to London from. Prices start from £5.50 – the same as the Heathrow Express.
If you’d prefer to use a coach service then you certainly can. Board outside Terminal 4 or 5 or walk to Heathrow Central Bus Station – a short walk from Terminals 2 and 3. This option can be slightly pricier but still great value at around £10.
Taxis are also an option from this airport and Black Cabs tend to gather in the taxi bay ready to pick up eager travellers.
London Gatwick (LGW)
London Gatwick is just 30 minutes from London by train. The Gatwick Express is a non-stop train service running straight to Victoria. There are also train services that have stops along the way which would be perfect for people staying outside the centre.
Another great option would be the National Express – a coach service that operates routes all over the country.
London Stansted (STN)
London Stansted is typically the cheapest airport to fly to (particularly for domestic flights). Stansted is quite a distance from London City but the journey is well worth it to save money. If you’ve not yet booked your flights for your first London trip I’d highly recommend trying to fly to Stansted as you’ll probably find it is the cheapest option.
The Stansted Express operates regular services from Stansted Airport to London Liverpool Street Station, which is well-connected to the city centre. The journey takes approximately 45-60 minutes, depending on the time of day.
Stansted is also connected to the city by a National Express route. There are direct services from Stansted Airport to various locations in Central London, including Victoria Coach Station. I’ve taken this journey myself on many occasions and it is completely tolerable. The seats are comfortable and the time flies by, especially when you have a good book in your hand or a movie downloaded.
London Luton (LTN)
You can take a shuttle bus from Luton Airport to Luton Airport Parkway station. From here, catch a Thameslink train to London St Pancras International. From there, you can connect to the London Underground or take a short taxi ride to reach various destinations in the city centre.
National Express also runs from London Luton Airport. The coach company operates direct services to several locations in Central London, including Victoria Coach Station.
It’s worth noting that London City Centre is well-served by public transportation, so once you arrive at a major station or hub, you can easily continue your journey to your specific destination using the underground, buses, or taxis.
30 Things to See and Do in London
You’d never run out of things to see and do in London! The city is so full of life and wonder and it would take you ages to complete EVERY tourist attraction. This is a short list of sights that I think you HAVE to see on your trip to London – many of them you can complete in just one day!
1. Big Ben
The number one building that pops into everyone’s heads when they think of London is of course the Elizabeth Tower – the real name of Big Ben. The tower and parliament buildings are infamous and what makes London, London! You have to stop at Big Ben Tower on your trip to London, there are so many photo opportunities!
2. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is an iconic London sight and one that draws in millions of visitors every year for great photo opportunities! Try to stop by during the changing of the guard and watch the Royal soldiers perform their traditional duties.
Visiting London in the summer months? Be one of the lucky visitors who get to view the palace’s state apartments on a grand tour. Tickets go fast so make sure to book in advance!
*In 2023, the staterooms can be visited from 14th July to 24th September!*
The below tour option includes the opportunity to watch the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, a walk through St. James’s Park and admission into Buckingham Palace – all under the care of a fantastic tour guide.
3. St James’ Park
St James’ Park is one of London’s eight royal gardens and covers 57 acres! It is a beautiful walk that is great for winding down after a packed day of sightseeing. If you’re lucky you might see some of London’s vibrant parakeets which hang about in the trees of the park. Many of them are confident enough to land on your fingers if you entice them down with a bit of apple or a nut.
4. London Eye
Another key sight that can’t be missed when in London is the London Eye. The huge ferris wheel is undoubtedly one of the best places for a good view of the city. The entire journey around the wheel takes around 30 minutes and the huge capsules mean that you don’t feel too cramped when sharing with other members of the public.
Skip the queues and get a London Eye Fast-Track ticket from the link below!
Touring Westminster Abbey is like stepping into the past. This historical site is renowned for being the centre of British culture and architecture. As you tour the grand nave, chapels, and transepts, you’ll encounter the final resting places of numerous monarchs, poets, scientists, and influential figures from British history, such as Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Dickens.
All of Britain’s monarchs since 1066 have been crowned at Westminster Abbey and the building has hosted many royal weddings. It is certainly very grand and deserves to be admired.
There are many tour-guided options available but I highly recommend the one linked below. There is an optional tour extension of viewing the Houses of Parliament which would be equally as intriguing. It has over 300 4-star reviews so is definitely one to consider!
The Tower of London stands as a historic fortress and symbol of power that has played a significant role in British history for over 900 years. The Tower has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Status and offers a great passage to the past.
Home to the crown jewels and many other royal artefacts, you shouldn’t miss the Tower of London off your list. There are some great tour options on offer for the Tower of London but I think this one is just great. It even includes a luxurious cruise along the River Thames!
Beat the crowds and be the first to see the crown jewels with these exclusive tickets!
Preserved as a museum, visitors can explore the meticulously restored rooms, including the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum. Discover the tense atmosphere of the war years, view the original wartime maps and documents, and gain insight into the life and leadership of one of Britain’s most iconic figures.
Why not make a day of the WW2 theme? There is plenty to discover in London that will transport you back to the 1940s. This tour option looks fantastic and for a great price too!
8. Piccadilly Circus
All first-time visitors to London HAVE to walk around Piccadilly Circus. It is the perfect area to catch a glimpse of the energy of the city. The vibrant billboards and whooshing past of hundreds of iconic red buses make for an amazing atmosphere. It’s also a great photo spot.
Piccadilly Circus is a great starting point to go on to explore the wonderful Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and world-famous Regent Street.
9. Trafalgar Square
Dominated by Nelson’s Column, a monument honouring Admiral Lord Nelson, the square marks a pinnacle moment in history. With its fountains, statues, and iconic bronze lions guarding the column, Trafalgar Square provides a picturesque setting for gatherings, events, and performances.
10. Hyde Park
Hyde Park, one of London’s most beloved and expansive green spaces, offers a tranquil retreat from the bustling city. Hyde Park provides a picturesque setting for relaxation, picnics, and outdoor activities. It has beautifully cared-for gardens and lawns and is a beautiful place to take a breather.
11. Sky Garden
Sky Garden is a beautiful, public rooftop garden that offers some amazing views of London. Sky Garden is a unique and peaceful setting to unwind and marvel at London’s beautiful skyline. You can also enjoy meals at Sky Garden – the menu looks incredible!
Admission to the Sky Garden during the day to admire the views is free and can be booked here.
12. The Shard
The Shard is a must-see sight in London. Standing at 310 metres tall it is not only London’s tallest building but the tallest in all of western Europe. The observation deck at the top provides incredible 360-degree views of the city. Whether you visit during the day or at night, the Shard is an incredible sight to see.
You can book tickets for the Shard here.
13. Victoria and Albert Museum
Located in Kensington, the Victoria and Albert Museum is dedicated to showcasing world-class art and design. It houses over 2 million pieces to admire and has everything from fashion pieces to sculptures. The museum is highly interactive and has changing exhibitions which celebrate designs throughout history and across the globe.
Plan your visit here.
14. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is magnificent, both on the outside and on the inside. It is one of the most beautiful cathedrals that I’ve visited and deserves a visit from a London first-timer. It is a fabulous example of English Baroque architecture and although a tourist attraction, it retains a great sense of spirituality.
Visitors with a St Paul’s Cathedral Admission Ticket can view the inside of the cathedral, climb the huge dome and admire the views of stunning London from above.
15. Oxford Street
Oxford Street is London’s most famous shopping area. It draws in millions of shoppers and visitors every single year and is nearly always guaranteed to be busy. Oxford Street has a huge range of high street stores, luxury boutiques, department stores, and many popular fashion brands. The street is definitely a shopaholic’s dream destination in the heart of the city.
Harrods is an iconic department store in London, famous for its luxury brands. The store is a high-end shopper’s paradise with floor upon floor of goodies to peruse. Harrods offers everything from high-end jewellery to delicate chocolates and should be the number one stop for travellers with a desire to spend big!
On the lower ground floor, you’ll find the Harrod’s Gift Shop, the area that most visitors spend in (along with the huge Chocolate Hall). The gifts on offer are all such high quality and reasonable in price for such a large brand.
Every time I visit I make sure to pick up a box of shortbread of a little teddy bear – they’re just too cute to leave behind!
Hamleys is another iconic shop, well-known by people across the world. Located on Regent Street, Hamleys is a huge toy store stocked shelf upon shelf with the most sought-after toys. If you’ve got kids with you on your trip or are really into gadgets I highly recommend visiting.
18. Shakespeare’s Globe
The Globe Theatre is the home of Shakespeare. Built to replicate the historic Elizabethan playhouse, it offers a glimpse into the theatrical world of the 16th century. This open-air theatre still offers performances of original Shakespeare pieces, providing a unique experience to the audience.
Book your tickets to Shakespeare’s Globe here.
If you’re a huge Shakespeare fan and have the time to spend a day journeying out of London then I highly recommend that you book yourself onto a tour around Shakespeare’s home place.
I’ve found a fantastic tour option of Startford-upon-Avon, touring Shakespeare’s birthplace and home of his wife Anne Hathaway. The famous playwright is well remembered in the region and this guided tour gives lots of information about his life.
It also includes an excursion to another highly visited area from London – the Cotswolds. You’ll be given the opportunity to admire the pretty villages of Bibury, Burford and Bourton-on-the-water.
A day out of the hustle and bustle of London is often well-needed by first-time travellers!
19. Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a fabulous day trip from London – particularly for visitors who are interested in the Royal Family. As the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, this huge fortress offers a glimpse into the lives of British monarchs throughout the ages.
You can book simple admission tickets to the castle but I highly recommend getting yourself booked on a half-day tour, which picks you up by a coach in the centre of London. It is great value for money when you consider the travel and admission costs are covered.
Book either ticket option for Windsor Castle by hitting the buttons below:
20. Musicals on the West End
Seeing a musical in the West End is a fantastic way to spend a few hours in London, particularly in the evening.
There are so many musicals on offer in London at the moment and all of them have different price ranges, making them suitable for all visitors. From the most famous musicals such as The Lion King and Grease to new performances created by upcoming writers, London is home to a huge range of genres.
If you don’t like all of the song and dance then there are plenty of plays on offer in many theatres across the city too.
21. British Museum
The British Museum is home to over 8 million objects! The attraction is full to the brim with science, history and art pieces.
The British Museum is one of the largest museums in the world at over 92,000 square metres and requires a good chunk of your day to properly explore.
You can book admission tickets here.
Most visitors tend to stay for 3 to 4 hours in the museum, making the most of the exhibits on offer. I wouldn’t recommend trying to cram the experience into a shorter time slot on your itinerary as the museum truly does deserve such a large time slot.
For the most enthusiastic of visitors I highly recommend booking a guided tour of the museum, you can get tickets for a fabulous one below.
22. Tate Modern
Tate Modern is another great museum that deserves to be visited in London. It is a renowned contemporary art museum that is home to a very impressive collection of artwork.
The museum is located in a converted power station and showcases a diverse range of art forms, from paintings and sculptures to multimedia installations, making it a vibrant hub for art enthusiasts.
Tate Modern must-visit destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the ever-evolving world of contemporary art.
Entry is free but it is recommended that you book tickets to ensure you get in on busy days.
23. Notting Hill
Notting Hill is a charming little neighbourhood in West London that is flocked to by tourists who love taking artsy photos. The area is famous for its colourful houses and vibrant atmosphere. It is particularly popular with lovers of the movie Notting Hill – for obvious reasons!
24. Imperial War Museum
London’s Imperial War Museum is dedicated to showcasing the impact of war on the lives of individuals and societies. From World War I and World War II to more recent conflicts, the museum offers an immersive and thought-provoking journey through history, making it a powerful and educational destination for visitors.
Book your free tickets to the Imperial War Museum here.
25. Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is a magnificent Tudor and Baroque palace situated on the banks of the River Thames. The palace has a very interesting history. Originally built by Cardinal Wolsey in the early 16th century, the palace later became one of King Henry VIII’s most cherished residences.
The best way to explore the palace is by booking a private group tour with a knowledgeable guide. You can book one of the best ones available below.
Like many large cities, London has its very own Chinatown. Located in the heart of the West End, Chinatown has a great atmosphere and is abundant with culture. Full of Chinese restaurants, shops, and supermarkets, serving up a delightful array of delectable dishes and imported goods, Chinatown is a lively and colourful destination for locals and tourists alike.
27. Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace is a historic royal residence located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Home to the Prince and Princess of Wales, the palace is a grand display of royalty and grandeur.
Visitors can explore the State Apartments and beautiful gardens at particular times of the year and get an insight into how the British Royal Family live.
You can buy tickets to Kensington Palace here.
28. Madame Tussaud’s
Madame Tussaud’s is a famous attraction in London displaying intricate wax figures of celebrities, sportsmen, royals and more. Visitors can get up close and personal with the life-size figures without the hassle of security teams warning them off – don’t try to touch them though!
You can get really cool photos with your favourite celebs at Madame Tussaud’s which look very realistic. The attraction promises a fun-filled and memorable adventure that appeals to people of all ages and interests.
Book your entrance to Madame Tussaud’s using the button below!
29. Jack The Ripper Museum
The Jack The Ripper Museum in London is dedicated to the infamous Victorian serial killer who terrorised the city’s people for decades. The museum offers a chilling exploration of the Whitechapel murders, featuring detailed recreations of the crime scenes and historical artefacts from the era.
The museum aims to provide a haunting insight into the dark and mysterious world of Jack the Ripper, whose identity still remains unsolved.
30. Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is an iconic London landmark. With its distinctive twin towers and bascule mechanisms, the bridge spans the River Thames, connecting the bustling Southwark to the historic Tower of London.
Not many visitors realise that there are walkways installed at the top of the bridge between the towers. Tickets are affordable and well worth the view.
Getting Around All of the Top Sights
Transport in London can be pretty hectic, especially during holidays and weekends when most people tend to visit. The tube in particular is definitely not for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re not from an area that has subways.
Buses and subways are very regular in London – they’d have to be to ensure that the millions of inhabitants get to where they need to be! But all of the short journeys can add up, so be sure to plan your route of sightseeing efficiently so as not to waste money.
if you choose to take the tube to get from one side of the city to the other then make sure to read the maps carefully to ensure you’re on the right platform and getting on a train on the right line.
In 2023, the daily cap for tube travel is £8.10 – very reasonable for multiple journeys!
Beat your step goal for the day!
The good news for anxious transport takers is that the main tourist area of London is actually pretty walkable. The main sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminister Abbey and Downing Street are all very close and can easily be reached within just 30 minutes of walking.
Not sure about touring the city yourself and want more detailed information about all the sights? There are plenty of walking tour options available around London.
This Ultimate London Sightseeing Walking Tour is a very good option that has hundreds of 5-star reviews!
Why not try a bus tour?
A great option for tourists that aren’t on a very tight budget is the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses which circulate the city, making many regular stops. There are multiple companies that supply these tours but one of the most reputable is City Sightseeing London.
As it is a hop-on hop-off service, you’re free to get on and off as you please, giving you an excellent opportunity to explore sights for yourself without the stress of navigating between them. Potential stops include Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Big Ben, Oxford Street, and The Shard.
As a great little freebie, you’ll be granted access to a self-guided walking podcast that will top you up with all the facts when you’re not on the bus.
Best Areas to Eat in London
London’s dining scene is like no other city that I have visited. There is SO much on offer that it actually becomes a bit draining trying to decide where you might like to eat.
The restaurants and cafes are as diverse as the people in London, with food from all over the world being served on the streets. There is something for everyone in London and you’re guaranteed to leave the city having a new-found love for a dish.
If you’re looking to narrow down the field a bit then I highly recommend travelling to Borough Market at least once to test out a range of delicacies from across the globe.
Borough Market is open 6 days a week (excluding Mondays) and opening hours are 10 am-5 pm every day, closing an hour earlier on a Sunday.
The market is always busy with tourists and locals, itching to try a range of products from artisanal cheese and wines to gourmet burgers.
If you’d prefer a sit-down, expensive meal to perhaps celebrate your travels then Mayfair might be more up your alley. Mayfair has many restaurants for those visitors with a more refined palette.
Infamous for being high-end and ‘for the rich’, you must check your bank account before dining in Mayfair. Just kidding!
There are plenty of affordable places among the Michelin restaurants in Mayfair, but I’d typically advise opting for a meal cooked for a celebrity chef if your budget allows it!
King’s Cross is my favourite place to dine in London. After lots of renovation work in the past few years, King’s Cross is always buzzing with people wishing to test out the fabulous range of dining options.
King’s Cross has everything from fancy bistros to small business restaurants serving all kinds of international cuisine.
London is bursting at the seams with places to eat but if you’ve got some time to spare on your trip then it’s definitely worth your time to visit one of the areas that I’ve mentioned.
As a regular London traveller, I’d recommend having one large sit down meal a day and then grabbing quick, on-the-go bites that you can eat while on a bench or waiting for a bus or tube.
London is overflowing with Joe and the Juices, Pret A Mangers and Gregg’s, making it super easy to grab a quick breakfast or lunch and giving you more time to explore the never-ending city.
Where to Stay in London
London is full of hotels and apartments and every area is covered. I’d recommend staying slightly outside of the city centre so as you avoid the hustle and bustle a bit more and get a peaceful rest when needed.
Royal Kensington and Chelsea is a fabulous place to stay and I’ve been many times. There are streets upon streets of hostels, hotels and Airbnbs to choose from. The area is very well connected to the centre of London by tube and bus routes, allowing you to be and about sightseeing within 15 minutes.
Visiting London for the First Time: Conclusion
While London can be very hectic at times and tourists never stop coming, the city is so enjoyable. The main stress of London is getting from place to place when walking isn’t an option.
All of London’s airports have great transport connections to the city and they are all very affordable. More central airports can be very expensive to fly to so make sure to consider all of your options.
Many of London’s big attractions are within the same areas making the city very walkable. For example, Big Ben, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms and St. James’s Park are within a 10-minute walk of each other.
You may want to take the tube or bus when travelling from one side of the city to the other, however, as walking times can reach up to an hour.
Eating in London is easy, with many restaurants and coffee shops on the streets of the city, you’ll never struggle to find something suitable.
That’s it for my round-up guide to visiting London for the first time! If you have any questions then shoot me a message here: