London Travel Guide

No matter how long I lived in London, it never stopped being amazing and magical, and I truly hope you fall in love with it too. Here’s my guide for your trip to the Big Smoke. Check out this map to plot out your days. It’s going to be a LONG one so feel free to save for later or jump to the section you need here:

Getting Around | Where To Stay | Where To Go | Where To Eat | Grab A Drink | What To Do | Other Places To Visit | Know Before You Go

london travel guide

Getting Around London

Let me tell you, England has amazing public transport – you have plenty of options. You may call it the subway or London Underground, but locals refer to it as the Tube. You can download The Tube app which will show you the map, lines and routes, and let you know if any routes are out of action or delayed. As a visitor though, I recommend you get the Citymapper app – it knows ALL THE THINGS. It’s really going to help you to find the best route to where you want to be. Type in the destination and check out all the options – bus, train, tube, bicycle, walking – and in enough detail that you can look like you’ve lived there all your life.

Tap To Pay

Oyster Card is no longer necessary but if you want to grab one, you buy it and add money to it to tap in for journeys. You can use any contactless card though, including Apple Pay on phone or watch. Look out for the yellow circle readers to tap your card and get through the gates. You will tap in and out and both ends of the journey to calculate the price.

London is divided into zones and there is a daily price cap. Once you’ve spent the maximum for the zones you’re travelling in, you won’t be charged any more. I also love that if you get more than one bus within one hour, you only pay for one. Can you tell I’m really passionate about the public transport?!


Whatever your payment method, get that ready before getting to the barriers so you don’t cause a line and make enemies.

With the Jubilee line in particular (due to its doors on the platform) it’s common for people to line up and enter the tube in that order. Most of the other lines are hot chaos. Once inside the tube, move down the carriage and avoid standing in the doorway, even if there are no seats available. Hang on to a pole to keep your balance and get ready to make lots of friends as everyone piles on. Don’t worry, no-one makes eye contact or talks, and everyone stares down at their phones. There is free wifi in the stations which used to be pretty spotty but I’ve heard it’s improving.

You will notice seats marked for pregnant people. These are fine to sit in unless someone pregnant or less able to stand boards the train. It’s polite to give up your seat if you’re in one of these spots, and to save assumptions and awkward moments, pregnant people often wear a Tube badge which says ‘Baby on Board’ so you can spot someone in need of that seat.

Stand on the right and walk on the left. On escalators, it’s the common etiquette to stand to the right of the stairs so that if anyone wants to walk up/down quickly, they can walk to the left. And Central London is fast paced, so you may notice everyone walking very quickly – people won’t appreciate it if you’re rambling slowly down Oxford Street staring down at your phone.

london underground


You might be keen to hail a black cab because of tv and movies. I get it – I felt the same about yellow taxis in New York. But Uber is a money saver if you’re hopping in taxis to get around. That said, don’t do that if you’re just travelling around central London. The tube is clean, quick, and yes – it may be packed at rush hour but, it’s the easiest way to get around. (Though I love a bus too – the bus is SO cheap.) In the summer, the Central line is as hot as a Texas summer, and try to avoid changing trains at Bank station if you don’t know it very well and you’re in a rush; it’s like a maze.

Cars drive on the left. You probably already knew that but just a good flag to keep in mind when you’re crossing the road. And no right turn on red! If you’re American and renting a car, red is just red. (There’s a lot of driving differences – just take the tube.)

Airport Arrivals

Coming into the airport, I find the best way to get into Central is the express train (Heathrow Express) – buy tickets ahead of time for the best deal. If you want to save money and have more time though, the tube does go all the way to the airport (Elizabeth and Piccadilly lines). The Tube app lists accessible stations too, so whether you have a lot of luggage or just need a stair-free option, that’s something you can look at when planning your journey.

Where To Stay

Y’all. When I first visited London before moving there, I would stay in the cheapest hotels possible to save all of my money for the shows I was seeing. But after living there and booking hotels for friends, family, colleagues – and even myself now that I go back to visit, I can give you some tips. It will depend on what you’re planning to do when you’re looking at where to stay.

Working in The City

St Paul’s or Chancery Lane for easy commuting. These areas come at a cost, naturally. And they get very quiet at the weekend with many stores having limited hours. If you’re in St Paul’s, you can enjoy a beautiful walk along the Thames or a picnic by the Cathedral. I lived in this area for a while and honestly, I walked everywhere. 45 min walk? No problem.

Catching a Show

Covent Garden or The Strand. There are a lot of central options with great links to The West End and theatres. These are just my personal preferences for convenience and comfort. Covent Garden is bustling and just a short few steps from Leicester Square. The Strand is also close by and gives you an easy stroll to Trafalgar Square.


I like Old Street but be warned it will be drunkenly busy at the weekends so if that’s not your vibe, then fair play. Old Street Station itself is also a bit huge so rely on Citymapper for the best exit so you end up on the right sight of the road. Shoreditch and Camden are also so much fun for nightlife but I’d be less keen to stay there from a sleeping perspective.

Quietly Central

If you want to stay well connected in London but you’re looking for something a little quieter, my go to is Marylebone (say it with me – “marly-bone”) or Mayfair. It’s not likely to be cheap, but then, not much in London is. We love it anyway.

Rest & Relaxation

If you’re keen to be in the calming greenery or stay out of Central, my favourite is Greenwich (or North Greenwich). Greenwich is such a beautiful place to be in the sunshine and offers lots to do but fair warning it is only on the DLR tube line or regular rail – if that bothers you – but it’s still easy to get to where you need to be. North Greenwich has the Jubilee line, is a short cable car journey across the river, and is home to The O2 area. If you’re working in Canary Wharf, this would be an easy commute. The Pilot pub is really cute to stay at, and there’s a large shopping park full of supermarkets for all your grocery needs.

Where To Go

There’s so much to see and do, even if you just want to wander around and take pictures. Here are some areas and places to get you started…
There’s plenty of greenery and calming energy at one of the many parks in London: Hyde Park, Alexandra Palace (Ally Pally), Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill (them views though), Greenwich Park, and Victoria Park. If you’re looking for a moment of calm from the chaos of Oxford Street or just a seat to enjoy your coffee, pop to Cavendish Square Gardens behind John Lewis Department Store.

The main areas you’re going to be visiting will be: South Bank – river walks and restaurants, Soho – bars and nightlife, Chinatown – Asian cuisines and stores, The West End – theatres galore, Camden – cool and quirky with markets and live music, and Shoreditch – a hipster’s paradise. I always also recommend Greenwich though it’s a little out of Central, and you won’t regret the trip!

If you’re a Potter fan, head to Kings Cross station for the Harry Potter store and wait in line to take a photo pushing a trolley through to platform 9 3/4. You’ll spot it from the long line of people!

If museums are your thing, we’ve got plenty: V&A | Natural History | Madame Tussauds | Somerset House
Prefer shopping instead? Don’t worry about it: Harrods | Selfridges | Oxford Street | Westfield | Liberty
Sightseeing spots you might want to swing by: Trafalgar Square | Big Ben | Tower Bridge | Buckingham Palace | The Tower of London | The London Eye | Greenwich Observatory | Cutty Sark | The Globe Theatre

Walk around London and take in its beauty. There are no wrong answers as to where you should start. Check out this map to plan out your journey and see what’s around as you wander London.

London Eats

There is no shortage of good restaurants in The Big Smoke, so let’s break it down by occasion/vibe. [Full breakdown of London restaurants here]
Fancy Special Occasion: City Social | Sea Containers | Balthazar’s | Hawksmoor | The Ned
Steak: The Heliot at The Hippodrome | Hawksmoor | Steak & Co
Staples: Greggs | Nando’s | Any Wetherspoons pub
Lunch, brunch or something a little more casual: Bill’s | Cote Brasserie | The Ivy Café | Mestizo | The Breakfast Club | My Old Dutch
Cute locations: Sketch | Peggy Porschen | EL&N | Dishoom is also popular for Indian food but will have a long line

And if you know a member who can take you, Annabel’s is as fancy as they come. Don’t worry if you can’t eat there – most people just like to take a photo at the door with their seasonal decorations (SO Instagrammable). You WILL feel like a celebrity if you eat/drink here though. Promise.

Head to the markets: Borough Market | Greenwich Market | Brick Lane | Spitalfields There are lots to choose from!

Afternoon Tea: So many options from the Patisserie Valerie to The Ritz. There are lots of themed teas, and you can even enjoy afternoon tea as you drive around on a red London bus!

Tipping is, as you probably know, different than say, America. Tipping is not often expected but is sometimes included. Some (mostly more expensive) restaurants will include a service charge in the bill but for all others it is common to tip 10% if you’d like to.

If you walk into a pub or restaurant with no-one greeting you at the door, it’s likely that you will just need to take your own seat anywhere you’d like. Most places don’t do free refills/bottomless soft drinks so just keep that in mind if you keep ordering drinks it’s likely you’ll be paying for every single one (unless noted on the menu), and you’ll need to flag a server to ask for your bill – they often won’t just bring it.

Grab A Drink

The drinking culture in the UK is real. I’ve heard Americans ask “Do Brits really just sit in the pub all day?” Yeah. Yeah, we do… sometimes. Some of my favourite spots for a drink…

Happy Hour Specials: Dirty Martini 50% off cocktails usually until 8pm weekdays, until 5pm Sat| Be At One Happy Hour typically 4.30pm-7pm Mon-Fri, 3pm-6pm Sat and is 2 for 1 same drink. Check websites for any updates/T&Cs on happy hours or deals.

City Bars: The Nickel Bar at The Ned The Vault is my preference but you need to be with a member to go there | The Forge If you’re ‘looking for a man in finance’ on a Thursday night

Rooftop Bars: Madison Great view of St Paul’sReserve for dinner, no res needed for drinks | Radio Rooftop Temporarily closed at this time (May 2024) but look out for updates 

Exciting Cocktails: The Alchemist | Experimental Cocktail Club | BYOC (take it easy here, okay – you’ve been warned)

Classic Pubs: Southwark Tavern (weekly Pub Quiz) | Churchill Arms | This is a really good list if you’re looking for something cute.

What To Do

See a West End Show – obviously. Theatre in London is spectacular and you can get sometimes get very good deals on tickets. Download Today Tix and take a look, or you can try your luck at the ticket booths in Leicester Square. Also take a look at Off-West End and Community Theatre too! You might find something unique and cool that you wouldn’t usually get a chance to see.

Catch a comedy gig. There are comedy shows where you pay a donation (pay what it’s worth) on your way out, and even free shows where comedians are trying out new material. And check out Applause Store to be in a live studio audience!

If you’re lucky and the sun is shining, throw a picnic together and head to one of the big parks – try Primrose Hill for a beautiful view of the Central London.

Fun stuff: I made a full list here as it got too long. Things like: karaoke, mini golf, darts, pool, board games, unique experiences. Some of my favorites are Karaoke Box with a private booth so no-one can be mad at your song choices or skill level, Swingers mini golf which is perfect for small groups as you’ll split up to go around the course, and Draughts Board Game Cafe where I spent one afternoon crying-laughing playing a hilarious game with my friends.

Other Places To Visit

If you’ve got time to explore further than just London, you’re spoiled for choice. Take a flight to Ireland, or a train to Scotland or Wales to check off more countries on your list. If you’re new to England and want to explore, I recommend travelling up north to Newcastle, Manchester, or Liverpool – a few hours on the train. You could even take a train to France or Belgium. A weekend trip to Bruges is a perfect little getaway. If you want to explore but not quite as far, you could visit Brighton and enjoy the seaside (albeit a pebble beach).

If you have the time to shop and want a bargain at the outlets, head to Bicester Village outside of London (1-2hrs on the train – out towards Oxford). Oxford is a beautiful place to visit so could also be on your list. Royal Ascot is also such a fun experience – get all dressed up, don your hat or fascinator, and try and win some money on the horses. If horses and hats aren’t your thing, that same train could also take you to Thorpe Park so there are OPTIONS.

Know Before You Go

If you need things like toiletries/cosmetics, search for the store Boots or Superdrug for anything you need, at an affordable price. You’ll also spot WH Smith in many train stations. They sell mostly books and stationery but also snacks, drinks, and travel items.

Looking to buy groceries? If you’re in an Airbnb and wanting to stock up the kitchen, you might notice a lack of grocery stores in Central London. There are a few to be found depending on where you are so give it a Google, but the general hierarchy of price is: (Cheapest to most expensive – totally based on my own opinion) Lidl / Aldi → Iceland → Morrisons → Asda → Tesco / Sainsbury’s → M&S / Waitrose. I always wanted a guide like that for US stores so I hope that helps.

Chocolate in the UK is excellent. Try it and love it.

Pack an umbrella – it rains a lot. And bring a coat or jacket – again with the weather. The weather is very changeable and can go from hot to cold and raining without warning. Don’t forget a UK plug adapter.

If you’re staying in Central London, it is unlikely you will ever really need cash – almost everything is card and contactless.

Have fun and take lots of pictures!

Check out some of these other posts for more London inspiration!


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