19 Best Things to do in London, UK | A Comprehensive Travel Guide
April 28, 2020
London is a popular destination for tourists all over the world. In this article, we will be discovering the top things every tourist must do when visiting London as well as recommended itineraries for you to plan your next trip!
Table of Contents
A Short Geography Lesson on London
There are key differences between the names Great Britain, United Kingdom and England. Great Britain: An Island located east of Ireland, it consists of the 3 autonomous regions – England, Whales and Scotland. The United Kingdom (UK): The UK is a country that includes Northern Ireland, England, Whales and Scotland. While each of these 4 regions are also called countries, they follow policies and regulations that are determined by the UK. London is the capital city of the UK.
Getting around London on Public Transportation
The London Underground transportation, also known as ‘The Tube’ is the best way to get around London. You can refer to the tube map here. From the map, you can see that there are a total of 9 zones and 11 tube lines. Central London is covered by Zone 1 & 2, whereas, the outskirts of London are from Zone 6-9.
Operating hours of ‘The Tube’: 5am to Midnight Use the London Plan-your-journey website to map your routes here.
4 options to pay for rides on ‘The Tube’:
1. Paper Tickets (Single Rides)
Purpose: Paper tickets are for single-rides and are useful if you’re making a journey to just 1 station without stopping anywhere.
Purchase at: At underground station ticket machines and ticket offices.
Travel Tip: Take note that single-ride fares are the most expensive form of travel if you are planning to use the Tube multiple times a day to visit different attractions. For example, journeying between zones 1-3 with a paper ticket will cost you £4.90 as compare to £3.30 with an oyster card or contactless payment.
2. Visitor Oyster Card (Best option for tourists)
Purpose: Pay-as-you-go method. Top-up the Oyster card with cash and make multiple trips on the Tube. Simply tap your card on the yellow-reader before entering and exiting the stations. The Oyster card can be used for travel on all buses, Tube, trams, and most TfL Rail, Emirates Air Line and Thames Clippers River Bus services.
Purchased at: Option 1: Purchase your visitor Oyster Card via KLOOK here. You can collect your card at any of the specified redemption points in London. Option 2: You can purchase your visitor Oyster Card here and have it delivered to your home. Delivery fees will apply for this option.
*There is an activation fee of £5 for all cards with a minimum first top of of £10. Usage time of the card is unlimited and you can keep it for your next visit to London.
Travel tip: The remaining credit in your Visitor Oyster card can be refunded once you’re done using it
3. Contactless Payment
If your bank card shows the contactless payment symbol, you can use it to pay as you go straight away. Alternatively, mobile payment methods are also possible. However, there are some cards outside of the UK that will not be accepted and overseas transaction costs may also apply.
More information on contactless payment can be found here. I do not recommend this method for visitors outside of the UK as your card may get rejected.
4. Travel Card
Purpose: A 1-Day Travelcard is a paper ticket which that gives you unlimited travel for a single day. The Travelcard can be used for travel on all buses, Tube, trams, and most TfL Rail. There are also discounts for you to take the Thames Clipper River Bus and Emirates Air Line cable car.
Purchase at: You can choose to purchase either a 1-day or 7-days Travel Card online here. Collection points are available at all London Airports and Stations. The Travelcard can also be purchased directly at any tube station, tourist information stands, and in the National Rail stations.
How to choose which ticket to get?
For 2 to 4 journeys a day for a couple of days get the Visitor Oyster Card or Contactless Payment Card. If you are visiting London for 1 week or more, making more than 3 trips a day, and plan to only be in Central London area (i.e. zones 1-2/1-4), get the 7 Day Travel Card.
The Top 19 Things to do in London
Consider purchasing a London Pass for convenience as it gives you access to 80 top attractions in the city, this includes Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
1. Eat Roast Duck at Gold Mine
Gold Mine is said to be the best Chinese restaurant in London. I have eaten duck in many places in Asia and I couldn’t believe the best I’ve ever eaten was the one in London. Hence, if you’re in London, remember to plan at least 1 meal here, I promise you will be craving to come back for more.
2. Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park
After having a hearty lunch at Gold Mine, head over to take a stroll at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The entry to Hyde Park is free for all and is opened daily from 5 a.m. to midnight. Whereas, Kensington Gardens opens at 6 a.m. daily. In the center of park lies the stunning Serpentine Lake, it is home to lots of Swans and Ducks. Sightseeing around here is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life.
3. The Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum houses one of the world’s most impressive dinosaur exhibitions. The Museum holds over 70 million specimens from all parts of the world, among these are a large number of plants and animals from which species were first described and named.
Entrance Fee: Free Opening Hours: 10am to 5.50pm (Closed between 24-16 December)
4. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is recognised around the world as the residence and office of The Queen and the focus of national and royal celebrations. In addition, many visitors also come here to witness the regular Changing the Guard ceremony.
Entrance Fee: £26.50 (Adult fare); £24 (Student & Seniors) – Prebook your tickets online to secure your spot to go in. The prices online are the same as if you were to purchase it directly at the entrance of the ticket office.
Opening Hours: The State Rooms of the Palace are open for visit during the ‘Annual Summer Opening’ in July, August and September.
If you do not plan on taking a tour inside Buckingham Palace, you can still come of the palace to watch the Change of Guard. The timings and schedule of when the ceremony takes place can be found here.
5. Big Ben
The Big Ben is one of the most famous icons in the city of London. It was built in honour of Queen Victoria in the mid-19th century and the clock rings every 15 minutes. It stands at 98 meters tall, with the tower’s design resembling neo-gothic style and is known for it’s accuracy.
6. London Eye
Located on the South Bank of the Rive Thames, the London Eye is Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel and one of the most visited paid tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. You can see panoramic views of London city in one of their 32 pods and have an unforgettable experience!
The London Eye Experience Entrance Fee: £28 (for adults). Book your tickets in advance here. Opening Hours: Daily, 10am to between 8.30pm or 9.30pm
7. Grab a Bite @ Borough Market
Borough Market is a wholesale and retail market hall London. It is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London and a great place for you to find various local food delicacies to munch on. It’s a crowded and vibrant place to just savour different food items in one setting.
8. London Bridge
The London Bridge is situated just a short walking distance from Borough Market. The London bridge is over 2,000 years old as is known to be the oldest bridge of the River Thames. It is the most famously named bridge in the world and even got its name on a nursery rhyme: “London Bridge is falling down…”
Furthermore, many people confuse the London Bridge with the Tower Bridge because of its architectural design. Tower Bridge is considered to be more eye-catching and has become a more iconic symbol of London instead.
9. Tower Bridge
Located just a 10 minutes walk from London Bridge, you can find the Tower Bridge. The beautiful Tower Bridge of London was opened in 1894 and was designed with bright blue and grey colours with 2 neo-gothic towers. There is also a Tower Bridge Exhibition where visitors can walk through its grand Victorian staircase, unique glass floors and see the Victorian engine room.
Entrance Fee for Exhibition: £10.60 for adults (Purchase your tickets online here.) Opening Hours: Daily, 9.30am to 6pm
10. Tower of London
The tower was built strategically by the River Thames in 1066 by William the Conqueror to act as a fortress and gateway to the city. It was built as a demonstration and symbol of Norman power and it also reflects the last military conquest of England. The tower has also been named a UNESCO heritage site since 1988 and has become a popular tourist attraction in London.
Entrance fee: £28.90 for adults; £23.10 for students & seniors (Avoid ticketing queues by purchasing tickets in advance here, prices are the same as at the entrance) Opening hours: – Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00am-5:30pm; Sunday-Monday: 10:00am-5:30pm (March to October) – Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00am-4:30pm; Sunday-Monday: 10:00an-4:30pm (November to February)
11. Visiting the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
This will probably be the highlight of your trip to London if you’re a Harry Potter fan! Go on a self-guided behind-the-scenes tour, where you’ll see the production sets, costumes, and props used for all eight Harry Potter films. Walk along Diagon Alley and its many shops, the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s Office, and the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Step on Platform 9 3/4 to take a picture, hop on the Hogwarts Express train and grab a a cup of butter beer at the end.
Entrance fee: £47 for adults (Tickets must be booked in advance online here). Alternatively, you can also purchase a combo ticket here (inclusive of 2-way transport from London City).
Average visiting hours: 3-4 Getting there: Free shuttle buses run from Watford Junction to the Studio Tour with a journey time of around 15 minutes. The frequency of the bus is every 20 minutes.
Since your in London, try the famous restaurant chain known as Burger and Lobster! There are a total of 9 restaurants all over town namely: Soho, Oxford Circus, Mayfair, Bond Street, Bread Street, Knightsbridge, Leicester Square, Threadneedle Street and West India Quay.
Get a taste of juicy grilled lobsters or a lobster roll along with lemon and garlic butter sauce, a local dining experience in London that can’t be missed!
14. Take a picture with the London Telephone Booth
The red phone box is often seen as a British cultural icon throughout the world. Although there has been a reduction in these booths over the years, you can still easily find them in many places around London. Snap a photo with one of these booths before they are all gone!
15. Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is an intersection in London that connects 5 main roads. It is the busiest square in London and is recognised by the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, also known as “Eros”, that is built in the center of it. Take time to tour around the area and observe its famous light-up advertising boards.
16. Go Shopping at Oxford Street
Oxford street is the biggest shopping street in London, with more than 90 flagship stores from fashion and beauty to tech and homeware. Visitors will see stores like Marks & Spencer, Primark and a Disney Store as well as flagship Nike, Adidas, H&M and Topshop stores. It’s a true shopping paradise in the heart of the city!
17. Take a photo at Platform 3/4 at King’s Cross Station
If you’re not planning to visit the Harry Potter Warner Studios, here is an alternative for you to take a picture at Platform 9 3/4. The trolley is situated just next to the Harry Potter store inside King’s Cross station. Taking a photo here is free but there is often a queue. There is also an option for you to purchase a VIP lanyard for £15 at the store to skip the queue and get a professional photograph print out.
Travel tip: Arrive before 9am if you want to beat the queue and avoid going during school holidays.
18. Visit the Pubs at Soho Street
Soho street is famously known to be a main entertainment street in London. Its vibrant night life and numerous pubs make it a perfect place for a pub-crawl night with your friends. Some of the more popular bars around include the French House, The Dog & Duck and St James Tavern. In addition, Old Compton Street is the heart of Soho’s LGBT+ scene, here you’ll find several gay-friendly venues along the surrounding streets.
19. The Sherlock Holmes Museum
For those crime-solving lovers and Sherlock Holmes fans, visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum along Baker Street in London. According to the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the museum was where Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson lived as tenants of Mrs Hudson.
Entrance Fee: £15 (for Adults); £10 (under 16 years old) Tickets can only be purchased on arrival at the museum by cash or a credit/debit card. Duration of Visit: 30-45 minutes Opening hours: Daily, 9.30am to 6pm
Trip Itineraries for 1-,2-,3-days
8am: Start your day at King’s cross station for a photograph at Platform 9 3/4 9am: Tower of London & Tower Bridge 10am: Brunch at Borough Market 12pm: London Eye & Big Ben 1pm: Buckingham Palace 2pm: Lunch at Gold Mine 3pm: Hyde Park 4pm: Natural History Museum 6pm: Shopping at Piccadilly Circus & Oxford Street 8pm: Grab dinner at Burger & Lobster
2-days & 3-days Itinerary
Day 1 8am: Start your day at King’s cross station for a photograph at Platform 9 3/4 10am: Tour inside of Tower of London & Tower Bridge Exhibition 12pm: Brunch at Borough Market 2pm: Ride the London Eye & take a picture with Big Ben 3pm: Buckingham Palace Tour 5pm: Hyde Park 7pm: Dinner at Burger & Lobster
Day 2 8am: Warner Studio Harry Potter Tour 1pm: Lunch at Gold Mine 2pm: Natural History Museum 4pm: Shopping at Piccadilly Circus & Oxford Street 6pm: Dinner & pub crawl at Soho
For an extra day in London, use day 3 to visit the following: 9am: Sherlock Holmes Museum 10am: Take a stroll at Regent’s park + Primrose Hill 12pm: Grab Lunch at Market Hall Victoria 2pm: Spot deer at Richmond Park 6pm: Dinner at Kiln
Affordable Places to Stay in London within Zone 1 & Zone 2
It is recommended for you to get a place within Zone 1 and Zone 2 of London. Anywhere beyond these zones would mean extra costs to transportation fees and it would also be far from the main attractions.
Hotels in London within zone 1&2 tend to be quite expensive. Here, I’ve complied some hotels that located centrally but are relatively affordable – Z Hotel Tottenham Court Road and Z Hotel Trafalgar. Both are located less than a 5 minutes walk from a Tube Station.
When is the best time to visit London?
Similar to most other European countries, the best time to visit London is during Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to October). During these periods, the weather is comfortable and the city is a little less crowded than other months of the year. Avoid July and August, which is their peak summer months and it gets super crowded.
However, do take not that it is almost impossible to avoid the crowds in London as it is after all, one of the biggest cities in Europe. Packing an umbrella everywhere you go is essential as well as it rains often all year round.
What is the currency in London?
The official currency of the United Kingdom is the pound sterling (£, GBP). Note that 100 pence = £1