London is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and my Country’s Capital city. London is, in my opinion, dynamic and home to a cosmopolitan population and a thriving cultural scene. The contrast between the spectacular historic sights and the busy cultural scene makes a visit to London an interesting and exciting trip. Shopping (especially after New Year), night life and great cuisine all find a place in this wonderful destination.
…so when is the best time to visit?
The British relish Summertime. When the grey skies finally open up and the sun is shining, everyone in Great Britain is walking on cloud nine. In a city where you can spend weeks under dark skies, people drop everything when the sun finally comes out. During the summer, the rooftop bars fill up. The classy, open air theatres are in full swing. People lounge at cafe’s and lie out in the parks. When there is sunshine, what more do you need?
Autumn time brings a different feel to the city. London’s parks are at their best when the trees begin the change colour and the air is crisp. Remember to grab something warm to wear, sip some mulled wine. If you are lucky enough to be in London (and Great Britain in general) in early November, you are in for a great time. On the fifth of November, England celebrates Bonfire Night (a.k.a. Guy Fawkes Night) After dark, the entire city (and Country) is lit up with gorgeous fireworks displays.
Halloween is another great time to visit the city. Get ready to have a scream at the ‘Haunted Medieval Banquet’ in St Katharine Docks. Ready to rock your best Halloween look? The mystery ball at the ‘Haunted Mansion’ is one of the coolest events on earth. Held in a secret venue that is announced only 48 hours beforehand.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION
ℹ️ Travel: London is served very generously by its two major airports Heathrow and Gatwick and smaller airports of London City, Luton and Stanstead. There are also major train stations that serve all of The UK and the only international train station St. Pancras that has several daily services through The Channel Tunnel into Paris and Brussels.
ℹ️ Currency: The British Pound (£). From 31st October 2019 The UK will no longer be a member of the EU (European Union)
ℹ️ Credit Cards and Banks: ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street, with several ‘bureau de change’ around the city centre, with almost every retailer accepting Mastercard and Visa.
ℹ️ Accommodation: London is not cheap and accommodation is no exception. Be prepared to spend on hotels. I always tend to stay in either the plentiful Travel Lodge or Premier Inn hotels. They are extremely basic but are very comfortable. Aim for anything around Covent Garden, Leicester Square areas.
For myself, I book a very basic 3* venue in Kensington called the Westbury Hotel that is about 10 minutes on the underground from the city. Price is roughly £55 p/n with a basic breakfast. One positive note the Westbury Hotel is near the Natural History Museum.
ℹ️ Weather: The climate is generally mild, with temperatures rarely climbing uncomfortably high or low, although it is worth carrying an umbrella or raincoat throughout the year.
Cold season: From December to February, temperatures are usually a few degrees above freezing.
Warm season: Between June and August, the Summer temperatures are still comfortable with temperatures floating around the Mid 20c’s.
LONDON TRANSPORT SYSTEM
London can be fairly heavy on your wallet that can easily amount if you are travelling through various districts exploring. The Oyster Card is a quick pass onto the public transport system. You can load the card with multiple rides within the zones you will be walking around. Depending on how many rides you pre-pay, it can be more than 50% cheaper than single ride tickets. The other plus side is that it grants you rides the on the bus and light rail systems as well.
If you hold a ‘contactless‘ bankers/credit card, or, Android/Apple Pay phone, then you can use this rather than obtaining an Oyster card. This is how I travel on the underground. If you are a Non-UK citizen then check out ‘best ways to pay‘ for public transport
London is separated into several districts and neighbourhoods; each offering a unique flavour of the city! The most popular areas worth visiting are:
- Covent Garden: Covent Garden is one of the most popular areas of the city with some of the best theatres.
- Leicester Square: The location for many of the main film premieres held in the city, and also home to the Chinatown district, this area is at the heart of the West End and is a perfect place for a night out to see a show.
- Soho: I have to admit I love SOHO. A vibrant and exciting part of the city that is home to an amazing range of pubs, jazz and blues bars and the heart of London’s gay scene. This is where many of the fashion forward residents of the city come to party.
- Camden: Famous for being the alternative centre of London where hipsters, punks and goths tread the streets together. It is home to a series of markets where almost everything in alternative culture is for sale. It is also has several performing arts venues.
- Westminster: The tourist centre of London, sights include the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Visitors can see the British Government in action by visiting the Strangers’ Gallery at the House of Commons. You can feel the ‘Power’ of the British government here.
WHAT CAN LONDON OFFER?
To see all the sights London has to offer would take you years and to be fair there is no way I could write about everything this city has to offer. I have to admit I do not visit my Capital city as often as maybe I should. Nonetheless, recently I made time for a 3 day trip. I was to take Virgin Trains on a direct service from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston that took just on 2 hours.
My sole intention was to see and explore as much as I could. Here are my highlights:
UNDERGROUND: Take the Black (Northern Line) or Blue (Piccadilly Line)
London’s home of entertainment is world class for its diverse offering. Here you can enjoy one of many shows on offer or witness the glam of red carpet premieres at one of the infamous cinemas averaging one premiere every week! The Square attracts Hollywood actors from around the world who come to walk the red carpet.
Leicester Square is also a great place to sit back and relax in one of the many restaurants and bars – many offer special events or menus during premieres and pre or post theatre menus.
A great place to visit is M&M World and Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum. London where you can keep everyone entertained. Finish the day with a meal in one of Leicester Square’s restaurants like The Rainforest Cafe. I kept it simple – Pizza Express.
UNDERGROUND: Use the Blue Piccadilly Line
The world famous Covent Garden is buzzing with the excitement and is a destination for food lovers and fashionistas. Covent Garden is a Square fringed by cobbled streets and alive with street performers. Tucked away inside is a great little market selling all kinds of locally made items.
UNDERGROUND: From Covent Garden I took the Black (Northern Line) South to The Embankment where you will find yourself on the banks of the River Thames. I did a lot of walking from here!
Standing 442 feet high in a fairly flat city, the London Eye affords views 25 miles in every direction, weather permitting. Each rotation ( or ‘flight’ ) takes a sightseeing 30 minutes. At peak times (July, August) it can feel like you will spend more time in the queue than in the capsule; book premium fast-track tickets to jump the queue.
THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
UNDERGROUND: The closest stations are Westminster (Yellow Circular Line, or, Green District Line) and Waterloo (Grey Jubilee Line)
A visit here is a journey to the heart and Power of UK democracy. Officially called the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament’s oldest part is 11th-century Westminster Hall, one of only a few sections that survived a catastrophic fire in 1834. Its roof, added between 1394 and 1401. The palace’s most famous feature is its clock tower, officially the Elizabeth Tower but better known as ‘Big Ben’.
SHAKESPEARE GLOBE THEATRE
UNDERGROUND: Closest Station is Tower Bridge (Yellow Circular Line or Green District Line)
Located along the River Thames near the Millennium Bridge (famous in the Harry Potter films). Unlike other venues for Shakespearean plays, the new Globe was designed to resemble the original as closely as possible, which means having the arena open to the London weather, leaving the audience open to the downpours.
Visits to the Globe include tours of the theatre (half-hourly) as well as access to the exhibition space, which has fascinating exhibits on Shakespeare and theatre in the 17th century.
ST PAULS CATHEDRAL
UNDERGROUND: Closest tube station is Black Friars or mansion House on the Yellow Circular Line, or, Green District Line.
One of London’s most fascinating buildings this cathedral has been a place of Christian worship for over 1400 years. You can enter this building free of charge. Inside there are tombs fringing the periphery of the main hall with Lord Nelson buried directly underneath the cathedral dome.
TOWER BRIDGE AND THE TOWER OF LONDON
UNDERGROUND: Head back onto the Yellow Circular or Green District Line to Tower Hill Station to take in the history and the sights of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
TOWER OF LONDON
Whilst visiting Tower Bridge take a stroll across to the Tower of London. The unmissable Tower of London is actually a castle offering some rich history. Built in 1070 and added to over the years has seen some great things within its walls. The Tower of London over the Centuries has been a royal residence, treasury, mint, armoury and zoo, it is perhaps now most remembered as the prison where two kings and three queens met their deaths. Come here to see the colourful ‘Beefeaters’, the spectacular Crown Jewels, and, the ravens.
To get your bearings, take one of the entertaining free guided tours offered by the Beefeaters. If you want greater detail and history book an hour-long tour that leave’s every 30 minutes from the bridge near the main entrance; the last tour is an hour before closing. Details of the tours can be fund at www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon
UNDERGROUND; Use the Black Northern Line or Blue Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square Station.
Trafalgar Square always amazes me and definitely a must see destination for visitors to London. Trafalgar Square is home to Nelson’s Column – a monument commemorating Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 adorned by Majestic stone lions at the base of the column. All roads leading to London throughout the whole of The UK are measured in miles distance from here.
At various times throughout the year Trafalgar Square hosts many events and performances, and, it is also home to the biggest Christmas tree in London over the festive period, an annual gift from the city of Oslo.
UNDERGROUND: Hyde Park is served by numerous stations. Stations on the Red Central Line are Queens Gate, Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch. On the Blue Piccadilly line use stations Hyde Park or Knightsbridge.
Hyde Park is New York City’s equivalent. I absolutely adore walking around the Lake and watching Swans and ducks playing in the water.
Hyde Park, in my opinion, is one of the greatest city parks in the world spanning 350 acres adorned with huge trees, a large lake, a meadow and ornamental flower gardens. Sometimes, especially in the Summer months, you can often forget you are in a major World city.
Hyde Park in London has something for everyone. You can enjoy swimming, boating, cycling and skating. There are pitches for team games, tennis courts, tracks for horse riding and a children’s playground.
The Park has two lakeside restaurants which are licensed and serve everything from a three-course meal to a quick cup of coffee. Hyde Park is home to a number of fascinating buildings and monuments, such as The Serpentine Bridge, the Joy of Life fountain and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.
THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
UNDERGROUND: Use South Kensington Station on either the Blue Piccadilly Line, Green District Line, or Yellow Circular Line.
This is a free venue. The National History Museum is a colossal and magnificent looking building. The Dinosaurs Gallery (Blue Zone) is a must see, who gawp at the animatronic T-Rex, fossils and excellent displays. There is an intriguing Treasures exhibition in the Cadogan Gallery (Green Zone), which houses a host of unrelated objects each telling its own unique story, from a chunk of moon rock to a dodo skeleton.
At the centre of the museum is Hintze Hall. In the centre is a life size fossil of ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus. However, in 2017 the Dinosaur will be replaced by a life size skeleton of a Blue Whale whilst Dippy goes on a tour of The UK. To find out what exhibitions are on display during your visit visit this link www.nhm.ac.uk
UNDERGROUND: Use Camden Station on the Black Northern Line.
Open from 10am to 6pm Camden Market attracts millions of visitors each year and is one of London’s most popular attractions. There are three main market areas – Buck Street Market, Camden Lock Market and Stables Market, although they seem to all blend together with the crowds snaking along the street. You will find a bit of everything: clothes, bags, jewellery, arts and crafts, candles, incense and decorative knickknacks .
UNDERGROUND: the best two stations are Hyde Park Corner on the Blue Piccadilly Line, or, St James Park on the Yellow Circular Line.
Built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, Buckingham Palace replaced St James’s Palace as the monarch’s official London residence in 1837. Queen Elizabeth II divides her time between here, Windsor Castle and, in summer, Balmoral castle in Scotland. If she’s in residence, the Royal Standard flag is flown; if not, it’s the Union Flag flies.
The Queen opens the doors to her home at certain times of the day/year. Check out the website http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace
Soho is served handsomely by the underground system. Use
Piccadilly Circus (Blue Piccadilly Line), Oxford Circus (Red Central Line), Tottenham Court Road (Black Northern Line or Red Central Line), Leicester Square (Blue Piccadilly Line or Black Northern Line)
Soho is situated in the heart of London’s West End. Soho is bordered by Oxford Street, Regent Street, Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road. Soho is a great place to find live entertainment, interesting food and pulsing nightlife. Browse the boutique shops, relax in Soho Square, or treat yourself to a West End show, a meal and a delicious cocktail.
Soho is also known for its ‘naughty’ vibe. This is where you will find many of London’s sex shops, burlesque shows and gay and lesbian bars.
Shopping in Soho is just awesome. For flagship fashion and electronics stores, you will find the best shopping along Oxford Street and Regent Street. You can take a walk down legendary Denmark Street, which is otherwise known as “Tin Pan Alley” for its incredible collection of musical instrument shops. One of my favourite areas to shop is down Carnaby Street. This area is a hive of high street stores and independent shops.
London’s theatre scene is Mainly focused around the West End. Numerous Soho theatres – such as the Prince Edward Theatre and the Prince of Wales Theatre – have been entertaining visitors for a very long time. From big-budget musicals and classic plays, to quirky cabaret and stand-up comedy, there is a Soho show to suit every taste.
You can book tickets to see Stomp at the Ambassador Theatre, Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre or Thriller at the Lyric Theatre, which are all in Soho.
The new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has not long opened here. Be sure to grab yourself a ticket in advance.
Soho is at the heart of London’s live music and clubbing scene, but you can also find everything from casual pubs to secret bars. Popular bars such as The O Bar and Bar Soho provide plenty of cocktail opportunities on a night out in Central London. If it’s a late night coffee you crave, Bar Italia is a lively place to hang out. You will also find cool music venues with a rock’n’roll history such as Borderline and 100 Club in Soho.
London is an amazing city to visit brimmed full of old history and modern angles. No blog could ever cover everything this city has to offer, nor, could anyone possibly fit everything into their itinerary unless you live in this city. Go with an an idea of your top attractions and add to those if time permits.
Always aim for an evening show in the West End or Covent Garden you will be happy you did. The attractions above I managed to fit into my 3 days, however, I am not going to say it was easy. I heavily relied on the London Underground system to criss-cross the city quickly; I easily clocked up miles and miles of walking and left the Guesthouse for 10am every morning and did not return until 11pm most nights.
Enjoy the city. It truly is a remarkable place to be surrounded by. Use the tube – it really is super easy and cheap (once you master the tube map)