Where to stay: London can be quite a pricey city to stay in, especially depending on the neighborhood you choose. There are Airbnb options, although they are actually more expensive than some of the other options that are in better locations. I would recommend finding a hostel in London, as there are a lot of really low-priced options in really excellent areas. Try staying in the Victoria neighborhood, because you’ll be in walking distance to the coach and train station, as well as many of the most recognizable tourist attractions in the city. Make sure that where ever you stay is near a Tube station, and you’ll never be far from anything else you might want to see while you’re in London.
Where to eat: London can also be a really expensive place to eat, but particularly in the biggest tourist areas. While you’re sightseeing, try to hop on the Tube and go a stop or two away from the attraction you were at, and find a pub to grab some food and a pint- you’ll most likely have a much better meal for much less money. If you’re looking for a more interesting experience, head over to Camden Market (also called Camden Lock) where you’ll find a ton of food stalls with food from all over the world. It’s all low priced, and there are tables and such to eat outside near the water, as well as some tables in the indoor bit of the market area for when it’s raining. Even in the winter, this is a really fun thing to do- and don’t forget to check out the other vendors that are there selling everything from crafts and art to records, clothes, and jewelry. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind place in an “off-beat” part of London.
What to do: There is a nearly endless list of things that can keep you occupied in London, and it’s understandably hard to choose where to start. Below is a list of some off-the-beaten-track options, as well as some classic London spots that are not to be missed!
- Go online and check out tours of the Parliament building, you’ll get a guided tour inside as well as up-close view of Big Ben without a million tourists standing in front of you. A lot of people miss this, probably because they don’t realize that it’s even an option, but it’s a cool experience to learn about how British politics work, and to see some beautiful rooms that have strongly figured into British history. Remember to book this in advance, as you’ll have to print and bring your tickets with you to get in.
- Head over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral. This theatre is located near where the original Globe Theatre was, and produces Shakespearian plays (and other period plays) as they would have been performed in Shakespeare’s time. If you’re interested in this particular history or in theatre, you can take a guided tour of the theatre. If you just want the experience, however, try to get tickets to one of the shows! In the summer, you can buy “groundling” tickets, which allow you a standing-only space on the ground in front of the stage. It isn’t very glamorous, but it is an authentic way to view these great plays. In the winter, they produce plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is a replica of an indoor playhouse from the same period. There aren’t groundling tickets for this theatre, but you can still get fairly inexpensive seats, and it’s a truly amazing experience- there’s no electricity used! (They light the plays with candelabras)
- If you’re looking for good views of London, head over to the London Eye. This is probably one of the most recognized tourist attractions in the city, but it is a really amazing way to get a bird’s-eye view. Make sure that you book online ahead of time, and you’ll be able to avoid waiting on any lines.
- Trying to get a moment out of the hustle and bustle? Head over to Regents Park- a beautiful green space in central London!
- What would a trip to London be without a stop at Buckingham Palace? During certain times of the year, you can purchase tickets to tour the palace and part of the grounds, but during the rest of the year you’ll have to settle for marveling at its beauty from outside the gate. You might even be able to time your stop at Buckingham with the Changing of the Guards- it’s quite a spectacle, and if you’re looking to see some stereotypically “British” sites, it’s about as close as you’ll get!
- My favorite attraction in London is the Tower of London. The history of this fortress is truly incredible, and it is presented really well for visitors today. There are tours given by Yeoman Warders included in the admission price, and they’re absolutely fantastic. The guides know the Tower inside and out, and they give the tours in a very fun way which makes it interesting for everyone. I’ve gone on these tours twice, and they were both very funny! For this attraction, think about purchasing your ticket when you arrive. You may need to wait on a line, but the price is actually less by around a pound (£) than if you were to buy the tickets online.
Overall Opinion: I absolutely love London, and after visiting several times I’ve found that it’s a city that I can really feel comfortable in. Although it is a major city, and is quite fast-paced, there is also a certain elegance about it that I haven’t found in many other capital cities. London is the type of city that you’ll want to spend quite a while in to give it its due justice. If you’re spending only a weekend, try to pick the sites that will be most important for you to see, and plan ahead to make sure you won’t be waiting on lines of tourists the whole time. If you are only spending a weekend here, don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the spirit of the city- it’s an amazing mix of history and modern British culture, and spending time to wander around is key to enjoying it!