After spending many, many months in London and finally moving here a few months ago, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on my favorite (or favourite) things to see and do in this great city. This is by no means and exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what to add.
There’s so much to see that you likely won’t be able to visit everything in London in the four to five days that most people spend here. But here’s a few must-sees.
- Check out Piccadilly Circus (little Times Sq.), Covent Garden and Soho (especially Carnaby Street). There’s some good dining here and also a lot of theatre.
- Buckingham Palace has a changing of the guard many days at 11:00 am. Check the website to make sure it’s on the day you want to go. If you want to see it, the best spots are on the statue directly across from the Palace (in the roundabout). Get there at least an hour early. While you’re in the area, check out St. James’ Park or and chill out in the sun chairs for a quick rest.
- Big Ben and Parliament are looking a hot mess right now (and will for a while) but you have to go by. Westminster Abbey is right there too. Beautiful church but expensive to visit.
- Kensington Palace is great. It’s also nice walking around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Check out the Diana Memorial Fountain.
- If you go to Notting Hill, the Portobello Rd Market is on Sat. It’s really crowded… I’d recommend going a different day. Holland Park is near Notting Hill and has a peaceful Japanese garden called Kyoto Gardens – one of my favorite zen spots.
- There’s great street art in Shoreditch. You can take a free walking tour. They also have good restaurants there and real bagels at Beigel Bake. Also a cat café – Lady Dinah’s and a Vintage Market.
- London Eye — Some people say skip it. I’ve done it four times and would do it again! Book the Fast Track tickets here.
- Tower of London – If you want to see the Crown Jewels, arrive by the 9:00 am opening time and go then. Otherwise the lines get crazy! Book in advance here.
- Sky Garden – is free, so you can book it and not worry about it if you can’t make it. It’s a nice view from the City (financial district). I think you can only book 3 weeks out, but it fills up: https://skygarden.london/booking
London has a great number of museums, and most of them are free. Here’s some of my top picks.
- Churchill War Rooms – For anyone who’s interested in WWII history, this is a must see. So unique to see where Churchill plotted WWII. Book at least a week in advance. It’s a great musuem.
- V&A – They have a Mary Quant exhibit on now. If you want to go to the exhibit, book ahead. Otherwise the museum is free.
- Tate Modern – There will be an Andy Warhol exhibit in 2020. So excited! There’s also the Tate Gallery, which is on the opposite side of the Thames.
- National Gallery – Right in Trafalgar Square and is huge!
- The National Portrait Gallery – I love this museum because I love seeing people. Hurry up though, it closes in May for renovation!
- The Saatchi Gallery has the Tutankhamun Egyptian exhibit, which is on its final tour and will be in London until the beginning of May.
- The British Museum also has a ton of Greek and Egyptian art as well as the Rosetta Stone.
- The Natural History Museum and Science Museum are also enjoyable, especially for those with kids
- Other museums include: The Imperial War Museum, The Wellcome Collection, Sir John Soane’s Museum, The Museum of London, The Transport Museum
The theatre scene in London is amazing. I’ve seen Sally Field, Bill Pullman, John Malkovich, Brian Cranston, Michelle Dockery, Christian Slater and Laura Linney in addition to Patti Lupone. The prices are SO much cheaper than in NYC and you can actually get tickets to Hamilton and Harry Potter. With cheap air, it may even be cheaper to fly to London to see the shows vs. going to NYC! Check out Today Tix and TKTS for discount tickets. There are also booths in Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
There are many things that are uniquely London that happen during the course of the year. Try to check them out.
- Trooping the Colour – The Queen’s birthday is celebrated in June. There’s a parade, balcony wave by the Royals (will Harry and Meghan be there? Stay tuned!), and cool flyover.
- Pride Parade – London is a city full of Pride and the annual Pride Parade (in late June this year) is a great display of it.
- Wimbledon – Grand Slam Tennis Tournament in July. If you don’t get tickets through the lottery, get up super early and join the queue. I’ve done it twice and it’s tons of fun!
- Christmas Lights – I’ve yet to see a city that has better Christmas lights than London (although Florence was pretty cool). Come starting mid-November for a festival of lights!
Where to Eat
London had long had a reputation for terrible food. I’m pleased to say that this has changed. You can find food from all over the world and at very good quality. Here’s a few that I enjoy.
- Fish & Chips – Poppies is one of the originals. But any decent pub should have a good fish and chips offering.
- Ramen – So many good places. Kanada-Ya is my favorite, followed by Shoryu, Tonkotsu is also good – and you can stop for a bite in Selfridge’s while you shop.
- Brunch – Duck & Waffle Local is good for good brunch nibbles. The traditional Duck & Waffle has great views and is 24/7. The Ivy is great for brunch as is Caravan.
- Indian – Given my allergies, it’s so hard for me, but Dishoom is great with food allergies and very tasty. Book ahead. I’ve also heard good things about Masala Zone and Cinnamon Kitchen.
- Pizza – Those who know me, know I love pizza. My favorite pizza is at Rossopomodoro – true Naples pizza. There’s also a Da Michele (the Naples spot from Eat, Pray, Love), Fratelli Bufala and Zia Lucia are quite good. I’m looking forward to trying 50 Kalo de Ciro Salvo
- Pasta – Padella at Borough Market is so good. La Papardella in Earls Court is also yummy and neighborhoody. Napoli on the Road has real, traditional southern Italian food. I felt at home.
- Gelato – Those who know me, also know I take my gelato very seriously. Gelupo and Grom are awesome. If you’re out in Chiswick, Duci is quite nice
- Sweet Treats – For a wonderful French bakery items, check out Dominique Ansel (home of the cronut – there’s a different one each month); Peggy Porschen has beautiful cakes and cupcakes
- Burgers – Lots of spots for burgers – from American favorites Five Guys and Shake Shack to British ones GBK and Byron.
- Steak – Hawksmoor is nice for good steaks and a nice night out without being too fancy
- Foodie Finds – check out Ottolenghi, Michael Nadra or La Trompette (probably one of the top 2-3 restaurants in London). Chotto Matte is also quite fun. Lunch can be cheaper than dinners.
Afternoon Tea is a London must-do. Don’t be mistaken… it’s not just tea and scones. It’s a full meal with sandwiches, scones and dessert. Come hungry, leave stuffed. Some of the best I’ve experienced:
- Fortnum & Mason – Grocer to the Queen
- Sketch – Not just cool bathrooms, good tea and knowledgeable wait staff
- Alice in Wonderland Tea at the Sanderson – not just gimmicky, it’s delicious and in a beautiful setting
- Next to try – I’ve heard good things about Claridge’s, Savoy and Connaught. I’ll be trying the Rubens at the Palace later this month and the Ham Yard in March.
- Skip it – not all tea is great. Tea at the Ritz was stuffy and no better than the less expensive ones; The “Harry Potter Tea” was amusing but not that great; Tea at the Barbican felt and tasted like a high school gymnasium.
Make sure to have a meal (lunch maybe) in Borough Market. The Italian Market (Mercato Metropolitano and now Mercato Mayfair) is also quite nice. Camden Market is a bit more edgy, but also very touristy. I like it for the canal tour that you can take from there to Little Venice (Paddington area). While not a market, Coal Drops Yard near Kings Cross is a great place for food. Especially in the summer time. The Arcade Food Theatre and Market Hall Victoria are on my list to try next.
If you want to get out of central London, there’s plenty more to see. The amount of green space in the city is amazing. You often don’t realize you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world.
- Kew Gardens (you can access via boat or train and it’s a nice place to get outside of the city – you can also continue via boat to Hampton Court Palace which is on my list of places to go this year.
- Check out Hill Garden and Pergola (beautiful part of Hampstead Heath – you’d never believe you’re in London); Also Primrose Hill for a great view over the city.
- Richmond has a park with deer that are just hanging out and chilling. You totally don’t feel like you’re in the city. It’s also a really cute little town/village but easy to get to on the tube.
There’s a lot you can see on a Day Trip from London. Here’s a few options
- Windsor, Bath and Stonhenge. You see a lot in one day. Totally worth it. Book here.
- The Cotswolds are adorable. You can hire a car or take a tour.
- Oxford and Cambridge are also easy day, train trips
Where to Stay
London is huge. It’s also expensive, so the farther from the center you go, the cheaper the accommodations. I recommend that visitors stay in South Kensington/Kensington area. It’s close to the museums and the park, but not quite in tourist-central. If you have the ££ Mayfair, Marylebone, Bloomsbury and the area by St. James’ Park tube station are great and super convenient. If you want to be dead center and with the crowds, go for Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square (or the Southbank by the Eye). But don’t say that I didn’t warn you ;).
I’ve probably stayed in 30-40 hotels in London, so I have a lot of opinions. I’ve used points a lot, so many of these are part of major chains. I could probably do a blog post on just the hotels, so I’ll keep this part brief. Some of my top choices are:
- Crowne Plaza Kensington – Wonderful service, true double/double bedded rooms, a “beach” in the summer. Not fancy, but great location. I’ve returned many times.
- Hotel Xenia – Adorable, but tiny roomed boutique hotel in Kensington. Great service (lots of Italians!) and lovely breakfast if you’re a Marriott Platinum member or above.
- Kimpton – Beautiful old building right at Russel Square. Great service, smallish rooms and wonderful location.
- Hotel Indigos – I’ve stayed at several. They are boutiquey, service can vary, but quality furnishings and in good areas.
- Hub by Premier Inn (Westminster/St. James) – these are tiny, tiny, but mostly new and well appointed. Much cheaper than many other London options. (See above for larger room).
- The tube and busses are great. You can buy an Oyster Card or use a contactless card to tap in and out of the tube. Check out the CityMapper or Google Maps apps to tell you how to get from one place to the other and look out for weekend tube changes.
- Airports – Heathrow is on the Piccadilly (dark blue) line. If you don’t have a ton of luggage, it’s super easy to get to your hotel by tube. There’s also the Paddington Express, which is much quicker, but more expensive (although if you buy tickets in advance, you can get a deal). Gatwick has the Victoria Express to Victoria, but the Southwestern railways service is much cheaper and not that much longer. It will also take you to other train stations in London (check City Mapper or Google for the best way to go to your accommodation).
- Uber, Kapten, Via and Bolt all operate in London and are cheaper than the black taxis
- Black taxis – take one at least once. It’s a fun experience.
- Double Decker busses – great to get your bearings, but honestly the TFL busses are just as good, mostly double decker and way cheaper.
- Walk – If it’s nice out, there’s no better city to walk in than London. From Hyde Park to Green Park to Buckingham Palace to St. Jame’s Park, by Downing Street, Trafalgar and Piccadilly Circus is one of my favorite walks. It’s also a bit long ;).
So this is my London list. Let me know if you’d like to book a trip to my city. I’m happy to help, and if I’m here, I’m happy to take you on a walk – long or short. For my fellow Londoners, what would you add? For the visitors, what else would you like to know? I’ll be updating this post often.