London is a fascinating city, huge, full of museums, markets and monuments, which attracts tourists like the light of a candle to a moth. So you don’t get burned, metaphorically speaking, here are my best tips for travelling to London.
Grouped into 10 categories, they range from when to visit London to how to get around the city, from tips for lunch and dinner in London to excursions from London.
When is the best time to visit London?
For latitude and climate, the best time to visit London would be between mid-May and mid-September, but that’s when everyone tries to visit, so the tourist attractions get crowded and large queues appear.
To avoid it, our bet is to do it in spring or autumn. Even if you have to put clothes in the suitcase to get hot and cold, you know the usual “mid-season clothes”. And no lack of umbrellas or raincoats.
We cannot guarantee that you will be the only tourist in London, especially if there is a holiday or bridge in the country of origin, such as the December bridge, because London is a year-round travel destination.
In fact, if it’s a holiday in the UK the tourists you meet may well be local, especially families with children in museums.
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2.- How to get to London from the airport (whatever it is)
From Spain, you have direct flights to London from many of the main cities in our country. We recommend the use of a search engine for cheap flights to find the best price.
If you fly to London, you won’t get to the city from a nearby airport, not two or three, but six! The city of London is close to or served by Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southend and, most exclusively, London City.
Heathrow Airport, 27 km from London. From Heathrow Airport to London you can travel by train, either the Heathrow Express or Heathrow Connect, by Metro, by National Express bus, by taxi or by rental car. You can find more details and information in our article on how to get from Heathrow airport to central London.
Gatwick Airport, 45 km from London. From Gatwick Airport to London you can travel by Gatwick Express train, National Express bus, Terravision, Easybus, rental car or taxi. You can find more details and information in our article on how to get from Gatwick airport to central London.
Luton Airport, 51 km from London. From Luton Airport to London you can travel by Thameslink train, bus (from several companies, the main ones are National Express and Green Line), taxi or rental car. You can find more details and information in our article on how to get from Luton airport to central London.
Stansted Airport, about 50km from London. From Stansted Airport to London you can travel by Stansted Express or London Stopping Service train, Easybus bus, National Express or Terravision, taxi or car hire. You can find more details and information in our article on how to get from Stansted airport to central London.
Southend Airport, 58 km from London. From Southend airport to London you can travel by train from the private operator Abellio Greater Anglia or by bus from different companies, such as Arriva Southend. You can find more details in the corresponding section of the Southend Airport website.
London City Airport, 11 km from the centre of London. The nearest airport to London has a DLR (Docklands Light Railway) station, a stop for several city bus lines and, of course, the option of arriving or leaving by taxi or rental car.
If you buy The London Pass and Oyster Card together (I’ll tell you about it later), with home delivery, you can travel to central London if you have landed at Heathrow Airport and travel by underground to the centre. If you have landed at the exclusive London City Airport, also using the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) trains. If you land in Gatwick, there’s no advantage to using the card. From Luton or Stansted airports, transportation is not covered by this card.
You can check out this link for private transfer options to London from any of its airports or use our car rental price comparator if you decide to rent it from the airport.
Before buying a ticket to fly to London keep in mind that this country will soon leave the European Union and the terms, hard Brexit or soft Brexit, are not very clear yet. It is important that you carefully review the official website of the British Government dedicated to visiting the United Kingdom after Brexit. Today, until there is official information to the contrary, EU citizens can and will continue to visit London, i.e. the UK, without a visa.
You can check here if you need a visa for the UK if your passport is from another country.
3.- Advice on accommodation in London
From end to end of the capital, London is full of hotels to suit all budgets, but once the budget is taken into account the next question is which area is best to stay in London.
For a first time in London, and perhaps without much time to visit, the best thing would be to stay in Central London, an area that spans approximately from the V&A Museum and Hyde Park to the Brick Lane market and the Tower of London area, always on the north bank of the Thames.
If you are particularly interested in shows and theatre, the area where you can find accommodation is Covent Garden.
You can select your accommodation in London in this map in which you can introduce the dates of your trip, thus obtaining an immediate budget:
Although it is possible that depending on how modern or international your hotel is, it has already been taken into account, UK sockets are not like those in Spain.
As a general rule you will need an adapter like this to be able to connect to the network the chargers of your electronic equipment (although there is also a trick with the English plugs).
4.- Security advice in London
London is a very safe city, but these days you are not exempt from travelling to a destination where there is an incident.
However, the usual travel precautions are common to London and other destinations:
Keep the emergency phone handy in case anything happens to you. In the UK you’d have to dial 999 or 112.
In the UK driving is on the left side, be careful when crossing pedestrian crossings in London and look in the right direction.
I am one of those who prefer the sounds of fate, even if some of them are not exactly melodies, rather than taking music from home with me. Translation: If you wear your headphones, you will be more distracted and exposed to theft or accidents.
Standing on the street with an open map is like having a sign that says “I’m a tourist”. Whether it’s on your mobile or on paper, if you have to consult an address, it’s better to move a little to do so.
Use caution when withdrawing cash from an ATM, covering the keypad when prompted for your PIN and checking that no one is too close by to observe what you are doing.
If you go out and drink, be careful with your wallet in crowded pubs. And if you drink too much, you’d better get back to your accommodation on private transport. I have nothing against buses, but in that state and in a city you don’t know, it’s better not to discover that you got off at a stop on the other side of London when there are no more buses or subways.
Never leave your bag, backpack or bag (closed, of course) out of reach. Not only do you run the risk of never seeing her again, you could also be causing an unnecessary alarm situation for the security services. And if you see any suspicious bags, report them to the police.
Download the “Citizen Aid” app for information on how to react to all types of incidents in London, particularly suitable for issues of possible knife incidents. It’s available for Android and iOS.
Take out travel insurance. Even if you have a European medical card, even if you think that nothing will happen to you, a travel insurance helps you both for a delay in your flight and with an appendicitis. We recommend the IATI travel insurance with a 5% discount if you contract it through the link.
5.- Advice on transport in London
In London you will most likely move by Metro (for experience and speed) and by bus (no one escapes the temptation to climb upstairs), but they are not the only transport alternatives.
In addition to consulting Google Maps, plan your journey by public transport from one point to another, with the official Transport for London website, the authority that regulates public transport in London by bus, metro, DLR, TFL, London Overground, Emirates Air Line (which is a cable car), TfL Rail, Tram, Boat, etc.
Whether it’s your first time in London or if you repeat, you’re more than likely to move around a lot and not just walk. To save on public transport, you’re interested in an Oyster Card, the easiest, rechargeable way to get around London. Here you have the link to our article about the Oyster Card for you to see its advantages.
Keep in mind that public transport in London works in some cases with a system of zones, in others with timetables and in others no matter the time or the distance. In the TFL website that I mentioned before, you will be able to access information of interest in both cases.
At the time of purchasing your ticket, there is no cash payment in most methods of transport (Metro and Bus included). In addition to the Oyster Card and other local modalities, electronic payment is accepted with “contactless” cards (you know, contactless, those that have an icon that looks like the WiFi signal) or mobile payment systems (Apple Pay, Barclaycard Contactless Mobile, bPay, Fitbit Pay, Garmin Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay).
Please note that you are making a transaction in a currency other than the euro, so your bank may charge you a currency exchange fee or your mobile payment may not work properly.
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It may seem a truism but whether in London or anywhere else with a subway, step aside so as not to stand in the way of the escalators that you walk up instead of waiting to get to the end.
6.- Tips on essential places to see in London
The London Pass offers free admission to London’s most important museums and points of interest, or discounts for them and many activities. You may find it more useful than paying for tickets separately, so read our article on The London Pass to see what’s included.
London has many interesting attractions with free access, if they suit your tastes, it won’t cost you anything to visit the British Museum, Natural History Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum, Museum of London and others. Check the website of each one you are interested in to see if this is the case.
One of London’s most eye-catching attractions is the Changing of the Guard ceremony and it is free of charge. Although it happens on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 10:45, you can confirm in this link the calendar of the Change of the Guard in case any event or act could alter it.
Skipping lines is possible at many attractions with a slightly more expensive entrance (or at some of those that are included in The London Pass card). Look for “Fast Track”, “Skip the Line” or similar when you buy a ticket and value the price difference.
The London Pass includes a tourist cruise on the Thames, so you can see from the river, with a different point of view, attractions such as the London Eye Ferris wheel or the Tower of London.
For another unique perspective of London, a basically flat city geographically speaking, don’t forget to read our article on the 18 places that offer the best views of London (includes a large and free viewpoint ex profeso on the 35th floor of a central skyscraper).
7.- Tips on eating and dining in London
Having been the epicentre of a global Empire means that London has a population of very diverse origin, which has brought its own culinary customs. London, beyond stereotypes about British food, is a true gastronomic capital of the world.
Get used to new meal times. London starts lunch at 12 – 12:30 and dinner from 6 – 6:30 pm. No dinner at 11pm except at street stalls or a few places.
If you’re in a hurry because you want to see as much of London as possible, don’t eat sitting down or sit down to rest and eat in a public place, because London is full of fast food stalls of all kinds. At noon, check out the supermarkets and you’ll find sandwiches, fries and drinks for 3 – 5 pounds.
If you prefer not to eat to devote even more time to visits, the two key words are “English Breakfast”. That breakfast can be included in the price of your hotel room or available at a nearby bar or restaurant. The combination of bacon, eggs, tomato, mushrooms, toast, sausages, black pudding and sweet beans guarantees you energy for many hours.
Pubs usually serve simple, unpretentious food at no high cost. The Wetherspoon pub chain is a safe bet to fill your stomach without emptying your wallet.
Markets such as Borough Market or Camdem, in addition to being points of interest on a visit, have areas where small restaurants are concentrated and stalls that offer a variety of food at a cheaper price (but tourist) than other food establishments outside them.
At the expense of early dining, usually between 5:30 and 7:30, or afternoon, there are restaurants that offer a “pre-theatre menu” at a special price, and you are not required to show tickets for a function to the waiter.
Tipping in restaurants is usually 10 – 15%. Check in the ticket that there is no longer a “service charge” or you will be paying it twice. If you pay by credit card, you are usually offered the option of separating the part of the tip even if it is added to the total.
8.-Tips on what to buy in London
Although the pound sterling has been rising against the euro as Christmas approaches, it is now at around 1.18 Eur, far from the time when it doubled the value of the EU currency.
It’s typical to take home replicas of Big Ben, fridge magnets with the metro map or phone booth moneyboxes that you can find for sale on every corner, but if you want to buy original things in London, here’s a list of interesting items that will catch your eye when you give them away.
An umbrella from James Smith & Sons, a shop that opened in 1830 and only sells umbrellas and canes.
A cardboard theatre by Benjamin Pollock’s Toy shop, a peculiar form of popular home entertainment in the 19th century that this toy store has been selling since the end of that century.
A packet, or two, of Fortnum & Mason tea purchased at Fortnum & Mason’s London store, preferably after you’ve enjoyed a cup of authentic Fortnum & Mason tea there.
A hat, for gentleman or lady, from Lock & Co. Hatters, hatters since 1676 that will melt the coldest hipster with emotion.
A stuffed Paddington bought at the Paddington store at the Paddington station, of course.
A bottle of gin from the London City Distillery, because the alcoholic beverage that has dethroned other combinations in our bars recently was already popular in 18th century Britain.
A Harry Potter magic wand at the Harry Potter Store on Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross. Also available all kinds of paraphernalia for fans of the (no longer so) young magician.
A vinyl record by Sister Ray Records, a store that has been open for more than 30 years in London’s Soho.
9.- The best tours in London
We have given you many tips and clues to explore London on your own, but whether it’s because it’s easier than buying tickets, for convenience or for whatever reason (we don’t get involved in everyone’s tastes), you also have many options, and advantages, by taking a tour of London from among those we have selected for you.
My personal recommendation is that you combine the free visits, the visits included in The London Pass and some tour in Spanish to discover the best of London.
Tours to discover the best of London:
Tickets/tours to museums and points of interest in London:
10.-Best excursions from London
If you’ve spent a few days in London and you have time, or you already know the city well, you can explore other options in the surrounding area, either by your own means, by public transport or by taking a tour.
In the latter case, here you have our recommended excursions from London, to discover urban or natural corners of the English countryside.
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