This ultimate guide to visiting London will give you insider London tips and help you plan a great visit to London whether your are on a budget, spree and luxury trip. Whether you are visiting London for the first time or the hundredth time this ultimate guide will give you insider tips and tricks. In this post, I will answer the most common tourist questions about visiting London. Whether you want to know How long to spend in London? What to do in London? Where to eat in London? Where to stay in London? The best time to visit London, How to spend 48 hours in London, What to do in London for free, What the best London Attractions are for families, What to do on a rainy day in London or want some insider London tips to help you get the best out of our trip, you have certainly come to the right place.
How many days do you need in London?
Obviously how long to spend in London is personal choice, but for your first visit I would allow at least 2 days if you want to see the sights, have a lovely afternoon tea, watch a West End show, do some shopping and experience a taster of everything London has to offer at a pace that allows you to relax and take it all in rather than rush around. London is a large city with events and attractions that are ever changing. I have lived near and visited London all my life and there is still so much I have not managed to see and do yet. The best advice is to set your priorities, which I can help you with, and make sure you see and do those things first.
Sightseeing in London – what you should not miss!
First things first, make sure you visit:
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
St Paul’s Cathedral
Tower of London
When planning your sightseeing make sure you arrive at Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards.
Changing the Guard, also known as Guard Mounting, takes place outside Buckingham Palace on certain days from 10.45am and lasts around 45 minutes, with the actual handover taking place at 11am.
This free London event is very popular, so be sure to arrive early to secure a spot with a good view. The changing of the guard does not happen every day so make sure you check the Household Divisions Website for up to date information.
July – September Buckingham Palace is opened up to visitors and you can go inside and visit the state rooms. Combine this with a trip to the Royal Mews to see the Gold State Coach, carriage horses and Diamond Jubilee State Coach.
Time your visit to Big Ben for just before 12pm so you hear the most bongs!
Avoid expensive entry fees to Westminster Abbey by visiting at 5pm daily (except Wednesdays) for Evensong. Entry via the Great West Door.
If you want to see the Crown Jewels then head to the Tower of London where you can discover London’s castle and fortress – the Crown Jewels is the world-famous collection of 23,578 gemstones boasts items that are still used in royal ceremonies today. The Crown Jewels have been housed at the Tower of London since 1661.
Think about what sort of time of year you would like to visit London.
The best times to visit London are subjective of course. Personally I love to visit in early December when there is a large Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square traditionally gifted to London by Norway. Christmas lights are everywhere, but visit Oxford Street and Regent Street for the most elaborate Christmas lights and festive window displays, winter wonderland in Hyde Park and lots of Christmas markets. The temperature in London in December is at least predicable too – cold with a high possibility of either rain or snow!
June also a lovely time to visit London although the weather in London in June can be unpredictable – you could expect anything from a heatwave to thunderstorms, but the temperature is a least warmer so even if it rains it doesn’t tend to be too cold. In June the championships are on at Wimbledon and if you enter the ballot between the previous August and December you may have been lucky enough to have had the offer of buying tickets. If you are unsuccessful in the ballot then a ground pass for a day in the first week of the championship is easy to get hold of by queuing on the morning you wish to attend. A ticket resale for Centre and number 1 Court tickets for charity usually means you can visit Centre Court for the last match/matches of the day at a fraction of the usual price as long as you are prepared to do the very British pastime of queueing! There is usually an opportunity to queue overnight for Centre Court and number 1 Court tickets too, however this did not happen in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, so its best to check the current information before you head off with your tent in tow!
Afternoon Tea in London is such a special treat and I would recommend either The Savoy or The Ritz for an upmarket relaxed afternoon tea. They do both get very busy so booking is essential. If you are on a tight budget and afternoon tea is not affordable then on a nice day grab a cake from a supermarket such as Tesco or Sainsburys, a take away coffee from Costa and go and sit in a nice spot in St. James Park. On a rainy day treat yourself to a coffee and cake in Paul’s Patisserie or Patisserie Valerie; both reasonably priced.
A West End show is a must for every theatre lover. Most shows follow a regular performance schedule so if there is a particular show you would like to see it’s best to check their timetable to plan your trip around the days the show is on. If you are on a budget and want to experience a West End show there usually half price tickets sold on the day via Londontheatre.com or the half price ticket booth in Leicester Square. The best seats for the big shows tend to sell out in advance so I would advise booking ahead of time if you there is something that you really want to see.
What are the best West End shows?
My favourite West End Shows are Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Lion King, Mamma Mia and Matilda. London theatres usually have a minimum age for entry and a minimum recommended age for the show unless you are seeing a show specifically aimed at very young children such as What the Ladybird Heard.
What are the best restaurants in London?
London has a huge variety of restaurants that cater for all tastes and budgets. I would always advise booking restaurant reservations ahead of time as they can get very busy. In my opinion the best London restaurants for families are The Hard Rock Cafe, the rainforest cafe and Planet Hollywood. The best restaurants for couples are The Savoy Grill, The Ivy Covent Garden and of course Simpsons on the Strand for a lovely Sunday Roast. If you are on a tight budget there are always plenty of McDonald’s in London!
The best London attractions
The most popular London attractions are the London Eye, Madam Tussauds, natural history museum, science museum, Tower of London, the Sea life Centre and Shrek’s Adventure in London. I prefer Madam Tussauds and whenever I have friends of family visiting London for the first time, I always make sure I take them as tourists all seem to love having their photos with all the celebrity waxworks.
What is the best way to travel around London?
The best way to travel around Central London, if able, is to walk. The London Underground is convenient and efficient (usually), but as a tourist you miss so much by being underground. London has so many statues, parks and interesting to things to see that I always think the best way to get about in a first time visit to London is by foot!
Where is the best place to stay in London?
This is perhaps the most difficult question for me to answer as I love so many London hotels. If you have a healthy budget and want to splurge on a luxury stay then I would recommend staying at The Savoy Or The Dorchester. If you would prefer a budget hotel to use a base then a holiday inn express or a Premier Inn would probably suit you better. A great mid-price hotel is the Chelsea Harbour Hotel – it is an all suite hotel and is a short tube/train or tube/Black taxi ride from central London. The hotel has a spa and a swimming pool in addition to great views over the Harbour. The Chelsea Harbour Hotel provides a quiet base away from the hustle and bustle of the City Centre.