London is a bustling, vibrant city filled with incredible history, creativity and education. There are endless shops, museums and historical attractions, as well as some of the oldest and most traditional pubs in the world.
If I had to describe London in a visual sense, a few things would come to mind such as bright red telephone boxes on every street corner, black cabs weaving in and out of traffic, murky water running through the Thames, flocks of pigeons and tourists in the most popular spots, and grey clouds hanging over the city.
I spent five days in London, which was not nearly enough time to see and do everything. However, I did manage to tick off a majority of my bucket list items. I would love to return to London at some point in the future to explore some of the less touristy parts and to fully immerse myself in the culture of the city. Below is your complete guide to London including which attractions to see, how to get around and where to stay.
Money: The local currency in London is the British Pound. 1 pound is equal to around 1.80 AUD, which means that unfortunately you will loose money to the exchange rate. I would suggest swapping over some Aussie dollars before you go, or invest in a travel money card.
Cost: London is an expensive city and popular tourist attraction so keep in mind that you may end up spending a little bit extra than what you normally would back home. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s probably a good idea to think about how much money you want to spend each day in advance.
Size: London is HUGE and it would be impossible to see everything in just one day. I would suggest spending at least one week in London to realistically tick everything off your bucket list.
Weather: The weather in the UK can be quite unpredictable. I was visiting towards the end of summer and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt one day and jeans and a jacket the next. If you decide to visit during the warmer seasons, I would recommend packing some heavier clothing just in case.
Things to do
Located in the heart of London is one of the most vibrant and bustling places in the whole city. Trafalgar Square is famous for its beautiful fountains, a 50 metre-tall marble statue called the Lord Nelson, and the National Gallery. Take a seat at the fountains, watch the world go by and spot some creative street art.
The Queen’s sweet pad, which also serves as headquarters to the monarch of the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace is definitely a must-see if you ever find yourself in London. Get there before 11am to watch the changing of the guards ceremony, which occurs daily and lasts up to 30 minutes. However, be prepared for it to be absolutely packed full of people.
Covent Garden is a shopper’s dream if you’re into luxury fashion and beauty. Head to Long Acre Road and Seven Dials for popular, British high-fashion stores and some of the UK’s best beauty brands. Covent Garden is also known for its amazing food and entertainment, with crowds gathering in the Covent Garden Piazza to watch street performers and buskers. You’ll also find the Covent Garden Market and the Jubilee Market located in the Piazza where there are tonnes of cool things from antiques to arts and crafts and souvenirs to discover. Fans of the opera and ballet should check out the Royal Opera House, which is open during the day for the general public and ticket holders during performances.
Before I visited London, I always thought the River Thames was pronounced exactly how it is spelt. Of course I was shocked to learn that the correct pronunciation is actually ‘tems,’ so now you won’t sound like a total idiot like I did. Anyway, there is SO much to see and do on the Thames including boat rides and cruises and some of London’s most popular attractions are located on the river. You’ll find Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament within close distance of the Thames.
Tower of London
The Tower of London- once served as a fortress, prison, armoury and even a zoo- is now a popular tourist attraction, located on the north bank of the River Thames. The Tower is a powerful symbol of British heritage that has quite the grim reputation associated with torture and death. By entering the Tower you can learn all about its bloody history- including the executions of King Henry VIII and his wife Anne Boleyn and visit the White Tower where the crypt of St John’s Chapel is located. Apparently the Tower is also super haunted, so you might even see a ghost or two! The Tower also houses the Majesty’s Crown Jewels, with the crown that Elizabeth II wore to her coronation among the collection. Entry into the Tower is £22.70 if you buy tickets online and £26.80 for walk-in tickets at the venue.
Take a stroll along the River Thames and you’ll see one of London’s most iconic bridges, the Tower Bridge. It’s free to walk across and you can even climb to the top! Access to the sky bridge is £9.80, where you can get stunning views overlooking the city and the Thames.
Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in London. Some of its highlights include: the Serpentine Lake (popular for boating and swimming), The Diana Fountain (a memorial to Princess Diana, designed to reflect her life), Speakers Corner (a place of free speech, which is usually busy on weekends), and Kensington Gardens, which adjoins Hyde Park on the west. Kensington Gardens is where you’ll find the palace that Princess Diana lived in and various memorials including the Albert Memorial. The Serpentine Art Gallery is also located in the gardens and is worth a visit if you’re a fan of contemporary art. Hyde Park is also a great spot to just sit and relax, grab a bite to eat from one of the many cafes or restaurants, or hire a bike. The park is open daily from 5am- 12am.
The British Museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture and has an amazing collection of artefacts from all over the world. Some of the highlights include the Rosetta Stone, the Pantheon sculptures, the Egyptian mummies, the Enlightenment Gallery and the Easter Island Statue called Hoa Hakananai’a. The best part, it’s free to enter! I would recommend spending at least 2-3 hours here if you plan on seeing a majority of the attractions. The museum is open daily from 10am- 5:30pm (8:30pm on Fridays).
Located in Camden Town is where you’ll find thousands of stalls selling some of the coolest retro and handmade pieces. Camden is often referred to as the ‘creative heart of London,’ with its super quirky, graffiti covered hole-in-the wall bars, also serving as a popular spot where young people (particularly students), go to hang out. The markets are usually the busiest on Sundays, so if you want to avoid the crowds I’d recommend visiting during the week. The markets are open every day from 10am till late.
The London Dungeon
One of my favourite attractions! The London Dungeon is an interactive, scary and all-round entertaining recreation of England’s most gory and macabre events in history. If you’re a huge fan of anything sinister and gruesome (like me), then you’ll absolutely want to do this. Some of the standouts include characters such as Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd, as well as scenes from the plague and the great fire of London. The standard ticket price for entry into the dungeon is £21.00 if you purchase online or £30.00 on the day.
Give it a miss…
Big Ben is currently under construction until August 2021 and is completely covered in scaffolding. If you’re under a time crunch I wouldn’t bother going out of your way to visit. If you happen to be around that area visiting Westminster Abbey or the House of Parliament you’ll see it in the distance anyway.
The London Eye
There will probably be a lot of mixed opinions about whether you should do the Coca-Cola London Eye. In mine, I believe that it offers some absolutely amazing views of the city but for the cost of £25.20, it’s not bloody worth it. This is the sort of attraction I would do once and never again as it’s great for the first five minutes and then pretty boring for the next twenty-five. If you want to do it, I would suggest buying a ticket for the London Eye plus one or more attractions as it works out to be a lot cheaper in the end. There are plenty of places in London that offer spectacular views at a much cheaper price such as the Tower Bridge, the top of St Paul’s Cathedral and the viewing gallery of the Sky Garden.
Tube: One of the easiest ways to navigate around the city is on London’s underground tube. Wherever you are in London, you should be able to find an underground stop within walking distance and a train arriving in 10 minutes or less. The stations are pretty easy to spot as they all have a red and blue circular sign out the front that say ‘underground.’
Oyster card: To use London’s public transport system you will need to purchase an Oyster card for £5.00. You can pick one up from any underground station and top up at the ticket machines. At the end of your trip you can also return the card and get your £5.00 back and any unused credit.
Citymapper app: At first it can be quite daunting to try and navigate your way around such a large and unfamiliar city. I would suggest downloading the Citymapper app to make your life a little bit easier. It’s really easy to use as you just type in where you want to go from your current location and it will bring up numerous options on how to get there, how long it will take and how much it will cost. If you’re catching the tube it will even tell you which line and station you need to get on and off at and where to switch over if you need to.
I stayed at the Generator Hostel, located in Tavistock Place. The hostel was in a decent location as both Russell Square station and Kings Cross station were close by and there was a bus stop out the front. I stayed in a 4-person room, which ended up costing around £50 a night, including breakfast. In my opinion, this was a little bit pricey considering the rooms were tiny with no air conditioning and the shared bathroom and shower facilities weren’t great. The Generator had a good social scene with a bar and restaurant downstairs but I would probably stay somewhere different (and a bit cheaper) next time.