If you’ve decided to head off on a London adventure for the first time, chances are you’re getting excited! The city is packed full of incredible attractions, trendy nightlife, edgy fashion, history and culture.
The only problem is, pick up any guide book and you quickly realise it’s one large city to traverse. Planning in advance helps you make the most of your time and narrow down your options.
To help you on your way, here are the best tips for visiting London for the first time.
1. Go At The Best Time Of Year For You
The weather in London is notoriously fickle. You might bask in the sun overlooking the Thames one minute and rush for an umbrella the next. Therefore, if you’re not one for extreme cold, plan your trip for the warmer months.
No matter which season you choose, pack wisely with options for all temperatures. It doesn’t mean you need to use all your souvenir suitcase space, if you opt for layers and shoes appropriate for any weather.
As for attractions, nightlife, shopping and accommodation, almost everything opens at all times of the year. Therefore, you’re guaranteed a good time, even in the depths of winter.
2. Check Out Transport Options Before You Leave Home
The Underground is a fun, easy way to get around London, however there are options to include other forms of transport, for a great price.
When you get a Visitor Oyster Card before you leave home, you can travel on the entire public transport system. Better still, the card comes with discounts to famous attractions, restaurants and activities.
When you first arrive, kick things off with a free walking tour. This way, you’ll get to see all the hotspots straight away, understand how to get around on foot and badger your tour guide with questions. Most free tours simply request a donation on completion.
3. Do Your Research Before Deciding Where To Stay
Accommodation in London is easy to find, for a range of different budgets. However, prices vary wildly between suburbs, so do some research before choosing the best destination for you.
If you want to be in the thick of the tourist action, West End and Bloomsbury are pricey, but central options.
For those on a budget though, there’s no need to worry. Places like Hampstead, Bayswater and Elephant and Castle offer hostels for great-value prices.
With the excellent public transport links, it’s easy to get to all the major sights. If you love to walk, check out the surrounding shops, restaurants, clubs and markets in each area, to decide if there’s enough to keep you busy near your hostel.
4. Get Recommendations For Great Restaurants And Pubs
London’s food scene offers everything you could possibly wish for, at every price range. Therefore, to avoid overwhelming options and possible high prices, check out websites for restaurants in your area and ask for recommendations at your hostel or hotel.
There’s never any need to jump at the first over-priced café or McDonalds you see. The multi-cultural city serves up Indian, Malaysian, Korean and Turkish food galore.
Alternately, head to one of the city’s markets, like Street Food Union, or a street stall to get your fill of gourmet treats at budget prices.
The best tip of all though, when visiting London for the first time, is to fill up on breakfast and save your travel budget. A normal English Breakfast with eggs, bacon, toast, baked beans and tomato will often last right through to dinner.
5. Make A List Of Attractions You Can’t Miss
With the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and world-class museums, you want to make sure you cover the ‘must-sees’. This will vary from person to person, so do some research on each attraction, before deciding. Trying to fit everything in to a short trip, for example, might mean standing in queues more than doing anything else.
Taking a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour lets you see all the major attractions, at least from the bus. Or, hop on a city cruise on the Thames and jump off at different piers for your chosen sights. A London Pass is a great idea, if your list gets out of control, with over 55 attractions available at fixed rates.
Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for simply getting lost and finding unique experiences. London’s parks are full of people-watching opportunities, buskers and activities. Pubs are often spilling out onto the street with revellers and quirky shopping opportunities hide around every corner.
6. Check Out All The Event Guides In Advance
It’s impossible to run out of choices for a good night out in London, so you’ll need to pick wisely. If you’ve always had a hankering for the theatre, head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to see what’s on and pick up last minute, discount tickets. Then there’s the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe and a wealth of community theatres with fabulous productions on offer.
Live music abounds, in pubs and clubs like the famous Ministry of Sound near Elephant and Castle. Whole neighbourhoods come alive at night, with Soho never failing to draw a bohemian crowd. Sip cocktails at a Convent Garden bar, or try the edgier regions of Shoreditch and Brixton.
However, chances are you’ll just want to pub hop around the local neighbourhoods, make new friends and discover your own fabulous adventures, on your first trip to London.