I took my first trip to London a couple of weeks ago, and it was everything I wanted it to be. The only thing I would have changed was the length of the trip — four days is not long enough to see Shakespeare’s Globe, Big Ben, the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, all the other amazing 170 museums, Abbey Road, Madame Tussauds, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace…okay the list goes on, but you get the point.
So my first tip for travelling London is something I’ll definitely be taking into account on my next trip…
1. Take your time!
Next time I go to London, I would like to be there for at least two weeks. There is just so much to see, and I like being able to go at my own pace. However, this is not always possible.
So, if you find yourself in the same predicament as I did, with only a few days to cram in as much of London as you can, here are a couple more words of advice that will help you make the most of your time.
2. See the important stuff
Obviously, the “important stuff” is different for everyone, but figure out a few things that you really have to see, then some things that would be nice to see, and then you’ll feel more relaxed as you make your way around this amazing city.
This doesn’t mean you have to create a strict schedule, everyone has their own travel style, but it’s still a good idea to have a few things in mind ahead of time so you won’t be disappointed thinking back on what you should have done. Here are a couple of really great things that I suggest you make time for:
Camden Market is a great place to go shopping in a non-traditional way. There are literally hundreds of shops and outdoor market areas that cater to a variety of different tastes. My favorite was the Camden Stables Market, a great place to find artsy, vintage stuff as well as delicious food. I would recommend looking through several shops before buying anything– sometimes the further in you go, the lower the prices!
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is also a must-see in my opinion. Unfortunately, the plays sell out a few days in advance most of the time. But Rick Steves suggests waiting around outside during one of the plays. There are standing room tickets and sometimes people leave halfway through the play. We didn’t give it a try this time, but you could someone leaving if you could buy their ticket off them at a reduced price, or maybe just get it for free.
3. Stay in a good, central location
I stayed in Hyde Park, at Astor Hyde Park Hostel, and it was great. It was just a short walk from a tube station, and an even shorter walk to the Natural History Museum, and right next to the absolutely beautiful Hyde Park (I could have used up an entire day just wandering around this amazing place). They serve free breakfast every morning and the bathrooms are clean!
4. Get an Oyster card
What’s an Oyster Card, you might ask? You can find out more here. Basically, it’s your key to the public transportation system in London. You can get them almost anywhere, but getting one at the train station when you arrive is probably the easiest way to do it.
Editor’s note: Since this article was first published, London Transport now allows any contactless payment for public transport: Apple and Google Pay, and any contactless payment cards can be used for tube, bus and many trains. Oyster cards are still available, and can make neat souvenirs.
5. Talk to people
I’ve found that one of the best ways to find out interesting stuff is simply by talking to people. If you’re staying in a hostel, it’s great to meet people in the lounge or at breakfast. I almost always end up meeting a few interesting people who can give me advice or even want to tag along or show me some cool places.
The hostel staff is also normally very knowledgeable about the area and will give you insider tips if you just ask. You can also just talk to the locals! I found that many Londoners are very open and friendly, and who better is there to tell you about a place than someone who lives there!
I hope your trip to London is as great as mine was! Happy traveling!