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A Traveling Insider’s Guide to London

Navigate your next London stay with this expert guide to the English capital. | By Paul Oswell | April 12, 2023

Welcome to London, the capital of England and a global hub with centuries of history, a dynamic arts and culinary scene and superb shopping to enjoy.

In this travel guide, we’ll direct you to the best of London’s many attractions, so that you won’t get lost in the fog. Here are some suggestions for things to do:

  • Catch some culture: From West End musicals to fine art and music festivals, endless cultural opportunities can be found around town

  • Pamper your palate: London's delicious fare can be found in Michelin-starred dining rooms and comforting cafes

  • Learn from the past: From Buckingham Palace to world-class exhibits at The British Museum, there are centuries of history to get lost in

A couple standing on the side walk
Take a leisurely 30-minute ride on the London Eye to soak in the beauty and grandeur of the city.

Why visit London?

People come to London for the culture, history, nightlife and shopping. The West End is the busiest tourist hub, with theaters, musicals and must-visit boutiques on Carnaby Street and around Covent Garden.

Soak up historical and modern architecture throughout the city, including during a stroll along the River Thames, where you can spot a replica of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre and the gleaming skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Buckingham Palace and Tower of London tell the story of the city’s regal past and present. Drink in even more history at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub that dates back to the 1700s, before admiring world-famous landmarks like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.

Dine at Michelin-starred outposts of the world’s best chefs, the stalls of Borough Market or the ethnically diverse eateries of Hackney. London celebrates the differences of its population and visitors, with a thriving LGBTQ+ scene and the sound of multiple languages being spoken on almost every street.

Join the crowds at any number of nightclubs, comedy clubs and music venues year-round or experience art and food festivals over the summer months.

To help get your bearings, consider a ride on the London Eye to look out over the entire city. At 443 feet (135 meters), the London Eye is the largest cantilevered observation wheel in the world. Need a brief respite? Hyde Park, St James’ Park and Regent’s Park all provide sprawling greenery within central London.

Two Women Enjoying Afternoon Tea with Treats
Originally seen as a bridge between light lunches and late dinners, afternoon tea typically occurs between 3-4 p.m.

When is the best time to visit London?

London is busy year-round but the best time to visit is March through May, when a mild spring mean that the city's parks are blooming with flowers. Summer days can also be idyllic, with picnics in the parks and pints in the pub beer gardens. Winter weather can be unpredictable but the lead up to the holiday season is always a magical time with the Oxford Street lights on display — and there’s nothing cozier than a traditional afternoon tea on a chilly day.

Man riding an escalate in the Tube in London.
Hop on the London Underground for a fast and efficient way to get to the city's main attractions.

Getting to and around London

International flights generally land at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest international airport or Gatwick. The other airports, Stansted, Luton and London City mainly serve flights from Europe. Taxis and ride-hailing services are available and all airports offer public transport options via bus or train, while Heathrow and city airports are both on the Underground network.

Once you’ve arrived, much of central London can be easily navigated by foot, which caters to both sightseeing ambitions and being eco-friendly.

For quicker mobility, rechargeable Oyster Cards are valid on buses, trains and the Underground (“the Tube”). London’s iconic double-decker buses are frequent and some routes have amazing sightseeing opportunities. The Tube covers all of London fairly comprehensively but avoid rush hours, and remember that there is very limited service after midnight.

Hail a famous black cab but keep in mind they are relatively expensive and the meter is running when you’re stuck in traffic, though the drivers are highly trained. If you’re thinking of renting a car, don’t. There’s no parking and the congestion charge makes it expensive even just to turn on your engine. Walk as much as you can to avoid these hassles while enjoying the sights and sounds of London.

Two young men at a bookstore.
London often tops the list of best LGBTQ+ destinations and is home to Gay’s The Word, the U.K.’s oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop.

London culture and customs

London is an incredibly diverse city. There are ethnic enclaves from Turkish to South American to Australian across the city, which is also great for fans of global cuisine. Shops are largely open seven days a week and many things are open late, though options for drinks are limited after midnight.

London is a friendly city for LGBTQ+ visitors, with a large summer Pride festival and a big queer scene, mostly around Compton Street in Soho. Clubs such as G-A-Y and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern are well-established gay nightlife venues.

The sheer range of activities and experiences in London is delightfully dizzying, and forward planning is the key. If your time is limited, make your stay memorable by touring a few landmarks, seeing a West End show, booking a fancy restaurant and spending an afternoon in Hyde Park.

Paul Oswell is a British award-winning journalist and published travel author based in New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States. His books include Bucket List North America and The Great American Road Trip, as well as New Orleans' Historic Hotels. He has also been an editor of and contributor to several guide books/editions published by Dorling Kindersley (owned by Penguin), including New Orleans, Florida, Orlando, Los Angeles, California and The United States. His work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure (both of which he has written multiple online travel guides for) and The Guardian, as well as dozens of international newspaper and magazine titles, and inflight magazines for major airlines.

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