Oh London, I could probably write an entire book about what to do and still not cover half of it. London is the most iconic and visited city in the United Kingdom, and with the variety of gorgeous landmarks, amazing restaurants and vibrant nightlife, it’s easy to understand why. There are so many epic things to do in London that it can be pretty overwhelming for a first time traveler. After countless trips to the British capital I’ve explored a lot of it already. However, as there’s always something new to discover, the city keeps bringing me back for more. If you are wondering how many days to spend in London, the answer is: as many as possible. As that isn’t always possible, I feel that five days gives you the perfect amount of time to explore the highlights, different neighborhoods and some hidden gems, without feeling too stressed. London’s obviously calling, so here are my tips for an epic city trip to the Big Smoke. Enjoy yourselves mates!
The London Highlights
When thinking of London, double-decker buses, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben are images that immediately come to mind. If you’ve never been to London, here are some famous London landmarks you’ll want to tick off your list.
Of all the royal palaces in Great Britain, Buckingham Palace is the most famous one. It became the center of court during the rule of Queen Victoria in 1837 and has been home to the Kings and Queens of England ever since. For most of the year, the palace is closed off to the public. So, this stop is mostly just to admire the outside of the palace and snap some photos. However, from late July through September, the palace open its doors. Tickets must be booked in advance for a designated timeslot.
Trafalgar Square is a large public square built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. In the center of the square you can find Nelson’s Column. This was built to honor Admiral Nelson after his victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The National Gallery is also located upon Trafalgar Square.
Big Ben & The Houses of Parliament (Westminster Palace)
Big Ben & The Houses of Parliament are the No.1 thing to do on all London first time visitors’ list. They are the symbol of the city! Big Ben is the bell tower, next to the parliament building. When completed, in 1859, it was the largest and most accurate chiming clock in the world. The Palace plays an important role in England’s political life at it’s the meeting place for the House of Commons and the House of Lords (the two houses of the Parliament). Unfortunately it’s not possible to visit Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament on the inside.
Whether you’re an architecture lover, history buff or literature fan, Westminster Abbey is a must see. This gothic masterpiece has been the setting for royal marriages and coronations for hundreds of centuries. Because of the very long waiting times, I highly suggest buying advance tickets online. If you want to visit.
If you’re into super touristy things, you’ll love the London Eye. The famous ferris wheel is one of the tallest observations wheels in the world and offers you a bird’s-eye view over the city. Personally I haven’t feel the need to go up.
Tower Bridge & the Tower of London
Tower Bridge is London’s most famous Bridge. It was built in the late 19th century, and has two pathways. The lower one is for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, and the upper one, with a glass floor, only for pedestrians.
Right next to Tower Bridge, on the north side of the Tames, lays The Tower of London. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most visited landmarks in the city. The historic castle served as a prison and royal residence. Now, it is a museum and open to the public. The Crown Jewels are probably the most famous attraction, though you can also learn a lot about England´s history.
St Pauls Cathedral
St Pauls is another remarkable landmark in London, with its famous dome dominating the city skyline for over 300 years. The cathedral has a long history and has been re-built and restored numerous times throughout the years.
Go see a Westend musical
Let’s talk Westend musicals! For the longest time a visit to London included several musicals for me and my family. I’m not gonna share a list of all the musicals we saw, because believe me, it’s quite the list. However I would definitely recommend, to go see a show, as it’s such a lovely experience. My favorites were Mamma Mia (obviously), Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Jersey Boys. If you have the chance to see any of these, take it! You won’t regret it, I promise.
Get your cultural fix at one of the museums
Ok, so I should probably tell you guys, that I have never visited a museum in London before. Not that I’m not interested (on the contrary), but I always end up short in time. I could have for sure reduced my shopping sprees, but hey priorities right? Anyhow, London offers a lot of interesting museums and what’s even nicer is that most of them are absolutely free to visit. On my list, and all free of charge, are the British Museum, Tate Modern, National Gallery and the National History Museum. I would also love to visit the Churchill War Rooms (£28). For the full list make sure to check out the Visit London website.
Neighborhoods to explore
If you’ve ticked off all of the main tourist attractions, it might be time to venture somewhere outside of the city center. For me personally, the most fun part of about getting to know a city, is exploring various neighborhoods. And on that note, London truly offers something for everyone.
Notting Hill is one of my favorite neighborhoods in London. It’s easily one of the most beautiful parts of the city. With its well-maintained homes with bright colored walls, doors and flowers, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream. Take a stroll down Notting Hill’s Portobello Road, home to Portobello Market, the world’s largest antique market.
When it comes to London neighborhoods Chelsea is hard to beat! With great shopping facilities, colorful houses and river views, this area is one of the most desirable ones in the city. King’s Road, Chelsea’s main street, is filled with lovely boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The side streets are also super pretty! Make sure to check out Clover Mews, Bywater Street and Godfrey Street for cute lanes and adorable rainbow houses.
Kensington is one of the fancier parts of London. It’s where you’ll find Kensington Palace (Kate & William’s residence), the Natural History Museum, Harrods and the Royal Albert Hall. Visiting the pretty Mews of Kensington is a must. This way you can also get a better feel about the residential part of the city.
The artsy neighborhood of Shoreditch has a hipster vibe and offers something completely different from touristy London. There’s an eclectic range of restaurants, bars, local vintage shops and boutiques. The most important reason to check out Shoreditch is the street art. The murals are very eye-catching and unique, and they’re always changing.
Camden is known for being the epicenter of all things alternative. It’s a really interesting spot to explore. Camden is mostly famous for the open-air Camden Market, which sells alternative and goth clothing, London souvenirs, food and other goods.
St Katharine’s Docks
Another favorite area of mine, especially during summer, is the area around the St Katharine’s Docks. This cozy, little marina is located east of Tower Bridge and is a peaceful break for the hustle and bustle from the rest of the city. It’s the perfect place to watch the boats and the world go by, while enjoying a cocktail or cool beer from a terrace.
Shop till you drop!
Regent Street, Carnaby Street & Oxford Street
Regent Street is the long curved road which connects Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and is one of London’s major shopping streets. Here’s where you’ll find the more high-end, luxury and designer brands.
Off Regent Street is Carnaby Street which has more independent fashion boutiques, compared to the high-end designer shops on Regent Street. At the top of Regent Street you’ll come across Oxford Circus. Take a right or left at the junction and you’re now on London’s biggest and most famous shopping street… Oxford Street; aka my shopping paradise.
Covent Garden & 7 Dials
Covent Garden offers the best shopping possibilities in London’s West End. From Apple to Tom Ford and Mulberry to Paul Smith, the area offers a unique mix of global and independent brands, curated to satisfy every shopping need.
Seven Dials is a combination of seven atmospheric streets that link Covent Garden to Soho. It’s the place to be for international flagships, independent boutiques and concepts stores, renowned beauty salons, award-winning restaurants and a vibrant selection of cafes, bars and pubs. I honestly can’t go to London without spending some time (and money ;p) there.
Harrods is London’s most iconic and beautiful department store. The store has eight floors showcasing the finest products in food, fashion, homeware and technology. Don’t miss the famous Harrods Food Hall! Every year from mid-October until the end of December, there’s also a giant Christmas department. Christmas World is filled with Christmas decorations and festive inspiration, you’ll find everything you need for a magical celebration.
Breakfast, Brunch & Coffee
26 Grains – Located in Neal’s Yard. On the menu you can mostly find porridges. Try the Banana Cacao Porridge, you’ll love it!
Eggbreak – If you are looking for a cute brunch spot in Notting Hill, Eggbreak is where you need to be. The pancakes are absolutely amazing!
Pret A Manger – When in London I often stop by Pret A Manger. It’s nothing fancy and definitely not Instagrammable, but if you’re on the go and looking for a quick, cheap and delicious bite, Pret A Manger does the trick! You can find them all over town. Love their Tuna Sandwiches and Chocolate Mousse.
Muriel’s Kitchen – Located inside the National Gallery. I frequented the restaurant when it was still at its South Kensington location and really loved it. On the menu you can find British classics, with a modern twist. The Eggs Royale are super yummy!
Natural Kitchen – All day long food-serving concept with a focus on healthy meals. Went there for brunch on Easter and the Eggs Royale were so delicious! You can find Natural Kitchen throughout various locations around the city. We went to the St Katharine’s Docks venue.
Elan Café – If you love pink and flower walls, chances are that you have already heard of Elan Cafes. The group has cafes in Paris, Milan, Riyadh, Doha, Dubai and several in London.
Peggy Porschen – Peggy Porschen, is one of the prettiest cafes in London. There are 2 great reasons to go there: the lovely pink facades and the adorable and yummy cupcakes. Being the chocolate lover that I am, I decided to go for the Chocolate Heaven cupcake, and honey, if that’s what heaven tastes like, can I stay there?
Lunch & Dinner
Gloria – One of the restaurants of the ever-popular Big Mamma Group. Try the Girella Bolognese, so yummy!
Kilikaya Restaurant – Lovely Turkish restaurant located in the marina of the St-Katharine’s Dock. The food is really good and the owners are super friendly.
Coppa Club – I had seen plenty of pictures about this restaurant on ‘The Gram’, but in real live the place is even more fun. During summer their insta-famous igloos have melted away and made place for Tulum themed ‘Paradise Pods’. The Coppa Club is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so the menu is very elaborate. The view upon Tower Bridge; unbeatable!
Nando’s – Home of the legendary South African flame-grilled PERi-PERi chicken and sauces. It’s more of a fast-casual dining experience than a gourmet meal. That said; I love their burgers. My favorite is by far the Butterfly Burger. Nando’s is scattered all around the British capital!
Big Easy – Serves traditional Louisiana BBQ & fresh lobster. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in London. The ribs are so good! There are several locations all around the city (Covent Garden, Chelsea, Canary Wharf) The vibe is also pretty cool. Every night there are life country and blues performances taking place.
Sketch – This two star Michelin restaurant is located in the trendy Mayfair neighborhood. It consists of 5 separate restaurants and bars, each with their own interior, character and menu. We had a delicious lunch at The Glade. The décor was truly magical (think enchanted forest).
Borough Market is a must visit food market for every traveler. It’s a big space with lots of different food and produce vendors, coffee shops and restaurants. Borough Market is located at the Southern base of London Bridge and is open every day except for Sundays.
Where to stay?
The Tower Hotel is, (scout’s honor) the best hotel I’ve stayed at in London. The lovely four star hotel offers the most amazing views upon Tower Bridge, The Shard and St Katharine’s Dock. With its 800 guest rooms, it’s a large hotel, but the service remains personal and super friendly. The breakfast buffet is one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had! Thanks to its convenient location and amazing service, The Tower is not a cheap hotel to stay at. If you’re lucky to find a reasonable rate, don’t think twice and book your room. You’ll thank my later.
Another great option is the Park Plaza County Hall London. The hotel is part of the Radisson Hotels and is perfectly situated to explore the South Bank of the River Thames. The London Eye, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben are all located upon walking distance from the hotel. As is Waterloo Station. We stayed in one of the Superior Rooms and it was really spacious and comfortable.
• The most easy (and my preferred) way to travel to London from Brussels, Lille and Paris is by Eurostar. The trains arrive at London St-Pancras International. The train station is located in the heart of Central London with several underground connections available, so travel to the rest of the city is fast and easy.
• London has six (!) airports: London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, London City, London Luton and London Southend. More information on travelling from the airport to London Central can be found on Visit London.
• To travel around the city, I would recommend to use to use the tube. London is extremely walkable, but not all highlights are close to each other and if you want to give your feet a break now and down, this is the way to go! I have an Oyster card, but nowadays you can also use your credit card to pay. That is, if your bank card shows the contactless payment symbol, you can use it to pay as you go straight away. Both through credit card pay and Oyster you can travel as much as you like in one day or week (Monday to Sunday) and they’ll cap your fares so you pay the most profitable rate. If you use contactless, always use the same credit card or Oyster. If you don’t, they can’t cap your fares. London’s metro system is cheap, easy to use and runs super frequently. But always remember… to mind the gap 😉
• Currency: British Pound (£)