England is a country full of old history and contemporary culture, a prime destination for cutting-edge artists, business travelers, state officials, and creatives. Its many cultural and historical attractions make it a prominent place of travel for vacationers. In the heart of it all is London, a bustling city with excursions awaiting.
Whether for the nightlife, the history, food, or sight seeing, London has something for everyone. The transit system is incredibly efficient, allowing you to visit museums, stroll through a botanical garden, see a show, check out famous attractions, and catch the sun set over London from a roof-top all in one day.
Whatever it is that brings your interest to London, it would be ideal for you to know the basics of traveling to London. To help you along before you go on your trip, here is the ultimate starter guide to traveling London.
Where is London?
For those who do not know, the United Kingdom is made up of 4 different countries in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, including Northern Ireland and the 3 countries that make up Great Britain. Great Britain is made up of Scotland, Wales, and England, which is why the Union Jack symbol of Great Britain’s flag combines the Scottish, Welsh, and English flag. In 50 AD, the Roman Empire founded the city of London, deriving its name from the word “londonios,” or “place of the bold one.”
By 407 AD, Saxons pushed out the Roman Empire leaving; however, the Romans held their influence and was the catalyst that converted the Saxons to Christianity. This influence is what built the foundations of the society that brought us the London that we know today. Located at 51.5074° N, 0.1278° W, London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is established near the Southeastern section of England. London sits on the United Kingdom’s second largest river, the River Thames, which funnels out into the North Sea.
What time is it in London?
Like the rest of the British Isles, London resides in the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) timezone, formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). UTC is the time standard in which the rest of the time zones use to reference their own time. In the United States, there are 6 different time zones. Based on your time zone you can easily figure out the time in London. The American timezones and their relation to UTC are as follows:
- Hawaii Standard Time (HST); UTC -10
- Alaska Standard Time (AKST); UTC -9
- Pacific Standard Time (PST); UTC -8
- Mountain Standard Time (MST); UTC -7
- Central Standard Time (CST); UTC -6
- Eastern Standard Time (EST); UTC -5
If you are trying to figure out the exact time of London right now, just find your timezone on the provided list and find your timezone’s relative time to UTC. For example, if you are in the HST timezone, add 10 hours to your current time. From here you no longer need to constantly look up what time it is in London any given moment. Just look at your own time, and use this trick.
What currency does London use?
The pound sterling is the official currency of the United Kingdom and its currency abbreviation is GBP. This is more commonly referred to as the pound, but sometimes referred to as the sterling. In the United States, we have the dollar, and fractions of the dollar are measured as cents. In the United Kingdom, they have a similar notion of having pounds and fractions of pounds, though their counterpart is known as pence.
Furthermore, in the same way that the United States may refer to the dollar as “bucks” in everyday language, the United Kingdom counterpart is referred to as “quid.” The term quid remains constant regardless of singularity or plurality, so whether you have one quid or five quid, the term is never “quids.” The money is denoted with a symbol £, and the distribution of the bills used are £1, £5, £10, £20, £50, £100; although, the £1 and £100 bills are used a bit more rarely than the others. As of the time this article is being written, the GBP is worth 1.29 USD, and has been historically more valuable per note than the USD.
When traveling to London, make sure you have a conversion rate app downloaded on your smart device because the exchange rate often fluctuates, and it will make it easier for you to calculate and budget how much USD you are spending on your travels.
Where to stay in London?
There are many places to stay in London, but London’s luxury hotels are the pinnacle of luxury travel for anyone who is visiting London. Though their price is a bit higher than standard hotel prices, their unique experiences will provide guests with comfort and high quality amenities. They often offer packages with room service, spa amenities, and more. Many visitors to London choose high-end hotels in Mayfair, a section of London best known for its Michelin-star restaurants and designer shopping.
Some of the Luxury hotels may be egregiously overpriced, but there is a set of them that is a bit more affordable. To help you figure out where you are going to stay in London, we have comprised a list of the best luxury hotels available.
What to do in London?
While you are in London, there are endless places to see and things to do. Here, we have compiled a list of some of London’s most noteworthy icons and hidden gems that you can use to fill up your itinerary or use as a checklist. London’s prime attractions include:
The Stonehenge – As one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it is no surprise that a visit to the Stonehenge is often an item on people’s bucket list. Thought it is not in London, there are many tours that will bring you to the Stonehenge from London. It’s only a short drive away, and you can easily use our chauffeur services to get there.
The London Eye – Also known as the Coca-Cola London Eye, this is a massive ferris wheel that resides on the South Bank of the River Thames. From this ferris wheel, you can get yourself a beautiful view of London. Afterwards, you can take a relaxing stroll to take in the sights.
Buckingham Palace – Buckingham Palace is the London residence of the United Kingdom’s monarch, and it acts as a focal point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and mourning. Even without going on a tour inside, you can enjoy Buckingham Palace outside its gates. You can watch the changing of the guards, an iconic tradition that persists today.
Big Ben – This iconic clock tower rings on the hour, every hour, giving the London residence an audio cue of the time. The Big Ben is part and parcel of any visit to London. It’s an architectural mainstay and symbol of British culture.
The Tower of London – Also known as “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace,” this historic castle sits on the north bank of the River Thames in Central London.
Westminster Abbey – This is probably the foremost prominent religious building of the United Kingdom, and it stands as the location for coronations and burials of the British Monarch. The Abbey offers guided tours, but you can also appreciate its beautiful stained glass windows and spiritual aura by yourself.
Palace of Westminster – Basically, the British equivalent of America’s Capitol Building. This is where the House of Commons and House of Lords meet for parliamentary congregations.
Tower Bridge – Another iconic symbol of London, the Tower Bridge is both a suspension bridge and a bascule, and it stretches over the River Thames.
Trafalgar Square – The public square of London, Trafalgar Square was named after the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory during the Napoleonic Wars. It lies right outside the British Museum and The Strand in Central London. There are several monuments here to visit, and you can sit down here for lunch.
Keat’s House – Located in Hampstead, London, this historical home is far apart from large populations of tourists and better suits those looking for an iconic, but more intimate location to visit. It is the Romantic poet John Keat’s home, featuring original manuscripts, lush gardens, and artifacts from the Romantic literary period. It’s a picturesque location for lovers of literature and the tradition of the written word.
The Fan Museum – This hidden location also celebrates tradition, but lies in a more secluded location that’s great for travelers who want to stray off the beaten path, or perhaps need privacy due to holding an esteemed status. The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London walks you through the history of fans around the world dating back to early times of international trade. There is also an orangery for visitors to have afternoon tea – an unmissable part of London culture.
The Freud Museum – The first psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, once lived in London, and this museum in Hampstead Heath houses his famous psychoanalysis couch. The museum features much of Sigmund Freud and daughter Anna Freud’s original furniture, including a botanical garden with descendants from Freud’s original plant array. The museum features guest lectures and guided tours.
Somerset House – Somerset House lies in Central London right on the edge of the Strand, right next to the Thames River and Waterloo Bridge. The building itself is a historical attraction with a neoclassical courtyard. The museum hosts interesting exhibitions, and during the winter time there is even an ice rink.
What to buy in London?
There are countless unique trinkets and souvenirs that you can buy during your trip to London. These souvenirs are all special in their own right, but if you want something a bit more special during your stay, here is a list of unique items you can buy in London to make your visit a bit more memorable.
Umbrella; James Smith & Son – This shop has been manufacturing umbrella’s since the 1830s, and they have spent many years perfecting their craft to making top-tier luxury products. A durable basic with high end construction, these umbrellas are classic.
Vinyl; Sister Ray – With England harvesting a massive array of musical influence from pop bands like The Beatles and Blur, buying a classic vinyl record is a perfect souvenir for fans and music lovers. Take a look at Sister Ray or Rough Trade Records to find first-edition copies of your favorite LPs.
Old-fashioned Toys; Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop – If you want to buy a souvenir for the kids, look no further than one of London’s oldest toy shops. Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden sells old-fashioned toy theatres and shadow boxes in the style of the Victorian Era, gifts that will delight the little ones.
Toys; Hamleys – Another fantastic place for you to find a souvenir for a child. Hamleys is notably more popular and modern than Benjamin Pollock’s, but the toys there are a bit less unique. The Indian-owned British store is one of the largest ever and features toys from all over the world.
Art Supplies; David Penton & Son – For all the artists, this is an art store established in 1841, allowing you to buy a souvenir that is both useful and special. It is located on Marleybone amongst newer shops, but holds true to offering a selection of traditional craftsmen goods.
Antiques; Cecil Court – For antique, one-of-a-kind souvenirs, look no further than Cecil Court. Here you will find a series of shops that specialize in their sale of Victorian and vintage items. It provides a cozy atmosphere to shop for unique pieces with intriguing histories.
What to see in London?
London is, of course, famed for its history of playwrights and theatre performances. Enjoy traditional plays in addition to modern takes on older stories.
The Shakespeare Globe – An exciting venue for thespian-lovers, The Shakespeare Globe is a traditional out-of-doors theatre that’s subject to whatever the weather has in store. They perform Shakespeare plays traditionally, and audience members can stand in the centre or sit in the surrounding ampitheatre.
The Old Vic – This theatre in Waterloo, London features old and new adaptations. They premiere traditional showings of A Christmas Carol and the likes, in addition to historically relevant plays, contemporary dance performances, and more.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre – A short trip away from London in Stratford-upon-Avon, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre performs Early Modern English plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe, and more verbatim but with a modern twist. The production value is high with digital projection and occasional audience interaction.
What to eat in London?
London boasts exquisite British cuisine as well as contemporary interpretation of fare from around the world. Here are just a few culinary treats to add to your list.
Gordon Ramsay’s in Chelsea; 3 Michelin Star Restaurant One of the world’s foremost renowned chefs, Gordon Ramsay has established one of the best restaurants in the world.
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Hyde Park; 3 Michelin Star Restaurant – This restaurant, though it specializes in French cuisine, is another one of the world’s top restaurants. We would recommend that you try out their tasting menu for £140, or their Black Truffle menu £240.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge; 2 Michelin Star Restaurant – This incredible restaurant is quite the culinary adventure. The foods here are unlike anything you will have ever seen or had.
Stinky Cheese; Neal’s Yard Dairy – Working with over 40 different cheesemakers, Neal’s Yard Dairy has perfected their art in cheese making with an array of variety cheeses found nowhere else.
Gin; Jensen’s – If you are a connoisseur of hard drinks, you should try out the London Original, Jensen’s.
Donuts; Bread Ahead – Located in Borough Market, Bread Ahead is a bakery and elite culinary school to train London’s next generation of premiere bread and pastry bakers. Their most famous treat is the European donut, moist and bready with a creme-filled centre.
Café de Nata – Portuguese Egg Tarts are widely enjoyed across Europe, and London has some of the best. They have a creamy egg filling surrounded by rich, flaky pastry.
Dishoom – This storied restaurante features Bombay cuisine in the style of Irani Cafés. They feature traditional dishes like curries, naan, and Halal chicken plates, as well as modernized specials like fried okra.
Brick Lane – This street in East London features a more down-to-earth dinner scene with small, packed restaurants that are mostly family owned. Stroll along Brick Lane to find a traditional restaurant with hearty plates.
Duck & Waffle – Based on the idea of fried chicken and waffles, this fine dining experience adds a gourmet twist. The restaurant features homemade waffles with duck, as well as their famous duck jam waffle with duck confit.
Tongue & Brisket – For those who do not have time for a sit-down meal, Tongue & Brisket is an old-fashioned sandwich shop with house-made rye bread and house-cured, house-carved salt beef. It’s located on the edge of Soho just South of Oxford Street, perfect for shoppers in need of a break or businessmen finishing up a meeting.
What to drink in London?
Pubs and Bars
Cheshum Arms – This Hackney pub is relaxed and local, featuring a countryside aesthetic with rotating ales on draft.
Opium Bar – Hidden above a restaurant in Chinatown much like a speakeasy, this bar features dim sum appetizers and Asian flavour-inspired cocktails.
Basement Sate – This late night bar in Soho, London hosts a selection of aromatic cocktails and innovative desserts for an after-dinner palate cleanser.
Tea and Coffee
Lanka – Owner Masayuki Hara worked at various Michelin-star restaurants before settling down at Lanka, a French, Japanese, and British-inspired patisserie with delicate pastries and ceylon teas. From Saint Honores to Mont Blancs, Rum Baba to green tea mousses, their treats are especially tasty against the background of Hampstead Heath.
Sketch – Located in Mayfair, London, this Michelin-star tea gallery features updated British pastries and tea against a thoroughly modern background. The venue features art by British artist David Shirgley.
The Ritz – For a more traditional tea experience, The Ritz offers the classic teatime menu against an exquisite scene with elegant furnishings.
Transportation from London Airport
Chances are, you will be flying into London, so the first thing you do when you arrive is to figure out how you are going to transport your way from the airport to the place you are staying. There are several ways of going about doing this, so we have compiled the options for you here:
Luxury Chauffeur – If you want a true London experience, we would highly recommend that you try out the use of a luxury chauffeur service. You will be warmly greeted by a well trained driver in a very high-end car. Many of the packages available with the service will also include wi-fi in your vehicle allowing you to get some work done or surf the web if needed.
Taxi Service – Though you will not get the hospitality treatment that you would from a chauffeur, the taxi service will be one of the fastest ways for you to get to your destination.
Shuttle service – This is a bit of a cheaper option; however, this will likely be less comfortable and much slower than the others.
The London Underground – Likely the cheapest option on the list, though you would need to figure out how the London transit system works as you use it. For some this may be very complicated if you have never used it before. This will also be the slowest option on the list, and require a bit of walking.