Wrapping visitors in an intoxicating embrace of culture, cuisine, history and art, London has never diminished in its capacity as one of the most iconic ‘rite of passage’ destinations for young travellers.
Many arrive for a few weeks’ holiday, only to be deliciously sucked into the city’s slipstream for years. Seductive, exciting, and always surprising — resistance is useless at any age.
Enjoy this London travel guide.
Cultural things to do in London
As one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, there’s no end to London’s artistic diversity.
Visit the mainstays of the British art world — the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and the Victoria & Albert (all of which are free of charge for the permanent collections). You should also explore contemporary spaces like White Cube.
There’s also an exciting ‘underground’ arts scene, with an eclectic array of permanent and pop-up performance and art venues in off-the-beaten-track places like hip and happening Hackney and Bermondsey.
If you are planning to check out lots of London attractions during your stay, it’s well worth investing in a London Pass. Enjoy discounted entry and skip-the-line access to a host of attractions (around eighty in total), with flexible 1 to 6-day passes.
Watch our video guide to five amazing things to do in London:
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide. If you’re travelling to London and only have limited time to get to know the city, then this Big Five City Guide can help. Here we give you a key culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation highlight that you shouldn’t miss during your visit.
London for history lovers
From the Stone Age to the Romans, Normans and Anglo-Saxons, London has been part of the bedrock of world history.
Take a stroll back in time at the British Museum, which holds such priceless treasures as the Rosetta Stone. Painting an even bigger picture, the Natural History Museum hosts a mind-boggling collection spanning 4.5 billion years.
Covent Garden can reveal much about London’s storied past (keep an eye out for the blue plaques that denote buildings of historical importance). Then head for the Tower of London — one of the city’s highest profile landmarks. Aside from ogling the crown jewels and making friends with the ravens (or not), you’ll get the chance to meet everyone’s favourite prison guards — the Beefeaters. Pre-purchase a skip-the-line ticket.
Great places to eat in London
If you had a year to eat your way around the city, you might get a decent overview of the culinary kaleidoscope that is 21st century London.
For delicious and inexpensive places to eat, the aromatic curry houses of Brick Lane and the global melee of Borough Market are a good place to start. The city is also home to nearly 4,000 pubs — most of which serve up cost-effective traditional British fare. Not all of them are great; look for the ones hosting plenty of local workers at lunchtime and you’ll know you’re onto a good thing!
There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities in London to indulge in some posh nosh. Celebrity star power draws diners to the perennial Ivy and the establishments of Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Jamie Oliver. For cocktails, dreams and jaw dropping views, frock up and head to the OXO Tower Bar and Brasserie — but be warned: you’ll pay for the privilege.
For a slightly more affordable taste of the high life, pick up some supplies at the amazing Harrods Food Hall.
Where to shop in London
From budget boho to classic couture, London is the style capital of the world.
Harrods heads the list for top end retail therapy, but spread the love (and the cash) to other places like Harvey Nichols or the luxury-lined Bond Street. And don’t worry, window shoppers are welcome, so go for the experience — even if you have to leave empty-handed!
For antiques, jewellery and knick-knacks, the jumble of stalls at Portobello Road Markets in Notting Hill more than live up to their reputation.
Top ways to relax in London
Despite the hustle and bustle, there are plenty of relaxing things to do in the UK capital.
Walking is where it’s at in this city, and you’ll see so much on a slow stroll along the Embankment. Stop for a whirl in the 135-metre high London Eye and enjoy fabulous bird’s-eye views over Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament before you visit them in person.
You absolutely cannot visit London without experiencing a West End show. With plenty of half price tickets available, you don’t have to break the bank to see shows like the Lion King, Stomp, Mamma Mia, Matilda, Wicked and Les Mis.
London also has a surprising number of green spaces. Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath are probably the most famous, but you should also visit beautiful Richmond Park (home to wild red deer) and Kew Gardens. Both are extraordinary havens of nature, and are located within easy reach of the city.
If you have the energy and want to explore a little further, book a half day tour with a company such as the Merry Peddler and cycle around places like Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace or Royal Deer Park.
Five London tours we love
Enjoy 360-degree views of London’s top sights and listen to captivating commentary as you circle the city on an open-top double decker bus. Purchase a one, two or three-day ticket and use it across three different routes (one with an onboard guide and the others with recorded audio narration). Hop on or off at any of more than 40 stops around town.
Discover some of the UK capital’s oldest public houses on this afternoon pub tour in the City of London. You’ll visit ale houses frequented by the likes of legendary British novelist Charles Dickens.
London’s political precinct of Westminster has many secrets to share. Join a knowledgeable guide on a visit to the fascinating Churchill War Rooms — an underground network of bunkers that served as the government wartime offices in the Second World War. The tour also takes in top sights such as Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
Enjoy a night of dining, sightseeing and live entertainment as you cruise the River Thames through central London. Order from a seasonal menu of dishes prepared on-board and see some of the city’s most historic sites — including the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral.
Thousands of years of British history are waiting to be discovered on this full day tour from London to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and the city of Bath. Lunch is included.
For more information, please visit www.visitlondon.com.
Do you have any tips to add to our London travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.