London Tips

What’s a page about London got to do with Amsterdam? Having toured North American student groups all over Europe since 2006, most of my itineraries with them begin in London. So I picked up a few things I enjoy there. Here’s a very short list of recommendations for Attractions, Food, Markets, and Museums.

First Thing’s First

The Handy London Map & Guide is the best map because it is clear and has a concise summary of everything you can see on a first-time trip to London…or your thousandth time to London, because you’ll never see it all! Buy it online or on the street from many news agent kiosks in London.

At the airport, pick up this superb Welcome to London guide to attractions and public transport. It will be at certain information desks after baggage claim in Heathrow, Gatwick, and also inside major London train stations like Victoria.

Be sure to use public transport and buy an Oyster Card or paper Travel Card for unlimited travel for about £8 a day. The London Underground and Bus system are excellent. Buses give you a double-decker view of all the sights, and be sure to take Route 15, which drives you past the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Oxford Street shopping.

Download this handy bus map to see Route 15 and other great bus lines as they pertain to sightseeing. Here’s a map of the London Underground.

Attractions

A first-time visit should include going inside Westminster Abbey, the St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London — the latter for a look at the crown jewels, Henry VIII’s armour, and the famous Yeoman Warders who patrol the tower. These are expensive to enter, but worth it.

Walking across the Thames affords splendid views. Take that walk via Tower Bridge or the Millennium Bridge (which is a great way to get from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern), and on the south bank see the recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for performances of the great Bard himself.

Tours in London

Explore East London the way Jack the Ripper did, on a nightly tour with London Mystery Walks. View gruesome forensic photos of the victims, learn about who might have committed the 1888 murders in East London, and understand the Victorian era through the eyes of a local guide.

Also worthy to do is a tour of the Houses of Parliament, available when MPs aren’t in session.

Food

You won’t have any trouble finding a good place to eat in London, but here are a few categories.

Pub Food

Stopping into a pub is a must for traditional bangers & mash style food or modern dishes that are affordable and of quality. I list one below in the Victoria borough,  but here is a list of the top 10 pubs according to the Guardian.

High Tea

Also view this list of lovely places for traditional, exquisite afternoon tea. If you are already paying the premium for high tea, you might as well do it at the Ritz, Savoy, or Fortnum and Mason. And reserve early!

The following very short list gives a few memorable restaurants arranged by London borough.

Food in Bayswater

Just north of Hyde Park, Bayswater’s multiethnic feel is reflected in its restaurants. Just walk up and down Queensway for great Arabic, Indian, and everything in between.

Halfway up Queensway Street is Whitely’s shopping centre, and from the street you’ll the the glamorous chandeliers of Le Café Anglais, one of London’s best French Bistros. It’s decorated in a bygone era, with an elegant menu to match. Easily accessible by London Underground at the Bayswater or Queensway stops.

Food in Knightsbridge

Harrod’s is a shopping spectacle worth seeing, but go downstairs for its Food Hall for every cuisine imaginable under the gold-embossed glass cases. Foodies must see this. While most of this food is takeaway, upscale restaurants have seats to eat in house.

Food Near Buckingham Palace/Victoria

The Albert is a Victorian-era traditional pub with a genuine carvery, less than a 15 minute walk south of Buckingham Palace and St. James Park in Victoria.

Markets

For food or shopping, London’s markets are unsurpassed in the Western world. Here’s a breakdown of them all, but I love Portobello Road’s Market for antiques, Camden Lock Market for funky goth and punk culture but also outstanding outdoor food stalls, and Borough Street is a MUST for wonderful food you can eat on the spot.

Museums

Did you know most of London’s world-class museums are free? They are the more mainstream museums of art and antiquity. But view this list of smaller, quirky museums–I especially enjoyed Dennis Severs House near Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

Museums by Night

Many London museums are open until 21:00 or 22:00 on certain nights of the week. Click here for a summary of which museums host late nights, which usually have an evening programme of live music, lectures, or films. My favourites are the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, the Tate Modern for its modern art collection and view from its cafe, and the Victoria & Albert Museum of applied arts. Day or night!