A First-Timer's Guide to London

By Jessica Russo


Yay! You're finally ready to give London the royal wave hello. We are so excited for you, and we want you to get the most out of your trip as possible. Follow this guide for all the must-sees, eats, and dos, local and tourist-approved.


Starter tips:

Prepare to walk... a lot

Try to map out your visit by neighborhood, rather than by specific site. We promise, you'll actually see more this way, and you'll also be way less rushed. While London is a very walkable city, it's also a very big city. Wear comfortable shoes and try to walk instead of taking the Tube or a taxi - you'll see even more that way! You should, however, take the Tube on occassion, to experience London's public transportation system (and just to say that you did).

Leave 10-15% of the bill as a tip

While 18-25% is the norm in America, 10-15% is the norm in England. It may feel like too little, but we promise, it's not.

Take an umbrella

Don't worry - it doesn't rain in London as much as everyone says it does. For some reason, this city gained a bad rep, weather-wise. But, in any city, nobody wants to get stuck in the rain, so do yourself a favor and pack a small umbrella.


Sightseeing Checklist

  • Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge
  • London Eye
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Trafalgar Square
  • St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Big Ben
  • Palace of Westminster
  • Leadenhall Market

Hint: You don't want to be in such a rush to see everything that you forget to actually take in the beauty of London. Try to focus on 2-4 sights per day, and spend the rest of your time seeing shows, drinking pints in pubs, strolling markets, and putting your pinky up at afternoon tea.


Must-Visit Museums

Guess what? They're all free.

Tate Modern

See works by DalĂ­, Warhol, and other famous artists at this world-renowned contemporary museum! Its location on the South Bank right near Shakespeare's Globe positions you at the foot of the Millennium Bridge, which leads directly to St. Paul's. Basically, a visit to Tate Modern is also a perfect opportunity to visit those sights that are slightly off-the-beaten-path.

The British Museum

This place is a history-buff's dream. Nestled in the Bloomsbury neighborhood, this must-visit museum is an eclectic blend of old and new.

Victoria and Albert Museum (The V&A)

Located in Knightsbridge, this world-class decorative arts museum is surrounded by Kensington Gardens, Harrods, the Science Museum, Hyde Park, and the Natural History Museum. You could spend a whole day within these few blocks!

Natural History Museum

The architecture of this landmark museum is a sight in itself. Walk through this grand structure and learn all about animals and natural phenomena through cool displays and hands-on exhibits.


Best Afternoon Tea

Traditional:

  • The Ritz
  • The Dorchester
  • Royal Opera House
  • The Goring
  • Dean Street Townhouse
  • Sketch
  • The Wolseley

Fun & Out of the Ordinary:

  • Mat Hatter's at the Sanderson (Alice in Wonderland themed!)
  • B Bakery London Vintage Bus tour (see london while you sip and snack)
  • St. James Hotel (board games!)
  • Mr. Fogg's Residence (quirky decor resembling Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days)

Be sure to make reservations and check dress codes! Some Afternoon Teas are dressier than others.


Our Favorite Neighborhoods

Notting Hill

With an amazing antiques market on Portobello Road, Notting Hill is home to cute cafes, art galleries, trendy boutiques, and - yes - those cute streets filled with colorful houses. Think: charming, sophisticated, photo-worthy streets. West of Central London, Notting Hill is a stop on the Central Tube Line.

Camden Town

Funky, artsy, and kind of gritty, Camden Town proves that the "London Punk" persona is alive and well. The area of Camden Lock is filled with vintage boutiques, alternative music clubs, cafes, and bustling food markets. Be on the lookout for eye-popping street art and fascinating street performers! North of Central London, Camden Town is a stop on the Northern Tube Line.

Covent Garden

This bustling area in London's West End is known for its plethora of theaters and endless entertainment. Stroll through its car-free Piazza, home to the Apple Market and the Royal Opera House, and do some serious shopping! Covent Garden is the place to watch unique street performers and take that obligatory red-phone-booth photo.

Soho

Soho and Covent Garden make up what Londoners call "the West End." While it's still in the entertainment district, Soho is a bit more laid-back and is known for its trendy restaurants and interesting boutiques. To explore Soho, get off the Tube at Tottenham Court Rd (Central and Northern Lines), Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central, and Victoria lines), or Leicester Square (Northern and Piccadilly Lines).


Our Top-Pick Restaurants

  • Bumpkin - modern, organic British food (locations in South Kensington and Chelsea)
  • Social Eating House - stylish and eclectic spot in the middle of Soho
  • Duck & Waffle - great views and great food (open 24/7)
  • Farm Girl Cafe - the perfect place for a cute brunch in Notting Hill
  • Dishoom - some of the best Indian food we've ever had (locations in Covent Garden, Carnaby, and Shoreditch)
  • Regency Cafe - no frills joint with the very best English breakfast
  • Pieminister - the best place to try traditional English savory pies at Gabriel's Wharf

Hint: if you love curry, head to Brick Lane in Shoreditch - a known curry capital!


Locals' Favorite Fish n' Chips

  • Poppies (Shoreditch)
  • Rock and Sole Plaice (Soho)
  • Fryer's Delight (Russell Square area)
  • North Sea Fish Restaurant (Kings Cross)
  • The Golden Hind (Marylebone)

It's always exciting to try a city's famous food, but how do you know you're trying the "right" one? Where do you find the "real stuff?" Relaaax. We've done the searching for you, and all of the above fish n' chipperies are the real deal.


Must-Try Street Food

  • Borough Market
    • Located on the South Bank, right in-between The Shard and London Bridge, this raved-about market boasts some of the best artisan eats, baked goods, and fresh produce in London. Taste your way through this grand foodie labyrinth! Keep in mind: Borough Market is closed on Sundays.
  • Camden Lock
    • Nestled in the funky fantasyland of Camden Town is Camden market, home to tons of innovative culinary creations made by local vendors. The market is also filled with countless unique shops, bars, and cafes - it's easy to spend a whole day there.
  • Boxpark Shoreditch
    • Ah, the hipster haven of Shoreditch. This artsy area has welcomed Boxpark Shoreditch, a wonderland of scrumptious street food, cute shops, and interesting exhibits. Shop and taste the day away!

Hint: Be sure to check out Gabriel's Wharf on the South Bank. While it's not exactly street food, it boasts a similar market-vibe of independent eateries and artisan boutiques. And guess what? It's only a 20-minute walk from Gabriel's Wharf to Borough Market! Walk off your first course and get ready for the next.


Photo by Instagram user @shaunlysen

Pubs You'll Regret Not Going To

  • Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
    • Step back in time at this old-school, and we mean old-school public house. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, this cozy little pub is known for having some familiar regulars, like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.
  • The Churchill Arms
    • This 1750 pub will immediately catch your eye, as its exterior is decked out in an abundance of vibrant plants and flowers. Inside this beloved spot, you'll find traditional decor and tons of Churchill memorabilia. To make this place even cooler, they take a twist on classic pub food and add Thai noodles and curry to the menu - and might we say - it's delicious.
  • The Old Bank of England
    • Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. Located right down the block from Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, this former Bank of England serves up crisp cocktails and yummy pies under high ceilings and amazing artwork. You'll feel like you just stepped into an old movie!
  • Knights Templar
    • Just around the corner from The Old Bank, you'll find The Knights Templar, another old-world, high-ceilinged pub (that just so happens to be in a former bank). This traditional pub offers tons of beers in a breathtaking atmosphere - the perfect place for an Instagram photo!
  • Lamb and Flag
    • Ah, Lamb and Flag - the quintessential English pub. Nestled right in the middle of Covent Garden and Leicester Square, grab a pint at this pub after you visit some of London's most famous sites!
  • The Harp
    • The Harp is the pub that every Londoner will tell you to go to. Near Lamb and Flag, The Harp is also right in the middle of the action, between Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. At this cozy spot, you'll find two floors of traditional (yet a little quirky) decor, stained-glass windows, hand-pulled ales, tart ciders, and savory sausages. What more could you ask for? Cheers!

Hint: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Old Bank of England, and The Knights Templar are all within blocks of one-another. Head to Fleet Street and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime bar-crawl!

Last but not least...

Have fun!

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