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London Destination Guide: How to Prep, Pack & Plan

london travel guide

London is a quintessential stop on any European getaway, if not just because of its hub status with four airports. It attracts nearly every type of traveler, but especially the history buffs in search of the places where Shakespeare, Henry VIII, and Jack the Ripper all called home. It’s known for its colorful street art, international cuisine, and pub culture. There’s so much to see in the city and it’s also a great jumping off point for the rest of England.

If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to join the conversation, please leave comments below!

London Travel Expenses Tips

Because of the exchange rate of the English pound, it can be expensive to visit London. Looking at prices, it’s easy to think something doesn’t cost much until you calculate it in your head. During my first visit, the exchange was double the dollar! But there are a few ways to keep costs down.

Shop at vintage boutiques and markets.
Sure, it may be tempting to hit up iconic department stores like Harrods or Selfridges, but it will hit your wallet hard. Instead, seek out vintage boutiques and markets. Bargains can be found at Portobello Road, Spitalfields, and Camden Markets, just to name a few.

Get to know the Tube.
The black taxis are iconic, but very pricey. Most parts of London are very walkable and the rest are easily accessed by public transportation. The Tube is very user-friendly and Oyster cards make it nearly effortless. Don’t forget about the other ways to get around, including those double decker buses, the Overground, and bike shares from Santander Cycle! Ridesharing apps are also available.

London travel and packing guide
Taking the London Underground, or the Tube, is a great way to spend less while visiting the city.

Pub meals are your best friend.
If you’re looking for a cheap meal out, pub meals are the equivalent of street food, although there’s some of that as well. Tuck into just about any pub and you’ll find a daily special. I had an epic Sunday roast on one visit that I’m still dreaming of!

Choose further afield neighborhoods.
Just like in New York City, staying in the central tourist districts will come at a high price. Instead, look for places near Tube lines that are a short ride from where you’ll be visiting. On past trips, I’ve stayed in Hampstead, Earl’s Court, Deptford, Willesden Green, and Shepherd’s Bush. Shoreditch is another trendy place to stay that is easily accessible to the rest of the city.

>>Here’s our tips for how to track travel expenses and stay on budget.

Essential Gear to Pack for London

Speak to a Londoner for a minute and they’ll likely mention the fickle weather. Pack for any weather, especially in layers.

Rain gear: I recommend a rain jacket over an umbrella as I’ve ruined a few umbrellas in the strong London winds.

Comfy shoes: Another one that I’ve learned firsthand! I’ve rubbed plenty of blisters walking around the city. I recommend Birkenstocks or other shoes with arch support.

Backpack: If you’ll be getting around via the Tube or train, opt for a backpack over a rolling suitcase. I’ve taken the train from the airport and struggled to get my bag up the stairs. Not every station has elevators.

Crossbody purse: Pickpocketing is rare, but crossbody bags are harder to snag. You can also sit them on your lap on a crowded train.

Smartphone: Gone are the days of the paper maps. Now you should get around through smartphone apps. Google Maps offline mode and a Tube map app are must-haves, along with Yelp or another for restaurant recommendations.

London travel and packing guide
Earl’s Court in London

Books to Read Before Visiting London

London is the land of literary inspiration. All of the great British authors have spent time here. Lose yourself in one of these reads before you go, including modern and classic books.

Henry VI by William Shakespeare– The most famous playwright set many of his productions in London, including historical works on Kings Henry VI, Richard II, Richard III, John, Henry V, and Henry VIII. Be sure to visit the Globe while you’re in town! Grab a copy on Amazon.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens– While many of the author’s books were set in London, this tells the story of an orphan named Pip who escapes his abusive sister. He is taken in by a reclusive woman and falls for her daughter. Grab a copy on Amazon.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins– A woman takes the train into London every day and notices what she thinks is the perfect couple. But when the woman goes missing, she must try to remember through a drunken haze. Grab a copy on Amazon.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith– Two wartime friends reminisce about their seemingly different lives in London, one a Brit and the other from Bangladesh. Multiple narratives are interwoven through storytellers. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle– Visit the home of the series on Baker Street as you read the mystery stories. The Hound of the Baskervilles is one favorite. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– A London spinster dates a bad boy from work, but when he screws her over, she finds she has the wrong idea about another man in her life. It’s a modern spin on Pride and Prejudice. Grab a copy on Amazon.

London travel and packing guide
Seeing the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace is one of the top things to do in London.

Movies to Watch Before Visiting London

London makes for a perfect background for movies, especially romantic comedies. We’ve only included a few, but there are plenty to watch before you go!

Love Actually– Is there any better London movie than this romantic comedy? It showcases multiple interwoven stories around the city set at Christmastime. Notable stars include Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, and Bill Nighy. Grab a copy on Amazon.

The Queen– Helen Mirren won awards for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth around the death of Princess Diana. It provides a unique look at a real event behind the scenes of the royal family. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Spice World– It’s totally cheesy, but this is one of my favorite movies. Absurd scenes take place on double decker buses, on the Thames, and at the city’s iconic music venues. Catch it just in time for a Spice Girls reunion! Grab a copy on Amazon.

Green Street Hooligans– Elijah Wood and Charlie Hunnam star in this film about a Harvard student wrongfully expelled who moves to London to stay with his sister. He’s taken in by a local who introduces him to the violent football hooligan community. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Notting Hill– A bookstore owner meets a famous actress and they get to know each other while she’s filming a movie. But being with the most well-known woman in the world has its drawbacks. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Harry Potter– A young man discovers his special powers in this beloved book turned film. The entire series is worth watching, especially for scenes on the Millennium Bridge, Kings Cross Station, and the Reptile House of the London Zoo. Grab a copy on Amazon.

London travel and packing guide
Give yourself plenty of time to explore the famous British Museum.

Top Things to Do in London

There’s no shortage of things to do in London, no matter where your interests lie. The LondonPass is one easy way to see it all for one low price. Many of the museums are also free! For city tours, day trips, and passes, check out Viator.

Tower of London– One of the longest running tourist attractions, you can visit the site of some of England’s spooky history, especially the executions of Henry VIII’s wives. It’s also home to the Crown Jewels.

Changing of Guards– You can catch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace for free throughout the year. The pomp and circumstance are nothing short of epic!

London Eye– See the city from above in this glass Ferris wheel over the Thames. The ride takes about 30 minutes and has great photo ops.

Art museumsTate Britain and Tate Modern are two of the most well known, but there’s also the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Don’t forget about the small galleries as well!

British Museum– The world’s best collection of international artifacts is found here, from the statues on Easter Island to the iconic Rosetta Stone. Give yourself a few hours at least to wander and see the atrium.

Historic churchesWestminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are where some of the country’s greatest names are buried and where royal weddings have taken place.

Royal palacesHampton Court, Windsor Castle, and Kensington Palace are all open for tours during part of the year.

London Zoo– Younger visitors will appreciate a visit to this zoo, which has a wide range of creatures. The Reptile House was where Harry Potter was filmed!

The Shard– The newest building in the skyline is this structure, which has an observation deck and bar.

Public parks– The city’s green spaces are better than just about anywhere in the world. Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park, St. James Park, and Kensington Gardens are just a few of the favorites.

Markets– Even if you don’t buy, explore the city’s markets like the foodie favorite Borough, the antique-heavy Portobello, the punk Camden, and the eclectic Spitalfields.

Tours– There’s also a tour for every interest. Sandeman’s New Europe offers a free walking tours and Eating Europe has multiple food tours showcasing the best of SoHo and East London.

London travel and packing guide
It doesn’t get more British than a Sunday roast!

Where to Stay in London

London accommodations can eat up much of your budget, but thankfully there’s plenty to choose from.

Hostels– Budget accommodations don’t have to mean grubby dorms! London is home to a number of boutique hostels, including Generator, Palmers Lodge, Clink78, Wombats, and Safestay.

Apartments: I’ve stayed at apartments for two visits, which I found through Wimdu and FG Properties. Airbnb is another way to find an apartment to stay in for your trip to London.

Boutique hotels: And, of course, traditional hotels are found all over London. Trendy boutique hotel brands to open in the city include The Hoxton, Ace, and Qbic.

London travel and packing guide
Fish and chips is a must try meal when visiting London.

Eating and Drinking in London

Many people have the misconception that British food is overly starchy or flavorless, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Roast– Sunday roasts with lamb, Yorkshire pudding, and roasted vegetables are the quintessential dish. Enjoy at your local pub or, if you’re staying in an apartment, cook your own!

Fish and chips– Every Londoner has their restaurant of choice, but Poppy’s and The Golden Hind are two favorites for mushy peas, hand cut chips, and crispy fried fish.

Gin and tonic– So this may not be a dish, but there’s nothing more British than gin. Check out the craft brands and ask your bartender for the best way to enjoy the tipple.

International– Name a nationality and you’ll likely find its food in London. Indian, Taiwanese, and Mexican can all be found here.

Pies– There’s also the savory pies, which can be filled with steak and kidney, beef and onion, and chicken and leek.

london travel guide
london destination guide

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Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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