The capital city of England, London has over 8 million residents in its greater area. Interestingly, the actual city of London is only 1.12-square-miles and is the least populated city in England. The boundaries are based on those from medieval times. Today, London is one of the most important cultural hubs of the world, with strength in the arts, fashion, entertainment, commerce and education. The restaurant scene is diverse and the bar scene is always lively. London also has an expansive transportation system, highlighted by the Underground- the largest and oldest underground rail network. The Underground will help you navigate the city and all of its 32 boroughs. Visiting London can be overwhelming with all the things to see and do. In fact, it’s the world’s most-visited city (as measured by international arrivals). London local Jane offers her tips below on what to do during your stay.
THE LOCAL: Jane
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HER: Jane spent six months living in London proper in 2005 and has since returned for an extended holiday to her beloved city. Although not a true “local,” Jane is an anglophile who leans on her British friends and city blogs to stay up-to-date on London happenings. Jane also adores theatre and is well versed in London’s theatre community.
1. Favorite Streets to Wander/Stroll?
Shaftesbury Avenue takes you from the Mayfair neighborhood through SoHo down to Piccadilly Circus. It’s a bustling London Street lined with historic theatres (Lyric, Apollo, Queen’s, Shaftesbury Theatre, etc) and plenty of big red buses.
Regent’s Park is a large beautiful park near London’s punky Camden Town borough (home to Doc Marten’s and The Sex Pistols) complete with the London Zoo, the Taste of London and movies in the Park. This is the park of choice for many London dwelling celebs such as Gwen Stefani and Stella McCartney.
Thames Southbank River Walk is another lovely walk for tourists and locals alike. This scenic walkway travels along the south bank of the River Thames from Westminster Bridge to London Bridge. It highlights many of London’s greatest attractions, including Big Ben, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.
2. Best Area or Neighborhood to Shop?
- Camden Market for cheap finds and amazing people watching (Camden Town)
- Oxford Street for fashion – Selfridge’s Department Store and Topshop three-story flagship store (Mayfair)
- Covent Garden for unique window shopping and café sitting (Covent Garden)
3. Favorite Bar or Happy Hour Spot?
- SoHo Party Night: The George (SoHo)
- Historic Sport: Gordon’s Wine Bar– “London’s Oldest Wine Bar” (Trafalger Square)
- All-Time Favorite: The Good Mixer (Camden Town)
4. Sunny Day Agenda?
Grab a picnic meal and bottle of wine from Marks & Spencer grocery stores and head to one of London’s fabulous parks with a blanket and book. If it’s warm enough, head up to Hampstead Heath for a dip in the ponds. Hampstead Heath is the only life-guarded open-water swimming facility in the UK that’s open to the public every day of the year.
5. Essential London Tip?
Make friends and be flexible! This is a fantastic city full of international travelers and friendly locals. Take the time to chat up your waiters, bartenders, hotel concierge and people you meet to get the most out of your trip. Don’t be too rigid when planning so you can go with the flow when a new opportunities arise. When heading out for the day, take a day-pack with layers for a variety of weather. And of course, an umbrella! Finally, the London Tube is far easier to navigate than the NYC Subway so don’t be intimidated! Save your money for experiences, not transportation. If the Tube is closed, UberX is my recommended option before a traditional London black cab (which can be expensive).
TRIPADVISOR’S TOP FIVE LONDON ATTRACTIONS
1. British Museum – Thumbs Up…ish.
Although a crowded tourist trap, this is a great history museum to wander around with your headphones and some good music. It’s not my favorite museum due to large crowds, students and tourists. That being said, most museums are FREE in London so why not pop in to see some priceless antiquities?! Your best bet to avoid crowds at the British Museum is to go an hour or two before it closes on a weeknight.
2. National Gallery– Thumbs up.
Home to many priceless works of art spanning the history of time. Plus, a fantastic gift shop to bring home a piece of London to your loved ones. The National Gallery also has free admission.
3. Theatre Show- Les Miserables– Thumbs Up!
Arguably the best musical ever written, a must-see drama about the French Revolution with iconic music. Another top show to see is The Mousetrap, the longest running play in the world! It’s a classic whodunit, written by crime writer Agatha Christie. (Tip: Make sure to avoid spoilers when researching. There is a great twist!)
4. Victoria and Albert Museum– Major Thumbs Up.
This is my favorite museum in the city, featuring an amazing fixed exhibit on fashion and costuming. It also has gorgeous courtyard and garden café where you can enjoy a sack lunch. Another free London museum.
5. Churchill War Rooms– Thumbs up… but only IF you are a history buff. This museum depicts all ninety years of Winston Churchill’s life. Skip it if you find World War history dull.
Are you a London local? Did we leave out any can’t-miss spots? If so, tell us about them in the comments below!