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Best Travel Tips For First Time Visitors To London

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London is one of the most iconic destinations in the world. If you enjoy travelling, you will inevitably find yourselves in London. If you are new to travel, you will quickly list London on your “must see” destination list. The draw of London is understandable. We all grew up hearing stories about the Queen and the antics of the royal family, or the architectural symbols of London, like Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Big Ben, or Westminister Abbey (to only name a few). Yet planning a trip to London can be an overwhelming task. London is a massive city that is expensive. However, there are ways to make it less complicated and less expensive. I’ve asked industry experts and frequent visitors to supply their best travel tips for first time visitors to London. Here are fifty of them.

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Best Travel Tips For First Time Visitors To London

The best travel tips to London for first time visitors fall into several categories. Those include:

  • How best to get around;
  • Ways to save money;
  • Where to stay;
  • Where to eat;
  • How to stay safe; and
  • Best things to do.

There were a couple of areas that I received the same advice over and over again from different travel experts and locals. Those were:

  • Stay in Central London;
  • Take public transportation; and
  • Walk, walk, and then walk more.

Those tips and others are laid out below and explained.

best travel tips to London for first time visitors

The Experts

The travel tips to London are from multiple sources.

First, I was born in England. Since leaving, I have returned as a tourist more than 20 times over the last 30 years. I’ve gone alone, with my husband, girlfriends, and even with my children. Each trip has been different and given me lots of exposure to different hotels and restaurants. In addition, it has taught me how to make the most out of my time and money.

Second, I have asked some of the best travel bloggers, industry experts and locals about their top tips for first time visitors to London. From my own personal experiences, I can tell you these are fantastic.

Other Tips

There are other destinations in the world that are just as expensive and overwhelming as London. 

New York City is one of them. If you are travelling to New York soon and want to arrive prepared, take a look at 50 Best New York City Tips For First Time Visitors.

Las Vegas is another. Here are 50 Best Las Vegas Tips For First Time Visitors.

Finally, just organizing and booking a trip can be overwhelming, especially a trip to London. I have written a comprehensive step by step process about how I go about planning a trip, in particular how I save money along the way. For more information about that, please see Planning A Holiday: A Foolproof Guide To Easy Vacation Planning.

best travel tips to London for first time visitors

Best Tips For First Time Visitors For Travel Within London

London is a fast paced, densely populated and exciting city. There are taxis, cars, buses, subways, trains, and lots of people almost everywhere. Knowing how best to get from one end of the city to the next as quickly and as cheaply as possible is an absolute must. Here are some of the best London tips for getting around.

London Airports

There is more than one airport servicing London. There are six. Those are Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City, Southend and Luton and they are located in vastly different locations. If you have a choice of flights landing in different airports, select one that offers the best (cheapest and fastest) public transportation to your accommodation.

Research Best Transportation From Airport Before Arriving

Ben from Tiny Little Changes recommends arriving at the airport prepared for the best, cheapest and fastest way to reach your accommodation.

“London’s public transport system is comprehensive, but mind-boggling complicated for the uninitiated. You can waste a bunch of money the moment you arrive in the country by choosing the wrong method of transport. For example, the Heathrow Express is fast, but very expensive. There’s an underground option (via the Piccadilly Line) that takes longer but costs far less, and may actually be more convenient, depending on where in London you’re staying. 

It’s well worth taking the time to research this before you leave. Standing jet-lagged and overwhelmed at a ticket machine, while dozens of Londoners sigh and curse behind you, is not the way to begin your London experience.”

Avoid Travel With Luggage During Rush Hour

Jessie from Pocket Wanderings recommends avoiding travelling with luggage on public transportation from 7:30 -9:30 am, and 17:00 – 19:00 (5:00 pm – 7:00 pm). You will be dodging exasperated locals and will be exhausted by the time you reach your lodging or the airport.

Take The Underground (aka Tube or Subway)

The Underground is the best way to get around the city. The underground system is safe, extensive and efficient and you avoid traffic. It is normally faster than Uber or taxi.

However, the Underground doesn’t run 24 hours or may have reduced hours on holidays. Accordingly, check the schedule before you organize your day.

Download Underground App

Nick from My UK Sim Card splits his time between the USA and London. He recommends downloading the Citymapper app to your phone and use it to navigate the public transportation system (the app gives detailed real-time step-by-step instructions).

Buy An Oyster Card

Payment for public transportation is contactless. Accordingly, make sure you buy an Oyster card for travel on trains and buses. It is easy to add credits to it and it is cheaper than buying single or return fares with other methods.

Steph from A Nomad Passport says, “With the card you just have to hold it against the reader as you enter stations and the system will automatically calculate your fare once you hold the card to another reader as you leave the station at your destination. There is a daily cap so you don’t have to worry about spending more money on your fare.”

You pay a deposit for the actual Oyster card (different from adding money for actual travel) so make sure you return it at a kiosk at an Underground station at the end of your trip to get your deposit returned.

Peak Vs. Off Peak Tickets

Jamie from Fat Tire Tours warns that you should make sure you pay attention to whether you have purchased Peak or Off Peak travel tickets. Travelling during peak hours with an off-peak ticket can be a costly affair if you are caught.

Buses Are Cheaper Than The Underground

A single London bus journey costs around £1.55 no matter the distance (unlike the Tube zone fare system). You can even take multiple buses within one hour at no extra charge. Plus, no matter how many buses or trams you take, it will never cost you more than approximately £4.65 a day. Just make sure you use the same payment option (Oyster Card, Travelcard, etc.) across every journey. Night buses run all night between the close of the Tube and the start of daytime bus services.

It is also a great way to see the city.

Avoid Underground If Have Strollers

Keri from Bon Voyage With Kids used to live in London with her three kids. She says, “If you are traveling with young kids or kids in strollers, take the bus, not the tube. Many of the tube stations have lots of stairs and not all of them have elevators. The busses have space for strollers (usually two at a time) and they don’t have to be broken down.”

Avoid Driving

London traffic is horrible and parking is expensive. In addition, they drive on the left side of the road – in other words opposite to the way that people drive in North America. This makes any kind of driving stressful and even dangerous.

Walk A lot

Nick from My UK Sim Card says, “There are so many things to see and do. Around one corner could be a 400 year old pub. And around another could be the remains of some Roman empire building. Feel free to simply “get lost” in London, and you’ll be happy that you did.”

In addition, check walking distances between sites. One stop on the Underground might only be a few minutes walk. In other words, walking would be faster and cheaper than hopping back on the Tube.

Bike

Hannah from All About The Apres says, “Despite its size, the tourist centre of London is walkable and reasonably cycle-friendly. I lived in London for 7 years but it wasn’t until I switched to cycling for getting around the city that I realised how close together some of the underground stations are and how I could have saved thousands of pounds on public transport. If you are a confident cyclist you can rent the Santander Cycles to explore the parks and make use of the designated cycle lanes that weave through much of the city.”

Best Tips For Saving Money in London For First Time Visitors

Best Tips For Saving Money in London For First Time Visitors

London is expensive. Unfortunately, this is a reality that is largely hard to avoid. However, there are some very useful cost saving tips. Here are some of the best tips to save money in London.

Buy A London Pass

Samantha from S&A Getaway recommends purchasing a London Pass. You pay a one time fee (price per day decreases the more days that you purchase) and you get access to most major attractions in London with a skip the line ticket at no additional cost.

Samantha says, “The first time I came to London I was unaware of the pass and wasted so much money.  The second time I was in London I invested in the London Pass and went to so many more attractions than the first time because they started to become free after the first few attractions I went to.”

Visit Free Museums

Kimberley from Ready Aim Travel recommends going to the famous London museums and art galleries that offer free admission. This includes the British Museum, National Gallery or Natural History Museum, but there are far more.

There are other attractions that may charge admission but may have free days every month. Make sure you research that when you plan your time in London.

Carry Appropriate Identification

You may be eligible for student or seniors’ discounts so make sure you carry your student card or other photo identification with your date of birth. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are discounts.

Free Wifi

Most cafe chains, such as Pret-a-Manager or Costa, offer free wifi. Alternatively, you can purchase a UK SIM Card with high speed 4G LTE and 5G data before you head off.

Use Kellogg’s Vouchers For 50% Off Tickets To Attractions

Eddie lived in London for 13 years and discovered a way for his visiting friends to pay only 50% for tickets to several major attractions. “Kellogg’s and several attractions have partnered up in an offer called “Grown-ups go free” so that anyone who buys a box of Kellogg’s cereal or other items gets a code inside the box that gives you a 2nd ticket for free whenever you buy an adult or child ticket. Visit Kellogg’s website for the details. Current attractions include Madame Tussaud, The Dungeons, London Eye, and more.

Travel By Train And Get 2 FOR 1 Entry

Sinead from Map Made Memories recommends taking the train to save money. “The National Rail (train) offers 2 for 1 entry into certain attractions when you travel by rail, even if it is only for one stop. Check out the details on it’s website and make sure to comply with date and time restrictions. Pre-bookable only but can be a real money saver on high price items such as the Tower of London.” 

Purchase Return Tickets

Jamie from Fat Tire Tours recommends purchasing a return ticket instead of two single tickets when leaving London as you will always save money. “Most destinations allow you to purchase an open-ended return, where the return leg must be carried out within a month of the purchase date. Perfect for when you aren’t entirely sure how long you’ll be exploring for.”

Avoid Instagram Famous Restaurants

Nicolas recommends avoiding Instagram famous restaurants that cost a lot of money. “Instead, try out small family owned restaurants that can be more capable of serving a much authentic flavor of the city.

Do Take Out

Candice from The Tuscan Mom says that you can save a lot of money on food if you opt for take away versus eating at an in-person restaurant. There is an automatic 12.5% service charge at restaurants. Marks & Spencer and Pret-A-Manager have fantastic healthy take away options.

Eat At Supermarket Chains

Sinead from Map Made Memories recommends eating breakfasts and lunches at Supermarket chains like Tesco or Sainsburys. They often offer meal deals with drink, crisps (potato chips) and sandwich starting at $4 USD.

Afternoon Tea At Marks & Spencers

You should try to do a proper English afternoon tea when you are in London. Not only does it include tea, but usually a traditional selection of sandwiches like cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, smoked salmon, or shrimp (all with the crusts removed, of course), and scones with clotted cream and fresh strawberry jam. Most hotels offer afternoon tea. However, to save money, go to a Marks & Spencer’s self serve restaurant. You lose the atmosphere, but gain exceptional food and excellent prices.

Purchase Discount Tickets For West End Shows

Watching a West End theatre production should be on your “must do” list on a trip to London. Some of the best actors and singers in the world make London their home. Sean from Living Out Lau recommends saving money on tickets by watching a matinee show (in the afternoon). In addition, if you aren’t fussy about what show you see, you can also go to same day ticket kiosks for discounted seats.

Lottery And Rush Tickets For West End Shows

Two other ways to get access to popular West End shows is by way of lottery or rush tickets. If you wish to get tickets to sold out shows for deeply discounted rates, try to win access to tickets by way of lottery. You can download Todaytix app and apply for seats during a certain time period. Alternatively, go directly to the theatre/show website for their own lotteries.

Rush tickets are day seats that you can purchase right from your phone on the day of the performance. Rush tickets are available on the TodayTix app at 10am each performance date. Alternatively, go directly to the theatre/show website for their own rush tickets.

For more information about both types of tickets, please see this website.

Best Travel Tips For What To Do In London For First Time Visitors

Best Travel Tips For What To Do In London For First Time Visitors

London offers a mind boggling amount of activities to do. Unless you are moving to the city, you will need multiple trips back to see everything worth seeing. So how do you figure out what you should see or how best to organize your time? Here are some of the best tips for what to do in London for first time visitors.

Plan Ahead

Research before you arrive what you want to see and do. Then, try to map out where everything is and how best to organize each day based upon where they are located and how long each activity may take. Remember London is a huge city and you do not want to be wasting time on the underground going from one end of the city to the other if there is a better way to do this.

You Can’t Do Everything

London is absolutely packed with amazing attractions, restaurants, shows and history. Be realistic about what you can see and do in one day. It is far better to plan only one or two things to do each day, and enjoy your time there. In addition, it leaves open the possibility of unexpectedly stumbling on something that you want to explore more.

Visit Less Touristy Areas

Benjamin from French Together is a Frenchman living in London. He recommends visiting less touristy areas. “Go deer-watching in Richmond park, walk along the Thames river in Chiswick, explore the charming Blackheath Village… Doing so will give you a much more authentic experience of the city, help you discover hidden gems and get a feel for what living in London is really like.”

Try Traditional English Food

Benjamin from French Together recommends going for a Sunday roast, a traditional meal enjoyed by many British families every Sunday. “You will not only enjoy an authentic British experience but also enjoy roast potatoes, meat, Yorkshire pudding and yummy British sauces such as mint sauce, apple sauce and horseradish.”

Fish and chips is another very traditional English meal that you should try while in England. As mentioned earlier, you should also try afternoon tea.

Take Hop On Hop Off Bus

Kerri Bon Voyage With Kids recommends taking the Hop On Hop Off bus on your first day to get an overview of the city, especially if you arrive on an overnight flight. In addition, you will likely be jet lagged, so this is an easy, first day activity that will also get you engaged in the city.

Take Boat Bus Versus Tourist Boat Along Thames

Sinead from Map Made Memories is from London. She recommends taking a boat bus along the Thames rather than the tourist boats. They can be very scenic and you get a different view of London. She suggests doing the leg from Westminister to Cutty Sark. In addition, they are very cheap compared to a tourist boat.

Avoid Public Holidays and School Vacations

London has over 9 million residents. In addition, it is a very popular destination for people all over England as well as the world. Museums and other attractions are already naturally busy but become packed on public and school holidays. Try to be aware of those dates and avoid them if possible.

Attend Ceremony Of The Keys At Tower Of London

Tabitha from Travel Compositions recommends attending the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. She says, “Tickets are cheap but hard to get. Every night the tower Yeoman Warders perform a gate-closing ritual where they lock up the Tower of London, a tradition that has been carried out for over 700 years.”

Only a few bystanders are invited to watch, so you feel as though you get a private insight into this unique tradition.

Avoid Westminister Abbey

Tabitha from Travel Compositions also recommends avoiding Westminster Abbey. “It is a bit overrated and overpriced. I understand the significance and beauty of it. However, at £24 ($32 USD) a pop you get herded through the cathedral like cattle and feel rushed to look at everything. Any other cathedral in England will be cheaper and way less crowded, allowing space to admire all the intricate details at your own pace.” 

Best travel tips for families for first time visitors to London
One of the Harry Potter exhibits at the Warner Bros Studio tours.

Best Tips For What Families Should Do In London

Parks And Playgrounds

There are many green parks and playgrounds for stretching legs, including the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens that is themed after Peter Pan.

Tower Of London

Kerri from Bon Voyage With Kids recommends the Tower Of London. She says, “I highly recommend the Context Travel Family Tour. This group is skilled at telling wonderful stories to kids to engage them on this fascinating place and my kids still talk about what they learned many years later.”

Hampton Court Palace

Kerri also recommends taking a day trip to Hampton Court Palace as it is another very family friendly location that will step you right into history. It offers interactive activities, actors in period costumes, a fun hedge maze, playground for kids, and even audio guides for adults and kids! 

Attractions For Older Children/Teens

Taking teenagers to London is a whole other level of stress. How do you engage them? Most would be interested in seeing the iconic sites of Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, and the likes. However, not all day, every day.

I found a couple of fantastic options that my kids loved. Consider a scavenger hunt in the British Museum, Natural History Museum, or Victoria & Albert organized by ThatMuse. By the end of the scavenger hunt, you will have visited almost every room of the museum, seen exhibits you would never have seen if you left it up to yourselves to discover, and had a blast.

Visit Warner Bros. Studio Tour of Harry Potter. This is a fantastic option for older kids who loved the Harry Potter books and movies. I would keep younger kids from the attraction as it focuses on the tricks on how the movies were made and thus, removes the magic behind the movies and the books.

For tips related to the scavenger hunt and visiting the Harry Potter Studios, please take a look at my blog London Attractions With Teens: Scavenger Hunt Anyone?

Best Travel Tips To London For First Time Visitors Concerned About Safety

Best Travel Tips To London For First Time Visitors Concerned About Safety

London is actually a very safe place to visit. Like any large city, use common sense and you should be fine. In other words, don’t go walking down a dark alley alone in the middle of the night with earbuds in your ears blasting music. However, there are a couple of unique scenarios of which you should be aware.

Avoid Being Pick Pocketed

Jamie from Fat Tire Tours warns against pick pockets. She says, “3 Card Monte (aka Find the Queen, Ball and Cups etc) has become a popular scam in London. You’ll often see tables set up on Westminster Bridge where you’ll see what appear to be tourists winning and losing money by guessing which cup the ball is under or picking which position the queen has moved to. Now the trick itself is usually sleight of hand but the real scam is that there will be several plants in the audience acting as pickpockets. You are just as likely to lose money watching one of these games as you are playing one. Just keep walking.”

Refuse Flowers

Anyone offering you flowers, or ‘Lucky heather’ will 100% ask for a ‘small donation’ for their gift. Just politely refuse to take whatever they are offering and move on.

Avoid Walking With Phone Out

Jessie from Pocket Wanderings says, “Avoid having your phone out when walking along the pavement, as phone thefts by thieves on motorbikes is common.”

Best Travel Tips To London For First Time Visitors
Shopping along Oxford Street.

Best Travel Tips To London For First Time Visitors

There is some advice that fall into lots of different categories. Accordingly, here are the rest of the best travel tips to London for first time visitors.

Social Niceties

Jamie from Fat Tire Tours says, “We are not a city renowned for its willingness to talk to strangers. Don’t be surprised if your attempts to natter on the underground are met with bemused silence. It’s nothing personal.

By the way, none of us know the Queen.”

Stay In Central London

Consider paying a little more for accommodation in central London. In exchange, you will pay less for travel on the underground and you may be able to walk to all of the tourist attractions that interest you. In addition, you will save valuable time exploring London versus being on the Tube or a bus.

Pay Attention To Plugs And Voltage

Martin from Light Up My Photos recommends arriving with a type-G plug or universal adapter. If you are from North America, none of your electronic devices will be able to be plugged into the wall without one.

Also, make sure the voltage of your device can work with the voltage in London. In essence, US voltage is 120V whereas UK voltage is 240V. You need to make sure that the device can work with a higher voltage before plugging it into an electrical socket in London. If it can, then no problem. If it is a different voltage, you need to purchase an adapter or you will blow your device.

Do Not Stand Left On Escalators

Erin advises not to stand on the lefthand side of the escalator since this is designated for only walking purposes.

Avoid London In Summer

London is packed with tourists during the summer months. For savings and less crowds, consider visiting during other times of the years.

Dress Properly

You will be walking a lot even if you choose to take the Underground or the bus. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, bring an extra layer (jacket) and umbrella. The weather can change very quickly regardless of the season.

Dinner Is Early

Dinner is usually over by 10:00 pm. Most restaurants will be closing by then. If you are from a country where dinner is served late, this might be a bit of an adjustment.

Last Word

The best travel tips for London for first time travellers are meant to lower your stress, save you money, and help you organize your time in the amazing city. If you discover any new ones along the way, make sure you let me know!

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