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BlogDestinationsTop travel tips for London: what to see, do & more
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Top travel tips for London: what to see, do & more

Jan 20, 2021 by Cayleigh Heitsmith

London is a true multi-cultural city that’s easy to fall in love with. Its iconic landmarks, green spaces, and fantastic cuisine make it unique and well worth a trip. What are the best things to do in London on tour, you ask? Stick around to find out… we’ll make sure you get to experience everything in the English capital (besides maybe meeting the Queen!).

Currency: Pound sterling. You may hear locals refer to one pound as one “quid,” which is similar to Americans using the word “buck” to describe a dollar.

Language: English

Best way to get around: London’s underground transportation network is famously known as “the Tube.” If you want to make the most of your time in London, make sure to buy an Oyster Card, which allows you travel throughout London using multiple transportation methods.

Phrases to know: Although Brits speak English, they have quite a bit of their own slang. “Fancy a cuppa?” means “would you like a cup of tea?” If you’re tired after a full day on tour, you may want to tell your Tour Director that you’re “knackered.”


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WHEN TO GO TO LONDON

The best time to visit London is, well, anytime! While traveling to the British capital in the spring means you can enjoy temperate weather and the beautiful blossoms in well-known parks, there are so many things to do all year round. Here are a few of our favorite times to visit London on tour.

  • New Year’s Eve. Go Ahead staffer Cayleigh fondly remembers being in London on New Year’s Eve. “I stood on the banks of the River Thames waiting for midnight to come,” she said. “Once it did, it was the most fantastic firework show I’ve ever seen, with the backdrop of the London Eye on one side of the river and Big Ben on the other. Big Ben tolls for a few seconds at midnight, people cheer, and fireworks are set off all over the night sky. I’ll never forget it!”
  • December for the Christmas markets. London turns into a winter wonderland and is known for having some of the best festivities during the holiday season. While you’re getting in the festive spirit at the Christmas markets, be sure to swing by the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland for shows, rides, and even more Christmas markets.
  • March for the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, an annual boat race on the River Thames between rowers from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. It’s one of the biggest free sporting events in the city. Enjoy watching this exciting race along with thousands who flock to London just for the event.
  • Easter Weekend. London is a fun place to be on this Christian holiday weekend. Whether you’re religious or not, there are plenty of fun events for children and adults alike. Many London attractions have their own Easter activities, like Easter egg hunts. If you’re craving chocolate, make sure to stop by one of the oldest chocolatiers in the city: Charbonnel et Walker. Still hungry? We recommend booking a table at one of London’s pubs for a traditional “Sunday roast.” (You’ll have to keep reading to find out the delicious details of this meal!).
  • July for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. These championships are the oldest in the world, and watching this event is one of the best things to do in London. Even if you don’t get tickets to watch a tennis match at Wimbledon during free time on our London tours, seeing the action unfold on a big screen in one of the city’s pubs is sure to excite.

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WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO LONDON

The weather can be unpredictable no matter when you plan on traveling to London, so make sure to have these few key items on hand during your visit.

  • Windproof umbrella. London has its fair share of drizzly conditions throughout the year (it’s part of the quintessential London experience!), and being prepared for rain means being prepared for wind.
  • Raincoat. Be ready for the occasional shower by packing a raincoat in your daypack—you never know when you’ll need it!
  • UK power adapter. This three-pronged adapter is different from the two-prong European adapter, so make sure you order the right one before traveling to London.
  • Layers. Be sure to pack a windproof and waterproof jacket and a sweater for your journey, even if you’re traveling to London during the spring and summer—the weather can shift quite quickly.

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WHAT TO SEE IN LONDON

There’s no shortage of famous sites to see throughout London, and our expert local guides make sure you don’t miss a single one on our London tours. If you want to have a true London experience, you can even take a double decker bus to enjoy all the top sites from the road like Go Ahead staffer Sally. “I rode around and basically used [the bus] as my way of getting from one side of town to the other, like a taxi,” she said. “It’s an awesome way to view the city.”

  • Buckingham Palace. What’s a visit to London without seeing the enormous royal residence, Buckingham Palace? Do some research before going to try to catch the famous Changing of the Guard, a free ceremony where a group of soldiers currently protecting the palace change places with a new group of soldiers.
  • London Eye. Another iconic London landmark is the ferris wheel that you see in most images of the city. If you’re looking for the best view of London, the top of the London Eye is it! It’s even a little fancier than a typical fairground ferris wheel—you get to sit in an enclosed, air-conditioned capsule for your viewing experience.
  • Tower Bridge. Many people mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge due to the popular kid’s song. Regardless, Tower Bridge is yet another symbol of London with two towers that are connected at the upper level by two walkways. You can walk across the bridge for free on the lower deck, but if you want the upper deck view, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to the Tower Bridge Exhibition during free time.
  • Westminster Abbey has been the coronation church for the monarchy since 1066, and visiting the abbey is one of the best things to do in London. Most people recognize the church by its two towers on the western façade. Looking at photos of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in this church and then stepping into it in person is a very special experience.
  • Big Ben. Known formally as the Great Bell, Big Ben is the nickname for the bell inside the clock tower that is attached to the Palace of Westminster. Together, Big Ben and Elizabeth Tower are a symbol of London, and standing on the Westminster Bridge admiring them is a memorable experience for those who have always dreamt of visiting London.
  • Windsor Castle is about an hour outside of London and well worth the trip, especially if you’re interested in learning more about British royal history. The castle has acted as a retreat for the British Royal Family for 900 years and is the world’s largest and longest-inhabited castle. Add the excursion to the castle and you’ll get to join a Blue Bade Guide on a tour through the State Apartments, St. George’s Chapel, and more.

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HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN LONDON

Need to pass the time in London? There are plenty of (free!) ways to spend your free time during your stay. Here are some of the top things to do in London in-between your tour activities.

  • Stroll through Trafalgar Square. This world-famous square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar, which the British unsurprisingly won in 1805. The tall Nelson’s Column stands at the center of the square with four lion statues sitting at its base. One of the most prominent art museums, The National Gallery, sits in the square. If you’re an art aficionado, be sure to check that out.
  • Visit Hyde Park, which is in the heart of London and is known as the location of many events and concerts. Take a walk through this relaxing park and make sure to stop by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. If you have more time, try your hand at tennis or horse riding through the park.
  • Grab a bite at Borough Market, the oldest food market in London. The stalls range in variety from vegetable, cheese, meat, and seafood stands to takeout “restaurants” and sellers of artisan products. The market is truly a global experience that represents just how multicultural London is.
  • Visit St. James Park, which has an entrance right next to Buckingham Palace. Take some time to explore the park after touring the outer grounds of the Queen’s residence. The park has a small lake with two islands called West Island and Duck Island. St. James Palace, the most senior royal palace in the UK, is located on the perimeter of St. James Park.
  • Cross Abbey Road. Your trip to London may not be complete without visiting the location where The Beatles took their famous photo walking across Abbey Road. Many people try their hand at taking the same iconic photo. Posing or not, don’t miss this iconic experience!

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WHAT (& WHERE) TO EAT IN LONDON

English cuisine is basically the definition of comfort food, and London is the best place to try all of the classic English dishes. Here are some of the best foods to try on tour in London.

  • Fish & chips. You’ll find this iconic dish on the menu in most of the classic English restaurants and pubs. White fish is lightly breaded and fried to perfection and served with a side of crispy chips, or fries, to make for the perfect lunch or dinner. Looking for one of the best places to eat fish and chips, or any other traditional English fare? “Rules is London’s oldest restaurant,” said staffer Sally. “It has a nice, old-fashioned twist to it.”
  • Sunday roast. You really can’t go wrong with this traditional spread, which is very popular among British families. Your plate will be filled with a few main components: meat, like medium-rare roast beef or chicken, brown gravy, Yorkshire pudding (called popovers in the U.S.), roast potatoes, and a vegetable side like peas. We recommend checking out the Pig & Butcher for your traditional Sunday roast.
  • Beef pie. Savory pies are popular in Britain, and this dish is a classic with a history. Sailors needed a way to store and preserve meat, so they decided to stuff it into a pie crust, thus creating the hearty meat (beef) pie. The ingredients inside a meat pie can vary, but there are always three main ones: beef, mushrooms, and good English ale.
  • An English breakfast is another filling dish, also known as the “full breakfast.” Come hungry for this dish that consists of sausages (called “bangers”), bacon, fried or poached eggs, baked beans, sautéed tomatoes, and crispy toast. If you’re feeling even hungrier, you can usually add black pudding (blood sausage), mushrooms, and potatoes to your plate. Needless to say, this meal will probably fill you up for the entire day.
  • Scones. We wanted to end the list with something a bit lighter. Usually enjoyed during afternoon tea, scones are denser than biscuits and are made with eggs, while biscuits are not. Scones also typically crumble instead of flake. Try them with jam and clotted cream or butter for a classic bite.

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WHAT TO DRINK IN LONDON

You won’t want to miss out on these popular drinks during your stay in London… they’re the perfect accompaniment to any English dish!

  • Tea. England is known around the world for its tradition of afternoon tea. What kind of tea, you may wonder? There are hundreds of types of tea sold in England, but some of the popular kinds are Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Yunnan. The tea that’s served is typically grown in India and enjoyed alongside light sandwiches, scones, and pastries. You’ll have to visit London to find out which tea you like the best!
  • Gin & tonic. This is a classic (and simple) British cocktail. All you need is gin, tonic water, and lime slices. It’s the perfect drink to properly kickoff a night out in London!
  • Pimm’s cup. You can’t get more British than this super refreshing cocktail that’s most often enjoyed during the summer months. Pimm’s No. 1 is a brand of gin-based liqueur, which is combined with lemon juice, ginger ale, and colorful fruit garnishes.

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SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN LONDON

You’ll always remember your trip to London with fondness, especially if you buy a few keepsakes. Make sure you pick up these uniquely British items before you leave the city.

  • A tea tin. Tea time is a British tradition, and it’s for a reason: The tea sold in London is incomparable to grocery store brands in the U.S. If you’re a fan of tea, make sure to pick up a tin before you leave. After you’ve finished the tea, you’ll have a tin as a souvenir as well! We recommend shopping in the tea section of the department store Fortnum & Mason for a delicious selection.
  • Union Jack merchandise. The flag of the United Kingdom is referred to as the “Union Jack” and is a symbol of England. Pick up something with the Union Jack flag on it as a reminder of your trip.
  • Gin. Pubs around the British capital are known to make delicious gin and tonics, so it seems fitting to pick up a nice bottle of gin to conclude your trip to London. We recommend Jensen’s Old Tom Gin for a true taste of the city.
  • An umbrella. There’s even a store in London that’s dedicated to selling only umbrellas called James Smith & Sons. You’re not going to buy a better quality umbrella anywhere else—this store has been around since 1830!

Dreaming of traveling on one of our London tours? Have any of your own London travel tips? Share your favorite things to do in London on our Facebook page!


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About the author | Cayleigh Heitsmith
Cayleigh knew she was hooked on travel after studying abroad in France during college. She went on to graduate and move to southern France (and afterward, Berlin, Germany) for the following three years. When she’s not traveling or working as a Travel Support Specialist for Go Ahead, she enjoys road biking, discovering new restaurants and cuisines, and spending time with her family in Vermont.

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