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London is without a doubt, one of the best cities in the world! It boasts some of the most famous buildings, restaurants, shops, museums and galleries. And it is steeped in 2000 years of history. It’s also one of the most international cities, with more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages spoken. And it’s just as easy to get Mexican street food as it is a Sunday roast.
With 9 million people who call London their home, and a whopping 30 million visitors each year, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed. But spend some time deciding what you’d like to see and do, and you can have the perfect weekend away. Maybe you want to explore the Tower of London, visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace or shop ‘til you drop over in Oxford Street. Or perhaps you want to party with celebs in Mayfair or dine at the top of The Shard. Yes, it might rain a lot and no, people won’t smile on the Tube, but there really is something for everyone. Here’s our guide to what to do, see and where to stay in London, whether you’re splashing out or on a budget.
Where to stay in London
If you’re splashing out for a special occasion, The Dorchester in Mayfair is the height of sophistication. Housed in a landmark 1930’s Art Deco building, it has a spa and fitness centre, Michelin-Starred restaurant and sumptuous 5-star boutique bedrooms with marble bathrooms and fluffy bathrobes. The hotel also features a landscaped terrace and famous tearooms. The exclusive hotel overlooks Hyde Park, and is situated in prestigious Mayfair. The Dorchester is a 10-minute walk from Knightsbridge. The Museum Mile is a 20-minute walk, and Oxford Street is just a mile away.
Newly revived King’s Cross is a good choice and easy to get to. With trains from many locations coming straight into the mainline station, as well as the Eurostar. It’s great for bars and restaurants, and the 4-star Megaro Hotel, with its stylish rooms is the perfect place to stay. Each room has a rainfall shower and a media system for movies and music. It’s a short walk from Camden, a great choice for theatre, shopping and entertainment. It’s well located for Tube, train and bus links to other parts of London, and Regent’s Park and the British Museum are also a short walk away.
Or how about the uber-cool citizenM hotel in Shoreditch. As the creative hub of London’s East End, the area is home to lots of interesting markets, bars and restaurants. Every room is fitted with a flat-screen TV, toiletries, wall-to-wall windows, mood lighting, an international plug system and black-out blinds. Old Spitalfields Market is an 8-minute walk away and Brick Lane Market is a 9-minute walk away. London Stansted Airport has direct links from Liverpool Street Station, which is a 12-minute walk away.
If maritime history it more your thing, there’s no better place than the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Home to the Meridian Line, Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Naval College including the fabulous Painted Hall, London’s cable car, Greenwich Market, Greenwich Park and The O2 arena. Right in the heart of Greenwich is the 4-star De Vere Devonport House. This Georgian-style hotel overlooks Greenwich Park and the River Thames. Bright en-suite rooms have a flat-screen TV with Sky satellite channels, tea/coffee and desk space. Greenwich Train Station and DLR train links are close by, for access to Central London in about 20 minutes.
For theatre-goers, the 4-star Park Plaza London Waterloo is perfectly situated. With London’s theatre district within walking distance, or a short taxi ride away. Plus it’s just a 15-minute walk to the London Eye on the South Bank. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament is 900 yards away. And National Theatre, Tate Modern and Westminster Abbey are within walking distance. London Waterloo Station, offering connections to north London and the City, can be reached in less than 5 minutes on foot.
Getting around London
The best way to see London is on foot. Central London is fairly walkable and there are lots of attractions and exciting places to visit within walking distance of each other. But to cross from one side of London to the other, you’ll need the help of public transport. You can’t use cash on any buses, trains or the Tube, so you’ll need to get your ticket before you board. Get an Oyster card to save money (you load it up with money and touch in and out on the bus or Tube), or use your contactless card which charges you the same price as if you were using an Oyster card. You can also jump on as many buses as you like within the hour for the same price as just 1 journey.
Also, try the riverboat services along the Thames for a scenic view of the city. And of course you have the famous London black cab.
Places to visit in London
London is known for many famous attractions, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the London Eye and the Shard to name just a few. St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey dominate the historic church scene, and Tower Bridge showcases the best of Victorian engineering. The British Museum, the Natural History Museum, Tate Modern and the V&A are some of the best museums in London, and are all free to visit.
Further afield, The Royal Observatory in Greenwich and Hampton Court Palace are worth a visit. And popular attractions such as Madame Tussauds and London Dungeon are great for a rainy day. Check out The London Pass which gives you access to the best attractions at discounted prices, including Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours, which are a great way to explore the city. And for animal-lovers, London Zoo in Regent’s Park is a must-visit.
If you’re on a budget, there are over a thousand green spaces in Greater London. There are eight royal parks, of which five – Hyde Park, St James’s Park, Regents Park, Green Park and Kensington Gardens are in central London. The other parks are Greenwich, Richmond and Bushy Park. Find more than 600 deer roaming freely in Richmond Park. See the pelicans in St James’s Park, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.
Where to eat in London
You can find food from almost any part of the world in London – like Indian in Brick Lane, Lebanese in Edgware Road and Caribbean in Brixton. Street food has become popular in recent years, and make sure you check out the food markets for fresh local produce. Borough Market near London Bridge, has more than 70 stalls selling delicious fruit and veg, meat, fish and cheese. You can also sample an eclectic blend of exotic cuisine from all over the world.
For brunch with a view, book a table at the Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden. Or the famous Shard. For a special occasion, Balthazar in the heart of Covent Garden, is one of the best French restaurants London has to offer. With a beautiful interior, which is inspired by the original Balthazar in New York, and impeccable service it is perfect for a romantic dinner. And for fine dining, The Ritz is the place to experience the very best cuisine available anywhere in the world. With ingredients which are the finest and freshest available, and of course the service is exemplary. Here you can also sample the British Tradition of Afternoon tea, which is served in the spectacular Palm Court. With a choice of several varieties of tea and a delicious menu to make for an unforgettable afternoon.
Shop ‘til you drop in London
Check out Borough Market for food, Portobello Road Market for antiques and fashion, Camden Market for vintage and alternative clothes, and the Columbia Road Flower Market.
Oxford Street is London’s most famous shopping street, and it’s mostly full of chains and big department stores. And Westfield in Shepherds Bush is the largest shopping centre in Europe. For more independent shops, visit Carnaby Street, Covent Garden or the King’s Road. And you can’t visit London without taking a trip to world-famous Harrods in Knightsbridge, especially at Christmas for it’s stunning festive displays.
A night on the town in London
London’s West End has a huge choice of musicals and plays. For the best tickets either book in advance or try the ticket booths in Leicester Square on the day. If you like live music, check out Ronnie Scotts in Soho for jazz or the Barbican for classical. Or the O2 for big artists, and Camden for up-and-coming bands.
For a pint or two in a cosy London pub, stop by The Old Thameside Inn on the banks of the River Thames, in the scenic London Bridge area. The pub was once an old spice warehouse, and the remains of Winchester Palace stand behind The Old Thameside. The cobbled road that runs behind the pub is linked to the original Clink Prison. Plus a full-scale replica of Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship, the Golden Hind, sits beside on the Thames. When the weather heats up, there are lots of riverside pubs with beer gardens to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a cool rooftop bar, head to the Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, or Radio Rooftop Bar in Aldwych. And to dance the night away, Mahiki in prestigious Mayfair is the ultimate party destination. With its Tiki décor and delicious fresh fruit cocktails, a night out is set to be unique in every respect.
Festivals & Events in London
London has hundreds of festivals and events each year, so you can usually find something going on whenever you visit.
For old-school British events, there’s Trooping the Colour in June, a huge military parade to celebrate the Queen’s Official Birthday, and the Lord Mayor’s Show in November. Other events include fireworks in Chinatown for Chinese New Year, Wimbledon in June/July and the Caribbean style Notting Hill Carnival in August. And not forgetting the annual Christmas lights and plenty of festive events, including pop-up ice rinks throughout November and December.
There is so much more to see and do in exciting London, whether you’re splashing out, or on a budget. Browse Made4Travel to compare deals across the top providers for hotels, guided tours, car rentals and travel.
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