Written by Victoria Philpott
London is one crazy wonderful place. If you’re coming to the Big Smoke for the first time, or even if you’ve been here a while and you’re a tad confused, this London guide has all the answers.
What to do in London
1. I want cheap things to do in London…
Lucky for you there are literally hundreds of things to do in London on a budget. As long as you don’t buy anything there’s always Camden Market, Borough Market or Greenwich Market to look around. Or you could take a walk around Regent’s Park, up Primrose Hill or on Clapham Common. And there’s always the window shopping possibilities on Oxford Street, in Angel or in Notting Hill. Check out what you can do for under a tenner in London and here’s what £15 will get you on the cheap in London too.
2. Where in London is the London Eye and Big Ben?
They’re both in the heart of Westminster, which is on the River Thames. You can see Big Ben from the London Eye and vice versa.
Here’s a handy guide to what other activities there are to do around Westminster including the Houses of Parliament, the Southbank and Westminster Abbey.
3. How can I save money on London’s top attractions?
I’m glad you asked. There are plenty of savings to be had, especially if you have an ISIC card or you’re an OAP. Check out our blog post on the cheapest way to see the top London attractions featuring London Pass | River Cruise | London Walking Tours | Tower of London | Shakespeare’s Globe | London RIB | Buckingham Palace | London Eye | London Dungeons | Madame Tussauds.
4. What’s good to do on a Sunday afternoon in London?
- A river walk along the Southbank.
- Greenwich, Brick Lane or Camden Markets
- Go for a walk in Regents Park or on Hampstead Heath (below)
- Go to Tate Britain or the National Portrait Gallery
- Pub board games in the Edinboro Castle in Camden, or The Clifton in St John’s Wood
5. Where can I buy London West End theatre tickets?
The best place to buy tickets for the theatres in London is either at lastminute.com – they have some great dinner and theatre combined tickets – or at the tkts stand in Leicester Square. If you go on the day you can get some really good deals, sometimes even half price, for the top West End shows including: The Lion King, Matilda, We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia.
6. Where can I see the Royal Family in London?
The Royal Family are a bit spread out these days. Prince Wills and Kate are in Anglesey in Wales. I think Harry is in Suffolk, but he seems to be all over the place with his army career training. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla live in Windsor Castle. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip live at Buckingham Palace in London with the Duke of York (Prince Andrew) and the Earl and Countess of Wessex (Prince Edward and his wife). You’ll know she’s there from the flag flying outside. If she’s not she’ll be at Balmoral Castle in Scotland or away on her many duties. Check out a few more facts about the Royal Family – did you know Queenie doesn’t need a passport?
7. How can I get into the cinema for cheap?
In general the cinema in London is expensive, especially in Leicester Square where the premières are – you’ll pay a premium there. But there are a few ways to see films in London on a budget, think £3.50, just use our cunning guide.
8. Can you recommend a good restaurant in London?
Well, here’s the best Italian restaurants in London. If you’re looking for Chinese just go to ChinaTown and look for the longest queues and join in. For Indian it’s got to be Brick Lane, or try the almighty Tayyabs in Whitechapel. If it’s sushi on a budget you like try Japanika in Spitalfields or any of the many Japanese restaurants in Soho, and for all-American burgers you need Meat Liquor just behind Debenhams on Oxford Street. Kimchee on High Holborn is a great choice for Korean and for Mexican try La Perla in Covent Garden.
9. How many art galleries are in London?
Current guesstimates start at 300. With all the university displays to take into account and all the outdoor art that could be included in the count it’s likely to be much higher than that. The National Gallery, Tate Britain (below), Tate Modern and the National Portrait Gallery are all free to enjoy, as is Somerset House and the Hayward Gallery. These are the biggest and best galleries in London so I’d start with these and see how you get on.
10. Which is the best museum in London?
It’s a tough choice and not one I’m qualified to make. I’d say anything to do with World War II or one that’s highly interactive, but for a more educated opinion by Paulo Ferreira from SimplyLondon.org.uk check out the Top 10 Museums in London.
Travel in London
11. Do I need a visa to travel to London?
It depends where you’re from. If you’re from an EU country you’re free to come and go as you please. If you’re just visiting from the US or Australia you won’t need one. Anyone from countries in the Middle East or Africa will need one, as will anyone from South East Asia. If you’re still unsure take this simple survey by the UK Border Agency.
12. How do I use the London Underground?
If you plan on taking more than one trip in London you should get an Oyster card. You’ll pay a £5 deposit and then your journeys in London will be as much as half price. Charges vary depending on the amount of zones you travel through on your journey, but they start at £2.
- Top up your card
- Check your route on the tube map
- Use the escalators to get down to the tracks – some stations have lifts if you have luggage or pushchairs
- Use the signs to make sure you’re on the right platform
- Wait for your train
- Get on the train, sometimes it can be a push but go for it (just don’t hurt anyone)
- Listen to the announcements to make sure you get off on time
- Follow signs if you need to change routes
- Otherwise just get out of there – you’ll need to swipe again on the way out
- Be respectful to all other passengers down there, it can be a stressful place.
13. Is the London Underground 24 hours?
No. The tube starts to shut down at around 11pm, but it depends on the line and the station. Check the London Underground closing times before you start your journey. During peak hours they keep as many lines open as possible, but when it’s off-peak they close some for maintenance. It needs to close overnight so full maintenance can be given to all the tracks. It’s the oldest underground in the world so needs constant love to keep it chugging away.
14. What’s the cheapest way to get around London as a backpacker?
Walking (free), buses (£1.30 with an Oyster card, £2.20 without) and Boris bikes (free for less than 1/2 hr), underground (from £2.20) and taxis (depends).
15. Are there any good day trips from London?
Loads. London is just a little over an hour away from many cool destinations, including Kent, Southampton, Salisbury, Windsor, Brighton (below) and St Albans. Here are some more cheap weekend breaks from London.
16. How can I get cheaper train tickets in London?
The best way to get cheap train tickets is to book as much in advance as possible and with the National Rail website. You can save up to 75% depending on your route and destination. If it’s too late for all that then ask about any discount when you go to book at the station and make sure you compare prices on the website before so you can go armed with information. If you’re a student, OAP or in a group you can also save money. Just ask at the till.
17. Where can I find out about accommodation in London?
18. Which is the best club in London?
Well, that’s a difficult decision my friend. My personal favourite would be Corsica Studios for the cool crowd and cosy venue, but check out the top 10 clubs in London and then let me know what you think.
19. How do I order a drink in a London pub?
In nearly all of London’s pubs you will go up to the bar, say “A pint of lager please” and you will be rewarded. If you’re not ready say “Just a moment please mate,” don’t stand there gormless while there are other customers about. Not many pubs will offer table service, but you will often find it in the bars. When you order food remember to get the number of your table so they know where to deliver it to.
20. Where can I get a cheap drink in London?
Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise – there are plenty of places for a budget drink in London. Check out this post for the cheapest pints in London and you’ll find the best London Happy Hours listed here too.
21. Which bars are open the latest in London?
- The Dogstar in Brixton is open until 4am at weekends.
- Tinseltown Diner in Farringdon is open from midday to 5am on weeknights and 4am at weekends.
- Bar Italia in Soho is open 24 hours, although it’s more of a cafe.
- The Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch is open until 2am at weekends.
- The Dolphin in Hackney is open until 4am at weekends.
22. Which bar has the best views of London?
I’ll leave it up to you to make your mind up, but here are my top 5…
- Paramount at the top of Centre Point at Tottenham Court Road.
- The bar at the top of Boundary in Shoreditch.
- The top of Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank.
- The Tattershall Castle on the Southbank.
- A bottle of wine at the top of Primrose Hill (below) does it for me!
23. Where can I find the coolest places to drink in London?
Well, the jury’s out on that one and everyone you ask will have a different opinion. But this is my blog post so I’ll give you mine… in order…
- Old Street
24. What cool stuff is there to do at night in London apart from drinking?
Errrrmmm, you could go and see a gig, eat, go to the cinema, go for a walk, go on a bike ride (bring lights and a helmet), grab a coffee, go for a run on the deserted streets, take a walk down Oxford Street without banging into people. Loads!
25. What festivals are there in London?
Hundreds, literally. Whether you like comedy, food, sports, music or fashion there is always something going on to entertain you in the Big Smoke. Check out our London Summer Festival Guide for more details.
26. What’s it like at Notting Hill Carnival?
Notting Hill Carnival is a crazy day out. There’s partying down the roads, drinking on the pavements and dancing everywhere in between. If the sun shines it’s a really fun day for all ages, so long as you don’t need the toilet of course. They’re hard to come by during the carnival. Just take some booze in your bag, a bit of cash for some jerk chicken and a good attitude and you’ll have a great time!
27. Is Gay Pride in London any good?
Check out our post on Gay Pride in London for more details, but the day is given over to pure, hedonistic celebration so of course it is!
28. How do they celebrate St Patrick’s Day in London?
It might be better to ask, ‘how don’t they?’ St Patrick’s Day in London is always a crazy affair with stage shows and dancing in Trafalgar Square and parties and special nights in every pub. Head to the Irish O’Neills bars for the craziest nights, if you can get in that is.
29. Are there any free festivals in London?
Yeah, course there is! The Udderbelly Comedy Festival comes to the Southbank in April time, the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend is in June, the More London Free Festival has comedy, films and music over the summer. If you can wait until September there’s always the Imperial Wharf Jazz Festival and throughout 2012 there’s sure to be extra festivals for the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
30. Where is the best shopping in London?
Depends what you’re into. For more unique places, see the next question, if you’re looking for your standard High Street treats like River Island, Topshop and co then Oxford Street is your best bet. If it’s raining head to the Westfield Centres in either Stratford or White City and you’ll find the same same but different and undercover. If you want the High Street but on a smaller scale I like Selby’s in Holloway, or the N1 Shopping Centre in Angel. Kilburn is great if you’re after the 3Ps: Primark, Peacocks and Poundland.
31. Where are the most unique places for shopping in London?
The markets are always a good bet – Camden Market, Greenwich Market – and try Kingly Court on Carnaby Street too. There are some cool vintage-style shops there. You’ll also find some cool, more unique purchases in Notting Hill or West Hampstead. Of course, Regent’s Street is the place to be if you have more than a few pennies to spare – if not, try the market on Roman Road in Bow instead.
32. What can I do with my mum in London?
Spoil her rotten with our top mum-friendly ideas for London.
33. Where are the best charity shops in London?
London’s charity shops are famous, hunt around and you’re sure to get a top bargain at half the price.
34. Are there any boot sales in London, vintage fairs or jumble sales?
The Lexington in Angel has regular vintage fairs, or try Camden Passage in Angel for more of the same. Holloway has two boot sales which I used to be a regular at before I moved, but anyone is allowed to set up a stall which makes for some cool stuff, but also some questionable sources. St Augustine’s car-boot sale in Kilburn is a good one – and St Mary’s just over the road too.
35. Which 2012 London sporting events can I see?
The Olympics of course, although all the tickets are gone. There’s also Wimbledon and if you don’t get tickets here’s our guide to where to watch Wimbledon in London or if football’s more your thing here’s a list of the best sports bars in London.
36. What will London be like when the Olympics is on?
37. How can I get tickets to Wimbledon?
Luckily for you, here’s a blog post with everything you need to know about the Wimbledon Tennis Championship.
38. Where can I watch the London Marathon?
According to our blog post on running the London Marathon, the last mile and a half down the Embankment and finally down the Mall are the best points. Or for a better view, lace up your trainers and experience it for yourself!
39. Where are the football clubs in London?
The premier league clubs in London include: Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Fulham at Craven Cottage, Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road and Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
40. What’s the weather like in London in the summer?
When the sun beams down there is no better place in the world to be than London. Here’s some cool stuff to do while summer’s in the city.
40. What are the people like in London?
There is no one way to look at the ‘people in London’. They are from every background, nationality, parenting, country, thinking that you could imagine. The eclectic mix is just one aspect of what makes London so great. But if you are looking for some stereotypical examples of Englishness check out our guide on How to be English.
41. Where are all the Australians in London?
There are big Australian ex-pat communities in Clapham, Shepherd’s Bush and Fulham and here’s the top Australian bars in London known for crazy nights and great opportunities for meeting fun people.
43. Where are the green open spaces in London?
There are lots of little parks too, but the big ones include Regent’s Park, Battersea Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Hampstead Heath, St James’ Park, Greenwich Park, Green Park and Richmond Park. Plenty of space for you to chuck a frisbee about!
44. Is London safe?
There are 31,993 police officers employed by the Metropolitan Police. Of course in some areas the crime rate is higher, as in any big city. As a 4-year resident of London I’ve always felt safe in the day and I just avoid the dodgier areas at night. Although I have had my iPhone pickpocketed on the bus so make sure you keep your wits about you, and a laptop stolen from my house when my friend left the window open (thanks Anna).
45. What is it really like in London?
Exciting, fun, adventurous, crazy, ridiculous, intense and brilliant. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Thanks Victor O, Laura Nolte, Jim Bahn, FotoosVanRobin, aurÃ©lien., Cristiano Betta, acme, garryknight, currybet for the excellent images from Flickr.com. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.