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London Visitors’ Guide: Exploring the City Your Way

London Visitors' Guide

London is a city that can’t be described using one word. It’s filled with iconic attractions, rich culture, high fashion, and famous stories. As you look around, you’ll notice the old blends seamlessly with the new — only in London could modern skyscrapers serve as a backdrop for the baroque dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

It’s a city with something for every taste and budget, which is only one of the reasons we at Solgaard love London. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or you want to explore the city from a new angle, our London visitors’ guide can help you plan an amazing trip.

London Visitors’ Guide Quick Links

7 Quick Tips for First-Time London Visitors

  • Pack a rain jacket instead of an umbrella. London rain is sporadic, so it’s a good idea to have a waterproof rain jacket folded up inside your bag or backpack.
  • Avoid taking the Tube during peak hours whenever possible. You’ll run into massive crowds Monday through Friday between 6:00AM and 9:30AM and from 4:00PM and 7:00PM when Londoners are traveling to and from work.
  • Walk on the left side of the escalators to the underground. People who to ride keep to the right so they aren’t in the way — if you don’t follow suit, you’ll annoy the locals.
  • Visit Oxford Street during the week. While the area is always busy since it’s the main shopping street, it’s especially crowded on the weekend — and you don’t want to end up in a human traffic jam.
  • Check park closing time before entering. Parks in London are locked up at night. Don’t get stuck inside. Before heading in, check the park’s opening and closing time at the gate.
  • Before visiting Buckingham Palace, check the schedule for the changing of the guard ceremony. It doesn’t happen every single time the guard changes. Also, be prepared to arrive about an hour before the ceremony starts to get a good spot.
  • Save money on admission to some of the most-popular London tourist attractions by using London Pass. Pro Tip: You have an entire year to activate your London Pass once it’s purchased, so be on the lookout for discounts and deals several months before your trip.

Before you dive into the rest of our London visitors’ guide, check out the video below to see some of our favorite spots.

London Visitors’ Guide: Trip Planning 101

Wondering what you should pack to avoid looking like a London tourist? Or what the best London attractions are if you want to see the city from a new angle? Or if there’s actually a rainy season in London?

In this London travel guide, we answer some of your most pressing questions — and avoid the boring stuff. Why? Because you need to plan your trip like a pro. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

What Is the Best Time to Visit London?

There isn’t really a best time to visit. London is amazing throughout the year. But there are a few things you should consider when planning your trip.

London Visitors' Guide

London Weather Considerations

London is often associated with rain, but it isn’t because it’s constantly raining there. It’s because the rain is unpredictable. Although sudden rain showers happen more frequently between the beginning of March and the end of May, there isn’t really a set rainy season. Basically, you should bring a raincoat regardless of when you visit.

London has four distinct seasons, but overall the temperature is fairly moderate. Average high temperatures range from 48 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees Celsius) in the winter and 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) in the summer. But the city has been known to have the occasional heat wave from time to time.

London weather boils down to this: if you come prepared, are willing to go with the flow, and have a good attitude, the city’s weather won’t spoil your trip. Sure, you might spend the morning soaking up the sun along the banks of the Thames, and the afternoon dancing in the mud at a music festival. But that’s half the adventure, right?

Annual Events in London

London Visitors' Guide

Whether you prefer to avoid massive crowds or you love a good party, it’s a good idea to know as much about annual events in London as you can before you plan your trip.

Of course, London has events similar to those in other cities. You can catch London Fashion Week in February and September, and the London Film Festival in October. Sports fans might enjoy the London Marathon, which takes place in April, and Wimbledon, which usually takes place during the last week of June and the first week of July.

The city also hosts various events around Bonfire Day and throughout the Christmas and New Year’s season. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind event to attend, you might want to check out one of these.

London Visitors' Guide

Trooping the Colour — June

Also known as The Queen’s Birthday Parade, Trooping the Colour is a famous British ceremony dating back to the 17th Century. It consists of two major parts — the actual trooping of the colors, which is when flags of the battalion get passed down through the ranks of soldiers — and the Queen’s inspection of her troops and royal salute.

London Visitors Guide

City of London Festival — June or July

The City of London festival typically takes place during the last two weeks of June or July. Throughout the event, you can take part in various activities, attend concerts, peruse exhibits, and take city tours. The events are usually centered around the history of dance, music, opera, and literature, and they often take place in gardens or squares near prominent sites like St. Paul’s Cathedral.

London Visitors Guide

Notting Hill Carnival — August

The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the world’s largest street carnivals. Each year, close to one million people attend the vibrant three-day event, which celebrates Caribbean culture. During the carnival, you’ll find costume-clad street performers, vendors selling jerk chicken and traditional goat stew, and people dancing in the street to reggae, rumba, and zouk music. The event is always held in August, starting on a Saturday and ending on a Monday. If you can only attend one day, go on Monday to catch the Notting Hill Grand Finale Parade.

London Visitors Guide

Lord Mayor’s Show — October 29th

Lord Mayor’s Show is one of the largest yearly events in London — a tradition that dates back to the 16th Century. The parade procession runs from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Royal Courts of Justice, marking the oath of allegiance to the crown through a magnificent display of music, dance, and fireworks.

Best London Neighborhoods For Tourists

London Visitors Guide

Before you start weighing the pros and cons of local hotels, hostels, and AirBnBs (and wading your way through countless reviews), you need to decide where you want to stay within the city. For the best experience, choose a neighborhood that fits your style, personality, and itinerary — this mini London neighborhood guide will help you find a perfect location.

Top 5 London Neighborhoods For Tourists

London Visitors Guide

1. Covent Garden: If you want a location in the middle of everything happening in London daily, Covent Garden is your neighborhood. In the center of the neighborhood is a cobbled piazza and restored 19th-Century market complete with street performers. And many of the best London attractions sit close by, making this the ideal neighborhood for first-timers.

London Visitors Guide

2. Kensington, Belgravia, and Chelsea: Bordered by Green Park to the east and Hyde Park to the north, this trio of prominent neighborhoods are known for their world-class museums, contemporary art galleries, and upscale shops. Also, Harvey Nichols and Harrod’s are located a short walk from Kensington, in Knightsbridge.

London Visitors Guide

3. City of London: If big attractions are your thing, City of London is a good option. It’s the historic heart of the city, so even though it’s mostly considered a work district, it houses a lot of heavyweight attractions including St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Roman Ruins, and the Tower of London.

London Visitors Guide

4. Notting Hill: If you love all things colorful and bright, stay in Notting Hill. The neighborhood features some of the best shops and cafes in London — the brightly colored buildings are just an added bonus. The majority of this neighborhood has a quiet, relaxing feel. The exception is the Portobello Road Market, which features antique and specialist shops and stalls.

London Visitors Guide

5. Soho: Unique and lively, Soho is a good neighborhood for those who want to experience London nightlife at its best. The former Red Light district is lined with clubs, bars, and a diverse selection of restaurants. You never know what you’ll stumble across in Soho — It’s a place filled with amazing street art, vibrant people, and one-of-a-kind places.

What to Pack for London

London Visitors Guide Carry-On Closet

When packing for a trip to London, it’s important to think in layers because the weather may change throughout the day. But don’t get the wrong idea about London weather. It’s not as dramatic as you may think. It might rain daily while you’re there, but most of the time, the city only gets short spurts of rain — so you can easily dodge afternoon rain by popping into the nearest cafe or pub.

Unless you’re visiting London in the dead of winter, stick with simple layers of clothing so you won’t be too hot or too cold. For example, spring weather may be sunny and comfortable, or it could be kind of chilly. So you should pack a variety of short sleeve shirts you can easily cover with a long-sleeve shirt, lightweight jacket, sweatshirt, or sweater.

You’ll find several websites encourage travelers to bring waterproof jackets, but unless you have one on hand already or you live somewhere it’s regularly needed, you can skip it. Instead, pack an umbrella, poncho, or raincoat that easily fits in your bag or backpack. You probably won’t need it as much as you think.

If you’re traveling in the winter, you should consider bringing a winter coat and warmer shoes. But overall, London’s winter weather is pretty moderate too. Don’t be surprised if you end up unbuttoning your coat mid-day because it’s nice out.

Basically, while it’s important to pack clothes you can layer easily while you’re exploring London, you shouldn’t overthink it. But make sure your suitcase includes a pair of comfortable walking shoes — you’ll need them.

How to Not Look Like a Tourist in London

London Visitors Guide

Want to avoid looking like a tourist while you’re visiting London? Blending in with the locals is a great way to experience the city in a totally unique way. And these tips could save you some money too — something the locals constantly try to do!

1. Use London’s public bus system to get around whenever possible.

Use an app like Citymapper and catch one of the city’s regular buses to travel throughout the city. The fare is fairly cheap, and as an added bonus, you get some great views of the city. Oh, and even Londoners sit on the top deck so feel free to join them.

Pro Tip: Take the RV1 bus from Tower Hill to Covent Garden for some amazing views of the city. You’ll cross over the Tower Bridge (Londoners don’t call this the London Bridge), ride along the Southbank, and then cross over the Waterloo Bridge to get to Covent Garden.

2. Unlock your phone and use a local SIM. 

Google maps is available to use offline, so you can use it even if you’re using a phone with a foreign SIM. But it’s actually super simple to get your phone to work normally.

Stop in one of the many tourist shops around town to get your phone unlocked (but avoid purchasing a plastic statue of Big Ben). Once your phone is unlocked, you can buy a local SIM card and use the internet on your phone like you normally would at home.

3. Don’t carry a large daypack around, and especially don’t wear it on your front.

If you want to stand out, carrying a large daypack around on your chest will do it. London isn’t any more dangerous than other major cities. So throw your purse or backpack over your shoulder while you make your way to the cute little cafe on the corner.

4. Don’t go all “fangirl” if you see a celebrity. 

Most Londoners wouldn’t bat an eye if Benedict Cumberbatch was at the table next to them in a local cafe. London is a major city, so yes, celebrities live there. And that’s exactly what you should consider if someone with star quality passes you on the street — it’s their home.

Unless you’re a superfan, let them be. Don’t annoy them. (And don’t annoy the Queen’s guard either).

5. Keep your Oyster Card handy. 

Don’t buy one-way or day passes for the Tube or bus. Instead, get an Oyster Card — and keep it handy. If you hold up the line entering and exiting the train station, you’re sure to hear random “tuts” and sighs from locals.

You can purchase an Oyster Card before your trip and have it delivered to your house. Or you can buy one at the airport. To top it up, visit the website or you can add more money to it at the train station. Also, when you leave London, you can sell back your Oyster Card for a bit of extra cash.

Unusual Places to Visit In London

London Visitors Guide

You probably have most of the must-see sites on your London sightseeing list already — or you’ve “been there, done that.” So in this London visitors' guide, we decided to create a sightseeing section that (hopefully) inspires you to do new things.

London Visitors Guide

1. Drink tea like the Queen at Twinings Tea Shop.

The first Twinings tea shop opened its doors in 1706. And the original location is still open 300+ years later.

It’s located along the Strand, sandwiched between two larger buildings. Pop in when you can for some tea, so you can tell your friends you’ve had the same tea the Queen drinks.

(In 1837, Queen Victoria gave the company a royal warrant. It’s been providing tea to the royal family since.)

London Visitors Guide

2. Pose for selfies at Platform 9 3/4.

When you’re passing through King’s Cross Station, stopping at Platform 9 3/4 is a must — how else will all your Insta followers know you were really in London?

The magical entryway to the Hogwart’s Express is located between Platforms 9 and 10 — obviously. So if you’re a Harry Potter fan, snap a few quick picks.

Don’t get overly excited though. Dobby must have locked the entryway again because that baggage cart is stuck for good. Maybe you can take a flying car to Hogwarts instead?

(Or you could head over to Leadenhall Market instead — the ornate Victorian marketplace was the setting for Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter films. (You’ll also find stores and restaurants to explore while you’re there.)

London Visitors Guide

3. Explore all things neon at God’s Own Junkyard.

Ever wondered what God would keep in a junkyard? No. We haven’t either.

But if you want something random to do while you’re in London, you might want to check out all the neon signs there.

This salvage yard is where Chris Bracey showcases a collection of his personal work — which has a big cult following in LA and London. His signs have appeared behind some of the world’s biggest stars — including Jack Nicholson in Batman and Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

London Visitors Guide

4. Paddle your way down the Thames in a bovine boat.

Stop by The Milk Float — a floating bar and cafe in Hackney — to rent a Moo Canoe. They rent canoes by the hour from 10AM to 6PM every weekend.

You don’t have to have prior experience to rent a canoe. They have crew members there to go through safety measures with you before you start your adventure — and all safety equipment is provided.

Oh, and this place gets a few extra cool points because they have volunteers who regularly clean the Thames to keep it pollution-free.

London Visitors Guide

5. Drink coffee in a Victorian toilet at Attendant.

In Victorian times, this quirky cafe was a public toilet. Now, it’s a place where people gather to drink coffee.

The old urinals are even a main focal point of the decor — they’ve been cleaned, don’t worry. And the wrought-iron is so authentic baristas regularly turn people away because they think they’re entering a public loo.

London is an intriguing, lively place you’ll either love or hate — of course, we hope you love it as much as we do. Spend as much time as you possibly can exploring the massive city. In fact, don’t even take time to unpack — use the Carry-On Closet instead.


 



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