London, is a city of a rich history, vibrant with world-famous tourist attractions, architecture, museums, theaters, and historical sites. It is hard not to fall in love and this city has become our bias. I recently visited London again and thus it is about time to update and revamp my old article to give updated information to help if anyone is planning for a next holiday to the UK.
Where to Stay
London is huge and if this is your first time coming to London, deciding where to stay can be overwhelming. The city is huge and many of the attractions are spread out across the city. And like other capital city, prices of accommodation also varies across the city. Here’s my pick of the areas to choose depending on your preference of what you would like to do in London.
1. Westminster and Victoria
If this is your first time in London and you want to hit the top attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, The Parliament House, the National Gallery, and the London Eye, then look no further than Westminster and Victoria neighborhood. The convenience factor here is unmatched, as you’ll be a stone’s throw away from several world-renowned attractions that London is known for.
Westminster has very rich history behind it and the perfect place for people who are interested in finding out cool facts about the city. You’ll be steps away from the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) and Westminster Abbey. Trafalgar Square is also located here, which has a handful of cafes and pubs. St James Park is also just around the corner to rest after watching Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or if you like to jog in the park.
I have stayed in both Westminster and Victoria. You will get to cover a lot of areas I mentioned above within walking distance if you stay in Westminster. Victoria area is slightly cheaper than Westminster and it has a benefit of being close to Victoria Train Station if you have a plan to go outside of London. You will also have a great travel connections from Victoria Station and plenty of tube stations that can access 3 different subway lines.
2. Covent Garden
Covent Garden is one of London’s most-loved neighbourhoods, located in the heart of the West End. It is a must-see destination for anyone who enjoys shopping, theatre/play, restaurants and bars. Things to see in and around Covent Garden include the London Transport Museum, the Royal Opera House, Somerset House and Covent Garden Market. From Covent garden. Chinatown is immediately to the north and within walking distance so you will never run out of option for dinner.
Another great feature of Covent Garden is the events. Whether it’s a pop-up for a cool brand, an al-fresco dining experience, or the magical decorations around Christmas, this neighborhood is sure to brighten your mood the second you step foot in it. For hustle and bustle, take a stroll down Oxford Street, London’s largest shopping district. And when you’re ready to relax, St James Park and Hyde Park is just around the corner, filled with luxurious green space where you can enjoy a coffee and people-watch.
3. South Bank and Southwark
Close to Thames river, South Bank is surrounded by important sights and attractions such as Tate Modern museum, the London Eye, and the Shard. There are also plenty of cafes where you can get pastry and coffee to sit on the benches late afternoon after all the walking and soak in the atmosphere. Southbank at dusk is one of my favourite view in London other than the Tower bridge.
Located on the heels of Borough Market, Southwark has it all when it comes to stunning views, exciting attractions, and delicious food and drink options. Southwark is close to the Shard where you can take a great shot of the city from above. It also offers a great view in general for dinner, a cocktail, or just taking in London.
4. Kensington and Chelsea
Kensington and Chelsea represent a peace and quiet escape at a luxury hotel but you still have several attractions on your doorstep. Kensington and Chelsea are two of the wealthiest areas in the entire London and they’re very well connected to the center of the city.
This royal borough in the west end is filled with quintessential British architecture, colorful streets, and lovely storefronts. You can walk to Sloane Square, a famous shopping street filled with cute cafes and fancy restaurants or take a stroll through Duke of York square in the heart of Chelsea which hosts a fine food market on weekend, before museum hopping. The area is also filled with some of London’s best parks, including Kensington Palace Garden and Battersea Park in Chelsea.
I recently stayed in South Kensington for the weekend and fall in love with the area. It is a quiet area with great restaurant, great shopping area and very close to Kensington park where Kensington Palace and famous museums such as Victoria & Albert Museum and Natural History Museum sits. Yet, it still well connected with center of London with tubes and bus
5. Kings Cross and St Pancras
Kings Cross and St Pancras have gone through a major regeneration over recent years. Kings Cross St Pancras Underground Station is London’s busiest with six Underground lines radiating out in all directions. This makes the area such a popular place to stay, as getting to all parts of London is very simple. As St Pancras is the terminus for the Eurostar many of London’s visitors will arrive in London here, therefore staying in Kings Cross and St Pancras is an excellent option for the Eurostar visitor.
There are no major attractions situated directly in the area so the majority of people staying here go no further than walking between their hotel and the Euston Road and the two stations.
The only reason for you to do any different is to enjoy the architectural splendour of the gothic St Pancras station, something Harry Potter fans will know of as it was used iin scenes from the film. The Harry Potter 9 ¾ platform at Kings Cross and the British Library are well worth visiting too. Other than this, the area is best used as a base to explore London from.
6. Camden Town
Located in central London and surrounded by many of the city’s main university campuses, Camden offers culture and charm. The sheer music history in Camden also makes it the best area to stay in London if you want to immerse yourself in live music and see as many gigs as they can during their stay in London. Camden’s live music scene has many venues where world-famous artists have performed such as Prince, Blur, Coldplay and many more. Camden has also produced many musicians, most famously Amy Winehouse who has a statue dedicated to her in Camden Market.
Within the district, Camden also has the famous Camden Lock, a market filled with a multitude of treasures along the Regent’s Canal. In the summer, Camden Lock boasts streets and alleyways filled with live music, cute cafes, excellent shopping, and fantastic eats.
Camden is also conveniently located near Regent’s Park where you can get a nature fix in the gardens and admire the adorable animals at the London Zoo.
7. City of London
The city in here technically refer to the heart of London and not the entire city. It is home to Tower of London, St Paul’s cathedral, the iconic Tower Bridge, London bridge and the Shard. This is also where London financial district lies, so the area is bustling during weekdays but quiet on the weekend.
It’s a place with high end hotels and elegant rood top bars where you can see some of the best views in London. It is also a short walk to South Bank, known as the cultural heart of London and the Borrough market. Being a business area means that it is well connected in term of transportation.
8. Notting Hill
If you’re a fan of romantic movie, you will have watched Julia Robert and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill the movie. Notting Hill is dotted with eclectic bookshops, beautiful pastel-painted buildings, quaint cobblestone streets lined with tubs of flowers and a charming weekend market at Portobello selling vintage goods. Every August bank holiday, a million people come out to celebrate Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street festival. Plan your visit in advance if you happen to come during this time because the festivities cover a wide area/
Notting Hill is walking distance to Portobello Road, one of the most famous street markets in the world and is home to one of the UK’s most diverse communities. It has a rich history dating back to the 19th century with millions of visitors visiting the market each year. The market stalls stretch for a mile all the way down Portobello Road and round the corner into Golborne Road. Whether you are just out for a stroll, people watch, looking for a bargain or out to grab a bite to eat, Portobello Road is a great place to spend your time exploring.
The west London site is most famous for having one of the world’s largest antique, bric-a-brac and vintage clothing markets. It’s a location that attracts tourists, locals and celebrities from all walks of life. Visitors can find every type of collectable from stamps, jewelry, furniture, vintage clothing, fresh produce, delicious street food, and freshly baked goods. The street is also home to some incredibly talented musicians busking on the streets. Originally known for its excellent choice of fresh produce, some families have been selling on Portobello Road for generations.
How to get to London Center from Airport
After you have decided on where to stay let’s talk about how to get to London center if you are flying into London. You need to know that London has six major international airports when booking a flight to London. They are: London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, London Stansted and London Southend. Heathrow Airport in London is the UK’s largest and busiest airport as well as being the busiest airport in Europe and the seventh busiest in the world based on passenger traffic. We will outlay here how to get to London center from Heathrow and Gatwick airport
From Heathrow Airport
1. Coach service
National Express coach services operate out of the Heathrow Airport Central Bus Station, to and from central London (Victoria), and destinations all over the UK. The central bus station is located between Terminals 2 and 3, is open 24 hours and is well sign-posted. It is a few minutes walk from the terminals via underground walkways. From Terminal 4 and 5 you can catch a free Heathrow Connect or Heathrow Express service to the Central Bus Station. The travel center at the Central Bus Station opens from 06:00 to 22:30 and provides full details of all services.
National Express is the only direct connection between Heathrow and other airports and runs 100 services a day. They also operate a Hotel Hoppa which serves 21 hotels around Heathrow Airport for just £5 each way door to door, from all terminals and the Central Bus Station.
Heathrow Express offers the fastest route into London from Heathrow Airport. The train runs every 15 minutes and take you to Paddington Station in around 15 minutes journey time. Train prices for the Heathrow Express to Paddington will depend on how far in advance you purchase your ticket. When you buy your Heathrow Express ticket at least 90 days in advance, you can save up to 75%, with an Advanced Single costing just £5.50. Tickets purchased on the day will be £25 for an Anytime Day Single on our Express Service, and £32 for an Anytime Day Single to travel Business First Class on Heathrow Express.
Another advantage to take Heathrow Express Business First Class is starting from 1rst July 2022, Passengers who purchase a Business First ticket will be able to use the priority lane for security at Heathrow airport, enabling them to skip the normal queues.
Elizabeth Line as per June 2022 will also begin serving the station. The line, constructed under the name Crossrail, will run two trains an hour to Terminal 4 from London Paddington railway station. The Elizabeth line currently runs four trains per hour from Paddington station to Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 all day. Two run to Heathrow Terminal 5, and the other two terminate at Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3. Timetable can be seen here.
3. Tubes/London Underground
Heathrow has three stations on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line, one for Terminals 2 & 3, one for Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. The station for Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 is located between the terminals, only a few minutes’ walk via underground walkways. Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 stations are situated in the basements of the terminal buildings.
The average journey time to central London is about 50 – 60 minutes. Tubes run every five minutes at peak times and every nine minutes at off-peak times and weekends. It takes an additional five minutes to reach Terminals 2 & 3. During the night, the Night Bus “N9” connects Heathrow with central London every 30 minutes, so you don’t need to worry if you land at night time.
Full details of timetables and fares are available from Transport for London. The stations for Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 are in the central area between the terminals and a few minutes’ walk from them via underground walkways. Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 stations are in the basements of the terminal buildings. All stations are in Travelcard Zone 6.
If you choose to take the tube you need to know that not all Tubes station have lift and escalators. Some only has stairs so you need to plan carefully if you are carrying suitcases. Click here for guides on which Tube and DLR stations have lifts, escalators or ramps between the street and the platform.
Taxis are a great, hassle-free and convenient way to get to the airport especially you have suitcases and travelling with children. There are over 600 taxi companies serving Heathrow airport and the surrounding areas, many of which specialize in airport taxis and can offer great rates if you book in advance. Example of such service that I have used is Addison Lee.
From Gatwick Airport
1. Coach Service
National Express offer coach routes to and from Gatwick Airport from many locations around the UK, including between other major airports! When arriving at Gatwick Airport, look for a National Express sign outside the arrivals hall of your terminal.
You can also catch a bus from as low as £2 with EasyBus. This low-cost London airport transfers service runs direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria Coach Station, Earls Court and West Brompton. If you are using South Terminal, there’s even a service to London Waterloo.
While EasyBus offer some seats at less than £2, they only have a very limited amount of seats available online at this price and once they are sold they will move to a higher price until they reach their top rate. You will need to book online and as early as possible to get hold of a cheaper ticket. EasyBus run a non-stop service every 15 minutes taking 1 hour and 10 minutes to get you between Gatwick and Central London. The best thing is that they also run from 4am to 1am, so you will nearly always have a bus ready to board, this is very helpful especially if you’re getting in early in the morning!
You will need to take your luggage into consideration if you’re planning to travel with easyBus; passengers are only allowed one piece of hand luggage and one hold case. They also have a policy in place which states that large items such as skis and non-folding pushchairs are prohibited, and this also includes animals. If you have additional luggage to the above, you can purchase an extra seat, but it’s always best to check that your luggage will be permitted before booking.
Gatwick Express is a non-stop service between London Victoria Station (Central London) and London Gatwick Airport which runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes 30 minutes and prices start from just £18.50 for a single ticket and £36.80 for an open return. To book, visit Gatwick Express or call them on 0345 850 1530.
Southern railway runs a train from Victoria station to Gatwick airport and the journey average time is 33 minutes. The first train from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport depart at 00:02 and the last train at 23:35. You can buy the ticket online from their website here. Ticket starts from £18.30 and there is train every 15 minutes. We took this train to get to Gatwick airport as our flight to Nice leave from Gatwick. It takes longer than Gatwick Express and it is not a specific train for airport so it can get crowded with commuters and it doesn’t have a designated place to store suitcases. However we are happy with the price and if we are flying to Gatwick in the future, we will use the Southern train again.
If you have a lot of luggage that you don’t want to deal with on public transport, this is a great option. You will be better off booking in advance as there’s no guarantee that a taxi will be available at your required time, and it will nearly always be cheaper to do it this way.
How to get around
London is one of the most expensive city to live in so utilizing the public transit system is a great hack to get around quickly and save cost. And the best thing about London is it has an absolutely fantastic public transport network, though the plethora of choice can be a bit overwhelming for a first-time visitor.
London is divided into nine fare zones, with zones 1 & 2 being central London, and then increasing in number the further outside the city you get. Heathrow Airport for example is in Zone 6.
Transport in London is operated is by TfL (Transport for London), a government body responsible for all aspects of the transport system in London, from roads to rails and ticketing to maintenance.
There are a number of ways to pay for transport inside London
Oyster card is a smart card that you add money to, so you can pay as you go. Buying a single ticket for one journey is rare and the ticket is more expensive Vs the rate you get if you use Oyster Card. A one-way single ticket on the Underground in Central London is double that of an Oyster fare and not far off the maximum you can pay in a day of unlimited rides using Oyster. You can check the single rate finder here. Oyster card calculates the cheapest fare for you and it is capped daily, eg. for zone 1-2 it is capped to £7.7 per day.
With Oyster Card you can pay as you go to travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, most Elizabeth line, Emirates Air Line and Thames Clippers River Bus services. Take note that Oyster cards aren’t accepted at Elizabeth line stations between Reading and Iver. You can also add Travel Card, Bus & Tram pass and discount into your Oyster card.
If you only have pay as you go credit on your Oyster card, you can lend it to someone else. However two people can’t use the same contactless or Oyster card for a journey. And if you have a Travelcard, Bus & Tram Pass or discount added to your Oyster card, you can’t lend it to someone else.
There are two types of Oyster card. If you buy in London you will get the standard Oyster card. If you buy outside London, including airport trains and National Express coaches, overseas agents and online you will get a Visitor Oyster card. Oyster fares and caps are the same whether you use a standard Oyster or a Visitor Oyster.
Here’s the difference between standard Oyster Card Vs Visitor Oyster cards
- You cannot load 7 day Travelcards on Visitor Oyster cards only standard Oyster cards.
- At the end of your trip both Visitor Oyster cards and standard Oyster cards you can cancel at ticket machines and get any cash left on the Oyster refunded (in cash/coins).
- You can register your standard Oyster Card online so that if you lose your Oyster Card you can stop its use. That feature is not applicable for Visitor Oyster cards.
- Visitor Oyster cards have “special offers” made available to purchasers, normally discounts on anything from food to theatre tickets relevant to visitors.
How to use: Touch your Oyster card in at the start of your journey and touch out at the end on yellow card readers to pay the right fare. Only touch in on buses and trams.
Where can you get an Oyster card in London?
- At Oyster Ticket Stops in many newsagents in London
- At all Tube, London Overground and most Elizabeth line stations
- Some DLR stations
- At Visitor Centres
- At the Tramlink Shop in Croydon
You need to pay £7 for an Oyster card.
How much money should you top up to your Oyster Card?
Add the cost of the daily cap to your card x the number of your days in London. Add a little extra to cover any single journeys at the start or end of your trip if necessary. For example, to and from the airport. If there is money on your Oyster card at the end of your trip, you can get it back or keep it on your card for your next visit (it never expires). You can top up your Oyster Card at the ticket machine in tube station or train station. If you registered your oyster card you can also top up online from Tfl Oyster app.
A Travelcard (in the zones it’s valid for) gives you unlimited travel at any time on bus, Tube, Tram, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth line and National Rail services in London. You can use it on all buses, and if valid in zones 3, 4, 5 or 6, on all trams. Travelcards can start on any day. You can buy 1 day, 7 Day, Monthly and Annual Travelcard.
If you are only going to spend 1 day in London and travel extensively within zone 1-6 it is better to purchase the Day Travelcard paper ticket so you don’t have to pay £7 for an Oyster card.
The popular option for Visitor is the weekly Travelcard which give you seven days’ travel for the price of five days. So if you are going to be in London for minimum 5 days you will be better off purchasing Travelcard.
Note that this is the price in 2022
Where to buy Travelcards?
- Underground stations ticket machines (there are no longer any underground tickets offices). The busier stations in central London have staff to help you use the machines.
- Local shops and newsagents
- Travelcards are also available from Oyster ticket stops. These are newsagents and local shops licensed to sell London transport tickets and Oyster cards. One Day Travelcards are not available from Oyster ticket stops.
- London train stations. One Day Travelcards are available from all London train station ticket offices and ticket macines.
- London Transport Visitor Centres: Victoria, Kings Cross/St Pancras International, Liverpool St & Piccadilly Circus Visitor centres are open on certain days
Contactless Debit or Credit Card
Anyone with a contactless debit or credit card can use it to pay for travel in London. It’s ideal if you don’t have an Oyster card or if you run out of pay as you go credit on your Oyster card.
Your card is used the same way as an Oyster card – you tap in and out at the tube or train station ticket barriers or tap the yellow card reader when you get on a bus. The main difference is that you don’t have to top-up your Oyster card with money, the fare is taken from your debit card or credit card the following day.
You need one contactless debit or credit card per person. You can’t pay for two or more people with one card.
The catch for using contactless method for Visitor is as your home currency is not British pounds your card will be charged like any other overseas purchase so you should check how much exchange rate fee your card issuer charges.
Special Note on Child Fare if you are travelling with children
Children under 11 years old can travel free at any time on the Tube, DLR , Overground and any TfL train service when they are travelling with an adult who has a valid ticket. Up to 4 children under 11 years old accompanied by a paying adult travel free.
Children aged 11 to 15 years must get an 11-15 Oyster ID Card* to travel free on buses and trams and at child-rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services. You do not need a ticket for free travel, just the ID Card
You cannot get a standard child rate Oyster card without an Oyster ID Card. However you can get around the Oyster ID card requirement by purchasing a 1 day Travelcard for the child (longer length Travelcards do require an Oyster ID Card).
You can buy 7 day child Travelcards at railway stations (not Underground or Overground) with a railway ticket office. The railways will issue a railways photocard free of charge if you bring along a passport size photo of your child.
All 16 to 17-year-olds can travel at child-rate on bus, Tube, tram, DLR and London Overground services with a 16+ Oyster ID Card. However, you can only use this concession on Oyster cards and 7 Day Travelcards or longer, not 1 day Travelcards.
- If you land in Heathrow airport, there is a SIM card vending machine which you can purchase using your credit card after you exit the baggage area. There is also ATM machine on the opposite side. As you walk to the arrival area there is a counter selling SIM card as well.
- A lot of places in London now do not accept cash and only accept cards. So don’t withdraw a lot of cash and rely on your debit or credit card instead