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So, you’ve decided to do it…to come to London!! You’ve been thinking about it for a while but you’ve decided now is the time. You will visit that iconic and amazing city that so many people have experienced and talked about. But suddenly, you stop. You hesitate and start thinking…what on earth am I going to see there! What is there to enjoy? Where should I start? How long will it take me to visit places?….
Our friends from http://karolinapatryk.com/ , who travel the world and explore amazing destinations, visited London a few years ago. Just like most first time tourists, they faced easily avoidable problems (if they had our guide). Their experience inspired us to compile a short guide to help anyone visiting London for the first time.
Read our little guide and you will be fine. If you have 3 days to visit London, you will get to see most of the famous landmarks and we’ll give you a few ‘non-tourist’ tips so you can impress your friends and family. So go and get that flight or Eurostar ticket and come and see London!
What you need to do before travelling
Before you arrive to London make sure you have the following in place:
- Pack your suitcase in relation to the time of the year you will come to London. Click here to see what the weather is like throughout the year in London
- Download all the apps you will need in London, so you will use as little of your mobile data as possible (see below)
- Put all the flight and hotel details in the Notes section of your mobile phone. That way, you will not have to connect to the internet once in London to get them = you will not have to use your mobile data abroad + you could avoid roaming charges
- Buy the Oyster Card, it can be shipped to your address abroad if you don’t live in the UK. Alternatively, buy it first thing when you arrive in London so you can start saving on transport straightaway. For more information about the Oyster Card, read this post we wrote (see the Visitor Oyster Card section)
- Bring an umbrella and always carry it with you. The weather changes a lot in London. You don’t want to stop visiting London because of the rain
- Get a plug adapter because the plug standard in London might be different to the ones in your home country.
- Book the tickets for the attractions you are interested in advance. That way you will pay less (usually online booking is cheaper) and you will not have to queue on the day you want to enjoy the attraction. Queues for some London attractions can be very long so if you have to queue you will have less time to enjoy London. You don’t want that when you only have 3 days!
- Book your stay the smart and cheap way – use Airbnb. That way you get to stay at a local’s house and learn the tricks and sweet spots of the city. You also get to save some money, as London hotels, as you can imagine, can be very expensive. With some luck, you could be staying in a flat with a view on the London Eye for less than £100!
How to get to London from the airport
Most people fly into London. The first issue they face upon arrival is how to get to their destination in the city from the airport. Of course, there are many taxis waiting to grab your money if they see you looking lost. However, there are much cheaper options, depending on where you land.
If you fly to Heathrow or London City Airport, you can use the underground. You can get a one-way paper ticket at the station, or you can use London’s travel card – the Oyster card. It is a pre-paid card that you can top up and get it delivered to your country even before you set off on your journey! See full details on how to use and save on Oyster card here.
Note: if you arrive between 23:00-06:00 hrs during the night, there may not be underground services, so it’s best you book one of the coach services mentioned below.
There are some particulars that you need to know about regarding EasyBus:
- Book a bus that departs (roughly) 1hr after your expected arrival time (in case of delays) so you have enough time to get your luggage, go through customs and not miss the bus from Easybus
- You can board EasyBus at an earlier or later time than indicated on your ticket only if there is space in the bus! This can be quite handy, but also very unreliable (especially in high season/times) Note: EasyBus is usually a small seater vehicle. However, National Express have teamed up with EasyBus and carry some of their passengers in their normal sized coaches 🙂 (this only applies to specific routes, like Stansted)
- Check the luggage allowance for your route
There is often heavy traffic in the city, so allow plenty of time to get to the airport on your way back, so you do not miss your flight. We usually book a coach that departs at least 4hrs before our scheduled departure time.
On arrival if you cannot go to your accommodation straightaway but fancy visiting the city without your luggage, you could use CityStasher.
CityStasher’s principle is simple. Station left-luggage facilities charge a lot nowadays – £11 per item per day! Some London based entrepreneurs have created an interesting alternative which can help you save a few pounds. Using CityStasher, you can connect with a local who is willing to host your bags at a discount. Their service is based on reviews. So check a host’s review and if you are happy with the reviews you could decide to make an online reservation with that host.
Note: the host who will look after your luggage has been accredited and personally interviewed by the CityStasher staff. You can rest assured that your belongings are in good hands.
A few things you need to know about this guide
- Walking is our favourite transport mode
Our favourite transport mode is…walking. We favour walking because it is the cheapest ‘transport mode’ and it enables you to properly see London . We recommend you use the Underground (= the Tube) only if you’re running out of time, as this type of transport is not traffic dependent and therefore could be the fastest. And remember that if you’re in the Underground you won’t get to see London…
- No timetable tips given
We have decided not to include any timetable for the following reasons:
- Not everybody walks at the same speed
- Different people will want to use different transport modes
- We want you to understand that this is just a guide. You don’t have to stick to it. You can decide to do other things or spend longer at certain attractions than others
- No budget tips given
We also have not given any budget tips for the following reasons:
- You can travel to London with a cheap flight or an expensive flight
- You can stay in a fairly priced accommodation or you can go for an expensive hotel
- You can decide to go for several attractions that are not free or you could go for the free ones
- You could decide to walk everywhere or you could use the taxi everywhere
You see in this context it is hard to give any budget advice since it very much depends on each individual/family. The only thing we can say is London does not have to be expensive. If you plan careful and follow our advice, you could spend next to nothing.
Below, we give you some advice about places you can visit during the 3 days you will spend in London. But before we do, note that it is important that you make sure you have an early start. Ideally, leave your accommodation at 8 AM no matter where you will stay in London. And in the evening plan to come back “late”so you can make the most of your stay.
NB: from 19 August 2016, London will introduce the first night tube services. This will apply to the Central and Victoria lines only. So, if your accommodation is close to one of those two lines you will have no problem going back to your place even late at night. Click here for more information on this topic.
So you are finally in London. This big city you’ve been hearing a lot about but that remained so enigmatic and so out of reach. You are here now and we will make sure you have a memorable stay.
We recommend that you start from the Houses of Parliament (= Palace of Westminster) because it is a very central place and there are many landmarks at or around that place.
You will be able to see Big Ben (which is the clock, not the tower!). Then walk on Westminster Bridge. From there you will see the London Eye (don’t go unless you really want to have a ride – you’ll get stuck in human traffic/queues). If the weather is nice, it’s a great thing to do since you will be able to get a great view of London. From Westminster Bridge, you will also see the Palace of Westminster itself which is home to the UK Parliament.
After that, we suggest you walk up Parliament Street which then turns into Whitehall. When walking up, you will be able to see 10 Downing Street (on your left) which is home to the UK’s Prime Minister.
After that carry on walking and you will see Trafalgar Square with the Nelson’s Column and the 4 protective lions.
Note: In the South East corner of Trafalgar Square, you will see London’s smallest police station. Also, south of Nelson’s Column (very close), you will get to stand on the point that is considered to be the Centre of London. Read about these two facts here.
Note: it only takes 15 min walk to go from Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square so they are very close. If you can’t walk, use the CityMapper app so you can plan your journey.
From Trafalgar Square, you will have a few choices. You could go to the National Gallery if you like art. The gallery is right next to the Square (going in the north direction) so it will take you literally one minute to get there.
You can also walk to Buckingham Palace which is very close to Trafalgar Square too (between 5-10 min walk).
From Buckingham Palace, you can go to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is a well-known road junction, which is close to major shopping and entertainment areas. Some buildings in that junction are equipped with giant TV screens on which ads are displayed constantly.
On your way to Piccadilly Circus, you will get to walk through Green Park (which is a nice park although it is not one of the most beautiful ones), you will also see the Ritz which is a famous 5-star hotel.
From Picadilly Circus, we suggest you walk to Leicester Square which is very close (less than 5 minutes’ walk). Leicester Square is a pedestrianised square in central London. It’s a centre for entertainment and many movie Premieres take place at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square. There are also countless places where you can eat around the square.
From Leicester Square you will have two choices:
- Option #1: you could go to Chinatown and then Soho. Chinatown is the vibrant Chinese quarter in London where you will see many Chinese restaurants. Soho is a mixed area that contains: media offices, restaurants, clubs, cultural centres, London’s red district, bars and trendy cafes etc. Chinatown and Soho can be seen quickly but you could also spend hours there. It is all up to you.
- Option #2: you could walk back to Piccadilly Circus, then go to Regent Street and then to Oxford Circus. That second option is for people who love shopping and even luxury shopping since both Regent Street and Oxford Circus are both full of shops. Note: Regent Street is where the luxury shops are. Oxford Street contains shops with goods that are more affordable.
We suggested two options (Chinatown + Soho or Regent Street + Oxford Street).
If you go for one option and realise that you went too fast or that you have time left then also go for the other option. That way you will get to see more of London.
On your second day, you could go to Camden Market. Camden has a fantastic market.
It is a big market and it will take you 3 or 4 hours to appreciate it fully. There you will see displayed the work of the finest artists, designers and independent sellers. It’s a world where you will see some unusual, weird and wonderful things. You will of course be able to buy what you are interested in. Camden Market also has a delicious selection of food. You will be able to try different foods from around the world.
Camden Market is also a beautiful place in itself. There is a little river running through it and when the weather is nice it is a delight to have a drink on its banks.
From Camden Market, you could then go to the British Museum.
We suggest you go by public transport, ideally by bus or by taxi (use CityMapper) because otherwise it will take you about 40 minutes’ walk. The British Museum is home to a vast collection of art and artefacts from around the world.
It is (like many London museums) free. How long you spend there is up to you but you could spend hours and hours since the collection is made of millions of items.
If you decide to visit it, we recommend you have a look at the Plan your visit section of their website.
But if you feel like doing more…..you could go to Kings Cross to see Platform 9 ¾ from Harry Potter. We suggest you go by public transport or by taxi (use CityMapper) because this walk will be a bit long (it will take about 30 min).
If Harry Potter is not really your thing then you could go to Madame Tussauds instead.
Madame Tussauds is the well-known wax museum where you can see wax versions of your favourite celebrities.
We suggest you go by public transport or by taxi (use CityMapper) because this walk will be a bit long (it will take about 35 min).
A few years ago, we would have given you tips that would mainly revolve around Central, West or North London but not the East part of London. East London had a bad reputation back then. But times have changed and since the London 2012 Olympic Games, East London has become a place you need to know about. There are countless things to do there. It’s a much safer place nowadays. But equally important, it’s a place where you can have some serious fun!
A few months ago, we wrote an interesting piece about the Olympic Park and for your third day in the capital, we recommend you follow the ideas in it. Read our post here: http://londonundiscovered.com/olympic-park-the-legacy/
In a nutshell….if you want to visit the Olympic Park it will take you several hours to see the different sport venues, enjoy the park and wetlands, walk through the Olympic Village, and for the shopaholics…to walk through Westfield (the biggest retail area in Europe). We reckon it will take you between 4 and 8 hours to visit the Olympic Park properly and more importantly…to enjoy it!
You have made the right decision to come to London. Make sure you follow our tips to have an enjoyable experience.
Remember that this is just a guide though. You don’t have to follow it to the letter. If when in London you discover something you are interested in and that is not in this guide, just go for it! This is your trip so do the things you want to do. You’re here to enjoy yourself!
Also, understand that you will not be able to see everything in 3 days but again by following our advice you will be able to see a lot of the famous landmarks.
This will help you build memories that will stay with you forever.
We hope you will get the chance to come back to London to discover more of this amazing city. If you do, remember London Undiscovered since we will have even more good advice to share with you.
Enjoy your London stay and come back soon!:-)
P.S. This guide was created with Karolina and Patryk’s experience in mind. We hope our tips will help you guys have a much more enjoyable time in London next time you visit!