London is a very vibrant city filled with lots to do. My first impression of London came from my study abroad program at the London School of Economics, and I've fallen in love ever since - so much that I've come back twice! It's one of my favorite cities hands down, and I hope you'll like it just as much as I do. Even though the city may seem very intimidating, don't let that deter you from exploring what London has to offer.
Arriving In London
Assuming that your flight lands at Heathrow Airport, there are numerous options for you to get to the city center. My personal favorite is using the London Underground via the Piccadilly Line - it's cheap, efficient, and gets you pretty much anywhere in London easily. You never have to wait too long for a train to come by. I recommend getting an Oyster Card ASAP, because it makes using transportation in London easy. Just tap in, tap out. The transportation system in London has many complex fare rules and zones but that headache is eliminated by having an Oyster Card - you just need to make sure that your card has money in it.
You can also hire a taxi/Uber, take the coach (National Express), or take the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. In my opinion, a taxi/Uber is FAR too expensive (calculate it yourself, you'll at least pay 50 pounds to get to Central London) and the coach will probably take too long. However, the Heathrow Express is a good deal if you're in a time crunch - it's almost twice as fast as the Underground but it is pricier.
If you fly on Norwegian, you are most likely flying into Gatwick Airport. Gatwick is also very nice and easy to navigate. To get to the city center, you can either take the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station or take one of the commuter trains (Thameslink) to King's Cross. Both services are reasonably priced and don't take too long to reach the city center.
If you are flying into Luton Airport, brace yourself for a bad experience. The airport was under constant construction when I visited it, so it was quite noisy. To get to the city center, you can either take the coach or take a shuttle bus to Luton Airport Parkway, which is a train station. There, you can take the Thameslink to King's Cross or other train stations.
If you are flying into Stansted Airport, you will not have a good time - I personally try to avoid this airport at all costs. I fully believe this is what hell looks like. Long queues at immigration, hordes of people, and it is poorly designed. However, the one perk is that it's pretty easy to get to the city center from here. You can either take the Stansted Express to London Liverpool Station, or take a coach to various places in London. All of this could be done on the day, so there is no need to reserve tickets. Also, the process for you to get on the right bus is clearly laid out, so you most likely won't get lost.
Things to Do
*** This part doesn't cover the well-known tourist attractions in great detail - use a Google search ***
Things to do in London include but are not limited to:
Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace (and the gardens surrounding it), Borough Market, the British Library, Broadway Market, Tate Modern, Brick Lane Market, National Portrait Gallery, Portobello Market, Shakespeare's Globe, Camden Market, Southbank Centre, Green Park, the British Museum, Tower of London/London Bridge, Somerset House, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. James' Park, Regent's Park, Leadenhall Market, The Wallace Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, Holland Park, Shoreditch High Street (Boxpark), Natural History Museum, National Gallery
If you are craving a day trip, I recommend either going to Oxford, Bath, Brighton, or Dover! Both are easily accessible by coach or train.
I would recommend visiting the university itself, Ashmolean Museum, Covered Market, and Christ Church.
The Roman Baths are definitely the main thing in this city - but definitely take some time aside to just walk around!
Take a Southern train or the Gatwick Express from London Victoria to reach Brighton. I recommend going through the North Laine Bazaar, Royal Pavilion, Brighton Palace Pier, and walking along Brighton Beach. I easily got through most of Brighton in half a day and I thought it was a great day to spend some time. If you have the whole day, you could do a lot more.
The thing to see is Dover Castle and the White Cliffs. I only had time to go to the White Cliffs, but Dover Castle seemed pretty cool too. If you're going to the White Cliffs, I would recommend bringing some good walking shoes, a jacket, and some snacks since you're going to be doing lots of walking. Take a Southeastern train from either London St. Pancras or Stratford to Dover Priory and make the trek to the White Cliffs. It's a 40 minute walk, but you''ll want to do the walk anyways because you'll be able to see parts of Dover as you make your way up the cliffs. To get the full experience, walk all the way to the lighthouse, which takes about an hour. It's definitely one of the most breathtaking places I've ever been to, Don't stand too close to the cliff edge!
Lincoln's Inn Fields
It's a small park near the LSE New Academic Building, and it was one of my favorite places to go to in between classes. I would often buy lunch, find a nice comfortable spot in the grass, and do my reading for next class. It has a calm, serene vibe yet people are constantly out and about. I definitely recommend if you are looking for something lowkey.
This is also a personal favorite just because it's tucked right in the middle of the city, but yet it's so peaceful. There's a lot to do here, as you could just walk from one end to another, take a boat ride in the lake, have a picnic, etc.. I'm just a big fan of the atmosphere as you'll see all kinds of people doing their own thing. My personal recommendation is to rent a bike and just bike around the park! This way, you can see a lot more and cover more ground. I also recommend just sitting somewhere and people-watching - it's an interesting experience. However, you have to pay money to sit in the chairs as they have attendants that walk around and check. You can avoid this by just saying that you're about to leave.
Order of pictures below:
Gallery 1: Mix of random places in London
Slideshow 1: Dover
Gallery 2: Brighton
Slideshow 2: Hyde Park
This is easily one of my favorite areas of London because it's kind of like going out of the city. Everything is very peaceful and there's quite a bit to do. When I come to London, I make it a point to stop by here every time and just walk around. You can spend about half a day just wandering around the area.
The easiest way to get to Greenwich is to take the DLR to Cutty Sark. Your first stop should be Greenwich Market. You can come any day of the week, but I would recommend coming during the weekend because that's when most of the food stalls are here. This is a great place to get some lunch and see some local artists' work. Every food stall serves something delicious. You'll want to look for Lilika's Treats, a stall that sells amazing desserts. Their stall is only there certain days of the week, but if you can catch them, you must get the macarons because they're absolutely delicious.
After eating lunch, make your way to Greenwich Park to get to the Royal Observatory, which crosses the Prime Meridian. The walk to the observatory itself doesn't make you feel like you're in a city, as you can only see green. You'll have to walk up a steep hill to get to the observatory. Once you're at the top, take in the view of Greenwich and London itself from this vantage point. It's absolutely breathtaking. If you're feeling in the mood, you can go inside the observatory and pay a small fee to stand in between the Prime Meridian! It's a cool experience that I would recommend, but it's not a must-do. If you're not feeling tired from walking, make your way to the University of Greenwich and take a walk around. It's one of the most beautiful universities I've seen because of the history and architecture. On some days, you could hear music or see students walking around!
This is easily one of the most underrated yet most beautiful places in London. If Hyde Park is still too close for the city for you, Hampstead Heath is your park. It's a little out of the way towards the north of the city, but the park is very big. You could walk for hours and get lost in all the nature. My recommendation is to start from the north and work your way down to Parliament Hill, where you get an amazing view of the city - on a good day, you could see The Shard in the distance!
If you are in London during the end of June/beginning of July, I HIGHLY recommend taking a day and going to Wimbledon to see the tennis matches. I don't follow tennis at all but this was easily one of my favorite experiences while I was in London. It has a very unique British vibe to it, and the atmosphere is just one of a kind. Unlike other sporting events, it's incredibly cheap if you play your cards right.
There are very extensive guides online, but I'll just describe a very condensed version of my adventure. You'll want to get to Wimbledon Park at around 5am-6am to wait in the Queue in order to be able to get a Grounds Pass (25 pounds). It allows you to see any match except ones on Centre Court, Court One, Court Two and some on Court Three. Definitely bring something to do as you'll be waiting for a few hours at least. It's really a surreal experience as I got to see Venus Williams play! If this is something you're interested in, just run a Google search online and there are lots of links that describe the queuing process in far more detail.
Places to eat
London may not strike you as the capital of fantastic food, but there are lots of great places around town. There is the opportunity for some fine dining, but you don't need to spend a lot to eat well! Here's a list of my recommendations or places I've been to:
The George - A very casual pub near LSE. I didn't get a drink, but there seemed to be a good atmosphere with food available to order.
Cay Tre - Tasty Vietnamese restaurant around SoHo. Try the noodles!
Masala Zone - Great Indian food, even though Indian food isn't my usual go-to.
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels - A very chic French wine bar in Neal's Yard. Food is tasty, but pricey. Portions are also a little small but the ambiance is very fancy.
Little Hong Kong - Very good restaurant! I went with a big group and we all left feeling full.
NY Fold - Some unique "NY" pizza, but not my top choice though.
Beijing Dumpling - Has great dishes and a wide variety to choose from. My friends and I went here multiple times to get our fix of Asian food!
Jamon Jamon - I went to the one in SoHo, and the restaurant is set up in a cute way. Some tasty Mexican food with tapas if you want.
Duck and Waffle - I highly recommend this place, you'll be surprised how well duck and waffles complement each other. However, you do have to be dressed nice (no tennis shoes) and making a reservation is the way to go. Definitely stop by here!
Koya - Some tasty ramen and noodles, but it was a little pricey for what I got.
Shuang Shuang - A very unique version of hot pot where you can choose your own broth, dipping sauce, ingredients and noodles (think of a revolving sushi bar but for hot pot). However, the more things you add, the pricier it gets. Would definitely recommend for the experience.
Canteen - A very chic and up class restaurant. I got the fish and chips with tartare sauce and it was very delicious but also on the pricey side.
Dishoom - Some of the best Indian food I've ever ate. I haven't ate a lot of Indian food before, but my waitress went through the entire menu with me and gave me her recommendations. I got the garlic naan, raita, awadhi lamb biryani, and the bowl of greens. The raita went very well with the biryani, but the biryani was a tad bit spicy but I can't handle spices, so you might find it just right. But overall, everything was so good! I was able to get in right away at lunchtime, but if you're going in a group I would make a reservation.
Soft Serve Society - I got the original freakshake and it was absolutely amazing. It might be very dense and sugary for some people, but I thought it was just right. It may seem a little pricey but it's definitely worth the price!
The Breakfast Club - I got the Full Monty which was very good, however I had to wait quite a bit (1.5 hours) and the service could have been faster, as several tables already got their meals before I got mine. If the wait is over an hour, I would pass on this and come another time.
Shoryu - This is a ramen chain in London which is not bad. I got the Kotteri Hakata Tonkotsu, which was pretty tasty. I would recommend coming early as there may be a wait.
Flat Iron - This is a place that serves a steak, a little cup of popcorn and greens, along with a salted caramel ice cream cone for only £11. Everything is pretty good and it's one of the best deals I've seen in London.
Some places I'll like to talk about a little more:
Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar
This place has some of the BEST noodles I've ever ate in my life - made fresh (you can see the guy making them), authentic, big portions, and cheap, all of which are very rare in London. The place is very small and tucked away in Covent Garden, so you might be seated besides a stranger. I highly recommend getting one of their noodles with soup. It will absolutely hit the spot, but they only take cash!
This place is absolutely AMAZING and serves the best dessert I've ever ate my entire life: the cupcake sundae. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the best dessert I've ever ate. This small shop sells very cute cupcakes and such (think Sprinkles in the US) but you'll want the cupcake sundae. Essentially, you choose a cupcake, and they put the cupcake in a blender and mix it with ice cream and whipped cream and other good things to give you the sundae! I'll admit, it can be a little heavy and rich, so you might want to split with a friend. But overall, if you could only eat one thing in London, this would be it.
*** As of Oct. 2019, they've made the cupcake sundae smaller than what it shows in this picture and it costs £4.50 but it's still literally the best dessert I've tasted. The smaller size makes it easier for everyone to enjoy, as most of my friends couldn't finish the bigger size that they used to have - it can be quite sweet and heavy.
Paris or "The City of Love" is a top travel destination due to its beautiful architecture and monuments ranging from the Eiffel Tower to the Notre-Dame Cathedral to the Louvre, which has a unique glass pyramid structure.
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is the perfect mixture of old and new with its most famous attractions being the Edinburgh Castle located on top of Castle Rock and Arthur's Seat, which gives you a wide view of the city.