How to Plan A Trip to London Tips and Tricks by a Local

How to Plan A Trip to London Tips and Tricks by a Local

Want to travel to London but wondering how to plan a trip to London? Well I have a been a Londoner for longer than I care to admit and having been an expat in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and now Amsterdam I find myself constantly planning a trip to London – the city I still consider my home. In this guide I give you all the best London tips and trips so you can plan the ultimate London vacation including best time to visit London, where to stay in London, tips for London itinerary planning and much much more!

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Updated: August 2019

Tips for Flying to London – What is the Best London Airport to Fly Into?

Tips for Flying to London - What is the Best London Airport to Fly Into?

Image – Courtesy of my friend and BA enthusiast Claire

If you are travelling internationally into London chances are you will be flying to London (unless you are are coming from mainland Europe are are taking the ferry or Eurostar instead of flying.). One of the confusing things about flying into London is that there are not one but FIVE international airports that are serving the greater London area. 

The six airports that serve London are: 

  • London Heathrow (to the West of London)
  • London Gatwick  (To the South of London)
  • London Luton (To the North of London)
  • London Stansted (To the North of London)
  • London City (To the East of London)

Now you might be wondering which is the best London airport to fly into but in my opinion there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this. As London is such a big tourist and business hub all of these airports are well served by public transport and have easy routes into the centre or alternatively you can book a private transfer to your final destination.

Therefore if you are asking me for my tips for flying to London and wondering what is the best London airport to fly into I would say just pick the cheapest route you can find and save your pennies for when you are actually on your London vacation. 

To find cheap flights to London we recommend using Skyscanner as it is easy to compare flight prices and show direct and connecting flights. To find cheap deals to fly into London CLICK HERE! 

What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit London? 

Now in my opinion  there is no one best time of year to visit London as all of the seasons in London have something to offer. In this section of the guide however I will break down some of the pros and the cons of each season 

Why Visit London in Winter?

London is actually a very special time to visit London especially if you are visiting London for Christmas.  London does Christmas so well with plenty of Christmas lights, Christmas markets and festive spirit a plenty. But even if you aren’t visiting London at Christmas but at another time in Winter it is still a great time to go. Yes the days might be short and London is bound to be rainy at some point during winter but there is plenty to do in London on a rainy day and even some great day trips that are better to take in Winter. One of the best things for me about visiting London in Winter is the lack of crowds which means that it is so much easier to visit the main London tourist attractions. 

Top Tip: If you are visiting London in February half term I have found this to be the busiest time to visit the London museums (particularly those in South Kensington) so if you can travel outside of the UK school holiday this would be advantageous. 

Why Visit London in Spring?

Spring is a beautiful time to visit London as all of the Spring blooms come out. In Spring London is taken over by Wisteria Hysteria and suddenly these blooms make the city look so much more instagrammable. Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places to visit in London and it looks great in spring and there are plenty of rose gardens to visit so if you like flowers then spring is definitely the best time for you to visit the capital. Again Spring is not classified as peak season for travelling to London so the crowds won’t be too bad!

Why Visit London in Summer?

How to Plan a trip to London (tips and tricks) Why Visit London in Summer

Now London in Summer is definitely peak season and there are a couple of disadvantages to travelling to London in Sumer. The first being the crowds, the crowds swell in the Summer so you will encounter more queues at London attractions making advance booking even more essential and the prices for apartments and hotels in London will be at their highest. 

However there are some advantages to visiting London in Summer. This is the time of year you are likely to get the best weather and let’s face it London isn’t renowned for its weather. Also London  has a great many special events during the summer such as outdoor cinemas and events and sporting events like Wimbledon which will add a special touch to your London itinerary. Also if you want to watch the Changing of the Guard or visit Buckingham Palace there are more opening hours for you to enjoy these! 

Why Visit London in the Fall?

London in the Fall is a funny place, you never know if you are going to be hit by wet weather or suddenly get an Indian Summer. But London looks beautiful in the Fall. There are plenty of green spaces that look beautiful in the Autumn and the bonus of visiting London in the fall is the Summer crowds have left and you can experience the city more with the locals. 

But one of my favourite things about visiting London int he Fall is seeing experiencing Bonfire Night – 5th November to commemorate the plot to blow up the houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes. There are guys being burnt and firework events all over the capital that make Autumn a very special time to visit. 

Where to Stay In London 

This is another question where there is no right answer. There are a lot of neighbourhoods that have great potential for the London first time visitor and a lot of great accommodation offers. 

I often recommend staying very centrally for the first time visitor or those travelling to London with kids.  Although London Transport is great (More on this later), staying centrally will reduce your commute times to attractions and will reduce the need for travelling during rush hour. I know a lot of people worry about staying in Central London because of the cost but that is why we always recommend staying at the PPremier Inn Chain of hotels. These aren’t the fanciest hotels but they are clean, have good sized rooms and are at the right price point. There are loads of Premier Inns across London but the ones that we think have the best location are: 

If however you are happy to splash a bit more cash on a hotel in the central area then we recommend 

  • One Aldwych – I stayed here for my 30th Birthday and it is a very special hotel. One of my favourite features is the hotel has a pool (there aren’t that many in London) which also plays underwater music. If you aren’t staying at One Aldwych you may want to consider coming here whatever for their Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea. 
  • Conrad St James – this is actually one of my favourite hotel chains anywhere in the world as they always have a great breakfast and their service is alway exceptional! 

Other areas that I would consider in are: 

Kensington

This is a great area to stay in especially for those that are travelling with children as you have close proximity to public transport, the museums of South Kensington and Hyde Park which includes the fabulous Princess Diana Memorial Playground. Some hotels to consider here are:

Tip: There are some hotels that have Kensington in the title that aren’t South Kensington area that I recommend. If you go for another hotel be sure to check the hotel on the map and I recommend staying close to South Kensington or Gloucester Road Tube Station 

If you want a serviced apartment in this area there is a Fraser’s Suites on Gloucester Road. For AirBnBs in this area CLICK HERE! 

How to Get Around London On Public Transport 

How to Plan a Trip to London - How to Use london Public Transport

Whatever mode of transport you are travelling on I would recommend purchasing an Oyster Card – the London travel card, using a contactless debit card or Apple Pay. Transport like buses do not accept cash. 

London Underground

This is probably the most popular way of commuting in London. The Underground is the oldest in the world as the Metropolitan Line was the first of the London Underground lines to open in 1863 and the most recent line was actually opened in 1979 – the Jubilee Line. As such not all of the stations or Underground lines are the most accessible! 

If travelling with children either take a light umbrella stroller or use a carrier for kids – for more London with babies and toddlers tips click here! 

Tip: Either have a paper copy of the Underground map with you or download the TFL London Underground map so you can check your routes. It is also handy to know for delays or line closures. It will also show you stations that have lifts and are accessible for those with prams or wheelchairs etc.

London Bus 

Buses are a great alternative to the Underground. The cons of travelling on buses in London is that you can get stuck in traffic especially if you are travelling during rush hour. However the benefits of the bus over the underground is that you can see the sights of London as you travel. 

TFL Ferry 

Ferries can be used with your Oyster card and are a great way to see many of the London sights in relative comfort. For me traveling along the Thames at least once in your trip is a must for your London Bucket List

London Hop On Hop Off Buses. 

We have always loved a Hop On Hop Off bus. They are a great way to see the main sights of a city but can be difficult to use especially in the summer because of crowding and you can get stuck in the traffic.  To get your tickets for the London Hop On Hop Off bus click here! 

Boris Bikes

The locals call them Boris Bikes because they were brought in when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London. These bikes are available for rent at a reasonable rate however the London roads can be busy so I would only advise using in pedestrianised areas and in green spaces. 

Taxis and Ubers in London

The only taxis or cabs that can be hailed in London are the London black cabs. These are the most expensive form of taxi in the city however they are also heavily regulated. Uber is currently available in London although there has been ongoing disputes about the company and their safety. 

If you are using taxis in London with kids please note that black cabs are exempy from UK car seat laws but Ubers are not. 

Walking

This is actually one of my favourite ways to see the city and is definitely the way Londoners get around the centre. Be sure to have good shoes with you and an umbrella though for London’s changeable weather. 

What to Pack for London 

This is such a question to answer as this depends so much on what season you are travelling in. For this reason I am writing some London seasonal packing lists (forthcoming). However in the meantime somethings that I would never go to London without are: 

  • Umbrella
  • Travel Adaptor 
  • Layers
  • Comfortable Walking Shows (I like Sketchers Go Walks)
  • Camera and Extra Memory Cards 

How to Plan Your London Itinerary 

There are so many great places to go in London that even me having lived in London for a decade on and off has not even scratched the surface of what there is to see in London. However, having lived int he city for so long we have had a lot of guests and I like to think we have perfected itineraries of various lengths. 

If you are short on time then we recommend our

  • 4 day London itinerary – this itinerary is perfect for first timers as it covers all the main sights of the City in the most time efficient way. 

However if you have slightly longer and would like to explore some of the further out London boroughs and do some more day trips then we recommend our

And if you want to supplement some items on this agenda then we have plenty of inspiration for you especially if you are looking for 

What Do I Need to Book In Advance in London & What Skip the Line Tickets Do I Need?

 

How to Plan a Trip to London (Tips and tricks including booking London eye in advance)

If you are anything like me you don’t like having everything booked in advance for a trip to leave some flexibility in your itinerary however if you are travelling to London, especially if you are travelling to London in peak season then there are definitely some things I would recommend booking in advance and having skip the line tickets for. These are: 

  • London Eye – The London Eye is on many people’s bucket list but this is one of the busiest tourist attractions in London. The queues to just show up for the London Eye if you are travelling in peak season can be an hour or two long which is why I say it is essential to book your London Eye Tickets in advance with the Skip the Line Option. You can book these tickets online HERE!
  • London Theatre Tickets – if you want to see a specific show then I wholeheartedly recommend getting your ticket in advance. Although lots of shows do have some on the day tickets (not guarunteed especially in peak season) I would not leave it until last minute especially if you want to see a specific show. Some of my favourites in London include – Mousetrap – a traditional UK Murder mystery and the longest running play in the world, Les Mis, The Phantom of the Opera and Mathilda – great for kids. You can book your tickets online in advance HERE! 
  • Tower of London – another one where the queues can get huge in the summer. You can book your tickets online in advance HERE
  • Afternoon Tea – Afternoon Tea in London is absolutely a bucket list experience and there are so many types and varieties – some formal, some more relaxed and plenty of themes from Harry Potter, Mary Poppins and Disney to name but a few. However the one thing that they all have in common is that advance booking is essential. I recommend doing this through individual hotels. 
  • Sky Garden – at the top of the building Londoners affectionately call the walkie talkie is the Sky Garden. This beautiful rooftop garden is free to enter but requires tickets. These can book up months in advance so be sure to reserve your place before heading to London. It is one of my favourite free things to do in the city! You can book your free tickets here! 
  • Harry Potter Studio Tour – If you are a Potter fan then this is a must but these tickets book up months in advance. If you want to go here I advise literally booking this now to avoid disappointment! The Studio Tour is very popular especially at weekends and during holidays so if you want to go then I would book this as soon as your flights are booked. You can check availability and book online HERE! 

How to Save Money in London

Best Parks in London for Kids - Richmond Park

There is no doubt about it London can be an expensive city however there are plenty of ways to save money. 

There are lots of free attractions in London such as all of the National Museums of London ( British Museum, V&A, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, all the Tate museums, National Gallery and Portrait Gallery to name a few). On top of that there are loads of other free ways to enjoy the city such as enjoying one of the many royal parks, the markets – my favourite being Borough or simply just enjoying the city on foot! 

But if you want to see a lot of the main attractions while in London then it might save you money to buy a pass to some of London’s best attractions. The options for this are: 

  • London Explorer Pass – this pass can be purchased for 3-7 London attraction admissions (there are over 20 to choose from) and it can save you to 35%! To make sure this is right for you be sure to check how many of the attractions you want to see before purchasing. Perhaps the best thing about this pass however is that it is valid for 30 days so this might suit those we a longer London itinerary who don’t want to have to shoehorn attractions into one of two days int he Capital. To check details and purchase your London Explorer Pass CLICK HERE! 
  • London Pass – CLICK HERE!the attractions available on the London Pass are more extensive that the London Explorer Pass as this has over 80 London attractions available including the Hop On Hop Off Bus. However, whereas the London Explorer Pass is valid for 30 days you can pick a London pass from 1 day – 10 days! To see whether this would be a cost saver for you and book online

Save up to 35% on admission to your choice of 3, 4, 5, or 7 top London attractions at one low price with a London Explorer Pass. Pay nothing at the gate and choose as you go from a selection of over 20 attractions and tours. Benefit from a 30-day validity

Where to Eat in London

Despite English food historically not having a great reputation, today London is a great foodie capital. There are so many great restaurants and places to eat for every budget in London. 

  • Budget Eats – There are lots of great budget eats in London – for a lunch on the go we like to grab a sandwich at Pret a Manger but if you are looking for a sit down meal we recommend chains such as Wahaca, Wagamama, Flat Iron Giraffe to name but  a few. If you are looking for a decently priced restaurant then we like to head to the Covent Garden and Soho area – you can read more in our Covent Garden area guide here! 
  • Fine Dining – London is full of Michelin Starred restaurants. Be sure to book these advance if you would like to experience one. Top Tip – if you want to go to a Michelin Starred restaurant in London but are orreid about costs I would advise going at lunch time as you may be able to find a deal. 
  • Pubs – No trip to London is complete without visiting a traditional British pub. One of my favourites is Queens Arms in South Kensington but there are plenty to choose from. 

Must Eats

If you want to eat some traditional English food then you must try 

  • Fish and Chips – when I am in Central London I usually head to Rock and Sole for fish and chips
  • Afternoon Tea – See the Book in Advance section for more details. 
  • Sunday Roast  – The traditional English Sunday meal. You will often find these served in pubs but there are plenty of fine dining options. My favourites include Hix and Hawksmoor. 
  • Curry –  Curry is huge in the UK. We recommend heading to Brick Lane for some of the best curries in the UK. 

Day Trips from London and Exploring More of the UK

York in Winter - the perfect Winter day trip from London

As much as I love London, the UK is much more than just London (as fantastic as it is). There are plenty of great day trips to do in London whether you are travelling in Winter or Summer.  And if you have more time on your hands I would recommend extending your itinerary and exploring more of the UK. Some of my favourite places to add to a UK itinerary include the beautiful coastal areas of Cornwall, the rural beauty of the Peak District and my favourite place in the UK – York

Further London Reading: 

Have you ever planned a trip to London? Are you in the process? Is there anything else you’d like to know  – if so leave me a comment! 

If you like this guide please pin it for later!

How To Plan a trip to London Tips and Tricks including London Travel Tips for first time visit, london guide, where to stay in London, and the best things to do in London #london #londontravel #londontips

How To Plan a trip to London Tips and Tricks including London Travel Tips for first time visit, london guide, where to stay in London, and the best things to do in London #london #londontravel #londontips

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4 Comments

  1. August 17, 2019 / 10:23 am

    Really helpful post. I have family in London and we lived there for a year before I did my teacher training. I do love London but I find it much trickier visiting with two small children, I think it will be easier when they are a bit bigger and I don’t have the pram to contend with!

  2. August 17, 2019 / 10:52 am

    London is one of my favourite cities in the whole world. Thank you so much for this guide.

  3. August 17, 2019 / 8:19 pm

    I love London but get overwhelmed the few times I took Henry when I had work. He and Georgie would love it too as there is so much to do. Great post full of ideas. Thanks x

  4. August 18, 2019 / 3:55 pm

    I never considered which season might be best. This was really informative. I’ve been thinking lately that I would love to visit London with my husband and daughter. We would love the Harry Potter tea.

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