London is one of my favorite cities in the world. Diverse, cosmopolitan, full of history and beautiful corners. In this post I give you some useful information and tips for visiting London for the first time.
*this post contains affiliate links
Perhaps London has a special place among my traveling memories because this was the first European city I visited and it was also where I made my first solo trip. The truth is that the city fascinated me.
Despite the fact that sometimes it has a bad reputation (rainy weather every day, cold people, everything is expensive, and more.) I believe that London has something for everyone, you just have to discover it.
20 tips for visiting London for the first time
1. Stay at least 4 days
London is a very big city and with lots of things to do. My first recommendation is that you spend at least 4 or 5 days so you can explore the city without running from one place to another.
2. Join a FREE tour
Something I like to do when visiting a city for the first time is to take a free tour to get a first sight of it. Sandemans New Europe offers a free walking tour where you visit many of the city’s highlights. The tour lasts around 3 hours and starts in Covent Garden. Click here for more information about the free tour.
3. Book your accommodation in advance
Accommodation in London is quite expensive so the sooner you book your accommodation the better prices you will likely find.
For more information on accommodation I recommend that you read my article on the best areas to stay in London including recommended hotels, hostels and apartments.
4. Save money on public transportation
Getting around London by public transport is very easy with the Oyster Card. This card is rechargeable and you can get it at any metro station. I bought mine at the airport station upon arrival.
The Oyster allows you to access lower rates for both metro and bus. The card has a daily limit of ₤7 and once you reach this limit, no more money will be deducted from your balance for that day. So you will basically travel for free for the rest of the day.
It is also possible to use contactless cards instead of the Oyster Card and the discount works the same way.
More information at the official Oyster Card site.
5. Bring your adapter
One of the best tips I can give you is to always carry a universal adapter on your travels. A universal adapter has compatibility with more than 150 countries and you will never have to buy adaptors in every country you visit. You can get one on Amazon for less than $10.
In England the plugs are type G, different from what you will find in the rest of Europe. This was something that I didn’t know the first time I traveled to London and I had to buy an adapter at a very expensive price.
6. Required documentation
Before making any trip it is important to check the necessary documentation. If you have a US passport, you can stay in the UK for up to 6 months without a visa.
On this government page you can check what documentation you need according to your country of origin.
7. You are going to need British pounds
The official currency of the United Kingdom is the British Pound (GBP). Euros won’t be accepted anywhere, so it is important that you change some cash.
Avoid exchanging money at the airport since the commissions are very high. You can look for a currency exchange office in the city center where it is much cheaper.
8. Best time to visit London
You may picture London as rainy, foggy and cold but this really isn’t so extreme. In London it rains less than in other cities like Rome for example.
During winter (December to March) the weather is very cold, it can even snow. There are also many cloudy and rainy days. However, the benefit of traveling at this time is that as it is the low season there are fewer tourists and it is possible to find cheaper accommodation. I traveled to London for the first time in the end of February and I highly recommend it. Christmas in London is also one of the best times because the streets are filled with lights and Christmas decorations.
In summer (June to September) the climate is much more stable and the days are warm but not suffocating. As it is the high season, there are obviously more tourists and the prices of accommodation are higher.
Spring and autumn in London are also two great for visiting the city as the climate is mild.
After all, any time is good time for visiting London.
9. Visit the free museums
London is known for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe and it might be true. But luckily many of its museums are completely free!
To choose the museums you will visit read: the best free museums in London.
10. Consider buying a tourist card
Depending on how many days you are going to be and what activities you want to do, these passes will suit you or not.
In the post “London Pass vs. London Explorer Pass“ I talk in detail about each card so you can evaluate which one is best for you.
11. Remember they drive on the left
Something taht you need to remember when walking the streets of London is that in UK they drive on the left side. So be very careful when crossing the streets and remember to look to the correct side.
12. See the city from above
London has several viewpoints that you can access to have incredible views of the city. The Sky Garden, considered the highest public garden in London, is a viewpoint with free access but it is necessary to book tickets in advance through its website.
The Shard is the tallest building in the UK and its The View from The Shard observation deck offers 360 degree panoramic views of the city.
13. Plan your days
London is a very big city and full of things to do. To make the most of your time, I recommend that you organize your itinerary by zones.
If you need hel read this post: 4 day London itinerary.
14. Book tickets in advance
If you plan to visit certain attractions such as the London Eye or the Tower of London, I recommend buying the tickets in advance. It will save you a lot of time.
15. Tour London in a red bus
The red double-decker buses are one of the icons of the city. These buses are all over the city and you can get on one to tour the city using your Oyster card.
16. Try the food
Something that I love to do in any destination I visit is to try its local cuisine. In London you can’t miss eating the classic fish & chips or having the typical 5 o’clock tea.
17. Visit the most famous sites
London is the setting where many of the stories we know from a lifetime happened. Many famous movies like Harry Potter were filmed in the city and it is possible to tour the sites.
- Harry Potter. You can take a Harry Potter guided walking tour or visit the Warner Bros studios.
- Notting Hill neighborhood, where the famous film with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant takes place.
- Abbey Road. Music fans can’t visiting and snapping a photo with the iconic crossover and seeing the studio where The Beatles recorded their album.
- Sherlock Holmes. The famous detective from the stories created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lives in London. You can visit his house-museum at 221b Baker St.
- Jack the Ripper. If you want to know more about this famous murderer, I recommend you take the Jack the Ripper walking tour. I took this tour and I loved it! The tour takes place at night and you walk through the different points where the murders took place.
18. Get lost in the streets
The best advice I can give you to really get to know London is to walk its streets until you get lost. That’s when you really start to discover the city.
There are many beautiful corners. If you are interested in architecture make sure you read: London architecture guide, the best buildings to visit.
19. Take a day trip
Something I think it’s essential to get to know London is getting out of the center and visiting one of the nearby places that can be visited during the day. Some of them are:
- Windsor castle
20. Don’t forget to do the tax free
If you make some shopping in London, you can ask for the tax refund so you get the VAT refunded. This discount is applied on anything that you buy, but it is not valid on services (hotels, tours, restaurants). To do this you have to ask for the tax refund ticket every time you buy something.
Then you present the tickets at the airport, at the “VAT REFUND” counter. You will find it before going through migrations. The refund can be made in cash or to your credit card.
I hope these 20 tips for visiting London for the first time are useful to you! Don’t forget to read my other articles about London 🙂
Other London posts that you might like:
- Best Budget places to stay in London
- Complete 4 day London itinerary
- London Pass vs London Explorer Pass
- Visiting the Tower of London: is it worth it?
- Stonehenge day trip from London
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means, if you click on certain links within this post and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read more about it here.