Vibrant, charming and truly multicultural, the capital of England and the largest city in Western Europe, London is regarded as the global capital of music, culture, education, politics, finance, fashion, and trade. No wonder why many people claim that London is the capital of the world! Let me take you on a tour of this magnificent city studded with architectural wonders from many different centuries.
If there was an award for the city with the best transport links, London would easily walk off with it. The city is easily accessible from within Great Britain and internationally as well. If you’re traveling from the U.S., Heathrow Airport will be your main point of usage. The airport is linked to
central London by frequent "Heathrow Express" train services which leave Heathrow at 15-minute intervals, traveling non-stop to Paddington Station. There are a number of major rail terminals London, linking the city to all or any parts of mainland Britain.
Gatwick is the other main airport near London. Even though Gatwick is pretty far out of the city and not London’s main international hub, if you can fly through here instead of Heathrow I would recommend it. Getting through security at a peak time only took us like 10 minutes. The whole process was fairly simple.
One thing to note: I am not sure if all the airlines at Gatwick do this, but we learned the hard way that the EasyJet flight we were on closed its doors 30 minutes prior to the scheduled takeoff. So that means that they do a final boarding call way before they are set to take off, so if you are not there on time, they will not let you on. We were sitting in the Priority Lounge enjoying a nice relaxing lunch in plush, comfy chairs when we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker saying our flight was closing its doors in 10 minutes (40 minutes prior to our flight). Thankfully we made it, but only after frantically grabbing our bags (thankfully the food was free so we didn’t have to dine and ditch) and running down to the terminal.
Another note if you are flying EasyJet: they take the “one item” rule pretty seriously. If they saw that you had a carry on bag AND a purse, they said you had to check one, as the purse counts as your “one item” and then you don’t get a carry-on. We were able to get away with it by hiding our purses under our coats. Their carry-on luggage sizes are also smaller than most airlines, so be sure to check that your carry-on luggage is to size before you go.
If you have a layover and have to get to one of the other airports, do be aware that with traffic it takes a long time to get from one airport to the other. We used both Apple and Google maps to route it ahead of time, and each time we did that it said it would take only 30-40 minutes. When we actually did it, hopping in an Uber and going from Heathrow to Gatwick at noon on a Saturday, there was so much traffic that it took us an hour and 15 minutes to get there. So plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time.
For travel within London, there’s the underground railway network called ‘The Tube’. On top of that, there are surface transport options such as the world-famous red London buses, and also the equally well-known Black cabs. For the more energetic of you, a cycle hire scheme has recently been introduced, with automated cycle hire terminals sited all around the city.
Where to Stay
London has a bewildering variety of places to stay in, from the luxurious and world-famous Savoy and Ritz hotels to the more homely and affordable accommodation available in small independent hotels and budget hotel chains like Travelodge and Premier Inn. Regardless of the level of accommodation you select, though, I’d recommend booking in advance as London is an extremely popular destination and hotels refill fast here. I stayed at St. Ermin's hotel, which I would highly recommend. It's centrally located, reasonably priced, and a Marriott Bonvoy property with beautiful furnishings and an absolutely stunning lobby. Another great option is the Grosvenor Hotel, which is both centrally located and beautifully decorated.
Where to Eat
London is fast becoming a culinary capital of the world and a place where you can try almost any kind of cuisine including Thai, French, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, Greek, Mexican and what have you. You can find fast food joints that serve excellent food on every corner of the street, but if you really want to spare no expense, you may prefer some of the most prestigious restaurants in the capital like Claridge or Fifteen. London is also home to 69 Michelin starred restaurants including Angler (seafood), the River Café (Italian), Amaya (Indian), Claude Bosi at Bibendum (French) and The Dining Room at The Goring (British). Talk about fine dining!
One of my personal favorites is Chef Fergus Henderson's St. John Bread & Wine. Featured on the late Anthony Bourdain's show, Parts Unknown, this quaint restaurant in Spitalfield's is a meat-lover's dream. They showcase traditional English dishes that celebrate the various parts of the animal being served, whether it's pig, rabbit, beef or venison.
Have brunch at Balthazar in Covent Garden, Egg Slut in Notting Hill, or my personal favorite: Duck & Waffle in the city center, where you can enjoy insanely stunning views from the 38th floor of the Heron tower while enjoying their namesake Duck & Waffle dish: crispy duck-leg confit and fried egg served on a waffle with mustard maple syrup.
What to Do
London is filled with a number of remarkable attractions, and you'd need a few weeks to tour all of its iconic landmarks, galleries, museums, parks, etc. Some of the ‘must see’ attractions include Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Piccadilly Circus. If you’re a history buff, the Natural History Museum is where you should go. Here, you can experience what an earthquake feels like, get up close and personal with dinosaurs and examine weird and wonderful specimens in the Darwin Centre. London Zoo and London Aquarium are premier destinations for animal lovers and the Tower of London and the London Dungeons make for an entertaining few hours.
Go shopping on Sicilian Avenue, which has a cobblestone street that is open to foot traffic only, where you can find everything from high end designers to cute little boutiques. And you can't miss out on the opportunity to see a show while in London--the city has nearly a dozen well-known musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, the Book of Mormon (my personal favorite), Les Miserables, and Mamma Mia on repeat.
If you are into small group walking tours, check out one of the full and half day tours hosted by Walks. Scroll down to see some of the tours they offer below. Or for a full list of tours, CLICK HERE.
London easily passes as one of the greatest cities in the world and the number of tourists that visit the capital to get a glimpse of its eye-catching beauty and explore its wonderlands is just an indication of its greatness. London is one of those places that fosters harmony between the nostalgic past and the present, in such a way that it compels you to visit.
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