Heading to “The Big Smoke” for the first time in your life? You’ll want to load up on as many tips for visiting London as you can get before you get off the plane at the London City Airport. Traveling to London can be exciting for folks who live in the U.K. or those who are taking a trip to the city from abroad. Still, London isn’t exactly like the movies so you should prepare yourself for the trip with some practical advice and suggestions for having fun there.
Even if you’ve been to this city a million times, reviewing our tips for visiting London can be a great refresher that prepares you for your upcoming trip. Those who haven’t been to the city in a few years may find that they’ve forgotten how to navigate traveling abroad and it can be useful to make a checklist of what you need or want to do while you’re in the city so you don’t forget. Whether you’re a spontaneous traveler who goes where your wanderlust takes you or you’re a calculated tourist who needs to account for every minute on your itinerary, these tips are for you.
Explore Local Neighborhoods
When you go to a new city, you may feel like you have to stay in one spot or stick with the center of the city so you don’t miss anything you want to see on the main tourist line. Even though it can be fun to stay in the center of the city, one of our biggest tips for visiting London is to stray from the beaten path and see what local neighborhoods have to offer in this city. From Chiswick to Soho to South Kensington, each neighborhood in London has its own flavor and unique places to visit and make memories.
If you want to get an unconventional understanding of London when you travel there, you can go to industrial neighborhoods that are known more for warehousing than they are for quaint boutiques like North London. Of course, many of the neighborhoods in this city that were once known for industrial working-class populations are now undergoing gentrification, which may change how you experience these areas. Still, even neighborhoods that are getting a new look have remnants of their former industrial glory if you know where to look and what to seek out in these spaces.
Consider Car Rental
Although the city has an amazing transit network that is one of the largest ones in the world, you may have a tough time exploring certain parts of London and the surrounding regions if you don’t have your own mode of transportation like a car. That’s why one of our tips for visiting London is to think about renting a car during your stay in this city even if you don’t think you’ll spend a lot of time driving or have the space to park it where you’re staying. If you plan to stay in London for more than a few days or a couple of weeks, you may want to consider renting a space in a car storage facility where you can keep your rental car if you decide to stay somewhere that has limited or nonexistent parking.
Before you get a car rental in London, you should think about whether you feel comfortable driving there and become familiar with all of the local and national driving laws that apply. If you come from North America or another region where steering wheels and driver’s seats are on the left side of the car, you may be a little bothered by driving a car with a flipped orientation on what will feel like the wrong side of the road. Additionally, driving in the heart of London can be stressful for those who are used to driving in rural areas so you won’t want to attempt to drive in London if the concept of city driving terrifies you to the core.
Visit the British Library
For bibliophiles, we couldn’t make a list of tips for visiting London without including the suggestion to pay a visit to the British Library. If you love books, you may not ever want to leave this massive, impressive library that has all of the books and archives you could want in the Big Smoke. For those who are a Beatles fan, you’ll love that this library features handwritten lyrics from Beatles songs all over the shelves.
When you’re traveling with children who are around kindergarten age or older, you may have a hard time figuring out how to make your time in London both enriching and entertaining. A library is the perfect place to go to ensure that the children traveling with you have an opportunity to learn while also having a good time. Even if you’re traveling solo, this library will knock your socks off and give you the quiet space you need to soak in all of the wonderful experiences you’re having while making your way through the city.
Go to the Countryside
London may be a city, but that doesn’t mean we can’t include tips for visiting London that encourage you to explore the rural countryside in Britain. While the tall buildings and cobblestone streets of the city are beautiful, nothing compares to the quaint little towns that you’ll find when you get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The people in the towns surrounding London are also lovely folks to get to know if you like to socialize when you’re traveling in new places.
When you make your way out into the country, you’ll take in sights that wouldn’t necessarily seem beautiful in your home country but somehow seem all the more magical when you’re thousands of miles away. A humble grain leg can even become noteworthy and a feature on your social media posts if you pay attention to the beauty of the subtle details in the scenery. Once you’ve had your fill of the countryside, you can go back to the hum of the city or you can decide to stay in a small inn in the country to get away from the hectic side of London at the end of the day.
Relax at Kew Gardens
Plant lovers out there will rave over the Kew Gardens, also known as the Royal Botanic Garden. No list of tips for visiting London would be complete without mentioning one of the biggest botanical and mycological collections out there with the highest level of diversity among their collection. From the professional tree arborist to the casual succulent owner, these gardens will be a sight to behold you have to see to believe.
Of course, if you’re not interested in plants, you may not understand all of the hype of this part of the city. Still, if you’re in south London and have nothing to do in the afternoon, you could always stop by the Kew Gardens and see if you like them. There’s no such thing as wasting time when you’re wandering through a new place in a foreign city.
Follow Local Laws
While many of our tips for visiting London have to do with places to go to have a good time, we need to acknowledge that you should plan not only for the fun stuff on your trip but for the things that could go wrong. If you come to London from another city or country, you may not know about the laws there and you could end up in big trouble if you don’t educate yourself on their legal system before you go there. Everything from traffic laws to laws regarding substances could be completely different from the laws in your country of origin so you shouldn’t take it for granted if you think you know the laws in London.
For some people who visit London, it can be difficult to adjust their lifestyle to fit the laws of the land. Coming from a city that has legalized pain relief marijuana might make you think that you can have it with you in the city, but cannabis is currently illegal to grow, distribute, or possess in London. Likewise, the penalties for certain crimes may be higher or lower in London than they are in your home country so you should get familiar with the criminal justice system in London before you end up learning some lessons the hard way.
Even if spending the night in jail in London seems like it could make for a funny travel story, it’s not worth risking fines and legal consequences if you break the law. Even if you accidentally break a law in this city, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get away with it. Although some officers and other folks who work in law enforcement may have some grace for you if you’re a foreigner, others might not be so kind so you shouldn’t rely on the idea that they won’t hold you accountable as someone who isn’t from London.
Enjoy a Pint at a Pub
If you’ve watched movies about London, you’re probably used to seeing scenes where a bunch of people are gathered at a pub in London to nosh on bangers and mash and drink local beer. While we can’t tell you what to do in our tips for visiting London, we can suggest that you enjoy the London pub scene if you enjoy drinking and getting to know new people. Going to a pub can be a great way to meet new friends in the city and loosen up before going to other activities on a night in the town of London.
As with anywhere in the world, you shouldn’t drive in London if you’re not sober. If you end up getting charges related to driving under the influence, you should contact a drunk driving attorney who is qualified to work in London as soon as possible. Although you might know a drunk driving lawyer back home, it won’t do you any good when you’re in a foreign city that has different laws and a different criminal justice system process.
Go to the Tower of London
On our list of tips for visiting London, you’ll notice we suggest visiting many landmarks. One of the most popular landmarks in London is the Tower of London. This structure has benefitted from historic restoration.
See the Sights on a Bus Tour
If you want to see London without having to drive, the best tips for visiting London we can give are taking in all the sights on a guided tour on a bus. Some of these tours are organized regularly for tourists while others may be self-guided tours based on known bus routes in London. If you take a tour with a group, you can make new friends along the way and experience the city with some people who are in the same boat (or bus!) as you are.
If you decide to drive through London instead of taking a bus tour, you should ensure that your tires are equipped to handle the weather there. Renting a car can take some of the hassle out of this. Additionally, you could take a cab to see London.
Book a Quality Hotel
Our final item on our tips for visiting London is booking a quality hotel. You don’t want to book a hotel only to find out they need to call a pest control company. Look at reviews and invest in a hotel that isn’t the cheapest if it means being comfortable.
In conclusion, making your way around the Square Mile can be as enjoyable or as stressful as you make it based on how prepared you’d like to be before you arrive there. As you’re taking note of our tips for visiting London, you should consider what you’d like your trip to look like. You should also account for the season in which you’re visiting since it may not be as enjoyable to go to outdoor sights during cold or rainy weather. The best attitude to have when traveling is that something is bound to go wrong so you might as well embrace the successes along with the failures in your journey through this city.