Leyrer's Guide to Visiting London
Yes, I am a fan of London. And as a lot of friends ask me about traveling there, what to see, etc. I am trying here to summarize the most important stuff. This will probably get updated over the years. ;)
Most recent amendment: 2013-06-30
If you visit for the first time or plan on seeing a lot of the „popular” sites, check out the web. Most sites offer advance booking which generally also allows you to skip waiting lines, etc.
One trick we do is book a musical for the first evening in town so we are forced to leave the hotel even if we are exhausted after a day of travel.
2012, we got us two prepaid SIMs from Hutchison 3G Austria with their 3LikeHome feature for Internet access while in London. One of the best investments ever.
With our Android phones, and all your advance bookings in a Google Calendar the slightly scary Google Now alerted us when to start travelling to that location (as TfL opened it’s data, Google can even include delays into it’s calculations). Also you do not need a map any more. Google Maps navigation tells you when to take which bus to your destination. And with checkins via 4square or Google Latitude, you can easily recreate your trip (like I did for this posting).
Travel to/from London
I would generally recommend the train services from the different airports to London, as streets are – at least during the week – clogged up with traffic and you could loose half a day sitting in a taxi or airport shuttle.
Once in the city, I would recommend a taxi from the train station to your hotel, especially if you have luggage. Carrying your bags through the tube stations is no fun (especially during rush hours), so spring for one of the nice black taxis. :)
On weekends, we can recommend airport shuttles/taxis organized by our hotel. They were not that much more expensive than taxi and train added together and added another level of comfort to the trip.
Travel in London
Easiest and cheapest way (but not necessarily privacy protecting) way to get around is buying an Oyster card (and without a paper Travelcard you won’t get spotted as a tourist ;). Every time you enter a bus or tube station, you just put the card on it’s reader and off you go (this is completely differnet from the Austrian model of using public transport, but you get used to it).
You can order the card up front, but I bought mine at Liverpool Street after arriving from Stansted Airport. It’s an easy and quick puchase, no passports, pictures, etc. needed.
The regular Oyster Card (not the Oyster visitor card) could be loaded with a „Travelcard” offering, but I find it much more convenient to just „pay as you go”, as they won’t charge you with more per day then a Travelcard would have cost you anyway. So just get a regular Oyster card and upload the credit you think will „fit”. Transport for London recommends the following values:
1 day: £10
2 days £15
3 days: £20
4+ days: £30
You can always add more pay as you go credit if you run out by topping up at any Tube station, Oyster Ticket Stop, Travel Information Centres and some National Rail stations. These terminals also let you check the current credit.
If you are traveling with children, check out the Transport for London Visitor Tickets help center.
Staying in London
Now that is a sad topic. ;)
„The Tower” at St Katharine’s Way has a wonderful view of Tower Bridge (do NOT get a room with view of the marina ;). The rooms are big for London standards but a bit worn down. Look out for their special offers, we got a great one after the Olympic Games in 2012.
Another nice hotel was the Grange White Hall Hotel, in 2-5 Montague Street. Conveniently placed right next to the British Museum, this was a nice hotel with smaller rooms then The Tower but still well maintained and with a very friendly and helpful staff. Also, hotel is conveniently placed to reach all the major tourist hotspots.
Do NOT stay at the Kensington West. Smallest room ever! Flaky WiFi.
The same goes even more for the „Central House Hotel”. We stayed there in 2006. There is a reason why they don’t show the bathrooms. If you shave (your face), you have to place one foot in the shower stall of the orange „wet unit” that got casually dropped into the room by a 60ties space ship. IMHO, this warning is valid for all hotels in that road. The houses and prices are identical.
Should I Get a „London Pass”?
I depends. If you are in London for the first time and you want to see the „standards”, the London Pass might be an option. You can save a lot of time/money, but you will have to plan and calculate what to see when. Susanne and I planned very meticulously and we just about got our money’s worth.
If you want to visit Windsor, do get the London Pass as you can skip(!) the queues there. If you do Windsor, you got the option to do a Thames cruise (recommended) and visit Legoland (optional).
As mentioned before, IMHO you won’t need the Travelcard option.
Tips for the „Standard” Tourist Attractions
Tower of LondonYou will probably want to visit the Tower of London. If you do, think about booking the „Royal London morning tour”. Susanne and I did not regret it. You get:
- a private guided tour of the Tower of London with Yeoman Warder
- be the first group to visit the Crown Jewels (without queues, you can take alle the time you need to see the jewels)
- panoramic drive seeing the icons of London; Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and much more
- Changing of the Guard
- Thames River Cruise
- Pub Lunch (food/drink not included)
London Duck Tours
Susannes favourite. Do either the London Duck Tours „Classic Sightseeing” or the „City Tour”. Both including a splashdown onto the Thames! You’d be quackers to miss it! ;)
Hamleys flagship store in London is the world’s largest toy store. Always worth a visit :)
The Vault at Hard Rock Café, Park Lane
With so many unique restaurants in London I despair when I see tourists queuing for a table at the Hard Rock Café but fans of music memorabilia will appreciate The Vault. So named because the space was once part of a Coutts bank and now holds valuable music mementos, the display area houses some impressive exhibits. Items in the collection include the guitar used by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash in the November Rain video, a harpsichord frequently used by The Beatles and, strangely, one of Madonna’s old credit cards. Open seven days a week, The Vault’s opening hours are different from the main dining space (typically it’s open from midday to 9pm) and admission is free.
One of my favourite parts of town (for the Apple fans: in 2010, the largest Apple Store in the world opened in The Piazza). Nearby Covent Garden you can find Muffinski’s, Forbidden Planet, the Dr. Martens store, … And it has a tube station you can basically access only through elevators and no stairs. :D
Kings Cross Railway Station – Platform 9¾
Within King’s Cross, a cast-iron „Platform 9¾” sign was erected on the wall of the suburban station building containing the real platforms 9 and 10. Part of a luggage trolley was installed below the sign: the near end was visible, but the rest of the trolley has disappeared into the wall. It is common to see Harry Potter fans stop to photograph the trolley or try to push the trolley through the wall to the hidden platform. Due to problems with crowd numbers and renovation work within the station, the half trolley was moved to an exterior wall on Euston Road, and in 2012 to the western departures concourse.
Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road is the world’s largest antiques market with over 1,000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectible.
You have to see the masses walking though. BTW: you can get all kinds of food there.
The ShardWasn’t open the last time I was there. From the website:
The Shard is an iconic, landmark building on the London skyline, designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano. At a height of 1,016ft (310m), the tallest building in Western Europe, The Shard redefines London’s skyline and will be a dynamic symbol of London, recognisable throughout the world. The View is situated at the top of The Shard, on floors 68, 69 and 72, and almost twice the height of any other viewing platform in London. The View is currently open from 9am-10pm daily until October 2013. From October 2013 the opening hours will be: Sunday-Wednesday, 10am-7pm; and Thursday-Saturday, 10am-10pm. All tickets are dated and timed, so we advise pre-booking to ensure an unpressured, premium quality experience. The entire experience is enjoyed at your leisure, queue and crowd free with no time restriction on your stay.Check out the view.
St Paul’s cathedral
Climb up the dome to the Whispering Gallery and try out its unique acoustics; a whisper on one side can be heard clearly 100 feet away. Climb 271 more steps and reach the Golden Gallery at the very top of the dome where you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views across London.
Visit the Crypt with Nelson’s Tomb, Wellington’s Tomb and Sir Christopher Wren’s Tomb. Well worth a visit.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
From the Tower Bridge Walkways, 42 meters above the River Thames, visitors can admire stunning panoramic views, spying such popular London landmarks as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Monument to the west and St Katharine’s Dock leading to Canary Wharf to the east. In the south tower an animation shows the construction of the Bridge. Continue on to the original lifting machinery in the Victorian Engine Rooms, complete with sounds and smells that transport you back in time to the Bridge’s origins. You will also experience a virtual Bridge lift, providing you with a unique view of the Bascules being raised.
In case you want to see the bridge open or close: Bridge Lift Times
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Absolutely worth a visit and a tour. If you are into theatre, get yourself a ticket to a play.
Changing the Guard
Buckingham Palace guard change timing:
11:15 Guards,with bands, start arriving
11:30 Official start time
12:00 Guard change ceremony ends
Not the Usual
Forbidden Planet is the world’s largest and best-known science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment retailer! Near Covent Garden.
Leyrer’s Tour to Greenwich
- Travel to Westminster Pier, Victoria Embankment
- Take the Thames River Services: Westminster to Greenwich (one way)
- Cutty Sark
- Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
- National Maritime Museum
- Royal Observatory (prime meridian)
- If you still got time, stroll through Greenwich Market
- Greenwich foot tunnel The tunnel is classed as a public highway and therefore by law is kept open 24 hours a day. The tunnels are accessible by spiral staircases and large lifts. Because of its depth and location, the tunnel remains cool even on hot days.
- LDR through Docklands back to London. For example: Island Gardens to my favourite tube station „Bank”. Breathtaking view of the new Docklands while riding in the driverless LDR (try to get seats in the first carriage, first row).
Cruises along the historic Regents Canal
Once you have filled your stomach at Camden Lock, take a trip along the historic Regents Canal to Little Venice and Warwick Avenue.
Royal Albert Hall
Highgate East Cemetary
Notable gravesites: Douglas Adams, George Eliot, Anna Mahler (sculptress and daughter of Gustav Mahler and Alma Schindler), Karl Marx, Malcolm McLaren (punk impresario and original manager of the Sex Pistols), Ralph Miliband (left wing political theorist, father of David Miliband and Ed Miliband).
Visitors may roam freely on this side, but there is an entrance charge. A guided tour of Highgate Cemetery East is offered on Saturdays at 2pm.
West Cemetery – Highgate Cemetery
Notable gravesites: Julius Beer (owner of The Observer, and his 8 year old daughter, who the mausoleum was originally created for. This is the largest structure on site and has recently been restored to close to its original splendor), Michael Faraday (chemist and physicis), Alexander Litvinenko (Russian dissident turned critic, murdered by poisoning in London), Adam Worth (criminal mastermind and philanthropist. Possible inspiration for Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty)
The West Cemetery is home to the most impressive architectural features of Highgate Cemetery — the Chapel, Colonnade, Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon, Terrace Catacombs and the mausoleum of Julius Beer. Visit the West Cemetery by guided tour only. At the weekend, just turn up and take the next available tour. During the week, you’ll have to book.
Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
Notable gravesites at Bunhill Fields Burial Ground: Thomas Bayes (A mathematician and Presbyterian minister who is remembered for his theories regarding statistics), William Blake (An artist, poet and visionary. He was not widely recognised in his time, but today he is considered a major reference point in British culture.), Daniel Defoe (Author of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and around 500 other books, leaflets etc.)
Wesley’s Chapel is sited opposite to the burial ground across the City Road to the east. The chapel was built by John Wesley as his base in London in 1778 and is known as ‘the cathedral of world Methodism’. Also in there is one of the oldest Gentleman’s Conveniences, built in 1891 by Thomas Crapper and still in perfect working order.
Guided Tours of the Houses of Parliament
Visitors can buy tickets for guided tours of the Houses of Parliament that run on Saturdays throughout the year and on weekdays during the Summer Opening period. Highly recommended.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to as Kew Gardens. The Palm House was built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848, and was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron. The structure’s panes of glass are all hand-blown. The Temperate house, which is twice as large as the Palm House, followed later in the 19th century. It is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence.
One of my personal favourites.
Baker Street Tube Station
Of the Metropolitan Railway’s original stations, the sub-surface Circle and Hammersmith and City line platforms are the best preserved. Plaques along the platform show old plans and photographs of the station. With ten platforms overall, Baker Street has the most London Underground platforms of any station on the network.
Unique tile-work in this station commemorates the fictional Sherlock Holmes’s association with Baker Street and outside the Marylebone Road exits, a large statue of Sherlock Holmes commemorates the fictional detective’s association with 221B Baker Street. A restoration in the 1980s on the oldest portion of the Baker Street station brought it back to something similar to its 1863 appearance.
Around the corner is the Sherlock Holmes Museum. visit if you feel inclined to do so.
The British Museum is a „must see”, if just for the architecture. The kid in me loved the Ancient Egypt section including The Rosetta Stone. Entry is free, special exhibitions cost.
London Transport Museum
A fixture for me, as I LOVE everything related to the London Tube. I could spend hours the The London Transport Museum every time I am in London, just looking at the map development and the iconography. And the „exit through the gift shop” is always expensive.
Visit the Science Museum for a glimpse at the first Mac, a Cray I and other gems. Entry free!
The London Library
The London Library hosts free guided tours on Monday evenings offering visitors the opportunity to visit this historic literary oasis in the heart of the capital. There’s no fear of getting lost as our friendly staff guide you around the mind-boggling 1 million volumes on 15 miles of shelving. There’s no better way to beat the Monday blues!
Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge
Do visit the Tate Modern, even it is just to take a look at the breathtaking building. Entry is free, special exhibitions cost.
You can get there via tube station Mansion House and the Millennium Footbridge (made famous by the Harry Potter movie) aka. The Wobbly bridge. The sound installation of the Millenium Bridge (if it is still there) was done by Martyn Ware (Heaven 17, Human League).
HMS Belfast and Imperial War Museums
Both worth a visit, especially the Imperial War Museums. But do expect to go out of the Imperial War Museums rather subdued.
London Canal Museum
If you are a water/transport/infrastructure/history freak, you will probably want to visit the London Canal Museum. Nothing fancy but still some nice background information.
SPAMALOT tells the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and features a bevy (or possibly a brace) of beautiful show girls,
witch-burnings (cancelled - health & safety), flying cows, killer rabbits and French people, the show also includes the Nation’s Favourite Comedy Song Always Look on The Bright Side Of Life, and Eric Idle himself as God (see small print).
Well, I have seen that back in the early 90ties. Not showing at the moment. ;)
Muffinski’s - Best Muffins in Town
Muffins like you never tasted before. Do visit Muffinski’s!
Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers Restaurant
Born in 1989 to legendary Rolling Stones rocker, Bill Wyman. Sticky Fingers Café was aptly named in tune to the infamous album released by the band and was the concept of Bill Wyman’s idea of what kind of restaurant he enjoyed and London should have some it too.
This haven of good times, great food, and original Stones memorabilia continues to provide an enviable environment for eating, drinking, and having fun.
London’s original arts and crafts market since 1972; a vibrant collective of shops, market stalls, and food & drink. Open 7 days a week.
West Yard at Camden Lock Market hosts The Global Kitchen, offering a diverse array of street food vendors with affordable prices. From Ethiopian curry to kangaroo burgers, pulled pork wraps to mac and cheese. And you can eat all that while sitting on old Vespas!
Best Fish and Chips in London
Fish and Chips is a traditional English dish so you want to try it at least once. Here’s a list of the Best Fish and Chips in London.
London’s ten best afternoon teas
Telegraph writers select ten of London’s best afternoon teas for those searching for something a bit different.
As an Austrian, don’t do the afternoon tea at the British Museum. Although it is very nice and everything, it is provided by Do&Co and you can choose between the classic afternoon tea and a Wiener Kaffeejause. Not that this ever happened to us. ;)
The Founders Arms
Near the Tate Modern and Sheakspeers Globe, the Founders Arms pub offers (amongst excellent beer) Free Wifi. The service is traditional pub-style so order everything at the bar, food will be served to your table.
The Porterhouse – Covent Garden
Being a „pub” with 12 different levels, you might get problems navigating back to your folks after a few of their excellent beers (I loved the „Porterhouse Red”). If you are a group of people, book a table! The Porterhouse is definitely worth a visit if you are in the vicinity of Covent Garden.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of a number of pubs in London to have been rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. There has been a pub at this location since 1538. Some of the interior wood panelling is nineteenth century, some older, perhaps original. The vaulted cellars are thought to belong to a 13th-century Carmelite Monastery which once occupied the site. The entrance to this London pub is situated in a narrow alleyway and is very unassuming, yet once inside visitors will realise that the pub occupies a lot of floor space and has numerous bars and gloomy rooms. In winter, an open fireplace is used to keep the interior warm.
- Experimental Cocktail Club Thanks, Gab Davis
- The bar in the Tate Modern (for the view) Thanks, Gab Davis.
- OXO Tower cocktail bar - Thanks for the tip, Tony!
Not visited yet but recommended by friends, places I want to visit, …
- Lost & Found: A Secret Underground Journey – A new immersive event in Aldwych that will launch to the public on 3 September 2013. The interactive experience will re-imagine the 150 year history of the London Underground. Visitors will be taken on an hour long journey through the ticket hall and down onto the platforms. See also „Disused tube station to open to the public for tours”.
- Madison’s Tapas and Cocktail Bar, located at the top of One New Change with views over St Paul’s Cathedral (as seen in the Docotor Who episode „The Bells of Saint John”).
- The Swan Bar & Chophouse at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre by the River Thames, as recommended by @SonjaAblinger
- Real Food Market at the Southbank Centre, London
- wahaca - mexican market eating, thanks Gab
- wagamama, thanks Gab
- Fleet River Bakery, as recommended by @nedo04
- Busaba Eathai Thai Restaurants London, recommended by @neufrucht
- R. Twinings and Co Limited & The Twinings Museum, as recommended by @nedo04
- Candid Cafe and Courtyard, as recommended by @nedo04
- Primrose Hill, as recommended by @nedo04
- St Katharine Docks, as recommended by @nedo04
- Café in the Crypt, as recommended by @nedo04
- Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason, as recommended by @nedo04
- Borough Market – Borough Market is more than a place to buy and sell food. It’s a unique corner of London that captures our rich culinary history.
- TV and Movie Tours of UK Film Locations – Doctor Who, Harry Potter, James Bond, …
Books I relate to London
- Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow
- Rivers of London (Rivers of London 1), by Ben Aaronovitch
- Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London 2), by Ben Aaronovitch
- Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London 3), by Ben Aaronovitch