If you're thinking about organizing a trip to London, you've come to the right place. Our travel experts know the British capital inside out, from the best places to grab fish and chips, to the latest bars on the Shoreditch nightlife scene. In such a massive city, it's always handy to get some help from those in the know, so let's work on that travel schedule and make that trip to London happen.
How Long do You Need for a Trip to London?
Naturally, that's impossible for most people, so we're going to get to grips with some real-world plans for a trip to London. While it's not ideal, a 2 day trip to London can provide a burst of historic attractions and a taste of the city's food, theaters, and sporting venues. But don't expect miracles. A 4-5 day trip to London will let you cover the central attractions (well, the major ones), while if you have 10 days or more, you can start exploring properly.
Packing Everything In: Suggestions for a 2-day Stopover
What are the key attractions that beg to be seen during a 1 or 2 day trip to London? Well, obviously that depends on your aims and whether you're traveling solo, as a couple, or with a family (we'll get to that later, by the way). In general, there are several sights that can be easily worked into a micro-break.
Key Sights for a Short Trip to London
Secondly, there's shopping and culture. Harrods is usually on the agenda for serious shopaholics during a trip to London, as are Liberty and Fortnum and Mason's. Again, they are all in the West End or just outside it, and you can move between them fairly quickly. Oxford Street is just to the east, and makes a good evening shopping venue. However, if you want antiques, Portobello Road Market is over in Notting Hill. That's a little outside the center, so keep that in mind.
Finding the Right Hotel for a Short Break is Essential
For instance, given that most of the luxury stores are in the western part of central London, it makes sense to look for a hotel somewhere like Knightsbridge or Park Lane. The St. James Hotel in Mayfair is well-situated, as is the Mercure in Kensington. The latter option is also near the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum - all excellent family attractions.
If you're sticking to a central London history tour, somewhere like the Novotel Waterloo will do just fine and has great views of Big Ben across the Thames. The Savoy on the Strand is another upmarket option close to Trafalgar Square, while the Mercure London Bridge is handy for the Tower, Borough Market, and the Tate Modern - making it ideal for an art-based trip to London. These hotels are conveniently located, helping to save time when whizzing between attractions.
Exploring in More Depth: Organizing a 4 or 5 Day Trip to London
Don't just turn up without an idea of what you want to do every day during your stay. Well, you could do that, and you'd probably have a great time, but it from a sight-seeing perspective, we want you to see everything important without heading home disappointed. So get creative, make a list of the five to ten attractions that are "must-sees" during your trip to London, and add a few more "maybes", then, work around the core of attractions. Pencil in two main attractions per day, and a couple of possibilities, and try to keep them geographically close together.
For instance, if you're visiting the British Museum, you may want to add St. Pancras Station as a possibility. It's a beautiful building, and definitely worth seeing, with the added bonus of hosting plenty of artisan food stalls where you can fill up before hopping on the Tube to your afternoon activity. Or, if you're visiting London Zoo, why not spend some time in Camden Town at the market, pubs, and fashion stores in the late afternoon and evening? Thinking smart about scheduling helps to pack much more in during a trip to London.
Schedule Some More Distant Attractions During a Longer Trip to London
Over in the east, Greenwich hosts the Royal Observatory (hence Greenwich Mean Time), as well as the National Maritime Museum, the beautiful expanse of Greenwich Park, and the O2 Arena. To the north, Hampstead Heath is fun to explore with kids, while Highgate Village is picturesque, and there are EPL grounds like the Emirates and White Hart Lane to attend. You might even go further to Canterbury or St. Albans.
The key thing is to give every excursion a day of your time. Don't think you can head to Windsor in the morning and do the British Museum in the afternoon. Sure, by American standards the distances are tiny, but the attractions and travel will absorb most of your time, and nobody enjoys being hurried during their vacations, do they?
What About Staying at Out of Town Hotels During Your Trip to London?
When you choose this kind of accommodation, you'll most likely find yourself in a pleasant, leafy suburb with great pubs, stores, and parks. But you will be distant from Westminster and other central London highlights. That's not a problem, as you can catch trains or subways into town and be there for the day, before returning. However, beware: try not to travel before 10:00 a.m. or between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. as the transport can become jammed with commuters. Unless you're there over the weekend, of course.
Making the Most of a Family Trip to London
Madame Tussauds and the nearby Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street are two attractions that are very close together, and you can easily add a trip to London Zoo as well. South of the river, the London Dungeon gives kids a scare and has a fascinating history lesson to teach, and you can combine it easily with the Tower of London, where tales of "Traitor's Gate" will add to the horror.
If you have a few more days during your trip to London, there are some excellent suburban family attractions too. Legoland Windsor is next door to the Castle, and you can probably do both in a day, while there's the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in north-west London, which is an absolute must for Harry Potter fans. You can get there via King’s Cross, where Platform 9¾ is the jumping off point for Hogwarts in the books.
London for Lovers: What About Trips to London for Couples?
If you are both fans of the movie Love, Actually, why not take a tour of some of the film's key locations? These include some iconic London sights that others might miss. For example, there's Somerset House on the Strand, with its elegant architecture and stellar art collection. The South Bank also plays a big part in the movie, and the walk from Waterloo to the Tate Modern provides fantastic views across to St. Paul's and Westminster.
Then there are ways to make a standard sight-seeing tour more unique and memorable. Booking a table at one of the capital's elite restaurants is a good place to start. Kaspar's at the Savoy is a good example, where you can dine out in style and then wander arm in arm along the Embankment, or dive into Covent Garden to find a cosy pub. Another achingly romantic destination is Columbia Road Flower Market. If you're in Shoreditch on Sunday, you'll win points by taking your partner to this gem of a market.
Nightlife Ideas for Your Next Group Trip to London
London has a deserved global reputation for nightlife, but picking the right places to go still isn't easy, and picking the right time to go out can stump some people as well. Generally, Shoreditch is a reliable place to bar-hop and find all-night dance clubs, although there's a vibrant scene in Vauxhall, Camden, Hackney, and Borough as well. There are great pubs in West London, but the clubbing scene tends to die off around Marble Arch and Mayfair (where you'll find some of the swankiest places of all).
Dance floors don't tend to fill up before midnight, which can be a problem if you've been hopping bars and pubs all evening, so be sure to slow things down and eat a hearty meal. Then there's getting home. If you aren't confident about using the buses and Tubes, there are black cabs and companies like Uber (although their status is under negotiation). Arranging a cab in advance usually helps, particularly on Friday or Saturday evenings when demand goes through the roof.
Getting a Head Start Before You Arrive: Some Tips About Geography
For example, if you want to find the highest concentration of restaurants, you're probably best to head for Soho, just north of the West End, and close to Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. If you are looking for vibrant bars, we've already noted the appeal of Shoreditch, but Dalston (in Hackney), Camden Town, and Borough are all popular places to enjoy a few ales, cocktails or whatever takes your fancy.
Shoppers looking for clothes should look to Knightsbridge, Kensington, and Mayfair, which have thousands of upscale boutiques and tailors. If you want a tailored British suit, that's the place to go. The same applies to shirts, dresses, and hats. But if you want something more artistic, the South Bank (directly across from the Houses of Parliament) is the city's hub. It's home to theaters, galleries, cinemas, second hand book markets, and much more. To get there, the best idea is catching the Tube to Waterloo, which is right next door.
How to Get Around London During Your Next Trip
If you're on a longer trip to London, it might be sensible to purchase a 7 day travel card. This goes straight onto your card, and provides travel for a whole week. Many visitors will only need to buy a "Zone 1" travel card, which covers most of the main attractions. If you want to go further afield, you can add money to the card as and when you need it.