Your guide to the dynamic British capital
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June 22, 2022 | View OnlineSign Up

London is almost too iconic. 

Major landmarks like Big Ben and Tower Bridge lure sightseers like moths to a flame, warping the most well-intentioned itineraries into a whirlwind highlights tour. Visitors so often leave seeing so much but feeling so little. The sprawling British capital deserves more time.

Modern London is a paradoxical adventure; international yet unabashedly British; ancient but aggressively modern; bustling yet charming underneath. Its storied history plays out along the River Thames, while its ever-evolving skyline fuses sooty Victorian chimney tops with grand cathedrals and skyscrapers.

The Old Smoke’s never smelt sweeter. Take a deep breath and come on in.

This is London.


London is the smallest city in England

Well, kind of. The original settlement was founded by the Romans almost two thousand years ago. The town, Londinium, eventually became the center of commerce for the larger city we know today. The ancient town’s limits kept its technical title of the City of London, while the rest became Greater London.

With only around nine thousand inhabitants, the City of London is the smallest in England.


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The reigning rainy city isn’t that rainy

You might have heard that it’s always raining in London. Sure, the UK is renowned for its dreary weather, but statistically, it rains less in London than in Miami, Mexico City, Sydney, and Rome.

Does that mean you shouldn’t pack your rain jacket? Definitely not. Make sure it’s in there. But maybe cut the city some slack when complaining about the weather. 

That said, even in summer, it’s worth having a warm layer. It can still get chilly on cloudy days and when the sun goes down. If you’re there in winter, wrap up.

Get around the London way

London is big, but getting around is easy with some understanding of the transport options.

The underground system (affectionately named the Tube) is the oldest and one of the best in the world. The sprawling system can get you virtually anywhere in the city with ease. It can be intimidating on your first use, but with some planning and practice, you’ll know your Elephant and Castle from your Waterloo in no time. Just make sure to grab an oyster card. They’re capped per day, so rides will end up free after a while.

If the underground isn’t your cup of tea (get it?), London’s black cabs are the best in the world. The drivers study for as long as four years before being registered, memorizing more than 25 thousand streets and landmarks in London. The cabs are fully regulated, so you don’t need to worry about scams. It’s going to be much more expensive than the tube, though.

Of course, you can always jump on an iconic London bus.

Check your exchange rate

Generally, when Americans arrive in the UK, they lose money. Not necessarily because London is expensive (although it can be), but because the exchange rate traditionally favors Brits going in the other direction.

Prices might look similar to you. A Big Mac meal could cost five pounds, which seems about right, but it’ll end up being closer to $7 or even $8, depending on how the dollar or pound is doing.

When planning your trip, keep an eye on the exchange rate in the weeks before. If you see the dollar strengthen or the pound weakens, it might be a good idea to pounce and save yourself a few pennies.


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Check off the landmark list

Just because there’s more to London doesn’t mean the big-ticket items aren’t worth a look. Especially if it’s your first visit, make sure you take some time to check out the city’s world-renowned landmarks.

Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and of course, St Paul's Cathedral are all must-see sights in the city. Depending on your level of interest, some will be worth further investigation. Do your research beforehand to know which ones you want to learn more about. 

The Tower of London should definitely be at the top of that list. Its museum and exhibits are an excellent glimpse into London life. Plus, you can check out the Crown Jewels.

Jumping on a hop-on-hop-off bus could be the perfect way to see them all in a day and the perfect first activity to help get to grips with London. If you don’t want to splash on the tour bus, you can go super-budget with your oyster card. Public buses 24, 11, and 9 pass by the different landmarks. At £1.50 a ride, you’re saving plenty of money for the pub later.

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Explore the British Museum

The British Museum's collection of artifacts charting human civilization is one of the most extensive in the world and features the likes of the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. You’ll need a few hours to explore every exhibit, but for those with historical inclinations, there are few museums better in the world. It was the first public museum on the planet, after all.

Unfortunately, the museum does drag some controversy along with it. The bulk of its collection was acquired over centuries of British colonization around the globe, prompting many to suggest that the artifacts presented in the museum should be returned to the country they were taken from. Wherever you stand on the subject, there is no denying how impressive the museum is.

If that doesn’t scratch your museum itch, check out the Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, or the Science Museum.

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Step off the bus

If you have the time to catch your breath between museums, the Queen’s house, and pubs, take a stroll through some of London’s neighborhoods and get a taste of something special.

Notting Hill, although now popular with tourists (thanks Hugh Grant), is a delight to the senses. Its Saturday Portobello Market can fill hours with its endless stalls selling everything from boutique fashion, to fruit, to any bric-a-brac you can imagine.

If you find yourself in the West End, London’s answer to Broadway, grab a last-minute ticket to some of the best stage performances on the planet. 

Camden Town is home to its own amazing market, as well as an unbelievable selection of independent coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, all waiting for your business. At night, it turns into a lively corner of the city where any genre of live music can be scouted out from inside old-school pubs and high-end jazz bars.


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The accommodation capital

London is something of a powerhouse when it comes to hotels. Boasting well over 100 thousand rooms within its city limits, the Old Smoke knows a thing or two about high-end accommodation. Some of the finest hotels in the world call London home, and many are as a part of the city as Big Ben’s chimes.

But there are just as many value options if you’d rather spend on other experiences. Remember, with public transport so readily available; it might be worth staying a little further from the city center to save a few pounds.

Here are a few of our top picks for London.

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Our Top Pick: Claridge's

London, United Kingdom
$$$$$ | See inside

Claridge’s is synonymous with classic luxury. Few hotels carry more weight in London, or the world for that matter, and for good reason.

Opened in the late 1800s, Queen Victoria herself was a guest in the hotel. Over the years, Churchill frequented the establishment, and it was even used as a safe home for European royalty during World War II. Since then, it’s been the hotel of choice for celebrities, politicians, and the world's social elite.

Boasting Michelin-starred restaurants, Victorian decor, the best afternoon tea in London, and an exclusive location in Mayfaire, Claridge’s is the bar many hotels strive for. It’s going to be a splash, though, with rooms starting at an eye-watering £1,170. They don’t even list the prices for their top-end suites.

Book Your Stay

Other Top Picks


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A whole new world

In decades past, British food was regarded as the lesser child in Western Europe. Its climate, hyper-industrialization, and political situations produced a cuisine of sustenance instead of finesse.

But that’s all changed now. World-class restaurants litter the streets of London, celebrating the best of British produce and the layers of international influences that make up modern Britain. Today, a tikka-masala is the national dish of the UK, standing proudly alongside the old classics like fish and chips or steak pie. 

London is the perfect place to dip your toes into the eclectic food scene that’s continuing to grow in the UK. And don’t skip one of the best Chinatowns on the planet.

Our Top Pick: The Princess of Shoreditch

London, United Kingdom
$$$ Menu

One of over three thousand pubs in the capital, the Princess, is leading the pub food revolution. An eight-course tasting menu is available, letting guests sample the finest British produce, but it might be the perfect place to get stuck in about an old-fashioned Sunday roast.

Led by one of the country’s best young chefs, guests can enjoy standout dishes like salt-aged beef wellington, all paired with the best British craft beer, cocktails, and wine. It's also pleasantly good value for money.

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The Best of the Rest


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