1. The Tube
Buy an Oyster Card. You never know when you’ll need to take the London Underground, aka the Tube, and this is the best way to go about it. Pay the flat fee for the card, and you can check your balance, and top up when you need to, at any of the tube stations. This way, you can move through the Underground with ease, because you won’t have to buy tickets at every station for every trip, and you’ll fit in with the locals. If you’re going to be in London for a week or more, this is an absolute necessity.
2. Live Like A Local
Your first night in London, go to a pub by your hotel or hostel, and just hang out there. Get to know the neighborhood you’ll be staying in; get to know the bartenders, the locals, the people that frequent the pub regularly. This is a great way to get to know London, and have a wonderful experience, and get a sense of what its like to live there, even if you’re just there on holiday.
If you’re an American, like me, understand that the British sense of humor is typically different then our sense of humor; this knowledge will take you far when you first get there, and begin to meet new people. Relax, and enjoy yourself. Many of my American friends got so offended by every joke the British people made at our expense, not knowing that British people love to “take the piss” and see if you can take a joke about yourself, since we as Americans have a reputation for taking ourselves very seriously. Let loose, have fun, take a joke, and make a joke back; by showing you’re a chill, fun person with a good sense of humor, you’ll fit in quickly, make friends, and have an amazing time.
4. Tourist Attractions
See the tourist attractions, but try to see them all in a day or two, so you don’t spend too much time on it. London is a big, beautiful, diverse, interesting city, and you’ll want to see so much more than just the regular tourist stops that everyone visits. Go out and see more. The first day, or two, do the normal stuff, i.e. The Tower of London, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye (go on it at night if you can), The British Museum, etc. Then, see other, different, more off the beaten path places and attractions. I love the British Library. It’s my favorite tourist attraction in London, so I recommend it highly! Whatever your interest is, I’m sure there is something in London you will enjoy. Find an attraction that relates to your passion, and pursue that, and you’ll have an even more fulfilling trip.
5. Art and such
Pretty much all of the museums in London are free, so please take advantage of them. Even if you have to pay a small fee, it’s worth it, in my opinion, because you’ll get to see some of the greatest works of art in the world. Go to the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain, the National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, all of which are very interesting and beautiful, and worth a visit. Even if you don’t wish to spend too much time in the museums and galleries, they’re all organized quite well, and you can decide the specific works of art you’d like to see, and skip that which doesn’t interest you greatly.
If you love sports, and you’re visiting while the football is happening, go see a match. Several teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham etc. are all London based football (soccer) clubs, so check out a match if you have time and enjoy sports. English fans are pretty fun, you can have a pint and cheer along with the other spectators, since people get very into the matches. Honestly, it’s a really great day all around. I went to a football match at Wembley Stadium the first time I was in London, and it was a really fantastic experience, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
7. The Parks
London is a city famous for its many parks and gardens, so take advantage of all they have to offer. Hyde Park, Tavistock Square, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, Regent’s Park, etc are all lovely places to spend some quiet time on a lovely day, and to take some beautiful pictures as well. If you happen to be in London in the late spring, summer, or early fall, stop at a bakery and buy a good dessert, or grab a coffee or whatever you enjoy, and head to one of the parks or gardens scattered all throughout London, and have a nice relaxing hour or two. If you’re going to Hyde Park, I prefer the entrance in Knightsbridge, because it tends to be less busy, and you can head over there after grabbing a pastry from the food hall at Harrods which is just down the road.
Speaking of Harrods, London has some of the best shopping in the entire world, and even if you don’t plan to buy much while there, take a walk through the shops, and see everything they have to offer. Visit Harrods since it’s a landmark, and the architecture is beautiful, but you don’t need to spend a ton of time there, unless you have a large budget. Visit Bond Street, between Oxford Street and Piccadilly, which houses some of the best designer clothing in the world. There are famous stores such as Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, and Harvey Nichols which are worth a visit as well. For a smaller, more intimate shopping experience, take a look around at the different markets, such as Camden Markets in North London, or near Portobello Road in Notting Hill, which is famous for its many visitors on the weekends.
9. The Theatre
Whilst in London, if you’re able, catch a show on the West End. London has some of the greatest theatre in the world, and if you have an appreciation for the arts, don’t miss out on seeing a play while you’re visiting. Also, if you enjoy Shakespeare, or even history, see if you can get tickets to a show at The Globe Theatre in Southwark, which although not the original Globe, as that burned down in The Great Fire of London in 1666, this theatre is built nearly the same as the original, and being able to experience the world of Shakespeare in that setting is truly extraordinary.
10. Have fun!
London is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting, interesting, unique, diverse, beautiful cities in the world. It’s brimming with history, culture, art, and fun, so please take full advantage of everything it has to offer. Go clubbing in Leicester Square one night, go to as many old pubs as you can, see the art, see the architecture, go to a concert at the O2 or Wembley, catch a match, shop the city, take a nighttime ride on the London Eye, or take a boat ride on the Thames. See everything you can; start your days early, and don’t end your days until very late in the night. Do everything you possibly can, and see everything you wish to see, in however long you’re there. You can sleep on the plane ride home.