Why you should add London to your RTW/Indie trip
London has long been one of the world’s great cities, and remains an epicenter for culture and tourism as well as business and trade. It’s a big city with a large population and land area, but the main points of interest are easily navigable thanks to a top-notch public transport system.
- Hear Big Ben chime
- Sit on the lions in Trafalgar Square
- More pints – the pubs don’t shut at 11 anymore
- The food really has gotten better
- Speak your piece in Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner
- Wave to the Queen at Buckingham Palace
- If you got bored in London, you must be bored with life
- Get sick on the London Eye
- There are some rockin’ shops in Soho
Read: 10 Free Things to Do in London.
Why you should not add London to your RTW/Indie trip
- It’s expensive – very, very expensive.
- Because of the popularity of the city, there are constantly tourists all over the place. They are hard to get away from.
- The public transport options are nice, but they are really pricey and can add up. A day travel card is a good idea, though, if you plan to do a lot traveling between the sights located further from each other.
- London isn’t exactly known for its great weather. Still, you might be pleasantly surprised with sunny days in the middle of spring.
Read: The American’s Field Guide to London.
Indie travel tips for London
Getting off the beaten path a bit may be difficult in a city like London, and if you are looking to spend little money, good luck with that. But it is still possible to get an indie experience in a city like London.
- Instead of staying in a hostel or hotel, check out sites like CouchSurfing or airbnb, which both give you the chance to stay with a local. Check out some of the suburbs or areas outside of the city center.
- Join the throngs of other Englishmen on Saturday or Sunday afternoon at an EPL (English Premiere League) football (soccer for you Yanks) game. There aren’t many better ways to interact with the locals than watching their favorite sport.
- If you are looking to spend a bit less money, then watch the game from a local pub for a similar experience.
- Go to Paddington and explore the area of London known as Little Venice. You can catch a boat down to an area like Camden and get a totally different perspective of the city than most tourists get.
- Consider buying a book like Secret London, which has a collection of interesting walks and unusual places to visit.
- If you like markets, skip the touristy ones like in Notting Hill and head to the Ridley Road Market, where you won’t see many tourists but you will see a plethora of ethnic cultures.
- London is the city to visit if you have culture on your mind. Most of the museums can be visited so take advantage of that.
- If you want to spend the day in nature look no further than the many parks. Hyde Park might be the most popular but it’s also very large and offers a lot of walking, jogging and biking paths.
Read: 10 Reasons to Visit London Now.
What to do
For a bird’s eye view of this amazing city, a ride on the London Eye can be a good way to start. It’s the world’s largest observation wheel, and it’s not cheap – but the ride is a half-hour long. On a clear day, it’s a great spot for photographs.
Historically speaking, London has it all. There has been a city on the same site since long before Roman times, and it’s been the English royal capital for more than 900 years. Many of the city’s attractions are part of that royal legacy, including Buckingham Palace (the primary residence of the royal family), the Tower of London (London’s original royal fortress) and Westminster Abbey (the site of royal coronations since 1066, as well as many famous tombs).
London also boasts a fine collection of museums and art galleries, including the immense British Museum, which has amazing artefacts from all over the world. The National Gallery and Tate Galleries are some of the more famous art collections in the city. If you’re interested in time, you can visit the home of the Prime Meridian at the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich. For a slightly gory (and very kitschy) look at the bloodier episodes in London’s past, look no further than the London Dungeon.
Don’t be fooled by London’s historic significance or its position in the business world – this is a city that knows how to have fun. Londoners love to take advantage of a nice day to hang out in one of the many city parks, from Hyde Park to Kensington Gardens, to Regents Park. By night, there’s no shortage of theatre events to take in (and you can find discounted tickets available for same-day shows at the TKTS booths).
Even if you’re not a theatre lover, seeing a play in London could be a great way to get up close and personal (relatively speaking) with any number of movie stars who take breaks between films to work on the London stage.
And when you’ve had your fill of culture and art, there are plenty of bars, pubs and clubs where you can dance the night away! London has something for everyone, and as Samuel Johnson said, ‘When one is tired of London, one is tired of life.’
Certainly London can make you feel cultured and worldly – but it can also make you feel overwhelmed and lost. To avoid getting bogged down by London, it’s best to know what you’re getting into before you arrive.
Read: London: A City Fit For a Queen.
Getting Around in London
As mentioned, London’s public transportation system is excellent. The London Underground, also known as “The Tube,” will get you nearly everywhere you want to go in the city, and quickly. Once you figure out how the system works, it’s a breeze to use. It can be a little more expensive, but there are discount cards available. London’s legendary red double-decker buses are another means of getting from point to point, and are often quicker for short trips. If you’re interested in a bit of a tour while you’re en route, many of the cabbies in London’s famous black cabs are more knowledgeable about the city than some tour guides!
Read: London Pubs Along the River Thames.
You can book a flight into London’s Heathrow Airport (code: LHR), but depending on where you are coming from you might find lower airfare into Gatwick or Stansted airports. On most search engines you can use the code LON to check them all at once, but Heathrow is by far the largest and busiest and usually has the lowest airfares to London from overseas.
Where to stay
In terms of where to stay in London, it’s a massive city so it’s impossible to say what neighborhood would be best suited to you – the good news is that no matter how far out you’re sleeping, if you’re near a Tube station you’re never more than a few minutes from all the sights. Browse our London hostels to get the best deal on a bed.