London is one of the top vacation destinations in the world. The reasons are simple: London is a cosmopolitan destination with great hotels, regal sight-seeing, well-known history, world class shopping and, to top the lot, they have award-winning live theatre where some of the most famous stars in the world “trod the boards.”
As the UK heads toward Brexit in March 2019, London and the UK overall will still be an attractive place to vacation. The British pound will fall against the US dollar more than it has already, allowing your travel money to go further.
Famous London locales include: Tower Bridge (shown), Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, Westminster and St. Paul’s Cathedrals, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye (below) and many others.
For visitors, London is very easy to navigate using the Underground or “Tube.” When you first look at the Underground map, it may be easy to get overwhelmed. However, the routes are colored, easy to follow, and the stops are clearly marked. You could spend a week in London and see most of the popular attractions using just a couple of tube lines: Piccadilly and Circle. Buy an Oyster card from any newsagent or store and fill it with £20 (~$25/30). Then use the card to come and go as you please. £20 would last two to three days in our experience.
Staying in London can be expensive or cost-effective depending on the level of luxury you chose. Cheaper hotel rooms are often small and cramped however, particularly when you arrive with a gaggle of suitcases. Lower priced hotels may not offer a bathroom in your room so it’s best to check in advance. Higher end accommodations may be pricey but desirable for their proximity and ease. As with any hotel choice, location is important. We recommend staying somewhere in the “West End” near theaters and central to most of the top tourist locations.
While British food sometimes gets a “bad rap,” it is easy to find tasty, inexpensive fare (like the Yorkshire pudding lunch shown) or multi-course haute cuisine anywhere in the city. Checking sites like Trip Advisor is one simple way to plan your selections. We also use Google Maps on our iPhones to search for restaurants and cafes nearby; these are handy because they list ratings and offer quick reviews, good and bad. One of our favorite dining options is Rules. Rules is the oldest restaurant in London, but the food is tip top and not too expensive. Service is top notch also, and if you talk to your waiter, you will discover the upstairs bar where Kind Edward VII entertained his lady friends back in the early 1900’s. (He came and went through his own entrance.)
Top Sights & Activities
· St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is a marvelous building and our favorite church anywhere in the world. A climb to the top of the dome is 500+ steps, but there are stops along the way to rest and recover. One of these is at the Whispering Gallery when you can stand on one side of the gallery with your friend or loved one on the opposite side and you can each hear the barest whisper. Your reward for making it to the top is a view of London like no other in the city.
· The London Eye. This is massive wheel situated by the river Thames is one of the top attractions in London. It makes a stellar viewing location to see the city from different perspectives. You can book ahead (link) to avoid lines and there are many options including a Champagne toast as you ride the wheel.
· The Tower of London. The Tower is a must see for a tour of the dungeons, museum, and million-dollar Crown Jewels. Book ahead if possible.
· Westminster Cathedral. This ancient abbey is the main church in London, situated yards from the Houses of Parliament. The church contains the remains of the great and the good of the British nation, including writers in Poet’s Corner and scientists from Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking.
· Thames River Cruise. A refreshing glide across the water is a great way to see London from the venerable Thames. Cruises stop at a number of places, which allows you to explore on foot, then hop back on the next ship when you are ready.
· Harrods Department Store. This shopping grand dame is the be all and end all of London shopping. Even if you are not into high-end shopping, pop down to the basement level to experience the massive food halls. These boutique eateries and food/coffee/wine/tea shops will wow you with their glamorous, often affordable, choices. The cafes and restaurants are relatively expensive, but it is worth your time and money to have a coffee and “biscuits” in one of the world’s top retailers. If you visit during the holidays, you will be bowled over by the holiday options.
· Selfridges Department Store. This sister shopping venue was made famous again with the recent TV series. The store is on Oxford Street is a great place to explore, sample, and blow your budget. Other shopping streets such as Bond Street, Carnaby Street, and Regent Street are all close by and worth a visit.
· Theatre. London has some of the most affordable live theatre options in the world. You can get tickets in advance or go the “hot tix” venues to find great deals on last minute seats.
When you visit London next time, be sure to have a pint, eat a bit of toffee pudding, and see a play. Cheers!