American born, I’ve lived in London for over a decade. Although I’m fairly well settled in, this city never ceases to surprise and delight me. Even as a longtime resident with no plans to leave, it’s still one of my favorite destinations.
With this post, I aim to share some of my top tips for experiencing the dynamic British capital at its authentic best. With so much to see and do and such a rich history to tap into for your itinerary, it should be easy peasy lemon squeezy (as they say here) to get a proper feel of the real London and return home with a strong sense of what living life in London is all about. Or, if you’re like me, you might just find yourself making plans to extend your visit and calling London home.
First things first: When you arrive in London, purchase a Visitor Oyster Card. An Oyster Card is a smartcard you can use to pay for travel on London’s public transport. Most Londoners get around town via public transportation and either use an Oyster Card for their journeys or “touch in” with their own credit or debit cards. A Visitor Oyster Card differs from ordinary Oyster Cards as it offers a range of special offers and discounts for attractions and activities around London.
As mundane as it sounds, one of the best tips I can give visitors to London is to take the bus. The immediately recognizable and iconic bright red double-decker buses are a cherished symbol for the city. They’re also a smart way to get around. Bus stops are marked with red roundels with info about which buses pick up there and maps of their routes and schedules. Be sure to sit in the top deck to take in the view. For me, that was one of the best ways to learn the layout of the city and figure out how different neighborhoods were connected to each other.
For such a huge city, London has a lot of green space. Spending time exploring or simply relaxing in some of its most famous (and not so well known) parks and other outdoor areas should be top of your to-do list when you visit.
I love finding free public outdoor spaces where I can relax and zone out for a while. One of my faves is Mount Street Gardens, where sitting on a park bench admiring the dappled sunlight and abundant greenery is one of the most pleasant (and definitely most affordable) ways to discover the storied and otherwise rather exclusive area of Mayfair.
One of the best walks I can recommend is the Lea Valley Walk from Lea Bridge to Three Mills in East London. From some of London’s best graffiti to bobbing canal boats moored alongside the path and from impressive views of the modern London skyline to an amazing range of waterfowl, it’s a scenic way to see London old and new with a mix of what’s hip and happening in the capital as well.
Foraging for London’s Finest Food and Drink
Pubs may not be as all encompassing cultural hotspots as they used to be. These days, Londoners are just as apt to congregate at a café, wine bar, or food truck hub. And with good reason – all these places rate among the best in Europe. Still, there’s no place like a pub. Definitely make time to linger in one – or just outside of one – for a refreshing pint. On sunny days (which aren’t as rare as you might have been led to believe), pub goers like to gather outside to drink. And don’t be surprised if you happen upon a brew from back home. American craft beer is super popular in the UK these days.
As I mentioned, there’s plenty more to eat and drink beyond the pubs. London is truly a global city and whatever your preferred cuisine it’s bound to be here, particular foods from across Europe. The most thriving areas for dining and nightlife include Soho and Shoreditch. But almost every nook and cranny of London these days has its own vibrant scene worth boasting about.
Shop Till You Drop in the Trendiest Boutiques
Yes, of course you’ll want to browse the aisles of world-renowned department stores like Selfridges and Harrods while in London. But if you want to splurge like a local shopaholic don’t forget the shopping quarters of Seven Dials near Covent Garden and Soho’s Carnaby Street near Oxford Circus. And then there are the street markets. Broadway Market near Bethnal Green and Portobello Road in Notting Hill are probably the most popular and fun for visitors, but be sure to check out what’s closest to where you’re staying. Street markets flourish in London, catering to all tastes and budgets.
Got any more tips for a top time on the town in London? We’d love your ideas on how to experience this — or any other — unique city.