- Main Airports – Gatwick (LGW), Heathrow (LHR), Stansted (STN)
- Language – British English
- Population – 8.5 million
- Currency – British Pound (£)
- GDP (United Kingdom) – $2.9 trillion (5th Overall)
Six and Half Years Old!
The first time I visited London I was 6 and a half years old. I remember my age because my grandparents took me to The Sherlock Holmes museum and anyone under 7 got in for free! Since that trip (which was my first journey to Europe) I’ve been back to London two more times, and each time I come to love the city even more.
The United Kingdom is a world power that has had a huge international influence. London, England’s capital as well as the largest city in the United Kingdom, has a population of ever 8.5 million people and over 51,500 red telephone booths throughout the city! It is a city full of diverse culture, including many significant figures ranging from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling and even The Beatles.
Officially formed in 1707 the UK is a country with a history that dates back more than a thousand years. While traveling around, you can find an immense amount of history, castles, and pubs to explore at your leisure.
Tourists coming from the United States will not need a visa. However, if you’re planning on staying for work or a study abroad program, pay attention to the visa requirements, and if applicable, start getting that paperwork ready now!
Currency & Costs
The UK uses the Pound (£) as its currency and currently has a strongly growing economy, which means the city of London can be very pricey. It’s best to use ATMs from international banks for withdrawing money so that you are able to avoid any hefty fees.
Language & Electronics
The language that is spoken in London is British English. However, there are certainly pockets within the city such as Chinatown where other languages are spoken as well.
An important tip for all travelers is to be sure to bring the correct plug adapter. In this case, it is the 3-pin plug that has a voltage of 230v.
When packing it’s recommended to bring layers! During the winter months such as January and February, the weather can be fairly mild. It rarely snows, however, the temperature never ventures warmer than 65 degrees (F). Although it can often be rainy, the city is most beautiful in the springtime.
Hop On/Off Bus
Although these double-decker buses seem extremely touristy, they can actually be the best way to get to know the city quickly. For around £20, you will be able to visit all the major sights, including the iconic London Eye, J.K. Rowling’s old apartment, and the House of Parliament – all of which are accompanied by a London native’s narration.
The London Eye
Even though prices can be a bit hefty, around £25, the view from the very top of The London Eye is definitely worth it on a bright, clear day. Being able to see the entire London Skyline allows you to get a glimpse of the vast and breathtaking city in just a few minutes.
Do you enjoy taking relaxing walks? If so, be sure to take a stroll through one of London’s largest and most beautiful parks, which covers more than 350 acres!
Looking for something to do in the evening? Stroll by Piccadilly Circus, the theatre district is a true treat at night, full of life, lights, and good deals. The equivalent of NYC’s Broadway, the West-End Theatre has equally talented productions put on every single night. Starting at as low as £20 per guest, there is a huge array of iconic productions to choose from.
The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace is always crowded but also worth it. While it is an incredible tourist attraction, the British take their monarchy very seriously. Their age-old traditions can be witnessed from April to July every day at 11:30 a.m. and every other day for the rest of the year. The ceremony typically lasts around 45 minutes.
One of the best things about London is all of the FREE museums. If you’re on a tight budget, one of the best ways to experience the British culture is by checking out the dozens of free museums. Bonus: if you’re a student, London is known for giving student discounts practically everywhere.
Looking to try some traditional British food? Be sure to look for and try famous dishes such as English fry-up (breakfast food with eggs, beans, and sausage – for less than £10), Shepherds’ Pie (meat and vegetable pies), Bangers and Mash (mashed potatoes and sausage), and Blood Pudding (looks like a black sausage, made from dried pigs blood and fat). Another must-have in London is the Fish and Chips (In the UK, chips = French fries, crisps = potato chips).
While there are a lot of staple foods in England (usually meats with vegetables), being the international city that it is, you can easily satisfy your craving for whatever food you desire. Cultural restaurants and pubs alike can be found on practically every street corner throughout London.
One of the best things about London is the array of food markets almost every weekend. The Borough Market is one of London’s biggest food markets. It is easily accessible using public transportation and is open every day except Sunday. Other smaller markets typically appear on weekends with a great assortment of cheeses, meats, and desserts. While some are specifically cultural markets (e.g. Mediterranean, Indian and Chinese) all of the food markets are delicious and reasonably priced. You can easily spend your Saturday visiting different markets and collecting ingredients for that week’s dinners, while also snacking along the way.
Bea’s Cake Boutique
Looking for a snack? Founded in 2008, Bea’s offers an incredible assortment of pastries, cakes, and other delicious baked goods. Be sure to check them out at one of their multiple locations (Bloomsbury, St. Paul’s, Farringdon, Maida Vale or Devonshire).
Death by Chocolate
If you are a chocolate lover make sure you stop for afternoon tea at the Hilton on Park Lane. When there ask about the 2-for-1 special, which makes the total for two people only £36!
One of the best things about London is their efficient public transportation. Before you leave, you should definitely experience the London Tube (London’s underground subway system). Ride the tube with the London natives and you will be able to get a glimpse of everyday life in London. There are signs everywhere you look so it makes it extremely easy to navigate, not to mention, it’s easy to get to every part of London within just minutes.
Bonus: If you have a smartphone/data, the app Citymapper is extremely useful when looking for information on bus routes and tube routes in the shortest amount of time.
If you get a chance to bike around London, the free bike stations are conveniently located around the city. Named after the London Mayor – Boris Johnson, the bikes are a great way to experience riding in the bike/bus lane (on the left side of the road) or even taking a leisurely ride through Hyde Park. Biking is also a great way to experience London with a limited amount of time, while still being able to enjoy the city’s atmosphere. They cost £2 for access for a whole 24 hours. Just make sure your ride doesn’t go more than 30 minutes over that time or it is an additional £2 per extra 30 minutes.
Although the legal drinking age is 18 in the UK, there are pubs on almost every street corner of London that are filled with millennials and families alike. The pub atmosphere is synonymous with London’s culture. People congregate at the pubs after work to watch football matches (soccer), partake in trivia night (Brits LOVE trivia), or enjoy a hearty meal at their favorite local pub.
Regardless of what you do in London, the friendly locals are always willing to show you what they love best about their city. With new things to do each day, you will never get tired of the London lifestyle!
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