First Timer's Guide to London
Arts & Culture
London, England, is a city rich with history, culture and life. London was the first major city I visited abroad, giving it a special place in my heart and remains one of my favorite cities to this day. While I have had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in London and have many favorite ways to spend my time there, I wanted to create a guide for first timers! There is no shortage of things to experience and unless you plan to stay for months. I want to highlight some of the must see (or eat) things that simply can’t be missed! For reference, these are activities I have done or seen or many times and would at any time, happily participate in again!
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Where to stay in London
Hotel Café Royal
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Things to do in London
Explore London’s rich history
Tower of London/Tower Bridge: These are two of the most iconic structures in the London skyline and the history linked to them is fascinating. If I had to pick favorite landmarks to explore, these would always take the top spot. The Beefeater tour guides at the Tower of London are some of the most knowledgeable I have ever encountered and have a way of immersing you into the Tower’s troubled history, while keeping it light! Take a glimpse at the Crown Jewels while you are there.
Big Ben and Westminster Abbey: Need I say more? Talking about iconic parts of the skyline. Taking a walk by Big Ben never gets old and can easily be coupled with a visit to Westminster Abbey where some of the most important figures in history are laid to rest.
Buckingham Palace & Kensington Palace: Walking through London’s parks is a great way to experience the beauty of the parks themselves but lends to connecting Buckingham and Kensington palace. Start strolling through St James Park by Buckingham palace and onto Green Park to which you can then access Hyde Park (keep your eyes peeled for my favorite statue of Peter Pan) and all the way to Kensington Gardens.
Eat and shop your way through the markets
Making the markets of London destinations is not only an amazing way to immerse yourself in all they have to offer, but a great way to experience the different neighborhoods of London!
Borough Market (Central London): As you will learn through my guides, food is a huge motivator for me in travel. The paella at the Borough Market is *chefs kiss* and I love visiting vendors to find treasures like honey and spices to stuff in my suitcase and bring home. Not only is this a foodies haven, but the architecture and layout that make up the market is mesmerizing.
Portobello Market (Notting Hill): This market is so expansive and organized by types of vendors (keep your eyes peeled for the signs on street posts to find your way.) You can find art, produce, antiques, and not to mention against the backdrop of one of London’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Don’t forget to pop by the Travel Book Store if you are a fan of Julia Roberts and the cult classic movie Notting Hill.
Camden Market (Camden Town): Eclectic and full of energy. Hands down one of my favorite neighborhoods and markets in London. I have eaten some of the best kebabs, macaroni and cheese, dumplings, arepas, the list goes on. We can just say I have eaten my way through the food vendor part of the market on many occasions and have never been disappointed.
Spitalfields Market (East London): An excellent choice for fashion lovers. Right on the edge of the trendy Shoreditch neighborhood where you can find some of the most robust vintage shopping in the country.
Take a day trip
Stonehenge, Bath & Windsor Castle: All of these landmarks are so different, but the tours are curated perfectly so that you can experience each location in its entirety. From the architecture of the Roman Baths, the eerie feel of Stonehenge, to the Queen’s blooming gardens at Windsor you will not be disappointed in this outing. This will take you all day so make sure you know what you are in for and pack snacks for your time on the shuttle.
Hello Downton Abbey!: Visit Highclere Castle, presented as home of Lord Grantham in the hit series. Learn about the history of Highclere castle throughout time, including its conversion to a hospital in World War I. Plus a drive through the English Countryside is just lovely.
Places to eat & drink in London
This may go without saying, but always, always try one of the local pubs. No matter what neighborhood you are staying in, grab a pint and hang out for a bit. Some of the best times I have had in London are meeting the locals and spending time with friends at the pub. Don’t be afraid to put in an order for fish and chips if available, it is afterall one of the english delicacies.
Dishoom - While they have multiple locations throughout London and the UK (the ambience of each restaurant catered to its neighborhood.) I promise you the Bombay-inspired restaurant isn’t your typical chain. Make sure to order the House Black Daal, it is a signature dish for a reason.
Chiltern Firehouse - Great vibe for cocktails and dinner with friends. While the inside is amazing, a seat on the patio is always a plus! My go to is the filet with peppercorn sauce and the black truffle & cheese fries topped off by a martini with a twist!
Green Bar at Hotel Cafe Royal - Ideal spot to grab a drink and a comfortable seat. This hidden gem is not only gorgeous but tends to be quieter than the bars lining the streets of SoHo around the corner. Hotel Cafe Royal is my favorite spot to stay in town and makes for a great nightcap when I get back to the hotel.
Gymkhana - Upscale Indian cuisine that is absolutely worth the visit. It is easy to see why they have a Michelin star.
Circolo Popolare - The design of this restaurant is extravagant creating a top notch place to dine no matter what the occasion is. We saw tables of 20 celebrating birthdays, what looked like first dates, parents with kids indulging on delectable pizzas. With walls lined to the ceiling with liquor bottles on both sides, it should be no surprise the cocktail list is a blast just lending to the fun. Two of my favorite items were the Piazzetta Della Nonna and the Mafaldine Al Tartufo.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to London.