The Ultimate London Travel Guide

The sprawling megalopolis of London is not only the largest city in England and the United Kingdom, but it is also the largest city in Western Europe with a population of just over 8 million people.

A truly global city, London is a modern-day melting pot of multiculturalism; over 270 nationalities and 300 languages from all over the world are spoken on its streets.

It’s not uncommon for first-time visitors to London to experience an extreme culture shock; its busy streets and the frenetic energy of its people is a trait unique to the capital that is not found anywhere else.

Whether you’re a first-time or regular visitor, we’ve put together this handy London travel guide to help you plan the perfect trip to London.

Travelling to the UK

Whether you’re visiting for the first time or are a frequent visitor, it pays to plan your trip to the UK well in advance. This includes researching the best time to visit, and putting together a travel checklist to ensure your trip runs as smoothly (and stress-free) as possible.

You’re probably also curious to know what the weather in the UK is really like and it wouldn’t hurt to know a thing or two about local customs and brush up on common British slang before you arrive.


Getting around

London is a massive city, covering some 607 square miles (or 1,572 km). Despite its size, the city maintains an effective and efficient transport system that connects all 32 London boroughs and the city itself with the rest of the country; in just 2 hours, it is possible to visit cities such as Liverpool and Manchester.

Travelling around the capital is often stressful, and frequently chaotic – so much so that we’ve put together a survival guide for travelling around London.

For information on the best ways to travel around the rest of the country, see our guide to the best ways to travel around the UK


The ‘Zone’ system explained

When it comes to getting around, London is divided into ‘zones’ 1-6, with ‘zone 1’ being the city centre and ‘zone 6’ being the outskirts of the city. The system itself exists as a method for TfL (Transport for London) to calculate a customer’s travel distance and charge accordingly.

Realistically, most visitors to the city will never have to travel outside of ‘zone 1’ as this is where most of the main attractions and the city centre are located. However, for those venturing further afield, it is important to consider how many ‘zones’ you’re travelling through as this will affect the type of ticket you need to buy.

The time of day that you travel will also affect travel costs; TfL charges higher fares at busier times of the day, also known as ‘peak hours’. These hours (excluding public holidays) are from 06:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00, Monday-Friday.

The ‘zone’ system does not apply to buses in London – you can travel anywhere in zones 1-6 on any travelcard.


Underground – “The Tube”

underground train pulling into tube station in london

The London underground (known by locals as “the Tube” due to the fact some tunnels on the network are, quite literally, round tubes running through the ground) is the world’s oldest underground rail system. A red and blue roundel identifies underground stations across the city.

  • The ‘Tube’ network consists of 11 tube lines & 270 stations
  • 5 lines operate a 24-hour service on Fridays and Saturdays (Victoria, Central, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines)
  • Pay by Oyster, travel card or contactless payment methods

Overground

Overground trains are orange, whereas Tube trains are red

Not to be confused with the ‘Tube’, the overground, as the name implies, operates above street level and connects the city centre with the wider metropolitan area. It was launched in 2007 to provide better connections between areas outside of Central London.

  • The Overground travels through 23 of London’s 32 boroughs and has 112 stations
  • Like the ‘Tube’, it also runs a late service into the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning (albeit only between New Cross Gate and Highbury & Islington stations )
  • Pay by Oyster, travel card or contactless payment methods

DLR (Docklands Light Railway)

Unlike the rest of London’s transport network, the DLR is a fully automated system with no drivers. Covering the docklands area of London, the area directly east and south-east of Central London, the DLR also connects with London’s cable car, the Emirates Air Line.

  • The DLR is a driverless line connected to the London ‘Tube’
  • It connects to the Emirates Air Line cable car and London City Airport
  • The DLR covers parts of East London and the Docklands area
  • Pay by Oyster, travel card or contactless payment methods

Buses

Buses in London are not only a fantastic way to see the city, but they also have one major advantage over every other transport method: they aren’t restricted by the ‘zone’ system.

What does this mean? Each journey you take, no matter how far you’re travelling or where you’re going, will cost you a flat fee of £1.50 for a single journey. They also have the advantage of the hopper fare; take as many bus journeys as you want inside 1 hour and never pay more than the flat £1.50 fee.

  • There are over 8,600 buses in London (25% are electric hybrid buses) servicing 19,000 bus stops
  • Pay using Oyster travel card or contactless payment method
  • Cash is not accepted on any of London’s buses

Emirates Air Line (Cable Car)

Don’t be fooled by its misleading name; the highest you’ll get above London on the UK’s only urban cable car system is 90m (295 feet). More spectacular than practical, enjoy beautiful panoramic views across London as it travels from Greenwich to Royal Victoria Dock. As part of the TfL system, you’re able to pay using your Oyster travel card contactless card – exactly the same as if you were travelling by bus or train.

  • Panoramic views across London from 90m (295 feet)
  • Part of the TfL transport system – cheap and easy to use

Taxis “Black-Cabs”

black cabs in london england

London’s iconic black taxis, also known as Hackney carriages, are perhaps as synonymous with the city as its iconic landmarks. With around 21,000 licensed drivers, they are a safe, convenient way to travel around London and are the only taxis that you can hail for a ride – it is illegal for minicabs and Uber cabs to pull over. Most now accept payment via card, bringing a London institution firmly into the 21st century.

However, black-cabs aren’t necessarily the cheapest way to travel; it is no secret that Uber and other transport apps are disrupting London’s transport ecosystem by providing much cheaper alternative ways to travel. Black-cab drivers in London are regularly found staging protests against Uber and going as far as to launch lawsuits against the tech giant.


Bicycle

santander cycle in a london park during autumn

London’s public cycle hire scheme, Santander Cycles (known locally as ‘Boris Bikes’), features more than 11,500 cycles at 750 docking stations. The number of cyclists on London’s roads has more than doubled in the last decade, in large part due to the introduction of cycle hire, and cycling around the city is a great (and eco-friendly) way to explore.

  • It costs £2 to access a bike for 24 hours (the first 30 minutes of each journey is free)
  • For longer journeys, it costs an extra £2 for each additional 30 minutes
  • Pay using a bank card at the docking station, or using the official app.

Things to do

From historic UNESCO World Heritage sites to majestic royal palaces and some of the finest shopping and dining experiences found anywhere in the world, London is a city that has it all. With so much to see and do, where do you begin? Regardless of what type of traveller you are, or what time of year you’re visiting the city, there is always something for everyone to enjoy in London.


London Tours

There are plenty of ways to see London’s main attractions, including guided tours and private chauffeured tours. At Evan Evans, we offer tours that cater to every itinerary, such as immersive full-day tours and half-day highlight tours for those who are short on time.

For those looking to head off the beaten path, we also offer a selection of walking tours which visit famous filming sites from the Harry Potter film series and the infamous real-life locations of the 19th-century Jack the Ripper murders.


Places to visit

natural history museum interior

You’ve seen ‘Big Ben’, visited Buckingham Palace, been on the London Eye and walked around the Tower of London. You’ve seen it all, right? There’s much more to London than its lengthy list of popular tourist attractions, so why not head off the beaten path and explore the rest of the city? We’ve provided you with a few suggestions below to get you started.


Local guides

When visiting any new destination, it’s often useful to have a local’s perspective on things. Where are the best restaurants and bars? How do I get around? Are there any cool or quirky things I need to see? Explore London’s vibrant local culture, lesser-known spots and enjoy the city from a local’s perspective.


Area Guides

Shoppers walking down a Soho street in London's westend past a bar with a LGBT rainbow flag

London is such a vast city that it can be difficult to know where to begin exploring. Each area of the city has its own unique charm and sense of historical and political identity that has shaped and molded them into the areas we know today. It’s therefore useful to take an in-depth look at each area and see what’s on offer in each one. Check out our travel guide section for other UK travel guides, including Stonehenge and Harry Potter Studio.


Day tours from London

As much as we love London, there is plenty to see and do outside of the confines of the city. With the UK being such a small country, it is possible to travel from one end to the other in roughly 5 hours via train. This opens the door to plenty of opportunities to explore further afield and be back in time for dinner.

From the rolling green hills of sprawling national parks to quaint villages and beautiful coastline, the UK is blessed with an unparalleled mix of beauty and history. Explore medieval castles, immense cathedrals, grand country estates, ancient cities and more with Evan Evans.


Food & Drink

Traditionally, Londoners are used to casting envious glances over to their European neighbours in Paris and Rome when it comes to culinary expertise. However, what British cuisine may lack in critical acclaim, the city of London makes up for with one of the most diverse, multicultural food scenes in the world.

From lively street food markets to a thriving artisanal food and drink scene, London is consistently ranked in the Top 10 places in the world to eat and has more Michelin-starred restaurants than most major cities in the world.


Shopping

group of women carrying shopping bags

London is one of the best cities in the world to go shopping. From world-famous stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, to the vibrant markets at
Portobello Road, Spitalfields and Covent Garden, shopping in London is both exciting and extremely varied. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in London, chances are you probably can’t buy it.

With so many options, where do you start your shopping adventure? Try our guide to London’s 8 best shopping areas.