Guide for First-Time Visitors to London

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As a first-time visitors to London, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. There are so many world-famous sites and hidden gems to see that you can quickly become lost in the enormity of it all. London’s public transportation system is one of the best in the world, however, and with just a bit of pre-planning it’s easy to organize an eventful, unforgettable vacation.  Don’t just stay within the city itself, though. You’ll want to get out into the countryside to appreciate the full beauty of the London experience.

Inside London

Portobello Road – If you enjoy antiques and flea markets, you won’t want to miss the world’s largest antiques market, the famous Portobello Road Antiques Market.  In addition to shopping, there are plenty of places to stop and eat or have a cup of tea.  The market is only open on Saturdays, but the surrounding shops are open six days a week. If taking the Tube, you can get off at either Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate.

Portobello Road in London

The atmosphere along Portobello Road in London adds to the excitement of this one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Image credit: Josep Renalias

Tower of LondonFor a big dish of history and a side order of humor, the tours at the Tower of London are informative and entertaining. Among other things, you’ll learn about the beheading of Anne Boleyn, see the Crown Jewels and witness a torture chamber up close and personal. The Tower is open seven days a week and the Tower Hill Tube station is just a five-minute walk away.

London Phone Booths

The iconic red phone booths of London are a familiar sight, even to those who have never visited the city. Image credit: calflier001

The Big Bus – This tour offers more than 50 stops throughout the city where you can get off, see the sites on your own schedule, and then get back on and go to the next stop.  You’ll ride in one of London’s famous double-decker buses, and the tour is fully narrated.  You can catch the Big Bus from any of the city bus stops, and buy your tickets there as well.  Bring your raincoat, because views from the upper (open) deck are the best.  Big Ben, Scotland Yard and Westminster Abbey are just a few of the stops you’ll have to choose from. My favorite was feeding the pigeons at Trafalgar Square.

Big Bus of London

The “Big Bus” of London offers narrated city tours with more than 50 local sites and stops. Image credit: Kevin.B

Day Trip Guided Bus Tours from London

Oxford, Stratford and Warwick Castle – On this tour you’ll visit one of the colleges within Oxford University, walk through Shakespeare’s birthplace, and explore the 1000+ year old Warwick Castle.  Be sure to check out the castle’s dungeon – it’s both interesting and gruesome.

One of the best parts of this tour was driving through the English countryside.  We stopped along the way and had lunch at a little pub.  Our group sampled jacket potatoes and a ploughman’s lunch, which are very authentic old-English meals. I’d recommend trying them both.

Bath, Stonehenge and SalisburyBath is awesome! It’s difficult to imagine that the baths were built almost 2000 years ago.  Legend says that the waters had healing powers, and although I would normally dismiss such talk, when you’re there, it’s almost convincing.

The second stop was Stonehenge.  I had seen it so many times before on TV, I thought I knew what to expect.  When we arrived, however, the scene was truly surreal. There is a powerful energy that emanates from the site that gave me goose bumps.

The last stop on this tour was the cathedral at Salisbury.  It was built in 1220.  The tombs on the inside were awesome, yet a little eerie.  The likenesses of the deceased were carved on the outsides of the tombs, so you felt as if you knew the person resting there.

Stongehenge Outside London

Not far from London, the energy emitted from Stonehenge is eerie and exciting at the same time. Image credit: Me haridas

Helpful Hints

Get a map before you go that contains subway and bus stops. Spend a little time studying it to get your bearings before you arrive.

Take your rain coat with you everywhere.

For those not accustomed to countries where they drive on the left side of the road, be careful crossing the street – the cars come from the opposite lane!

The Tube (subway) is the best way to get around in London. It’s much quicker than the buses and much less expensive than taxis.

Be brave and try some of England’s traditional cuisine. Steak and kidney pie will likely never be a favorite of mine, but at least I can say I gave it a try!

Rainy Day in London

Be sure to take your raincoat or umbrella everywhere when visiting London. Image credit: Tony Hisgett

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13 thoughts on “Guide for First-Time Visitors to London

  1. Leon Bailey

    I was actually born in London (Croydon University Hospital) but I have not been back since I left. I would definitely need a firs time visitor’s guide as I technically have yet to visit London. LOL. Right?

  2. Michelle Hwee

    This is absolutely gorgeous! I love the pictures so much. The stones and the phone booths are the most interesting to me, so similar to movies and pictures. I would love to go to London one day. Definitely gorgeous.

  3. Liz Mays

    That’s great advice on making sure you’re prepared for wet weather. I’ve usually found that taking the subway in major cities is easier than you think and so much more cost effective. I hope to get to London one day and see all of these wonderful sights!

  4. Myrabev

    I live here and never even visited the portobello road street market which I will embark on next year. I was big ben and westmininster abbey and scotland yard they are cool, everyone who comes to london has to visit trafalgar square as well as leicester square. I love that you mentioned jacket potato lol my fav and I funk it up too. Nice guide

  5. Natalie

    Who doesn’t have London on their bucket list? lol. I’ve always wanted to go to Stonehenge, so cool. I love going to antiques and flea markets to find good deals and unique gifts or house decor, so going to Portobello Road Street Market would be at the top of my list.

  6. Leann

    I would very much like to visit Stonehenge. It is fascinating that the stones still stand. I saw something about how they are starting to excavate around the area and how deep they are finding articles of the past.

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