We don’t want to sound boastful here (showing off isn’t very British) but London is special. There are good reasons why it has such a colossal reputation. Plenty of good reasons. Soaked in history, studded with big-name sights and filled with dozens of hip neighbourhoods, it’s a city coursing with culture, with music and with life. Time spent here is what you want it to be: a journey into the past, an arty escape, a foodie foray, a sightseeing trip, an up-all-night party weekend or just a few days immersed in one of the most exciting and innovative capitals on Planet Earth. And what’s more, it offers good value too.
Where to start? The London skyline is full of iconic sights. If you want to visit big set-piece landmarks like Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s well worth investing in a London Pass, which covers some 80 different London attractions. It often grants fast-track entry too – so you’ll save time and money. The 3-day, 6-day and 10-day passes offer the best value.
If you won’t be doing enough traditional sight-seeing to justify the cost, try instead to book attraction tickets online in advance – it often works out markedly cheaper (you’ll get at least 10% off the London Eye, for example).
Londoners have it good. The city’s galleries and museums are up there with the very best. Visit the epic British Museum, the largest in the country and home to a cornucopia of priceless cultural artefacts from around the world, or call in at the strikingly designed Tate Modern, set in a former power station and hosting a permanent collection that covers the most important global artists of modern times. They’re both free, as are dozens of other attractions like the National Gallery and tried-and-tested London visitor-magnets like Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
London is a labyrinth. Its neighbourhoods jostle against each other, creating colour, noise and 24-hour energy. The River Thames is its scenic centrepiece. Walk the lively riverside promenades of the South Bank – passing the likes of Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre, where you’ll find high-quality productions, often with prices at a fraction of West End musicals.
That’s not to say the bright-lights West End shows can’t be enjoyed too. Again, purchasing tickets online well in advance can save you big sums. And failing that, the industry-run TKTS booth on Leicester Square sells on-the-day tickets, many of them at a reduced rate. Weekday tickets are often cheaper than weekends. To experience a true slice of London after dark, meanwhile, seek out well-priced events at some of the city’s 300-plus live music venues – we recommend the likes of Oslo in Hackney, KOKO in Camden or the Rough Trade store on Brick Lane, which has regular free in-store shows.
In general terms, the further you are from the main tourist heartland of central London and the West End, the more you’ll notice prices start to drop – for food, events, clothing and more. Shoppers can head to vintage emporiums like Blitz in East London or Absolute Vintage in Spitalfields for one-off items with attractive price tags. And a walk to remember? Head north of the centre to the open green space of Hampstead Heath: always popular with locals, it also offers a spectacular viewpoint back across the city.
London is as connected as it gets. Its five major airports are served by airlines from across the entire world, and Eurostar gives direct rail access from mainland Europe. In town, the Tube underground network makes getting from A to B straightforward (party animals take note: it runs 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays). Taxis, buses, trams and even river buses provide other options. Pick up a Visitor Oyster card to get the best value from public transport – or rent a Santander Cycle, which costs as little as £2.
One thing you won’t be lacking is choice. London is jam-packed with different accommodation options. In very general terms, prices decrease the further you stay from the centre: Airbnb has a huge number of London properties, and one of the city’s assets is that even if you’re staying outside of the usual tourist districts, you’re almost always well connected to the centre by public transport. For a central, well-priced stay, easyHotel has eight budget properties in and around the city, while the well-reputed YHA has seven.
London’s food scene is a far more diverse (and delicious) proposition than it was even a decade ago. Eat at quality restaurants for a discounted price by making use of deals from Time Out or Groupon, or capitalise on the cheaper set-lunch menus at Michelin-starred restaurants like Social Eating House, The Ninth and Kitchen W8. Excellent street-food stalls throng the likes of Brixton Village and the legendary Borough Market, while more than 50 London restaurants have been awarded Bib Gourmands, meaning they offer high-quality food and good value. Which is just the kind of combination we like.
For more information on London and the rest of Britain, head to VisitBritain.com
To purchase London Passes, tickets and more, head to VisitBritainshop.com