By any measure, London is one of the world’s great cities
As a cultural centre, it has a magnificent selection of museums, galleries, theatres and architecture. For leisure, it offers excellent shopping, restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as a wealth of attractive parks and open spaces. The city is also a leading financial and business hub, and is home to many world famous institutions and companies. A stay in London gives visitors access to all this, as well as an endless list of lesser known treats to discover.
Popular Locations in London
Where you stay when visiting for leisure comes down to personal preferences. If you want to be in the heart of bustling city centre life, look for somewhere to stay in and around Leicester Square, Soho or Covent Garden. For an area which feels more sedate and exclusive, aim for Mayfair or Belgravia.
Westminster and St James ooze with centuries of history, while Camden and Spitalfields show you a more modern, younger face of London. And for a sense of London’s of village-style areas, head for Notting Hill or Hampstead.
Getting around in London
The London Underground (known as the tube) connects almost all of the city, from the centre to outlying suburbs. Visitors can also get around via the extensive bus network running on prioritised bus lanes. It is simple to buy bus and tube tickets with contactless credit and debit cards.
A wide range of transport options makes London easy to get around
London’s iconic black cabs (or white in this case!) run through the busiest parts of the city and can be hailed from the pavement or picked up at cab ranks at main stations, hotels and shopping centres. There is now competition from Uber, and even from rickshaws.
If you have the energy, central London is a great city to walk around. You can find any number of alleyways and peaceful squares tucked away from the main thoroughfares. You see a lot more when you are walking. You can also pay for a hire bike if you register for the Santander bike share scheme – pick one up and drop it off at any docking station, and take advantage of the city’s many bike lanes. You might even be in an area participating in the city’s e-scooter trial.
London is the home of the British pound (£) and that is the currency used for all cash transactions. There are plenty of currency exchange options and, as you would expect, card payments are accepted virtually everywhere.
London for weekends
With so many landmarks and visitor attractions, one weekend will cover only a small part of all there is to see in London. There are always plenty of reasons for booking more visits.
Whichever sights you want to fit in for your weekend, you will not be disappointed. You can get your bearings with a trip on the London Eye – the giant ferris wheel which gives you panoramic views from 443 feet (135 m). Then you can get close up to nearby Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. From Westminster Pier you can cruise along the Thames to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. That is just scratching the surface of London landmarks – there are so many more to visit as you can see from this official guide.
There are plenty of shows to choose from
A lot of weekend visitors combine a trip around the sights with a pre-booked show, concert or sporting event. There are always plenty of options, and the standards of production and performance are consistently at the top level.
London for families
The range of London attractions make it a great city for families with children of any age. Sea Life is a world-class aquarium opposite the Houses of Parliament and next to the London Eye. The waxworks at Madame Tussauds include celebrities and sporting heroes allowing you to get up close to the most famous people in the world.
For a spine-tingling trip into London’s murkier past, the London Dungeon may be to your taste, but be aware that the guide age limit is for over 12s. In Regent Street in the West End you will find Hamleys, the world-renowned toy store with a history which goes all the way back to 1760. Many generations of children have been mesmerised by all the toys on display, and the magic is still there today. There is also the chance to fall under the spell of Harry Potter on the Warner Brothers Studio tour. It’s out of town, but easy enough to get to with bookable coaches and train links.
London for education
London’s world-class museums, galleries and cathedrals are excellent places to learn about history, culture, science and much more. In South Kensington there is a lot to get involved in at the Science Museum, including hands-on experiments which are as enjoyable as they are educational. The neighbouring Natural History Museum is just as worthwhile, bringing the natural world and the environment thrillingly to life.
From modern, to cultural to historical, London has it all
Still in Kensington, the Victoria and Albert Museum showcases cultural treasures from the world of the arts and design. A trip up to Bloomsbury will give you the chance to explore more of the world’s cultural heritage at the British Museum. Art lovers can find a treasure trove of classic art at The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Contemporary art in London has an impressive home in a former power station at Tate Modern by the Thames in Southwark.
From dance to opera – London always delights
The area around Leicester Square is home to lavishly produced shows including hugely popular musicals. Visitors can also enjoy serious drama at venues such as the Globe Theatre, faithfully restored to its appearance in Shakespeare’s days, and the National Theatre. You can also find plenty of dance, opera and orchestral performances at major venues.
London for business
Times change but London remains a world centre for finance and for professional services. Many firms have relocated form the City to the modern skyscrapers and glass and steel edifices of Canary Wharf and Docklands. The creative industries – film, advertising and design – have been established in the West End for decades, and there are now creative businesses in Spitalfields and the East End. In Shoreditch and Hackney in the east of the city, London’s tech hub (known as Silicon roundabout) is attracting a wealth of start-ups and investment. London is very definitely open for business.
Relocating to London
If your work involves relocating to London, you should draw on all the support and guidance available from your employer. You will need to meet UK government requirements on visas, tax payments, benefits and health insurance. If you are relocating to London without the support of an employer, there is a wealth of information on UK government websites where you can find out whether you need a visa, and where to apply for a visa.
Then there’s the question of where you choose to live. London is a large city and is made up of neighbourhoods which are very different in terms of local amenities, costs, transport links and character. Do as much research as you can and take advice from contacts in London. You can also opt for a short term serviced apartment which you can use as a base for exploring where you would like to live longer term.
It is also important to have an idea of the cost of living in London. The city is not as expensive as New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Zurich and Singapore but it costs more to live here than in Paris, Berlin, Milan, Moscow, Sydney and Rome. (Source: Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey 2020). Rents, living costs, food, entertainment and a wide range of utilities, insurance and services need to be taken into account when you budget for your move.
If you are relocating with your family you will also need to investigate schools for your children. You can find help in this guide.
Where to live in London
London gives you plenty of options in terms of the kind of area to live in. Your choice needs to take into account the location of your work and of course the type of work you do.
Docklands and Canary Wharf have plenty of modern apartments and facilities which are very well suited to workers in finance and the professions, especially for those who work long days and need easy access to their offices.
If you prefer locations with more of a sense of history, consider Kensington, Bloomsbury and Islington. If proximity to open spaces is a priority, it is difficult to beat Hampstead, Primrose Hill and areas around Hyde Park. For a special ‘village’ feel, Notting Hill ranks very highly, while bustling, resurgent parts of the city like Houndsditch, Brixton and Hackney abound with lively entertainment, restaurants and bars.
If a gentler pace of life and more space appeals, look further away from the centre to the likes of elegant Richmond to the west, family-friendly Barnet to the north, tranquil Dulwich to the south and comfortable Woodford to the east. You will need to factor in transport to your place of work, but the trade-offs for a longer commute to the centre of London are more space, more facilities and a little more calm.