Top 15 things a first timer should not miss in London

I walked many, many miles spending as much time above ground as possible to get a real sense of distance and how the pieces of London fit together. There are just plenty of things to see and do. But as a first timer, there are a couple of sights you must not miss. So here are top things to do in London in your first week.

1. Ride the train tube

The London Underground rail network, or “the Tube” is a great way to travel to and from Central London and will be an integral part of most people’s stay in the UK capital. Buy an Oyster card or use a contactless payment card to get the best value as cash is the most expensive way to pay.

2. Ride the double-decker bus

Double Decker Bus - Copyright Travelosio

Whether it’s your first or fifth time in London, traveling around on a double-decker bus is the perfect way to get a comprehensive view of the city.

3. Watch a Theater show

London is known for its famous theater. Attend a show while you’re here and see some of the shows that make London famous. Tickets can be pretty cheap and there’s something playing every night.

4. Take a photo with the Queen’s guard

Queens Guard - Copyright Travelosio

The men you see in front of Buckingham Palace (and other locations in London as well as Windsor) are the Queen’s Guard.

5. Visit Trafalgar Square

In many ways, this is center of London. There is no cost attached to spending some time avoiding the pigeons while looking at some of the famous monuments such as Nelson’s Column. Lots of people just hang out here so it makes for a good place to people watch. This is also a good starting point for a walk along The Mall to Buckingham Palace.

6. Take a day tour at Tower of London

Tower of London - Copyright Travelosio

The Tower of London is a great place to spend the day. It is here you can view the Crown Jewels, see a fantastic view of the Tower Bridge and take a picture with a guard. To avoid the crowds start with the jewels then walk the opposite way around to everyone else.

7. Cross the Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge - Copyright Travelosio

Named for its proximity to the Tower of London, the world’s most famous combined bascule and suspension bridge represents yet another London icon that’s unlike anything else seen in the city. For the most photogenic views of Tower Bridge, take a walk across London Bridge.

8. Take a photo of Big Ben day and night

Big Ben - Copyright Travelosio

Although you can’t go up the bell tower, you can view its Gothic structure from the street.

9. Visit the Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace - Copyright Travelosio

No matter whether you’re a loyal royalist, an avid Republican, or an ambivalent bystander, you can’t deny that “Buck House” is as fascinating a piece of living history as it gets. When you go be sure to see what’s on at The Queen’s Gallery, home to one of the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact.

Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms open for public visitation every summer from late July to September. The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11.30am and is free to view. Check a calendar for the next ceremony as it’s not a daily occurrence.

10. Ride the London Eye

London Eye - Copyright Travelosio

When I first came to London, it took a turn on the London Eye to get a sense of how this sprawling and ancient city was laid out. I recommend a spin on the Eye as a must to every local and any visitor keen to see all of London in one go. Try to time your “flight” around sunset for maximum beauty and to see the city light up as night falls.

11. (Window) Shop at Harrods

Harrods is the jewel in the crown of London department stores. Charles Henry Harrod opened it in 1834 when he was only 25 years old and today it is still a major shopping destination. As much a London landmark as it is a store, it has certainly picked up an interesting factor or two during its 180 years.

12. Watch the Changing of Guards

Changing of Guards - Copyright Travelosio

Perhaps the epitome of London’s surviving pageantry can be found in this daily ceremony.

13. Sit down for an Afternoon Tea

Perhaps more than anywhere else, London is synonymous with Afternoon Tea.

14. Try Nando’s Peri-peri chicken

The chicken that conquered Britain.

15. Call someone from the Red Telephone box

Red Telephone Booth - Copyright Travelosio

Adding to the list is the iconic red telephone box. Seen as an integral part of London, the red telephone box has become a strong symbol of the United Kingdom.

More Tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes when hitting the streets and layers of clothing will help account for the changeable London weather.
  • “May I please” inserted at the beginning of any request goes a long way to enhancing any customer service experience at most London retailers and venues.
  • If you’re visiting from abroad, odds are you’re accustomed to road traffic coming from the opposite side. At any crossing look down as it normally says “LOOK LEFT” to remind you!
  • Check out Groupon for different deals each day for local goods, services or events in London. Discounts range from 50 percent to 90 percent off. The promotion is only valid if a certain number of consumers purchase the deal within 24 hours.
Have you been to London? Which attraction did you love the most? Let me know in the comments below.
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Published by

Sarah Berthe

Hey there! I am a small town girl who used to work as a Software Engineer for a Fortune 500 company. I left my 9-5 job to travel the world. I am a certified Level 2 scuba diver, a Vinyasa yogi and a former IT professor. I love trekking the mountains, fishing and camping. I speak 5 languages. Cheers!

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