A Local’s London Travel Guide: Part 1
How to navigate London like a pro!
Welcome to the first post in my Travel Guide series! I couldn’t think of a better location to kick off my travel guide series with none other than London.
London changed my life for the better when I moved there for a year about four years ago. I had decided to go to graduate school right outside the city (Zone 6, could still use the Oyster card, holla!) and had no idea what I was in store for.
If you’ve never been to London before, you’re in for a treat! The city is always moving, full of cute corners and the absolute loveliest people – I don’t care what you’ve heard, they really are great and I’m not biased in the slightest…
I want to make this as comprehensive as possible so that you’re fully prepared for your first (or millionth) time to London. That’s why I’ve decided to split this particular guide into two parts. I want you to feel like traveling to London is completely within reach, no matter what your budget is. You can make it work, you just have to practice good habits and prioritize!
*This was written pre-covid and hopefully travel to London will open back up to the world in 2021.*
Part 1 of the London Travel Guide covers:
- Transport to London – finding the cheapest flights + the different airports to fly into (bonus: cheapest months to fly into London)
- How to get into central London – per airport
- Areas to stay in if it’s your first time (or millionth)
- Ways of getting around London and the cost of each
London Travel Guide Part 2 covers:
- Things to do while there + recommended time to spend there
- Restaurants to try
- Cafes to stop at
- Best shopping spots
Let’s dive in, shall we?
London Travel Guide: Transport to London
I’ll work under the assumption that you will be flying into London, and not somewhere else in Europe; so I’m going to share some of my favorite websites where you can find cheap flights!
Before I do though, you should know of the six major airports in London.
Airports in London
- Gatwick – This was always one of my favorite airports to fly into. It, like Heathrow, has a train station below it that will take you directly into central London. It’s about 30 minutes from central and is a great option if Heathrow is too expensive.
- Stansted – One of the furthest airports from central. Typically its main bread and butter are flights from London to other parts of Europe. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flight from the US to this airport, but you never know, it could happen.
- Luton – Only 24 minutes from central but for some reason feels like forever. It’s pretty easy to get to but I don’t believe there are flights into it from the US. If there is, it’s an OK option and pretty easy airport to navigate.
- City Airport – Only 22 minutes from central but again, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen flights from the US to this airport.
- Heathrow – Probably the most popular airport in London because its only 15 minutes from central. It has several ways of getting into London, so I highly recommend it to newbie London visitors who might be overwhelmed by further away airports!
- Southend – Furthest airport from central – just avoid altogether!
Top websites to find cheap flights
- Skyscanner – I can’t put any other website at the top of my list and I am 100% biased because I previously worked there. This website is the best, hands down. You can set price alerts, find flights to everywhere using their ‘everywhere’ feature and almost 99% of the time – it is the cheapest option compared to other sites. Try them out, you won’t regret it! (Use the cheapest month feature to see when the best month to go to London is from your location!)
- Kayak – Very similar to Skyscanner and offers similar features. I’ve found that sometimes Kayak can be a little overpriced, but if you know them and are comfortable using them, then they are a great alternative.
- Google Flights – Where are my Google fanatics at?! Yeah, they’re taking over the world. Honestly, one of the biggest competitors to Skyscanner for sure. So, if you’ve used them before and are comfortable with them – then find your flight through Google!
- Expedia – Expedia is definitely an option if you’re looking for flights, however, it’s UI isn’t my favorite. Something about it just feels so 1990’s to me. But, regardless, they do often have really good deals and you can bundle your hotel + flight if that’s something you’re interested in doing.
What are the cheapest months to fly to London?
I’m so glad you asked. I definitely have my favorite seasons when it comes to London but that doesn’t mean they are the cheapest times to go. So, let me share with you the cheapest months to travel to London.
|Month||Avoid or Go?||Avg. Price of Ticket (per person)|
|January||Go! Fairly cheap & less tourist-y||$423|
|February||Go! Fairly cheap & less tourist-y||$420|
|March||Go! Perfect sweater weather||$424|
|April||A bit pricey but perfect spring weather||$501|
|May||A bit pricey but again, perfect spring weather||$462|
|June||Avoid! So touristy and most $$$||$660|
|July||Avoid! Still so expensive||$652|
|August||Getting cheaper, but not quite||$516|
|September||Cheapest month to travel to London!||$406|
|October||Fall! Still relatively cheap & a beautiful time to go.||$431|
|November||Fall! Still relatively cheap & a beautiful time to go.||$439|
|December||Unless you’re dying to see London during Christmastime (which I do recommend), it’s a pricey time to go!||$628|
Also, Skyscanner recommends booking at least 3 months in advance to ensure that you get the best price!
London Travel Guide: Where to stay
Where you stay in London 100% depends on your budget. I’ve stayed at both hotels and hostels. I’ve never done an Airbnb, but I’ve had friends do it and it’s a viable option as well.
So without going into too much detail on the specific hotels you could stay at, I’m going to instead give you the best areas to stay in if it’s your first or 100th time in London.
Central London / Westminster
I always use Booking.com when it comes to hotels, so it’s no surprise I’m sharing with you their top 10 places to stay in Central London. Don’t worry, I can’t figure out my affiliate code – so I’m not getting paid to share this with you ;). I just genuinely love Booking.com & I’m an avid user.
The Culture Trip gathered 5 of the best hotels to stay at in this area. I also think it’d be really cool to get an airbnb here. I’d look into it if I were you. It’s got really local vibes and it’s less crowded than the other areas.
Chelsea / Notting Hill
The Chelsea / Notting Hill area(s) is one of my absolute favorites in London. They are super close to Central London but each offer their own form of entertainment / things to do. One of my favorite markets is actually in Notting Hill, so there’s no shortage of things to see in these areas.
For Chelsea, you can find the top hotels here.
For Notting Hill, you can find the top hotels here.
Soho / Leicester Square
Soho is where you want to be for all the good shopping. Need I say more? Find hotels here!
Leicester Square is very cool as well – it’s typically where all the movie premieres and plays are! Find hotels here!
Camden Town / Primrose Hill
Oh, Camden Town. It’s one of the weirdest, most unique areas of London and it’s one of my favorites. Hands down. It’s not too far outside central London, but you’re guaranteed to have a great time in this area. Primrose Hill isn’t super far from and it’s a great place to go hang out on a sunny afternoon.
Find hotels in Camden Town here!
London Travel Guide: How to get around the city
Oh the joys of riding the Tube. It’s a transportation that most people have a love/hate relationship with. There are sometimes delays and it can get extremely hot in the tub during summer, but it’s one of my favorite ways to get around. It’s often efficient and really easy to get to where you want to go, so I’d highly recommend it.
You may want to download the Tube app and Tube map just in case. It can appear to be like a maze, but once you get the hang of it you’re good to go.
The average cost of a tube ride is: £2.40-£4.90 (depending on if it’s peak time or not)
The tube ride caps out between £7.20 and £13.20 depending on the zone you’re in. For more information, look here.
TFL – Tube information
The bus is another greta option if you’re interested in seeing the city above ground. It’s cheaper than the tube, so if you don’t feel like dealing with the maze that is the underground – you can ride the bus!
Fare: £1.50 per ride (Adult)
Daily cap: £4.50
For more info, look here.
Walking is a free, great way to see the city. London, to me, is extremely walkable. My only recommendation would be to not do it all in one day. Try to space your trip out a bit so that you aren’t overwhelming your legs and making time for rest.
I have a certain route that I like to give people, which often hits the highlights, if you’re pressed for time – so I’ll add that to a different post soon.
Hire a bike for as little as £2. The one that you’ll see most frequently is Santandar. Find out more information here.
I highly recommend riding through Hyde Park – it’s a nice/beautiful ride. I don’t recommend riding on the road if it’s your first time visiting. You won’t know the rules of the road and there are much better ways to get around!
Above ground train
Depending on where you got a hotel or where you’d like to visit outside of Central London, the Overground may be the train for you.
I lived in Zone 6 – right outside of London – and had to take the overground into Central. It’s very easy to navigate and can be just as cheap as the tube, depending on where you’re coming from / going to.
You can also take the National Rail to locations outside of London like Oxford, Bath, Cambridge, etc.
Prices may vary!
Whew, that was a lot huh? I hope that through reading it, you feel prepared to take on London like a local. Whiz through the tube and from the airport like a pro!
Now, onto the fun stuff, yea?