The capital of the UK is a tourist’s dream, packed with blockbuster historic sites and modern thrills.
London is a tough read in the best possible way. It dates back to Roman times, but it’s a forward-thinking, melting pot of a metropolis. Riders of all nationalities cram together on the city’s vast “Tube”—the subway network. A single square block might contain an ancient cathedral, Lebanese fast food and a contemporary art space. Yet for all its multifaceted charms, London can intimidate first-time visitors. It’s pretty big, for one, divided by the winding River Thames. And though its fast pace fits the world’s top financial center, it might be faster than you’re used to (according to London newspaper The Evening Standard, the city’s residents are the fourth-quickest walkers in the world). Our advice? Take your time. London rewards careful exploration, whether you’re hitting tourist draws like the British Museum or the buzzy neighborhoods of the East End.
When to go
A chill hangs in the air (along with clouds), but blooming flowers brighten things up at the city’s many parks. Temps range from 43°F to 64°F, and weather can change on a dime, so wear layers.
With sunnier skies and highs around 70°F, summer in London draws tourists and locals to free outdoor music festivals and open-air theaters.
Though London sees plenty of rain year-round, October is the wettest month, with nearly three inches of precipitation falling on average. But if you stay indoors you’ll miss the gorgeous autumn colors, so grab a “brolly” (local speak for umbrella) and marvel at the reds, oranges and yellows.
The air is wet and cold, and the clouds seem to envelop the city. That said, there’s something truly magical about visiting during the winter holidays, when the streets glow with colorful lights and lively Christmas markets pop up around town.
Avoid driving on the narrow and tangled streets of London. Instead, make like a Londoner and take the London Underground, also known as the Tube. It offers an extensive network of below- and above-ground trains. For the best deal, get an Oyster card, then pre-load it with enough cash to match your London itinerary. If you need them, taxis, buses, Thames River boats and commuter trains are also available throughout the city. At London’s Heathrow Airport, it’s worth the upcharge to take the Heathrow Connect, an express train that deposits riders at central Paddington Station in about half an hour (a Tube ride from the airport is cheaper, but much longer).
- No Brexit talk. The UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union is a divisive subject, so try a different icebreaker while chatting up locals.
- Unless you want to be publicly scolded, stay to the right while standing on an escalator in the Underground.
- Though they’re allowed to stay open later (thanks to a 2005 law change), many London pubs still honor the old 11 p.m. closing time.