Plan your trip to London
How to get from the Airport to Downtown
All the major airports have express train services linking them to central London. The Heathrow express is the most convenient, getting you into Paddington in just 15 minutes, while trains from Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton take 30-50 minutes and terminate in Victoria and Liverpool Street. If you're on a budget the coach services from these airports are slower but cheaper. City Airport is centrally located and connected to the subway.
The best way to get around London
The most convenient way to get around is the subway, known to Londoners as the tube. There are stops across the city and trains run from 5am to midnight, with a 24 hours service on Fridays and Saturdays on the busiest lines. The iconic red double-decker buses also run 24 hours a day and are reasonably priced, and there are great views from the top deck. You can't pay for bus tickets with cash; instead, get an Oyster Card, which can also be used on the subway and saves a lot of time spent queuing for tickets.
The Must See Places in London
Sir John Soane's Museum is one of the city's best, an eclectic treasure-trove of antiques, books, paintings and furniture. Look out for the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti I in the crypt downstairs, the strange mirrored dressing room, and the paintings stored behind folding panes, which have to be opened by a guide. An attempted robbery from 1987 left behind a bullet-hole which can still be seen in the entryway.
The Parliamentary Art Collection is a hidden gem consisting of more than 8000 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures. Highlights include fourteenth-century statues of medieval kings, portraits of British Prime Ministers going back 250 years, and an impressive fresco of the battle of Waterloo. Access is via a guided tours only, which are held on Saturdays throughout the year.
Highgate Cemetery makes for a beautiful walk full of interesting architecture, and contains the graves of famous writers like Douglas Adams, Christina Rossetti and Karl Marx. The overgrown look only adds to its charm, and Highgate is home to several dozen species of birds and butterflies, as well as foxes, bats and badgers.
For a change of pace and spectacular views of the London skyline, head to the O2 Arena. Once you're strapped into a safety harness you can climb the curved roof and take in an incredible panorama of the city from 170 feet up. If you're feeling brave there's also bungee jumping and a trampoline park, as well as restaurants, bars and a cinema complex.
Beefeater Gin – named after the guards at the Tower of London – is a city institution, and offers both self-guided and VIP tours of their distillery. Learn about the eighteenth century gin craze and get a look at the inner workings of the distillery, then indulge in a tasting with an expert to educate your palette and enjoy a complimentary gin and tonic at the bar.
Where to eat in London on your trip
Borough Market is London's oldest and most famous food market, and exemplifies everything that's great about the street-food scene here. The stalls champion both local produce and world cuisine; try the Cumbrian rare-breed beef, Ethiopian stir-fried stews or the mouth-watering Thai coconut puddings.
Pie and mash has a long tradition in London, and you don't get more genuinely cockney than F Cooke. The Cooke family has been feeding hungry Londoners since 1862, and David Beckham is reported to be a fan. For a real taste of the East End, be brave and try the jellied eels.
The Criterion has been hosting the great and the good since it opened in 1873; famous customers include Winston Churchill and Arthur Conan Doyle, and the first Suffragette meeting was held here. Have a drink in the bar, where you can admire the opulent interior and gorgeous gold-tiled ceiling.
For something a bit more modern, 1251 is a phenomenal new restaurant that's been getting rave reviews from food critics. Their modern British cuisine combines Scottish and Jamaican influences in unique and colorful dishes for a cutting-edge dining experience you won't find anywhere else.
Be sure to skip...
Don't bother with the London Eye; going around in a big circle is a bit dull, and there are better views to be had from the dome of St Paul's Cathedral or Hampstead Heath. Skip Madame Tussaud's too, which is a tourist trap that doesn't offer anything uniquely London, unless your goal is to take a selfie with a waxwork Benedict Cumberbatch.
Looking for a day trip nearby?
Both Oxford and Cambridge are less than an hour away from London on the train, making them a convenient day trip. Bath is always popular with history lovers and Jane Austen enthusiasts; if you don't want to take one of the numerous guided tours then it's a 90-minute train ride.
If you're looking for a quieter destination and want to get some sea air, then head south to Brighton. The train takes between one and two hours, and as well as swimming and building sandcastles you can take a look at the lavish Royal Pavillion, built in 1787 by the Prince of Wales. End your trip with an ice-cream on the promenade.
When to plan your trip
September is usually sunny and mild, with smaller crowds since the kids have gone back to school but many summer festivals and outdoor activities still open. Alternatively, April and May are warm and relatively quiet if you avoid the Easter holidays.
Some quick tips for a first time visitor
Wilton's Music Hall is a traditional Victorian entertainment that will make you feel like you're living in the nineteenth century. Fans of history, steampunk or Sherlock Holmes will be in heaven.
A trip along the canals is a great choice if you're looking for a peaceful afternoon in the sunshine, and will show you a side of the city that even Londoners rarely see. Most canal cruises pass by London Zoo and through little Venice, with a stop at the London Canal Museum.
Soccer is a religion in London and going to a game is the best way to get to grips with local culture. The biggest clubs are Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, and the atmosphere at their games is always electric, but it can be equally rewarding to join a dedicated band of supporters in cheering on their small club.