London. I love this city. I’ve lived here for four years now, and every day I find it more beautiful and interesting, without mentioning its amazing vibe.
I always get tons of emails asking me what to do when visiting London, so I decided to start a mini-guide series featuring different topics and aspects of a trip to this amazing city. This post, in particular, is dedicated to the first timers.
In case you’ve visited London before stay tuned anyway: more post with different itineraries are coming and you’ll be able to discover London from the most various points of view: for kids, for couples, secret London, Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland London. Can’t wait to let you discover the beauty of this city.
Before you start: many of the places I’ll mention are included with the the London Pass, that covers more than 60 attractions, so you may want to have a look to it.
Let’s start with this easy, simple, basic yet amazing touristic itinerary. If you come to London for the first time, you don’t want to miss:
- A walk (and maybe picnic) at the park
Parks are one of my favorite thing about this city. Whatever your plans, don’t miss a park! The ones I like the most are: St.James Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park e Hampstead Heath (a bit far from the centre but beautiful). If the weather allows, do like the locals: head to a grocery store (Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury’s o Tesco), grab sandwiches, hoummous and carrots, maybe some wine, and enjoy the carpet-soft grass and the amazing landscape. A great way to discover the parks and the city is to have a bike tour.
- Around Soho
The triangle Oxford Circus – Regent Street e Piccadilly Circus is probably a must for every first time tourist (or even second, third…). Piccadilly, with all the neon signs and lights, is an iconic photo backdrop, while the amazing concept store Liberty is on the to-go list of every shopaholic. But don’t stop at the main streets: enjoy the spiderweb of little streets behind Regent Street, around Carnaby Street up to Golden Square, in the heart of Soho. Here you’ll find small coo independent bar and shops and restaurants. For a breakfast or lunch go to Heddon Street, while Wardour Street offers many spots for dinner. Don’t forget to visit Sketch, even if just for the toilets :D.
- Tower Bridge and lunch at Borough Market
I love the area around Tower Bridge and More London: the riverside offers an amazing view of the city skyline and it’s a great walk during sunny days. A hop from there you can visit the fabulous Borough Market: a food market with specialties from all over the world. Have a fish and chips at the back of Fish! restaurant, a veggie wrap or falafel, paella, thai, brownies, smoothies. You’ll find everything yummy. Check out my videos (one and two) if you want to have a look (sorry they’re in Italian).
- Southbank, London Eye, Westminster and the Big Ben
There’s always something going on in Southbank: a festival, a show, an installation or a market. Stop at Waterloo and have a walk until you see the London Eye. If you want/can, have a ride on the wheel: the view is amazing. You can also walk to Westminster Abbey and the Big Ben. Westminster has tours for kids too!
- Shopping in Covent Garden and Seven Dials
Yes, it’s very touristic, yet Covent Garden is still one of my London’s favourite places. I still remember the first time I came here: the amazing architecture, the colors, a woman with a violin playing Astor Piazzolla that made the atmosphere, if possible, even more magic. From Covent Garden you can easily walk to the surrounding shopping areas of Seven Dials, Neil’sYard and St.Martins Lane. Especially nice if you like small shops and unusual gifts. My favourite in the area are Urban Outfitters, the travel library Stanford and the japanese shop ArtBox. For a brunch in the area go to Kopapa, lunch or dinner at Dishoom, Abeno Too, hamburger at Five Guys.
- The Tower of London
Legends, charm, history, architecture, atmosphere: the Tower of London has it all, including the red-black dressed Beefeaters guards and the crown jewels. I wouldn’t miss it during my first time in London.
- South Kensington museums
My daughters favourites are the Natural History Museum, worth a visit even just for the amazing building (part of Harry Potter was shot here), and the Science Museum. I love the V&A, especially when they organise the Friday Lates, with dj and drinks.
- The kaleidoscopic Camden Town
So messy, so touristic, so kitsch but at the same time irresistible. I love Camden Town and its crazy stalls, I always end up finding something unique and quirky. To have a bite around my suggestions are: breakfast or tea at Yumchaa, lunch at Honest Burgers,Poppie’s fish and chips or the raw-vegan InSpiral, with a cool view on the canal. And why not visit it by night along with other areas for a pub tour?
- The charming Notting Hill and Portobello Road
Quintessentially London, walking around the lovely – even though more and more touristic every year – Portobello market and the colourful streets of Notting Hill you’ll feel like you’re in some British rom com.
- The Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre
I love everything about the Tate Modern: the building – a former power station – the art, the installation at the Turbine Hall and the bar with this amazing view (below). Nearby you can also visit the superbe Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – here the tickets so you can jump any queue.
- A proper afternoon tea
If you’re not too familiar with the afternoon tea ritual you’ll be surprised about a few things. First: you can have bubbles with your tea, and I mean champagne or a cocktail. Second: it is served with a tower of amazing finger food: sandwiches, pastries and the unmissable scones, to be eaten religiously with jam + clotted cream. Where to have it? Beautiful hotels like Le Méridien Piccadilly, The Claridge’s, The Delaunay, The Wolseley The Berkeley, the Sofitel St.James but also bars/restaurants like Sketch.
- The National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum
You can visit these on top or as an alternative to the museums suggested at #7 of this list. I love the British Museum: it’s like time travelling to the past. The Egyptian area is beyond amazing and kids will love it. The National Gallery and the Portrait Museum has a couple of plus: it’s beautiful AND it’s right onto Trafalgar Square, a chance to have a quick walk and see another famous London spot. Both museums are free, or you can book guided tours.
- Buckingham Palace and St.James Park
I really like St.James park: so flowery and tidy, full of flowers and squirrels, perfect any time of the year. Have a walk in the park and end up towards Buckingham Palace if you want to catch a glimpse of the Royals life. The changing of the guards takes place every day at 11.30 from April to July and every other day the rest of the year.
- Hipster East London: Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Columbia Road, Broadway Market
You can’t really get the London vibe without heading East. A walk in Brick Lane, a night out in Shoreditch, a Saturday morning at the Broadway Market and a Sunday between flowers and cafés at Columbia Road. You’ll love it.
- A show or a musical at Shaftesbury
The London Broadway offers loads of shows every day, for every taste. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to see a play with Nicole Kidman or Benedict Cumberbatch, but a ‘regular’ musical will do the job of leaving you stunned anyway. My suggestions are: Wicked, Cats, Mamma Mia!, or Matilda and The Lion King if you are with kids. A tip: LastMinute.com offers discounted theatre tickets too!
I know London offers a lot more to see and enjoy, but I hope this ‘to do list’ can be useful for your first visit. Stay tuned for more London posts and if you want leave a comment to add your tips!