All my favorites–neighborhoods to visit, sites to see, and food not to miss while staying in London. This page is updated frequently!
Almost every month, I receive an email or three from readers who are planning to visit the beautiful city I call home. Most people ask the same questions, “Where should I stay?” and “What should I see?” This space will answer some of those questions for you.
First, you should know that London is a city so vast and layered that people who have lived here for decades still have bucket lists unchecked. And that’s why answering those two simple questions isn’t exactly simple. Because the way you like to experience a vacation might be different than the way I enjoy time to wander.
Beauty is a high value for me. It ranks first on my list of credentials for must see places in the fair city of London. Therefore, much of what I have chosen to share here is more for the eyes and heart than the head. And the places are a bit biased toward the neighborhoods surrounding my home. If you find these recommendations helpful, I would love to know about it in the comments.
Now, let’s start from the beginning.
Where should I stay?
Airbnb is the best option for value and economy. Again, I’m biased based on where I live but if you were to ask me where to land in London, the most beautiful and quiet boroughs in the city include Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham.
My favorite hotel is The Rembrandt in South Kensington, located across the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum (my favorite museum!) and the History Museum (which boasts a beautiful ice skating rink in the winter!) The hotel’s full English breakfast is superb and the service is thoughtful and generous. H and I were guests there on several occasions before moving to London.
How do I travel from place to place?
We don’t need to own a car in London because public transport is easy, accessible, and economical. Hire a car for traveling to the countryside, but a car isn’t necessary in the city. As a matter of fact, I don’t recommend it because parking is limited, can be expensive, and sometimes, it’s actually faster to walk than drive. Purchase an Oyster card which allows you to travel by bus, underground, and overground. Kiosks are available once you land, add £20 and top up as needed. You will get a refund on the card when you leave the country. Easy peasy.
For seeing the iconic landmarks–Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, London Eye, Picadilly Circus, etc.–the Big Bus Tour is highly recommended. Hop on and off buses all day for one inclusive fee.
I highly recommend loading two apps on your phone for navigating the city: Uber and Google Maps. Uber drivers are plentiful and more economical than cabs. If you are travelling with several people, an Uber is often a better choice than public transport, depending on the time of day and traffic. Uber is available for airport pickup and it’s a wonderful option when your feet are tired or it’s raining buckets. Use Google maps or Citymapper for navigation around the beautiful, but often puzzling city streets.
What should I see?
Parks and Palaces
London is an urban city punctuated by lush green spaces. If you enjoy gardening and nature, visit Hyde Park–savor the rose gardens (in summer), visit the Diana memorial, feed the ducks, rent a paddle boat, eat lunch at the Serpentine bar for people watching, and savor a ninety-nine on the way home. In December, Winter Wonderland is an old fashioned carnival that is a favorite tradition for many Londoners.
Visit Kensington Gardens and enjoy people watching in the Italian Gardens. Tour Kensington Palace (for a fee)– home of the modern royals– and learn about the life of Queen Victoria through the Victoria Revealed tour. And glimpse a beautiful display of Princess Diana’s dresses in her fashion story. Lunch in the outdoor cafe during spring and summer is a treat. View a glimpse of the tour in my story highlights on Instagram behind the button titled Kensington.
Regents Park and Primrose Hill are a marvel when blooms are in season. Take in the view and then have a cupcake at Primrose Bakery.
When I want a little dose of the English countryside without leaving London, Hampstead Heath is a favorite destination. Walk through the heath, take a free meander through Kenwood House (in the iconic scene between Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill). The artwork inside is stunning and outside, the gardens are vibrant. Sit outside at The Dairy and savor a big slice of cake! Roam the walking paths frequented by crowds of dogs and their diligent walkers. Linger over the panoramic view of the cityscape from Parliament Hill. Visit Keats house, and rest your feet for dinner at historic pub, The Holly Bush.
For a full day of fun at one location, I recommend Hampton Court and The Tower of London. Both places hold a full day experience worth the entrance fees. And for those who value horticulture, Kew Gardens is a memorable, feast for the eyes.
Markets Not to Be Missed
Portebello Market is a must see if you are staying in London over a Saturday. Start early, take the tube to Notting Hill and walk down Portebello Road. Discover antique trinkets, fresh produce, and global cuisine from vendors lining the streets for miles. Find the iconic blue house and travel bookshop from the movie, Notting Hill. Listen to buskers belting out tunes in the middle of the street. It’s truly a cultural experience not to be missed.
Borough Market is a visual smorgasbord for foodies. If you are touring the South Bank, visiting the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels or walking over the Tower Bridge, peruse this market for lunch; buy a wedge of cheese and a baguette for appetizers in your hotel room before dinner.
Old Spitalfields Market is for those who love finding old, unique, meaningful treasures among some quirky storytelling vendors. While you are in East London, capture the vibrant street art which makes a great backdrop for Instagram pics.
Mews and Memorable Places
While the iconic landmarks in London can fill the days in your diary for months, the charming mews, painted houses, and cozy cafes are worth an amble too.
Chelsea and Belgravia
In Chelsea, wander down Kings Road to see the beautiful shops. Cadeogan Gardens, Bywater Street, Royal Avenue, and Cheyene Row for Instagram worthy facades. The historic John Sandoe book shop is a must see stop for book lovers. If you arrive in spring, make plans to see the decorated floral storefronts for the annual Chelsea Flower Show (check out #chelseainbloom on Instagram). Walking tours are free and happen every half hour. Nearby in Belgravia, treat yourself to tea and cake at Peggy Porschen.
Kensington and Notting Hill
Take a water taxi from the Tower of London to Greenwich and see the City of London skyline from a different perspective. Visit the painted hall–London’s Sistine Chapel–at the Old Royal Naval College and be prepared for your jaw to drop over the beauty. And don’t miss the Royal Observatory where Greenwich Mean Time is kept and the panoramic view of London is one-of-a-kind, not to be missed.
For quality breakfast and lunch food at an economical price, the following chain restaurants deliver: Pret a Manger, Le Pain Quotidien, PAUL, GAIL’s Bakery, Leon, Euphorium
For a date lunch: Cafe Phillies, Daylesford, Petersham Nurseries (the Richmond location is a gardener’s heaven)
Best Fish and Chips–Kerbisher and Malt
Best Indian Food–Karma
Best Italian–Pentolina or IL PORTICO
Favorite Book Shops
Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral is a treat, especially if the boys choir is singing that night. The beautiful music echoing off the towering painted ceilings creates an unforgettable worship experience.
And if you are looking for a place to worship while you are in London on a Sunday, please join us at St. Barnabas Kensington and say hello. Maybe my H will be preaching the sermon!
For more information on beautiful places to visit in London, I highly recommend Siobhan Ferguson’s Pretty City London book. Based on the hashtag #prettycitylondon, her coffee table book is practical as well as beautiful. And for those of us who value visual beauty, it’s a must read before wandering the streets of London.
If you are an anglophile, you can get an inside look at London Life and my creative process as an author through video on Patreon. I love collecting the beauty I find in London and sharing it with you there.