London First Time Travel Guide

This post took me way longer to put together than originally anticipated, but here we finally are – My first time guide to London! Before this trip I was lucky enough to get amazing recommendations from friends who’ve traveled to London or even Studied Abroad there. Plus, I spent hours perusing Instagram and The Infatuation for additional ideas – all of which I’ve compiled at the end of this post in a map that you can save!

OUR TRIP TIMELINE

Our trip to London was the definition of short & sweet! We arrived in London Thursday morning after a red eye and were already headed back home by Monday afternoon, which gave us just about 3.5 days to explore the city. We split our time so we had about one day in Central London (think the main tourist sites), one day on South Bank, and one day West London (Kensington, Notting Hill). If you’re headed to London in the fall don’t miss my packing guide to see what I ended up wearing!

WHERE WE STAYED

Since I was traveling with my mom we stayed at a nicer spot than I normally would when traveling on a 20-something kinda budget. We stayed at The Bentley Hotel in Kensington, which I would definitely recommend if you’re traveling with family or have a higher budget.  It had all the charm of an old regal hotel, the staff was truly amazing, and the subway was just a five minute walk away!

In terms of staying in Kensington vs closer to the center of the city, I highly recommend it! I loved coming back after busy days wandering the city to a quiet neighborhood full of local pubs and restaurants that weren’t filled with tourists. Plus, since we spend a most of our evenings in Kensington I felt like I actually really got to know the neighborhood vs just bopping around to lots of different areas.

GETTING AROUND

When planning your trip to London definitely budget transportation in your daily spending since both the tube and cabs will be pretty expensive.

That being said, I highly recommend using the tube as much as possible because it’s reliable and pretty easy to understand (not like our NYC subways…). You can either get an oyster card at the beginning of your trip which will give you a slight discount or use apple pay on your phone to tap into the subway to keep things easy. My mom and I used apple pay the whole time and while it’s slightly more expensive than getting the oyster card, since we were only using it twice a day the ease made up for the cost difference.

When you really don’t want to take the subway, I recommend using the MyTaxi app to call a cab just like you would an Uber. I had two different instances of Uber drivers just cancelling rides on me, so I found the taxi app way more reliable.

Bentley Hotel
Kensington Gardens

WHERE TO EAT

Not to brag, but I was pretty proud of the restaurants we got the chance to go to while in London. I did a ton of research ahead of time via The Infatuation and some of my favorite London based bloggers for recommendations so we eat at some delicious spots. I’ve included all the spots I saved for the trip below in my London map in case you’re planning a trip, but wanted to highlight a few of our favorites from the trip!

Breakfast: Eggbreak

I can’t even begin to explain how much we loved this spot! Eggbreak is the coziest brunch spot in Notting Hill and the perfect place to go after you’ve gotten your fill of colorful homes. My sister, mom, and I each argued that the dish we ordered was the best but I have to say it was a tie between the Mexican omelette and sweet potato rosti.

Pub Experience: The Builder’s Arms Kensington

We went to multiple pubs in London and I have to say the pub culture is high on my list of why I would move to London. The pub that topped them all was The Builder’s Arms in Kensington. Not only is the ambiance perfection, but the food is delicious. If you’re looking for a cozy spot to spend an afternoon this is definitely the perfect place and afterwards you need to explore the neighborhood!

Afternoon Tea: The Swan at The Globe Theatre

I can take credit for this spot as I had multiple friends recommend it from their times in London, but I’m so happy I took them up on the rec. The Swan is attached to The Globe Theater and does tea themed around which ever show is playing at the time. Pro tip – don’t eat lunch before and schedule tea around 2 o’clock. You’ll want to be plenty hungry because there is SO much food! It also sits right on the river so you have pretty views to complement the delicious tea setup.

Italian Home Cooking: Pappa Roma Pizza

The Infatuation had a raving review about Pappa Roma so we knew we had to had to go. Let me just start by saying it did not disappoint. Everything on the meal is affordable (rare in Kensington) and the pastas were all delicious. The whole restaurant wait staff was the best too between talking through their favorite dishes on the menu and just telling us about London!

Nice + Cozy Dinner: Maggie Jones

I have a love hate relationship with Maggie Jones to be honest. The ambiance and food were top notch and it’s truly the perfect place to go if you’re looking for classic British Cuisine. However, we did not have a good experience with our waitress (forgotten & incorrect dishes, no one checking in on us, etc) which somewhat ruined the evening. I’m hoping this was a one time kind of thing since I’ve heard such great reviews otherwise, so it’s still making the list!

St James Park
Wild at Heart
Notting Hill

WHAT TO DO

With just a long weekend in the city, we couldn’t check nearly everything off my wishlist off, but for a first time trip to London these are the activities I definitely recommend making time for!

The Classic London Spots: Westminster Abbey + Big Ben

When you think of London what I’m sure first comes to mind is a red bus driving over Westminster Bridge with views of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey in the background (at least that’s what I think of). Unfortunately, Big Ben will be covered in scaffolding for the next few years but being in that area of town is still gorgeous and you have to experience it. I still laugh at the moment my mom realized that Big Ben is currently under construction,  she said “wait, why’d I even come then?” I definitely recommend stopping by this area early in the morning to try and miss some of the crowds!

Hyde Park & Kensington Palace

My favorite place to visit in any city is their famous parks so of course Hyde Park and the gardens around Kensington palace were high on my list. The gardens are gorgeous and the park just seems to continue forever. A few notable spots to visit in the park that we loved are the Round Pond and the Albert Memorial. If you need a break from the touristy hot spots this is definitely the perfect place to spend wandering outside and enjoying the weather.

Buckingham Palace & St James Park

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace was originally something I didn’t care much about, but my mom was really excited about seeing it and she was definitely right it was so fun! The whole ceremony was finished off with the band doing Dancing Queen so you know my mom and I were dancing along. The Changing of The Guard is usually at 11AM, but you can check this site to confirm ahead of time!

Afterwards we took some time to explore St James Park and Birdcage Walk by the palace and I have to say St James Park was definitely my favorite of the parks we visited – Lots of cute little ponds and pretty trees!

Kensington

While staying in Kensington for our trip may have made me partial to the neighborhood I fell absolutely in love during our time there! Kensington is known as one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in London, so it makes sense the area is full of gorgeous town homes, delicious restaurants, and even adorable kiddos heading home from school in the cutest uniforms (I died). Plus it’s right by Hyde Park and Kensington Palace so you can check off multiple sites in one afternoon.

National Portrait Gallery

If you’re not a big museum person, which I am not, then the portrait gallery is the perfect spot to add to your London Itinerary. Like most London museums it is free to enter and the whole gallery can be seen in about an hour! You’ll see famous paintings of the Queen as well as more surprising portraits such as one of Ed Sheeran. I did go to the British Museum, but honestly it was really busy and too big to really experience in a short time, so I much preferred the portrait gallery!

South Bank River Walk

I always prefer to spend as much time outside when traveling (hence the parks) so the South Bank River Walk was hands down one of my favorite activities! As you walk along the river you’ll see the prettiest views of the north bank and there’s plenty of cute shops and restaurants along the way. Plus since there’s no open container laws it’s a perfect place to grab a beer and sit by the water. As you walk along the river set your sites on Borough Market to finish the long walk with some delicious snacks!

Notting Hill

It’s no surprise that Notting Hill was on my must-do list when we were planning our trip! While we planned our visit around seeing Portobello Market I would actually recommend entirely avoiding the market since it feels very repetitive and touristy. There are so many adorable streets and quaint shops around Notting Hill that are more worth your time such as the Wild at Heart Turquoise IslandMy favorite street of the quintessential colored houses was Hillgate Place (there’s a whole guide to Hillgate Village here) and I even found the cutest classic car parked out front of some houses – truly picture perfect.

Liberty London Christmas Shop

If you’re headed to London anytime between September and Christmas stopping by the Liberty London Christmas Shop is a MUST. Not only is the historic department store gorgeous on it’s own, but the Christmas Shop is full of the cutest ornaments and holiday treats to bring back to your friends at home. We didn’t have time to go to Harrod’s but honestly I wasn’t disappointed since Liberty London was so perfect.

Tower of London & London Bridge

Tower of London was one of my favorite parts of our trip! While definitely a bit touristy if you’re at all interested in the Tudor history of England OR the Crown Jewels than the Tower of London is a must. I loved that you could spend as much time as you wanted exploring the grounds. Afterwards you can walk across the Tower of London!

The Eye

The Eye is one of those London experiences I knew I wanted to check off my list and it really didn’t disappoint. I loved how it was more than just the typical viewing point and there was a set amount of time you’re up in the car. I definitely recommend buying tickets online beforehand for your ideal time and then showing up a half hour before then to ensure you get through the line to go up.

The Swan at The Globe
Liberty London

THE FULL LONDON MAP

I’ve started putting together maps for each city I visit and it’s now one of my favorite parts of planning! The below map is a full list of restaurant recs (mainly from The Infatuation & Instagram) as well as different activities.

Plus, don’t miss my Packing Guide if you’re planning a fall trip to London!

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