London is one of the premier tourist destinations in the world and for good reason. It’s home to the most well-known and the most followed royal family in the world, it has a history dating back almost two millennia, and it’s overflowing with culture.
It’s no wonder that it’s on most people’s travel bucket lists.
But before you start booking your flight, you’ll want to read this to figure out when the best time to visit London is and what you need to see when you get there.
What’s the best time of year to visit London?
When it comes to travel, a lot is going to depend on how flexible you are.
US News says, spring leading into summer is when the weather is the best in London. If you like that milder climate, then this will be your ideal travel time. Just know that spring leading into summer is also peak tourist season, so there will be crowds.
If you’re the kind of person that’s looking for the best travel deals, then you need to check out London in the winter when it’s colder outside. There are fewer tourists and so prices are lower.
What kind of weather can I expect in London?
No matter what time of year you travel, remember to pack an umbrella. The United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and that means that rain pops up at every turn. Whether it’s summer or winter, be prepared to get wet.
The site London Perfect explains what other weather you can expect when you arrive and how to dress for it. I’ve summarized some of it below.
In the spring, the weather fluctuates. Sometimes it’s warm and sunny, sometimes it’s cold and rainy. London Perfect suggests, “When packing for a trip to London in the spring, bring a warm jacket and some layers so you can easily adapt to the changing weather.”
As for the summer, temperatures are milder. You’ll need a light jacket for the evening, but not much else.
In the autumn, things start to get colder. You want to be prepared for those varying temperatures again and you’ll also want to pack a raincoat because rain is most likely in the autumn.
Winter is just what you’d expect, cold and rainy. If it gets too cold, snow follows, so “…be sure to pack a winter coat along with hat, gloves, and scarf.”
What should I see in London?
This is kind of a loaded question because there’s so much to see!
You’ll want to use the Underground to get to and from all of the best tourist destinations, just make sure you mind the gap. Below is a list of some of the top sites in London.
Within the City Limits
Home to the royal family and Queen Elizabeth when she’s in town, Buckingham Palace is a sight to behold.
When you visit, shoot for 11:30 a.m. local time. That’s when the changing of the guard takes place, rain or shine.
Tower of London
After a visit to Buckingham Palace, make it a point to walk by the Tower of London. It’s not to be missed. If you have some extra time, take a tour. The royal jewels are housed inside the tower along with other pieces of British history.
A trip to London is not complete without a visit to the iconic Big Ben clock. The 318-foot clock tower tolls to this day. Right next to Big Ben is the home of the British Parliament, where the country’s leaders gather.
Piccadilly Circus/Trafalgar Square
Piccadilly Circus is arguably one of the most famous intersections in all the world, so it’s a must-visit. Right next to it is Trafalgar Square, one of London’s most vibrant areas. If you want to get a feel for London, look no further than Trafalgar Square.
Home to many a royal wedding, Westminster Abbey is the most iconic church in London. It’s where Prince William married Kate Middleton. It’s where Queen Elizabeth II married Phillip Mountbatten. It’s where Henry I married Princess Matilda of Scotland in 1100. Since it was built, 16 royal weddings have been held at Westminster Abbey.
Churchill’s War Rooms
Take a trip through time and visit the perfectly preserved war rooms of Winston Churchill. See where the British Prime minister directed his military campaigns during World War II. It’s a lesser-known site that’s well worth the visit.
Like all major cities, London is home to massive museums filled with arts and antiquities from around the world. If you have the time, visiting one or two of them is well worth it.
The British Museum
Among the highlights within the British Museum: the Rosetta Stone, mummies, and an Easter Island head.
Within the walls of the National Gallery you will see works from some of the world’s greatest artists. Works from da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Monet, and van Gogh all hang on the walls at London’s National Gallery.
Natural History Museum
Millennia of history have happened in and around Great Britain so it’s no wonder that there’s plenty to see at the Natural History Museum. Walk with the dinosaurs or stick to modern times and explore local flora and fauna. There’s a little something for everyone here.
Sometimes going outside of the city limits becomes the most memorable part of the trip.
The town of Bath has been known for centuries to the people of Great Britain because of its famous hot springs. Rumor has it, they have healing properties. When the Romans ruled over the area, they built saunas and bathhouses over and around the healing waters. There’s nothing like mixing a little history with your next spa treatment.
If you’re feeling ambitious and you have the time, you can roll this into the same trip as Bath. However, even alone, Stonehenge is a site that’s not to be missed. The prehistoric structures are still one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
Harry Potter Studio Tour
If you’re a fan of the boy wizard, then this is the day trip for you. Visit the sets where they filmed all of the Harry Potter movies. From Diagon Alley to Hogwarts, you can see the Sorting Hat and the original costumes from the movie.
If Downton Abbey is more your speed, then there are daily tours leaving London to see some of the top locations within the popular television show.
Tips for a Cheap Trip to London
As for saving money on your trip, here are some tips and tricks.
Go to Europe First
One of the top tricks is not to fly into London directly. Instead, fly into a European city on the “mainland” such as Paris or Amsterdam and then book a discount flight to London or take the Eurostar Channel Train into the heart of the city.
According to Frommer’s, this detour could save you a couple hundred dollars on your flight.
Land Early, Leave Late
If you book a flight that arrives in London early in the morning and leaves London late at night, you’re getting two partial days that you can fill with sightseeing without having to worry about the extra nights at a hotel.
Stay Outside of London
If you’re looking to save some more money on lodgings, consider booking a place to stay outside of the city. The public transportation is very good in and around London, which means a quick Underground train will get you right to the best sights.
Blogger Danny Flying Solo suggests Zone 3 or 4 in the London area.
If you can’t stand the thought of staying outside of the city, then Frommer’s suggests asking for a windowless room. They’re less spacious and they don’t have a view, but they’re also cheaper. Plus, you’ll be spending most of your time outside of the room seeing the sights, so it won’t matter as much.
Don’t bother paying for taxis and private cars, public transportation is good enough. London’s Underground will connect you to pretty much everything you need in the city. Plus, trains will help you get to some of the bigger tourist attractions outside of London.
Book Train Fares in Advance
Speaking of trains, Danny Flying Solo also suggests booking in advance if you do plan to leave the city. Not only do tickets run out pretty fast, but you’ll get a better deal if you reserve a seat online ahead of time.
Last Minute Theater Tickets
If you plan to take in the London theater scene but aren’t picky about what you see, then shoot for a last-minute ticket. If you wait a few hours before curtain, many theaters will sell their tickets at a massive discount. We’re talking about 10£ to 20£ per ticket.
Take Your Food to Go
According to Frommer’s, when you take your food to go, you’re charged a lower tax rate than if you sit and eat.
If you’re not picky about your lunch, hit a local supermarket for your to-go meal. Not only does the food cost less, but so do the drinks. In fact, supermarket drink prices are often cheaper than newsstands and sandwich shops.
With a little advanced planning, you can save money and see more.
According to Frommer’s, popular tourist destinations like Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are free to visit during worship times. If you just want to go inside and aren’t worried about seeing the exhibits, then visiting during church services is the best way to save on the price of admission.
As for saving time, look into which museums are open at night. Frommer’s says many of the major museums have evening hours at least once a week. That means you can visit Big Ben in the morning and the Natural History Museum at night.
Written by Erika Towne