London, the capital city of England, is a must-see for many. It's a modern metropolitan, an economic hub, and home to one of the most diverse communities in the world. It is an enchanting place with magic at its heart, and many fantastic tales such as Harry Potter and Mary Poppins are set in the streets of London.
It truly mixes old and new, with modern architectural marvels such as Canary Wharf and the Shard which sit alongside historical sites like Trafalgar Square and Westminster Palace.
London is split by the River Thames on which you can enjoy a boat ride, winding your way past the London Eye and Big Ben. Disembark and dine at one of the many Michelin Star restaurants, visit a theatre, or take a tour around the famous Wembley Stadium.
Excited yet? Pack your bags and get ready to go on an amazing adventure through the same streets many movie and literary legends have navigated.
Here are a few must-know facts about London:
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)
Official language: English (United Kingdom)
London was founded by Brutus of Troy, a descendent of the legendary Trojan hero Aeneas, around 1000 BCE. However, evidence found near the River Thames indicates that people lived there during the Bronze Age – dating back to 4500 BCE.
The Romans established a civilian town called Londinium in the region following their conquest of England in 43 BCE. Occupying a relatively small space, some estimate the size of Hyde Park, Londinium existed until its invasion by a tribe of British Celts known as the Iceni in 60 BCE.
The Anglo-Saxon era that followed saw the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the attack of the Vikings, the wintering of the Danish Great Army in 871, and the eventual invasion of the Normans in 1066.
The Norman rule of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, established fortresses in and around London. The most notable of these is the Tower of London in the eastern part of the city.
One of the most notable and devastating historic events was the Great Fire of London in 1666, which saw roughly 60% of the city destroyed by a rampaging fire. It started in the early hours of the morning at a bakery in Pudding Lane near the southern part of the city.
The South Bank is home to many iconic structures in London such as the London Eye, the National Theatre, and the Imperial War Museum.
Fancy a shopping spree? Oxford Street is the place to go. Browse through the biggest brand names at shops that pull out all the stops to impress passers-by; Victoria's Secret displays the iconic fantasy bra worn by the elite supermodels at their annual fashion show, and Lego World attracts kids and adults alike.
If you're a music buff, visit Abbey Road, the famous street where the Beatles took their iconic photo on the crosswalk. The original Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles' album Abbey Road was recorded still exists today, and many fans leave behind items dedicated to the legendary band.
St Paul's Cathedral is a beautiful landmark in the heart of the city, with stunning architecture from a bygone era, the Grand Organ with 7,189 pipes, and magnificent statues and monuments.
Cross the River Thames and you'll find yourself at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, the famous suspension bridge with two towers that contain Victorian engine rooms and the Tower Bridge Exhibition.
Cross Tower Bridge and you'll find yourself between Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the amazing Tate Modern, a marvellous collection of modern art. You'll also be near the gigantic Shard building, which peaks into the clouds and towers over the city.
Visit London's oldest food market, the Borough Market, and taste delicious food and drinks prepared in astonishing ways.
Trafalgar Square is home to Nelson's Column, a monument to Horatio Nelson, who led the victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. Relax in the square, take pictures, and see entertaining artists interact with the crowds.
Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace are near Green Park. From here, you can see Big Ben, the changing of the guard, and hopefully catch a glimpse of a member of the royal family.
Tip: The changing of the guard happens at specific times and is a popular sight. Go early and find a great viewpoint before the crowds appear.
London is home to thousands of hotels, rooms to rent, hostels, and Airbnbs. No matter your budget and where in London you wish to stay, you'll find something that fits your requirements.
Prices vary greatly depending on the location. The closer you are to the main attractions or the centre of the city, the more you're likely to pay. Areas nearer to Hackney or Peckham are more accommodating to budget travellers, while areas near Kensington and Hampstead offer luxurious accommodation for wealthier people.
Take a tour of the legendary battleship, the 'HMS Belfast', which floats on the River Thames. The enormous ship is docked near Tower Bridge and is accessible by the south side of the river.
Visit Wembley Stadium and watch an international sporting event or maybe even bungee jump from the stadium arch.
Hackney comes to life in the summer with the Hackney Street Food Market, where people from all over the world come together in celebration of jam doughnuts, mince pies, and prosecco.
Visit King's Cross station and stand in line to photograph the trolley that got stuck in the wall trying to enter the 9 and ¾ Platform. This is a touristy tribute to the Harry Potter novels. Next door is the Harry Potter shop where you can buy a Hogwarts scarf or wand.
Brick Lane is home to many markets such as the exciting Vintage Market and the Boxpark Shoreditch, a pop-up mall selling street food and fashion.
The United Kingdom (UK) is infamous for cold weather and grey, rainy days. Winter is a combination of snowfall, rain, and winds, ensuring temperatures well below 0 degrees Celsius.
Summertime in London still sees rainy days, but sunshine soon follows, with lovely temperatures similar to South Africa's spring weather. There have been several heatwaves in England in recent years, the most recent of which was in 2018 where temperatures consistently stayed above 30 degrees Celsius and little to no rainfall for nearly six weeks.
Tip: Always expect rain in London and keep a raincoat or umbrella with you. In contrast, sunny days are usually accompanied by hot, humid conditions that can lead to dehydration, so carry a bottle of water and take regular breaks when walking around.
London is home to millions of people from all around the world and you'll find an eclectic mix of cuisines wherever you go.
If you feel like a quick snack, food markets offer easily prepared treats. Shops such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury's sell delicious ready meals, some of which are even developed by world-class chefs such as Heston Blumenthal.
Speaking of Heston Blumenthal, you can book a seat at his three-star Michelin restaurant, the Fat Duck, or visit other restaurants owned by Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Marco Pierre White. Many of the world's best chefs have restaurants in London as the city is a culinary hotspot.
Tip: Download the Open Table app to book a table at one of the many restaurants in London. Not only does the app showcase all available spots, it lists current deals so you can save a bit of money to spend elsewhere.
London is relatively safe due to continued efforts by British police to stop crime. The most common threats are theft and knife attacks, of which the latter is mostly gang and drug related.
London is on high alert for terrorist activity. It is an international target for terrorist groups due in large part to its history of colonial rule and dense populations.
South Africans require a tourist visa to visit England. You can apply for a visa through the TLScontact UK website. Visit the UK government website to learn more.
Here are the various ways you can travel to and around London:
London is a densely populated city with narrow roads and lots of traffic. There are several car rental agencies available, but due to congestion and related taxes, it's better to use public transport to get around. South Africans require a driving permit (licence) upon renting a car. Cabs are available in the city, and although Uber is too, they are rarer to find after the previous ban of all Uber licences in the city.
The bus system is extremely efficient and is a quick and cheap way to move around the city. Sit at the top of a double-decker bus to get a great view of London as you move from one end to the other.
London is home to the famous Underground and Overground railway network, connecting hundreds of stations across the city. They are quick, affordable, and almost always crammed full of people.
Tip: Download the City Mapper app for free to help you navigate the city. It uses data from the trains, buses, and cabs to provide you with up-to-date information on the best routes, prices, and times.
London is accessible by ships and boats going in and out of the city on the River Thames. The canals are also filled with sightseeing boats offering quick river tours, stopping at various points of interest.
Heathrow is the world's busiest airport and is also the largest airport in the UK. Other airports such as Gatwick are also popular for national and international flights.
London is a large city with so much to see and do. Plan your trip well to pack in as much sightseeing as possible.
Many of the art galleries and museums in London are free to enter. If you're planning to visit one, find out whether it is free before buying tickets from a third-party reseller.
London's Underground is the heart of the city's transport. It moves quickly and allows little time for people to get in and out. If you miss a train, don't worry though; sit patiently until the next one arrives in a few minutes' time.
It may be the predominant language, but London is home to many foreigners, so don't expect everyone to be fluent in English.
London hosts many international events such as Wimbledon, football matches, fashion shows, and exhibitions. Expect the city to be filled to the brim with people from all walks of life.