A trip to London is always a good idea in my book! They call New York the city that never sleeps because there’s always something going on, and I felt the same way about London! Building on my London Travel Guide, I’m sharing all the best things to do, see, and experience in London. From all things Royal to the best places to shop, I’m breaking down my favorite spots in the city.
WHAT TO DO IN LONDON
HISTORICAL THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
If you’re like me, I’m positively obsessed with all things Royal so I was so excited to soak up all the history London has to offer. Here are some of the the highlights:
One of the most famous and iconic structures in London, this is an easy spot to explore on your own. Here you can see The Crown Jewels (no pictures!) and learn about the early history of the Royal Family. This is also right next to the Tower Bridge so a perfect spot for a photo moment. Tip: Buy your tickets beforehand to save a few dollars going through!
Open all year round, Kensington Palace is self-guided and allows you to walk room to room and learn about the life of the early Royal family. There is usually an exhibit on, so be sure to check the calendar. Through Fall 2023 you can see “Crown to Couture” which draws parallels between the world of today’s red carpet and the Georgian Royal Court in the 18th century. You can see Beyoncé’s 2017 Grammy’s look and Katy Perry’s famous chandelier dress. Kensington Palace Sunken Gardens is also the spot where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement so we loved snapping a photo by that spot outside! You can also see the new Princess Diana statute there.
Kensington Gardens and located just beyond Kensington Palace (and abuts Hyde Park) so definitely save time in your schedule to walk around and soak up the gorgeous landscape. One of the best things about this park is all the off-leash dogs running around living their best lives! The Italian Gardens are also particularly gorgeous, as is the Peter Pan Statue (this is for my Mary-Kate and Ashley Winning London girls!) I think Kensington Gardens is a great spot to enjoy a morning coffee and walk if the weather is nice!
I feel so lucky I’ve been able to tour Buckingham Palace while in London, the palace is only open for a few weeks during the summer typically! An audio tour guides you though the State Rooms (no photos here either!) which is so stunning to see in real life. To see the spots of so many historic moments, from Royal Weddings to Royal Baptisms, in real life was spectacular.
We also did the walking tour of the beautiful gardens which was led by a staff member of Buckingham. Felt like we were in an episode of The Crown! If you can’t score tickets for a tour or are visiting in the fall or winter, I still think it’s fun to snap a photo at the iconic gates out front. If you time your visit right you can also catch the Changing of the Guard which occurs every Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 10:45AM.
Another historic landmark, this is the spot where so many Royal Weddings and Funerals have taken place and – more recently – the coronation of King Charles III. We didn’t buy tickets for this beforehand, but only had to wait about twenty minutes before heading in. This was another audio guided tour with no photos allowed. It took us about a hour and a half to walk through the church and learn about the architecture, statues and famous people who are all buried there. While you’re in the area, you should also pop over to Big Ben, Westminster (houses of Parliament), and stroll across the Wesminster Bridge for a gorgeous view of the River Thames.
Free to the public, this art gallery recently underwent a multi-year renovation. It houses not only famous portraits and artwork of the members of the Royal family, but also other famous British celebrities, like Ed Sheeran and Anna Wintour. Here you can see Kate Middleton’s stunning 40th birthday photographs on display as well as her and William’s official engagement portrait and the official portrait from Harry and Meghan’s wedding. There are also often special exhibits as well so be sure to check what’s on! Other museums of note include the Natural History Museum (great if there are kiddos in your group) and the British Museum.
We strolled over to the gorgeous (and huge!) Hyde Park after our visit at Buckingham and loved soaking up the fresh air and surroundings. This place is seriously massive! From the ponds filled with swans to the rolling green grass, we took a break by Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain for a peaceful break from walking.
The London Eye
I think a ride on the London Eye located in South Bank is such a cool way to see the city and all its historic landmarks if you don’t have time to visit them individually. A quick 30 minute trip gets you views of all the incredible landmarks in London including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Modern
SHOPPING AND INSTAGRAM SPOTS
For finding fun vintage and market finds, head to Notting Hill’s famous Portobello Market market for exploring and eating. The street shuts down with an array of vendors, from food to fashion to fun souvenirs. Come hungry and ready for busy crowds! While the market is open everyday, Fridays and Saturdays are the biggest draw (especially for antiques). This is also a perfect time to snap a few photos in front of the famous colorful townhouses in the neighborhood or the super cute Wild at Heart flower shop pictured above. Brick Lane Market is another famous London street market, located in East London.
You can’t go shopping in London without stopping into the famous Harrod’s! This classic department store (with a rich history – it opened in the early 1800s!) has absolutely everything and we loved walking floor to floor. From the Christmas shop to the food hall, there’s so much more here than just clothes! You can also make a reservation at the Harrods Tea Room to enjoy high tea. If you have a sweet tooth be sure to check out the Harrods Chocolate Hall.
Another department store I loved was Liberty London. Much quieter and smaller than Harrod’s, Liberty of London is housed in a stunning Tudor-revival building on Regent Street in Soho. You might recognize the facade from Disney’s Cruella with Emma Stone! This store features not only top designers, but also their famous floral prints and fabrics. J.Crew has partnered a lot with Liberty and it’s so cool to see the rows and rows of their iconic fabric in person. It’s located near Sketch, definitely recommend stopping in and getting lost in this gorgeous store before or after afternoon tea! Snap a photo out front of the building, it’s iconic!
This quintessentially British food and gift shop is the, self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Famous Cornershop.” They’re know for their picnic hampers, delicious British treats, tea service, and assortment of chocolate and biscuits. This is a great spot to snag some souvenirs or gifts for upcoming holidays (they always have the cutest Christmas and Easter treats.) Their flagship store is located at 181 Piccadilly, just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus.
There really isn’t a more famous street than Abbey Road is there? (Especially for a Beatles fan!) We stopped here early one morning for a snap on the famous crosswalk and then headed inside to the Abbey Road Studios shop. A perfect place to grab a gift for the Beatles fan in your life!
Get your cameras ready because Elizabeth Street in Belgravia certainly isn’t lacking on photo-ready windows! From flower shops to the Instagram-famous Peggy Porschen bakery, there was no shortage of stunning store fronts in this charming neighborhood. It’s also especially festive at Christmas time!
The Parent Trap House
Longtime readers will know my favorite movie of all time is The Parent Trap, so we couldn’t resist stopping by to snap a photo of the townhouse they used for Annie’s home in the movie. While it of course looks slightly different, the Knightsbridge neighborhood is so charming and definitely worth exploring once you snapped a photo in front of 23 Egerton Terrace. I was just waiting for Martin to pop out so we could do the secret handshake!
LONDON DAY TRIP
If you’re in London for more than 4-5 days, I think a day trip out of the city is a great way to see more of England! We decided to do an easy day trip and explore the quaint town of Oxford. Only an hour by train, Oxford’s campus is truly breathtaking and we had a gorgeous fall day to explore. We joined a free guided walking tour (make sure to tip still!) and our tour guide was so knowledgeable about everything in Oxford, from the architecture to the school. The tour was about two hours and we stopped for lunch and a drink after at the historic Turf Tavern before heading back home mid-afternoon.
If you have the time I definitely recommend visiting. Harry Potter fans will especially get a kick out of a trip to Oxford as many movie scenes were filmed here. You can see the Christchurch Dining Hall which inspired as inspiration for the Hogwarts Great Hall, the Divinity School which served as the Hogwarts infirmary and the location of the dance lessons in the Goblet of Fire film, and Duke Humfrey’s Library which was featured in the first film.
Another day trip we loved was visiting Bath! Home to lots of filming locations for Bridgerton, it’s a charming town only a hour away on the train. We spent the day walking around the city, checking out Bridgerton filming locations, shopping and of course, finding the best pastries. Make sure to go to Landrace Bakery for the most incredible cinnamon roll!
Not a day trip, but definitely worth a visit while in London is a weekend away in the Cotswolds! I share all the details in my guide here on how to get there, what to do, where to stay and how to feel like you’re in The Holiday!
WHAT TO PACK TO LONDON
I’ve generally been very lucky with weather in London (I’ve visited in both spring and fall), but the weather can definitely shift quickly. That’s London for you! My key tips for packing are: comfortable shoes for walking, lots of layers, pack an umbrella, and pieces that can easily take you from day to night. One of my other lifesavers during my trip was Vivrelle, a designer monthly membership. I rented a gorgeous Chanel bag and necklace for one of my London trips and it was so fun to pair them with my looks for the week. If you want to join as well, use code CARLYHILL to be brought up to the top of the waitlist. For more detailed information on what to pack, check out my London Packing Guide.
Does It Snow In London?”
Despite what the movies would have you believe, snow is actually quite rare in London – so if you see flakes, know you’re experiencing something special! Personally, I’ve never seen it snow in London. However, even when the snow does fall, it rarely accumulates on the ground because of how warm the ground in big cities can be. For the fall and winter months, I suggest packing a pair of weather resistant or weatherproof lug sole boots so you prepared for rain (more likely) and snow (less likely). I think the waterproof Laguna Boots from Sam Edelman are a great option and super on-trend.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN LONDON?
One of the best things about visiting London is how accessible it is due to Heathrow Airport (a major international hub) and the number of direct flights from the US. A flight from NYC to London is just under 7 hours! Fall asleep in New York and wake up in London! I think 4-5 days is the minimum time you need to really enjoy London but 7 days is ideal! Staying for a week means you can squeeze in a day trip, or even a a trip to the Cotswolds! You could also tack on a few days in London if you have a layover to other parts of Europe.