I’ve just got back from my second trip to London. I loved exploring the capital city and have come up with an extensive list of must-see places, markets, foodie spots and adventures for London. London as a city can feel completely overwhelming with so much to do and especially if you don’t have too much time to explore. The bright side is that if you live in London you will never be short of things to do. They say that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Here is my London First Timer’s Guide. All the markets, parks, neighbourhoods you need to visit, some hidden gems and the old classics too.
Markets in London
London is filled with so many incredible foodie markets and vintage markets. My favourite food market was Borough Market and the best spot for vintage shooping is Brick Lane in Shoreditch, there were so many really affordable thrift stores here.
The Borough Market is located along the South Bank of London. This is a newly revamped area of London and makes for a lovely afternoon walk along the Thames. The Borough Market is absolutely HUGE! Everything from coffees, pastries, artisianal breads, deli products and fresh produce to cocktails and the widest variety of lunch options. You have so many meal options to choose from: from falafel flatbreads from Cyprus, Japanese bento boxes, Mexican tacos, to pulled pork sandwiches and the famous Humble Crumble. I went for a black truffle tortellini dish from Tua Pasta as my main and a Humble Crumble for a dessert (Check out my London Foodie Guide blog post for the scoop on the Humble Crumble!). Borough Market is open Monday to Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 8am-5pm and Sunday 10am-3pm. Be prepared for an extremely popular and busy market, but the delicious food is well worth the crowds! You can expect to pay around £10 for a meal. Check out this Borough Market Foodie Tour.
Seven Dials Market
The Seven Dials Market is located within the heart of Covent Garden. It is a small foodie market with a number of different mini restaurants and a food court in the middle. Choose from mexican burritos, pizza, bao buns, truffle burgers or maybe take a seat at the innovative cheese conveyor belt. I had the most delicious pork belly and fried chicken bao buns from Yum Bun. You can expect to pay around £10 for a meal. This market is open daily from 11am til late.
Portobello Road Market
The Portobello Road Market located in Notting Hill is a combination of street food stalls and vintage shops. The market is open Monday – Saturday 8am-7pm but the main day is Saturday. The vintage stores here were fairly pricey and if you’re looking for a good thrift bargain then you’d be better off checking out Brick Lane Market in Shoreditch. However, the surrounding area of Notting Hill with all its cute colourful houses is well worth the visit.
Brick Lane Market
This was my favourite market! The Brick Lane Market in Shoreditch is both a vintage clothing market and food market. There is stuff happening in the street including food stalls, vendors selling sunglasses and vintage jackets but there are also a number of permanent shops including loads of thrift stores and restaurants. My foodie recommendation would be a bagel shop at the top of Brick Lane: Biegel Bake Brick Lane (more on this in the foodie guide below). The real treaure in Brick Lane is the second-hand clothing shopping. There are so many different thrift stores, cancer research and heart foundation charity shops. The best part is they are really affordable and have some really stunning clothes.
Chinatown, located in the Soho area of London, is another fabulous foodie spot. While it isn’t technically a market it does feel like a street market and has plenty of delicious street market food stalls to choose from. Chinatown covers a number of different streets with a main focus on Gerrard Street. There are many sit down restaurants which look lovely but my recommendation for Chinatown would be to go for the streetfood stalls. Share with a friend as this allows you to buy a number of different goodies to taste and share together. Chels and I had such a fun evening here and nibbled on all sorts of goodies including cripsy chicken nuggets from Ji’s chicken (£6.50), steamed buns filled with pork and lamb from Bun House (£3 each), custard taiyaki from Chinatwon Bakery (£2.20 for 4) and the most divine taro ice cream from Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream (£3 for a scoop).
Arcade Food Hall, Battersea Power Station
The Arcade Food Hall at Battersea Power Station is one of the coolest market/eating halls I have been to in London. Inspired by street market culture, Arcade takes streetfood, places it in a more upmarket venue with beautiful interiors and adds table service. You order everything on the app, choosing from plenty of different food vendor menus and it comes striaght to your table from the various different hole in the wall kitchens. No queues with affordable market prices. We loved the gin sour from the bar, the leek and parmsean flatbread and crispy squid. 10/10 recommend!
Camden Market is in every travel blog to visit in London. My recommendation? You can give it a miss. I really didn’t love the Camden Town area – slightly on the sketchy side and not very pretty. It was also the most touristy part of London I visited during my trip. The food stalls weren’t overly exciting and definitely no better than the other markets. It is in the area of Regents Park which is absolutely beautiful so if you are in the area then it’s a good spot to grab lunch. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to get there. You can expect to pay around £8-10 for a meal.
Click here for my full London Foodie Guide.
Parks and Gardens in London
London may be a big busy city but it’s also got so many beautiful green spaces. If you’re needing some breathing space then why not visit one of London’s beautiful parks for a walk or to sit on a park bench and read a book? I visited London in October and all the trees in the parks had turned beautiful autumnal colours. Gorgeous!
Regent’s Park is a really beautiful park north of the city. It’s a bit of a walk or you can catch a bus/tube up here. Make sure you check out Queen Mary’s rose garden which is an absolutely gorgeous section of the park. There are rows and rows are different coloured roses and they all smell so sweet!
Hyde Park is huge! It’s a great spot for a cycle, run or stride out. There is a lovely dam where you can watch the swans.
Kensington Gardens in autumn are absolutely breathtaking! This was my favourite place to see the autumn colours in London. It is also the location of the Kensington Palace which is where the Prince and Princess of Wales typically reside.
St James Park
St James Park is probably my favourite royal park. It’s located next door to Buckingham Palace and has views of the palace in sections of the park. It’s a really pretty park with weeping willows and a bridge across the little river. It’s small, close to many of the big attractions and a lovely place to escape for a breath of fresh air between sightseeing.
Richmond Park is a lovely big park with many walking trails and plenty of deer to be spotted. It feels like a taste of the English countryside not too far out from the city. I would recommend entering at the Roehampton gate, doing a big loop through the centre past the Pen Ponds and then out through the Richmond Gate. You can then walk into Richmond town which is lovely.
Kew Gardens was an absolute highlight for me on my trip to London. It was the last thing I did on my trip and meant it ended on such a high! The gardens are located South West of the city in a very pretty Sussex neighbourhood. Entrance to the gardens cost me £8.50 as young person (below 29). You can book your tickets here. Prices vary for different age groups and for different peak/off peak seasons.
I absolutely adored Kew Gardens. It covers a big area and is filled with big open green spaces as well as so many different conservatories and glasshouses. There are plants from every corner of the world! Walk through the Palm House and be transported to humid South America. The Princess of Wales Conservatory is filled with grogeous blooming orchids and water lilies with a desert section filled with cacti. The Temperate House has South African fynbos alongside Asain native plants. We spent the whole day walking around, so stimulated by the amazing variety of different flora.
The Sky Garden has the most incredible aeriel views in London and is completely free! This is a free entrance access indoor garden on the 35th floor of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building in London City Centre. You can book your free time slot on the Sky Garden website. The Sky Garden is open weekdays 10am-6pm and weekends 11am-9pm. Tickets are currently available to book up to three weeks in advance. Tickets are only valid for the date and time stated on the ticket and have a time limit of 1hr from time of entry.
St Dunstan in the East Church Gardens
Another really lovely green space in London is St Dunstan in the East Church Gardens. It was a church that was burnt down during the Great London Fire. Only the tower remained intact and so the rest of the church ruins were converted into a community garden. It is now a really pretty and peaceful place in the heart of the city.
Must-see areas to explore in London
Notting Hill is a quaint neighbourhood near Kensington Gardens. It is a fairly upmarket area and has a number of terraced houses all painted in pretty pastel colours. The colourful neighbourhood makes for a great spot to take some insta-worthy shots as well as a lovely day browsing the Portobello Road Market. Make sure you try a classic cinnamon bun or one of their more interesting flavours at Buns from Home. More info in the foodie guide section of this blog! Check out this Nottinghill & Markets day tour.
Shoreditch was actually one of my favourite areas to explore in London! It has such a fun selection of vintage stores, foodie spots (check out this Shoreditch food tour) and really fun street art too (check out this street art tour with GetYourGuide). If you’re here then make sure you visit Biegel Bake Brick Lane for the best bagel you will ever have! If you’re into vintage shopping then be sure to bring an empty suitcase because you are going to want to buy everything here! So many really affordable hidden gems.
Covent Garden is another hub in London. There are plenty of the classic telephone boxes here for your photos and Neal’s Yard is another insta-worthy spot (be warned- it is literally just a yard so don’t get your hopes up too high!). There are plenty of pretty shops and foodie spots here too.
Soho is another fun neighbourhood in London. Carnaby street is a famous, pedestrianised shopping and dining area with the beautiful department store, Liberty London and many amazing foodie spots. You will find the famous Oxford and Regent Streets just around the corner from here. Check out this Soho Evening Foodie Tour – Soho has some of the best foodie spots in London!
Hampstead was one of my favourite areas in London. It is perfect for a weekend adventure. Catch the train or tube into Hampstead and start your day with a warm drink at The Nook. Located right outside Hamstead Heath Station, The Nook serves up the most delicious hot chocolates allowing you to choose your chocolate strengths up to 80% dark. Once you’ve got your warm drink wander under the road towards Hampstead Heath. If you’re feeling historial you can check out The Keats House which is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday Adults: £8.40. Continuing up in Hampstead Heath you can go for a lovely circular walk around the Heath enjoying the swans, bodies of water and forests. You can the cross Spaniards Road to get to the Hill Garden and Pergola. This is an absolutely beautiful pleasure garden with wisteria covering the arbour and terrace. Enjoy a bite to eat for lunch at Burgh House before exploring the lovely High Street.
Belgravia is another lovely neighbourhood to wander around in London. It’s rather posh but very pretty.
Greenwich is a little bit out of the city but a great spot to spend the day. Start at the Cutty Sark which is an historical ship then walk around the beautiful campus of the Royal Naval College. You can then walk up into Greenwich park which provides beautiful views of the city skyline.
Theatre recommendations for London
London has such an incredible theatre scene and you should definitely see at least one show on your trip! It can also be fairly affordable if you go for the £5 Globe tickets or book West End tickets way in advance/browse the last minute on the day tickets.
£5 yard standing tickets to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
This was an absolute highlight for me on my trip to London! Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a must-see even if you are not attending a show there. It is located along the South Bank. The Globe Theatre you see today is actually the third reconstruction of the theatre. The first Globe was built by the company Shakespeare was in – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1599. In 1613 the first Globe burnt down during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII when some small cannons were fired and the thatch roof caught fire. The second Globe remained in tact and open until the first civil war when it was closed in 1642. The third and final Globe theatre was opened a few hundred metres from the old one in 1997 and has existed as a successful theatre company since. Browse their website for a complete list of what’s on at the Globe. The most authentic way to experience a show at the Globe is to purchase the £5 standing tickets in the yard. You will need to stand the duration of the show but you have a close up view of the actors and experience they spit and sweat if you’re lucky! I watched The Tempest and it was the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen.
Watch a musical at the West End
The West End of London is one of the best theatre scenes in the world. Spanning the Covent Garden and Soho areas of London, there are nearly 40 different theatres making up the West End scene. Everything from major musicals like Moulin Rouge and Hamilton to long-standing favourites like Lion King and Phantom of the Opera. While in London I watched Moulin Rouge which was absolutely incredible and The Heathers which was fun. You can book your tickets online. The best bet would be to book your tickets as far in advance as possible for a good deal. Alternatively, you can browse this site for last minute on-the-day London Theatre ticket deals.
The London Classics
As much as I love exploring the off-the-beaten track spots, there are a few classic things you need to do while in London. This London first-timer’s guide wouldn’t be complete without them.
Walk along the South Bank from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge
One of the best walks you can do in the city to get your bearings is walk along the South Bank of the Thames from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. This will allow you to see the major sites of Big Ben, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Globe Theatre. Make sure you pop into the Borough Market for lunch along the way. This is one of the best markets in London!
Check out Regent Street, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square
These spots in Soho are the classic tourist hubs of London. Trafalgar Square is a great central point with fountains and buskers. It is also right next door to the National Gallery which is a free gallery to visit. Oxford and Regent Streets both light up beautifully from November with all the lovely Christmas lights. If you’re into shopping then this is your spot!
Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey & Big Ben
As always, when in the UK you will want to go and see how the royals live. Take a stroll across Westminster Bridge, admire Big Ben, Parlament annd Westminster Abbey before walking through St James Park and on to Buckingham Palace for a look at the golden gates and huge palace.
London is such a vibrant, busy, bustling city with SO much to do. This London first-timer’s guide is just scratching the surface of all the incredible things to do in London. I hope it’s a helpful start!
Click here for my full London Foodie Guide.