There are lots of stages in planning your trip to London, and we all start at a different one. Maybe you’re visiting for the first time, as the first person you know to travel internationally… maybe you’ve got a travel-savvy friend helping you plan the whole thing. In either case, everyone starts somewhere, and understanding the basics of London as a city and as a tourist destination can help a lot.
To that end, I thought it was about time to address some of the top questions about London we here at LOMM get asked. These run the gamut from the absolute basics – can you point to London on a map? – to more complex travel-related questions about maximizing your time and money in this incredible city.
I hope that, after reading, you at least feel a bit smarter about London, as both a world citizen and future visitor. If you have other questions about London you’d love to know, let me know in the comments at the end of this post!
Where is London in the World?
London is the capital of the United Kingdom and is located in the Southeast of England, with the River Thames flowing through it. It’s a short flight away from many European cities, making it a very popular base for a European odyssey!
Fun Fact: As the Thames is a tidal river, London was prone to flooding for most of its history. Thanks to the Thames Barrier project, London doesn’t flood anymore.
How Big is London?
When it comes to understanding how “big” London is, there are two ways to answer: by population and by geographic size. Let’s answer both.
One of Londoners’ top complaints is about how crowded London is (and, thus, how expensive housing can get)… and to be fair, those complaints are valid: in 2023, the population of Greater London almost reached 9 million, making it Europe’s 3rd-most populous city. To see the population changes over time represented in a graph, click here.
In terms of geographic size, Greater London sprawls across 606 square miles (1,572 square km) and consists of 33 government districts: the City of London and 32 London boroughs, such as the City of Westminster and Lambeth.
As an aside, you might be confused about “London,” “Greater London,” and the counties surrounding London, as several counties include large parts of Greater London (which was only established in 1965). For example, Middlesex includes most of the Greater London area north of the Thames, while Surrey includes a large part of the area south of the Thames.
How Old is London? When Was it Founded?
London is one of the world’s oldest cities, being almost 2,000 years old – but the history of humans on this land dates back for millennia.
There’s evidence of hunter-gatherers dating back to 6,000BC, and traces of the Bronze Age and Iron Age structures have been found around the River Thames.
In 43AD, the Romans established a port and trading settlement called Londinium here, but it was only around 47AD that a major settlement was established. After 43AD, Londinium was attacked and rebuilt several times by Boudicca and Vikings before it was eventually abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire in the 4th Century. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Saxon King Alfred the Great “refounded” London in 886AD.
This uptrend continued till 1065 and the building of Westminster Abbey. By the 11th century, London had become England’s largest town and the main base for foreign trade.
What is London Famous For?
London was immortalized by Samuel Johnson in these words: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
Indeed, there are so many things that London is famous for: its vibrant history, iconic buildings, the Royal Family, manicured parks, and the list goes on. Some of its most well-known tourist attractions include Buckingham Palace, the Natural History Museum, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and Picadilly Circus.
In a different category entirely, London is also famous for football (soccer, for our American friends), with Wembley Stadium being a popular tourist attraction in itself. I used to have friends who would fly in from Hong Kong just to watch their favorite team play.
The theatre scene in London is also world-renowned, with catching a West End show amongst the most popular things to do in the capital city.
In short, whatever your interests, there’s probably some famous thing in London which corresponds to it.
Is London Safe to Visit?
All urban cities have their share of crime. However, for a city of its size, London is a fairly safe place to visit, as long as you are sensible. For example, try not to walk about alone late at night – especially over the weekend, when a lot of people get roaringly drunk in certain parts of the city (lookin’ at you, Soho).
There is a risk of being pickpocketed or robbed. I myself have had my wallet pickpocketed on the Tube (at Edgeware Road) and have had my bag pilfered off my seat in a trendy restaurant in SoHo. You have to be very careful of your belongings at restaurants: another friend had his phone snatched off his table, right in front of him, in a cafe in South Kensington (which is a posh part of town). If it helps, you can find a list of the safest boroughs in London published each year on this site.
Another thing to pay attention to is the threat of terrorism. London has experienced several terrorist attacks over the years, though it is of course impossible to avoid the risk of an attack beyond just staying home – which I’d never recommend based on fear of that alone.
When is the Best Time to Visit London?
One of the most commonly asked London FAQs is regarding the best time to visit the city.
London has something to offer everyone, in every season, so it really depends on your interests. Broadly speaking, summer is the most popular time to visit London, so if you’re planning a trip during the sunny summer, you should expect crowds and heat… many London hotels don’t offer air-conditioning, so keep that in mind when booking a place to stay.
Here’s a quick summary of what each season has to offer:
- Spring – Spring and rain are almost synonymous in London. Spring is a good time to travel to London if you don’t mind cooler weather, some rain, and love flowers. Magnolias, daffodils, tulips, and cherry blossoms burst into life, all around town. It’s also when the famous Chelsea Flower Show is held.
- Summer – This is the best time to visit if you want to have the highest number of daylight hours to do as much as possible. You’ll also see London at its most vibrant. There are often special things to do in summer, such as Opera in the Park and Midnight Matinees at Shakespeare’s Globe as well as street festivals popping up everywhere.
- Autumn – Autumn in London offers crisp but not too cold weather. It’s the perfect weather for a walk in the city’s parks to enjoy the changing of the trees. In addition, art lovers will have a chance to enjoy the Frieze Art Fair, London BFI Film Festival, and London Literature Festival.
- Winter – Winter is a great time to be in London if you enjoy seeing the Christmas lights and shopping. The Boxing Day Sale, held after Christmas, is widely considered to offer some of the best discounts.
How Many Days Do You Need to See London?
Another of the most common questions about London when planning a trip is how long would a tourist need.
There’s no easy answer to this question: all I can say is that even after living in the city for seven years, I did not feel bored. So I guess my recommendation is: the right number of days to see London is however many days you have. (Also, don’t forget that London is a sprawling city and that the Tube and buses often have delays, so do factor in enough traveling time between attractions.)
If you’re looking for specific guidance, I’d say that anywhere between 4 days and 7 days is good for a first trip –you can find itineraries for any length of trip between one day and 2 weeks right on this site
What Can I See in London in 1-2 Days?
How much you can see in London really depends on where you’re staying, how much time you want to spend at each attraction, and how far apart the things you want to see are.
If you already know you only have one day in London or two days in London, check out these guides:
We London lovers here on LOMM are even trying to help those of you with shorter time, and have put together guides for how to spend a few hours in Central London, as well as North, South, East, and West London.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit London?
One of the basics to know about London is that it’s not a cheap city.
The average cost of a 7-day London holiday ranges from $4,000 for a solo traveler to $7,900 for a family, including flights and accommodation. This also depends on how you like to travel: for example, whether you want to stay in a hostel or a 5-star hotel, whether you want to eat at the highest-end restaurants or are keen for casual dining spots at a lower price point, and so on.
A short answer is that a trip to London can cost as much as you have – but there are ways to save and plan a budget-friendly trip too. Speaking of…
How Can I Save Money Visiting London? Is Anything Free?
Another of the most commonly asked questions about London, given that it’s not the cheapest place to visit, is about budget. My top tips for saving money in London are:
- If you’re mobile enough and have the time, walk. London is a very walkable city, and walking is a great way to really see local life and take in the sights.
- If taking the tube or bus, use an Oyster card. (And don’t take a cab – they’re heinously expensive.)
- Visit the free attractions, such as the parks and museums (more on that below).
- Grab your pint – and possibly dinner – during Happy Hours. Most pubs have some sort of Happy Hour promotion.
- Consider staying at an aparthotel: cooking your own meals will help you save quite a bit of money.
- Alternatively, eat at restaurants with special offers. For example, I have a Nando’s card which rewards me with free chicken after every three to four orders (each of which must be over £7.)
There are also many free things in London, such as:
- Most major museums, such as the Victoria and Albert or Tates, are free for basic admission (special exhibits might have a cost or suggested donation). Museums also often organize free events so check out their websites for more information.
- One of the best things to do in London is the parks, which are also free to visit. From Richmond Park to Hyde Park, there’s a green space for everyone.
- Busking is a big part of London life, and you’ll definitely catch several free street performances in central London. (If you can, do make a donation since it’s tough work being a street performer.)
- The Changing of the Guard is another popular London activity you can watch, which won’t cost you anything.
If you’d like more tips about how to save on your London trip, check out the London budget bundle – it’s just $9, so it’s budget-friendly, too.
Do you have any other questions about London? Let me know in the comments below, and maybe they’ll make the list in a future update!