A guide for first-time international travellers visiting London

Are you touching down in London for the first time? Lucky you. London is an exciting city with an endless supply of cultural, historical, family-friendly, romantic, and foodie activities to fill your days. Before arriving, this guide summarises getting around the city, the best London hotels, and other practical information. 

A guide to London’s five airports

  • London Heathrow: This is the largest airport in London. Located west of the city centre, you can connect to hotels in Central London by Heathrow Express, the Elizabeth Line, or the Piccadilly Line on the London Underground. 
  • Gatwick Airport: The second-largest airport is accessible via the Gatwick Express and Thameslink rail services. 
  • London City Airport: The most centrally-located airport is situated in the Docklands of East London and generally serves European cities. It’s connected by the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). 
  • Luton Airport: North of the city, Luton is served by low-fare airlines and predominantly links to European destinations. It’s accessible via Thameslink train services. 
  • Stansted Airport: Similar to Luton, this airport northeast of London generally serves low-cost carriers to and from Europe. 

Getting around London

London is served by metro, bus, boat, and tram services. 

The metro, known as “the Tube, is divided into the London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway, and Elizabeth Line. This will be your default means of getting around London. You will need to “touch in” and “touch out” of the barriers at each station using a payment card. 

Option 1 – purchase a reloadable Visitor’s Oyster Card from any London Underground station for the cheapest fares. Option 2 – use your contactless debit or credit card. 

Always touch in and touch out using the same card. This avoids getting charged twice. You should also ensure only your desired payment card touches the barrier to avoid card clash. 

Where to stay in London

London is divided into 32 boroughs and the City of London. These are further subdivided into smaller neighbourhoods. The central area of London is called Zone 1 with the outermost being Zone 9. Zones 1, 2, and 3 are where you will spend most of your time as a tourist in London. 

The best London hotels for a first-time visitor are located in Zone 1. The West End is where the principal tourist attractions are located. These include Covent Garden, Soho, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street, Mayfair, and the South Kensington museums.

Our three hotels in Central London are located in the quiet Paddington and Bayswater neighbourhoods. This is a walkable area close to restaurants, Tube stations, and attractions. 

Quick tips for London

  • Tipping is not required in London restaurants. You may leave a gratuity of 10% if you wish to thank your server.
  • Tap water is safe to drink in London and is always offered free of charge in restaurants, cafes, bars, and pubs. 
  • Avoid travelling at peak hours of 08:00-09:30 AM and 5:00-6:00 PM when public transport is busiest.
  • Pre-booking attraction tickets is advised. The best hotels in Central London have free Wi-Fi to make this easier. 

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