London Highlights and Favorites from a 2 years working holiday

I love London. We have visited London many times on our travels. I, Caroline, lived there for two and a half years from 1997-99 on a UK Working Holiday Visa.

I lived in the East end of London teaching in several schools. I arrived not long after graduating from University and very quickly learned the reality of teaching.

It was the perfect training ground for me. If I could survive teaching in the East End, I could survive teaching anywhere. (I have since taught in 4 other countries. Check our post on teaching overseas)

I worked casually so I could have less responsibilities and free up my time for adventure, Europe explorations, and enjoying the vibrancy of London life.

5 of the best london accommodation options - from budget to luxury
Thriving Metropolis

I had the most incredible time living there and forming friendships with people form all over the world. I lived in a house with up to 25 people from different nationalities: French, Welsh, Italian, Irish, South African, Australian, English – it was full of fun and many trips to the local pubs and fun places in London to drink.

Oh the stories I could tell!

London has so much going for it.

Amazing history, great vibrancy, and an energy to rival any major city around the world. It’s also a great base for exploring the rest of the UK and Europe.

So what is it about London that keeps us going back? Well my memories of course. Who doesn’t forever want to be connected to them.

It has been far too long since we’ve been back and hopefully next year (2021) we’ll get to take our girls and introduce them to what was once my beloved home.

Below are our highlights of places in London I loved and visited frequently, PLUS, some tips from our Facebook community members.

Places you’ll love to visit in London

Covent Garden

convent garden london
Bustling Convent Garden

Located in the heart of the West End, Covent Garden is a popular shopping and leisure site.

Enjoy the wonderful street performers that entertain and the local street market. It’s amazing and you can easily spend the whole day there.

My friends and I would frequently visit the Belushi’s Bar. The original opened here in 1993 and my memories drinking jugs of Thunder Trousers outside on the pavement on a hot summer’s day are sweet.

Since then they have grown to have bars all over Europe – sadly not one is in Convent Garden. Check out locations here.

The Punch and Judy Pub is one of London’s most iconic pubs with an upper floor balcony, which is particularly good in summer especially for people watching.

Camden Markets

Camden Lock Markets
Camden Lock Markets

One of our favorite local London attractions out is heading to Camden Town in North West London.

It’s a sea of entertainment and overflows with a variety of open-air and indoor markets, shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas.

There are great deals to be had, and the people watching is first class. The town attracts enormous crowds of Londoners and tourists alike and there is always something happening.

Sunday, in particular, is a great day for visiting the markets and stopping into one of its many pubs for an afternoon beverage.

Visit the London Parks

Saint James Parka and palace London
Saint james park and Palace, london

Quick, the sun is out, let’s head to the park. It doesn’t happen often so enjoy it when it does. London has plenty of parks for you to choose from.

St. James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and offers one of the best views of Buckingham Palace. It’s very green and is also surrounded by Westminster Palace and St James Palace.

It’s quite a pleasant walk from Parliament to Buckingham Palace through this park on the way.

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are side by side and are enormous and include the ever popular Diana Memorial Playground and the Peter Pan Statue.

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Queen's guard - Buckingham Palace, London, England, UK
The changing of the Guard at the Buckingham Palace in London, U.K

A visit to London is not really complete without seeing this military tradition.

The Queen’s Guard in London changes in the Forecourt inside the gates of Buckingham Palace at 11.30am every day in the summer and every other day in the winter.

Try to get there early and view the spectacle from outside the front gates.

Buckingham Palace is Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence and has been the official London residence of Britain’s sovereign since 1837.

We recommend you visit the royal State Rooms and marvel at sculptures, paintings and intricate English furniture.

Click here for tickets.

Buckingham Palace operates a timed-ticket system, with admission every 15 minutes throughout the day.

Tickets are valid only on the date and at the entrance time specified on the ticket. Regrettably, latecomers cannot be admitted.

Trafalgar Square

Statue of a mermaid with dolphins in the fountains of Trafalgar Square, with a statue of King George IV on his horse and St Martin in the Fields church in the background, London, UK
Trafalgar Square, London, UK

Trafalgar Square is the largest square in London and one of its most well-known London attractions.

It’s an iconic square with many sights including Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery, and many other statues and sculptures.

It plays the role of both a tourist attraction and the main focus for political demonstrations.

The square is famous for its pigeons, but their population has dropped since measures were put in place as they were considered a health hazard.

It is also the place where you catch the night buses after the last tube has left and you missed it because you were too busy with that last pint in the pub. You should see how busy it is down there then.

Westminster Abbey

Westminister Abbey catedral from below, London, United Kingdom
Westminister Abbey catedral from below, London, United Kingdom

This 700-year-old building in the heart of London is a must see.

It is steeped in British history having played host to many Royal weddings, including the most recent of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

It’s the final resting place of seventeen monarchs and is a very impressive looking Gothic building with stained glass. It really is beautiful both inside and out and worthy of a visit.

Click here to get your tickets to the Abbey. 

River Cruise to Greenwich

View over Greenwich with Canary Wharf in the background
View over Greenwich

It’s a classic photo opportunity: have your photo taken standing on the Prime Meridian Line at Greenwich.

Head up the hill to The Royal Observatory and in the courtyard is a metal strip where you stand over the line and can be in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time.

You can get to Greenwich easily by train or bus, or by taking a boat down the Thames.

For the best experience, go by river, weather permitting, and return by rail.

Not only will your children enjoy the boat ride, but you’ll get to see the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

You’ll be traveling the Thames – the historic water highway from London – as royalty have traveled to Greenwich for hundreds of years.

Also, arriving by river puts you in the perfect position to begin exploring Greenwich.

By water, the trip is about 30-60 minutes each way. You can get on board sightseeing cruises at Waterloo Millennium, Westminster and Tower piers.

Greenwich has many attractions; the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark, Gypsy Moth and Greenwich Market are just a few.

It has some outstanding pubs too, and the Trafalgar is one of them. This magnificent Regency style pub was built in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne.

Notting Hill

Notting Hill Carnival
Photo: Steve Chilton

Notting Hill, made famous by the movie featuring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, but always well known by Londoners, is a district to watch the cosmopolitan world go by in one of its coffee shops, before some high-end shopping or more of an alternative feel at nearby Portobello Markets.

The best way to experience Notting Hill is at the very popular “Caribbean style” Notting Hill Carnival held every August. It’s an explosion of color, costumes, vibrancy, dancing and fun!

The Windsor Castle pub (Notting Hill) is said to be the best pub in the city. Get there early to get a table.

Richmond on the Thames (hidden gem)

Richmond on the Thames
Thames, Riverside, Richmond, London, England;

A favorite day out in London was to take the tube to Richmond and walk along the Thames River and have a beer or two.

The walk through Richmond town centre, along the river and up Richmond Hill to the park is very beautiful and you’ll soon see why for hundreds of years it has been a favourite retreat of Royalty, the rich and the famous.

The frontage around Richmond Bridge has plenty of cafes and pubs for you to enjoy some quiet riverside life. The area is also close to Royal parks and historic houses, theatres, museums, and galleries.

Shop Oxford Street

LONDON-SEP 20:View of Oxford Street on September 20, 2011 in London. Oxford Street is a major road in the West End of London, UK. It is Europe's busiest shopping street, and as of 2011 had approximately 300 shops

Brave this famous shopping district of London if you dare.

Oxford Street is a major road in the West End of London, UK. It is Europe’s busiest shopping street, and has approximately 300 shops.

Be prepared for crowds so thick you will need heavily greased elbows to plough your way through. If you like shopping though, you’ll love the high-end stores that line this one and a half mile shopping mecca.

I just loved walking through here window shopping and people watching.

Get lost in the many London Pubs

It is really hard to recommend pubs in London as there are so many of them and so many that are great.

I’ve just chosen a few of my favourite, frequently visited watering holes for you to check out.

Waxy O’Connor’s in Leicester Square

Waxy’s is one of our favorite London pubs to go for its warm atmosphere and quirky decor.

It is a labyrinth of 4 unique bars covering 6 levels all linked together by a maze of staircases and passages. It’s known to be the best Irish pub in London.

Spend time in the tree room and be transported into a magical pixie land sitting amongst tree branches and tree trunks carved into seating area. And the beer selection is pretty good though. Come early as this place gets packed.

Truly A London icon not to miss. Learn more here.

Have a pint on a boat on the River Thames

Tattershall Castle
Photo: rpmarks

I was originally going to recommend the Queen Mary, but have sadly discovered she has been moved.

As soon as the sun came out in London, you could guarantee our lively group would head down to the Queen Mary moored on the Thames at Embankment for a pint of snakebite or two in the sun.

It was a great day and sometimes night out.  Truly worth it.

Get your tickets for the River Thames cruise.

Walkabout Pubs

When I lived in London, the Walkabout was called the Outback and there was only one of them in Covent Garden.

During my time there more and more opened up throughout the city and now they can be found everywhere throughout the country.

Another antipodean place, which does draw in visitors from all over the world, it is a great place to get your Down Under fix, listen to live music and have lots of fun with fellow travellers. Find a location here

Circle Line Pub Crawl

Try it if you dare. There are over 30 stops on the Circle Line. Get off at each stop and head for the nearest pub.

Drink only half a pint (believe me by stop 5 you’ll realize why) and then move to the next one. I did it with a big group and made it even more fun by creating rules for each pub.

If you broke the rule you had another drink. Just see if you can make it the whole way round, we certainly did not.

Weatherspoon Pubs

Weatherspoon pubs are scattered throughout the entire city (and country). These pubs don’t always have the most happening vibe and atmosphere, but they do have really cheap food and drink.

For those on a budget you might find yourself gravitating to these pubs for a cheap night out.

The South Bank

London, England the UK skyline in the afternoon. The London Eye on River Thames
London, England the UK skyline in the afternoon. The London Eye on River Thames

The South Bank area has many of the famous landmarks you would wish to see on a trip to London, including the London Eye and the Tate Modern, along this stretch of the River Thames, from Westminster Bridge to London Bridge.

The Houses of Parliament

visit london Big Ben Parliament House
© Sborisov | Dreamstime.com – Big Ben, London

The Houses of Parliament are only a short walk down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square.

The building is stunning from Parliament Square, but it’s worth taking a walk over Westminster Bridge and getting the view from the South Bank.

Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the clock tower (St. Stephen’s Tower), which chimes every 15 minutes.

If you can somehow find your way inside a good place to have a drink is the bars from within the houses of Parliament. I knew someone who worked in there and was able to sneak her in for a few with the toffs. A great experience.

Save Money on London Attractions

The London Explorer Pass

gives you free entry to 60+ top London attractions, Hop on and Off sightseeing tour, and fast track passes at popular London attractions. 

Get yours and save money on travel to London.

The London Sightseeing Pass

Our favorite of the tourist discount cards is the London Sightseeing Pass for their flexibility and diversity. They offer entry to top London attractions, plus quirky local tours, and discounts on shopping and eating out.

See more information and get your pass here.

More London highlights

Below are tips from members of our facebook fan page:

  • The National Gallery with free admission is a must see! http://nationalgallery.org.uk/
  • Bloomsbury is a fantastic area with lots of museums, history, and places to eat. Afternoon tea is great too – at the Ritz if you’re feeling flash, or the Charlotte St Hotel for a cheaper but still glam alternative.
  • Frevds on Shaftsbury Avenue, little jem of a cocktail bar. A Long Island Iced Tea for £6 and that’s cheap for London. Great vibe and lovely bar staff.
  • The Borough market (http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/) is a great place to visit if you are a foodie it’s a must. Open on Fri and Saturdays I think. From there you can walk along the river and some history alleyways to the Tate modern art. Even if you are not arty-farty that is also a must see.
  • Have pizza at Dickens Inn at St Katherines Dock (next to the Tower of London) – it’s incredible!
  • If you’re into music then Denmark Street is a must-visit too.
  • Great curries or fantastic bagels on Brick Lane. Check out the views of London from Alexandra Palace (known as Ally Pally locally!). Sing karaoke in Leicester Square and take in some great culture at the Tate Modern on the South Bank…then walk along South Bank. Enjoy my hometown!
  • I loved Borough Market, watching an excellent Shakespeare production at the reconstructed Globe Theatre and strolling around the Hampstead High Street, then enjoying a walk on Hampstead Heath and a pub lunch at the edge of the park.
  • For airports, I prefer Gatwick. It’s smaller and easier to get around, although more expensive to get to (Gatwick express train is around £15 each way, I think; I chose it because I had an early flight out that morning, but there are probably slower, cheaper ways to get to/from). From Heathrow, you can take the tube £4 to/from the city, although it takes an hour to the center.
  • Churchill’s War Cabinet Rooms are fascinating. Love walking along the South Bank (stop at the Tate Modern and then have lunch near there), see a play at the Old Vic. A hotel I like is the Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street. I love a lot about London, actually. Really nice view is from the upper walkway of the Tower Bridge. The ferry to France is an enjoyable way to go to and from England.

More London Travel Tips

Check out my tips on things to do in Dublin, Ireland after living there for a year.

Plan Your Trip to London

Accommodation

  • Booking.com has over 2,200 hotels, apartments and hostels in London. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
  • Scott’s Cheap Flights are great for finding amazing cheap flights.

Car Rental

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

Tours

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