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The essential travel guide to London // All the information you need as a first-timer

Last year, I planned a 15-day trip to the UK to explore the beautiful city of London. This city has the best of everything; restaurants, entertainment, nightlife, tourist attractions, and of course, shopping! There is truly no better city in the world. 

It doesn’t come as a surprise that London is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. In 2015, London was ranked as the most visited city in the world with over 65 million visits.

If you plan on traveling to London from Dubai, here is all the information you need to plan this trip:

The Big Ben & House of Parliament

How to get to London from Dubai

Option 1: DXB (Dubai International Airport) to LHR (Heathrow)
Option 2: DXB to LGW (Gatwick Airport)
Flight duration: 7 hr 45 mins
Recommended airlines: Emirates, British Airways
Ticket price: AED 2500 onwards

How to get a UK Visa 

In order to travel to London, you need to issue a Standard Visitor visa. In Dubai, VFS in Wafi is the official partner of UK Visas & Immigration.

The visa application has to be submitted online, followed by paying the fees and scheduling an appointment to visit the visa application center.

Visa fee: approx AED 600
Urgent service: additional AED 800
Processing time (regular): up to 3 weeks
Processing time (urgent): 3-5 days

Click here for more information about the UK visa.

Airport transfers

I prefer to hire an Uber from the airport to the city-center, which costs approx. £60/$80/AED300 and takes an hour’s time.

Alternatively, you can use the London Underground. However, keep in mind that the trains are crowded and you might have a difficult time if you are carrying a lot of luggage.

London Underground Tube Map

Transportation system

The best way to navigate London is by:
1. Foot – London’s weather is great to walk, and all you need is access to Google Maps
2. London Underground – get an Oyster card from any tube station that can be used in all buses and trains
3. Uber – if you are a group of more than 3 people traveling within 3 kms, it’s more economical to get an Uber instead of taking the train

How to get a prepaid sim card in London + How to refill credit

When you are close to exiting the airport, you will see stores selling various brands of ready-to-use sim cards bundled with data and calling minutes.

Recommended brand: Vodafone – cheap, best signal
Price: £10-£40, depending on what package you select
Documents needed: None
Recharge points: online/buy a top-up voucher at a convenience store/go to the nearest Vodafone outlet

Top 10 things to do in London 

1. Visit the Queen’s headquarters at The Buckingham Palace

The Buckingham Palace, one of the most popular tourist spots in London

Buckingham Palace has been the London residence of the Royal Family since 1837. Millions of tourists visit the Palace to observe the colorful spectacle of Changing of the Guard.
Tip: If you visit London during the summer months, you can purchase tickets to enter The State Rooms inside Buckingham Palace

2. Shop at London’s iconic department stores

Harrods and Selfridges are a staple in every shopaholic’s London itinerary! Here, you will find multiple floors of high-end designer wear, leather goods, and premium dining spots.
Tip: Visit Bicester Village (an hour away from Central London) if you’re looking for the best bargains

3. Treat yourself to a traditional British Afternoon Tea experience

Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair

You can’t leave London without experiencing a quintessential afternoon tea! To experience the best of the afternoon tea tradition, indulge yourself with a trip to one of London’s finest hotels or visit a quaint tearoom.
Recommendations: The Savoy at Strand, Brown’s Hotel at Mayfair, Fortnum & Mason at Piccadilly 

4. Watch an award-winning show at a London theatre 

London’s West End is world famous for putting on plays that receive rave reviews. Watching a play in London is an expensive entertainment option, but you need to attend at least one play during your holiday.
Recommendations: The Lion King, Matilda, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

5. Immerse yourself in the magnificent cathedrals

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Visit the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral and discover the awe-inspiring interior and fascinating history of this London landmark. Another symbolic church is the Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Catherine Middleton got married in 2011.

6. Stroll by the Big Ben & Houses of Parliament

No trip to London is complete if you don’t have a photograph with the Big Ben! For millions of visitors the world over, London is represented by this single iconic building. Stroll by the Westminster Bridge to enjoy incredible views of the Big Ben & Houses of Parliament.

7. Have a cup of coffee at Sky Garden while enjoying the best view of London

Sky Garden in London, a magnificent three-floor space at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street

155 metres up, the spectacular Sky Garden offers views across the capital and far beyond. It is the ideal spot for tourists to enjoy one of the best aerial views of London.
Tip: Entry to Sky Garden is free, but you need to reserve your spot 3 weeks in advance. They get full almost immediately, so make sure to book them on time.

8. Relax and unwind in London’s beautiful parks

London’s Hyde Park is one of the greatest city parks in the world. Go here for a picnic, an icecream date, or just a casual stroll in the park!
Also consider visiting: Green Park, The Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill

9. Experience London like never before with a 360° panoramic view

The London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London

London Eye is one of the most iconic attractions in London, sitting right on the bank of the River Thames, across from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Discover the beautiful city as you gently rotate up above the skyline to 135 metres and spot iconic landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace.
Tip: Spend a few pounds more and purchase the Fast Track option – you’ll save hours of valuable time. 

10. Have dinner at London’s tallest building, The Shard

Shangri-La at The Shard offer the best in contemporary cuisine – with views to match. It’s one of London’s most exceptional five-star hotels, with dazzling panoramic views of the city.
Fun fact: Did you know that The Shard is the fifth-tallest building in Europe?

Is there anything else that I should include in this guide? Let me know in the comments section!