Last week I attended the World Travel Market, to seek out potential destinations for solo female travellers. Being back in London reminded me how much I loved this city that was once my home. So, with the help of a fellow solo traveller called Nat, we've put together this guide for how to travel solo in London.
Find out where to eat and drink as a solo, activities for all types of solos and recommended places to stay. Click on the relevant section or read the whole article to find out more about what to see and do in England's capital. I hope you love your time in London as much as I did!
- About London
- Solo Travel in London
- The London Pass
- Sightseeing For Solos
- Things To Do in London
- London Markets
- Activities For Every Solo
- Don't Have Much Time?
- What To Do in The Evenings
- Accommodation in London
- Getting Around London
- Where To Eat and Drink
- Free Things To Do in London in 24 hours
The capital of England is a must for any traveller. With the obvious landmarks to be seen, hidden gems to be discovered, history to learn and trips to the outskirts to be taken, there is much more to London than meets the eye. I find that no matter how often I go to London I always find something new. Whether it be a new fact, a new bar or just a new street.
The actual City of London is only about a square mile, and was founded by the Romans. This historic district contains St Paul's Cathedral, Temple Church and the Tower of London and is one of the world’s great financial centres. The city grew from this small section and now has 33 boroughs and is more than 30 miles from east to west.
The main sights are on the north of the River Thames, such as Westminster, where you’ll find the royal and political power base. Here you will find the palace and Big Ben. The West End needs no introduction and is home to great musicals and shows. South of the river does have attractions too and is worth exploring. Southwark, Tate Modern and the Globe can all be found on the South Bank. Further afield Greenwich and Windsor are worth a visit. From London you’ll also find day tours to the famous Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Solo Travel in London
Don’t be put off by the hustle and bustle of this great city, it always takes me a few hours to adjust to the pace of life here! Once you get into it you’ll learn to love it. And if you do need a break from it all there are plenty of quiet spots to be found in parks, museums and along the river.
London is extremely diverse. In this amazing city you will find culture and cuisine from around the world. The people are actually friendlier than the media makes out. Just give them a bit of time and they’ll come round, they tend to just be cautious or in a hurry, and not unfriendly.
Solo’s Tip – “Go on a free tour of the city, there are plenty to choose from. It’s a great way to get your bearings, some advice and even make some friends.”
Local’s Tip – “For a cheap show go to the Globe. You can see a Shakespeare for £5, as long as you don’t mind standing.”
Types of Girls about the Globe (GatG) – Arty & Museums GatG, Cultural GatG, Sightseeing GatG
Stay for – At least 3 nights for an overview, longer if you want to fully explore the city.
Safety Tips – London is a capital city so be vigilant. Don’t keep anything in your back pocket, keeps bags close and don’t go down any secluded streets at night.
Did you know? Big Ben is not actually the name of the famous clock tower, it is the name of the bell inside. So when you “see Big Ben” you actually just see the clock tower and not Big Ben itself, though you may hear it!
The London Pass
If you're planning to stay at least 24 hours in London and sightsee, it may be more cost effective to look into getting a London Pass. The London Pass offers access to 80+ London attractions. Save money on attractions and enjoy fast-track entry at selected attractions. A one day hop-on hop-off bus tour is also included. Choose a pass for the number of days that you’ll be in London. You can choose from 1, 2, 3, 6, or 10 days.
There is also a travel option which includes access to London transport during your stay. The pass can be downloaded instantly or you can collect it when you arrive in London. Prices start from £75 for a one day pass. Check all London Passes and prices here
Sightseeing For Solos
1. Tower of London
At the eastern boundary of the old city walls, this is one of London’s most popular tourist attractions. With gory tales of imprisonment and death, the building has much more to it’s history and is currently where the Crown Jewels are held. Included in the admission are free guided tours by the Tower’s Beefeaters, which are great for an overview. There is lots to see here and plenty of history to get your teeth into. Cost = £27.50. Time = Full Day.
2. Shakespeare’s Globe
See a Shakespeare play for just £5.00. You can’t get better than that! This reconstruction takes you back to Shakespeare’s time and as you watch the play standing you really feel like one of the ‘rabble’ from by-gone eras. Although it can be difficult to fully understand the old language, it’s easy to comprehend what is going on.
Cost = From £5 for a standing ticket. Time = 3-4 hours
3. Borough Market
Walk around this busy market and be seduced by the sights and smells. This is London’s oldest food market, being about 1000 years old. It is located beneath the railway arches between Borough High Street and Southwark Cathedral. The market is one of the few that is still trading under its original Victoria shed. The building and railway arches are must sees, and the atmosphere of the market must be experienced.
Cost = Free (Unless you are tempted by some of the produce). Time = 1 hour
4. The Changing of the Guard
Something that every visitor to London must see at least once! Taking place every day at specified times (check on the Buckingham Palace website) in front of Buckingham Palace. This military ceremony is when the Old Guard hand over the responsibility of protecting Buckingham Palace to the New Guard. The Guards that protect Buckingham Palace are called the Queen's Guard and are recognisable from their red tunics and bearskin hats.
Cost = Free. Time = 1 hour
5. Trafalgar Square
Arguably one of London’s greatest architectural pieces, this square also has plenty of history and quirks. An obvious tourist spot, it does attract large crowds (but less pigeons now that you are not allowed to feed them). The central focus point is Nelson’s Column, with the famous admiral on top. The pillar is surrounded by four bronze lions. There are also fountains – which is quite a rarity in London – and a plinth at each corner of the square, one of which is the “Empty Plinth.” This famous square is often the site for events and demonstrations.
Cost = Free. Time = 1 hour
Things To Do in London
Escape the crowds
Surprisingly there are a few places where you can escape the crowds in London. Holland Park is a small, relaxed park in the Kensington district. With a calming Japanese garden here you can find some quiet time to yourself.
Take a walk along the Thames and see where you end up. Switch banks and just generally head for anything that looks interesting. Just make sure you have a map handy so you can find the nearest tube station when you’ve had enough of walking and need to get back to your accommodation.
Get a great view
Greenwich Park. The trip out to Greenwich is well worth it once you reach the top of the hill in this park. Here you get the best view of London and the Thames. It is the only place to get a full view of London’s skyline, as when you are in the iconic viewpoints such as the Shard, you cannot see the iconic building that you are in. From the hill in Greenwich park you can see it all.
The Shard. Although you can’t see it because you’re actually in it, another spot for a good view is The Shard. Inside you can see 360 degree views of London, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can go outside to experience the highest viewing platform in Western Europe. You could treat yourself to a drink from the bar too! Check here for prices and tickets for The Shard.
London Eye. The London Eye is another great opportunity to see the city’s skyline. It is one of the tallest observation wheels in the world at 135 metres high. A ride in one of the capsules takes 40 minutes to rotate around the wheel with stunning views of Big Ben and other London sights. Check here for prices and tickets for the London Eye.
Interact with the locals at – Borough Market. Get there early when the locals are doing their shopping, before all the tourists arrive. Look for small local cafes away from the main tourist sites to experience a more local London.
Places to enjoy the sun
- Any of the parks are a great place to enjoy the sun and there are plenty to choose from. Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St James Park are all popular places to enjoy the sun. But there are also lesser known parks, such as Holland Garden and Chelsea Physic Garden.
- One of my favourite spots is actually the London Eye. Here on the banks of the Thames, is a lovely grassy verge where on sunny days you will find ice cream vendors. It’s a nice place to relax.
- There are plenty of markets around London. Camden Market is a firm favourite and is various markets all rolled into one. From fashion to crafts, art to food, you can find pretty much everything within the thousand plus stalls.
- Brick Lane Market has become a favourite on the hipster circuit. Here you can find a bargain with secondhand goods as street performers give the market a positive vibe. The best thing about this market is you never know what you might find.
Activities For Every Solo
Take a guided kayak tour down the Thames for a different and active way to see the sights. Glide past legendary landmarks and paddle under famous bridges, all without the crowds.
For those with a sense of adventure, abseil down the UK’s tallest sculpture – the Orbit. The centre piece of the Olympic Park offers the country’s highest freefall abseil (not for the faint hearted). Before descending the 80m drop you enjoy a stunning bird's eye view. You completely control the descent, so go slow for plenty of pictures, or drop down for an adrenaline rush!
Arty & Museum GatG
Where to start? Tate Modern, the British Museum, Churchill War Rooms, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum? Whether you prefer art, science or history you are literally spoilt for choice for museums in London. There are also some quirky museums that you may not have heard of, such as the Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at 221b Baker Street.
Many tourist attractions are completely free. Trafalgar Square, the Changing of the Guard, Tower Bridge, all can be seen for free. See them, don’t go in Tower Bridge, don’t go up the Shard (you get better views elsewhere anyway), if you’re on a budget, time and money, simply see the sights.
See a Shakespeare play at the Globe theatre. You are literally transported back in time in this reconstruction of the Globe. With standing areas where peasants would once watch the show, and seated areas. Go for standing to get a true cultural (and cheap) experience. The plays are actually easier to follow than you realise and you really get into it. Cost = from £5
Harry Potter GatG
For Harry Potter fans you can take a guided walk across London to see the Platform 9 3/4 trolley and stroll through Diagon Alley. The tour takes you to sites such as Shakespeare’s Globe that inspired J.K. Rowling magical wizards. Click here for prices and dates
- The Tower of London is great for history geeks. The tower has been used as a jail, royal residence, a mint and more. Take a tour by one of the Beefeaters to get an overview then explore on your own. Here was where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and the two Princes imprisoned. With lots of gory tales and legends plus the Crown Jewels, no history fan should miss the Tower. Click here for prices and tickets
- The Churchill War Rooms are also great for more recent history. In this WW2 bunker you can learn about Churchill’s life and legacy. It was in this room that the secret government headquarters were based during WW2. Click here for prices and tickets
Between the stations of St Pancras and King's Cross a wildlife haven can be found. Camley Street Natural Park is managed by London’s Wildlife Trust. The reserve was once a wasteland, but is now a great place to see wildlife in the city. With woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, there’s a variety of birds, plants, butterflies and even bats to be discovered.
For spooky GatGs, take a Jack the Ripper tour and explore the historic East End of London visiting the paths trodden by the infamous Jack the Ripper in one of the biggest crimes in the late 19th century. Click here for tickets and prices
Watch the Changing of the Guard with all the other tourists. Arrive early for a good view as it is a popular sight. This ceremony is full of pomp and is when the Old Guard hands over the protection of Buckingham Palace to the New Guard.
Don't Have Much Time?
Take a free walking tour to see the main sites. Sandemans New Europe offer free guided walking tours of London (the guides work for tips so give what you can afford). Personally I love this tour company. The guides are always well informed and happy to help you after the tour too. They also offer several other tours that you pay for such as a day trip to Oxford or the Grim Reaper tour. The free tour starts at Covent Garden. Click here for walking tours
If you prefer not to walk to see all the sights, the London hop-on hop-off bus is a good option. Hop off at Westminster, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and many more stops. Choose from a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass. Click here for prices and tickets for London hop-on hop-off bus
What To Do in the Evenings
- See a West End show. From Les Miserables to Avenue Q, from Cats to Matilda there’s a show for every type of Girl about the Globe.
- Walk around the city (in populated areas). Along the Thames you get some great views at night.
Accommodation in London
London has a variety of accommodation options from luxury and boutique hotels to hostels. Accommodation here isn't cheap so if you can't find something within your budget look at Airbnb, a platform where you can stay with locals. Save $20 off your first Airbnb stay
If you are travelling on a budget, staying in a hostel is a great way of meeting others. Below is a list of our recommended hostels for solo female travellers as recommended by our solo community.
Clink 261 is the smallest of the Clink hostels and is in a central location just a short walk from Kings Cross Station. With friendly staff, comfy sofas and movie nights, it’s like a home away from home. Reception is open 24 hours so you can check in any time and they have female-only dorms. Rooms vary from a private double to an 18 bed mixed dorm. Prices start from £14 for a bed in a dormitory room.
Situated in Tavistock Place, Generator Hostel is just a short walk from Covent Gardens. Part of a chain of hostels, they are known for their friendly atmosphere and funky interior, this hostel is no exception. Built in an old police station, it has a great vibe and a bar for cheap drinks. With private twins, and dormitories from 4 to 10 beds, prices start from £10 a night.
Safestay is a group of hostels in the UK, all based in gorgeous buildings with Elephant and Castle as their very first. Located in John Smith House, this hostel used to be the Central Labour Party headquarters in the 18th century. The hostel offers a continental breakfast for an additional £4.00 a day (£3.50 if you prebook) which consists of a buffet of ham, cheese, croissants and cereals, plus there’s a snack machine if you get peckish. Free Wi-Fi is available in all rooms. Read the review or click on the link below for prices and availability.
Getting Around London
London is really easy to get around. You can take the Tube (underground/metro), buses, the DLR, river ferries or even cable cars to get from place to place. You no longer need an Oyster card as you can use your debit card to touch in and out of the Tube. The Transport For London website (TFL) is helpful for planning your journeys using all forms of transport around the city.
Where to Eat & Drink in London
Typical Food and Drink
You'll find all types of traditional food in London, whether battered fish ‘n' chips, roast dinners with Yorkshire puddings, pie and mash, or Cornish pasties. Treat yourself to a cream tea at one of the famous hotels such as the Ritz or just find a cafe for a more budget afternoon tea. Typical drinks are cider and ales so pop into a traditional English pub for a pint.
£ – The Breakfast Club. There are a few of these about London and they’re great for breakfast lunch and dinner. They serve typical breakfasts with a twist. Book a table or get there early as it gets busy! Find the locations around London here.
£ – A taste of Spain in London. Famous for paella, there are also great tapas and sharing boards. It is a bit far out but it's worth the journey. Find at Forest Drive East in Leytonstone.
Restaurants for typical cuisine
£ – The Anchor Bankside. Serving “Pub grub” and the very English Fish and Chips, this is more of an English pub than a restaurant. Located right next to the Thames, the interior is traditionally British and the food is reasonably priced too. Find at 34 Park Street, London SE1 9EF.
££ – Swan, Shakespeare's Globe. Overlooking the Thames, this restaurant has swish decor and the food is nicely presented. For afternoon tea this is a great choice and generally the menu has a Shakespeare theme, making it unique to visit. Find at 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.
Young Vegans Pie and Mash Shop – If you like pie and mash this vegan restaurant is perfect. Serving vegan pie and mash such as curry pie, sweet potato pie, and even desserts. Located in Camden Market there are other eateries nearby too. Opt for a meal deal which includes a drink. Find at: 60 Camden Lock Place.
Coffee & Cake
Shakes & Co – If you love waffles, you'll be in waffle heaven here. In a futuristic interior you can choose all kinds of amazing desserts which are simply to die for. The service is both quick and fantastic. Try the red velvet waffle if you can. Find at 182 High Road, Willesden.
Borough Market is a great place to get some street food. Although the food isn’t the cheapest of street food, you can find some interesting and very different choices.
Where to Drink
- For something a little different, go to Bounce. There are a couple in the city, and here you can play ping-pong as you drink, or just watch others play.
- The Founders Arms on the South bank of the Thames is a great place to sit and drink. With brilliant views over the river, it can get crowded on hot, sunny days.
About the Author
Nat is a part time backpacker who first got ‘bitten’ by the travel bug on a round the world gap year. Since coming home she has been trying to explore more of the world closer to home and hopes to make travel a full time lifestyle. Follow her adventures on https://natpacker.com or on her social media channels at Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.