Timeframe: There really is no right or wrong timeframe for your visit to London. If you make the most of your days, a 3-day weekend can be enough to get a great feel for what the city has to offer. If you're lucky enough to spend more than a week there, I guarantee you'll happily fill each day with worthwhile visits to world landmarks, museums, theatreland, restaurants and pubs.
Flight options: Your best bet for international flights is London Heathrow Airport. It is one of the busiest (if not the busiest) airport in the world. Of course, it is a major hub for British Airways (BA), but you can find non-stop flights to Heathrow on most of the large US airlines from many major cities. For my readers in the Boston area, one can fly non-stop on BA, American, Delta and Virgin America. However, American and BA (partners) definitely have the most flight options per day. From my new home in Milwaukee, I can fly non-stop out of Chicago O'Hare on BA, American and United.
Once you've landed, getting to London is a cinch on the Heathrow Express. The trains leave every 15 minutes, and you can buy your ticket(s) ahead online for a slight discount (a "single" trip costing GBP 18 for express class and GBP 26 for first class). You won't miss the signs that guide you to the trains, just be sure to board the Express rather than jumping a train to another terminal. Oh, and, of course, "mind the gap".
Once onboard, you'll find yourself at Paddington Station within 15 minutes. Depending on where you're staying, you might be able to walk from here. Otherwise, hop a taxi from the stand or take the Underground, London's expansive subway system (the first in the world).
If you're traveling a discount carrier (such as Ryanair) within Europe, you might be traveling to London Stansted Airport. From here, you can take the 45 min - 1 hr ride on the Stansted Express, which leaves every 15 minutes, to Liverpool Street Station. This station is located more in the northeast portion of the city.
Hotel options: The first thing you should do when trying to decide where you want to stay is this: lose the belief that you'll be able to find a "deal" other than in the middle of winter. London is notorious for being an expensive city, so you better learn to deal with it sooner than later.
Within recent years, I've stayed in 3 different hotels in various parts of Central London. My favorite experience was at the Charing Cross Hotel this past December. Part of the Guoman Hotel family, this hotel holds the title as favorite mostly as a result of its ideal location, practically adjacent to Trafalgar Square. Also within a quick 5-10 minute radius is the West End (Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, theatreland, shopping district), Covent Garden and The London Eye.
|Charing Cross (photo courtesy of Kristen)|
|Photo courtesy of Kristen|
|London Marriott Hotel Marble Arch|
|London Bridge Hotel|
|Picture of me courtesy of Kristen|
|My "French Pearl" cocktail|
|Oxo Tower, 2009|
The views are only a nice complement to the food and drink, seeing as though the meal could definitely stand on its own. My monkfish in 2009 was to die for and my wild duck last month was to kill for. Kristen reviews the experience in full in her post, commenting further on the cool vibe of the restaurant with its blue and red hues, the service, the prices and, of course, her sea bass main.
|Oxo Tower, 2011|
|Henrietta Street, Covent Garden location|
|Pimm's Cup, Leicester Sq. location (photo courtesy of Kristen)|
Houses of Parliament/Westminster Palace: You probably all know what this gothic revival palace looks like, but overseas visitors are only allowed to tour on Saturdays. Book online for a ticket.
Westminster Abbey: I need to revisit this cornerstone of British history (seeing as though I haven't been since 1995). You can tour Monday-Saturday; check online for times.
book in advance.
National Gallery: Residing within Trafalgar Square, an art museum that is home to 2,300 paintings from the 13th century - 1900.
Tate Modern: Located on the south side of the River Thames, this modern art museum is known to wow.
Kristen. It was just the best time!