We love traveling at the Shop & Enroll blog. It can expand your perspective, keep you learning and active, and create memories that last a lifetime. However, a big journey can be daunting without help. We want to be that help, making sure you don’t miss a thing while you’re exploring this wide world we call home. Throughout this series, we’ll offer you tips on where to stay, what to see, and what to try, as well as answer some important questions. All opinions and facts in this article are through extensive research and personal experience. We have not received sponsorships or remuneration for our support or opinions.
London is the backdrop for many quintessential parts of our culture. Whether we’re talking about classic children’s stories, music, TV, movies, or history, most of us grow up with a level of familiarity with London. With the closeness of American and British cultures, it would be easy to write off London as an American city with another accent, but that undersells how truly amazing London can be. That’s why we’re excited to share this senior travel guide!
Why London is a Perfect Trip for Seniors
Simplicity is what sets London apart from other famous tourist cities. While London is a massive city, technically stretching 607 square miles for the Greater London area, it’s not hard to get around. There’s a robust public transit system, including the Tube and buses, and Central London is extremely walkable. London is good for group travel because there’s something for everyone to love, simplifying group planning. It’s also a great city to just relax and do nothing in. Take some time to absorb the city instead of rushing to your next event — good general advice for any place you visit. You even don’t have to learn a new language, removing one common stress of traveling to a different country.
Finally, a number of services, venues, and activities offer senior discounts, making your dollar (or pound) stretch a bit further. For example, if you have an Oyster card for railway and London Underground travel (which you absolutely should get), you can receive a one-third discount through the Senior Railcard. Many of the historic sites, like the Tower of London, have a small senior discount, often listed under “Concession” pricing.
Where to Stay
With London being so vast, you have many, many options for places to stay, whether you like hotels, vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, or even camping. That said, we do have some suggestions.
Covent Garden and Waterloo
When we travel, one of the key factors we look at when finding accommodations is how centrally located it is. These two neighborhoods situated on opposite sides of the River Thames are about as central as you can get in London. On one side, it’s a short walk to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. In the other direction, you have the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Both are close to the British Museum, Soho, and Piccadilly Circus. For so central a location, you’ll also find a surprising mix of affordable and high-end hotels.
Chelsea and Kensington
A bit to the west, you’ll find the neighborhoods of Chelsea and Kensington. While not as central as the Covent Garden and Waterloo neighborhoods, these two make up for it by being posh. They are two of the more upscale neighborhoods in Central London, but if you look, you can still find a good deal. Nearby, you’ll find Kensington Palace and Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, the Saatchi Gallery, Harrods, and more. You’ll also find enough London Underground stops to get anywhere you want.
Outside of the City Center
We could have a write up like the above for almost any neighborhood in London, so we’re going to switch gears and make a suggestion out of left field — staying outside of Central London. Part of why London is so big is because it includes a scattering of smaller towns and suburbs known as the Greater London area. Each of these are packed with personality and can give you a better value for lodgings. The only downside is it can take longer to get into Central London, but even the furthest town can be less than an hour train ride away. Just make sure to research the area where you’re staying before booking it.
What to See
London is packed with things to do and interesting areas to explore. It’s hard to narrow it down when you have a limited time there. While these are only a few things you can do in London, we encourage you to explore what’s available.
Museums and History for Days
London is littered with history, whether that’s from hundreds of years ago or less than decade. Something the English do exceptionally well is showcase history, so we can see it and learn from it. They’ve mastered the art of the museum. The British Museum is one of the finest museums on the planet, and you could easily spend a day there without seeing more than a fraction of the pieces. The British Library is also worth a visit, if only to see an original copy of the Magna Carta. These aren’t the only worthwhile museums in London, either! The art museums, including the Tate Museums and National Gallery, are very worth your time.
The history isn’t only confined to museums. The Tower of London, an iconic fixture of the English monarchy since the time of William the Conqueror, is a must visit for any history buff (or any visitor; it’s really worth it). Similarly, and even older, is Westminster Abbey, a short Tube-ride away, where many royal events and weddings are held to this day. Just be sure to book tickets ahead or be prepared to wait in line. You also have the Palace of Westminster (where Parliament meets), the Churchill War Rooms, and more history tours than you could fit into a lifetime of trips.
Take in Some Culture
While you’re in London, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take in some culture. After all, many of the greatest pieces of theater, film, literature, art, and music were created in, featured at, or called London home. For example, London has two of the quintessential theater venues in the world — London’s West End and the Globe Theater. The West End, like Broadway, refers to a number of theaters located in the West End region of the city and is the place to go for world class shows. The Globe is a re-creation of the original theater that housed William Shakespeare’s work and still showcases his plays, as well as newer works.
London has been the backdrop to many musical legends as well. Abbey Road Studios, known best for the Beatles, is tucked away a bit north of the center of London (though locals hate that photo everyone insists on taking). Outside of the Beatles, you’ll find connections to legendary bands and musicians like Queen, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Who, Elton John, Amy Winehouse, and more. If live music is your thing, there are many venues around the city, including the world famous London Philharmonic.
We’d be foolish not to mention the television, cinematic, and literary spots to check out, too. Top of the list here would have to be the Harry Potter Studio Tour in nearby Watford, but you could take one of the countless other tours celebrating the excellent television and films the British have crafted over the years. Bookworms should check out the earlier-mentioned British Library, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, or the Charles Dickens Museum.
Do Some World Class Shopping
Looking for a change of pace? How about a little retail therapy to recharge your batteries? Whether you’re looking for high-end fashion or interesting souvenirs, London has it somewhere. Wander through some of the most famous shopping streets in the world, searching for glamor and a good deal. Of course, you’ll have to make a stop at Harrods, one of the largest and most famous department stores in the world. It’s the perfect stop, since the shops are varied and there’s a food hall and restaurants if you get hungry.
Go to the Football
Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, try to make it to a game while you’re in London. The atmosphere alone makes it worth it. London is home to many teams, including seven of the 20 teams in the Premier League (the top professional league in England and Wales). This means there’s usually a top-level match going on somewhere. If you’re a fan of a team in particular, research ahead, as some teams have special tickets for foreign fans. For a larger team or team based outside of London, like Liverpool FC or Manchester United, you may have to pay a bit extra or get lucky.
What to Eat
London is a modern, cosmopolitan city where you can find any cuisine you should like. Want haut cuisine, incredible Thai food, or burgers? London has it, and likely does it pretty well. Luckily, you can still find more traditionally English fare like fish and chips wrapped in newspaper or a full English breakfast if that’s what you’re after. Some restaurants even serve Sunday roast, which you should try if you want to go into a food coma. You’ll also find some of the best Indian restaurants in Europe.
Keep in mind, London is also one of the most expensive cities in the world, so you may pay a little more for meals. The variety of restaurants and very international feel of the city also makes it a bit tougher to sniff out a tourist trap restaurant than in Rome for example. Investigate advance of your trip and try to avoid places that are situated around major tourist sites, and you should be okay.
Day Tours Around London for Seniors
While you could spend your entire trip in London, there’s so much to see only a short trip outside the Greater London area.
Take a step back in time to the picturesque Cotswolds, a series of towns that reside between two and three hours by train from London. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by the British government, the Cotswolds are enriched by rolling hills and rural charm that seems fresh out of a storybook. That’s to say nothing of the enchanting towns filled with stone homes and seemingly-ancient pubs. It may even be worth staying overnight in a cozy bed and breakfast to get the full experience.
Oxford, Cambridge, and Canterbury
Oxford, Cambridge, and Canterbury are three of the more famous cities surrounding London, each with long histories. We don’t suggest visiting each in the same day (you won’t have any time to see the towns), but each are worth a visit. Oxford and Cambridge are around an hour away from London by train or bus and are known for their world-famous universities and the lovely towns surrounding them. A little further away is Canterbury, made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The cathedral was once one of the most important in England and the town dates back to pre-Roman Britain.
Stonehenge and Castles
Of course, when you think of England, many people think of castles and Stonehenge. Over 5,000 years old, reputed to have been built by wizards or giants, Stonehenge is an awe-inspiring experience for many. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get tickets to go inside the stone circle itself. You can make it a full day trip by visiting the nearby town of Bath. Beyond Stonehenge, there are plenty of castles and famous sites to see that are close to London. Whether it’s Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, or one of the other castles dotting the countryside around London, you have plenty of options.
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London is a city with so much to offer that it’s difficult to fit into a single trip. Prioritize what you want to do so that you can enjoy this ancient and international city without overworking or overplanning. When done right, London has something to offer for everyone!
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