Cruise from London – the essential guide

A cruise from London sailing out of the Thames with the iconic London Bridge behind us was a spectacular way to start our vacation.

Only a few select cruise lines offer a cruise from London Bridge and Greenwich Pier on the river Thames in the heart of London. Most sailings in the U.K. are from the port of Southampton, on the south coast of England, southwest of London.

If you are sailing from London, or your cruise includes a port of call in London, you are in for a treat. We have fantastic tips about how you can spend your time here. And if you are flying into London to transfer to a cruise from Southampton, then spend a few days in the capital before heading to the south coast.

You can even take the opportunity to enjoy day trips outside of the city before you start your cruise from London. The Roman town of Bath, The Cotswolds, Oxford, Cambridge, Warner Bros Studios for The Making of Harry Potter, Leeds Castle, and Windsor Castle are all within your reach.

London – a city like no other

From the tree-lined canals of Little Venice in Camden to Sky Garden at Fenchurch Street to Neals Yard in Covent Gardens. From palaces and royal parks to music and museums. London is like making your way through an epic saga.

Your most challenging job will be deciding which parts of the city you want to see in the time you have. For it will never be enough. Perhaps you want to see more of the popular touristy spots or if you are a returning visitor, find more gems off the beaten track.

Where to stay before your cruise from London

Here are the hotels we recommend, read on to find out why and what these areas offer, then pick the one that suits you best.

  • Crowne Plaza Kensington
  • Crowne Plaza St James
  • Amba Hotel Grosvenor, Victoria
  • Park Plaza Victoria
  • Millennium Hotel London Knightsbridge
  • Grand Plaza Serviced Apartments, Bayswater
  • Best Western Mornington, Bayswater
  • Holiday Inn London Regent’s Park
  • The Strand Palace, West End
  • The Savoy, West End
  • Novotel London Greenwich

How to get around the city

London Underground – The Tube

Don’t avoid the underground rail network if you are pushed for time and have a long list of landmarks to visit.

While walking the city is the ultimate way to see London, the underground – known as the Tube – is fast and easy to use.

If you are staying for a week or so and think you will use the underground a lot, it is worth buying yourself a Visitor Oyster Card at the information desk or, better still, online before you leave home.

For shorter visits, using your credit card at the terminal at the start and end of each journey is more effortless. Be sure to swipe the same card in and out so you only get charged for that trip. And pick up an underground map at any station to see how to get from A to B.

Our famous London red buses

The same payment method is used for London buses – either with an Oyster Card or your credit card. Swipe at the start and end of your journey if you use a bus. Buses are a convenient way to get around and give you a grand tour of the city. But they get stuck in traffic, and routes are not always easy to figure out.

Do plan before you get to London for your pre-cruise adventure! Use our information and tips to find out what and where you want to visit and the most logical order in which to do it. Then allow extra time for exploring without a schedule.

4 great ways to see the best of London before boarding your cruise ship

If I were your London guide, this is where we would go. I have divided this into four areas, naming our favorite spot and including some extra info and tips on where the locals go.

Day 1: South Kensington, Brompton Road, Hyde Park & Kensington Palace

Did you know that most museums in London have no entrance fee? If you love history and science, do not miss The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. They are all located on the same block off Cromwell Road in South Kensington.

From here, it is an easy 15-minute walk to the famous Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, and even easier to find a good pub for lunch. Nearby you will find fantastic shopping in Sloane Square and Kings Road, within a 10-minute walk.

If you want to stay in this area, choose the Millennium Hotel London Knightsbridge, with friendly staff and excellent rooms.

Hyde Park and Kensington, home to the Royals

From Knightsbridge, you can walk to Hyde Park. I would head towards the Albert Memorial, about a 20-minute walk. On the other side of the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park is Kensington Gardens, and here right opposite the Albert Memorial, you will see the famous Royal Albert Hall, one of the most iconic British buildings.

If you can, time your visit with a show and get tickets for an evening, you will never forget. If you are visiting in the summer, try and get a night at The Proms. That’ll undoubtedly be one to tick off your bucket list.

Walking from the Albert Memorial, you will reach Kensington Palace. Childhood home to Queen Victoria and previous home to Diana, Princess of Wales, the palace is still home to other Royals, and part of it is open to visitors. But if you want a glimpse of the British Crown Jewels, you’ll have to head to William the Conqueror’s Tower of London, and that’s for another day.

After visiting Kensington Palace, head towards Kensington High Street for plenty of shopping and a bite to eat. By now, you have made a complete loop in this area.

A good hotel to choose here is the Crowne Plaza Kensington on Cromwell Road, within walking distance from the museums. Expedia, booking.com, and hotels.com offer the best rates, and rooms for a family of up to 4 are available.

Day 2: Victoria, Buckingham Palace, Westminster & Trafalgar Square

If you are flying into Gatwick, plan to book pre-cruise nights in Victoria. Exiting the airport towards The Gatwick Express train takes only 30 minutes to get to Victoria in central London, non-stop. On their website, you can buy a ticket for the Gatwick Express before you leave home.

We love the Amba Hotel Grosvenor in Victoria. A gorgeous victorian hotel with a great breakfast, and best of all, there is an entrance directly into the lobby inside London Victoria train station.

Amba Hotel Grosvenor is just a 5-minute walk to Buckingham Palace, your starting point. An excellent nearby alternative to compare in price is the Park Plaza Victoria. Victoria is also a great place to stay if you visit one of the British garden shows during the year, such as the Chelsea Flower Show. The buses to the show are outside the hotel.

Iconic Buckingham Palace

Try and visit Buckingham Palace on a Saturday. If you are outside at 11 am, you will most likely see The Changing of the Guard, a glorious horseback parade quintessentially British. After the parade, lasting about 45 minutes, make your way over the road through St. James’ Park towards Westminster.

A little tip as you head towards Buckingham Palace from Victoria. Along Buckingham Palace Road, walk on the left side of the road. This way, you won’t miss the small door in the wall that leads to the tiny Royal Mews gift shop. It’s perfect for Royal memorabilia and quirky gifts to take back home.

Historic Churchill, historic pubs

For history lovers, visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms as you exit St. James’ Park but buy a ticket online in advance to avoid a long wait. If you are hungry, I’ve visited The Red Lion many times. This cozy pub is just a short walk from the War Rooms, straight up the stone steps between the buildings on King Charles’ Street. You’ll see the pub straight in front of you across the road.

Continue walking towards Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, Big Ben, and the Palace of Westminster. I recommend taking the guided tour of Westminster Abbey, home to every Royal coronation in British history. You’ll only do it once, but it’s worth it.

A walk from Westminster up Whitehall, past the Prime Minister’s home on Downing Street, and the Cenotaph, you will arrive at Trafalgar Square.

Alternatively, if you want to hop over Westminster (sometimes it’s just not possible to fit every historic site into your pre-cruise days in London), walk to The Mall instead of through St. James’ Park from Buckingham Palace. That’s the most direct route to Trafalgar Square, passing through Admiralty Arch.

While at Trafalgar Square, visit The National Gallery if you appreciate great art. That’s the spectacular white columned building (nearly 200 years old) in front of you, at the heart of Trafalgar Square. The entrance is free; you can spend as little or as much time as you like there.

British bespoke and tradition in Mayfair

From Trafalgar Square, finish your day with the 20-minute walk into Mayfair. London’s classy, upscale area is an architect’s dream of Georgian townhouses. The Burlington Arcade and Bond Street are good places to window shop. The Burlington, often overlooked by visitors, is a beautiful, traditional arcade with bespoke shops. A tour guide is on hand if you want the whole history behind this posh quarter. Be prepared for high prices if you stay for the evening and dine in Mayfair.

Finish off the day by heading towards Green Park and walking through the park back via Buckingham Palace to Victoria. Or, to avoid this long walk, head to the nearest underground station, Green Park, or Hyde Park Corner. 

Now, if you only have one day before your cruise from London, this would be a great day out.

Day 3: Oxford Street, Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, The Embankment & The West End

These areas are my London “hub,” and I never feel complete after being in the city if I don’t spend at least a few hours here. And if this is the only area of London you have time to visit, then you will have experienced a great deal of London life.

Start at Marble Arch and tackle Oxford Street first. If you love the series, Mr. Selfridge, make the iconic department store Selfridges your first stop just a 10-minute walk from Marble Arch.

Marble Arch, situated at the corner of Hyde Park, is within walking distance of Paddington and Bayswater. In these locations, you will find better-priced hotels while still being central. If you are a family, I recommend staying at Grand Plaza Serviced Apartments, where you get spacious rooms and a kitchen. Otherwise, the rooms at Best Western Mornington are cozy, and breakfast is excellent; plus, it’s just a short walk from Marble Arch.

Another good option if you want a hotel situated close to Oxford Circus is Holiday Inn London Regent’s Park. It is a short underground journey from Paddington Station and only a 7-minute walk to Oxford Street. From here you can also walk 20 minutes to The British Museum. Entrance to this museum is also free, and if you love archeology, don’t miss this one.

Staying in Paddington or nearby Bayswater works well if you fly into London Heathrow, as the direct train Heathrow Express takes you from the airport to Paddington Station in about 20 minutes. Buy your Heathrow Express train ticket on their website before you leave home.

A clash of color on Carnaby Street 

From Selfridges head, east on Oxford Street, shopping is laid out in front of you with all your high street favorites. When you reach Oxford Circus, swing right onto wonderful Regent Street. Famous for its architecture and curved buildings, Regent Street in the sunshine is London at its best.

Once on Regent Street, you are right by Carnaby Street in Soho for antiques and quirky shops reminiscent of the swinging 60s. Perfect for evening drinks and dinner, Soho makes a great evening out. Try and get a table at the tapas bar Barrafina, but be prepared for a wait.

Regent Street takes you straight into Piccadilly Circus and further on to Leicester Square. If Soho is packed out, you’ll also find dozens of small restaurants in Chinatown, wedged between Piccadilly and Leicester Square.

If you are planning a West End show (and you should have this on your London bucket list) and are looking for a last-minute deal, then the main ticket office is in Leicester Square. But if you want to see Hamilton, Wicked, Book of Mormons or another show on your must-see list, I recommend getting tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

Being flexible and getting to an afternoon show instead of an evening will save you money. And don’t forget to check out which theater – not all are in the West End! Wicked, for example, has a long ongoing run at the Apollo Victoria theater close to Victoria station.

Covent Garden and that flower market

Not to be missed is Covent Garden. Full of street performers, beautiful shops, indoor and outdoor markets, restaurants, and music, and home to London’s Royal Opera House. For a quick bite, there is The White Lion, a small pub just a short walk from the underground station where they serve good, well-priced fish and chips. If The White Lion is full, try The Nags Head opposite for excellent light lunches. Get a table upstairs for a window view over Covent Garden.

If you want to stay close to Covent Garden and the West End theaters before the start of your cruise from London, choose The Strand Palace hotel. It’s a little worn, but the service is friendly, and the rooms are reasonably priced.

For a grander hotel, choose The Savoy, just opposite. From here, it’s easy to explore Somerset House. An easily overlooked venue to the London visitor, Somerset House is a cultural center and one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture I have ever seen. And it has one of the most beautiful courtyards in Europe.

Day 4: The City of London, Tower of London, St. Pauls Cathedral, Millenium Bridge & The South Bank

If you take the underground from your hotel and hop off at The Monument, you will be in the city’s heart. The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London of 1666. You can climb the stone steps (for a fee) to the top for a great view of this area known simply as The City.

A Bird’s Eye View from Sky Garden 

For the best view over London, I prefer pre-booking tickets for Sky Garden on Fenchurch Street. Walking distance from The Monument, entrance is free, but you must pre-book tickets and show up on time. Look up, and you’ll recognize the building from its shape, nicknamed The Walkie-Talkie.

At the top of Sky Garden, you have a magnificent view of The Gherkin, The Shard, the Tower of London, and further as far as the eye can see. It is my favorite free viewing spot in London. Plus, there’s an excellent restaurant for snacks and coffee in the indoor garden. An unbeatable view without paying and waiting in line to go on the London Eye!

From Sky Garden, I would head over to the Tower of London. It’s hard not to be impressed with this colossal landmark built by William the Conqueror on the banks of the Thames. Meet the Yeoman Warders, hear the stories from the Yeoman tours (included in the price of your admission ticket), and shop for gifts. You can even pay a little extra to see Britain’s Crown Jewels. Just across the street is St. Katharine Docks, an excellent place to eat, particularly The Dickens Inn pub.

It’s a half-hour walk back to St Paul’s Cathedral, the site of the wedding of Diana, Princess of Wales, to Prince Charles in 1981. Christopher Wren designed this architectural gem over 300 years ago. And somehow, it survived devastation during The Blitz of WWII.

You can enter the cathedral free of charge if you attend a service. Otherwise, you pay a relatively high entrance fee, so allow time to explore the cathedral to ensure you get your money’s worth, including climbing the stone steps high up to the galleries. Book online to save money, and there are family discounts available too.

South Bank for culture, historic pubs, the best food market 

Probably my favorite spot of all. I love South Bank.

From St Paul’s walk across London Millennium Footbridge towards the Shakespeare theatre, The Globe. That’s the black and white half-timbered circular building in front of you. This is an ideal place to start a leisurely afternoon walk along the South Bank.

What we love about South Bank is its story. It is a tale of transformation into a lively area of arts and culture – a blend of old and new, with an earthy feel of unassuming real life. If you are visiting in the summer (especially if you are a Shakespeare fan), try and get tickets to see a play at The Globe.

From The Globe, head east towards The Shard. You’ll be walking the eastern loop of the Jubilee Walkway. Make time for Borough Market, the most fantastic food market in London. Then turn around and head west towards the London Eye. You can’t miss it in the distance. Take your time, and stop at Gabriel’s Wharf, a great place for unique shopping. And my favorite spot for lunch outdoors.

London suburbs and where the locals go

Need a more local vibe before you start your cruise from London? It’s well worth visiting our areas of Little Venice, Camden Town, Nottinghill, and Greenwich Park. These lively areas are packed with people, and on a sunny day, you’ll discover London at its local best.

Little Venice

Little Venice is an often overlooked area of colorful canal boats along Regents Canal. It’s hard to believe you are in the middle of London when exploring here. Little Venice is signposted from Paddington. If you are exiting the station using the exit marked Grand Union Canal. You’ll walk along a green corridor called The Paddington Arm, a pedestrian street towards Little Venice. Just follow the signs. At the intersection of Grand Union Canal with Regent’s Canal is Little Venice. Help local businesses by stopping for a bite to eat at one of the floating cafes or restaurants. Welcome to a fantastic spot that visitors rarely find!

Camden Town

Camden Town is famous for its market, a bustling area best visited at the weekend in the mornings. But I would avoid being there in the evenings.

Notting Hill

Notting Hill is chic, laid-back, and bohemian. Shop on Portobello Road and allow for at least a day. You’ll find everything from funky shopping, restaurants, antiques, theaters, and street entertainment. The market is best visited on Saturday, and if you are lucky enough to be there in August, you may even catch the famed Notting Hill carnival.

Greenwich

Greenwich is famous for being the center of world time (Think GMT = Greenwich Mean Time). Visit The Royal Observatory, the Prime Meridian of the world, in the middle of beautiful Greenwich Park. It’s about a 15-minute walk from Greenwich underground station and within easy walking distance of Greenwich Pier if your cruise from London starts here.

There is plenty of student life around as Greenwich University is close by, meaning there are plenty of places to eat. Greenwich market is a fun place to grab a bite and buy collectibles.

Visit Cutty Sark, the 150-year-old Scottish clipper ship moored at Greenwich, and the 500-year-old Royal Naval College. You can reach Greenwich Park by riverboat from central London, and either your Oyster card or credit card works to pay for your fare. Hop on at the Tower of London.

You will get some photos of the central London skyline from Greenwich Park. Just choose a sunny day to visit. If your cruise departs from Greenwich Pier and you want to stay in the Greenwich area, then Novotel London Greenwich is a good 4-star hotel that we can warmly recommend.

Afternoon Tea, anyone?

It feels wrong to leave our London page without mentioning the tremendous British custom of Afternoon Tea. So many of you want to experience this British custom before you start your cruise from London. So here are my five favorite places to enjoy this – tried and tested everyone. But check out the relevant websites for prices and bookings before you decide. Either way, it’ll be magnificent. Just don’t show up in jeans!

1 . The Park Room, Marriott Grosvenor House, Mayfair

2 . The Palm Court, The Ritz, Mayfair

3 . The Foyer & Reading Room, Claridges, Mayfair

4 . The Promenade, The Dorchester, Mayfair

5 . The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason, St. James

And I know there are many others to choose from at various prices. But these here are simply the best!

Before you begin your cruise from London, we recommend you get the help of Citymapper. It’s the best app to figure out how to get from A to B and everywhere in between. If you are new to London, download it onto your smartphone. It’ll help you navigate the city and discover how walkable it is.

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Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..