If you’ve never been to London — or if it’s been a while since your last visit — now’s the time to go. The dollar is strong, airfare is cheap and, because it’s winter, the city isn’t filled with tourists.
“Airfares are down as a result of lower fuel prices, uncertainty surrounding Brexit and increased competition from a new generation of low-cost carriers across the Atlantic,” said Gary Leff, who writes the popular travel blog View From the Wing. “Combined with a strong dollar and more choices with accommodations like Airbnb, leisure travel to London is more accessible than it's been in years.”
Ed Pizzarello, founder of the travel blog Pizza in Motion, recalls that the first time he and his wife visited London, the pound was trading at almost $2. But now it’s “at a rate I haven't seen in my adult lifetime,” he said. “When you combine that with all the low-cost carriers driving down the price of airline tickets, London is close enough for a weekend trip or much longer.”
And don’t let the winter chill keep you away. “I enjoy visiting in the winter especially, as there's a certain charm and coziness to London that not all cities can manage in gloomy weather,” said Tiffany Funk, who helps run the travel consulting company PointsPros and writes for the popular blog One Mile at A Time.
British Airways just announced a round-trip flight to London, with five nights in a hotel, beginning at $689 per person from several American cities in February.
“It's now possible to snag a ticket from the U.S. to London for under $500, so it's more accessible than ever before," said One Mile at A Time’s founder, Ben Schlappig. And the devalued pound “takes some of the sting out of pricey hotels and restaurants,” Funk said, adding that “many of the best attractions and museums in London are free to begin with.”
If you’re going, consider staying at the Corinthia Hotel. It’s close to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and Westminster, and it’s super convenient for the main sights of the city.
It’s a five-star property, so it isn’t cheap. But the strong dollar helps take some of the bite out of the price tag.
Rates for a week in February average about $500 to $600 per night, but Trip Advisor and other online booking agencies offer prices as low as $470, including breakfast. And until end of February, the hotel is offering 30 percent off regular rates if you book through its website.
Karen Schaler, creator and host of Travel Therapy TV, says she shot one of her TV segments at the Corinthia because it fit her “Travel Therapy” brand perfectly.
“Stepping inside the ESPA Life Spa is like walking into a fairy tale you never want to leave,” she said.
The ESPA lounge takes up several subterranean floors of the Corinthia and includes a gym, spa, pool, sauna and hot tubs, plus rooms for massages and hair and skin treatment.
Of course, there are lots of hotels in London in the middle and lower ranges, too. And don’t forget Airbnb and other home hosting services.
And once you’re there, there’s no place in the world like London for cultural and historical sightseeing.
In Central London, the Houses of Parliament tour costs about $23 if you book ahead of time, and you can walk around inside the iconic building and see the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The town of Windsor in Berkshire County is just a short train ride away. Windsor Castle is a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. When she’s there, the Royal Standard flag flies over the castle. When she’s away, the British flag flies.
The castle houses Queen Mary’s Doll House, which was designed by a leading architect and built for the queen by some of the top furniture makers and craftsmen in the 1920s. It has working lights and plumbing.
Windsor Castle caught fire in 1992, but it has been completely restored, and it shines.
Also in the countryside is Hampton Court Palace, the royal residence for King Henry VIII. Built in the 1500s, it’s worth seeing for serious history buffs.
No tour of London is complete without a visit to London’s famous Tower, which was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 and offers a great overview of British history. The crown jewels are displayed here, and it’s a perfect spot for selfies in front of Tower Bridge.
There also are many world-famous museums, including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, the Courtauld Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The least known of them, Courtauld Gallery, has many famous paintings, including works by Van Gogh, Renoir and Modigliani.
The Victoria and Albert Museum — “the V&A” — is massive and takes days to explore, much like the Met in New York and the Louvre in Paris. It’s a bit overwhelming, but you can get a quick overview in a few hours. It’s also free.
And you can’t leave London without seeing one of its newest tourist attractions ... the London Eye. Sure, it's a little touristy and crowded, but who cares? The views are incredible.
Splurge for an express pass ($49/adult) to cut down on the wait time, and jump onto a moving "pod" that is mostly see-through. Each pod has about 10-15 other people on it. Don't worry about pushing to the front, because there are views from all sides. You can see Parliament and Big Ben, The Thames, Buckingham Palace, the Shard and pretty much all of central London.
As for the food … London is quickly shedding its reputation for being a foodie desert. The city’s culinary scene has come a long way in the past decade.
Want proof? Visit Massimo Restaurant, known for its impeccable service and homemade pasta, near Trafalgar Square. It’s a glamorous scene.