What to Pack for London: My Amazingly Comprehensive London Packing List
My friends and relatives in the US always seem perplexed by what to pack for London, which I find so funny! You’re visiting a big city. Pack the same things for London that you’d pack for any other big city! But still the questions for a London packing list roll in. Do I need an umbrella? (Yes.) Do I need nice shoes? (Probably.) How safe is it and will I get pick-pocketed? (Very safe. And I’ve never been pick-pocketed in London but I know a very small number of people who have had their purses stolen while out at a bar or pub and or had their credit card details swiped after paying in a restaurant so always be careful.) Should I bring my hairdryer? (No, unless you are staying at a hostel.)
My Suggestions for What to Pack for London
After over a decade of questions like these, I’ve put together my ultimate London packing list. Especially because it’s almost June as I write this and for some reason, people always ask me in May what to pack for London in June. Please let me know if I’ve forgotten anything!
The #1 Item on Your London Packing List
Good quality collapsible umbrella: If you ask most people what to pack for London, this is the first thing they will say. Yes, London has this reputation for rain and while it certainly doesn’t rain every day, you should pack a good quality collapsible umbrella for your trip to London. Note that many 4 star and 5 star hotels will provide an umbrella, but it’s the big kind (almost like a golf umbrella) that’s really a pain to walk around with. So I recommend that you bring your own collapsible umbrella, but just make sure it’s a good quality one. Those tiny Totes umbrellas won’t cut it if it’s a bit windy. I have this umbrella from LifeTek and I really love it. Seriously, a good umbrella is one of those “must haves” for your London packing list. Buy this umbrella.
The #2 Item on Your London Packing List
Make sure you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees!! Otherwise, every time you use your credit card in the UK, you will get hit with fees.
Related but separate, you are probably wedded to your bank so it’s hard to change this but make sure you understand your bank’s ATM fees overseas as well. I’m still not good at this myself to be honest. One of these days, I will get an account with Charles Schwab that does not charge ATM fees on international withdrawals. To reduce fees, consider taking out larger sums of money. (i.e., rather than making four £100 withdrawals, take one £400 withdrawal.) Alternatively, pay for everything you can with a no foreign transaction fee credit card. One more idea: set up Apple Pay/Android Pay/Google Pay before you go, using our no foreign transaction fee credit card. It MAY work on London buses and trains if you have a connection.
Related to this, a contactless non-UK credit card can also be used directly to pay for tube and bus fares but you may need to try a few cards before one works. AND as per the above, make sure it’s a card with no foreign transaction fees! (Personally, I don’t like getting my credit card out all the time because I am pretty sure I will lose it but it really is up to you!)
Electronics & Gadgets to Pack for London
An unlocked cell phone: Your phone phone carrier might provide coverage in London but if it’s not free, consider adding an unlocked phone to your London packing list and purchasing a Pay-as-You-Go SIM card upon arrival. This way, you’ll have easy access to all the internet you need and won’t be relying on potentially expensive international roaming charges. It is VERY easy to get an international SIM card. After you exit customs, they sell them in Heathrow. If you have friends in London, you can also ask them to order them online. (I recommend Three as it’s the cheapest and best PAYG SIM. If you don’t believe me, just Google it!)
Amazon Kindle: You may find yourself on the tube a lot. And if you do the American thing and stay in South Kensington which for some reason is where all American tourists tend to say, you will definitely be on the tube a lot because you will be very far west. So you should bring a Kindle so you can read during long tube rides! Books take up space in your luggage. Buy a Kindle.
Plug adapters: Plugs in the UK are HUGE — as in large. I honestly can’t believe how huge they are. You’ll need a few good quality US to UK plug adapters — do not rely on your hotel to have any for you, and depending on where you are staying, they can be hard to find in stores! I carry around a bunch of multi-region adapters wherever I go and they work really well. (These are particularly a good idea if you are hitting the UK and mainland Europe during your trip or have other European or Asian trips planned.) But you can probably get away with the straight US to UK adapters if you are just visiting the UK. Note that these are just plug adapters and not voltage adapters — do not use plug adapters with your hairdryer or curling iron or you may blow a fuse! Adapters need to go at the top of your London packing list. Buy US to UK plug adapters and/or multi-region adapters.
Portable charging block: There’s so much to see and do in London, it’s entirely possible that you might find yourself away from your hotel for 8 to 12 hours a day! Nothing is worse than a dead phone battery as you’re using Google Maps to navigate and doing it for the ‘gram as you are photographing every meal and landmark. I highly recommend adding a portable charging block to your London packing list so you and your traveling companions can always have access to power. Buy a power bank.
Long phone charging cables: In most older UK hotels, there are no outlets next to the bed. So I recommend that you pack a couple of 10 foot phone chargers, either for Apple or Android products. These can be lifesavers!! (Of course, if the outlet is across the room, they don’t really help, but as long is the outlet is relatively close to the bed, these are great.)
Selfie stick: I know, I know. Maybe you don’t want to be that person. But with so many Instagram-able places in London, you should really invest in a selfie-stick to take photos of yourself and your friends while you are out and about! Buy a selfie stick. (Alternatively, consider hiring a professional photographer for a few hours one day!)
FitBit: I highly highly recommend adding a FitBit to your London packing list. Wear it for a few weeks before you travel to London and then wear your FitBit in London too and compare the data! You will definitely do more stairs for sure. More walking most likely as well!
Guidebooks for Your London Packing List
Before you leave for London, definitely add a few recent guidebooks to your London packing list. London changes very rapidly so make sure the guidebooks were published in 2017, 2018, or 2019. No older than that! Here are some top recommendations:
London A to Z: OK, not technically a guidebook but if you are planning on navigating your way around London without Google Maps, buy a London A to Z. In the old days, before mobile phones, we all use to carry these. There’s a handy street index in the back that helps you look up exactly where each location is. (Note this is pronounced “A to zed.”)
Rick Steves London 2019: I LOVE RICK STEVES! His guidebooks are so well-researched and he is very focused on finding good value for readers. I definitely recommend adding his guidebook to your London packing list.
National Geographic Walking London: One of the best ways to see London is to walk it…it’s an amazingly walkable city. I love this guide of key walks you can do around town.
Personal Care Items for Your London Packing List
Travel insurance: Always good to be prepared in the face of emergency, so please make sure you purchase travel insurance. I’ve used World Nomads in the past. The NHS is great but you may not be able to access it and/or you may want to access the private health care service, which is where high quality travel insurance comes into play. Buy travel insurance.
Collapsible water bottle: It’s important to stay hydrated when you will be doing so much walking! Bring a collapsible water bottle with you to London and stop in at Costa, Pret a Manger and Starbucks to fill it up. These chains have partnered with the City of London to offer free tap water to anyone who brings in a reusable bottle. This helps reduce plastic waste as well. And yes, it’s safe to drink the tap water in London. Buy a collapsible water bottle.
Dual voltage hair dryer: If you are super vain about your hair and if you are staying in hotels that are not likely to provide hairdryers, consider adding a dual-voltage travel hairdryer that will work in the US and UK to your packing list. Honestly though, most hotels have hair dryers so you probably don’t need this. This is probably only necessary if you are mainly staying in hostels or Airbnbs that don’t have hair dryers. Buy a dual voltage hair dryer.
Facecloths: Totally weird to us Yanks but British people don’t use facecloths/wash cloths. Most American hotels in London will have them (think Marriott, Starwood, IHG) because they are used to American guests, but if you’re staying at a smaller, more independent hotel, it’s not unusual to find no facecloths. (You can try asking for a “flannel,” as they are called here, but good luck.) So add some cheap facecloths to your London packing list and then throw them out as you go rather than trying to pack wet ones after each hotel stay. Buy facecloths. Alternatively, bring some face wipes.
Hand sanitizer: You will likely be on and off the tube in London all day, taking buses, and just being out and about, so definitely add some travel-size hand sanitizer to your London packing list! Buy hand sanitizer.
Good American deodorant: It is my opinion that British deodorant is not as good as American deodorant! And after walking 20,000 steps a day, you really want your deodorant to keep up. So American deodorant is one thing you must pack for London, and Secret is my favorite. Buy Secret deodorant.
Hair conditioner: London water is hard so bring your favorite hair conditioner or be ready to buy some here.
Fashion & Accessories to Pack for London
Tote bags: Retail outlets in the UK have to charge for plastic bags so it’s really helpful if you pack your own shopping bag(s) in case you want to pick up anything at the grocery store or drugstore. These can be incredibly helpful things to pack for London if you are staying in an Airbnb and plan on eating a lot of meals at home. Buy one (or more) that is foldable, reusable and washable. (This will also come in handy for your magazines and snacks during your flight.) Buy tote bags.
Pashmina or scarf: The temperature can vary considerably during the day in London — winter spring, summer, or fall — so a good quality pashmina or scarf can be a great addition to your traveler wardrobe and London packing list and can even help you dress up jeans or a more casual ensemble. Either drape around your shoulders or knot like any stylish European would. Buy a pashmina.
Packing cubes: British hotel rooms can be much smaller than US hotel rooms so you may not have much space to store and unpack your luggage. Packing cubes make it so much easier to find your stuff! Pack your underwear in one cube, your socks in another, your workout gear in another, etc. I love my eBags packing cubes!! They really keep my suitcase so much more organized. Buy packing cubes.
Hanging toiletry bag: London hotel bathrooms can be a lot smaller than US hotel bathrooms (are you sensing a theme here) so you may want to pack a hanging toiletry bag to keep all your personal care items organized. Tip: Buy this in a bright color so you don’t accidentally forget it on the back of the hotel room door. Buy a hanging toiletry bag.
Sturdy wallet for pound coins — with RFID blocking: The one thing everyone says to me once they’ve been here for a few days is “Man, British change is heavy!!” Invest in a wallet with a strong coin purse for all those pound coins you’re about to collect! I also highly recommend that you get a wallet with RFID blocking technology to prevent having your card details stolen. Buy a wallet with change purse and RFID blocking.
Crossbody handbag with an outside pocket: This one is specifically for the ladies. If you will be taking the tube in London a lot, I recommend that you make sure you pack a handbag with an easily accessible outside pocket for your Oyster card. This way, you’re not constantly opening your handbag and trying to find your Oyster card in crowded tube stations. You may also want to invest in a slash-proof bag. Personally, I prefer cross-body bags. I have a full write up on some of my favorite anti-theft bags here.
Comfortable shoes: Unless you are used to always walking more than 10,000 steps a day, it’s likely that you will walk more in London than you do at home. Plus, there are a ton of stairs in London and you will constantly be going up and down. So definitely make sure you put at least two pairs of comfortable shoes on your London packing list. (I say two pairs because I know from personal experience that if you wear the same shoes for a long day of walking, it really helps to change to a different pair the next day.) I swear by my Doc Martens when it’s colder out but pick the shoes that are right for you. Note that Londoners tend to dress up a bit so definitely make sure at least one pair that you pack for London is a bit more formal. Londoners tend to like more stylish sneakers (trainers) as well.
Shower sandals: If you will be staying in a number of different hotels in the UK and elsewhere, I highly recommend that you put some shower sandals on your London packing list. Havaianas are my favorite.
Packing List for London in Winter
Planning a December trip to London for the holidays? London doesn’t tend to get a lot of snow (2018 was an outlier) so you can usually leave your snow boots and huge down coats at home. Honestly, I think the above list covers most everything you need. Just throw in a decent coat, a hat, gloves, and scarf and you will be fine. If you forget any of these things, I recommend popping into M&S or Uniqlo to pick up inexpensive ones. I tend to live in black tights in the winter but that’s just me.
Don’t Forget Your Phone! Pack The Best London Apps!
It occurred to me recently that these days, packing our phones is almost as important as packing our suitcases. Depending on how long you are in town for, here are my top app recommendations for your London packing list. Make sure you download and install them before your visit!
- Uber: Of course.
- Gett: This is the app for London black cabs. Make sure you register and set it up before you visit. Saves time later.
- Citymapper: Use this to navigate the trains and buses. The bus can often be the most direct way from A to B but tourists don’t often realize this!
- Santander Cycles: This will tell you where the nearest Boris bikes are. (Boris bikes because our old mayor was Boris Johnson and he was in charge when these were launched.)
- OpenTable: For booking restaurants.
- Tube Map app: Very very handy. Citymapper is great but this actually shows you the tube map all in one place.
- Apple Pay or Google Pay or Android Pay: Before you leave for London, set up your credit cards with Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Android Pay and you MIGHT be able to use them to pay for tube or bus journeys. I say might because results still seem to be mixed so you may need to try out a few options. These payment methods are also increasingly accepted at London restaurants and bars now too.
The Most Important Item on Your London Packing List
The most important thing to pack for London is an open mind! Customer service will not be as prompt and ever-present as it is in America. Showers will seem different and strange. (And as noted above, the water is hard.) Bath tubs are huge and normally higher than American ones. There will be more people and traffic than you might be used to. Just take it all in stride! Do not expect it to be the same as wherever it is that you are from.
Advice on What to Pack for London from Others
I read more than 25 other packing lists for London and picked out the ones that I thought were the most helpful and specific and were more helpful than “Don’t forget to pack socks and underwear and a trench coat.” (Who wears a trench coat these days anyhow?) Here are some other posts with tips for your London packing list:
- What Should I Bring on My London Trip, Asher & Lyric
- What to Pack for London and Paris in the Winter for Real People, My Wanderlusty Life
- Bare Minimum Packing, Here’s Your Packing List, Solo Traveler World (Not specific to London but still very helpful.)
London Packing List Summary
OK, those are my top recs for what to pack for London! I hope you find my London packing list helpful! What are your recommendations? Let me know!
While you’re organizing your London packing list, you might find these other articles helpful:
- The Best London Souvenirs
- The Best London Food Tours
- Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in London
- The Perfect 3-Day London Itinerary
- How to Save Money on London Restaurants
- My Top 10 Favorite London Restaurants
- My Favorite Travel Products