New York vs London: Which is Better to Visit?

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It’s every tourist’s dream to visit New York and London at least once in their lifetime.

New York City offers a unique combination of history, food, art, and shopping that very few other cities can compete with.

But London isn’t anything to sneeze at either. It’s one of the most historic cities in the world and offers visitors a glimpse into the past with sights like Big Ben and The Tower of London.

With so much to offer, it can be challenging to determine which city is best suited for your travel needs.

Well, you’re in luck! This article focuses on the pros and cons of visiting these amazing destinations, as well as some insider tips.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on New York vs London for tourists.

Why Should You Visit?

Why Should You Visit New York?

On the hunt for movement? Non-stop intensity? New York will have you forget to sleep with its myriad of things to do.

Midtown leads the charge with busy Times Square, the MOMA, Central Park and endless skyscrapers, while fashion and food drives you towards SoHo and Greenwich Village.

When you’ve exhausted daytime walks, make your way to the Broadway theaters and hip bars for more ‘New York things’.

Big Ben London United Kingdom
Big Ben London United Kingdom

Why Should You Visit London?

Lovers of history and performing arts will find London a second home. Loaded with historical landmarks and rich culture that dates back centuries, the city is a wealth of stories.

Apart from its Royal residences and grand churches, London’s free museums have amassed an amazing collection of artifacts.

While art enthusiasts browse the carefully curated galleries, urban explorers can mosey around gentrified neighborhoods before catching a West End musical.

Things to Do

Top Attractions in New York

New York’s devil-may-care attitude and fast-paced living is clear with every blink. There’s activity everywhere, all at once. What makes New York fun is that you can lose the map and find plenty to fill up your day.

The first attractions that catch your eye include prime architecture and photo ops. Those skyline views? Phew!

  • Free-to-walk Brooklyn Bridge is extremely giving, especially with those skyline views and proximity to Brooklyn street art.
  • Top of the Rock offers 360-views over Manhattan at a budget price.
  • The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and Flatiron Building impress with their sheer scale.
  • Iconic spots that double as your favorite TV sets include Washington Square Park, Times Square, and historical Grand Central Station.

To continue the list of cultural and historical landmarks with a story, plus museums galore:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a no-brainer; just $25 for over 5,000 years of art.
  • Guggenheim Museum is a Frank Lloyd Wright classic.
  • Look upon the Statue of Liberty and tour Ellis Island.
  • Stop by Freedom Tower to visit the 9/11 Memorial and pay your respects.

The search for seasonal events and food brings you to every corner.

  • Dim sum at Chinatown, cannoli at Little Italy, trendy eateries at SoHo… foodies, go crazy.
  • Broadway shows are so prominent they have their own district within Midtown.
  • Laugh it up with comedy shows at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater or at Bell House.
  • Live music inhabits every neighborhood, sometimes parks too. Top venues include the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Beacon Theater, Radio City Music Hall, The Bowery Ballroom, and Carnegie Hall.
  • The Yankee Stadium and Citi Field prove that sports make up a cornerstone of New York living as well.

Other fun things to do in New York include shopping and exploring outdoor spaces.

  • Go vintage shopping at Bushwick (score with thrift items), or browse the high-end luxury brands along Fifth Avenue. New York houses plenty of massive malls like Westfield, Brookfield Place, The Shops at Columbus Circle, etc.
  • Central Park is great for picnics, wanders and free concerts – the consummate host of Shakespeare in the Park during summer months.
  • The High Line is an elevated park along old railway with art installations, featuring street food and views of the Hudson River
    Coney Island is a great day trip out of Manhattan. Friday night firework displays are peak romance.
  • Take walking tours of whichever neighborhood interests you! New York is made for exploring on foot.

Want more inspiration? Check out our guide on things to do in New York for first-timers.

Westminster Abbey London UK
Westminster Abbey London UK

Top Attractions in London

London continues to wear a cloak of regal charm even as older neighborhoods are rebuilt into hip locales. As you’ll see; London’s top things to do revolve around history and culture, and surprising flashes of nature.

The city’s most iconic landmarks walk hand-in-hand with British history and politics. As old English things (like the Royal residences) tend to do, these architectures catch our attention and hold it.

  • Big Ben has rung its 13-ton bell on the hour since 1859, an indispensable piece of London’s stately collection. It’s formally renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012, but few refer to it as such.
  • The Palace of Westminster is where British politics play, having served as a government building since 1512. Debates and committees are open to the public.
  • Westminster Abbey is just minutes from The Palace of Westminster and no less grand. Tour the many tombs in this 700-year-old church and learn about the most famous figures in British history.
  • St. Paul’s is yet another dominating architecture of London’s skyline, dome larger than that of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. Don’t just photograph the exterior; its paintings and exhibitions are exquisite.
  • Catch a glimpse of the Royal Family’s crown jewels at the Tower of London. Or, join a ghost tour to hear its grisly tales.
  • Buckingham Palace is the symbol of the Royal Family and an absolute must! It’s open to the public between July and October; the Changing of the Guard takes place year-round every other day.

Speaking of history, London’s museums are free to enter:

  • Tudor and Modernist art are on display at Tate Britain if you like your classics.
  • Touring Tate Modern is the perfect rainy day activity. Think modern art exhibits and atmospheric city views from the 10th floor.
  • England’s most important sculptures, antiques and architectural works are stored in the British Museum.
  • Located on Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery houses over 2,300 artworks that span the 13th through 19th century.

Other hotspots to get the best feel of London’s various charms:

  • Piccadilly Circus equals the heart of West End. Illuminated billboards, flashing lights, and squirming crowds create a buzzing atmosphere.
  • Cameras love Notting Hill for its colorful houses and flower-lined streets.
  • For a taste of Asia, stop by Chinatown. Hanging lanterns, fried ducks and bilingual signs take you to a whole new place.
  • Covent Garden shows off the obvious attractions: the London Museum of Transport, the Royal Opera House, the London Film Museum, Apple Market and Seven Dials. But, what you’re really looking for are the tiny streets squirreled away – like Neal’s Yard.
  • The star of gentrified neighborhoods is Shoreditch, where trendy cafes and bars run amok.
  • Enough said; walk around Trafalgar Square.

Stately architecture and neighborhood exploration aside, there are other things that you should do in London:

  • Can you say you’ve been to London if you’ve never watched a West End musical?
  • Deep dive into one of London’s street markets – the market on Portobello Road is a literal mountain of second-hand goodies of every shape and size. Borough Market is another gem piled with food.
  • Go shopping down Oxford Street, which is possibly the busiest shopping street in all of Europe. Harrods is another main shopping target, and one of the world’s oldest shopping temples.
  • Massive Hyde Park can’t be missed. Cool off at the Serpentine Lake, or if you’re visiting in the winter, ice skate at its Winter Wonderland.
  • Take a spin on the London Eye for amazing skyline views (and romantic time).
  • Oh, and experience an authentic British high tea. That’s a must.

Nightlife

Nightlife in New York

New York is truly a city that never sleeps, with most clubs and bars open until at least 4AM. Paired with a subway that operates 24/7 and you get night-long shenanigans.

You could say New York created the bar scene, introducing classics like the Long Island Ice Tea, dry Martinis, the Cosmo and the Manhattan.

Fancy bars inhabit Midtown and the West Village, while their cheaper, hipster counterparts thrive within Williamsburg and Tribeca. Of course, rooftop bars and skyline views are in abundance.

Check out our best bars in NYC guide to get a taste of what it’s like.

New York’s club scene lets you dance until your shoes give out, with no fear of being stranded.

Big Apple hits include lofted Le Bain and 1 OAK – Brooklyn, Chelsea, and the Meatpacking District has just about every club experience you’d need.

Don’t forget other night time entertainment like Broadway shows and musical acts. Venues like Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theater and Mercury Lounge are just some names that keep you up ‘til dawn.

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28 Things to Do in New York for First Timers

Nightlife in London

London isn’t as much of a night owl since the Tube only runs until midnight. You’ll find earlier closing times for pubs and bars, with most dimming their lights around 11PM.

That said; London’s post-dinner scene invites plenty of bonding pints at your closest pub. Did you know that there’s an average 7 pubs per square mile in London, hole-in-the-walls, riverside nooks and Victorian throwbacks included?

Compared to New York, London features fewer bars but compensates with a solid variety that runs between swanky sets (champagne at the top of the Shard) and trendy, handcrafted cocktails at Shoreditch and the East End.

There are also famous clubs like Fabric and XOYO, but be sure to secure rides home after.

It’s actually London’s legendary performing arts venues that dominate the nightlife.

Dingy underground stages house everything between rap battles to intimate beat poetry; the O2, Wembley Arena and Brixton Academy show up alongside historic Royal Albert Hall, Union Chapel and cozy Jazz Cafe.

Hop between Soho jazz clubs to the areas of Clapham, Peckham and Beckenham.

New York vs London: which has the better nightlife?

New York takes the win on nightlife in general thanks to its non-stop buzz. With bars, clubs, and performance venues that vibe from dinner to brunch, you might not even need that hotel room. 

For lowkey evenings and closing times that every introvert appreciates, London may be the better fit. 

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Food Scene

Food Scene in New York

New York makes it onto every foodie’s list for its explosive variety – budget pending. There’s food everywhere, anytime and at different price points.

Packed with Michelin-star restaurants while fast food and street vendors reign on the streets, the dining scene in New York is far beyond hot dog carts and massive pizza slices.

It’s as if global kitchens decided to host a never-ending workshop. Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, fusion, bakeries and everything yum all found their corners.

Lexington Avenue hides spiced-up dishes and specialty spice markets; Murray Hill is a celebration of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi food.

For Russian piroshki, wander through Brighton Beach, or hunt down house-made pasta at Little Italy. Caribbean bites are best at Crown Heights while the Lower East Side builds the best pastrami sandwiches.

Dining isn’t cheap in New York, averaging $15 per standard meal. Breakfast prices are cheaper, as are fast food fares.

Empire Diner New York
Empire Diner New York

Food Scene in London

London isn’t as diverse in terms of cuisine, but you can enjoy diverse spaces to dine in. Not only do markets and street food make up for the lesser variety, but London offers its own food traditions.

English breakfasts and brunches have definitely made a name for themselves, often a selling point for cafes and sleek establishments.

Then there’s the famous British afternoon tea that many hotel chains adopted as a special feature. Crumpets, scones and clotted cream never fail to entice! Don’t forget London’s fish and chips, especially when paired with a hefty pint.

Soho is the most frequently named foodie locale with its ever-changing culinary trends. For fine dining, head over to Notting Hill and its roster of Michelin stars.

Historic pubs and cozy eateries have parked in historic Covent Garden, while Brick Lane is known for its Bangladeshi cuisine.

A newcomer, Islington’s Upper Street, serves everything between vegan Chinese dishes to Ecuadorian meats and Afghan fish stew. To taste test, try Brixton Market, Borough Market and Maltby Street Market.

Like New York, dining in London isn’t the cheapest option. You can find budget eats as the basics often come in generous portions, but avoid high-end dining if you’re trying to spend less.

Which city has the better food scene, New York or London?

It’s difficult to choose between New York and London when it comes to food, but New York wins by a slim margin. 

London’s food scene is best enjoyed by those who like culinary tradition and historic spaces, while New York is all about innovation and the next ‘what’s new’. 

Late eaters will find New York more accommodating though.

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Best Time to Visit

Whenever the question of “best time to visit?” gets brought up, the first counter question to consider is: what are your priorities?

Is it the budget or are there specific experiences you’d like to have? Do you need to accommodate a family? Let’s take a deeper dive.

Best Time to Visit New York

The best time to visit New York depends on your preferences:

Feel-good weather: May to June, and September to November are your answers to New York’s unpredictable weather.

Not only do you avoid winter chills and summer humidity, you’re blessed with foliage and blossoms. It’s the perfect time to mix outdoor and indoor activities while avoiding peak-season crowds.

TLDR: Shoulder seasons are the best time to play, in general.

Low budget: Early January to February says bye-bye to holiday season, meaning there’s a dip in tourism and hitch in winter deals.

There’s hotel week, restaurant week and even Broadway ticket steals to even out the finger-tingling cold. Rockefeller Center and Central Park turns into an ice-skating winter wonder.

Holiday Season: Kicking off after Thanksgiving and extending past the annual ball drop on December 31st, New York’s holiday season sees a surge in tourist traffic.

Yes, you will be nudging people left and right but holiday events span Christmas markets, light shows on Saks Fifth Avenue, Radio City Christmas Spectacular and official Broadway season.

School’s out, Sun’s out: Summer months might be more pricey thanks to everyone being on break, but free events and outdoor mingling may win you over.

June’s Governors Ball is the peak of the musical balls, while Shakespeare in the Park brings drama to July. There’s Pride month and fireworks and plenty of rooftop shenanigans.

READ NEXT
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Best Time to Visit London

The best time to visit London according to interest:

A bit of everything: Shoulder seasons spring (March through April) and fall (Mid-September through November) feature the best compromise on everything.

Not only is the weather more consistent, but fewer tourists equals great deals on hotel and theater reservations.

London’s full of year-round attractions and free museums, so your biggest challenge would be booking flights and hotels at reasonable prices.

TLDR: Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit London due to lower prices and equal amounts of fun.

Cultural Goodies: The January and February tourism lull feeds you with discounted and easy-get tickets to West End shows.

It’s definitely the best time for cultural exploration; you’re likely to avoid lines at London’s museums and art galleries too. The downside is dealing with the cold, but well worth avoiding the masses.

Royal Bingo: If you’re one who loves all things royal and wonder just how their daily lives are like, visit London in the summer.

It’s the only time of the year where royal residences are open to the public. From late July to September, the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to tour.

Clarence House opens in August only, while Kew Palace is closed during winter. The famous Changing of the Guard takes place throughout April to July; there’s also the Trooping the Colour review in June.

Shopping Spree: London sales season happens in late June and early July, right before the summer crush.

This includes Harrods’ ultra-popular summer sale. For year-round discounts, head out of London to Bicester Village.

Where to Stay in New York

New York welcomes first-time visitors with multiple boroughs and a cluster of attractions in Manhattan.

But depending on whether you prefer the noise of Broadway, charming brickstone or hip everything, your New York place to stay may take you across the rivers.

For a deeper dive, read our full guide on the best area to stay in New York for first-timers.

Midtown

Hoping to stuff as many sights as possible into your itinerary? One of the best places to stay in New York as a first-timer is Midtown Manhattan.

Not only is it brimming with hotel choices (and a large price range), you’re within walking distance of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

Times Square, 5th Avenue, the Broadway theaters, Central Park and major subway lines ensure that you’re in the thick of things. On the flip side, you’ll have to deal with thronging tourists and high noise levels.

Greenwich Village New York NY
Greenwich Village New York NY

Greenwich Village

Brownstones line the tree-shaded streets of Greenwich Village, where ground shops are occupied by cafés and boutiques.

Unlike New York’s typical grid-like neighborhoods, the splash-dash avenues here demand exploration.

Young adults, artists and anyone drawn to cozy charms will find this area the perfect place to stay. Hunt down famous TV locations, people watch at Washington Square Park and learn about the cultural movements that took place here.

SoHo

If shopping is the theme of your vacation, SoHo is New York’s shoppers’ paradise. Tapping into the city’s industrial past, SoHo is characterized by warehouses-turned-something else.

Expensive condos, flashy storefronts and trendy designers take up the block. Spend days shopping ‘til your wallet is empty, or take a self-guided tour through the Cast Iron District to see how history is embedded in architecture.

Williamsburg (Brooklyn)

Brooklyn is by far more residential than Manhattan, becoming a preferred spot for young families and people who like quiet.

If Manhattan’s bright lights overwhelm you but you’d like to experience New York nightlife anyway, why not stay at Williamsburg?

Across from East River are stunning Manhattan skyline views; within the neighborhood is an expansive art scene.

Hang around Domino Park for sunset photoshoots, or try your hand at nostalgic games at Barcade arcade. Whatever you save up on bucks can be spent on Williamsburg’s numerous eateries.

Where to Stay in London

London is fairly spread out, meaning first-time visitors will want to choose their place of stay carefully – or risk being stuck commuting for too much time.

Generally, north of the Thames is safer compared to the south; you’ll also be closer to the highlights.

The key is to prioritize what you want to experience the most and stay around the area.

West End

Like New York’s Midtown, the West End is the closest thing London has to a “central”.

A museum of cultural icons, it houses Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, and Trafalgar Square – other major attractions like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey are just a short walk away.

The range of museums, galleries, theaters and restaurants also make it ideal for first-timers in a time crunch.

The downsides are crowds and possibly sleepless nights. The convenience might be worth it anyway.

London UK
Central London UK

Kensington & Chelsea

It’s the posh Londoner life in the neighboring hoods of Kensington and Chelsea.

Expect high-end boutiques, Michelin-starred restaurants, fancy galleries and all the glitz; deeper wallets are required for this place of stay.

20 minutes from central London via train but close to Hyde Park and charming Notting Hill, they compromise on proximity and comfort.

You might even spot a celebrity or two while high-class browsing.

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Paddington & Knightsbridge

Squishing Hyde Park between them, Paddington and Knightsbridge offer just enough green space for families with kids – in fact, it’s one of the largest playground-packed spaces in London.

Knightsbridge is geared towards young historians; the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum come with children-driven displays.

Paddington, being more residential, means bigger rentals at cheaper prices. Pile on attractions like the London Zoo and you can bring the entire family along.

Shoreditch

While 30 minutes away from London’s hottest sights seem far, Shoreditch shows off an alternative London to make up for it.

A problem district now gentrified, it’s not as pretty but plenty “cool”. In the daytime, Brick Lane, Spitalfields Market, and street art offer you trinkets and photos to bring home.

It’s the nightlife that draws you in, however – hip restaurants and cocktail bars take over the scene with variety and flair.

Cost & Budget

The 1 week average budget for two in New York and London is pricier than many places, but adjustable depending on air fare and your choice of activities.

Make your reservations early or visit during shoulder months to get the best deals.

Average Budget for 1 Week in New York

The average one-week New York trip budget for two is approximately $5,100. Here’s the breakdown:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, an economy round-trip flight costs around $640-$800 per person, making it $1300 to $1600 for two.

It’s definitely cheaper to fly within the states than to fly internationally. You may find cheap domestic flight deals below $500.

Public transport – Assuming that the week-long unlimited MetroCard is the most cost-effective way to travel, you’ll each spend $33.

Calculate in your airport transfer and emergency travel cash to expense about $180 for a week.

Accommodation – Mid-range hotels in a decent location start with rates of $200 per night and up; higher tier rooms and hotels average $300-400 per night.

A hotel suite within Midtown could reach up to $8000 per night. Prices tip depending on season, but you’re unlikely to find a decent place to stay in New York for anything below $120.

A week’s stay for two could average between $1750 to $2800.

Food – With food ranging from $3 hot dogs to $200 meals, it’s hard to guesstimate a budget.

Cheaper breakfasts cost around $5 per person; fast food averages $10 for combos. Smaller restaurants cost around $25 per full meal while fancy eats middle around $50.

If you have a small breakfast, eat at a diner for lunch and enjoy a nicer dinner, a week’s food budget would average $1000.

Activities – There are plenty you can do for free, but some top attractions include catching a Broadway musical ($65+), watching a sporting event ($20+), and more expensive tours like helicopter flights ($215+).

A New York CityPASS could help limit activity expenses, costing $120 per person and 9 days of use.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

Average Budget for 1 Week in London

The average one-week London trip budget for two is approximately $4250 – $4500. Here’s how it breaks down:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, an economy round-trip flight costs around $700 per person between London and North America.

It’s cheaper to fly from the West Coast, with flights starting from $450. Flights within Europe can be a lot cheaper.

Public transport – It’s difficult to calculate travel costs as each zone has its own fare. That said, you’ll likely stay within zone 1.

Factoring in the cost of getting to/from the airport and possible taxi journeys, you’ll likely spend around $200 per person.

Accommodation – Budget hostels could cost as little as $40, while mid-range hotels within central London start with rates of $200 up.

Zone 1 is by far the most expensive spot with hotel rooms reaching $600 per night.
You might consider staying in zone 2 instead to compromise between convenience and cost. A week’s stay for two is around $1400.

Food – Street eats and market finds can be budget-friendly, with English pubs falling between that and upscale options.

Breakfast comes at around $10, with lunch averaging $15 and dinner around $35. High teas are a pretty penny and fine dining could be triple the cost – per person.

If you mix quick meals and restaurant sit-downs, a week’s food budget would average $850.

Activities – Most of London’s museums are free and there are plenty of walkable areas.

What you’ll have to pay for are Broadway shows, day trips and specialty tours. Assuming you’ll sign up for a fun tour or two, you can budget $200 for attractions (but be flexible!).

Which is Cheaper to Visit?

It’s hard to pitch New York vs London when it comes to budget because both cities are expensive to visit. 

While New York’s transportation costs can be cut down significantly, London is slightly cheaper to visit overall.

If you settle for a mid-range hotel and fill your itinerary with free activities, you could shave off much of your London expenses. 

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