So I am currently in London, and I figured this would be the best time to do one of these since I am currently "in the moment."
I have had people, who have never traveled out of the country, ask me in the past where I would recommend for their first out of country trip. I almost always tell them London for a few reasons:
a) Everyone speaks English, so you can easily communicate and get directions /recommendations /help from locals
b) Public transportation is so organized, that if you're familiar with San Francisco, Chicago or New York rail systems, then the Underground Tube is simple. There are several lines, that even if one is down, you can transfer to another easily. Honestly, I've had more problems on the LA metro than in London. The Underground is the gold standard for every city's rail system for a reason - no one does it better (Well, possibly Sydney..)
c) London is a multicultural and diverse city, with many different types of people. The truth is, while traveling, your race will affect your interactions with people in some countries. The people in some countries are just not used to foreign looking people. If you are a first time traveler, and are not ready for those types of interactions, then I like to recommend London, because it is such a melting pot. This has lead to all types of great food and styles!
If you are staying in London for a little more or less than a week then one of the first things I suggest you do is to pick up an Oyster card, which will give you access to the Underground, the bus system, and the new Overground rail. You can put money on the card, which will be deducted when you catch a bus or train, but rather, I suggest that you purchase the plan for unlimited amount of travel in Zones 1 and 2 for 1 week. Think of it as a circle - Zone 1 surrounds the heart of London, and Zone 2 is another circle drawn outside of Zone 2. Trust me, you will use it a lot and get more than the value of the plan since you can get anywhere in London by rail. Most of the spots you will want to check out in London fall in Zones 1 and 2. If you are familiar with DC, most of the museums here are free also. Even after you are done with your card, make sure to save it in case you come back. They seem to work forever, as mine has been working for the last 6 years.
One of the first few things you will probably want to check out in London is the iconic clock tower, Big Ben, House of Parliament and London Eye. You can get here by taking the Westminster stop, which will literally put you right on Westminster Bridge and in front of the clock tower, with the London Eye on the other side of you. If you would rather take it all in from a distance, and walk along the bank (like my picture attached), then you can get off either at the Embankment or Waterloo stops. One of my favorite things to do while in London is grab a coffee and casually stroll down the bank of the Thames river. The London Eye is such a neat structure and provides a pleasant view of London. When you finally reach the Parliament building and clock tower, you will be amazed by the architecture.
London is such a charming city, with a fast, metropolitan vibe similar to New York. If you enjoy that kind of pace, then you will really like it out here. It will definitely make you feel alive.
Here are some other Underground stops to recommended attractions, in case you decide to visit London: - Charing Cross (National Gallery, Trafalgar Square) - Green Park (Buckingham Palace) - Tower Hill (London Tower, Tower Bridge) - South Kensington (National History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum) - Lancaster Gate or Marble Arch (Hyde Park)