HalalBooking guide for halal-friendly holidays in London
London is a wonderful destination for halal-friendly travellers. Its large Muslim population makes it very easy to find halal food and places to worship. London welcomes over 19 million tourists each year, from all around the world and is a very diverse city.
How many Muslims live in London?
London is the biggest city in Europe and one of the world’s most diverse cities. It is a cosmopolitan metropolis with an estimated population of 9 million people, over 1 million of whom are Muslims. Islam is the second most practised religion in the UK after Christianity, and Britain’s Muslim population is larger than all other non-Christian faith groups put together. Muslims are part of the social fabric of Britain and almost 40% of the UK’s Muslim population lives in Greater London, forming over 12% of the city’s population. Just under half of the Muslim population was born in the UK, but 73% consider British to be their only national identity. The ethnic diversity of London’s Muslim community, reflects the diversity of the population as a whole. It has its roots in countries as diverse as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Indonesia. London even has a Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Why is London a great place for Muslims to visit?
As a result of its large and diverse Muslim population, London is well placed to meet the needs of halal-conscious travellers from all over the world. It is easy to find halal food, there are over 460 mosques spread throughout the city and it is usual to see women wearing the hijab. Of course, London is also a major centre of commerce and has a rich history with many attractions for tourists.
Halal food and restaurants in London
Due to its extensive Muslim population, it is very easy to find halal food in London. There are many excellent Turkish, Indian, Moroccan, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern and African restaurants, which only serve halal meat. Many more fast food and restaurant chains serve some halal options, mostly halal chicken. It is always worth asking to check on the halal food options as people in London are generally aware of and used to dealing with Muslim food requirements. The UK’s halal food industry is estimated to be worth well over £1 billion.
In fact, London’s diverse population makes it a great place to sample halal food from many delicious world cuisines.
Generally speaking, fast food restaurants, whether large chains or local establishments, are alcohol-free. It is also possible to find other restaurants where alcohol is not served. Do bear in mind, however, that some restaurants, which are not licensed to sell alcohol do allow customers to bring their own. This is known as BYOB or ‘bring your own bottle’.
Most medium to large sized supermarkets in London will have a section for halal meat, which is clearly marked. There are also a number of ethnic supermarkets, such as Turkish supermarkets, which only sell halal food. Many neighbourhoods, especially those with large Muslim populations, have their own halal butchers and bakers.
There are many London-based Muslim food bloggers and online influencers who provide the latest information online about London’s halal food restaurants and latest foodie experiences.
Halal-friendly hotels in London
HalalBooking offers a good choice of halal-friendly accommodation throughout London, ranging from luxury boutique hotels to budget halal hotel options and serviced apartments. Many of these alcohol-free London hotels serve at least some halal food options. In any case, wherever you stay in London, halal food is readily available and will only be a short walk away.
London’s Islamic Heritage
There have been Muslims in Britain for many hundreds of years. As far back as the 1600s coffee houses were established in London, following the Turkish model, and Elizabeth I had excellent diplomatic and trading relations with the Ottoman Empire.
It was in the 18th century, however, that significant numbers of Muslims first began to settle here. Some of the first to lead the way were Bengali sailors employed by the British East India Company. In fact, by 1911, the British Empire, of which London was the capital, had a Muslim population of 94 million, which was far larger than its 58 million Christian population.
London’s early Muslim community mostly worshipped in houses or converted buildings, and it was in 1926 that London’s first purpose-built mosque was opened, the Fazl Mosque, also known as the London Mosque, in Southfields in the London borough of Wandsworth. These days, there are over 400 mosques in London, spread throughout the city.
Islamic Artefacts in London
Due to the vast reach of the British Empire, many of the world’s treasures have ended up in London. Those who are interested in the history of the Islamic World will be delighted to find galleries in two of London’s most renowned museums, dedicated to Islamic artefacts.
- Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art – Victoria and Albert Museum
This fascinating collection brings together ceramics, textiles, carpets, woodwork and other works of art dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries.
- Albukhary Foundation Gallery – British Museum
The Museum’s newest gallery showcases objects from throughout the Islamic world, ranging from West Africa to Southeast Asia. These objects which are art and artefacts from everyday life date back to the 7th century.
Other sights which illuminate London’s Muslim heritage are:
The 16th century Turkish cannon at Whitehall, captured by the British Army in Egypt in 1801.
The Houses of Parliament, where you can find out about the first Muslim member of the House of Lords, Lord Stanley (Abdul Rahman), who was appointed in 1869.
Prominent mosques in London
There are currently 462 mosques registered in London and spread throughout the city, so there is at least one in almost every neighbourhood. Given the diversity of London’s Muslim population, the mosques serve many different Muslim communities.
London Central Mosque, also known as the Regent’s Park Mosque
The adjacent Islamic Cultural Centre was opened here in 1944 on land donated to Britain’s Muslim community by King George VI, in return for land donated in Cairo by King Farouk of Egypt, to build an Anglican Cathedral. The mosque itself was opened in 1978, and is a prominent London landmark with its splendid golden dome.
East London Mosque
In 1910, some notable Muslim figures established a fund to build a mosque in London. It opened in its first premises - three converted houses - in 1941 and the current purpose-built mosque opened in 1985. It has since been expanded to include the London Muslim Centre (opened in 2004) and the Maryam Centre, mostly dedicated to facilities for women, which opened in 2013.
Shah Jahan Mosque, also known as the Woking Mosque
The Shah Jahan Mosque, which is situated in Surrey, on the edge of Greater London, has the distinction of being the first mosque to be built in the UK, and indeed in Northern Europe. It was built in 1889 and is now a historical Grade 2 listed building. The original elegant building only holds 60 worshippers and although it is still in use for daily prayers, it is supplemented by a number of halls holding up to 1000 men and 600 women.
Women-only Amenities in London
Due to the UK’s long tradition of single sex facilities combined with London’s significant Muslim population, it is one of the easiest places in Europe to find dedicated facilities for women only.
Some gyms only allow women members, and many leisure centres run exercise classes, swimming sessions and gym sessions for women only. There is a famous women’s outdoor swimming pond on the beautiful Hampstead Heath. There are also women-only spas in London:
This historic Turkish Bath in Bayswater in central London retains many original art deco features and was first opened in 1929. It has steam rooms, hot rooms and saunas and is open on separate days or at separate times for women only or men only.
This Moroccan spa on Edgware Road is open to ladies only on Mondays and at other times by arrangement. It offers a variety of spa treatments and therapies in an authentic Moroccan ambience.
What to do on your halal-friendly holiday in London
London is famous for its iconic red buses and black cabs. In fact, its excellent public transport system makes it easy to get around. The UK’s railway system has London at its hub, so if you want to get out and about and explore the country then London is an excellent starting point for day trips to historic cities such as Oxford, Cambridge or York.
One way of exploring London is by getting a pass for a hop-on, hop-off open-top bus experience. The route takes you to many of London’s most famous buildings, monuments and museums and you can get off and explore as you wish.
Some experiences are typical of London and shouldn’t be missed on your halal city break:
Take a Boat Trip on the River Thames
The River Thames flows through the centre of London and its banks are home to some of Britain’s best-known monuments. One of the best ways to explore London is to take one of the boat services, which offer river tours or river bus services.
Spot these sights from the river:
* The Hampton Court Palace – Henry VIII’s splendid palace near Kew
* The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben – the home of government and iconic clock tower
* The London Eye – this ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames offers great views
* Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – a historic theatre experience
* The Tower Bridge – the famous bridge which opens to let large ships pass
* The Tower of London – the ancient 11th century castle guarding the Thames
* The Canary Wharf – London’s modern business and financial district with its glitzy skyscrapers
* The Greenwich Observatory – the place from which Greenwich Mean Time is measured
London’s Top Five Landmarks
London is home to so many iconic sights that it is difficult to select which ones you should see. These are the ones you really shouldn’t miss – can you spot them all on your halal holiday?
This famous London landmark opened in 1892. Built from steel, clad with stone, it is an incredible feat of engineering, which opens in the middle to allow tall ships to pass along the River Thames. Visit the high-level walkways, check the views through the glass floor, and explore the Victorian Engine Rooms.
The main residence of the British Royal Family, you can watch the famous ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony here every morning. It is only possible to visit the interior of Buckingham Palace during the summer months when the Queen is on holiday.
This grand square has Nelson’s Column at its centre, guarded by four magnificent bronze lions and two beautiful fountains. To one side is the imposing building of the National Gallery, home to an impressive collection of Western European paintings. It was named after the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, off the coast of Spain at Cabo de Trafalgar, which itself takes its name from the Arabic Taraf-al-gharb.
The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey
The Palace of Westminster surveys the River Thames and is home to the two houses of the British Parliament: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. To its north end is the Elizabeth Tower, the clock tower commonly known as ‘Big Ben’ after its great bell. Nearby Westminster Abbey has been the church where British monarchs are crowned since 1066 and 17 monarchs are buried here.
Tower of London
Built by William the Conqueror, it takes its name from the famous White Tower, which was built in 1078. It stands on the River Thames and has served as a royal residence and a prison, with high-ranking prisoners brought by boat along the Thames. It was the scene of some of the most dramatic events in English history, and its infamous Tower Hill was the scene of many public executions, including that of Henry VIII’s Queen, Anne Boleyn.
London’s Museums and Art Galleries
You could spend weeks exploring London’s museums and art galleries. All of London’s state museums and art galleries are free of charge to enter, making them great value for family days out, although donations are welcome. There may be entry charges for special exhibitions, events and activities. The following are must-sees on your halal city break:
This stunning modern art gallery sits on the banks of the River Thames, and is housed in a former power station. It is home to Britain’s national collection of art from 1900 to the present day. Its sister gallery, Tate Britain in Pimlico, houses art from 1500-1900.
The British Museum is home to many of the world’s treasures, many of which were controversially brought from other countries during the days of the British Empire. From Egyptian mummies and the famous Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon’s marbles, you could spend days exploring this treasure trove.
This family-friendly museum contains lots of interactive displays, which are perfect for children, as well as iconic modes of transport, such as planes, cars, and space ships. The 3D cinema and children’s demonstrations are fun for all the family.
Natural History Museum
This fascinating museum is dedicated to the natural world and is famous for its collection of dinosaur skeletons, including the renowned replica diplodocus skeleton as well as other specimens, such as the huge blue whale.
Museum of London
This museum is perfect for those who want to find out more about the history of London. It is great for kids and has lots of interactive exhibits and displays.
Afternoon Tea or Picnic in the Park?
The Brits are famous for drinking tea and London is the perfect place to enjoy the full experience. In Britain, tea isn’t just a drink but also a meal. Traditionally, ‘afternoon tea’ is served mid-afternoon - between lunch and dinner - and can be a meal in its own right, with different types of sandwiches, including the typical cucumber sandwiches, as well as delicious cakes and scones, all washed down with a big pot of the tea of your choice. Most of London’s top hotels and restaurants will offer afternoon tea with fully halal food options, if they are given between 24 and 48 hours notice. It’s a great way to relax after a busy day shopping or sightseeing.
In the summer, a lower-budget alternative is to prepare your own picnic and head to one of London’s many parks or green spaces. Hyde Park, Green Park and Regent’s Park are all within easy reach of central London. Most supermarkets have a halal food section, which will make preparing your picnic easy.
Visit the Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station
Families bringing Harry Potter fans on a halal holiday to London will enjoy having their picture taken at the famous Platform 9 ¾, which is situated at King’s Cross Station. There’s also a Harry Potter shop too for those who want to buy a souvenir of their trip.
Shopping in London
Oxford Street and Regent Street are at the heart of London’s West End and are home to some of its most famous stores, such as Selfridges, Marks and Spencer’s flagship Marble Arch store and John Lewis, as well as fashion stores such as TopShop and Primark. Since 2017, London has been home to the popular London Modest Fashion Week, and many London clothes shops now offer modest fashion ranges. There are also a number of central London boutiques, which bring together pieces from designer modest fashion ranges – search online for details.
If you want a break from shopping then head to nearby Edgware Road, where you can find a good choice of halal restaurants offering all the flavours of the Middle East.
There is no doubt that Harrods in Knightsbridge is Britain’s best-known department store. It’s also a great place to enjoy afternoon tea!
If you prefer shopping malls, then head to Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush or Westfield Stratford City at London’s Olympic Park – two of Britain’s largest shopping centres, both have multi-faith prayer rooms, which are convenient for Muslims who wish to pray.
Those who love searching for bargains might want to head out of London to the nearby luxury shopping outlet, Bicester Village. Take a train from Marylebone Station or travel by bus.