So I thought that I would share my top five tips for London, given I have now been here 4 times so obviously I am an expert in the matter 😀
Also one of my nieces will be going to London in a few months for her first time so I thought a great way to impart my amazing knowledge was to do a post so everyone could be impressed .. #sadbuttrue
So without further adieu.. here are my Top Five Tips for London (I could have done more but honestly my brain capacity is pretty low right now):
London is famous for its iconic transport options – from the Tube to the red Double Decker buses, not to forget the iconic black cabs.
The real trick is working out when to use what mode of transport.
For example, cabs can be expensive but you have to do it at least once on your visit.
Most long distance flights will land into Heathrow however it’s important to note that your flight might land at Gatwick or Stansted. If your flight lands in either Gatwick or Stansted, I suggest you check out their websites to find out how to get into the city. I have only ever flown into Heathrow.
One of the first things you should do when you arrive is get yourself an Oyster card (or a Contactless card, which I honestly don’t know too much about to be honest but they keep going on about it). A lot of major cities around the world has these types of cards – NYC has the metro card, Sydney has the Opal card and Brisbane has the Go Card. They all work the same – put money on it and just go.
To get from Heathrow to central London, I would suggest using the Tube – the Piccadilly Line goes right through central London and to Kings Cross Station, just make sure you don’t laugh every time the announcer mentions the final destination (Cockfosters).. in fact a good idea is to get a friend to constantly say “This train terminates at Cockfosters” a few times before you come, just to get it out of your system (that point is mainly for Kiwi & Aussie travellers to London, no one else seems to find it funny!)
If you don’t want your first impression of London to be on the Piccadilly Line at rush hour with all your luggage (a real treat, believe me!), then the alternative is the Heathrow Express, which goes directly to Paddington Station. Here’s a tip for you though, if you choose this option GET YOUR TICKET IN ADVANCE!!! I know all you non planners out there like to fly by the seat of your pants, but doing that with the Heathrow Express will cost you a hefty £22 offpeak or £25 during peak periods. However if you book your Heathrow Express 90 days before travel, then it is a mere £5.50, plus you get free wifi so you can check into Facebook to let everyone you know you’ve arrived and make them all jealous.
The first rule of the London Tube is that you do not talk about the London Tube – actually that’s not true. The first rule of the London Tube is that you don’t look at people on the London Tube. I, however, love the Tube (lets not talk about the tube strikes!) –
- you get heaps of exercise walking around some of the stations (you can actually walk for miles under there!)
- some of the announcers are pretty lively (some are not)
- you feel like you’re experiencing the ‘real London’ travelling by Tube
- the stations are pretty central and some of them are pretty cool, with awesome mosaics covering the walls. One of my favourite stations is Westminster – I’ve never seen so many escalators in one place!!
- The trains are really frequent. In Brisbane, trains come around every 30 minutes – sometimes 15 minutes in rush hour. But in London, they are like every couple of minutes, so no worries if you miss a train – there is usually another one right after it.
Oh and the other rule of the London Tube (well London transport in general) – try to avoid travelling at rush hour. It’s manic out there!!
Check out the Travel For London website – tfl.gov.uk. I use this site so much that I just have to type the ‘t’ into the address bar and my computer knows what I’m looking for.
Buses are way more confusing that the Tube but definitely use them – they are cheaper than the tube – only £1.50 per trip and you get to see a bit of London as you go. Plus if you get to sit at the front of the Double Decker top deck, then you’re a real winner.. no seriously you are – those seats are like the holy grail! The thing I love about London buses is that they tell you want the next stop is , very handy when you really have no idea what you’re doing!
My number one tip here is:
Don’t try to save money by staying further away from the centre of London – unless of course, you love paying higher transport costs and love travelling for ages to get anywhere.
I’m not going to lie and say that accommodation in London is cheap because it is not – it’s freaking expensive. BUT you can find cheap accommodation centrally if you really want. There are loads of hostels around this city, all offer reasonably cheap accommodation. There is even a women’s only one if you don’t want stinky men around you.
I honestly can’t give you any tips about hostels because I’ve never stayed in one here but I know friends who have. My tip is to do your research – not just in the hostel (or any accommodations for that matter) but also in the surrounding area – is it safe at night? What else is in the area? Is it close to transport?
My favourite accommodation booking site is booking.com. You can set your budget and area (if you know where you want to stay). Plus there is also the all important reviews from other travellers – although I tend to take these with a grain of salt. Some people will complain that there was a loose thread in the carpet.
Only you will know if the accommodation is right for you. I’ve used a combinations of holiday lets, Air BnB, and hotels but I would recommend getting somewhere with a kitchen/kitchenette because it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to prepare your own food than eating out all the time.
Everything is also a bit hit & miss. The first time I came to London, I booked through a holiday let company. The place my sister & I stayed was pretty awesome to be honest. It was a one bedroom place that had everything we wanted – except that it was in Brent, near Wembley. Not really a problem except that we had to travel into the city each day and because it was November, it got dark early. Plus the apartment was about a 10 minute walk from the station and it was the top of 3 flights of stairs (hard work after you’ve been out all day sightseeing!). It was a great place to stay but for our first time in the city, I think it would have been better if we were closer to the action.
I prefer getting accommodation that is near transport and I also try to stay in a different area each time – this gives me the chance to discover more of the city and not focus on just the tourist areas.
Ok, I am not a foodie in any way shape or form. The quicker & easier it is, the better in my book. But I will say, try to go those little cafes as opposed to the big branded places – they are usually cheaper and the people who run them are usually way friendlier and will be more likely to chat to you – always a good thing if you’re travelling solo, it’s nice to keep that human contact.
You can get pretty much any type of food in London – from English Pub Food to burgers of all kinds to curries, lots of curries. You can eat very cheaply if you want or you can have a more expensive meal.
Other places to check out would be markets – on this trip I accidentally came across the Borough Markets, next to London Bridge Station. Whilst I didn’t really explore them, even I could see the loads of food options that were around. Old Spitalfield Markets in Shoreditch is another top spot.
Things To Do
First things first, you are a tourist – don’t pretend you are anything else. And as a tourist on your first trip to London, do not be ashamed to do the touristy things like go on a hop on hop off bus. The best thing about the hoho bus is that it gives you a great orientation of a city.
London has a plethora of things to do (yes I use the word ‘plethora’!) and pretty much has something for anyone – ancient history with the Roman London Wall, amazing architecture that spans the centuries or modern art at the Tate Modern. Even if you aren’t into museums, there are heaps in London that are free to visit, plus you can escape the ever-present ‘London Drizzle’.
I could go ahead and list all the things you could do in London but this would be a completely different post. I will say that you will not be lacking for things to do. Just be aware that some of the more touristy things like the London Eye, can be quite expensive so do a bit of research before you come to decide what you really want to do. For example, I am not sure that a lot of people know that you can buy a day/night ticket for the London Eye, which means you can go around once before 4.30pm and once after 4.30pm. A standard ticket is £22.45 and the Day/Night one is £26.95 so it is definitely worth thinking about if you really must go on the London Eye.
There are alternatives if you want a view and you want it for free.. the Sky Garden (more commonly known as the ‘Walkie Talkie’) has a obsveration deck that is free, however you do need to book your time, which you can do at their website.
Other free options would include people watching in Piccadilly or Trafalgar Squares. Also check out websites like Time Out for things to do around the city. Cities like London always have something happening, so check out what festivals are on while you’re visiting too.
Best way to see London is to walk London. There are little corners and alleyways that you just don’t find unless you walk around the city.
I’m not a big walker, especially because I have arthritis in both knees but even I get out and do walking in London (and come back to the hotel barely able to walk but I do feel like I’ve actually accomplished something). There are so many places that you can’t go unless you walk. Of course this also means you can get lost a bit – which can actually be a good thing too.
Central London is actually quite compact and sometimes it’s actually quicker to walk than to take the tube places. Plus if you happen to visit during one of the infamous London Tube strikes, you won’t have a choice but walk.
London is a great city to walk around and I would definitely encourage people to get out there and wander the streets. You never know what you might find walking around London.
Hope this tips help in some way. Obviously everyone is different so what works for me. might not work for others.
So while I’m here, I thought I’d include some other photos of this most recent trip to London: