London is an exciting place to include on your travel itinerary. Unesco world heritage sites, history, culture and iconic landmarks to explore. There are so many things to see and do. On our travels to London, we picked up a few tips that can help to save time and money on your trip and also make your trip more enjoyable.
Tours and attractions
1. A guided tour is a great way to get a good orientation of the city and can save queuing for entry into some of the major attractions. We pre-booked a one-day coach tour for our first day, with the cost including two entry fees. If you want more flexibility, or don’t want the expense of a coach tour, the London Hop On Hop Off bus is a great alternative.
2. When planning your day’s itinerary, get to the major attractions first. We were at Westminster Abbey at 9.30am, half an hour before opening. By 10am there was nearly an hour’s wait to get in. The same applies to all the major tourist sites.
3. Plan at least half a day to visit the Tower of London. There is so much to experience. The White Tower holds many of the historic artifacts and museum displays. Guides in period costume lead guided tours, which need to be pre-booked. Head for the Crown Jewels first, as there can be long queues and lengthy waits to get in.
4. Trafalgar Square is worth dedicating at least half a day too. Here you will find the National Gallery and Museums, numerous lunch options and St Martin’s in the Field Church, which now has a restaurant located in the old crypt. Enjoy some time relaxing around Nelson’s column and enjoy the free street entertainment.
5. Hamley’s toy store in Regent Street is not an official tourist attraction, but is well worth a visit for kids and kids at heart. The multi-story store has an amazing range, entertainment and enthusiastic staff demonstrating the latest toys.
6. A ferry ride down the River Thames is also a great alternative to a river cruise. We took a ferry ride down the Thames to Greenwich, which was included in our Oyster Card. Along the way, the crew gave an amusing commentary for a gold coin donation towards their Christmas party.
7. Visit one of the many markets, browse for a bargain and enjoy some of the street food. We enjoyed a morning at the famous Portobello Road markets and also Greenwich markets. As with everything, get there early.
8. When planning your itinerary, check the opening days and times of any attractions you don’t want to miss to avoid disappointment.
9. The currency is Pound Sterling. Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted, as are most travel cards. ATMs are readily available, so there is no need to carry lots of cash.
10. “The Tube” is the quickest and easiest way to get around London. We were initially daunted by the thought, but the routes are very easy to navigate and the network is extensive.
11. Purchasing a prepaid Oyster Card online before you leave home will save you money. This can be used on the Tube, trains, buses, trams and some ferry services. You will need to pay an additional fare if you travel outside the designated city zones.
12. The London Pass also provides you with discounts into major attractions and public transport. Research the differences between this and the Oyster Card online to see which is going suit you best.
13. Victoria station is the main transport hub, where you can catch the UK Rail network trains and connect to the Eurostar rail service. It is also the major bus terminal, if you prefer coach travel.
14. We found that airport shuttles are unnecessarily expensive. As first timers in London, we opted for a shuttle from Heathrow to our hotel. We later found that catching the Heathrow Express to the centre of London is infinitely cheaper and probably quicker. Most hotels are within a very easy walk of a tube station.
The Stansted Express runs to Liverpool Street Station. It is not only infinitely quicker, but cheaper than a shuttle. Your Oyster card is valid for both services.
15. Walk. London is very flat and easy to walk around. By walking you experience so much more. Walking from Westminster to Trafalgar Square we came across the Queens’ Cavalry preparing for the changing of the guard ceremony, interesting memorials and interesting hidden attractions.
16. There are a number of ready-made-lunch chains in and around London, where you can pick up a pre-made sandwich, salad or light meal. We were able to buy a filling lunch and a drink or coffee for two for around GBP20.
17. London pubs offer interesting history, great atmosphere and good British “Pub grub” – Fish n chips, Pork pies and a range of traditional English meals. A pub meal will cost you around GBP 25 each.
18. London is a very cosmopolitan city, where you can enjoy a very varied cuisine. You can enjoy a good two-course meal at an Asian, Turkish or Indian restaurant for around GBP 10 each. We enjoyed an excellent meal in one of the many curry houses in Brick Lane.
Before we left for London, a former London bobby friend gave us two pieces of excellent advice:
19. Never carry your wallet in your back pocket – it is an easy target for pickpockets, particularly on crowded trains and on busy London streets. Carry shoulder bags or packs towards the front for the same reason.
20. Free public toilets are not readily available. Always carry some coins in case you need to “spend a penny”.
Can you think of other things we should know before we visit London?
About the author:
Lesley Connor is a former journalist, living on the pristine south coast of NSW Australia. Combining her passions for travel and writing, Lesley and her husband Ian share recent and upcoming travels with fellow empty-nesters looking for inspiration and advice when planning their first overseas adventure. Empty Nesters Travel Insights.
*All pictures used in this post were provided by the author and used with permission.
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