JUST CATCH THE BUS

All the things you might not know but should about a trip to the English cap­i­tal

Herald Sun - - ESCAPE - KERRY PAR­NELL

WHY SHOULD I GO?

Lon­don has ev­ery­thing, from Buck­ing­ham Palace to Big Ben, Bond Street to the Tate, celebrity-cen­tral eater­ies to hip­ster bars. And that’s just day one.

WHEN SHOULD I GO?

Any time – sum­mer brings with it fes­ti­val sea­son and crowds spilling out of pubs onto the street, and win­ter has its own magic, with twinkly Christ­mas lights and ice rinks pop­ping up in the most spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tions, such as the Tower of Lon­don, Hamp­ton Court and Som­er­set House.

MONEY

Ex­pect to spend lots of it. The cur­rency is pound ster­ling, but the city is vir­tu­ally cash­less with pay­wave ma­chines ev­ery­where. Black taxis ac­cept cards and ATMs are on ev­ery cor­ner. When us­ing a cash­point, es­pe­cially in cen­tral Lon­don, be vig­i­lant that the card slot looks nor­mal and hasn’t been fit­ted with a skim­mer and that peo­ple are not lurk­ing too close be­hind you.

WEAR A CROSS-BODY BAG

Keep your bags close to you – es­pe­cially in ar­eas like Ox­ford St where pick­pock­et­ing gangs op­er­ate. Cross-body bags are the best, back­packs are the worst. Do not put your bag by your feet when eat­ing in a cafe, es­pe­cially out­doors, nor in a bar.

AIR­PORT TRANS­FERS

Heathrow Ex­press is the quick­est way to get from Heathrow into Lon­don, tak­ing 15 min­utes to Padding­ton. How­ever, it’s not cheap at £25 (about $45) one-way peak times (heathrow­ex­press.com).

The un­der­ground only costs £6, but be pre­pared to carry your suit­case up and down end­less stairs, (tfl.gov.uk). A taxi into cen­tral Lon­don will take an hour, pre-book a rep­utable car ser­vice such as ad­dis­on­lee.com, from £38.95.

KNOW YOUR UN­DER­GROUND FROM YOUR OVERGROUND

Pub­lic trans­port is awe­some in Lon­don – there are mul­ti­ple op­tions with fre­quent ser­vices. Ar­eas are served by the un­der­ground (known as the Tube), the “overground”, as in tube trains that are out­side, trains, buses, trams, the DLR (Dock­lands Light Rail­way) and river bus fer­ries. Oys­ter­cards are ac­cepted on them all, (tfl.gov.uk), in­clud­ing the Emi­rates Air Line cable car which runs from Green­wich to the O2 arena.

YOU CAN STAY CEN­TRAL ON THE CHEAP

Thanks to a new wave of bud­get ho­tels, you can get a nice room in an in­cred­i­ble lo­ca­tion. Hub by Premier Inn has ho­tels in ar­eas in­clud­ing Covent Gar­den, West­min­ster, Kings Cross and Goodge St from £69 a night, (pre­mierinn.com). Ac­com­mo­da­tion is in hi-tech pods.

Ibis Styles is an­other chain of­fer­ing arty rooms at lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing South­wark and Kens­ing­ton, the lat­ter from just £56 a night, (ibis.ac­corho­tels.com). And Yo­tel, with its mini-cabin con­cept is open­ing a ho­tel in Clerkenwell next year, (yo­tel.com).

APPY TRAV­ELS

Lon­don can be over­whelm­ing but there are apps that will make your visit more stream­lined. Ci­tyMap­per is the best as it will find the fastest way of get­ting across town and the TFL Oys­ter app lets you top up your trav­el­card on the go. The San­tander Cy­cles app lets you rent Boris Bikes and pedal all over the city for £2 a day, and the Visit Lon­don app shows all the tourist hotspots, with a use­ful off­line func­tion. OpenTable lo­cates nearby restau­rants with reser­va­tions and Time Out Lon­don is the de­fin­i­tive guide to what’s on. The Great Lit­tle Place and Hid­den Lon­don apps are also good for rec­om­mend­ing quirky bars and eater­ies and the Lon­don Cof­fee Net­work app will lead you to good in­de­pen­dent cof­fee shops.

MUST-SEES

There are so many at­trac­tions in Lon­don, you could stay for weeks and still not see them all. The most pop­u­lar are Buck­ing­ham Palace and Kens­ing­ton Palace, the Tower of Lon­don and Hamp­ton Court, Big Ben and the Houses of Par­lia­ment, The Lon­don Eye, Madame Tus­sauds, West­min­ster Abbey, the British Mu­seum, the V & A, the Tate gal­leries, the Na­tional Gallery, the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, the Sci­ence Mu­seum, The Mak­ing of Harry Pot­ter, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathe­dral. If plan­ning on vis­it­ing mul­ti­ple at­trac­tions, The Lon­don Pass gives you en­try to more than 80 venues, from £69 adult and £49 child per day, (lon­don­pass.com).

DON’T BUY A TICKET ON THE TUBE

You don’t need to queue to get a ticket on the un­der­ground, you can just pay­Wave with your credit or debit card at the gate and it will work out your low­est fare for the day or week. This also ap­plies on buses, which don’t ac­cept cash. Or you can get a Vis­i­tor Oys­ter­card from tfl.gov.uk or vis­itbri­tain­shop.com and pre-fill it be­fore you leave or on ar­rival.

THE BUS ROUTES BET­TER THAN TOURS

You don’t have to pay for an ex­pen­sive tourist bus to see the sights – just jump on a Lon­don bus. The best routes are the num­ber 11, which goes from Ful­ham to Liver­pool St, tak­ing in Chelsea, Bel­gravia, West­min­ster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Par­lia­ment, White­hall, Trafal­gar Square, the Strand, Fleet St, St Paul’s Cathe­dral, the Bank of Eng­land and Liver­pool St.

Route 24 goes from Vic­to­ria via West­min­ster Abbey, White­hall and Down­ing St, Trafal­gar Square, the West End, Cam­den and Hamp­stead Heath.

And route 9 goes from Ald­wych, via the Strand, Trafal­gar Square, Pic­cadilly, Green Park, Knights­bridge, Kens­ing­ton Palace and Gar­dens, Kens­ing­ton High St, Hol­land Park and Ham­mer­smith.

GO EARLY ON THE EYE

If you plan on go­ing on the Lon­don Eye be warned, the queues are enor­mous. It is worth pay­ing ex­tra for fast track tick­ets that let you skip the line, from £34.20 an adult if you pre­book. And get the first times­lot avail­able (usu­ally 10 or 11am), (lon­don­eye.com).

THE BEST THINGS IN THE CITY ARE FREE

You can have some un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ences for noth­ing. You can watch the Cer­e­mony of the Keys at the Tower of Lon­don, where the Beefeaters per­form the gate-clos­ing cer­e­mony nightly. You must pre-book at least a year in ad­vance, (hrp.org.uk). You can hold a gold bar at the Bank of Eng­land mu­seum, (bankofeng­land.co.uk) and get one of the best views of the city in the Sky Gar­den, which is a glass-domed in­door gar­den atop 20 Fenchurch St, (sky­gar­den.lon­don). Most mu­se­ums and art gal­leries are free, in­clud­ing the British Mu­seum, Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, Sci­ence Mu­seum, V & A, Na­tional Gallery, and Tate Bri­tain and Mod­ern (vis­it­lon­don.com).

THERE ARE SO MANY AT­TRAC­TIONS IN LON­DON, YOU COULD STAY FOR WEEKS AND STILL NOT SEE THEM ALL

L O N D O N Pub­lic trans­port is awe­some in Lon­don with op­tions ga­lore; the vast Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum is a must-see; to skip the queue for the Eye, you can buy fast-track tick­ets.

T H E E Y E

N A T U R A L H I S T O R Y M U S E U M

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