JUST CATCH THE BUS
All the things you might not know but should about a trip to the English capital
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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