I am going to London for a week in December which is only a few short months away. (be still my beating heart… you can’t imagine my excitement)
Naturally, I want my trip to be easy, breezy, beautiful COVERGIRL – (kidding. but really. who has time for disaster when traveling abroad?) so I’ve put together this little blog post while doing copious amounts of research on how to have the most seamless trip possible, save money, and how to experience the most while in this gorgeous city. I wanted to share my findings here for anyone else who is planning to take a trip themselves.
So here are some tips, do’s and don’t, and pointers for traveling and having the best experience while in London Town. Enjoy!
Unless you’re going to stay in London for over a week, don’t take a day trip out of London. Just don’t! There’s so much to see and do while in the city. In particular, a lot of people will take a day trip to Paris while staying in London. Avoid this. The train ride is over 2 hours plus the time to get to those trains, and if your train is delayed it takes even more time. Paris takes a few days to enjoy at a minimum, so just plan to visit Paris on a separate trip.
Don’t plan too many things in one day. Take your time and do about 2-3 main activities a day, and take time to explore and enjoy yourself. Sometimes people will rush themselves trying to fit a lot in. Oh, and make sure not to plan too much on your first day either. You’ll be tired from traveling. Plan one thing but nothing you’ll be upset that you missed.
DO plans things though! Don’t just wander. You might feel like you didn’t do enough at the end of your trip, or feel like you wasted time.
If you don’t plan your itinerary the right way you’ll end up jumping around the city all day. Plan activities by area, and make sure to keep yourself organized.
Branch out of main tourist areas to gain a more local experience. Take a look at the 3-day London Itinerary by Jess Dante for things to do around the city! This was helpful for me to consult while looking for things to do.
Don’t take bags on the Tube. Lugging your bags around the stairs on tubes that don’t have elevators makes it really challenging. Also – don’t take the tube at rush hour. It gets very crowded and overwhelming. Rush hour is between 7:30-9:30am and 5:00pm- 7:00pm.
Get out of main tourist attractions to find slightly cheaper hotels. Don’t stay too far from the centre of London though, or you’ll end up taking a lot of time to get to the attractions and sites you want to see.
Don’t be afraid to take public transportation. Ubers and taxi’s are expensive, and you’ll sit in traffic, whereas the public transportation system is very good in the city.
Research food places before you go to London! This way you can avoid tourist traps when you’re walking and don’t know where to eat, and eventually get so tired and that you just go with the first place you see. I’m going to do this for myself, and once I have a list, I will update this post!
Many people want to eat at pubs in London and experience authentic English food. The way to do this is not to fall prey to touristy none-sense. Any pubs that say “authentic” or “real” tend to be tourist traps that will be far more expensive than they should be. Go to Notting Hill or Hackney for proper pubs that will be reasonably priced with amazing food.
Public wifi is hard to get. For ease, get data on your phone. Check with our phone provider to see if they give you a good international’s data option.
Get a UK SIM card. As long as your phone is unlocked (check with your provider) you can swap out your SIM card. You can get a SIM by ordering it, or by getting one at the airport, convenience stores, etc. Pay as you go plan is the best option. WhatsApp is a great option for communication too, and when I’ve been out of the country before, I’ve used Snapchat to stay in touch with family and friends.
Get an Oyster card! It never expires, and you preload/reload it as you go. You can top it up at any station. If you like (and this is what I’m doing) you can order one in the mail before you leave for your trip! This will save you some time. Oyster cards can only be used in London, and only on overground trains that are within the London network, so make sure you double check before riding any trains with your card, or you may be charged extra.
Some tips to note!
There is no “best time” to visit London.
Thieves do exist. Be aware of pickpockets and also of “moped thieves” that will steal mopeds and drive by in all black, ripping people’s phones out of their hands and zooming off to sell them on the black market. Yes. I couldn’t believe this was true either, but it is. So keep your phone out of view if you can, avoid looking at your phone often, and be aware of your surroundings.
Avoid cheap souvenir shops. Go to We Built the City instead.
Bring a reusable coffee cup. London is moving away from waste and so you’ll have trouble getting a coffee “to-go” if you don’t have a reusable cup handy.
The currency for England is the Great British Pound. Quid is still pound, it’s just slang. The smallest “note” (dollar) is 5 pounds. The coins are all 1 pound, 2 pound, etc.
MAKE SURE you stand on the right, or walk on the left, when using escalators.
Try different foods! London is very cultured and you can eat some amazing cuisines you can’t find at home.
Don’t exchange currency at the airport, and don’t take cash and convert to pounds. The best thing to do is get a Travelex Money Card that isn’t connected to your bank account that you can preload with converted currency.
Check operating hours for events, attractions, etc. Check hours that things are open.
Transport is always cashless. Get an Oyster card like I mentioned above, or a contactless card, to pay.
Get the currency converter app (like XE) on your phone so that you can quickly know the conversion rate.
Use City Mapper or Google Maps. City Mapper gives you the cost of transportation. Google maps is better for walking from the research I’ve done.
Tipping. You will need to tip at a restaurant as long as service charge isn’t included in the bill already, and you do NOT need to tip when you are a bar or a club. BUT it is appreciated if you tip.
Pubs are actually quite family friendly and focus on food. Bars are focused on drinks and not family friendly.
Tax is included in the cost of things already.
Publics toilets require payment. So have some coins with you. BUT any pubs will let you use the toilet for free, or just find a McDonalds, Burger King, etc.
Put your fork, knife, and spoon together on the center of the plate so that the waiter will take your plate away. Otherwise they won’t because they won’t know you’re done with your meal!
Let everyone come off the tube before you get on. Stand out of the way of doors so people can get out.
Move towards the center of the train so that more people can fit on the tube. Don’t lean on the poles. And don’t talk loudly! By nature, British people are soft spoken and much quieter than other cultures.
Practice being conscious of not talking too much and ending the conversation when it’s appropriate.
Respect queues! Don’t cut the line ever. This will greatly anger the Londoners around you.
I used this guide to give me more info on London and help me find things to do. It’s free if you sign up with your email, and super helpful: The London 101 Guide.
London attractions that are overrated.
Madame Tussauds… you can do it in any city. There are much more interesting and unique, and cheaper attractions.
Don’t visit Abbey Road. Taking that iconic picture is nearly impossible because it’s actually a very busy road, and you’ll just annoy the locals in attempting to do so.
The View from The Shard: tickets are 30 pounds a person. Get a drink or food instead and you’ll see the view as well. Personally, I am keen to see the view from the tallest building in the European Union… so I’ll probably pay the price. But it is quite a lot so keep that in mind.
The Changing of the Guard. It’s kind of cool, it’s traditional, but you are going to be caught in a crowd of thousands and thousands of people potentially. And that’s not so cool and fun.
Leicester Square. It’s filled with bad chain restaurants and M&M World (which isn’t even British??). Go to Covent Garden instead. There are allegedly better shops and restaurants. However, TKTS London is in Leicester Square and it is known for the discount tickets it gives out to popular shows and such. So give that a look if you’re interested!
The London Eye is expensive unless you can do the two for one deal, at which point it is a little more price attractive.
Go to Sky Garden. Reserve in advance and it’s free!
Before paying for any of the attractions in London, consider getting a London Pass! It’s worth it if the pass contains a lot of the sites you want to see.
Here are some things you should bring on your trip with you.
- Plug adapters.
- Copy of your credit cards. Take photos of them in case you need to report anything as lost and stolen.
- Take copies/pictures of your passport.
- Copy of your itinerary for border patrol. (Address of the hotel, proof you will leave the UK, and what you plan to do there). Write it all down because your phone is not reliable.
- Reusable coffee cup. And reusable water bottle.
- LAYERS. From my findings, no matter what time of the year you visit London, the weather is extremely unpredictable. Bring lots of layers to accommodate this.
- Nicer evening outfits for if you plan to go out to the bars or to restaurants. Remember, this is Europe; tennis shoes and t-shirts are definite no-no’s when going out, period, but particularly if you’re going out somewhere fancier. In fact, if you aren’t dressed appropriately, there’s a good chance you will be denied entry at all.
- Order a SIM card to get your phone converted, put it in your carry on, so you can get connected right away.
Lastly, here is one more guide that is also free if you need a little more help with packing!
Thanks for reading! I hope this blog post was helpful. I will keep updating it as a go, and if anyone has any other tips, leave a comment! Safe travels. xx