Top Tips For First-Time London Travellers
Make the Most of Your Time in London!
I recently had the opportunity to travel through London on my way to Barbados. I landed at about 1:45 pm at London City Airport, and had a flight the next morning from London Gatwick at 11:25. Iâd spent a couple days in London before, but not in the summertime. I wanted to enjoy the sights, the flowers, and the London experience with only a little time.
London has so many incredible sites from the very famous (Buckingham Palace and London Bridge) to the lesser-known (Camden Market) and with so much inbetween. The museums are free. There are beautiful squares like Piccadilly Circus. There are theaters with incredible shows. And there is the Thames to walk through and enjoy. With so much to see, I thought Iâd share some of my favorite tips and finds for navigating London. These will get you where you want to go, whether you have 20 hours, a week or more.
Practical tips for any London first-timers:
1. Wifi Locations and Using Your GPS without Cellular Service
If you are visiting London for the first time and are from outside of the UK, chances are your cellular service either wonât work or will be very expensive. If your phone does not have cellular service in London, you can still use all the map functions and GPS with wifi. Just load your next destination in your gps while you have wifi, and it will continue to track your progress until you arrive at your destination. This is so helpful to navigate! In London, a healthy fresh/fast food cafÃ© called Pret-a-Manger offers free wifi, and there is a âPretâ located every couple blocks. So you can always pop into one to load your next destination. All the museums usually have free wifi as well, which means if you want to go from museum to museum, you can add your next location and just follow the GPS.
2. Oystercard and Metro
This is one of the fastest ways, and definitely the cheapest way to get to/from airports into London, and around the city. Buy an oystercard at the airport, load it with 10-15 GBP, and you are ready to go. Just remember to scan in and out as you enter and leave the stations!
All Museums in London are free, but be sure to check closing times, as many close at 5 pm. These are fantastic to breeze through, or spend a whole afternoon. The National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Natural History Museum are all definitely worth some time. Remember, because they are free, you can walk through and see whether anything catches your attention without worrying about how long you stay.
The National Gallery has an incredible collection of British art, as well as impressionist art.
The Tate modern is an amazing building to see, and you can enjoy a lovely picnic in the garden, as well as fascinating displays of modern art.
The British Museum is full of historical artifacts arranged by time period and region of the world. Be ready to see lots of mummies, as well as various ancient cultures.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has an incredible display of jewelry â walk through and feel the opulence â as well as fascinating collections of clothing, furniture and other artifacts from ancient Chinese, Japanese, Persian, and other cultures.
The Natural History museum has amazing special exhibits, and is a great place to visit with kids. It brings nature and history to life, and is popular with all ages.
This was my first time using the ubiquitous Santander bikes. For those living in a big city, this is probably obvious, but for those country dwellers, hereâs the story:
After you pay, you receive a ticket with a code that expires after 10 minutes. Just select the bike you want, enter the code in the touchpad near the left side of the front wheel, and when the little light turns green, take the bike out. This is a fantastic way to quickly and easily explore the city.
The bikes are red bikes parked on a long bike rack spread throughout the city. There is what looks like a parking meter or metro ticket station at one end. Into this, you follow the touch screen (pressing new rental, etc.) and then have the option of either paying by credit/debit card or cash. It costs 2 GBP for the first Â½ hour, and 2 additional GBP for each half hour after that, if you donât return the bike within half an hour. The first 2 GBP gives you 24 hour access to the bikes, you just have to return the bike within half an hour to a docking station, and take out a bike again. You can keep doing this as many times as you wan.
5. Hotel: Location, Location, Location
There are so many amazing areas of London, and although they look relatively close on a map, it can take a long time if you are cycling or walking to get from place to place. St. Paulâs and the London Tower are quite a distance from the Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Hyde Part. So plan accordingly.
So my next tip for maximizing time during a short trip is to book your hotel near a metro or train station that is convenient for your departure and arrival plans. That means checking which station is easiest to get to your departure airport from, and staying near there. This allows you maximum time without luggage in London.
There are trains and buses that go from both London Bridge Station and Victoria Station directly to Gatwick Airport, taking 30-45 minutes and cost between 10 and 18 GBP. Paddington is good for an express to Heathrow, though a bit pricier at 35 GBP. For an inexpensive trip to Heathrow, Victoria Coach Station has 50 buses to Heathrow per day, with the trip costing just 6 GBP.
If you book in an area that is convenient to get to the station with your luggage, then you can walk between the hotel and the station, or take an uber the short distance. As for getting around London, both Victoria Station and London Bridge Station have many amazing sites within a short bike distance, or a short metro ride away.
Stay tuned â tomorrowâs post will be a report of my experience in London this time.
What are your best tips for travel in London?
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