Whenever I’m asked for London Travel Tips, I tend to talk really fast, excited that folks are going to the city that I’ve been enamored with for more than twenty years. They look at me and say “can you send those to me?” as they back away from the crazy lady. I could probably list 100 London Travel Tips (or more) but off the top of my head these 25 travel tips come to mind when planning a London visit. As I’m planning my Mom’s European Adventure that includes London, I’m revisiting these myself to see how to adapt them to mom. With the low fx rate for the U.K., now is a great time for you to plan a hop across the pond for your Fall or Winter visit to London.
London Travel Tips
London Planning in Advance
- Tickets to the Tower of London Keys Ceremony book a year or more out and are currently sold out until 2017! Advanced planning is needed here – tickets are free, limited and the service charge is minimal. I had a ticket last year and the universe prevented me from attending (read all about it in my Nightmare Travel Day).
- Decide on your airport transit and book ahead if required.
- Do you have carry-on only luggage/bags that you can easily lift/carry up and down stairs without issue? Look at using the London Underground to save money (but not time)
- Know 30-90 days in advance you will be in London? Look at the Heathrow Express discounted rates for the 15 minute journey from Heathrow to Paddington train station. From there, decide to journey onward with the London underground (if you can handle your bags) or opt for a London black cab.
- More than one person? Choose to hire a car pickup or use a cab. Note that the London Black cab can easily seat five but not your luggage so easily as it sacrifices boot (trunk) space to be more spacious seating. You generally put the luggage in sideways at your feet. Be prepared to pay 70GBP+ for the trip from the airport into London in a cab or hire car (drive time at least an hour or more depending on arrival time/day).
- The English Heritage website and app is a wonderful way to find historical England (think castles and Downton Abbey history) throughout the city and countryside
- Tell your bank you are going overseas to ensure the ATM will work (best exchange rates for cash). This is a pet peeve of mine given how much I travel and yet my bank has consistently shut down my access so make sure your phone can dial internationally if you need to explain how you can be in two countries in one day because their computer (and many people sadly) don’t realize there’s a train between Paris and London. My ATM card was denied as I arrived at St. Pancras train station so I had no cash for the cab to the hotel, thankfully I was able to pay by credit card (although I apologized for doing so).
- Be open to new foods, neighborhood shops and a quick pace
- Free Wi-Fi is usually offered at the major takeaway shops like EAT and PRET, others may require an access code with a purchase (annoying but if I need to eat a chocolate croissant to use the Wi-Fi, it seems a small sacrifice).
Getting Around London
- The Hailo App – you may be tempted to download Uber for London but I’d suggest Hailo as it used by London Black Cabs. Black cabs are uniquely British and generally owned by small business owners (the driver) who have endured years upon years of training to take The Knowledge. Read the NY Times article to see how they learn every nook and cranny in London and can navigate the maze of streets with their eyes closed. This is my personal preference and based on experience, I can get into a London black cab and give partial information and arrive safely at my destination while having an interesting conversation. They don’t need a GPS or instructions on where to go – it’s all in their head. They are the best guides to what’s popular and fun to do in the city.
- London Tube App is awesome because it works offline to help you plan your journey through London’s Underground (there is a bus app also for additional cost)
- Stand on the right, pass on the left on escalators in the Tube – it’s a quick pace and you don’t want to stop the flow of people
- When you enter a tube station be ready with your Oyster card (don’t have one, go to the window to buy one – it’s a reloadable transit card good on busses too! You need to have enough on the card to exit at your stop which is charged by zone) so you don’t cause a backup in the flow of people.
- Don’t get in a cab during theatre times – it’s generally quicker to walk so plan to eat/drink near the theatre early to avoid the traffic jam (and pricey cab ride).
London Food Tips
- Yes, there are AMERICAN restaurants but don’t spend all your time at Starbucks, Five Guys, Shake Shack or TGI Fridays because they are familiar. Try British restaurant chains like Chicken Shop, Byron Burger or Bill’s Café. My niece was a happy kid with burgers & milkshakes.
- At the pub, if you want to order food and/or drink you do so at the bar and then find a seat. No waitress service at the pubs unless they are geared for tourists. Mushy peas are an interesting vegetable as a side to fish & chips – maybe the only way I’ll eat my peas
- Sweet Tooth – You can read about my Cupcake & Chocolate tour of Soho or visit the Food Halls of Selfridge’s or Harrods’s. Fancy a posh (expensive) ice cream sundae experience then Harrods’s Ice Cream Parlour is for you (and your kids).
- In the mood for American breakfast because the full English breakfast with baked beans seems odd? In Soho, Jackson & Rye serves breakfast until noon (for those who are jetlagged or enjoyed a lie in). Missing the ridiculous American stand in line for brunch then be prepared to queue up at The Breakfast Club in Soho
London Entertainment Tips
- Consult Time Out London (download the app or find a magazine at your hotel) to see What’s On during your visit. With a plethora of choice, you are spoiled to pick just one art opening, new restaurant, museum happening, rooftop cinema or browse the top ten lists.
- Music and Craft Cocktails in a posh hotel more your style? Go to Scarfes Bar in the Rosewood Hotel in Holborn. With hidden nooks and couches to sink into, don’t be surprised if you spot a celebrity or two (but no selfies folks, this isn’t that kind of place as my friend found out when she tried a stealth selfie with flash and celebrity in background
- Walks.com – this is the original walking tour of London with a plethora of offerings seven days a week all year long. Feel like walking in Jack the Rippers London, they’ve got a walk for you. Fancy a pub crawl in Soho – yep, they have that. Want to watch a court session – you can do that too! I’ve taken many walks in and out of London – they are usually small groups with fantastic knowledgeable guides.
- The Hoxton Hotels in Holborn and Shoreditch host live music and other events in the very happening lobby bar and lounge.
London Shopping Tips
- M&S and Tesco are fantastic supermarkets for quick food (and drink) stock up. I love the individual food options which are great if you are staying in a flat like I did to cook up a variety of dinners each night.
- Bring your own bag to avoid paying for one in the markets and department stores. Sure it’s only five pence or so but it’s still annoying to have to pay for a bag each time.
- Take a photo of your passport if you plan on shopping and want a Tax Refund on the VAT paid on purchases. At the store, see if you qualify and ask for the tax refund forms – at M&S you can take all receipts to their VAT reclaim area in customer service. They will fill out the forms (this is where you need your passport information) for you to submit when you leave the U.K. In Heathrow, the reclaim office is just after baggage check but BEFORE security. There is a fee for the service so sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not.
London Hidden Gems
- Great views of St. Paul’s Cathedral are free! Go to One New Change Mall on Cheapside (across the street from St. Paul’s tube station) and take the lift (elevator) to the rooftop, There you will get a better view of this famous landmark in the City of London. While there, have a drink and relax in one of the many seating areas. Better yet, eat lunch or dinner at Barbacoa (a Jamie Oliver restaurant on the 2nd floor) and enjoy amazing foods with a view.
- Want a city escape from London? Hop on the train to the seaside town of Brighton to walk around the laneways (shopping roads) or wander to the beach to dip your toes in the ocean and walk in the sand
- Viewing the Street Art of London of Shoreditch and Brick Lane. Learn the history of graffiti and the area and see how it’s transformed into the trendy area that it is now.
Ok, 25 London Travel Tips is a bit more than a few (I talk fast, hence the ask to email those tips!). I could probably (and will) share a million more especially with all the new tips and sights I’m learning about with Mom’s trip. If you’ve been to London, do you agree, disagree or have any to add?