09 February 2017

7 Must-Know Questions About Traveling to London

I get a lot of questions from people wanting to travel to London. I realised I am repeating myself quite a bit so it is about time I posted the answers:


Question 1: Where should I stay in London?

This is a really tough question as London is a big city. I dug in deep and did an in-depth article about it which you can read here. I don't have specific hotels to recommend, but I am a big fan of Airbnb, especially for families. If you use this link you'll get £30 free (and so will I!).

Question 2: I have 2-3 days in London, what should I see?

I definitely recommend seeing the main sites-- Big Ben, London Eye, etc. If you want to see churches, I highly recommend going to an Evensong service (basically just a choral church service with a sermon). St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey would be my two top choices. 

A nice walking tour would be to start at St. Paul's Cathedral, cross the Millennium Bridge and walk along to the river until you come to Tower bridge. You'll see lots of fun things along the way (including the Tate Modern museum, the Globe Theatre, and the HMS Belfast).

There are TONS of great museums, almost all of which are free. If you have only a couple of days, I'd recommend the following: the National Gallery (full of paintings), British Museum (full of ancient artifacts including the Elgin marbles and mummies), and the trio in South Kensington (Victoria & Albert, Natural History, Science-- all also by the church visitors center). I'd probably rank them in that order, though I think the British Museum may appeal more to most people. 

If you want a bit of an off-the-beaten-path experience, I'd recommend Camden Market. It is like Portbello Road (from Bedknobs and Broomsticks) meets Diagon Alley (from Harry Potter) mixed in with punk and hippies. Definitely will be more interesting for a teenage/young adult tourists. 


Question 3: What should I avoid?

My answers to this are a bit controversial, but I personally would never spend money on Madame Tussauds Wax museum, which is a big tourist attraction. I also would probably not spend money on the London Eye ride (it is pricey and very slow, though you would get a new vantage to the city). 

As I mentioned before I wouldn't pay to get inside a church. Unfortunately, when you go to a service, you can't really explore the church, but you have a solid hour or two to look around from where you are seated (and its free).

Question 4: What do I do for Transport?

This really depends on how much you want to spend. I always take the Heathrow Connect (not the Heathrow Express, which is faster but also more expensive) to Paddington Station after getting off the plane. From there you can get pretty much anywhere around the city via the tube.

If you want the tube to be your main transport (beware those of you that are claustrophobic), you'll need to buy a pass, which you can get at any of the machines inside the tube station. If you are only going to be in London a couple of days and you want to travel around a bit, I'd recommend a day pass. If you are going to be there for a week or so and are unsure how much you'll be traveling, I'd buy an oyster card (which you buy at the machines as well) and put money on it (also done at the machines).

You will need an oyster card/day pass to ride on the buses as well-- you can not get on the buses with cash. Many people think the double deckers are just tourist buses, but they are not. There are a few specific ones for tours, but the vast majority are just normal city buses. I probably wouldn't waste money on the tour, I'd just hop on a route that passes most of the good stuff (like route 11) and enjoy the view for less than £2.

Of course, if you can afford it, you can always take a taxi. Almost every cab takes Visa and American Express. Uber is also alive and well in the London.



Question 5: What foods do I have to try?

You should definitely try fish and chips. It always surprises tourists that it is very bland. It is meant to be eaten with salt and vinegar, not plain, so don't make that mistake. I always eat mine with ketchup.

I also highly recommend bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) or a meat pie (which are usually like a chicken pot pie with other meat-- rarely veg, but sometimes like a shepherd's pie, with a meat layer on the bottom and mashed potatoes on top).

Question 6: How is the weather?

British people like to complain about the weather a lot. Honestly, I don't think it is really much to worry yourself about. I'd definitely pack an umbrella, but I wouldn't worry about making room for wellies if you don't already have space. It usually doesn't rain for long when it does rain. But, unless you are coming in the summer time, you'll want to wear layers and bundle up well.

Question 7: What should I do about currency?

This depends. Almost everywhere takes card, so check with your bank to see if there are foreign transaction fees if you use it abroad (and also let them know you will be using it in the UK so they don't freeze your account while you are traveling).

You can exchange cash once you get in the country, but you'll probably get a better exchange rate if you do it before you leave.

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Anyway, if you have any other questions you'd like me to answer in the future, let me know!
Have a wonder trip to London!