How to Travel to London, England - and Have a Great Time!

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About: Born in England many years ago, moved to California in 1980, moved to New York in 1993, became a US citizen. Favourite place to visit, besides London England, is Lake Winnipesaukkee in New Hampshire, home o...

Intro: How to Travel to London, England - and Have a Great Time!

Having family in England, I try to go there each year to visit. This is how I plan my trip.

When I have picked my travel dates, I visit various on-line travel sites, such as Expedia, Kayak, etc., to find the best deals on flights. However, it is also a good idea to double check the prices against the individual airline web sites, such as American, Virgin and British Airways, because sometimes you can get a better deal if you go to them directly.

By the way you will need a current passport! So make sure you get one in plenty of time before your trip (or renew if it is expiring soon) US citizens do not need a special visa for vacations or business trips in the UK if the visit is for less than six months, (although I heard that the Brits are considering changing this time frame to three months some time in the future.)

http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html

Step 1: Flying Away!

If you fly from JFK in New York, to London's Heathrow airport, there are plenty of air carriers to choose from. I like to fly direct, as changing planes and hanging around airports is no joke. Incidentally non-stop flights are usually cheaper any way.

Step 2: Hotels, Relatives and Jelly Beans...

Once I have my flight booked, I will go on line to make hotel reservations if I need any. Of course if you are like me and have relatives and friends over there, you will be able to stay with them some of the time, thus saving a lot of money in hotels and meals! The trick however, is not to overstay your welcome with your friends, usually 3 days is long enough, both for me and for them. It is also nice to take over a few inexpensive presents to thank them for their hospitality! Jelly beans and other typically American candies are always a favourite and don’t take up much room in the suitcase. You can always treat your friends and relatives to a nice dinner during your visit as a mark of appreciation.

Step 3: Inform the Relatives!

With the flight and hotels booked, and the adoring relatives looking forward to my visit, I then think of how I am going to get around during my stay in the most economical way

Step 4: Travelling Around in England Via British Rail

As I refuse to drive in England with all the narrow winding roads and extremely fast motorways, I never rent a car (the steering wheel's on the wrong side for a start)but make use of the fairly efficient train services that spider out from central London everywhere you might want to go (unless of course some of them are on strike!) However, train travel is not cheap, but by visiting the Brit Rail website I buy a special travel pass, which lets me make x number of journeys in x number of days.
http://www.acprailnet.com/britrailbook?returnurl=http://www.acprail.com&countrycode=US&languagecode=EN&countrykey=ACP09872
There are a choice of passes depending on how long you are traveling around. These travel passes can only be purchased outside of the U.K. so have to be got ahead of time. They are valid for three months, and if by chance you don't use them you can get your money back, less a small fee. If you are going further into Europe, you can also buy travel passes for travel there also.

Step 5: Explore the Mysteries of the London Underground

The Underground or tube is a wonderful way of getting around London. However if you are travelling with a suitcase to or from the airport, it's not so easy. Many stations have long and short flights of stairs up and down all over the place and no elevators (lifts). However,it is possible by visiting the London Underground web site, to find out which stations have lifts (elevators, This will make your life much easier. Big suitcases on the "moving staircases", (escalators) are a real hazard both to you and others! I lost hold of a suitcase last year and almost demolished a row of fellow travellers below!

You can also get special passes to the London underground (the tube)
http://www.londontravelpass.com/prices.asp?gclid=CLTjqOCp45MCFRUasgodvwUKZg
A map of the underground will come in handy.

By the way, the Underground has some very interesting posters on the walls, although sometimes it's difficult to know what they are advertising!

Step 6: Bus Travel Is Good Too!

There are plenty of buses in London, they travel in convoys! If you sit down the front on the top deck you will have a great view and be protected from wind and rain too! However,they have now done away with many of the famous double deckers on many routes in London and replaced them with strange looking single decked bendy buses which are not to my taste at all!

Don't forget the traffic moves on the left side of the road! Be careful crossing the roads.

Step 7: When in Doubt Take a Taxi

The familiar black London taxi cabs are everywhere, and if you get lost you can always depend on the taxi driver to get you where you want to go. Each taxi driver goes through extensive training. When I was a child I remember seeing groups of them going around on motor scooters learning where everything was.

Step 8: Seeing the Sights

If you are into visiting lots and lots of interesting places in London, you can also buy something called a London Pass which will let you in to all the more famous attractions at enormous savings. However, you have to work very hard at using this to get your money's worth!
http://www.londonpass.com/index_attractions.asp?WT.mc_id=155&WT.mc_ev=click&AID=155

Of course there are lots of places to visit free of charge, like Tower Bridge, Covent Garden Market and Trafalgar Square. A visit to St. Paul's Cathedral http://www.stpauls.co.uk/page.aspx?theLang=001lngdef&pointerid=169345dwprEOVViTRLd8xXbHBDHGbzge will cost you but it's worth the view from the dome and the ball and cross if you have a head for heights.

The Tower of London is worth visiting to see the crown jewels alone. You will get free admission with your London Pass. http://www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/

I love the the British Museum!
http://www.britishmuseum.org/default.aspx The Great Court alone is well worth a visit!

My favourite museum is the Museum of London located in the City at the Barbican, where you can trace London's history from Roman times to the present day. Also the Lord Mayor's coach is on display here.
http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/English/

The London Eye http://www.londoneye.com/ will cost you but the views are amazing - don't go on a rainy day, as you won't see anything!

Step 9: The Terrific Thames!

No trip to London would be complete without taking a boat ride along the River Thames. You get a completely different "feel" of London from its famous river.

There are many different tours offered with starting points on the north side of the river, including those at the Tower of London; at a place close to Westminster Bridge and on the Embankment at Charing Cross. Each boat usually has a guide who points out the sights on the river bank as you float by and some of these guides are real "characters" and can be very entertaining. It is customary to tip these "characters" at journey's end. You can take short trips between the Tower and either Charing Cross or Westminster or longer ones further upstream to visit Greenwich the home of the prime meridien and the famous Naval College. Try to pick a fine day for your trip as you will get so much more enjoyment if the sun is shining. It's miserable in the pouring rain.

A river trip at night is even more special, with all the buildings and bridges illuminated for your viewing pleasure.

Don't have time for a boat road, not to worry, a simple walk along the Embankment between Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster Bridge can be rewarding too.

Step 10: Take in a West End Show

I usually like to take in at least one theatre visit during my stay and the best and cheapest way is to book the ticket on line through a web site called London Town. I choose my show, the date and time and then buy the cheapest ticket offered. I have found that on the night of the performance it is always possible to move down from the cheap seat into a more expensive one, in fact the theatre staff encourage you to do so. The shows I have seen have not been the latest shows but ones that have been running for a while. It is harder to get tickets for the newest shows. However, I have paid far less for my tickets in London than I have paid for ones on New York' Broadway, in spite of the poor dollar exchange rate

http://www.londontown.com/

Step 11: The London Walks - I Thoroughly Recommend Them

If you have time, go on at least one of the London Walks. There are plenty to choose from and I am sure you will find one that suits your taste. I have been on the Jack the Ripper Walk, the Christopher Wren churches walk, and a great pub walk. These walks take place daily, come rain and shine and are very inexpensive. The leaders of the walk are usually actors in real life and very very good. Although I consider myself a "Londoner", I have learnt so many new and interesting things that I wouldn't have believed possible on a "walk".

A new walk adding recently is called the Da Vinci Code walk, and this is one I plan to take on my next visit at the end of this year.

http://www.walks.com

Step 12: Traveling Light and Make Room for Souvenirs.

When traveling, it is always important to travel light. As I usually travel in the fall or early winter I need warmish clothes. Therefore, I travel in a skirt, blouse, sweater and have a warm winter coat, hat scarf and gloves as well as the usual underwear. One suitcase (one of those on wheels that turn every which way)and one carry on bag is enough. In my suitcase, along with toiletries, I will pack underwear, another skirt and 4 or 5 blouses, plus an extra pair of shoes. As the dollar is very weak against the pound, it is better to take your own shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc. with you, so you don't have to buy them over there, thus wasting your spending money when you can be buying lots of really "useful" souvenirs. Best places to find the cheapest "flag-infested" items are around Trafalgar Square and along Oxford Street.

Of course, camera is essential as there are wonderful photo opportunities.

Step 13: No Needles or Pins Allowed!

Remember when you are traveling by air, any cosmetics, or liquids in your hand luggage have to be placed in a clear plastic bag so that airport security can check the contents. Also scissors, sharp knitting needles, pins, knives, cigarette lighters, etc. are a definite no-no for carrying on, These can be placed in the suitcase destined for the hold of the aircraft, except the cigarette lighter, which you may not take at all. Cigarette lighters are a low grade fire hazard. Last time at Heathrow airport airline personnel were handing out these plastic bags if you didn't have one.

The TSA provides a complete list of things you cannot take with you and you can check this out on their website quite easily.

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm#1

Step 14: Have a Great Trip !

Finally do not make silly jokes about having bombs in your luggage etc. to airport staff. They will not see the funny side of this, and you could end up being arrested! (true) In spite of this warning, enjoy your trip and have a great time. If you are over 18, don't forget to drink my health in one of the many wonderful London pubs!

Step 15: Of Course, When You Have Been Away...........

It's always nice to come home. Welcome back!

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    84 Discussions

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    lfors1

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I have been through your smartphone booking tickets, hotels, travel. Now a traveler without this gadget does not do. Example, the application

    http://www.carrentalsmarket.com/android/

    allows you to rent a car in any city in the country. Very comfortable.

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    ber3gf

    6 years ago on Step 14

    Thank you. I have some friends in London and now I am planning a travel, i live in colombian Coast,(a paradise for me) see you.

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    mrfusi0n

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm very happy to see this guide, I just wish I had seen it sooner. I'm currently near the end of a three week stay in London for business (after which I'll be returning to Maine). Since I've been staying in a hotel near St. Paul's Cathedral, I've spent quite a few hours wandering around various places via the tube and buses but also quite a bit in this area. If you're up for a good 2 or 3 mile walk, I would highly recommend the following route: 1) Start from and check out St. Paul's Cathedral (or follow this list in reverse). 2) Head south and cross the the Millennium Bridge. 3) If you like modern art, check out the Tate Gallery of Modern Art at the south end of the bridge. 4) Head east (and a little south) to Borough Market for amazing variety of food, wine, cheese, fruit, etc. 5) Now go north east to the Thames river and follow the walking path at the river's edge east. 6) This walking path will take you to the WWII ship HMS Belfast. A little further is city hall. I don't know if there's much to do there but I was lucky enough to find a free theater performance going on out front. 7) Slightly farther east you will find the Tower Bridge. I'm sure you would have noticed this back at step 5. 8) Cross the Tower Bridge back to the north side of the river 9) When you reach the north end of the bridge, you can check out the Tower of London which will be on your left (north west). 10) Extra step. If you want to make this a complete circuit, you can head north west to the Bank of England on your way back to St. Paul's. That's it! Lots to see and experience in just a 2 or 3 miles walk, if of course, you don't mind all the walking!

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    ratgod

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice pics, but northern England is much cleaner and nicer :) but then again I'm a Mancunian so I would be a little biased on the subject :)

    My mum come from London though so we visited a lot.

    Did you see the H.M.S Belfast while you were there?

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    randomhand

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Londons Hidden Gem - The Cheshire Cheese
    parts of it from the 13th centuary, rebuilt after the great fire(1666). renound drinking hole of Dr Samuel Johnson - genuine living history, perfect beer and Ludicrously cheep price £1.90 a pint.

    Its in the middle of fleet street hidden around the corner of the banking district and not far from st pauls.

    http://www.pubs.com/main_site/pub_details.php?pub_id=154#

    its my favorite pub. :)

    1 reply
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    gareth99

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Hi.

    I have always booked my Airport Taxi with Hummingbird Cars as they are a Licensed Private hire London Airport Taxi company. They provide Taxi services from and to all London Airports Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City Airports. They have very good fleet of cars and also very experienced and well mannered drivers . They also provide 5 % discount on all return journeys.
    http://www.hummingbirdcars.com

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    SkinnE

    8 years ago on Step 6

    The traffic being on the left means that usually, you need to look to your right to check for any immediate threats when crossing.  Helpfully, most cities now paint instrucitons on the tarmac at crossings indicating which direction to look for traffic. 

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    SkinnE

    8 years ago on Step 4

    No, the steering wheel is on the "right" side, just look.  See, right side.  :p  It was a British car after all... 


    Nice 'ible,

    E

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    stinkymumlemonie

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You are right. I never thought of that. The trains drove me mad, with all the special rules and regs on buying cheap tickets. Luckily I had purchased my rail card before I went which saved me mega bucks and I could travel any time on any train.

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    F1X0R

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Wow I see a lot of people are bad mouthing london. Great! go away, we don't want you here. I might (as I have a lot of time off) make an instructable on getting around and places to visit in London, from a Londoners point of view. Some of the great places that you don't see in the tourist travel guide. With regards to photography on the tube. I have a few nice pictures of my friends and I standing on a platform at Temple station, and Angel Islington station. The met or city of london police may get a bit picky if you've got a big DSLR and are taking a lot of photos, but I've never been stopped. They can not make you delete your photos, remember that, some officers (tend to be new) have in the past tried to (with varying success) tried to make people Delete photos. You are no longer permited to smoke in any enclosed public space any more, though it will be marked with a nice big no smoking sign, makes my day better anyway. My biggest tip is, don't drive, london is very busy, so you won't get far, try to avoid traveling in rush hour, Buses, trains, Tube trains, DLR services, they all get packed out. Buy a 1 day (or I think you can buy 3 and 7 day ones too) that give you access for that day to all the above services. and the one day one is GBP 7 so about $13 or so for an adult and 2 pounds for a child under 16, just don't make my friends mistake and carry your driving license and then buy a child ticket! London is great really, Huge cultural melting pot, there are a lot of people from very different backgrounds here. Very modern, and old buildings, a lot of interesting history, most museums are free or have a very nominal entry fee, the Natural history museum and Science Museum are both pretty great and free.

    5 replies
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    stinkymumF1X0R

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I agree about not driving in London. Beware the "dreaded Congestion Charing Zone" My husband and I got caught entering it a few years ago when it was fairly new - we had never heard of it, and the car rental place didn't warn us! However we fought the fines imposed and won! We just paid the basic fee, which was fine with us.

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    F1X0Rstinkymum

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You want to ask the locals that have to deal with it everyday (and don't forget its bigger with the western extension, but that may be scrapped) and well, the replies would only be aired after the watershed. My Dad when traveling into it nearly got a fine because the guy that printed up the original "pass" got his number plate wrong by one digit. They did let him off though. It is something that is very unpopular with everyone in London. Given the motorist has to pay Road fund license anyway. /rant But try to avoid actually driving, partially if you are not used to driving on the left. In other words it may take some time to get used to a car where everything is the right way around!

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    thinkerstinkymum

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    londons new mayor has delared it his mission to get rid of the bendy busses, so you shouldnt have to see them for too long +

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    F1X0Rthinker

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah Boris Johnson says a lot of things. He said he'd bring back routemasters, so they were wheelchair friendly (they were scrapped because it is hard for them to be used by wheelchair users) and make them hybrid powered, now after he gets into office "That might be too expensive" which roughly translates as, ain't gonna happen.