Recently, my husband and I traveled to London for the first time. I did as much research as possible before hand so I would be familiar with the trains, travel cards, what to see and what not to see, etc. Maybe its the OCD in me, but I have to have some kind of a plan/schedule before traveling anywhere…even if the plan changes once there! I felt pretty good about what we would do while in London.
We had such a great trip to London. I think we were able to see and do everything that we had wanted to do. Looking back, I cant think of anything that we felt we missed out on or forgot about. The only thing we would do differently next time we go is to spend more time outside of London, touring the country side of England. But, we knew before going that wasn’t feasible for us this last trip.
*Read about our trip to London in my last post here: London Calling
So, here are my tips after spending a week in London. If you are going for the first time hopefully these tips will help you have a more organized and stress-free visit!
1. Know what you want, and where you are going!
Meaning, do your research before you go on the trip. And I don’t mean a quick Wikipedia read the day before. There is so much to see and do in London. A lot of things are free, but there are also a lot that cost a bit extra money. What helped me have a more stress-free visit was researching all the ‘Main Tourist Attractions’ or ‘London Must-see’s’ (there are a million blogs and websites for tourists with a long list of these attractions).
Make a list of the most important places for you to see or the places you would regret not visiting. Then, either make a secondary list of places that aren’t as important, but if you have time you might see them, or forget about the rest and just focus on your ‘Must-See’s’.
Once you have this list, see what the cost for each attraction is you plan on seeing. This should be very easy to find on almost all tourist websites. This is important to do if you are trying to budget your trip. You can purchase a London Pass which will cover entry for all the main attractions. Their website will give you a list of everything it covers. If you plan on visiting most the places it covers than its worth it and is actually cheaper in the long run that buying tickets at each place.
We opted to not buy a London Pass. For us, there were plenty of places we had to see, but wasn’t necessary for us to tour the place. The only places we paid to tour was Westminster Abbey (definitely worth it!) and the Tower of London. The Tower of London was the most expensive, and was a last minute decision for us. It was very interesting, but I think my husband enjoyed it more than I did 😉
We would have spent almost $400 on a London pass for both of us for the time we were there (that doesn’t include travel in London), but, instead we only spent a little over $100 for the sight seeing we did. Thats quite a big difference, especially budget travellers!
So, do your research and know what you want, and where you are going, before you go.
2. Oyster Card
This is a must. We arrived with high hopes of being ‘tough’ and just walking everywhere. Although we did do a lot of walking, we also had Oyster Cards. They really saved us time and money. Its a preloaded card depending on how much you want to spend (their website recommends how much to to start with for a week visit). This card allows you to use the Underground, Overground, and Busses through all of London. The convenience of being able to just hop on a bus to get us to the next location was so nice. Plus, they are very nice and comfortable busses!
*If you decide to purchase the London Pass, there is an option that includes an Oyster Card…so you don’t have to purchase them separately.
3. Make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes!
I brought comfortable walking shoes. However, one day I opted to wear a pair of boots that are really cute, and generally pretty comfortable. But…we ended up doing a lot more walking that day than we originally planned and my feet were so sore that night!
4. Forget About ‘London Bridge’
This might sound strange, but believe me, its not worth it! What is typically thought of around the world (even to some older British friends of ours) as the iconic ‘London Bridge’, is actually the Tower Bridge, located just outside the Tower of London.
The actual London Bridge is just a modern cement bridge thats not worth noting. We were very shocked when we came around the corner to the suspected London Bridge to find just a normal bridge. The plus side is that its right next to Borough Market – which is a must!
5. Borough Market
This is such a fun and bustling place. Its basically a giant food market with all kinds of vendors from cheese and wine, deli meats, and bakeries, to oysters and clams, hot soups, fresh juice, and waffles. There are so many options it can be slightly overwhelming, but worth it!
6. Don’t Eat out Every Meal
London is expensive. period. But, there are ways around spending too much money if you don’t have too. When booking your accommodation, try to find a place with access to a kitchen. Buy a few essential groceries, coffee or snacks. We had breakfast and coffee at our apartment we stayed at every morning. This didn’t keep us from buying more coffee once we were out and about – it was so cold! For lunches, usually we just bought a pre-made baguette or sandwich from a local coffee shop or cafe. We were usually on the go anyways so it worked great for us. We ate out a few nights at different pubs and even a pizza place. But, there is no need to eat at a pub every night. We had a few nights where we just made a simple dinner back at the apartment.
7. Taxi’s are Expensive
If you have an Oyster Card, there most likely wont be any need for a taxi or Uber. But, on the rare chance you might need one, just be aware they are expensive. Its important to note as well that the taxi’s in London are cash only, and don’t allow food or drink in them. We found this out the hard way. Coming back from our friends wedding late at night a taxi was the only option. We barely had enough cash. The reception was serving midnight hor’devours and we had just grabbed a few to snack on when the taxi arrived. As we were getting in his car he had to tell us we cant bring food with us. It was kind of awkward. However, after a rough introduction with the taxi, it was a very pleasant drive and we had a great conversation with the driver 🙂
Those are my basic travel tips for first-time Londoners! This is only based on our personal trip and what worked best for us. Everyone’s travel needs and expectations are different but hopefully this can help a bit!