London is probably one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Even though one of the most expensive, and recently plagued by one too many terrorist attacks, it’s still a top destination. It might have to do with the historical touristic attractions, the culturally rich background or the hip vibe of “must-see” restaurants, cafes and markets. Whatever your interest, there’s lots to do and see in the UK capital.
London has long been on my list of places to visit. Having majored in English language and literature in high school, I’ve always been fascinated by England. So it only made sense that I had to start with London. Only I didn’t! My first contact with UK was visiting a small town, a few kilometers away from London. It’s called Horsham and I’ll write more about it soon, but for now – London! Here’s what you must know when planning a trip there:
1. Plan in advance
It’s already a cliche, but you really should plan your trip in advance. A plane ticket bought some months in advance (from Romania) could be snatched for only 10 Euros. One bought 2 weeks before the trip won’t be less than 250 Euros and up to 500. So make sure to check well before you plan to leave and don’t overlook the low-cost companies such as Ryanair and Wizzair.
2. Check all available routes
This one is closely related to the previous point. Take into consideration that you have several airports to chose from. That means you should choose the one with the lowest fare for the airplane tickets, but also closest to your accommodation or with the best transfer options (think subway, bus, and trams). Why drag your luggage for hours through public transportation when you could get settled sooner and start exploring the city?
3. Accommodation can make a huge difference
We didn’t have a very accurate image of how huge London actually is when we chose our accommodation. So we focused on price and quality. Of course, we made sure to be somehow close to the center, but in retrospect, we could have been closer. We used Airbnb and rented the attic of a lovely house in Brixton. There are a lot of buses that will take you wherever you need, but that would always mean up to an hour or more spent on the bus, which for our 3 days spent in London is a lot! Next time I will spend the extra cash to be closer to all the popular landmarks which we didn’t get a chance to see.
4. Pack for a moody weather
Londo rain is proverbial and that’s what we actually expected in April. However, we had 3 full days of sunshine and warm weather with only one day of showers rather than rain. So make sure to pack for all options and dress in layers so you can always take something off or add if it gets chilly. Leave room for some shopping, as you don’t want to miss Oxford Street and don’t forget your umbrella!
5. Cash or Visa?
I usually like to have cash on hand when traveling abroad, so that meant making sure to exchange some money before leaving as in Britain you can only pay with pounds (which are kind of tricky to find in Romania when you need to exchange). However paying with your card won’t be a problem at all! Even in transportation means you can pay just by swiping your card once, so whatever you prefer, works.
6. It’s expensive
This is another cliche, but prices are quite high in London. Meals will never go under 10 pounds (11,3 Euro) and that means street food or supermarket. Transportation and souvenirs are also pretty expensive, but I guess that’s to be expected. For example, I spent close to 35 pounds on transportation in 4 days, which is a lot, and I have no clue how much Ubers and taxis are, but I imagine more. So come prepared, especially if you plan to shop or visit a lot of the attractions for which you have to pay.
7. 2 for 1 Tickets at main attractions
Thanks to Mihai Jurca’s travel blog I found out about this cool website Days Out Guide. If you travel by train, you can use the train tickets to get 2 tickets for 1 at over 150 touristic attractions. The catch is that it has to be a train ticket bought on the same day you want to use it. We used it when we visited Kew Gardens because you can also get there by train, for almost the same price as if you traveled by subway. It saved us 16 pounds and in can save you more if you have a big list of things to visit.
8. Plan what you want to see
We had such a huge list of things we wanted to see: the Botanical Garden, museums, parks, restaurants, markets and what not. In 3 days we barely got to check 4 or 5 things off the list, admittedly we were not very well organized and kind of lazy because of a very unfortunate flu. So, make sure to make a list of what you want to see, check out best routes to incorporate as much as you can and make a top of things you don’t want to miss. Start with those and work your way through your list. For us at the top of the list were Kew Gardens (more on that soon, as it was the highlight of our trip), the MaE Deli, Borough Market and Oxford Street. Not the best list to start with, I admit, but next time it will be much better!
9. British food is not what you’ve heard
You must have heard a lot of people complaining about British food. Well, I think they’re either lying or didn’t know what to eat. There wasn’t a single dish I didn’t like both in Horsham and London. Actually, I had the best meal in my whole life there! A life changing korma chicken with almond and coconut. I’ll come back with more on my culinary adventures in the UK, but don’t be afraid to try. Go for the curries and the street food, as for fine dining, there are countless options where you can tickle your taste buds.
10. Museums and touristic attractions
In the UK most museums are free to visit. So when going in London for the first time there’s no point in paying to visit anything, especially if you’re on a budget. That’s unless one of the attractions for which you have to pay is on your must-see list. Otherwise, I would first check off the list the many free museums such as British Museum, Natural History Musem. Museum of London, Tate Modern, and many others. Check out a list here.
As after any trip I came back with a list of regrets. I could have seen more, I should have walked more and wake up earlier and buy more souvenirs, etc. There’s always a next time! So while you should plan in advance to optimize your time and budget, don’t ruin your vacation running around like a maniac. Take it all in, enjoy the culture, the sights and the people and be sure next time you’ll be better prepared.