Visit London! - 11 Ideas Once You Get There (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Some things to keep in mind if you head across the pond.

LONDON IS A GREAT PLACE TO VISIT...THIS COULD MAKE YOUR TRIP A BIT EASIER

Millions of Americans go to London every year..maybe you're planning a trip later this year or sometime down the road.  Going in clueless can cost you time and especially money.

I'm leaving later this week for some time in England,.  I go every year and I spend most of my time staying with friends in the area where I spent part of my childhood, in the Midlands.  Here's St. John The Baptist Church in the small village of Thorpe Mandeville.  The Church dates back to the 13th century!  It's not a tourist attraction..it's still the village church!  My family lived in a house a few hundred yards from this church from 1975 to 1978.  I always go back to that area.

I always try to spend a few days in in London too. 

I'm no travel expert, but here are some things I've picked up over the years.  This could help you plan for your visit to British Capitol.  Since we're 11 news, a list of 11.

1) Take The Tube - The London Underground is an easy subway system to figure out.  It's safe and efficient.  Almost anywhere you want to go as a visitor will be within walking distance of a tube stop, or station.  BUY THE DAY PASS!  About 7 pounds will get a you a travelcard, a pass for the day that covers most of the zones on the underground.  If you buy tickets a trip at a time you'll spend nearly that for just one journey.  Don't lose the card..you'll need it every time you go in or out of a station.   Be prepared for crowds (avoid 8am to about 9:30 if you can)  If you're older or physically impaired, the stairs and escalators of the tube might not be for you.  One down side of the Tube...It closes.  Usually around midnight, sometimes I've seen it start to shut down earlier.  If you're in a popular spot, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus, and the pubs all close (usually at 11pm)..and the Tube shuts down before you get on it....you'll need a cab.  So will everyone else! It can take a long time to get one in that situation.  Find a pub in or near your hotel for that last drink of the night, and get there before the Tube closes.

2) Double-Deck It - On one of your London days opt for the big double-decker tour bus to get around.  There are two companies running them with stops all over the place.  I think it's "The Big Bus"  and "The Original Bus".  If you're at one of the marked stops it should never be more than about 15 minutes before your bus comes along.  They're staffed by colorful guides who tell you about everything you're passing by,  If something seems interesting you can just get off and check it out, then catch one of the next buses through.  Here's a secret..if it's slow, and there aren't too many people around..the price for these buses can be negotiated.  If the guy on the street quotes you 25 pounds per person for a 24 hour ticket..offer 20.  It may work.  Just be reasonable. The company supplies a map of the route with all the points of interest clearly marked. 

3) Find Hotel Bargains - Hotels are expensive in London.  Spend some time on line to get the best deal.  Hotwire.com is good...but if you want a particular chain to get the points it won't work.  Hotwire doesn't tell you the name of the hotel until you book.  I've had good luck with cheapostays.com.  I actually found a good deal on a popular chain I like to use...it was cheaper than the chain's own web site. To be on the safe side you probably want a hotel with at least 3 stars.  If a deal is dirt cheap, it's probably outside the range of the tube system.  You'll spend more money getting to and from the parts of London you want to see than you'll save on the hotel deal. 

4) Go To A Game - If you're a sports fan you've got to experience a soccer game (football match).  The biggest London teams are a tough ticket...Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham...but it's worth it if you can get tickets. On-line brokers sell them, but they're marked WAY up.  Scalpers sell outside the stadium (they call scalpers touts)...but they're also very expensive.  I think it's worth it just to experience the atmosphere that is a football match.  Try ticket offices for some of the less popular London teams, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, Crystal Palace.  People ask about violence...the English Football Association made a lot of changes in the early 90's...you see families at the matches now.  If you're careful, it's safe...only cheer for the team those around you are cheering for, etc..  You will hear lots of colorful language.  Leave the match about 1 minute early to get back on the Tube before all the others.

5) See A Show - You're in one of the greatest places in the world for live theater...take advantage.  Search on line to see what's playing. Try the theater's own box office for tickets.  You can pay by credit card and pick up the tickets right before the show.  Lots of websites claim to be giving you "discount tickets"  Try this test.  The Victoria Palace Theatre offers tickets right now for "Billy Elliot" at 60 pounds in the stalls (stalls are what we would call orchestra tickets).  Search for "Billy Elliot " tickets on one of the websites you've found for discount theater tickets. (I'm not saying go to that show, this is just the barometer for whether the site is really a bargain.)  If they're more than 60 pounds (maybe 62 or 63 with handling charges) then it's likely nothing on that site is a deal!  There are sites that do have tickets to older shows for 40 or 50% off.  Book as far ahead as you can for the best discount prices.  There are half price ticket booths in London...but I don't like the idea of wasting an hour of London time standing in a line...book ahead. 

6) Get Up And Go - You can sleep when you get home.  Last year I was in London with my father and we went to the Tower Of London right when it opened...I think 9 am.  There was no wait for tickets to get in.  It felt like we all but had the place to ourselves for a while. No wait to see the crown jewels.  We happened to pass by there at about 1 pm and there were hundreds of tourists standing in line...just for tickets to get in!

 

7) Fly Sky High  - The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel-type ride that takes you 135 meters (442 feet) into the sky over London.

    

It's a wonderful way to get an idea of just what's there.  Buy the little guide book so you know what you're seeing. 

Here's a view of the River Thames with the Houses Of Parliament on the right.  This is from part way up the giant observation wheel.

8) Get On A Boat - A river cruise is a wonderful way to see London.  You pass under Tower Bridge....and head on down all the way to Canary Wharf...which is London's financial district.  You can even get off at Greenwich (pronounced GREN-itch) to see the Prime Meridian..stand in two hemispheres at once!

Here's a views of St. Paul's Cathedral taken from a boat on the Thames (pronounced Temz)

9) Be Prepared To Spend Money - London makes a perennial appearance on the list of the world's most expensive cities.  Now, in march of 2010..the Dollar is fairly strong against the British Pound..it's about $1.52 per pound.  I've found that things in London tend to cost about the same in pounds as we'd expect to pay in dollars.  A candy bar that might cost a dollar here would cost about a pound there....or $1.52.  A pub may advertise a full meal for 10 pounds..not bad, but remember that's 15 dollars. Just be aware that almost everything will cost about 1.5 times what it would cost in the U.S.  and budget for that.  By the way, if you buy that pub meal...order at the bar. That's how it's done.  It's the same with drinks.  In general, no one will come to you and ask what you want. You go to the bar to order it.  If it's food, they will bring it to you.  When you get a drink at the bar, a tip is appreciated but it is NOT expected.

10) Go American If You Have To - You're not in London for the food.  If you have limited time, and a limited budget..it's ok once in a while to just jump in to McDonald's or Burger King for a quick meal.  They're everywhere.  Granted, US fast food is not why you went to London, but it's quick, and relatively cheap, and you know exactly what you'll get so you can be on your way and get back to what you ARE in London for.

11) Get Out Of London - Search the internet for day trip by bus (coach) that will get you out of London to see some of the rest of England.  You can take a day trip to see Stratford-Upon-Avon which is the birthplace of Shakespeare.   On that same trip you can see Warwick Castle, apparently the best-preserved medieval castle in all of Europe.   Here it is.

You'll still be back in your London hotel in time for bed.  You can take a day trip from London to see Stonehenge and Bath in the same day!  Here's the main pool from the old Roman bath house in ...well, Bath.  How's that for a day of ancient history?  On the right is the Royal Crescent in bath, started in the 1760's and considered a classic example of Georgian architecture.

           

You can also take a day trip to see the White Cliffs Of Dover..on the South Coast. Get ready for an interesting ride wherever you go...once you're off the main motorways, a road like the one below is not unusual! 

It's barely big enough for your bus...but the drivers always make it work.  They'll get you back to London after a great trip into the countryside.

So go to London...it's worth the trip.  I've barely touched on specific things to see and do in the city itself.  I'll leave you with a picture that sums up the city.  Way down in the lower right corner, the White Tower at the Tower Of London...started in about 1066.   The giant glass building in the center is the Swiss Re Tower, 41 stories, completed in 2003...modern London at its most iconic.  The British have nicknamed it "The Gherkin."  That's their word for pickle.

Maybe I'll check in once or twice on this blog while I'm gone....maybe not!

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward

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