Even if you're a seasoned traveller, every city is a little different. As you start to plan your trip to London, these are a few things you should keep in mind.
DO put some thought into the time of day you’ll arrive in London. If you arrive late in the day, you’ll be paying for a night in the hotel without having had a day of fun to go with it. Of course, if you arrive early in the day, you’ll probably have flown all night and might end up a walking zombie if you didn’t sleep on the plane. There’s no right answer that applies to everyone, but there’s probably a right answer for you.
DON’T worry about renting a car. In London, there is simply no need. Finding your way around London’s maze of roads (not to mention places to park) from behind the driver’s wheel is a headache that you don’t need. The Underground and city buses should take care of most of your transportation needs, but the traditional Black Taxi is also a great way to travel. Most taxis are owned by their drivers who can also serve as excellent tour guides. Tips of roughly 10% of the fare will be greatly appreciated.
DO choose the location of your hotel with care. For most of us, budget is the primary concern, but the next most important should be proximity to transportation links. In London, the Underground (Tube) is quite simply the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to get around. Find a hotel within a block or two of an Underground station. This will save you time on every excursion and help make better use of your hotel room. Having convenient access to your home base will allow you to drop things off or freshen up at any point during the day or night.
DON’T plan to have breakfast at your hotel every day. You’ll be missing some fantastic options not to mention the chance to absorb a little more of the local culture. Whether you want the Full English (typically eggs, bacon, sausage, toast or fried, tomatoes and either baked beans, mushrooms or black pudding), coffee and a pastry or just a glass of juice with toast, chances are, you’ll find it reasonably priced within a few blocks of your hotel.
DO alert your bank and credit card companies that you’ll be traveling. Most card issuers monitor their cardholder’s transactions and will temporarily suspend accounts if they notice unusual activity (such as cards being used in other countries). To avoid potential headaches, just call your card issuers and let them know about your travel plans. They will place a note on your account and you’ll be good to go.
DON’T bother with travelers’ checks or changing money at the airport. You won’t be able to use the checks everywhere and the money changers charge extra fees. Instead, bring your debit card and withdraw cash as you need it. If your card has a VISA or MasterCard logo, most “cash points” (ATMs) in London will work. Some banks will charge a nominal fee (and your bank might as well), but it’s less you'd be paying the money changers and you’ll get the best daily exchange rate automatically. Just be mindful that your debit card may have a daily withdrawal limit (varies by account). Remember, that limit is in your home currency and a “day” is probably defined by your home time zone.
DO bring an extra (empty) duffle bag in your luggage. Chances are, you’ll buy some things during your trip and you’ll be thankful for the extra space when packing for your return. You should, however, keep in mind that many airlines will charge fees for extra checked bags. That said, those fees are usually less than it would cost to ship things home yourself. Most airlines will allow a single “shopping bag” in addition to your other carry-ons. This is a great way to ensure that anything breakable doesn't.
DON’T over-pack. There’s nothing you’ll regret more than lugging more than you need around on the journey to and from the airport. Remember, “just in case” means that you don’t need it. London has plenty of shops and you can always buy what you don’t bring in the event of an emergency. That said, even light-packers will appreciate the free carts at Heathrow. You’ll find them in the arrivals area and near the Underground station. Don't be shy about using one - despite moving sidewalks, when you're carrying luggage, it feels like a long walk between the airport terminal and Underground station.
DO plan to use the restroom at Heathrow Airport before getting into line for immigration. It’s a great place to freshen up after your flight and it may be a while before your next opportunity....
DON’T waste your money on a taxi from Heathrow into central London. The Underground travels to and from the airport and will cost you around £5 as opposed to around £50 for the taxi. Just look for the guiding signs overhead in the terminal. That said, be mindful of your arrival and departure times. If you get into Heathrow before 9:00 AM during the week, chances are your train will become VERY crowded on the journey into central London. Likewise, if you are departing very early or late (especially on the weekend) the trains may be out of service.
More London Travel Tips
London is a cosmopolitan city and there exists a fine harmony between the Third and First worlds. It is a city of contrasts, of chauffeurs and beggars and the working class and the avant-garde. The city is huge as it is unplanned. But therein lies the charm of London. For a first time visitor who embarks on a city tour of London, he or she won't know where the hell one is going, but at least the names will look reassuringly familiar.
Useful Tips for Traveling London
• The best time to visit London is from April to September.
• Londoners are reserved in manners, dress and speech.
• Londoners are conservative and stick to their traditions.
• They are polite and very disciplined.
• Londoners have a great sense of humor.
• Britain's national pastime is to agonize over the weather.
• Keep yourself abreast with latest updates on airfares and look far promotional fares offered by airlines.
• Be loyal to one airline for the entire trip to receive a round-trip discounted fare.
• Say please and thank you whenever appropriate.
• Never ask personal or intimate questions.
• Never call England "quaint".
• Never greet people with a kiss if you have never met him/her before.
• Never discuss politics or religion in Public.
• In London, accommodation will be your most expensive item.
• Try to coincide your visit to London during special events, particularly during the following events:
o Oxford/Cambridge University Boat Race on River Thames is held late in March.
The FA Cup takes place in May.
o Wimbledon in late June.
o Henley Royal Regatta also in June.
o The Chelsea Flower Show in May.
o The Trooping of the color pageantry in mid-June.
o Glastonbury Music Festival in June.
o Notting Hill carnival in late August
London is regarded by many as an expensive city for tourists. But please bear in mind the fact that entry to all of London museums and art galleries like Tate Modern and National gallery are absolutely free with no strings attached.
• If sight seeing is your agenda, without any hesitation go grab that London Pass or even the Heritage Pass, which provides you access to more than 600 historic monuments and gardens.
And, of course, DO have a great trip!
More travel tips for the tourist in London - click here