Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

May 16th, 2008
London Bound: Insiders’ Advice

Since the first trip I can remember (The Big Island, Hawaii) I have craved more. With every picture my grandparents show me of Morocco, with every story my friends tell me about Barcelona, with every article I read about Tokyo–I crave more. Last year I decided to feed my craving. I researched destinations and tour groups and finally chose a Contiki trip: a month across Europe.

Before I meet with my tour group members, I will be traveling solo in London. In preparation I’ve read tons of travel guides, and well, the information is getting slightly repetitive. Of course I love reading about the main tourist attractions, but I want to know more. I want to know the tricks that will enhance each experience. So thanks to my family, friends and divas here’s some insider advice:

Transportation
• Pedestrians have the right-of-way, right? Not in London. Cars do. So look left, right and repeat before crossing the street.
• Know your lingo: In London the subway system is called the Underground or the Tube. You can’t ride the Subway there; you walk it. A Subway sign indicates a pedestrian tunnel that goes under a busy street.
• Study the underground map in advance. Reduce your stress.
• Bring antibacterial lotion for all that public transportation you’ll take.
• Ride a double decker bus. You’ll see all of London’s main attractions in a couple hours. Plus, you can hop on and off whenever you want.
• Traffic often slows to a crawl so don’t take a bus or taxi if you want to get anywhere in a hurry. Stick to the Tube for faster transportation.

Clothes
• The weather is chilly and often rainy in London year round. Dress in layers to keep warm while sightseeing and/or shopping and to strip off while grabbing a bite to eat in a cozy restaurant.
• Londoners are fashionable. Period. Do your best to be comfortable, but you may want to leave that fanny pack behind.
• Smoking is allowed in pubs and restaurants so bring fabric softener sheets or fabric spray to freshen up your clothes between washings.

Theater
London’s theater scene is huge. Book theater tickets before you depart.
• Diva Tracy recommends seeing a show in the West end. Buy tickets the morning of or the day before for a huge discount. Don’t think you have to wait in the absurd TKTS line; the vendors selling the shows around the square have the same tickets at the same or similar discount with no 3-4 hour wait.

Things to Do
• Afternoon tea is a London tradition. Enjoy it at the Ritz or the Savoy. Make sure to dress appropriately (i.e. leave the jeans and sneakers in your bag).
• Most overrated attraction: The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Yawn.
• The most comprehensive list of events in the London arts scene can be found in Time Out, a weekly magazine available at most newsstands and bookstores.
The London Eye: It’s best if you buy your tickets ahead of time online. Pick the date and time you want to go, then pick up your ticket at the Eye. It’s an amazing view and worth the cost. Cool tip: Time your trip so that it is daylight when you go up and dusk when you come down. You’ll get to see the lights of parliament at night from above.
• One of the great things about London is that all of the museums are free. Browse the British Museum and the National Gallery. They both have amazing collections.
• Stroll the beautiful parks. Have a picnic. Relax. Hyde Park is wonderful, especially on Saturdays. It’s also great to walk through St James Park and Green Park to Buckingham Palace.
• If you’d like to meet people, join a tour with other travelers (since Londoners tend to be more reserved). There are several walking tours, such as Jack the Ripper’s grounds, Buckingham Palace or the Thames River.
Westminster Abbey: The garden is beautiful and amazingly quiet considering the noise that surrounds the area. It’s a great place to catch up on some reading

Food
• Forget the diet. Dine on the local pub grub. Enjoy the fish and chips, meat pies and beer.
• Dine on the freshly baked goods too. Diva Amelia says, Pret a Manger is a bakery/cafe chain and I’m sure they have locations everywhere. I ate at one in Trafalgar Square and the chocolate croissant changed my life. It was so yummy.
• Several of London’s museums and sights have extremely good cafeterias or restaurants on the premises so you don’t have to leave them at lunchtime.
• You can find authentic cuisine all over London. Love spice? Eat real Indian food off the TootingBec stop (Underground).

Words of Wisdom
• Before you depart, refresh your History 101 knowledge. Historic sites are around every corner in London.
• Watch out for pick pocketers! Keep important documents and money in a moneybelt or neck wallet. And keep your bags in front of you.
• Don’t try to do it all in one trip. Diva Tracy says, The best advice I got about traveling was to plan the little time I have with the thought that I will return. Making the most doesn’t mean going to every sight but seeing nothing.

5 thoughts on “London Bound: Insiders’ Advice

  1. Another thing I would do is visit the flea markets. They are really great and are visited by locals and visitors alike.

    My favorite is Notting Hill — Portobello Market (Tube: Notting Hill Gate) a magnet for collectors of virtually everything. It’s mainly a Saturday happening, from 6am to 5pm. You needn’t be here at the crack of dawn; 9am is fine. Once known mainly for fruit and vegetables (still sold here throughout the week), in the past 4 decades Portobello has become synonymous with antiques. But don’t take the stallholder’s word for it that the fiddle he’s holding is a genuine Stradivarius left to him by his Italian great-uncle; it might just as well have been “nicked” from an East End pawnshop.

    The market is divided into three major sections. The most crowded is the antiques section, running between Colville Road and Chepstow Villas to the south. (Warning: There’s a great concentration of pickpockets in this area.) The second section (and the oldest part) is the “fruit and veg” market, lying between Westway and Colville Road. In the third and final section is a flea market, where Londoners sell bric-a-brac and lots of secondhand goods they didn’t really want in the first place. But looking around still makes for interesting fun.

    Note: Some 90 antiques and art shops along Portobello Road are open during the week when the street market is closed. This is actually a better time for the serious collector to shop because you’ll get more attention from dealers, and you won’t be distracted by the organ grinder.

    Another great market is The West End — Covent Garden Market (Tube: Covent Garden), the most famous market in all of England, offers several markets Monday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm (we think it’s most fun to come on Sun 11am-6pm). It can be a little confusing until you dive in and explore. Apple Market is the bustling market in the courtyard, where traders sell — well, everything. Many of the items are what the English call collectible nostalgia: a wide array of glassware and ceramics, leather goods, toys, clothes, hats, and jewelry. Some of the merchandise is truly unusual. Many items are handmade, with some of the craftspeople selling their own wares — except on Monday, when antiques dealers take over. Some goods are new, some are very old. Out back is Jubilee Market (tel. 020/7836-2139), also an antiques market on Monday. Tuesday to Sunday, it’s sort of a fancy hippie market with cheap clothes and books. Out front there are a few tents of cheap stuff, except on Monday.

    The indoor market section of Covent Garden Market (in a superbly restored hall) is one of the best shopping venues in London. Specialty shops sell fashions and herbs, gifts and toys, books and dollhouses, cigars, and much more. There are bookshops and branches of famous stores (Hamleys, The Body Shop), and prices are kept moderate.

    Just a couple of suggestions.

  2. Hi there,

    A few updates for this if anyone is headed to London

    1. Smoking is now no longer allowed in pubs and restaurants. If you are a smoker never fear there are lots of heat lamps outside and a thriving smokers culture outside establishments
    2. For transportation, bus or tube, buy an Oyster card. they are available at most little corner shops and in tube stations. they let you load money and pay as you go while giving you a significant discount. cards are 3 pounds but the cash can be reclaimed when you leave. Also dont stress about anti-bacterial lotion, I lived there for three years and don’t see the point.
    3. If you want authentic markets, not just the touristy ones check out: Ridley Rd, Colombia Rd flower market and Brick Lanes’ Sunday UP market.
    4. Spend time in East London and Hackney, these are the best areas for arty, trendy stuff to do
    5. Take the bus, its much cheaper and gives you a much better feel for the city
    6. Camden passage is a great place for antiques and is hidden away behind Angel tube station so is a bit off the beaten tourist path
    7. Drink ale.
    8. Avoid Oxford St like the plague

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