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:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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
• 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.