A Tourist in London
My last posting was about the logistics of London, but what about the sites and things to do while visiting London? That’s easy and hard at the same time. There is never a shortage of things to do and places to see, but how to decide can be one of the hardest parts of your entire trip.
London is a large city and the tourist sites are spread all across it. It can take some serious planning to fit in a large number of sites during your visit. You really can’t go wrong with London, as there is so much to do and see. Most all want to see the notable sites and buy souvenirs to remember their trip to the biggest city in the UK.
Since most visitors usually stay less than two weeks when on holiday it can cut down what you do while in town. Not to mention the cost of doing everything can add up very fast. So how do you make the most of your time and stay within a budget?
Tips to avoid time-consuming mistakes
First, make a list of the places you want to visit, the ones you dream about. Most likely some of those places will be Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral just to start with. Those are some of the main tourist sites and you can do all of those in 2-3 days time. From my experience, I can tell you there will be many other places you will want to visit, especially if you are a big fan of British films and TV series. If you don’t plan ahead you will find yourself trying to squeeze it all in once you get to London and that will lead to a stressful visit that can dampen your experience.
Don’t do that, have a plan instead. If you are at all like me, you may dread making lots of plans. You may prefer to just wing it and see where you end up. Well, there is hope for those of us too!
Start with Rick Steves and Visit Britain
I suggest you look through tourist sites like Rick Steves (my Seattle guru on European travel) or Visit Britain, the official travel site of the UK. This is what they specialize in. They can help by giving tips and other ideas of places to visit while in town. You can also order trip items from both sites. Items like city maps that have tourist attractions listed pinpointed on them, travel cards (prepaid subway and bus passes, very convenient to have as you arrive to the airport), schedule tours, and purchase a London Pass to get into most of the main attractions around London and discounts at many places.
Let’s talk about the London Pass
The London Pass comes in options of 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 days of use. You are allotted a specific amount in British pounds that you can use for attractions per day of your pass. This means you can visit as many attractions on their list in a day up to the amount, once you reach that limit you can’t see any other attractions using the pass until your next day.
You also have to use your pass in consecutive days, meaning if you start using your pass on Monday and you have a 3 day pass, you will be able to use the pass on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday it will have expired and you will no longer be able to use it. So plan your visits in consecutive days and be prepared to be exhausted by the end of your pass because you will be doing a lot of walking, climbing and catching tubes and buses to get around.
Most museums around London are free, so you can count on saving some money visiting them. Make the time and effort to visit as many of them as you can. There is so much history that you really shouldn’t miss. Also take your camera everywhere and take your patience, there will be many people and lots of lines.
Skip the line at many attractions
Another good thing about the London Pass, there are some attractions where you can skip the long lines. How it works is that you present your pass at each attraction and gain admittance. This is usually done by going to the line for prepaid tickets instead of standing in the line to purchase tickets. There is a list of attractions that you can use the pass for. My suggestion, try to plan your days in one area of town and do the attractions in that part of town so you aren’t spending all of your time traveling to each location over long distances.
Make sure that the pass is also worth the money you are spending for it. Check the prices of the places you want to visit then see if you are going to make the most of the city pass or if you will do better off paying in person instead of buying the pass. If you are only going to visit a few places it may not be worth it for you to buy the pass. You can either purchase your London Pass online or in person and you can often get the London Pass with a discount on the Visit Britain site. Then you just pick up your passes once you get to London.
The pick up point is just north of Trafalgar Square on the back side of the National Gallery Museum. See the building in the picture below with the dome style roof? Enter that building and go down the spiral staircase into the basement to pick up your pass.
What about local transportation?
If you are planning on staying in London for your entire trip and doing a lot of wandering about town I highly suggest that you look into purchasing a Oyster card. It’s a prepaid pass to ride the Underground (subway), city buses and some of the other above ground trains in the city. If you purchase a London Pass, you can have that included with your package.
As a visitor you can pre-purchase an Oyster travelcard before you even go to London, you just need to make sure you know the exact dates or range you will be using the travel card, what zones you want to travel in and if you will be up early in the morning on the tube or bus to make sure to get a peak hours travel card otherwise you will have to cough up more money to ride during peak hours. You can top up at most stations across the city.
Check the London Underground (London’s subway system) website for the tube map. It will show you the zones around the city. If you are only going to use the tube or bus a few times you can load it as you need to. It’s a prepaid card that you can recharge at anytime. You just run the card through the fare box when you want to ride.
Make sure to walk around in the city. Do some shopping, eat some great food and have a couple of pints at the local pub. You will miss the true feel of London if you just hit all of the tourist sites. It’s a great tourist city, but experience the feel of the city from the local’s view too.
Next up, what to do outside of London. A drive that is well worth it!