London Bound? We have some tips you need to have the best experience ever!
We love London at any time of the year. But after a few trips, we have some tips you might not find in the travel guides.
We know that you already have a list of sites to see. Big Ben, The Tower of London, even the Queen herself. But what you might not know is that July in the summer is HOT and SWEATY! Or that it's cheaper to take an Uber than one of those adorable black taxi cabs.
London is enormous! The city and boroughs are vast, so seeing it all quickly can be tricky. We suggest staying close, but out of the central city. We LOVE Islington because it's adorable, has great food, and it isn't as expensive as staying closer to the tourist areas.
This city is always busy, but during the holidays it can be crazy, crowded, and expensive. Plan your trip accordingly.
Budget yourself for a great trip
Every adventure calls for specific items to make sure you are prepared and not left searching for a replacement. While shopping in London is easy, it is also expensive. Take advantage of seeing the free stuff like the museums and looking at the historical buildings. We like to stay in hotels with free breakfasts, pack a lunch in our backpacks and enjoy a nice dinner. Enjoying one fancy meal, like giving Padella in the Borough Market a try, is worth sticking to the budget.
Don't skip the fresh pasta made daily. Padella is worth the wait. There is usually a long line that wraps around the building, but it's a wonderful experience and worth every minute!
Passports and Backups
Before you can head to London, you must have a current passport. That part is pretty easy to remember. But did you know that you should also have printed copies of your passport and credit cards? I suggest making copies and keeping one in your carry-on bag and even another in your checked bag, just in case you happen to leave or lose your carry on somewhere.
Prepare for Rain
Layers and a raincoat are a must in London. But I suggest leaving your umbrella home. The sidewalks are busy, and everything moves very quickly. Fussing with an umbrella just isn’t acceptable. Instead opt for a cute hat, a scarf, and warm layers that you can immediately take off once you are down in the underground where the heat is high and sometimes uncomfortable in a heavy coat.
The weather can change rapidly, and you want to be comfortable. I love having a light shirt, cardigan, and a warm outdoor vest for most days. If it is cold and windy, grab a scarf and hat, and you are good to go.
Think about power plugs before you leave home
Don’t forget your phone charger, watch charger, laptop/iPad charger and don’t forget that British plugs are different so you will need multiple plug adapters and converters. You don’t want to get there and not have the ability to charge your tech gear. I also suggest bringing an extra backup charger for your phone. On my last trip to London, my phone charger went bad and thankfully my husband had an extra for me. Check before you go if your hotel has hairdryers. Most places we have stayed had them in the room or available at the desk.
Wear walking shoes
Don’t be a slave to fashion when heading to London. It is a walking town, and sometimes you will be walking for miles. Wear comfortable walking shoes. You don’t want to suffer from blisters and still be walking miles each day. Don’t forget good socks that won’t slide down. Pack extra socks, sometimes in the rain, we had to change our socks, and you don’t want to be down a pair at the end. Bandaids and moleskin are a must if you are thinking of wearing cute shoes. Feet swell and your shoes fit differently in new places. Don’t be left hopping along with uncomfortable shoes.
Get an Oyster Card
Save time and money, get the Oyster card when you first arrive. It's a free card, with a small refundable deposit and you can get them at any Tube Station. You load it up with a given amount and off you go. Then the fare is discounted and you will also have a maximum daily capped amount, anything after that is free! We love having the ability to hop on and off without the fuss. Then it's a breeze to get from the National Gallery to the Borough Market!
Insider Tip: Get to the market early and take snacks back for the next day. The market is all about food and a great experience. But for the best coffee head across the street to Mousetail Coffee!
Avoid the Hop-On-Hop Off bus. They are expensive and you will often have to wait a long time for them or a seat. During the summer, they get stuck in traffic and do not offer air conditioning. We gave it a try once, and never again. We hoped to get a great tour with lots of city info. I was tired from all of the walking and couldn't keep up with the group. But getting stuck in traffic was pretty terrible. So I suggest picking an area, taking an Uber and walking around or using the tubes.
Bring your own shopping bag
We also like to bring a reusable shopping bag. They can be folded tightly in your suitcase and pulled out when you are ready to go for those souvenirs and extras that didn’t make the suitcase. On my last trip we realized we had lots of snacks leftovers and were great for the flight home, we tossed them in our shopping bag, and they didn’t count towards our bag total in the airport. Also, Heathrow has so many great shops to choose from that we picked up treats for friends and family and tossed them in our bag. We also used our bag during the week for groceries and things we purchased along the way.
Tipping Isn't A Must – but it is appreciated.
Most Londerers don't tip servers or even the cabs. But if you must, 10 percent is plenty or simply round up to the nearest pound.
The WiFi in London is the worst!
But you can use the city wifi, and most Starbucks still have decent service. However, don't rely on your phone for directions since the wifi is spotty. One night we walked in circles in the middle of the night trying to find our way back to the hotel with our GPS. Not a good situation!
London is a great town with a lot to experience.