How to Visit London by A Former Tourist who Still Gets WAY too Excited about Where She Lives.
We have 5 airports “in” London; Luton, Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow, and London City. Luton, Stansted and Gatwick often have the cheapest flights but they are NOT that near to London! They will have a (40minute) train ride to get to the city, which could run to around £16-20 each way. Heathrow and London City are both on the public transport system in London so will only cost around £2.90 off peak or £4.90 during rush hour each way to get to the city centre from the airport.
I would highly recommend staying close to the centre of the city. Our public transport system (particularly trains and tubes) completely shuts down by 12:30-1 at night (even on weekends) and night buses are a bit tricky, but if you stay anywhere in “zone 1” you’ll be able to walk/cab it really quickly and easily. If you have a look at this tube map, the centre bit with the 1 is zone one. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/standard-tube-map.pdf
Hotels are not too expensive (lastminute.com is a good place to look), but if you’re not fussy about where you stay I’d recommend one of the YHA hostels. There are two I’ve stayed in before I lived here, and the King’s Cross one is REALLY good. http://www.yha.org.uk/places-to-stay/london
For transport a lot of stuff you’ll want to see/do is walkable but I’d recommend either buying a zone 1 travelcard each morning (£7 if you go after 9:30) which gives you unlimited travel in zone 1- all trains, tubes, buses, as many times as you want. The other option is an Oystercard, which is a smart card you could put around £10-15 on and it is pay-as-you go travel. Oyster cards are really good value for money. It automatically stops charging you when you hit the price of a daily travel card. DO NOT EVER buy a paper ticket for a single journey. A single journey in zone 1 costs £4 if you buy it individually as one ticket, but on an oyster card it’s around £1.70.
It is – quite a bit – more expensive to travel before 9:30 AM and it’s also SO crowded and miserable that I struggle to see why anyone on holiday would want to do so.
Food is a bit pricey in the city, but one thing we do well is sandwiches. We’ve got sandwich shops everywhere, and they are a great, affordable place to get lunch when you’re traveling around. Pret a Manger, Eat, and Café Nero are really good. For dinners, most mains in London chains cost around £7-13. Most people who visit LOVE Wagamamas, a famous anglicised Japanese food chain. The portions are huge and filling, and very well-priced. We tend to tip 12.5% here; it’s not at all mandatory and serving staff get paid very well.
Pubs are everywhere. There’s a really good one called the Anchor on the south bank of the Thames where you can sit outside next to the river and watch the city go by, which is really enjoyable. There’s also a very typical old English pub called Dirty Dicks (no, really) in Bishopsgate St, by Liverpool St Station, which is worth a visit.
What Not to Miss
Do all the touristy stuff- I’ve lived here for ages now and I still get a bit excited when I see Tower Bridge! If you can, go on a Jack the Ripper tour of East London. They normally cost about £5 and are really interesting. Most meet outside Tower Hill Station in the evenings.
One of the best free things you can do in London is go walk along the Thames. You can see all the important bits and buildings (Big Ben, London Eye, St Pauls, Globe Theatre -you can get tickets for plays there for £5!, Tower of London, Tower Bridge.) I suggest walking from Tower Hill station, over Tower Bridge and along the Southbank until you see Westminster/Big Ben. From there you can cross the bridge and get back on the District Line at Westminster.
Also check out the Rosetta stone at the British Museum. One excellent thing about London is that all public museums are free, so you can pop in just to see one or two things and not spend a fortune.
Markets are also a great way to spend some time in London. Portobello Road is the most notorious among tourists, but it’s SO crowded and over run that unless you get there super early, a lot of the joy is lost from it. Borough Market (food) is a lot more enjoyable, as is Spittlefields (clothes, antiques, yummy food booths.) Make sure you experience the atmosphere at Covent Garden in the evening at least once.
London Like A Local
Here are a few of my top picks and things to do as a resident:
Gordon’s Wine Bar, Embankment – crowded, crouched, musty and dark. This is a wonderfully atmospheric wine bar on Villiers street that is so dark and dull on the outside it’s easy to pass it by without a second thought. Inside it’s another story – it’s normally heaving with people, and no one minds multiple groups of people sitting at the same table as space is a precious commodity. The wines are wonderful, and the cheese platters even better.
The Gourmet Pizza Company, Gabriel’s Wharf – delicious Thames side dining. Great Italian food, well priced – and the best thing is that it’s affordable dining with a wonderful view of the Thames.
Sunday Up Market, Brick Lane/East London – Brilliant young trendy (okay kinda hipster) market which takes place both in door and out. Lots of unique clothes, jewellery, and accessories. Also has an absolutely exceptional food market. The Ethiopian food is fantastic.
Charity Shops, Around London – clothes and books shopping for a good cause! The best ones are on Marylebone High St (with the best Oxfam known to man), Upper Street Islington, and Wimbledon High Street.
Oh – and if you’re sat on the tube and a pregnant woman or someone on crutches gets on for the love of God give them your seat. Let people off the tube first. Don’t EVER stand on the left of the escalators, and practise saying sorry. Everyone says sorry. It’s a thing we do.
What else would you recommend, fellow Londoners? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!