Wanted to share some travel tips for London! If you are planning on going to London there are a few things we wish we knew before and a few things that we did that might help you save money. These should help you plan your trip and know what to prepare for when you get there. There are a few things you should know upfront
- The UK uses the GBP £ (which until recently was worth more than the USD $)
- The UK has its own type of wall plug, different than Europe or the US
- The UK drives on the left side (so when crossing look in the opposite direction)
- English is the primary language
- A credit card works for almost everything, but there are a few things that are cash only
- Tipping is not required
- Queuing is mandatory (a joke… but it is taken pretty seriously in the UK)
- Public Transit is widespread in London and most larger UK cities.
- There is a mix of the metric system and Imperial system (i.e temps in Celsius and speeds in MPH)
Google and Apple Maps worked great for planning travel and public transit and were generally accurate for travel time. These are the two apps I would recommend for the planning of travel, there might be more UK-specific ones but to be honest, these worked so well hard to recommend anything else
Do not get a rental car for London (parking will be hard and expensive), and it is not necessary with the ubiquitous public transit and how close most things are. There are also bikes for rental which is a better option, especially with how slow and heavy the traffic can get.
You don’t need a transit card (Oyster Card) you can use contactless bank cards or Apple Pay! All of the transit stations (at least the ones in London) have tap to pay, where you Tap your phone/card when you go in and then tap when you get off and it calculates the rate for you. There are some critical things you should be aware of:
- You MUST use the same card or the same device
- Each person needs their own card (i.e you can’t tap your whole family on)
- CARD CLASH -> don’t hold your whole wallet close otherwise it will bill multiple cards
You should also use the same card for the whole time you are there as there are caps on cost for daily (4:30 am to 4:29 am) and weekly(Monday to Sunday) trips. This means once you take enough trips your next trips will be “free” for the rest of that day/week. But other than that These rates are billed at the adult one-way rates so if you have a discount or a special rate (child, youth, senior, student, etc) you will need the app or a physical oyster card.
Walking in London is easy and often quicker. Pedestrians have right of way almost everywhere (but we don’t recommend testing this). We walked 6-10+mi and 20K steps each day, but we also don’t mind walking, versus paying for transit everywhere. Along with the walking comes two recommendations. First, bring comfortable shoes (and break them in before you come), you don’t want to ruin a day or two because you packed fashion sneakers. We would also recommend water-resistant and close-toed shoes, especially for fall/autumn as it rained every day. The second recommendation is to bring snacks you will be burning calories walking around, and in some places, it is hard to stop and get food/snacks
Uber works well for London, but it is not cheap. Works well for getting out of the city or saving time on longer trips. Otherwise, public transit can get you almost anywhere (in London) as most of the attractions are at a station or drop-off point. I would probably avoid the “Uber Boat” AKA Thames Clippers as they were expensive, crowded and we had to wait quite a while to get on…. Unless you want the experience of being on the Thames… but there are better options...
Weather and Gear
Yes, you need rain gear… It rains on and off throughout the day or even continuously depending on the time of year, bring something light and packable. Weather can change quickly. Depending on if the sun is out or not it can go from chilly to sweltering all within 15 mins. The sun and the rain/humidity can make it sweltering and then when the sun goes away and the wind picks up it can get chilly. Layers are what worked best for us, as walking we would get warm and take off layers, when we stopped we would start to get cold and add layers back. Pack accordingly……
Quick List of Recommended Gear (1 week with laundry):
- Gore-Tex Jacket - Artc’teryx BetaAR
- Puffy Jacket - Arc’teryx Atom AR
- Fleece Jacket - Patagonia R1 Hoody (Most used)
- 2x Longsleve/flannel
- 4x Shortsleeve shirts
- 2x Jeans
- 1x Pants
- 1x Jogger
- 6x Underwear
- 6x Socks (2 long 4 short)
- Running shoes
- Hiking shoes (low profile)
We also recommend bringing a small packable backpack for use around the city. This made it easy to get in and out of places (as some places have bag size restrictions). This made it easy to go get groceries/snacks while we were out without having to carry them in our hands the whole time. Public transit can often get crowded so having a small day bag is a plus, as carrying your full-size carry-on backpack might be a little much and can make you a target.
Travel and Planning Tips
You probably want to Pick places you want to see before you get there. There is so much to do there that you could be busy for months trying to do everything. Which was one of the issues we had deciding between places as there were so many options. It’s best to identify a few things that you want to see or do and let the rest of the day play out finding nearby things to see or walk to without trying to fit them into a schedule (unless you do a tour). As another side note many of the places don’t open till 10 am (especially on the weekends) so double-check when things open as getting out early isn’t always an option (unless you are okay walking around, then it is much less busy).
We didn’t have to buy tickets early for most attractions but some more popular attractions will need tickets to be purchased far in advance. Expect tickets to be £30+ per person, and tours can be in excess of £150 -> £600 per person depending on the level of service.
Our Top Three Places:
- Kew Gardens (outside of London City)
- Borough Market (Free)
- Buckingham Palace (Free)
Saving Money and Where to Stay
Hotels are expensive, but there are alternatives like AirBnB or Aparthotels (which we used). All accommodations in London are pricey (£200-300+ a night) but you can get an apartment for around the same costs as just a hotel room, which have a kitchen, refrigerator, and washing machine which are great savings if you are traveling for a longer time. You can also look to stay further out of London City the cheaper it gets, but don’t forget to factor in travel costs/time. For this reason, we decided to stay in a place called Native Apartments which also gave us a more local experience and saved some money at the same time.
Apartments (or hotel rooms with kitchens) also allow you to cook dinner at the apartment (Often the most expensive meal of the day). This can bring costs down from £50-£100 at a restaurant down to £10-£20 for a meal. Grocery and convenience stores are affordable for food (vs restaurants) Look for “meal deals” which can make getting a main, a side, and a drink for cheaper.
London was incredible and we can’t wait to visit other places in the UK, this was a great experience for us and while Kayla has been before, this was Ben’s first time in the UK. Hopefully, these tips help you plan and have a comfortable trip. Watch our vlogs below if you are interested in our trip.