This post is for anyone looking to be prepared for their first time in London – the capital city of England. I noted down all the lessons I learnt from spending two weeks in London that should make your trip smoother and hopefully cheaper too.
When to travel to London: Travel in summer which is from June to September to avoid the cold. I most recently travelled in early December which is autumn in London. It was cold but apparently not as cold as London gets in February. The perks of visiting London in autumn/winter is that it’s off peak holiday season. There are no queues to the tourist attractions and the city is so beautifully decorated with Christmas lights in December.
Use Google Maps or City Mapper to get around
The public transport in London is excellent because it can get you everywhere on time. Use the train to get around for quick, convenient and traffic free travel. Taking a look at the tube map can be overwhelming and confusing. It looks like a complex, multicoloured web at first. When you zoom in and focus on each line individually, you’ll find that it’s so smart and well planned. You don’t even need to figure out the map because you can simply use Google maps or Citymapper to plan your route. These apps made navigating London so easy. I didn’t get lost on the train at all!
If you don’t opt to get a local SIM card, remember to search and save your route while in a wifi zone so that you can still access your route offline.
There are various ways to pay for public transport – read more about this on Transport for London. I purchased an Oyster card and loaded credit onto it at the ticket machines that you find at most stations. To get in and out of the station, you simply scan your Oyster card. Instead of pay as you go, it’s cheaper to buy a Travelcard that offers unlimited travel at a fixed price for a specific number of days. You can upload a Travelcard to your Oyster card.
When I’m in South Africa I hardly ever walk. Ok I don’t walk at all unless it’s in a mall or at a market. While in London, I really enjoyed exploring the city by foot. I ended up doing over 24000 steps on one of the days in London when I usually average less than 4000 a day.
Another point worth mentioning is how safe it is for everyone. It was such a shock at first to see women walking alone at night. What made it even more surprising was that they had their cell phones out. Like what is this life? Walking along the streets alone, talking in full voice with ear pods in is so normal in London.
Wear comfortable shoes
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to pack a good, strong and comfortable pair of shoes. I learnt this lesson the hard way when I went to Paris a few years ago. I was so focused on looking cute and chose an unsuitable pair of shoes. So now, when I know I will be walking, I make sure that it’s comfort first! You can go with a comfortable pair of sneakers or boots, anything that won’t hurt after a long walk.
Use Groupon for deals
Groupon works in London! You can save money by looking out for deals on Groupon for meals, spa treatments. Eat out at places with Groupon deals. Why pay more when you can pay less? Download the Groupon App and start searching before your trip.
For example, I really wanted to go for high tea in London. When I started searching for a place to go for high tea I was heart broken by how expensive it is. I ended up sucking it up and choosing to go for high tea at Cafe Concerto. I was meeting up with a friend who is based in London. When we got to the cafe, she asked if I had checked Groupon for specials – I hadn’t. So she did a quick browse and found that we could have got it cheaper on Groupon! That’s when I realised Groupon still works in London. We missed out on 43% discount.
In order to claim that Groupon deal, you need to buy the deal online and make a reservation. You can’t claim a deal while you’re already at the restaurant – FAIL. Don’t make that mistake.
So we ditched the high tea plan and ordered pasta instead which was delicious!
Buy attraction tickets online
Attractions such as the London Eye and Madame Tussauds wax museum offer cheaper prices if you buy your tickets online instead of at the door. The tickets are even cheaper if you buy combination tickets for more than one attraction instead of buying for each attraction individually. If you buy a combination ticket you have an option to visit the attractions on different days
I really enjoyed Madame Tussauds wax museum. The wax sculptures look so real and it’s fun getting realistic selfies with famous people. To make your selfie look more real, the trick is to align your camera so that it looks like the sculpture is looking into your camera.
Book theatre shows in advance
Book theatre shows in advance! I really wanted to watch the Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House however, by the time I started searching for tickets (1 week in advance) there were hardly any tickets left. The tickets remaining were for expensive seats. I quickly discovered that I’m not the only one that wants to go to the ballet! The good seats and the cheap seats go first.
Because it was less popular, I managed to get decent tickets to watch The Lion King at Lyceum Theatre. It was brilliant! The highlights were the costumes, the music and of course the epic Lion King story.
Go to the free attractions
Free does not mean sub standard. I was so impressed by the Natural History Museum. The sound of it sounds boring I know but trust me when I say that it’s one of the places I hope to visit again. It’s less than 100m away from the Science Museum which is where I went first. After doing that and running out of time, I really wish I had started at the Natural History Museum. If you love animals and nature start at the Natural History Museum. If you love history, science and technology then start at the Science Museum. Both are free to enter.
Borough Market is one of the oldest markets in Europe and is located a walking distance from London Bridge Station. It’s open daily and is free to enter. At Borough Market you will find cooked meals, fresh ingredients as well as art and crafts. I tried scallops for the first time 🙂
Another great free attraction is Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. This is an annual theme park that runs from November to January. They have roller coasters, food stalls and lots of mulled wine which is hot, spicy wine. Whatever you have pictured from that description, multiply it by ten! It’s a huge theme park. You can even go ice skating there. This was the view from the Ferris wheel:
If traveling to London in winter, pack warm
It is cold and wet in the winter so make sure that you pack accordingly. Items to bring include gloves, a beanie, an umbrella, comfortable shoes, scarves and THERMALS. Another useful item to bring with you is a book or kindle for the train rides. I got the kindle suggestion from travel blogger, @expatpanda – thanks girl!
Source information from travel blogs
The best advice I get when I travel is from travel bloggers. There is a lot that you don’t need to figure out yourself when you travel. I hope you have picked up some useful pointers from this blog. For more about London, follow these England based travel bloggers and content creators TravelEatSlay, Hey Dip Your Toes In, and Some Call Me Adventurous and Wanderlust Calls
I hope you learnt something new from this post. Always feel free to leave a comment with a question. Happy planning 🙂