London City Focus
London is very easy to get around - between the bus network and the Tube/Underground you can pretty much get anywhere. As long as your accommodation is in walking distance to a tube station or bus stop you can get from A to B easily in no time.
One thing that I would definitely recommend when you first arrive into London is to take a Hop on Hop off bus tour, as this is a great way to orientate yourself as well as familiarise yourself with landmarks around the City – you also get an on-board commentary. We brought a pass on “Big Bus Tours” for GBP29.00 per person and this lasts for 48 hours (and also included a free 1 ½ or 3 hour river cruise on the River Thames and a couple of free walking tour options). We only had about 12 hours to use ours so didn’t get the full use out of it but it proved to be a great way to get around the city to the main sights etc. There are a few routes you can take and this one included 3 which got you to/near pretty much all the sights and attractions in the city. The buses run very frequently with last tour departures on each route at 4.30pm daily.
It is quite cool in London in late October/early November, so be prepared with lots of warm clothes. It rained a bit and the wind was very icy… we ended up getting off the Hop on Hop off bus to buy scarves and mittens to carry-on with. I think we were prepared for it to be cold but our cold is a different cold to the UK.
We had an ‘oyster card’ for travel on the tube/underground and bus network and this is a pre-loaded card that you swipe everytime you get on and off one of these services and it calculates the cheapest way to travel between the stations and charges you the subsequent fare. We had GBP15.00 loaded on this when we arrived and loaded another GBP15.00 over 4 days in total, and we travelled around quite a bit in this time (including from the city to London Heathrow Airport twice). So definitely a must purchase for any trip to London before leaving home - you can just re-load them as you go and it is a very easy process to do so, and of course a tube map becomes your best friend (don’t worry it’s really not as scary as it looks). The tube is an unbelievably effective option with trains running approx every 3 minutes, so if you miss one, you never have to wait long for the next one.
It cost about GBP5.00 to get from the middle of the city to London Heathrow Airport on the underground and the journey takes between 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes, so not too bad in terms of price. The other option we did use was the Heathrow Express from Airport to Paddington Station and this was GBP19 pp and took only 15 minutes, so a much quicker option but also more expensive and because it only stops at Paddington Station you may need to get on the tube or take a taxi from there, so depends on where you are staying.
To give you an idea of the cost of meals etc a Typical British dinner of Beef and Ale pie accompanied by a Strongbow Cider at the Pride of Paddington pub was GBP14.00 (approx NZD$28.00) – this was a large filling very tasty meal although not a pie as we know it as the beef and pastry were separate. The second night we had dinner in the Hotel and had Chicken Tikka and Magners Cider for GBP16.10 (approx NZD$32.00) – not a large meal but also not bad considering Hotel prices. Dinner in Hilton Metropole sports bar – caeser chicken salad and Magners cider GBP18.00 (approx NZD$36.00).
There are lots of great sightseeing options in London, but once again our time was limited so only saw the main iconic things… First of all on our first stay here we were close to Hyde Park so we took a walk through here to Kensington Palace and then onto hop on hop off bus. Hyde Park is very nice for a walk in the morning, however we heard from a local police woman it can be dangerous running/walking alone in the early hours. Marble Arch is the monument at the top of Oxford street – which is shopping central. Buckingham Palace is pretty grand as expected, however I thought the building itself was actually quite plain. Both times we visited the queen was not home and it was unfortunately not a changing of the guard day. London eye gives a great view of the city from another angle – also interesting way to get your bearings once you have been to a few sights and on hop on hop off bus tours. Takes 30 minutes to get around and cost was GBP18.90 per Adult (normal entrance tickets as was not very busy on this day, or a fast track ticket is available for GBP24.00 which would be worth it if busy then you just turn up 15 mins before scheduled time booked). We didn’t actually visit Big Ben but managed to get some great views of it from the London Eye as well as the river cruise. Visited St Pauls Cathedral and also visited Harrods to see what the fuss is all about and it is a huge boutique shopping centre (pretty expensive). We also saw a Princess Diana memorial inside Harrods Egyptian escalator area. We saw the ‘lifeguards’ of the Queens cavalry in procession (guards on horses), however without the queen…
London is a great place for a few days at the start and the end of your trip.