Are you traveling to London for the very first time? Not sure what to expect?
Don't worry, I had the same question when packing for my London trip a couple of months ago. Despite being a frequent traveler around the globe in the past decade, nothing could have prepared me for London's cranky weather, unpredictable situations, and figuring out public transportation.
Before you reconsider your flight ticket, I am here to reassure you that as long as you follow these tips, you will be more prepared than any first-time visitors to this unique city!
If you are a heavy Google Maps user and do not carry a pocket Wi-Fi, consider getting another SIM card for all your data needs and worry less about finding a location with free Wi-Fi.
Purchasing a SIM card (I bought Vodafone) with data has helped me greatly especially when I am taking Zoom calls in a location out of Wi-Fi range (and when my hotel had a poor Wi-Fi connection). As my phone does not have a dual SIM card slot, I brought an old smartphone for my new SIM card and turned it into my mobile hotspot.
If you are in central London during peak holiday seasons such as Easter and Christmas, there is a high chance you will face train disruptions. In addition, strikes are still a common occurrence to date (Every month, there will be a list of scheduled strikes happening around the city).
To find alternative routes to your destination in real-time, the Citymapper travel app comes in handy with its list of different transportation modes you can take in the fastest possible time.
You may have heard of the Oyster Card, a pay-as-you-go card that you can use for most of London's public transportation.
The Oyster Card was popular due to its convenience and once had a refundable deposit of £5 (this is no longer applicable) for the price of the card. Now, you can pay with a contactless debit or credit card (or an Apple Pay or Google Pay-enabled smartphone) for the same price as an Oyster card fare.
You can also use a contactless card at the Elizabeth Line, London's newest railway system from Heathrow Airport.
If you are concerned about the exorbitant exchange rates, you can get a Forex travel debit card such as Wise for better rates. It is best to apply in advance so you can receive the physical card in time before you fly.
Popular tours such as the Harry Potter tour can sell out months in advance, especially during the peak holiday season. Free attractions like the British Museum and Sky Garden allow only a limited number of visitors per day and open up slots a couple of months in advance.
In addition, if you are interested in a theatre show at the West End but want cheaper tickets, you can get tickets on special occasions where they went as cheap as 10 pounds. Usually open a week in advance for certain shows and if you win it, you will be getting a bargain watching a show in the theatre capital of the world!
Note: Strikes or other big celebration may cancel your tourist attraction trip last minute. It happened to me during an Easter holiday when The British Museum was closed due to a week-long strike.
The golden rule of budget traveling is to avoid going to popular attractions during peak holiday periods. Not only will there be less of a queue, but you will get cheaper prices, especially for theatre tickets. In addition, there will be fewer disruptions when it comes to public transportation.
Several bank holidays fall in May so do plan your trip accordingly.
While you can travel by foot around this compact city, taking the underground is much faster, and almost all the main tourist attractions are located by the train station.
I recommend staying near the Paddington train station as it has multiple train lines heading out of London and to the airport as well. Also, it is pretty quiet and cozy around this side of town.
Like most tourist locations in Europe, London has its fair share of pickpockets and scammers. If someone greets you or hands you an item without you requesting it, do not interact with them. Keep your belongings in front of you and be wary of who's around you, especially if you are taking photos alone.
Note: Bring very little cash to London as almost all establishments including markets accept contactless cards. This will help reduce the risk of stolen cash.
And there you have it! My realistic guide of what to expect so you don't make the same tourist mistakes as I did. Most importantly, take lots of photos and create wonderful memories that you can tell your loved ones in the future!
If you think this article is useful, please share it around! A well-informed traveler is a happy traveler.
Now, here are the Top 5 Things To Do When You are In London!
Cover Image Credit: Jurica Koletić from Unsplash