7 Things to Consider Before Booking Your Stay in London

January 4, 2019

When planning a trip to another country, it is always exciting to get a grasp of the area before you book your stay, and visiting London is no exception. There are endless sightseeing possibilities, entertainment opportunities, dining options, and much, much more.

To ensure your trip is extra special, we’ve compiled a list of seven insider tips that will help you wander through London with curiosity, excitement, confidence, and a sense of discovery.

  • Decide which area of London you wish to stay
  • Determine the purpose of your trip
  • Plan big activities in advance
  • Do research on London culture
  • Consider a day trip outside of central London
  • Plan phones, money, and power in advance
  • Don’t be rushed

We’re certain your time spent discovering London will be filled with amazing adventures and dream-like experiences to last a lifetime.

1. Decide Which Area of London You Wish to Stay

London is a big city with a lot of little “towns” within its city limits. Each area of the city has its own personality because it has its unique history. If you are coming to London for theater, Covent Garden is your destination. If you are coming for history, South Kensington might be the answer for you. If you love style and shopping, Knightsbridge will be the ideal neighborhood. If architecture and beautiful shops and sophistication are of interest, Mayfair is the place you will find everything you are looking for. Choose a vacation apartment that will enhance your trip and not disappoint. Check out the districts and say to yourself THIS IS THE PLACE FOR ME. 

When deciding where to stay in London, consider these popular areas. If you don’t know where to begin, take the quiz to help you decide. 

  • South Kensington: Located in central London, this is a residential area with many stately homes and foreign embassies. You will be within walking distance of Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park where you will find Kensington Palace and so much more. With easy access to two different Tube stations, you can easily access famous attractions like Buckingham Palace, Westminster and Royal London, and the Saturday market at Portobello Road.
  • Knightsbridge and High St. Kensington: This is your go-to neighborhood if you’re interested in doing some serious shopping during your time in London. Home to popular icons like Harrods and other famous shopping establishments, this neighborhood is also just a short Tube ride away from attractions like Piccadilly Circus,Green Park, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, and Westminster.
  • Covent Garden and Soho: Open air cafes, pubs, street entertainers, shopping establishments, markets, and theaters make Covent Garden one of the most lively neighborhoods in central London. You’ll also be within walking distance to attractions like the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House, St Martin-in-the-Fields, the Coliseum, and many more.
  • Mayfair and St. James’s: Known as “Royal London,” you’ll be sharing this neighborhood with historic landmarks like Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery, the Royal Mews, Clarence House, Trafalgar Square, St. James’s Palace, and many others. This central neighborhood is laced with the glory that is London. You might even see the Queen ride out in one of her carriages or in her amazing Bentley limousine. AND SHE WILL WAVE. Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace is a part of every visitor’s experience while in London. You will find it here.
  • Westminster: This area is living with history and government; get a feeling for what London might have been like through many generations of her history. In this part of London, you’ll find attractions such as Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards, St Margaret’s Church, Churchill’s war bunker, Westminster Hall, Westminster Bridge, 10 Downing Street, the Cenotaph, Rubens’ glorious ceiling in the Banqueting Hall, and the pier to take a boat ride down the Thames to Greenwich. These are the places where Kings and Queens have walked and great ceremonies of State take place. This is where “power is in the air.”
  • Earl’s Court: Known as the bustling “Convention Area,” Earl’s Court offers numerous restaurants, bookstores, cafes, clubs, wine bars, flower stalls, ethnic dining, and shopping for the contemporary styles and taste. This area has easy access to the Tube which means you’re just minutes away from all central London. This is a very vital part of this great metropolis where neighborhoods are filled with beautiful architecture and grand houses which are all in a state of becoming “the place to live” once again. Young people thrive here.  

For more information about the best London vacation rentals, click here.

2. What is the Main Purpose of Your Trip?

Not only is London a frequent stop for first-time visitors to the Continent of Europe, but it’s also a city that captivates the hearts of its guests and keeps them coming back. The city has become so popular that a record number of  42 million visitors were expected in 2018. Whether you’re traveling to London for the first time or getting the UK stamp in your passport for the tenth time, determining the main purpose of your trip will help you better decide where to stay and what to do. Some of the most important reasons people typically visit London are the following:

  • To attend major sporting events, important football and tennis matches such as Wimbledon and a football or rugby match
  • To tour London’s famous museums and galleries
  • To shop in some of the world’s most renowned stores
  • To explore architecture in some of the most elegant neighborhoods in the world
  • To spend the holidays with family or friends and to keep in touch with European roots
  • To conduct business and catch a few moments to see the city

Before you book your trip to London, make sure you have a clear idea of what you are expecting during your time abroad. This will help you pinpoint the neighborhoods where you’ll want to stay. Even if you are coming to wander the lanes and “get lost” in London, it is wise to understand options of this glorious city.

3. Plan Big Activities in Advance

If you’re staying in London for a few weeks or a few days, having a tentative plan of what you want to see is suggested if you have any hope of getting the most out of your trip. Though some things like theatre tickets can be purchased on the day-of (they will likely be cheaper, too!), you should consider planning big activities and getting tickets in advance. If there is a play you do not wish to miss no matter what, book the play long before coming to London. All London theater tickets are available online. Some attractions for which you should purchase tickets in advance include:

  • One of the best ways to see London is with a private tour. We suggest you contact our favorite Blue Badge Tourist Guide, Marilyn Collis. She will direct you through the most popular London sites, or take you to the less known “nooks and crannies.” Well worth the expense!
  • Tour the Tower of London with the Beefeaters and learn about the secrets and scandals of the court. Admission tickets are £25 at the gate, but £22.70 online if you book early and print your tickets at home. If you book early for the Tower, you will avoid the very long lines of people purchasing on the day. 
  • The theater in London is highly regarded like New York’s Broadway. Same day tickets are available at theatre ticket shops all over Leicester Square, but you risk being disappointed if you wait until the last minute.
  • Learn about the old Victorian bascules and soak in remarkable views of London with a visit to Tower Bridge. A ticket at the bridge costs less while booking online  — AND YOU SKIP THE LINES THERE.
  • Sightseeing while boating down the River Thames with a river tour is exciting. Ticket prices vary depending on what you want to see, but booking online in advance can save you up to 50-percent.
  • Classical ballet, concerts, and fine art museums are a huge part of London life. There is always an amazing exhibition somewhere in the city:  the National Gallery, the Royal Academy, Sotheby’s, the Queen’s Gallery. There are many venues available from St. Martin-in-the Fields to opera at the Coliseum and opera and ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
  • Hard Rock Cafe in London is the original restaurant of this worldwide company. Mingle with Beatles and Rolling Stones memorabilia while you dine. Hard Rock Cafe in London is busy, busy, busy; book ahead or you will stand in line!

If you plan on doing a lot of traveling and adventuring through the city, consider getting a Visitor Oyster Card, London’s travel smart card for the fantastic public transportation system. This card is more than 50 percent cheaper than one-day paper Travelcards or single tickets, and you qualify for a range of food, drink, and other discounts. Gung-ho sightseers should also get a London Pass, the ultimate sightseeing package that’s been tailored for visitors to this glorious city. This card will give you the ability to make the most of your trip by saving you time, money, and stress while visiting the city’s top sights and attractions. Click here to read a blog about these options: 5 London Travel Tips

4. Do Research on London Culture

Before you embark on your adventure to England’s capital, be sure to do a fair amount of research on this city’s uniqueness. Preparing yourself with knowledge of cultural customs, trends, to-dos and not-to-dos, and etiquette will help you feel comfortable and welcome here.  While you should do your own perusing about London culture, some quick tips include:

  • Museum donations are expected – be sure to stop and give what you can (even if you’re on a budget)!
  • Unlike the US, where it’s customary to tip the restaurant servers 20-25 percent of your bill, in London you should tip your waiter 10-to-15 percent. While cabs also are tipped 10-to-15 percent, it’s customary not to tip in pubs and bars.
  • Most mobile electronic devices are compatible on both US and European currents, so a voltage adapter won’t be necessary. However, you will need a US to UK plug adapter.
  • When riding the Tube, remember to always stand on the right side of the escalators to let others pass and keep plenty of distance between the train and the platform so no one is injured. Corridors are small, so walk quickly, be mindful of others, and don’t stop in your tracks.
  • Make sure all cabs and taxis you enter are registered and licensed. Look for London’s famous black cabs or call a minicab service. While most accept credit cards, debit cards, or cash, you should always check with the cabbie first.
  • Treat your vacation rental, London hotel, or any other accommodation with respect.
  • Floor numbering is different in the U.K. than in the U.S. Londoners use the term “ground floor” to describe what people in the U.S. call the first floor, and “lower ground” to describe the basement.

No one likes being “that tourist,” so make sure you take some time to understand where you’re going and what you’re doing before you begin your trip. 

5. There is a Lot to See Outside of the Main City

Though you can spend years in London and never see everything this wonderful city has to offer, the remarkable landscapes and dreamlike towns that lie beyond the confines of the capital will take your breath away. When booking your trip, try to include enough time to squeeze in a day trip to some of these must-see spots.

  • Stonehenge is one of England’s most famous landmarks and is a great site to combine with a trip to Salisbury, an historic city with a glorious cathedral.
  • Oxford: With beautiful architecture and an incredible sense of history, the college town has much more to offer than academic highlights. Check out famous museums like the Ashmolean and the Covered Market.
  • Cambridge: Rivaling Oxford in academic achievement and architectural beauty, Cambridge is home to the iconic chapel at King’s College and offers a bit of relief from the busy London days.
  • Bristol: With many wonderful museums, a gorgeous waterfront, and several intimate boutiques and shops, Bristol is a traveler’s favorite destination that you won’t regret visiting.
  • Rye: Lined with pretty streets and laced with quiet charm, Rye is the perfect escape from the urban capital. Mock Tudor buildings and gorgeous green squares are perfect for exploring, shopping, and photographing. Rye is a photographer’s paradise.
  • Bath: The entire city is an historic site with its famous Bath stone buildings which seem to glow in the afternoon light. While shopping and dining options make Bath a remarkable day trip, it is the history of the city from Roman times to Georgian and Regency architecture that attract many visitors each year. Don’t forget to check out the awe-inspiring Roman Baths that gave the city its name.

You can also ask local Londoners what they recommend for places to visit outside the city. Taxi drivers are always a great source of information. Don’t hesitate to ask for help; these taxi drivers have heard it all. From day tours to train rides, you’ll find that London is a short distance from so many places of great interest: Windsor Castle, Kew Gardens, Osterley Park, Greenwich, Hampton Court Palace, etc.

6. Phones, Money, and Power

Even though this is #6 on the list, it may be the most important. READ CAREFULLY to avoid some stressful moments that our guests (and some of our team) have experienced.

  • Phones: The iconic red phone booths still dot the streets of London, but their use is now a thing of the past. Like the U.S., most of Great Britain has traded traditional telephones for cell phones. Three options if you want to stay in touch with your family and business and have access to your apps are: 1) Contact your provider to add extra coverage, 2) If your phone is unlocked, purchase a sim card once in London. 3) Purchase a simple cell phone and get a local number when you arrive.  We suggest working with your own mobile phone company before arriving in London as the best option. Make sure you will get calls and texts.
  • Money: Unlike the rest of Europe which adopted the euro, the UK still uses the British Pound — commonly called Sterling. While some shops accept euros, you should always use pounds for safe measure. Along with currency exchanges at the airport (which often charge a higher rate than your bank), ATM machines around the city also offer cash. Be wary, however, that when withdrawing from an ATM (cash point), you will often be  charged a foreign transaction fee of about three percent from your bank, regardless if you get cash or use a credit card. Budget for this sneaky secret accordingly so you don’t get sideswiped by hefty fees. With that said, some credit cards have no foreign transaction fees; the best way to find out about your card is to contact the bank before you leave home.
  • Credit Cards: Check with your bank so they know you will be using your plastic outside your normal areas of use. If the credit card company and your bank do not know that you are in the U.K., you will find that suddenly you have no service and have to call the bank while visiting abroad. Don’t forget or you will regret. I have forgotten, and I know what it feels like to use your plastic to pay a taxi and have your card declined. It is embarrassing.
  • Power Adapters: London Connection vacation rentals have power adapters for your computers and chargers., but it is always smart to bring one along with you. We suggest in order to save yourself stress and money while in London, be sure to buy an adaptor before embarking on your trip. As we mentioned earlier, the standard voltage in London is 220V, while North America is 120V. To make your search for a power adapter easier, note that the kind you’ll need is a “Type G” and voltage should be 220-240V. Should you forget, adapters are easily available in all local shops throughout London. Click here for more info: US to UK Plug Adapters

7. Don’t Be Rushed

Ask any local Londoner about how long you should spend in London in order to see all the sites and truly experience this magnificent city;  they’ll likely respond – A LIFETIME. And while you can get a bird’s-eye view in three or four days, speeding from one attraction to the next will cause you to miss some of the things that make London so unique. By slowing down and taking time to explore the city at your own pace, you’ll find that some of your favorite moments and memories are made when you find a quirky, no-name shop, get lost in the city’s quaint back streets, or people-watch at your new favorite cafe. You might enjoy one of London’s peaceful gardens as a way to relax and reconnect with nature.

So when planning your perfect London experience, consider staying a few more days to feel like a Londoner. Whether you choose to stay for a couple weeks or a couple months, you’ll always leave London feeling like you didn’t get to do all of the things on your list; it is this feeling, too, that will keep you coming back to the heart of Great Britain.