Visiting London is an experience you will savor for a lifetime! The culture, history, food, people, museums, theatres, parks, and palaces are all waiting for your arrival. However, there are some things you can do ahead of time that will help your trip go smoothly.
“Oyster” Card sounds funny the first time you hear about it. Is it a coupon for fish and chips? This credit card-sized pass is the easiest and most economical way to use public transportation in London. You “tap on” and “tap off” the bus, and use the same card to enter the gates of the Tube (subway) and railway.
The cash fare for a single ride on the Tube is between £4.90 to £6.00 each time. The higher rates apply if you travel during peak hours, which are Monday to Friday between 6:30-9:30am and 4-7pm (except public holidays). That can get very expensive if you are traveling to several places daily. You can avoid this expense.
In the past, our staff visiting from the U.S. would purchase a travel card for 7 days in order to get the weekly rate on the Tube. With the Oyster card, the first trip each day costs as low as £1.50 if you travel off peak within one zone. The nice thing is: the Oyster Card automatically figures out a daily and weekly “cap” that makes public transportation VERY affordable! No need to to purchase a separate travel pass. You can ride the bus, tube, or national rail system for this same fare — and can even mix them up on the same day. Same cap. Couldn't get easier than that!
This card can be purchased at the station after you arrive. The cost is £5, and is refundable. The Visitor Oyster card is purchased ahead of time, and mailed to your home address. Its cost is also £5, which is not refundable. Both cards give you the same rates and ability to preload funds that automatically get charged as you ride the tube and bus. I suggest you plan to put £30 credit on your Oyster or Visitor Oyster card. You can add more or “top it off” if needed, or receive a refund on your last day of its use. If you are coming back to London, just use the existing credit and add more funds on your next trip. You can’t share either Oyster card with those you are with at the moment; each person needs to have their own in hand as they go through the gate. But the cards are transferable. Send your Oyster card with a friend that is headed to London, that is ok!
The Visitor Oyster Card also has special offers and discounts to museums, gift shops, and restaurants that may save you more than the non-refundable £5 to set it up. The regular Oyster card does not have these discounts.
Don’t be overwhelmed as you read this! There are helpful signs and employees, and you can just watch the person ahead of you and follow their lead. After your first day, you will be traveling through the Tube station like a Londoner. For more info, read our Anglophile blog article: Navigating the London Tube and Bus is a Snap!
The London Pass can be purchased ahead of time or while in London and gives you deep discounts to many attractions. It can be a physical card, or can be sent to your Smartphone. There are two main reasons to get the London pass. First, if you have the stamina to visit 2-3 landmarks in any given day such as the Tower of London, the London Bridge Experience, and the Hop-on-Hop-off bus. Another combo would be St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Shakespeare’s Globe. You will save money. Second, you will save time standing in ticket lines. At some of the attractions you will walk right past hundreds of people in line and go straight in. Thomas Moore III, founder of London Connection Vacation Rentals says that is the best reason to get the London Pass. He says you will skip that two hour line at the Tower of London to buy your ticket. However, The London Pass DOES NOT help you skip the queue to get in the Tower. So you could buy your ticket online directly from the Tower and skip the same line as you will with the London Pass.
I found a great in-depth article about the London Pass that has some very helpful tips. A few are — to use your pass for the most expensive sites, to remember that if you get a multiple day pass that you must the pass on consecutive days, and the convenience of skipping the tickets lines. Oh, and to remember that the London Pass has frequent 10-20% discounts — if you have plenty of time before you are traveling to London, watch their website and buy your London Pass when you get a deal. Then you will REALLY save some money!
Personally, I would suggest that if you are going to be in London for 7-10 days to buy a 2-day pass. Use it mid-week and really fill those days with the attractions that cost the most. On the days before and after, visit the free museums, ride the London Eye, go to the markets, attend the theatre, and other items not included in the London Pass.
Hotels are for suitcases and flats are for visitors that want to live like a Londoner. The convenience of having your own kitchen will save money each morning as you breakfast in your own apartment. London Connection has been hosting visitors in London longer than any other vacation rental company. With their years of experience, their perfect locations, fabulous decor, and face-to-face let in managers you will have the perfect start to your vacation.
If you have never visited before, you may need some guidance to determine which London neighborhood would be best for you. Do you like peace and quiet, or a busy nightlife? Do you want to be near museums, the theatres, or the park? Maybe you can find a neighborhood that will be close to all three! Click here to help you decide — Take A Quiz: Find the Best Area to Stay in London Based on Your Interests.
Having an idea of what are the most important sites you want to visit will avoid returning home disappointed. There is no way you will see everything in London, even if you live there! So take a deep breath and read some ideas — whether it is your first trip or if you have been there dozens of times. To begin, how many days will you be there? Do you want to venture outside the city? Do crowds bother you? As you read, write down the items that seem most interesting. I like to rate items 1-10 and make sure I get the 10s scheduled for sure, and then let some of the less important activities fill in around the spaces in the daily plans. Check out these sample itineraries:
Now do you agree? You will need to come back every year for many years to even scratch the surface of all there is to see and do in London!
The best advice I can give you is to PACK LIGHT. There is nothing that can literally weigh you down than extra baggage fees, and multiple pieces of luggage over cobblestone streets and up flights of stairs. When in doubt, leave it out! London is highly civilized, and if you forget anything you can buy it there. Except your medications — don’t leave those at home!
With packing cubes and built-in luggage compartments, you can have a very organized suitcase. Create a packing list to begin and you will save a great deal of anxiety. Roll your clothes, and plan to use the laundry while there so you only have to take half as much. Depending on the season, you may need to take a heavy coat. Don’t pack it — wear it on the plane.
My last nugget of wisdom: don’t leave packing until the last minute. Since traveling a great deal, I now understand the reason my Mom was always packed a few days in advance. At least most of your clothes can be in the suitcase ahead of time. Your make-up and a few other items might be added as you zip it up. That way, you can determine that you have stayed under that 50 pounds and avoid additional charges at the airline counter. Some other ideas can be found here: 5 Packing Tips for Every Season in London.
Enjoy the journey, and feel free to contact me at sheilaf@LondonConnection.com if you have any other questions or concerns. AND send me some photos of your London experience; I would love to share them on future blog articles or on the London Connection Facebook Page.