I call London a look and see city. I classify it this way because of the abundance of museums, historic places, and traditional pageantry. As an international destination, tourism experts rank London in the Top 10 places to visit. Prior to my 10-day trip to London and contrary to the norm, I had little interest in the city. Now, I can’t wait for the future opportunity to go back.
Here are some tips I want to share with you about how you can prepare for your first or return trip to London.
Before going to London, I recommend a refresher lesson on British history. A quick read focused on the sequence of reigning Kings and Queens, poets, writers, scientists, and musicians will help you to appreciate the information and artifacts so much more.
You will not be alone if you walk around with a guide book stuffed in a backpack or purse. I saw numerous tourists standing on sidewalks consulting pages of text. I used a combination of two resources while in London. London: The Rough Guide gave me comprehensive descriptions of each London community, the attractions, and maps. Lonely Planet’s pocket guide Britain Work, Live and Travel is a more manageable sized tour book if you want to travel light. I supplemented all of this information with a website www.visitlondon.com . The advantage of the Visit London website is that it provides you with a link to the transportation system. By entering your starting location, desired destination, preferred date and approximate time of travel, the system offers an itinitery of trains, subways, and buses that will get you where you want to go.
Trains, the Underground (subways), and buses – you will need them all to see London. The mass transportation system is the pulse of London. On the trains and subways, you’ll see businessmen reading the daily newspaper, students in uniform for private schools, businesswomen text messaging or making notes for the day’s meetings at the office. Some Londoners can balance a coffee without spilling it; some seem to wake up just in time to exit at their station stop. They don’t mind the explosive sound of an opposite bound train zooming past. They have a stride that steps confidently from platform to car over the deep gap between them. They stand close to one another butt-to-butt, shoulder-to-shoulder, especially during the morning and evening rush hours. Follow the example of the Londoners and you’ll fit right in with the rhythm of using local modes of transportation.
Although I had printed in advance several transportation itiniteries from Visit London, I still confirmed routes with persons staffing the information booths at the ticketing stations. They were able to advise me of which Railcard to purchase. For example, for me, the best deal from my hotel at the Gatwick Airport was a ticket on the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, a train running non-stop every 15-minutes. It was the fasted way to central London and departs from the South Terminal of Gatwick Airport. When I needed to travel beyond the main attraction center of London to the Docklands, I was advised to by a multi-zone Railcard for the week. This required a passport size photo and presentation of a valid form of photo ID (driver’s license or passport). Curtained passport photo booths are readily available in the airport and transportation centers. Credit cards are accepted for the Railcard; you need £3 for the coin operated photo booth.
Take an umbrella! Although the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported on November 9th that “north-westerlies make November twice as bright”, London has recorded only 75 hours of sunshine each November for the last decade. At the turn of the century, November offered London only 30 hours of sunshine. I enjoyed a few of those 75 hours during my stay. Sometimes, the drizzle hardly necessitated my pulling the collapsible Dollar Store umbrella from my Coach Shopper bag. Then, there were several days when the rain driven by gale force winds drenched me even with my red umbrella fully open.
My last comment is do not over plan your stay. With so much to see and do, you need to try to allow some time in your day for making impulsive decisions. I came across The Household Calvary Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Arts on separate occasions while wandering in London. Both proved to be interesting, unplanned stops. Also, do not rush through places like Westminster Abbey or the Tower of London. They deserve your time. After all, you’ve traveled a long way to see these places. Vacation is time to slow down. It’s the quality of the visit not the quantity of places. Then, perhaps you’ll be like me – looking forward to another time to return to London.