Archive for the ‘Helpful Hints’ Category

Notting Hill Neighborhood Guide of Good Stuff

If unfamiliar with Notting Hill, visitors booking accommodation in London are sometimes hesitant to give this excellent neighborhood a chance as a holiday home base. They assume that it is far away from the center of the action, the theaters, the museums, the heart of London-ness.

Not so, says all of us at Elegant Retreats International. Just a short walk, tube, bus or cab ride to all the rest of the best of London, Notting Hill is itself a small, vibrant and thriving place, with many neighborhood gems worth discovering. Between the beautiful architecture, leafy garden squares and an eclectic mix of upscale and bohemian fashion, food & curio shops, the borough nestles up to Kensington and Holland Park, offering the chance to live like a Londoner in an interesting and popular village.

Your Guide to staying in Notting Hill

There are plenty of guidebooks, write-ups and travelogues that detail the most well-known of the Notting Hill events and attractions (for example Carnival, an Afro-Caribbean street festival in August and kitschy dining establishments like Beach Blanket Babylon). Instead of rehashing all the well-covered stuff, Elegant Retreats would like to offer you an insider’s guide to staying here and living like a local.

We have gorgeous self-catering houses on Chepstow Road (two, actually, right across the street from each other, nice for large groups), Ledbury Road, Colville Mews, Chapelside Mews, and even a flat on Portobello Road, plus several others waiting in the wings for our next viewing trip. We know you have many options in the holiday vacation rental market, but if you book one of the carefully selected and personally inspected Notting Hill London short-let properties in our portfolio, here’s some of what you can expect during your stay:

Notting Hill Food Markets

There is a large Tesco Metro on Portobello Road just past Westbourne Park Rd, as well as a Tesco Metro two minutes walk from the Notting Hill Gate station. Stock up on the basics at either location, or perhaps Sainsbury’s Local on Westbourne Grove, Waitrose on Porchester, or hit any of the many local gourmet markets (Grocer on Elgin, Planet Organics) for specialty foods, and any of the many small bodega markets for top ups of milk, eggs, tea, addictive digestive biscuits and strictly-UK Cadbury chocolate varieties (mmm).

Marks & Spencer, a department store and market combo known for fresh & delicious pre-prepared foods and conveniently packaged ingredients for semi-prepared meals, has a “Simply Food” storefront located just a few minutes walk from the Notting Hill Gate station (toward Holland Park). And if you feel like cooking a proper meal in the cooks kitchen at the house, there is an Asian market and a Thai market a block away, plus all the fresh produce from the market stands at Portobello Road (the upper portion of the street). There is a wonderful fishmonger on Westbourne Grove.

Excellent food abounds around every corner, enjoy it!

Restaurants & Eateries in Notting Hill

On Chepstow Road, just down the street from two of our holiday short let homes, at Talbot Road there is a fantastic Greek and/or Mediterranean style cafe and bakery, called Haminados. It’s a gem, open from 6am to 10pm, with a delicious selection of fresh pastries, sandwiches, soups, quiches, pies, deli items like hummus and tzatziki and marinated cheeses and a coffee bar. We had a perfect latte and flaky apricot thing one morning, and came back for a terrific bowl of chicken soup and a lamb burger in the afternoon. This was the favorite find of our last visit, you’ll love the friendly and accommodating owner, the reasonable prices, and the charming stone patio out back with an olive tree and random framed photos of The Beatles hanging about.

Next door to Haminados is a popular gastropub, The Prince Bonaparte. A few blocks the other direction, around the corner to the left on Westbourne Grove, is the Italian deli and cafe chain, Carrluccio’s, with terrific Italian desserts, meats, deli items and meringue cookies the size of your face. Eat in or take away, it’s a great casual eatery to have nearby on holiday.

Le Pain Quotidien is a tasty bakery and cafe with storefronts throughout the city. The Notting Hill location by the tube station is a great spot for a good coffee pick-me-up, creamy and decadent almond filled croissants, or to pick up a good loaf of sandwich bread for toasting up in your holiday home from home.

More Notting Hill Recommendations:

This from a client who stays in Notting Hill several times a year: “Please don’t miss a good burger at Lucky Seven diner, with a margarita first – they make them in the next door Mexican place. It’s our Saturday lunch staple!” Located on Westbourne Park Road.

A fashion blogger in love with Notting Hill recommends an eatery called Bloody French on Westbourne Grove. They have an excellent weekend brunch, and classic French dishes at reasonable rates. Sometimes they offer a BYO special where you can bring your bottle of wine to have with dinner, no corkage, no fee. Tres bien!

With a rich tradition and celebration of the many immigrant communities in the area, Notting Hill also offers terrific North African, Caribbean, Turkish, Afghani, and Indian food, as well as Thai, Chinese and Japanese.

But, as you’ll discover, there are an absolute ton of great places to eat in Notting Hill, let alone the rest of the city. Check London’s Time Out guide for recommendations, or try Yelp, Urbanspoon or Chowhound. Or simply walk around and find some treasures for yourself.

Shopping: Portobello Road in Notting Hill & so much more!

There’s a bit of a Parisian feel to some of the shopping rows in Notting Hill. If shopping is your thing, some notable area shops include Maje, Sandro, The Kooples, Zadig & Voitaire, Nicole Farhi, Aime, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Merchant, Les Petites and scentiful Diptyque.

Stroll Ledbury Road between Chepstow Villas and Westbourne Grove for charming designs, upscale boutiques and lovely cafes, not to mention a nice chocolate shop called Melt.

Portobello Road has shops open all week, with a new Friday market that brings some of the Saturday vendors in for slightly less jam packed streets. There is also a Vintage-only market on Fridays, north up the street, under a bridge. However, Saturday is the big day here, with all of the vendors out in full. Be sure to bring cash as the single ATM/cash dispenser usually has a ridiculous queue. And as always, keep a close eye on your bags, pockets & wallets – it’s a safe area, but prime for pickpockets with all the crowds and close quarters and people bumping into each other at the vendor tables.

There’s a treasure trove of vintage shops in the area, on Portobello Road and off. Impressive storefronts include Dolly Diamond, One of a Kind (spendy! but apparently quite special), Rellik and Retro Woman (great shoes!). Proper sifting is sometimes required to find the gems at resell shops, but they are usually quite worth it at Traid on Westbourne Grove and the Three Pound Shop on Pembridge Road.

Famous record shop: Honest Jon’s.

Famous bookstore: The bookstore featured in the Julia Roberts movie “Notting Hill” closed in 2011. Boo.

New Famous book shop: Books for Cooks. Exactly what it sounds like. Plus spices and other good stuff.

Famous Cupcakes: Hummingbird Bakery on Portobello Rd. (But also try the custard tart at Lisboa Patisserie, also on Portobello Road.) 

Famous-ish and very oddball spot to check out: Museum of Brands. “The history of consumer culture is revealed though household products and shopping basket favourites in our ‘time tunnel’, which charts a nostalgic journey from Victorian times to the present day.” On Colville Mews.

Getting Around London, Staying in Notting Hill

Know Where You Are Going

Buy a London A to Z Streetmap at any tube station or news stand (“A to Zed” as you’ll hear them called). Or download one of their map apps to your smart phone.

Public Transportation

Get an Oyster card for the tube and buses at any tube station. It requires a refundable GBP 5 deposit plus whatever amount wish to pre-pay-as-you-go. Put GBP 20 on it to start, single rides are GBP 2 (GBP 1 for teens) and your max daily fare will be between GBP 7 and GBP 8.40 depending on how many trips you take and at what time of day. Or you can choose to purchase a Travel Card (also available via Oyster Card), good for unlimited travel on buses & tubes in your zone (Zone 1 is all most visitors to London will need, starting at GBP 29.70 for 7 days of unlimited travel), and use it to get around town with abandon. There are many buses nearby, and the London transport web site is very easy for planning trips by bus or tube.

The number 70 bus picks up at Notting Hill Gate, or along Westbourne Grove (we like the stop in front of Carluccio’s), with a fast 11 or 13 minute interesting and sites-filled ride to South Kensington, to the museums, the tube station, and all the shops, restaurants and attractions of the area.

Side note about buses: Not all bus stops pick up every bus on the route, so be sure to look at the sign at each stop to see if the bus you are wanting to take actually picks up there. You may have to walk a few blocks in one direction or the other to find the right pick-up stop (We figured this one out the hard way several years back.)

Walking in London

Walk whenever possible. There’s nothing so terrific as discovering the city while strolling through the streets, perusing windows and menus, catching glimpses into the large front room windows of the period buildings lining the busy roads.

London Taxi Cabs

Keep all the massive amounts of coinage you’ll be getting in change whenever you buy anything, and have it handy. If you are ever lost or confused or just plum too tuckered out to try to figure out where you are versus where you want to be, just hop in a London Taxi and ask them to take you to a familiar landmark so you can get your bearings.

Get the most out of your London visit to Notting Hill

Our best advice for enjoying your stay: Above all, relax and have fun. London is an incredible city, with no end of activities, sites, excursions and experiences to take in. Notting Hill is a fun and interesting place to explore and from which to base for all your adventures in this incredible international city.

We update our local area guides after each property inspection visit, taking advantage of all the wonderful stuff our clients report back after their own holidays in each neighborhood. We hope you’ll report back any highlights or special finds from your trip on your return.


 


Controversial Logo for 2012 Olympics in London

Renting in London for the 2012 Olympic Games

London’s Bid for the Olympic Games

It’s been so long since the Christmas we were in London with family, when the campaign for the 2012 games was going strong.  It was 2004, and there were signs plastered all over the city, clever slogans and reminders about the upcoming vote. Soon the newspapers would be filled with images of the tsunami in Indonesia, but still the little Olympic games logo appeared in the lower corner of the papers, with snippets of news about the bid. There was an interesting energy about it, and even the somewhat stoic Brits we spoke to on the topic seemed to have a slight glint in their eye about the competition, even if their overall opinion of the games themselves fell more toward the “Bah humbug” than the “Go Team!”

Controversial Logo for 2012 Olympics in London

At the time, 2012 seemed like such a long time away, it was strange to see a city so concerned with an event 8 years ahead in its collective future. One of us remembers reading about the success of the bid the following July, surprised that Paris hadn’t won in the end as anticipated. And now here we are, 2012 is fast approaching, and it’s finally time to begin reserving some of the flats, houses and holiday homes available for rent during the famous games.

Book accommodation now for London 2012 Summer Games

As tends to happen with large international events, the prices are going up on most holiday rentals, and private homes that have never been available for vacation rentals are cropping up as available for rent as well. At Elegant Retreats, we are doing our best to make sure that our owners receive a fair market price for their in-demand properties, that guests in their flats or houses will be respectful and careful as those we usually send to them, and at the same time we are trying to ensure that our clients do not get gouged by the rates for the popular and highly competitive rental period.

After months of waiting lists and impatient checking in (“Are you ready to book summer 2012 yet? How about now? Now? Are you ready now? What about now?”), many owners are finally beginning to look ahead to next summer in preparation for renting during the London games. We are so pleased to offer the first crop of available home and apartment rentals for the summer games in London.

London Apartments Available from Elegant Retreats for Rent During the 2012 Olympics

Here is a start for the options that are coming available. We have not yet visited all of them, but will do so on a visit in September/October 2011. In the meantime, our partners in London have visited each and recommend them all highly for comfort, convenience, amenities and reasonable prices even in the busy and competitive Olympic season.

Roper’s Orchard 3-bedroom river view flat, Chelsea
Abingdon Road 4-bedroom terrace house, Kensington (Booked for some Olympics days, please enquire)
Pont Street 1-bedroom flat, Knightsbridge
Ovington Court 2-bedroom (plus study) air conditioned (!!!) apartment, Knightsbridge
Rosary Gardens 2-bedroom flat, South Kensington.
Chapelside mews 2 -bedroom house, Notting Hill
Chepstow Road 3-bedroom house & 1-bedroom apartment, Notting Hill (Booked from 27 July 2012)
We’ll continue to update as more self-catering rental homes in London become available. In fact, there are several more that we have available, but have not visited so they are not yet up on our site (but will be after our next inspection trip in October 2011).

A note about prices: Generally speaking, owners are asking double their usual weekly rate for rentals during the 2012 Games. Which is quite reasonable compared to the triple and quadruple rates being asked for the Italy games several years ago, and the Vancouver games, where so many of the properties were so far from the actual action! Most require booking in week-long increments (rather than 7-night minimum rental with pro-rated additional nights). So a 10-night request will need to book for either 7 nights or 14 nights.  And finally, many owners are requiring full payment up front rather than the customary 50% deposit. They know they possess a hot commodity and have no incentive to compromise. Luckily, if we’ve visited the property, you can be assured that what you are booking is what going to be just as described to you. In a world with few guarantees, we aim to give you some peace of mind about your Olympic holiday home.

Protect Yourself Against Fraud, Scams & Con Artists

In the meantime, a word of caution: One thing we’re concerned about for potential Olympic visitors is not only price gouging, but scam rentals. As you are no doubt perusing your options for Olympic accommodations (we know you have many options to choose from, and we hope you’ll give us a chance to earn your business), please take care with private owner listings on Craigslist or other direct-to-owner sites. While many of these are completely legitimate most of the time, these are exactly the sorts of sites that are easy hunting grounds for predatory scam artists and the nefarious types that will ask for a wire transfer and then abscond with your money, never to be heard from again.

We, of course, do not mean to be alarmist. As stated previously, most of the advertising entities on these sites are the real deal, but it’s the small few that are not that we want to help you avoid. Some of the ways you can do this include:
~Book with a reputable agency or large entity. Private owner rentals are great, we book them on our personal holidays all the time. But in busy, popular or chaotic rental circumstances (and the London Olympics will be all three and then some), it’s too easy to slip by in the system. If there is an agency, with a reputation to maintain and liability to avoid, guaranteeing your rental, you can be assured that they (like us) will work hard for your business and for your satisfaction.
~Pay by credit card. Though more expensive for the owner or business-owner, and often coming with a percentage fee on top of the rental price, paying by credit card gives you certain protections and the assurance or backing of your credit card company, most of which offer protections against fraudulent purchases or transactions.
~Purchase trip insurance. This won’t help you find accommodation if you show up in London and find your rented property doesn’t exist or is already rented to another, but it will make sure that you don’t lose the money you’ve spent in the event of unforeseen problems, interruptions or cancellations.
~Make sure there is a rental agreement or some sort of contract. Ask the owner or agent to sign it as well.
~Ask for recommendations or reviews from past renters, including persons that you can contact yourself directly to ask about the property or the company. If the owner or agency rep hesitates, reconsider. All should have several happy clients who have rented in the past and are willing to share their good experiences. If none can be produced, or if you are not able to get satisfactory answers from someone you do talk to, perhaps reconsider proceeding with the rental until you can be more assured of your protections.

We realize the above may seem terribly self-serving (book your vacation rental only with an agency! an agency… like…. us!), but honestly we can and will be glad to recommend other resources, legitimate agencies, colleagues or competitors in London with whom you will be in very good hands should you opt to rent with them. We would much rather see you rent with a competing company than be taken advantage of in the crowded marketplace, even if it means that we lose out on your business.

Because guess what? We’ve been there, as travelers, and it is the worst feeling in the world. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me. It is a truism: All it takes is one time, and it will never happen to you again, because you will do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But we at Elegant Retreats want to help you avoid the first time, skip right past that terrible sinking feeling in your belly as you realize that you have to hustle yourself and your entire group into any available hotel, whatever the cost, because night is falling and you’ve been up all for more than 24 hours, perhaps on an overnight flight, and everyone is tired and hungry and all you get is an out-of-service message when you call your contact from in front of the address that was supposed to be your flat rental and is instead an empty lot… you get the picture. But this scenario is completely avoidable, even in the crazy jumble of booking during something as large and crowded and (in)famous as the Olympics.

Have more questions about available vacation rentals, apartments or houses in London to rent during the Olympics? Want more tips about safely booking and traveling during the London games? Give us a call, send us an email or submit your enquiry. We’ll be glad to talk with you in more detail.

Go Team!


Sidewalk message "Look Right!" for out-of-town travelers to London.

Brit Speak

On one of our very first trips to the UK in 2000, my partner (now husband) and I booked an apartment in Edinburgh with a reputable US agency (that is no longer in business, unfortunately, because I must say the customer service we received was terrific). While we found some of their booking process cumbersome, we loved the many emails full of additional and helpful information they sent out, helpful hints and interesting travel tips about our destination. Since then, this sort of “value-added content” has proliferated through the internet on blogs and travel guides, but back at the turn of the century (!) there was a lot less of it floating around the web.

One of the greatest pieces of non-essential information we received was a long and funny email titled “Brit Speak” and included the following guide to some of the common language uses and turns of phrase native to the United Kingdom.

Winston Churchill purportedly said that “America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.” The following tips for travelers about “Brit Speak” tends to prove his point:

Sidewalk message "Look Right!" for out-of-town travelers to London. “LOOK RIGHT” and “LOOK LEFT” written on curbs are meant to be obeyed – they could save your life as you are not used to the traffic flowing in the “wrong” direction. Trust this.  Rely on this.

Language in Britain is very class conscious. A 1950’s book called “U and non U” (“U” meaning upper class) says that a “U” person would not say toilet or WC.  She might say loo, but proper use is lavatory.  A “bathroom” is a room that has a bathtub.  A toilet or gents or loo or lavatory does not have a bathtub.  A room with a shower is a “shower room”.  Tubs are baths.

The check in a restaurant is the bill.

Cell phone – mobile
A biscuit is any kind of cookie.  Sweets are candy.  Jell-O is called Jelly. All else is jam.  Brits love jam.
A crisp is a potato chip.  Chips are French fries.
Jacket potatoes are baked potatoes.
A cooker is an oven.  Range tops are hobs
The TV is called the telly.
Napkins = serviettes
Jugs are pitchers.
Take-away = take out
“To hoover” is to vacuum
Markers are felt pens.
A garbage can is called a bin.  Garbage is rubbish – and so is anything disliked.
Yards are called gardens – even if it’s just grass.
Q-tips are cotton buds.

A jumper is a sweater.  Trousers are pants.  Pants are men’s underwear.  Women’s underwear are knickers.
Purse – hand bag
Swim suit – swimming costume
Windcheaters or cagoules (Ka-gools) are wind breakers.  Wellies are rain boots.  Trainers are sneakers.
Nappies are diapers.

Backpacks are called rucksacks.  A fanny pack is called a bum bag.  (“Fanny” is a very naughty word in the UK.)

The letter “Z’ is pronounced “Zed”.

A queue is a line waiting for something. Brits are very patient in queues. You will see queues for busses, trains and taxis, all quiet and orderly. Civilized

A shopping carts is called a trolley.  Flats = apartments.

Holidays (or hols) are vacations.

A lorry is a truck.  A coach is a bus.  A parking lot is called a car park.  A highway is a motorway or dual carriageway.  Petrol is gasoline.  The car windshield is the windscreen.  A car boot is the trunk and the bonnet is the hood.  One hires a car, not rents a car.

The game of tag is called tig and the tagger is a tigger.  Soccer is called football.  American football is called . . .American football.

Math is called maths.  A school crossing guard is a “lollipop” as s/he holds a round stop sign on a stick!
What we call “private” schools, the British call “public” schools as they train the privileged class to serve the public. These are “fee-paying” schools. “State schools” are what Americans call “public schools”.

A doctor’s office is a surgery.  A surgical operation is performed in an “operating theatre”.  One is “in hospital”,not, in the hospital.  A plaster is a Band Aid.

Stalls = Orchestra seats in a theatre.  An off-licence is a place where one can purchase alcohol and leave with it.  You post (a letter) instead of mail it.
Brilliant refers anything that is reasonably nice or good or pretty or smart. It can get quite annoying.

Bobbies are London police, named for Robert Peel, who started the London police force.  Pharmacies are called chemists.
You ring someone on the phone, not call.

The London subway is the underground or the tube.  “Mind the _____” means be careful of _____, as in “Mind the gap”.  If you don’t come home from London saying that, you didn’t spend enough time on the tube.

While & whilst are different. “Whilst” implies a passage of time. “While” may be sudden or immediate.  Will & shall are different. “Will” implies a decision; “shall” is future tense.  Got it?

The British ground floor is the US first floor. The US second floor is the European first floor. And so on. In other words, if a Brit says it’s on the first floor, add a floor to equal it to the US system. Their way makes much more sense since the ground level is not really a “floor”.

There’s one word you absolutely must master before attempting to Britify your speech, and that is “sorry.”  Use it whenever possible, and you’ll fit right in.  As in, “Sorry, you’ve made a terrible mistake on my bill.”  Or “Sorry, but you’ve just won the lottery. “

Jimmy is your name, even if it’s really Harold.  Smart means sophisticated: he dresses smartly.  I don’t like him, I “fancy” him.

A lounge is the living room in working class homes only.  In middle class homes, it’s a living room.  In upper class homes, it’s a drawing room.

And yes, at some point some innkeeper may well ask you what time you’d like to be “knocked up” in the morning. He means what time do you want to be awaken.

Generally, food in Britain is wonderful, but some old style foods linger. The Full English (or Irish) Breakfast is bacon, sausages, two eggs and a tomato, all fried in the bacon grease, and cold toast – a cardiac arrest served on a plate.

Pudding is dessert – any kind of dessert. What Americans call pudding, Brits call custard. But “black pudding” is neither pudding or a dessert.  It’s a black sausage. It’s blood, mainly, and it’s part of every “Full English Breakfast. There is also white pudding (lard sausage) & fruit pudding (lard, cereal, fruit & spices in a sausage). You have been warned.

All over Britain and Ireland, pubs serve a “Sunday Roast” 12 – 3 every Sunday. It consists of roasted pork, turkey, chicken and/or beef, two or three good vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy and Wellington pudding. Wellington pudding is not pudding (of course). It’s a sort of puff pastry that is covered with gravy. These meals are served “family style” and they are big and delicious, a feast. Then the pubs close and everyone goes home to sleep it off.

Courgettes are zucchini.  Aubergine are eggplant.  A joint is a piece of meat for roasting.  Griddle cakes are pancakes.  Tins are cans – as in tinned tuna.  Ketchup is “red sauce”.  Brown sauce is sort of a thicker Worcestershire sauce.  It’s ubiquitous.  Eggs have only brown shells.  A bap is a roll – usually soft, sort of like a burger bun.  A Popsicle is called an ice lolly.

Lager = yellow beer.  Shandy = half beer and half ginger beer or lemonade.  Ginger beer is a stronger, more flavorful ginger ale.  Yummy.  Lager & lime = beer and sweetened lime juice.  Brown (or “broon”) = Newcastle Brown Ale.  One is “quaffing a pint”, not drinking it.  Last orders – just as you’d think: your last change to order a pint.

A barrister is an attorney who tries cases in court.  A solicitor does not.

A fag is a cigarette. I’m not sure what homophobic people call gay men.

A call box is a telephone booth.  A lift is an elevator.  One says “stopping” for “staying”.  “See thee” (often with a little lilt) is good bye.

A flannel is a face cloth or wash cloth. Bring one with you as they are considered personal items and are not supplied in self-catering properties or B&B’s.  Flannel can also be used in a more cockney term to indicate that someone is making up a story: “What a load of flannel”.

Don’t get your knickers in a twist means to calm down, please.  A punter is one who buys something from you or uses your services, a client. It’s a sort of put down, but in a soft way, not mean.

Pubs and churches are often the main points of directions: ” Go to The Dukes Head & turn left at the church and then right at Six Bells & pass The Fox Revived . . .

These are some of the essentials to know when traveling to London or the whole of the UK for the first time. Since receiving this list from the very nice woman at the now defunct vacation rental agency, we’ve picked up boatloads more small language details – like saying “chemist” for drugstore, and “that’s so boring” for anything troublesome or annoying – and will attempt to compile a complete (and perhaps alphabetized and searchable?) list of terms in short order.  Currently the list consists of a zillion tiny little scraps of paper, torn out of travel journals and piled into a pencil case in one of ERI’s desk drawers. The list of odd sayings (“Bob’s your uncle” and “Easy peasy lemon squeezey”) alone practically fills the thing.

For now, though, the above list will get you started and we hope you find it helpful on your travels to London, the English countryside, and parts of Scotland (where there is an entirely new list of terms and terminology to cover… but that’s another post!).

Happy Travels, from Elegant Retreats.


Duke of Wellington Pub in Belgravia London

A week in London

London is a terrific city for all travelers, first timers and oops-my-passport-is-full-ers alike. Fantastic for families, couples, groups, there’s never a lack of things to see, do and experience. Yes, it can be expensive, though prices are relative, and good value can be found in all price ranges, from basic to deluxe. No matter your travel budget, there are infinite tricks and tips for the many ways to enjoy the city without breaking the bank.

Of course, one of the great ways to maximize your trip budget, again at any price level, is to rent a flat or a house in London rather than one or a series of hotel rooms, especially for groups larger than two travelers. Between a stocked kitchen – with options for eating casually at home rather than every meal out or in a prices-padded hotel restaurant – and the ability to avoid VAT and bed taxes and a host of other hotel-related fees, flats and house rentals offer excellent value for budget and luxury travelers alike.

Because the purpose of our company, Elegant Retreats, is to offer the best selection of housing options for visiting groups of all sizes and within a broad range of budgets and accommodation needs, we pre-inspect the properties we offer to clients, and so we travel to London a fair bit. On our trips, we travel to see new properties and inspect those that have been in the catalog for a while to make sure they are still fresh and ensure that we are offering a good value to our clients. Along our various inspection trips, we have picked up some first hand knowledge about how best to enjoy the city that serves as the Gateway to Europe, and often as something of a gateway to International travel for many first time travelers.

A First-Timer’s First Week in London

Day 1: Arrival – City Sightseeing Tour

If you come in on an overnight flight from the states, plan to be a bit of a zombie at this point, and know that everything you see today may be remembered in a lovely dreamy haze. For this reason, we suggest simply heading to your property, dropping your bags, getting briefly acquainted with the joint, and then hopping aboard a city site-seeing tour bus for the rest of the day. No, really.

The site-seeing tour bus, which allows you to hop on and off for either 24 or 48 hours from time of purchase (and sometimes includes a boat-ride admission as well) is the perfect way to get the general (if not a little confusing) lay of the land, and to decide what big attractions you will want to return to in the following days.

It’s great to sit back and not have to think, just take it all in, point your fingers, point your camera, maybe oooh and awww a little at things like the pub that’s been in business for HUNDREDS of years, and the Tower of London where so much of that history you learned in school took place almost a Millenia ago.

Try to time it so that that you can hop off close to quitting time, as close to your house or flat rental as possible (be sure to save your receipt for tomorrow, you’ll be using it again!). Your internal clock will be a mess, but if you are hungry and can stand the sensory input, find a neighborhood pub to have a pint and a bite. Stop in at Marks and Spencer, or Waitrose or Tesco to pick up some sundries on the way home – milk, cookies, breakfast items, tea, etc. If not in the mood for a pub, pick up some food for an easy dinner.

Try to stay up as late as you can stand it, without thinking about what the corresponding time in is back home, or how long you’ve been awake. Just try to go to bed as late or as close to your typical nightly bedtime as possible, and hope you’ll be able to sleep through the night. By morning you’ll be laggy, but probably not fully on home time.

Day 2: Acclimate –

See Also:

A Week in London with Kids

A Romantic Week in London

Christmas or New Year’s Eve in London

The Culture Vulture in London

Shopper’s Paradise in London

Pre-Trip Planning

When to Go

London is a year-round destination, and with the exception of Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year period and a smattering of bank holidays, you’ll rarely find things shuttered here.

If you absolutely must go in the summer, try for early June. Don’t bother with August, it’s crowded and weird and full of Europeans from elsewhere who get the entire month off. Prices are through the roof on airfare, etc etc.

If you can, aim for May and September – the weather is mild, the crowds a bit thinner, and the airfare is reasonable-ish (though not as amazing as in the winter and early early spring).

Length of Stay

A week, minimum, we say. It’s not always possible, but it’s ideal to have at least your travel over and travel back days, plus 5 full days to explore and have fun. Since you’ll likely be jet-lagged the first few days, a 10-day stay is even more ideal.

Guide Book

We at Elegant Retreats are big fans of the Eyewitness series Top Ten Guides from DK Publishing for first time visits to any city, state or country. Billing themselves as “Your Guide to the Best of Everything” they are the the short-cut to all the big, interesting, or important attractions in a given place. Slim, colorful, and easily digestible, these books are broken up by categories, so you’ll find sections like “Top 10 Highlights” & “Top 10 Museums” & “Top 10 Royal London” as well as small area maps/guides for getting your bearings, and quick hits of advice on everything from travel safety to notable walks, children’s interests, and recommended cafes. Each item has the bare-bones bit of information you need to know in order to decide if it’s something you want to check out.  These guides are fantastic and the only thing you need in your pocket, really – though a smart phone doesn’t hurt either….

Neighborhood

It’s hard to pick a bad place to stay in Central London, honestly. If you select something from our catalog, you can be assured that the area is safe, comfortable, active, and if not right in the heart of the action, then a very short walk, tube or bus ride to every possible area of interest in the city.

That being said, first timers in London often enjoy South Kensington (so many museums, so many restaurants, so much to see!) and Knightsbridge (shopping, oh the lovely lovely shopping!). Families seem to gather in Chelsea or the bits of Belgravia around Sloane Square and King’s Road.  Planning to see a lot of theater? Mayfair and Covent Garden areas are great, although they can be quite noisy and feel a bit more tenuous in the safety department at night (not unsafe, just… less obviously protected than some other areas).

Packing

Pack light. Anything you forget, with the exception of life-saving medications or one-of-a-kind comfort items, can be procured locally if necessary, and most can’t-live-without necessities turn out not to be missed on holiday after all.

Plan to dress in layers, the weather can change quickly. Wear comfortable but not ugly shoes, if possible. Avoid logos. If you plan to go to the theater, no need to break the bank, but do plan to dress on the nicer side of presentable, please.

Money

19 people in a forum discussion about taking and using money abroad will have 23 opinions about the best way to accomplish spending money with regard to safety, security, maximizing exchange rates and avoiding transaction fees. You can read more about this what’s-your-financial-philosophy decision making here.

Transportation