Posts Tagged ‘London’

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

Holiday Rental Flats Eaton Square London

First Time In London

We have so much to tell you first time visitors, it’s hard to be brief.  Here is a condensed version of the basic information you’ll need to plan a terrific first time holiday in London. Keep in mind that much of it you can find in a guidebook in greater detail, but really all you need is a few of the important bits of information to have an exceptional travel experience. These are the things we feel will serve you well, and provide you with a great trip, even if you don’t learn anything else prior to your arrival in London (not that we are recommending this, but if by necessity or happenstance, you would be fine with only the following info lodged safely in mind).

Things to know before you go to London, England:

Passport/Visa/Permission to enter the country - You do need a passport to enter England, and a visa as well, however for Americans and passport holders of certain other nationalities, the visa is issued by the stamping of your passport on arrival, and is valid for 6 months. If you are not an American or European Union member nation passport holder, check the simply named “Do I Need A Visa?” section of the UK Border Agency to find out if you’ll need to apply ahead of your trip for a visa to enter the country.

Currency – the monetary unit is the British pound Sterling (£), and has been hovering at about $1.60 – $1.70 in US dollars for a while now. It can change on a dime (or more appropriately, ten pence), but has been enjoying a steady and moderate rate of exhange, which will hopefully continue. So, if something costs a pound, figure you’ll be spending at least a dollar-fifty, more like a dollar-sixty or a dollar and sixty-five cents. At the highest exchange rates of the last decade, the rate was nearly two dollars to one pound, and that was a huge bummer for the old travel budget.

They rely pretty heavily on coinage in the UK, so plan to be overwhelmed by the amount of change that will begin to collect in your pockets and purses. Coins come in denominations of £2, £1, £.50, £.20, £.10, £.05, £.02 and £.01. There are no paper £ notes under £5.

Access to money - if you  have 4 digit ATM pin number and you have let your bank know you’ll be traveling overseas,  you should have no problem withdrawing pounds directly from any ATM. (There is usually a fee associated with this, anywhere from $2 – $10 per withdrawal, depending on your financial institution, so check before you go and think about the right balance of how much cash you want to carry versus how many withdrawal fees you want to rack up).

There are also TravelEx and Bureau de Change all over London, from the minute you land and walk through the airport to many of the train stations and many strategically placed retail currency exchange storefronts dotted around the city.

Time – 24:00 clocks in the United Kingdom, so bone up on your military time now if you will be using trains or going to the theater or trying to make it to certain museums before they close. 5:00pm is 17:00, for example, and 11:00pm is 23:00.

Electricity - The voltage in the UK is 220 – 240. You will need an adapter to plug in your electronics. They can be purchased online, from travel stores, and in many hardware, travel or supply shops in London.

Driving & Pedestrian Caution – Cars drive on the opposite sides of the road from places like the United States and continental Europe. All the rental cars have little reminders on the dash that say “Keep Left!” You most likely will not be driving in London (no really, please don’t drive unless you absolutely have to), but as you walk through the city, be mindful that cars travel the opposite directions, so you must look right instead of left when stepping into a crosswalk.

Transportation - The London Underground or Tube, as the underground train system is called, is comprehensive and easy to navigate once you’ve familiarized yourself with the system.

Where to Stay - We tend to think that the busy, crowded, bustling and quite loud areas of the city around Oxford, Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, etc, are a bit too much for the first time traveler to commit to as a base. Instead we suggest any of the lovely boroughs or neighborhoods fanning out around the parks – Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Holland Park, even St. James Park.

First time visit to London:

There are a few different ways to approach your first trip to London.  Actually, there are infinite ways to approach a first trip, with regard to planning and reservations and activities, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick with a favorite few, that we’ve casually named, and include:  The Top Ten Everything Whirlwind Tour; The Slow Travel Best Of The Best; and The Wandering Wonders.

Top Ten Everything Whirlwind Tour of London

We at Elegant Retreats are big fans of the Eyewitness series Top Ten Guides from DK Publishing. Some first time travelers enjoy devouring the thick, wordy, wonderfully informative travel tomes. Others, initially wary of exploring a new city can be unnerved by the pages and pages of tiny-printed text in some of the thickest guide books. In such cases the simplified and picture-filled Top Ten Guides are life-savers.

To be continued…