Or some things you should know before heading across the pond
Lately, there has been some talk among friends about visiting Bryan and I here in London in the coming year so I thought I would compile a list of good to know things so you can plan accordingly. I’m going to skip any culture talk as that’s something you should learn when you get here. Instead, I plan to go over things like pricing, packing, and tourist attractions.
#1. Get familiar with the exchange rate. You can start by converting the amounts in the post.
I will try to say this in the least scary way but the bottom line is London can be expensive. The exchange rate is approx. $1.60 USD to £1.00 GBP. This effectively means you should be prepared to spend almost 60% more on things like food and drinks. (I will cover travel in the next section so disregard that). So your pint of Fullers London Pride at the bar may cost you £3.50 GBP which sounds fine but that converts to $5.40 USD. Your fish and chips meal may cost you £7.00 GBP but that converts to $10.80. You get the idea. Meals and drinks can be as expensive as you want them to be and as cheap as you want them to be. That being said on average expect to spend £3-4 GBP on a pint and anywhere from £6-10 GBP per meal depending on how fancy you want to get. The good news is a British or Imperial pint is 20 oz rather than 16 oz in the US and you’re staying with a good cook so eating in once in a while won’t be too painful.
#2. Don’t forget to talk with your banker before you leave.
You should be able to use your US debit or credit card here with ease; However, there are a few things you should think about. First, consider what fees your bank charges for international transactions and international ATM fees. Chances are the ATM will be the best way to for you to access your bank account while over here. The good news is ATM’s are abundant in London and most of them are free to use. I believe that the ATM limit is £300.00 per transaction so usually it is better to simply pay the international ATM fee that your bank is charging than to pay by percentage per transaction. You can bring US dollars with you and exchange it once you’re here but of course use your head and be safe. All the usual travel rules apply here. You don’t want to be in pickle if you lose it or something happens. If after you review your bank’s fees you decide the ATM is the best route for you, be sure to consider what your current limit is on your card and the conversion rate. You may need to raise it slightly in order to get the full amount per ATM visit and save some money on fees. I can not stress enough though to follow standard travel rules. Obviously you don’t want to raise your limit to some ridiculous amount and then lose your card somehow. Be smart. Finally, don’t forget to call that number on the back of the card you plan to use and tell them that you are traveling. The last thing you want is for your bank to lock your account when you need to use your card.
# 3. Learn about the different ways to travel in London.
Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you all about it and you don’t have to do any research for yourself. There are two main ways to travel in London. The first is using the Tube aka the subway for you Americans. Using the tube is the fastest and easiest way to travel in the city. There are several different lines but the whole system is user friendly and very easy to navigate. You can download a pdf of the tube map online to store in your phone but every station has one readily available. I do want to stress that the tube map is NOT to scale. These little things I can discuss again with you when you get here so don’t worry, I won’t quiz you. The only trouble is we live in an area of London called Stoke Newington which does not have a tube station.
This brings me to the second way to get around London- The buses. Keep in mind when I say bus, it does NOT mean the same thing as the bus in say San Antonio or Corpus. Sure you may find a random homeless person on the bus, but for the most part the buses are clean and a great method of travel. So many people travel via the bus so be prepared to see TONS of red double decker buses. There are loads of different routes and come so frequently that you will rarely have to wait longer than 5 minutes for your bus to come. We can go over the specifics when you arrive though.
The best way to travel using either route is with a lovely thing called the Oyster Card. You will need to pay a £5.00 GBP deposit to get an Oyster card for the first time (Apparently this is refundable if you return the card). You can easily swipe in and out of stations and buses using the card and it saves you money rather than buying individual tickets. There are three ways to use your Oyster Card: pay as you go, weekly bus ticket, or weekly travelcard ticket. The pay as you go is not a good option for you in my opinion since either weekly ticket allows you to travel as often as you like. I suggest getting a weekly travelcard ticket. This will run you £29.20 per week and allows you to travel as often as you like on the tube in zones 1 & 2 (you will probably never need to go further than that) and on selected buses (which again you will need to return to Stoke Newington). There is a slightly cheaper option of £18.80 per week but this option only allows you to travel via bus. There are pros and cons to each but there is so much to see that you will most likely want to pay the extra money to get from attraction to attraction so much quicker.
#4. Invest in a good pair of shoes and leave the appliances at home.
You should be prepared to walk and walk a lot. You will walk from attraction to attraction, from station to station, etc. The good news is you’re likely to shed a few pounds but walking in uncomfortable shoes will make you absolutely miserable here. If you are trying to decide which shoes to wear always pick comfort over style. Consider bringing at least two pairs of comfortable shoes in case one fails you. Also, I wouldn’t suggest bringing TOMS along as your only pair of comfortable shoes. I know from experience that walking a few miles in TOMS is not a good idea. So hit up DSW for a pair of comfy aerosoles or something of the like. NO HEELS.
This probably only applies to girls but I will say it here for all to know. It’s probably a good idea to leave the appliances -a hair straightener, curling iron, etc- at home. I can also tell you from experience that even with my fancy 50 dollar converter, my beautiful 100 dollar straightener melted into a big mess. I now own a good UK straighter and blow dryer and if you’re nice I might let you borrow them. Feel free though to bring any of your USB gadgets such as your iPad, Kindle, Camera, iPhone (although you should probably leave it on airplane mode while you’re here to avoid charges), etc. If you have a Mac computer, you could feel free to bring that as well since I also own a UK Mac charger. Imagine that.
I can’t comment on the weather as I have no idea when you plan to come nor what the weather is like all the time. Therefore, let’s discuss that when it gets closer to your trip time.
#5. Decide what attractions you may want to see.
Luckily for you, I have compiled a lovely list of places at the end of this post. I have included the attraction prices as well since these can be kind of pricey. The good news is there are so many things you can do in London for free. This list by NO means covers everything you might want to see but it should hit the hot spots. There are more museums that I can list so if you’re interested in something in particular like history or biology chances are there is a museum to suit your tastes. You’re welcome.
#6. Finally, Take a look at other places to go while you’re in Europe.
I am no expert in this area but I can show you a few good places to look. For starters, you should know that from £69.00 round trip, you can hop on the EuroStar Train to Paris for the night. Maybe you fancy having a beer in Brussels from £104 round trip on the EuroStar. Both of these train rides are under 3 hours so they could easily be squeezed into your trip. You can also browse budget airlines like EasyJet because chances are that place in Europe that you have been dying to go to is in your budget and only a quick flight away. Be aware that budget airlines like EasyJet do NOT include checked baggage in the cost of the flight. These airlines ask that you only bring a carry-on bag. You can select the option to check a bag at an additional charge but you probably don’t need to do this if you are only going to be there for the weekend. Because prices are going to be dependent on when you are coming over, I will let you search for flights yourself, but it is worth looking into because it really can be in line with your budget. If you do decide that you want to travel outside of London, let us know. We may not be able to join you, but chances are with enough notice we can fit it into our budget as well.
Are you still with me? I think I have answered all of the common questions that we are getting in this post but feel free to ask if you want to know something in particular. In fact, why not ask your question in a comment on this post so that everyone can benefit from it.
List of Tourist Attractions (in no particular order):
The British Museum- Free Entry
“World-famous objects such as the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies are visited by up to 5.8 million visitors per year.” -britishmuseum.org
The Tate Modern Museum- Free Entry
“You can see amazing work for free by artists such as Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Rothko, Dalí, Pollock, Warhol and Bourgeois.” -VisitLondon.com
The National Gallery- Free Entry
“..displays Western European painting from about 1250-1900. You’ll love seeing work by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Turner, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh.” -VisitLondon.com
The Natural History Museum- Free Entry
“Highlights include Dinosaurs, the ultimate dinosaur exhibition; Creepy-Crawlies, guaranteed to have you scratching in minutes; Human Biology, the must-see exhibition about ourselves; Ecology and Mammals, with its unforgettable blue whale.” -VisitLondon.com
The London Eye- From £17.01
“Since opening in March 2000 the EDF Energy London Eye has become an iconic landmark and a symbol of modern Britain. The London Eye is the UK’s most popular paid for visitor attraction, visited by over 3.5 million people a year.”-LondonEye.com
Madame Tussauds- From £27.00
“Filled with 14 exciting, interactive zones and a brand new Marvel Super Heroes 4D movie experience, Madame Tussauds London combines glitz and glamour with incredible history with over 300 wax figures.” -MadameTussauds.com
Tower of London- From £17.00
“Despite its grim reputation as a place of torture and death, within these walls you will also discover the history of a royal palace, an armoury and a powerful fortress. Don’t miss Royal Beasts! Learn about the wild and wonderous animals that have inhabited the Tower throughout its history. Plus, discover the priceless Crown Jewels!” -hrp.org.uk
Buckingham Palace -From £18.00
*Note: Free to see obviously, pay for entry. Open from July 31- Sept 30*
“The State Rooms form the heart of the working palace and are lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection – paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Canaletto; sculpture by Canova; exquisite examples of Sèvres porcelain; and some of the finest English and French furniture.” -theroyalcollection.org.uk
The London Zoo aka ZSL -From £18.50
“And with a number of indoor enclosures and animal houses, you can also escape the chill and get transported to tropical climates!”-zsl.org.uk
Westminster Abbey -Free to see, From £16.00 for entry
“Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains – the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history.” -westminster-abbey.ork
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre- Free to see, £13.50 for the tour
“Our expert guides will take you on a fascinating tour of the iconic Globe Theatre and auditorium, bringing the space to life with colourful stories of the 1599 Globe, of the reconstruction process in the 1990s, and of how the ‘wooden O’ works today as an imaginative and experimental theatrical space.” -shakespearesglobe.com
The Big Bus Tour- From £23.00
“We invite you to experience the magical sights and sounds of London in comfort and safety aboard our hop-on hop-off bus tours. Founded over 60 years ago we are now the largest and most popular open-top sightseeing red bus operator in the world!” -theoriginaltour.com
List of Sites to See in London- This is a list of areas, sites, or buildings to visit that are obviously free to see and might be no-brainers to you.
Houses of Parliament
Southbank (This area includes the Millenium Bridge, The Globe Theater, St. Paul’s Cathedral and many other cool things.)
Covent Garden (Home to many restaurants and bars as well as the London Transport Museum)
Camden Lock Market
Hyde Park, Regents Park
Oxford Circus (Shopping district not an actual circus.)
Piccadilly Circus (Theatre district again not an actual circus.)
And so much more!
SO what are you waiting for? Book your flight and pack your bags. Now.