As we prepare for our trip to London later this month, we can’t help but be excited remembering how much fun we had our first time. We also remember the lessons we learned that were essential to our survival. For first timers here are our essential ‘know before you go’ tips that will help make your experience even better.
Choose to stay in the inner boroughs
London is a big city and with a population of approximately 8.6 million you can imagine how far it extends. On our first trip we chose a charming hotel located in Bayswater. Around the corner from the Tube and walking distance to Hyde park it was great. We highly recommend this neighbourhood for the budget traveller as it offers comfortable accommodations for a much better price. This time we have upped our game and will be staying in Holborn, near Covent Garden. Slightly more central, we are super excited to stay at The Hoxton. We also can’t wait to explore the neighbourhood where Charles Dickens lived and worked.
Book your hotel in advance
As one of the most popular cities in the world, accommodations fill up fast in London. Make sure to book your stay in advance so that you have the opportunity to pick the location and hotel you really want. This will allow you to compare hotels to find the accommodation that best fits your travel style. If you are ready to book but not prepay we recommend using Booking.com. For those comfortable pre-paying, Hotels.com offers the opportunity to collect rewards. These can later be used for a free night stay. Lastly, once you have narrowed down your options, check out your favourites on Trip Advisor and then take a peak at the hotels own website to compare rates.
Purchase a preloaded Oyster Card
Once you arrive in London the Oyster Card will be your very best friend. This card provides access to the Tube and buses, and allows you to explore the city easily. By having a pre-loaded card you can hit the ground running and save time. Check out Londonpass.com, a great resource for additional details on how the card works and where to purchase.
Take advantage of the London pass
If you took our advice and checked out the Oyster cards you may have also come across the London Pass. If you are a first time visitor we highly recommend this sightseeing card. The card provides access to almost all of the major sites as well as jump the line opportunities. As a bonus, included with the card is a handy booklet that describes all of the attractions available. The card allows you to choose a number of days so you can also tailor it to the length of your stay.
Don’t forget an umbrella and a power adaptor
In 2012 we hit a stroke of luck and had absolutely beautiful, warm weather during our time in London. However, this is not always the case, and London can often be rainy year round. In order to ensure that the weather does not affect any of your plans pack a rain proof jacket and/or an umbrella to stay dry. If you are travelling from North America it is also essential to pack a power adaptor. With different plug ins throughout the United Kingdom, an adaptor will allow you to still be able to power up your electronics. While we are strong believers in disconnecting from electronics while travelling you definitely don’t want your camera running out of battery at the start of your trip.
Walk on the left side of the road but stand on the right side of the escalator
Human instinct dictates that we tend to walk on the same side of the street that we are accustomed to driving on. Therefore, here in Canada, we drive on the right side of the road and walk on the right side of the sidewalk. In London it is the opposite. If you are out and about during rush hour times be cognizant of locals trying to get too and from work and move with the flow of the traffic. When entering and exiting the Tube stations however be sure to move to the right side of the escalator. In London, it is customary for those riding the escalator to stand on the right side while others wanting to walk up the escalator to use the left side.
Don’t miss out on trying British Cream
While this isn’t necessarily advice on how to prepare for your trip to London, it is essential none the less. During your stay do not miss out on the opportunity to experience traditional British cream tea. A combination of crumbly scone, fruity jam and clotted cream makes up this delicious British dessert. Locals have long had a love affair. Paired perfectly with tea this afternoon treat is the perfect way to end your stay in London.
Take a read of our first experience in London here and stay tuned for our post on what to pack!