Our Favorite Tourist Spots

Our Top 10 - Our Walking Tour of London - The Tower of London - Seth's advice for tourists

During our two and a half years in London, we never felt like we really stopped being tourist. Tara said that we'd stop being tourists when we started sitting anywhere on the bus instead of trying to get the top front seat. And, as we always tried to sit in the top front seat, there was always some tourist in us.

Our Top 10

10      Tower Of London
          Tower Hill Tube (yellow or green line)
        - look around the outside for free, for ~£8 go inside to see the Crown Jewels
9       Museums, Museums, Museums
        - British Museum: Russell Square Tube (blue line), donation, huge, lots of mummy's
        - Victoria & Albert: walking distance, donation
        - Natural History: walking distance, charge until 4:45pm (closes at 6)
        - Science: walking distance, charge until 4:45pm (closes at 6), good for kids
        - And many more
8       Churches
        - St. Paul's: St. Paul's (red line)
        - Westminster Abbey (yellow or green line)
        - And one on almost any square you find
7       Palaces
        - Buckingham Palace: Approaching from Trafalgar Square is a nice walk
        - Kennsington Palace: in Kennsington Palace Gardens
        - Windsor: a day trip
6       Parks
        - Hyde Park: Large Park with speakers corner on Sunday morning
        - Kennsington Palace Gardens: connected to Hyde Park, Princess Di's home
        - Regent's Park: Our favorite, flowers even in the winter and the zoo (charge)
        - Parks near Buckingham Palace
5       Shopping
        - Harrod's: Knightsbridge (blue line) or walk!  Bring lots of money.  Closed Sundays
        - Oxford Street: Hyde Park Corner to Oxford Circus (red line)
        - Regent Street: Oxford Circus (red line) Liberty is a must for sewer
        - Covent Garden: Covent Garden (blue line) An upscale flee market
        - Portobello Road (Sat.): Notting Hill Gate (red, yellow or green) REAL flea market
        - And many more.  hint:  To think in $'s, multiply by 1.5 i.e. a £20 sweater costs $30
4       Afternoon Tea
        - For a break from tourist-ing, stop by any hotel for "Afternoon Tea"
        - Our favorite is the clotted cream and jam on scones!!
3       The West End
        - One night, walk from Covent Garden to Leicester Square to Piccadilly Circus
        - Detour anywhere that looks interesting (Soho, Chinatown) The areas are safe
2       Double Decker Bus Ride
        - Take the regular city busses and sit up top (see Transportation below)
        - Or take the 'Official London Sightseeing Bus' for narration, get on/off at your leisure
1       Big Ben
        - This is what we think of when we think London
        - You get a great view from Trafalgar Square
        - See Big Ben up close from Westminster(yellow or green)
        - Trivia, the bell, not the clock is called Big Ben

Sleep in until 9:30 and go anywhere in Central London by tube or bus for £3!
Buy a one-day zone 1 and 2 Travelcard from any Tube Station.

Bring comfortable shoes. There's LOTS to see and you'll be walking allot.
 

Our Walking Tour of London

We wanted to be able to show our friends around quickly, so whenever someone visited we had a route to show them around. We would start either at the Covent Garden or Leister Square tube station. If we started at Covent Garden, it was fun to do some shopping or look in the windows as we headed toward Leister Square. Once near Leister Square, we would walk down to Trafalgar Square for a glimpse of Big Ben. If it was Thursday evening, we could even pop into the National Gallery. Then, it was through Trafalgar Square to point out the half-price ticket booth. Next, we'd head into Soho. Window shopping there was always fun! We would also often go into our favorite Ann Summers to see the merchandise up close! Then, after Soho, we'd head to Picadilly Circus. As there was a video arcade to pass on the way, we'd stop by. From Picadilly Circus, we could take the bus home and pass Harrod's. Especially nice at night when it was all lit up.

The Tower of London

This is the one spot we'd always tell our friends to go to. We'd also advise to buy a ticket first at the tube stop, because then when you arrived at the Tower, it was like a "get out of line free" pass and you wouldn't have to wait.

Seth's Advice for London Visitors

Coming to London?

We have had many visitors over the last couple of years, and have found a few things
that seem to help when visiting London. We've compiled a small list, and if you have
any extra hints, please feel free to mail us at hints@immell.com and we'll include them.

Don't plan too much
This is the most common mistake we see. People will plan to see 2 museums and a
historic area during the day, and then a play or similar at night. For almost everyone it's
too much. If you do plan on doing things, plan on one event for the day and one event
for the night. We've found that no matter how much people try to get up early and get
out to do all these things, they're lucky if they get out of the door by noon. Even with
the big bustle of London around us, it's still a vacation for most people visiting. Take
time to relax.

Thinking things should be done the "American" way
Of course, it's fun and natural to compare cultures, but too many people expect that since
English is spoken here, everything is done as it is in America. Surprise. It's not.
That's one of the charms. Don't criticize why things aren't done the American way,
especially in public. Probably you'll be speaking much too loudly (Europeans speak
much, much softer for the most part than Americans) in a public place when you do and
it just adds to the ugly American label. The food is different (corn in the sandwiches),
the service level is different (non-existent compared to American standards), and so are
the people. If you want things the same, just go to Disneyworld in Orlando.

Planning on doing too many things the first day or two. If you aren't used to international
travel, the trip will exhaust even the hardiest person. Your body clock will be totally
thrown off and after you come off the initial adrenaline rush of being here, you'll drop.
Go ahead and plan on it. We've found two effective strategies:
a) Take about a 3 hour nap right when arriving. Then go out for some physical activity,
walking outside, or similar for a while, have dinner and try to stay up till 9 at least.
b) Stay up until 9pm no matter what, but avoiding the caffeine. But stay nearby just in
case you just can't make it that late, it's only a 10 minute walk (or 3 minute cab ride)
home. Try to get in the sunlight. Dont even think of trying to get up early the day after
you arrive. You'll have either woken up in the wee hours of the morning and been
unable to sleep or will sleep till noon the next day. You'll still be a bit groggy, so keep
it very light the first full day.

Packing too much
Experienced travelers will tell you, if you can avoid checking luggage, do it. Almost
everyone overpacks. A small rolling bag or duffle bag is all you really need, and
possibly a large purse or backpack to carry during the day. By avoiding checking
luggage, you avoid the long lines at the passport counter and have less to worry about
bringing up the many flights of stairs. Electrical appliances that you bring won't work at
our apartment. We have a hairdryer and curling iron if you need them.

Stuff for the plane
Be sure to have a pen and your passport with you since you will have to fill out a landing
card.

London is expensive
Although the dollar to pound rate fluctuates a bit, the easiest conversion is 1.5. That
means 1 British pound is worth 1.5 dollars. Or, sadly for Americans, one dollar is
about 60 pence (60/100 th of a pound). Now, to give you an idea of average prices in
London, simply do a one to one cost. For example, if a movie costs 8 dollars to go to
in the States, it costs about 8 pounds in the U.K. That's about 12 dollars. Most things
are like that. If you go outside London, things are cheaper, but most people always end
up shopping in London. Unless money isn't an object, think of limiting your
souvenirs.

There is no need to rent a car
London has one of the best transportation systems in the world (although the Londoners
still complain it's not like it used to be). A weekly travel pass (or weekend travel card)
will allow you full use of the Tube and buses in the city. Bring a passport sized photo
with you and your weekly travel card becomes a London Underground Souvenir. Both
forms of transport go to all the tourist areas, are comparatively clean and safe and easy
to use. Even if you plan on going out of the city, there are bus tours or trains to most
places in England.
With that said and you still want to drive, be prepared to be stressed out doing it.
Driving on the wrong side of the road can leave you with frazzled nerves because it's
so hard to figure out what to expect from other drivers, let alone to keep reminding
yourself what side of the road you are on and continually turning on the wipers when
you mean to turn on your turn signal. Also, reserve your car from the States reservation
lines. It will be much, much cheaper than just showing up and renting.

Currency Exchange
If you have an ATM card, check to be sure it can be used overseas (almost all can now -
including Cirrus and Plus) and what the fees might be. You'll usually get a decent rate
and you don't have to carry large amounts of money. There are cash machines in
Heathrow that will dispense cash (the Brits call them cash tills). And otherwise, we
recommend getting your cash changed in a bank, such as Nat West or Barclays, for a
better rate and lower fee than the currency changers that are set up all throughout
London. With that said, it's almost impossible to find an open bank on a weekend.
Also, travelers checks are a nice idea, but if your ATM card works or you don't have a
high cash advance fee on your Visa, you can avoid the embarrassment of handing over a
travelers check to the bartender and having him look at it oddly asking what the heck it
is.

Extra Trips outside London
If you have the time, a weekend trip to Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Brussels, and so
many more are cheaply available from London. But try to plan ahead. Most of the
cheap fares (most under $110 USD) are at least 2 week buy ahead. Remember, though,
any extra travel is going to tire you out a bit and you'll lose precious vacation time by
being in transit. There is so much in London to do and see, most people are
overwhelmed with even just this city. And if you do decide to go to Paris (or
EuroDisney), Brussels, or Amsterdam, consider the Eurostar high speed train.
Although it takes a bit longer, its immensely more relaxing, especially if you put up for
first class.

Passport
You will need a passport to travel. I can take up to 8 weeks to get it in the States. If
you are thinking of going anywhere and don't have it yet, go get it right now. It
something that many people put off until the last minute and just adds stress if you're
worried you might not have it before your flight is due to leave.

Pubs\Beer and Cider
One of the great things about London is the number of interesting pubs and cafes. For a
true British experience go into a pub and order a pint of beer. If you don't know what
beer you like, try a lager - it's the closest thing to standard American beer, but much
stronger. And a caution, there are some excellent ciders also, but they are usually
higher in alcohol content than the beers. In the pub, don't tip the bartender. If you do,
they'll just look at you funny. And don't worry, even though you try to disguise it,
everyone will know you're American. Pub food varies between excellent and inedible.
We recommend roaming about a bit and finding a small pub in one of the side streets that
interests you. And for those interested, some pubs advertise as Freehouses. That
means that they are not affiliated with any particular brewer and are free to serve
whatever beers they care to.
Normally, you need to go to one area of the bar to order your drinks and another if you
are ordering food. Many times the food will be listed on chalkboards and there will be a
case showing what cold food is available. Also, most pubs only serve food at certain
times, such as 11 to 2 and 5 till 9:30, so if you're looking for food, best to ask at the bar
if they are still serving it before getting settled.

Electronics
Don't even think of bringing hair dryers or most electronics. The plug and electricity is
different here. And as a friend of ours found out, plugging in and turning on the wrong
type of hair dryer can blow circuits in the entire building. If you really need one, plan
on shelling out about 20 dollars for a small one in one of the shops. Most portable
computers that have a power cable that has a brick in it, will convert to the currency
automatically with just an adapter for the plug-in. But check it first. And besides, what
are you doing bringing your laptop if you're on vacation?  Also, buy any cameras,
batteries, film, etc. before you leave the States. They are much more expensive here.

Plays/ Theaters
London has more than it's fair share of plays and shows for a big city. If you have a
particular one that you'd like to see, try to reserve tickets before you come since most of
the good seats for the good shows are sold out about a week or so in advance. If not,
don't get taken in by any of the so called half-price or discount ticket sales shops - they
aren't discount. If you are willing to pay full price, many times these have blocks of
good tickets reserved for you. But if you have the time, go to the theater itself and go
to the box office to get your tickets. That way you can see the seating map and they
many times have some tickets available.
For true half price tickets, there is a large shop in the middle of Leicester (pronounced
Lester) Square that does give honestly half priced tickets. They don't carry many of the
big shows and they only have same day, but if you want to see a show, that's a good
alternative. I think they open around noonish on weekdays. There is always a
line. Cash only (if I remember correctly).
Also, most theaters have return ticket lines. And hour or two before the show, they'll
open up the box office for tickets that have been returned for various reasons and they
want to sell them. There is usually a line for these and its luck of the draw on what type
of seat you get, if you get one at all.
Scalpers are called touts here and many times do have tickets for shows that night, but
you'll pay extra and they may be bad seats. And touting is illegal here, but tolerated.