No doubt, London is one of my favourite capitals ever and I am going to mention it not only once or twice in my articles. It’s attractive, loud, hectic, elegant, full of unexpected struggles, especially when you are “a first time visitor”. Whole year long, London is overcrowded by tourists, generating millions of pounds from the visitor’s interest, curiosity or stupidity. Don’t be stupid in London! Save your money and don’t pay more than you were meant to. Be aware of the pack of travel tricks and equipment for avoiding London’s traps and remain finally satisfied of your visit.
When I was talking about equipment, I did NOT mean this:
How to arrange your travel bag is none of my business and I am the last person, who will dare to give you an advice, regarding the suitcase order and content.:) But you still can keep an eye on it. Maybe those pictures could turn to a hint what is the essential for your travel needs. I should admit, by “travel equipment” I did NOT mean the below either:
Lets go directly to the point! I’ll shortly reveal what’s the optimum travel equipment for London. If you wish not to be moneyless or disappointed at the end of your exciting British journey, I believe my article would be kind of support. Remember, the UK capital is a very expensive city and if not aware of the tricks, used by the locals, could be legally “robbed” as a naive tourist. Do not forget the currency is British pound £, still very powerful, even after the Brexit shake. Swiss Frank, US dollar, the Euro and most of the other currencies are cheaper than the British pound, so converting your national currency could surprise you unpleasantly.
The tourist can’t completely avoid the expensive side of London, but “armed” by the right tools, could decrease dramatically the expenses. Unfortunately, I learned it the hard way, via my own mistakes. I have finally considered that experience extremely helpful, turning me up to an expert 🙂 I used to live in London for months and later have visited it casually many times. Now, no secrets left and I feel almost like a local on site 🙂
Lets start with the major “tools” you should provide in advance as equipment for fully enjoying London.
TOP TRAVEL TRICKS AND EQUIPMENT FOR AVOIDING LONDON’S TRAPS
Arriving at London’s airports, is a complete wasting of money to use taxi services. There is an excellent and well developed public transport system, which links all the major spots.
There are five airports nearby: Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and London City. It’s unlikely to land at London city airport, unless you are a VIP. But if you are, won’t need my money saving tips in here.:) The other four airports could be your starting point to London.
Heathrow – the biggest one, hosting the most popular airlines. There are two fast and cheap ways to get to London from that airport. The first one is by Heathrow express. The train runs every 15 minutes, starting from Terminal 5, but stops on the other terminals as well. The ride from Heathrow airport to the last station Paddington is about 15-16 minutes. The ticket’s one way cost is 22 GBP (bought online). There is free WiFi on the train.
On Paddington you can make connection with the Underground to everywhere. There is an Underground station directly at Heathrow airport, but will take about 80 minutes to get to the downtown of London. If you are not in a hurry, take the cheaper Underground service.
Gatwick – I can’t explain why, but this is my favourite London airport. No reason, just feel great in there. Gatwick express takes about 30 minutes to Victoria station, where you can make connection with the Underground. Free WiFi on the train. Could be a bit confusing, because there are South Terminal and North Terminal at Gatwick airport, and sometimes you should take the internal shuttle train to switch. Gatwick express runs only from South Terminal. If you land at the North one, take the shuttle to reach the express station.
Ticket price one way is between 17.80 to 19,90 GBP, it depends if you buy the ticket online or at the station. Online is always cheaper, so I would advise you all necessary tickets, for everything in London, to be bought online. Generally saves from 2 to 8 GBP per ticket. The only inconvenience is some of the facilities require the ticket to be printed out in advance.
Stansted – Lots of people don’t like it, because they believe it’s the most remote airport in London. Last time I have landed at Stansted and it was not bad at all. If Stansted express is working, it would take about 47 minutes to the downtown. In my case, December 2016, it was not available, because of industrial work over the route. I took National Express, which is a bus, running every 30 minutes.
The bus station is in front of the exit of the airport but the access is a bit tricky. You should turn left, just before going out of the terminal gate. So, shortly said, don’t leave the airport building! Take the left extension/corridor, which goes down, right before the terminal exit. Follow the crowd and you will manage to reach the bus station.
Everyone can choose the preferred route to the heart of the city. I did mine to Liverpool Street, so went to the queue for that bus line. If you buy two ways ticket, the total price is only 17 GBP and I recommend to do it online. No need to print it out, just present the e-ticket on the smartphone screen (there is free WiFi on the bus station), that’s enough to hop on the bus. The promoted free Wi Fi in the bus doesn’t work well, so just keep patient and enjoy your 70 minutes trip to the downtown.
Luton – I have never landed at Luton airport. Most of the low cost airlines are in there. I’ve heard there is Luton Express bus from the airport to the downtown, so just google it and you will find the details. I guess it’s not much different than Stansted. Just don’t forget to buy the tickets online, because it’s much cheaper.
That’s the easiest and the cheapest way for exploring London. In the USA they call it Subway, but in London Subway is only the city tunnels. There is a large network of routes. As everywhere, in London they are coloured, so you could see it as yellow, red, green and etc. line. Even if you are confused or a first time visitor, it’s easy. All you need to have is some info in advance and …English language:)
Firstly, memorise the Underground sign. Wherever you go, just look around and find that sign. Once you are inside the station, you can reach everywhere. Sometimes the signs are faded, dirty or a bit hidden, but keep looking or just ask someone, you will find it.
All you need for a comfortable ride is an Oyster card. Take it from every bigger Underground station, which hosts Ticket Office. The cost of Oyster is only £5 and you should add an additional amount of money to it, depending on the length of your stay. For four days the officer usually would suggest to add £26. It’s the approximate cost of your total Underground rides.
The Oyster card is very important, don’t ignore it, as it reduces your expenses half. I’ll give you an example, so you would appreciate the importance. Most of the sightseeing are established in Underground zone 1, which simply covers the downtown. Zone 1 is a huge network of routes, as London’s downtown is a very relative term. Do not underestimate the distance! A single, one way ticket in zone 1 costs £5. By Oyster the price is half – £2.45.
If you should travel to zone 2, 3 or 4, which means a long distance, you should pay higher price. Expectedly, I highly recommend not to skip the Oyster. In addition, the amount of money below £10 left in your card is refundable, so you are going to lose nothing.
Linked to the Underground equipment is Tube Map. Reading this article, you are supposed to have Internet access and fair knowledge of working with smart devices. I assume you already have a smartphone. Tube Map is a very useful application, you should download it in advance on your smartphone. It shows all the Underground routes, the lines in their colours. directions, stations and connections. Works well with Apple or Android, could be flexible.
There is free WiFi in the Underground (I will say more about that later) and no drama of having your access to the application, in case you are lost or willing to prevent of being lost 🙂
I believe now, with the information above, everyone is well armed for approaching London’s Underground. In case you are confused, there are officers at any entrance of the Underground. Do not hesitate to ask about direction or how to use your Oyster card. All you need is to speak English 🙂
3.Cell phone and roaming
If you are not an EU citizen or not able to use the low roaming EU mobile fares, then I highly recommend you to buy a prepaid Lebara sim card for mobile talks. It costs £1 and you can top up as mush as you want. If you top up £10 you get automatically £5 as a bonus. Having communication between each other via Lebara card, while in London, is simple, much cheaper and comfortable. Most of the magazines on your flight to London offers Lebara card. Present it to the first Lebara store and you will be British sim card armed. You can top up online or in every supermarket. I still use my Lebara sim card, two years after I have received it. Keep the same number and use it any time in UK.
I’ve heard about other sim card cheap option, called Giff Gaff. The locals told me it could be serviced only online, but same fares as Lebara – you top up £10 and get additionally £5 for free. So you can google it and verify which one fits you better.
As I have mentioned above, the Underground offers free WiFi connection, while you are at the station or waiting for your line. Find Virgin network, connect to it and sign up the required information. Once you are sign upped, can use it any time you go to the Underground, for free WiFi access.
The other option of finding WiFi free of charge in London is at any Starbucks cafe. In some Starbucks stores abroad, you should buy a cup of something to get the network name and password, like in Doha and Istanbul. But not in London. Just sit quietly in the corner and try to catch the network, free of password. Good speed and you can finalise whatever you need by it.
As mentioned above, free WiFi could be found on the train express from the airports to the city – Heathrow Express and Gatwick express. I truly doubt if National Express bus from Stansted to London provides it, even though it’s promoted on the bus. I have tried to connect, but it was completely unsuccessful, both ways. Most of the free WiFi networks in London require to sign up, so be prepared to provide your data, before getting internet access.
5. Useful applications
Wandering London, you don’t need an old fashioned paper map to get orientation. It’s enough to download in advance the application Maps.me, which works even offline, when you are not internet connected. It shows exactly where you are, what’s around, the nearby Underground stations, shops, sightseeing, routes for walking, distance and etc. I love this application, because it never let me get lost, even when I was green-fresh in London and knew nothing about the city.
If you move on the Southern bank of Thames river, where the Underground is not so well developed, Maps.me easily shows you the bus stations as well, so you can use your Oyster card on the bus. Maybe time to experience those good looking red coloured double deckers, kind of London’s symbol. A single one way bus ticket is only £1.50 for the whole route. Much cheaper than the Underground but… London is a hectic city, with an awful traffic, so you never know how long the bus ride takes. I’ll stick to the Underground anyway 🙂
The other great application is Citymapper. By this application you can easily count your distance, even the walking one, to choose the best transportation and to switch the vehicles. Just make sure your smartphone location service is ON. The application follows you, wherever you go and suggests the best options for transfer. Also, if there is a blocked/not working Underground line for the moment or any bad traffic, this application would give you a detour tip.
The good news is you can use those both applications in every big city all over the world. All you need is to keep your Location On. The application will find you on the map and will offer you the optimal options to move and reach your target. By having it, you would be aware if allowed to pass the bridge by feet, bicycle or car or which way is prohibited. Expectedly, all sightseeing are around, along with the dining options.
6.Taxi in London
Regardless all written above, I assume you would be curious to hop on a famous black London cab. Nothing wrong and could be fun, just mind the traffic you could be stuck in. The black taxi is fairly safe. Could be paid cash or by credit card, which is quite flexible. The driver always gives you the receipt, so generally no threat of fraud. I would understand if the taxi is used by curiosity, but personally I won’t recommend it in London.
In case of emergency, I would advise you to use your Uber account. If you don’t have any, maybe it’s time to register one. As the applications above, you can use same account in most big cities all over the world. The linked to the account credit card, lets the amount for your trip to be deducted directly. No tips, no cash drama, no nerves.
Uber taxi is well developed in London. At least you can follow the route on your cell phone and to make sure the driver doesn’t tour you around for getting more money. But I would repeat, any taxi service in London could be easily skipped, because of the well developed public much cheaper transport.
We have already spoken about the currency in London, which is powerful and expensive. GBP – the British Pound is the only accepted currency. I assume you are not coming with a wallet full of GBP. The exchange of money could be easily completed in the banks around. For getting an idea how much GBP you would receive for your existing amount of money in other currencies, I would recommend XE currency converter application.
It updates daily and gives fresh information about the currency rates. As the other applications above, could be used everywhere for most of the existing world currencies, it doesn’t matter if it’s Rwandan Frank, Jordanian Dinar or Emirati Dirham. As shown on the snap shot left, you just type the amount of the required currency on the top and can see below all rates of the day.
No wish to exchange money and generate possible rate loss? No drama, almost everywhere in London you can pay by credit or debit card. So the currency converter could be skipped, if you don’t trust it enough. I find it very useful, though, at least to compare the average rate with the rate which someone offers you at the moment. The choice is always yours 🙂
London is an amazing city, full of sightseeing, temptations and attractions. To enjoy it and keep all your good memories packed for a long time, just be prepared, before your first or any next visit. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend any cheap accommodation, because there is nothing like that in London. But if you have friends or relatives around, hopefully they will invite you to stay over, so you would save lots of money from accommodation.
Now I believe some readers will “throw a stone towards me”, because I won’t be able to recommend a decent but cheap place for local food. My general impression is London doesn’t provide tasty food and the local one is more than tasteless. If you want to have a great time with your friends and eat healthy, delicious food, count on the foreign/immigrants cousins in London – Arabic, Ethiopian, Japanese, Italian. Wish to taste something typically local? Then I can’t help, because the Londoners are not the ones who could surprise you by the best local cooked food in the world.
Apart of the last sentences, I really hope my guidelines above have been helpful and once you start planning your London trip, will remember this advice. There are lots of things to be seen in London and all is a matter of good organisation and planning. For example, my brother planned to see all the stadiums first, being a huge football fan. So all depends on your preferences.
Everybody has their own likes and dislikes, but the tips above could serve most of them. So, keep enthusiastic, well organised and cautious, then London will remain one of the best journeys you have ever had. Just be smart enough and aware of the top tricks and equipment for avoiding all the London’s traps. 🙂