My latest travels were to the part of the world that I have never even been close to. London has that old charm beauty and it straight-up gives me the feeling of living those nursery rhymes that I loved during childhood. This trip was super impromptu with my girlfriends (because of fashion weeks in London and Paris); so there was hardly any planning involved. What did pay-off though, was basic planning and research as discussed before in my blog posts here and here. And I hope this serves as a good London travel-guide for first timers. Side-note, I have included details in the map towards the end. So check out the map, save a copy for yourself and use it to plan your own trip to London!
September is a great month to visit London. This is when Autumn begins. We are aware that London tends to get alot of rain but I was quite lucky not to get it while i was there. It is a good idea to keep a lightweight plastic poncho on you for the unexpected weather drama (small umbrellas are useless because if it gets windy, they turn upside down fast!).
Depending on your tolerance for cold, light layers and full-length pants are a good idea. I found the weather to be perfectly balanced for spring and summer clothing. Exploring the city includes a lot of walking and public transport so definitely pack flats and sneakers as always.
I carried light jackets to layer up, just in case. You know how people think it makes no sense to wear short skirt with long boots (i mean apart from the fashion aspect)? Well, somehow it makes for a perfect outfit in London’s weather!
Booking.com and Airbnb are great options. I would recommend staying in the centre close to the Oxford street or Covent Garden, mainly Zone 1, because that saves heaps of time and money in your commute to the star attractions. First timers would obviously want to tick off all the famous attractions that are mostly found in Zone 1 and 2. This site here explains how London is divided into Zones.
Make sure to get a phone plan that provides you unlimited mobile data. I got the one from 3 mobile for £45 and it even gave me free roaming with about 15 GB data for Europe! It was more than enough for my further trip to Paris. The network was perfect and fast and I could get the card right at Heathrow Airport’s WHSmith convenience store. This is a pre-paid card so local calls and messages are free and you do not have to worry about balance or allowance for up to 30 days.
London streets are tiny and traffic ends up being an issue more often than not. It is therefore faster to use public transport or to walk rather than taking a cab/Uber. Uber is the cheapest kind of cab though. Black Cabs cost about three times more. Catch the Black Cabs in an emergency but otherwise, save them pounds! The subway (tube as they call it in UK) is super-convenient but it can get crowded at peak times and also quite stuffy and suffocating.
For public transport you need an Oyster Card that is available at any of these places here. This card can be recharged at Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail stations, and any location that is an Oyster ticket shop (find your nearest one here).
Pro-tip: For times when you are caught with no Oyster card or no balance on your card, just use your regular debit card with a tap function (your account might incur small currency exchange fee for the day, based on who your bank is).
If you have both UK and European visas sorted and ready, take a short 2-hour train ride to Paris on the EuroStar! It is extremely convenient to travel across countries and is exactly what I did on my trip.
Food is not a problem at all in London. As expected in a place like London, there is a good variety of vegetarian food everywhere. There is a Pret bakery practically at every corner and it always has salads that you can grab any time.
And Tea! Oh the variety of tea everywhere is just the best.
Tourist sights and attractions:
For details on the places and small tips, read the captions on all the photos in this blog post.
As always google places to visit in London and also the most instagrammable places in London and plot them on your map. You could check out the online passes that include a bundle of these activities, if they fit your plans. Some places like the Harry Potter studio tour get booked out weeks in advance.
You could also purchase tickets online to skip the line by paying a small premium fee. The usual trick is to plan the itinerary as I discussed previously in this post here. A few additional things I would add here though:
- Opt for the experiences where the classic double-decker red Bus takes you for an afternoon tea like this one here. Book in advance, because it gets booked out pretty quick. The best time slot to book for is lunchtime, because there is heaps of food served for each person. You get to take away the leftover food so there is no wastage.
- If you want to shop for the discount outlet designer things, go to Bicester Village by taking a direct train from the city. Also the famous Oxford Street is full of so many cool shops, including Selfridges.
- Carry your passport or photo copies of passport on you at all times because in most stores, you will be able to claim traveller’s tax refund. This refund can be collected as cash at the airport or in your bank account.
- The line at the airport to collect the tax refund is INSANE. The standard rule is to get the tax refund claim BEFORE checking in your luggage. However, if you have small items that you do not mind putting in your carry on, then you can claim it after checking in the luggage and security.
Where’s the hygge?
The actual journey from Australia to the other side of the world is super long but oh so worth it. London is only a small part of the UK but a vibrant and colourful one. The art lover in me rejoiced over all the victorian architecture heaven that London is. It felt like a fun fusion between Melbourne and New York and I was all about that vibe! The hygge was in the architecture and the friendly vibe of the city. Oh and hearing all that English accent. Pure aural delight!