London: Tips by a local
1. Download apps ahead of time
London is a big place, making navigation intimidating for visitors. If you have a smart phone, download a few simple but worthwhile apps to help you out. Try Tube Map for the underground or Citymapper for planning the best route across a variety of transport methods.
Bonus tip: Citymapper features Europea Residences’ other destinations – Paris, Brussels, Barcelona and Milan – too!
2. Save with an Oyster Card
An Oyster Card is a travel smartcard that allows you to top up credit in advance. You then simply tap in and tap out on London’s underground and tap in (no need to tap out) on buses. It offers considerable discounts compared to paper tickets, both for single journeys and daily travel (Oysters have a daily cap that is significantly cheaper than a 1 day travelcard). Under 11s travel free, but everyone else will need their own Oyster.
You can choose from:
- Visitor Oyster Card
- Same fares/caps as a regular Oyster card
- Bought in advance of your trip
- £3 non-refundable charge + postage + chosen top up amount
- Convenient for short stays, enjoy access to special offers and discounts
- Regular Oyster Card
- Bought in London
- £5 refundable charge + chosen top up amount
- Can be registered online to allow online top ups and ability to stop its use/transfer credit if the card is lost or stolen
- Arguably better for longer stays (5 days or more) as you can apply a 7-day travelcard to cap your weekly spending while still retaining the security of Oyster (in case of loss or theft) and the flexibility of pay as you go (to travel beyond the zone boundaries of your travelcard without buying an extra ticket).
3. 2 for 1 tickets with National Rail’s Days Out
However, paper travelcards do have one huge advantage over Oysters if bought from a National Rail station rather than an Underground station (the latter are identical in function but look different and do not qualify for the promotion). A paper travelcard grants access to some fantastic 2 for 1 attraction offers from National Rail Days Out (available any day the travelcard is valid).
With a bit of forward planning and printing, this can save big money at top attractions like the London Eye, London Zoo, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds (all between £25-35 each per adult) as well as exhibitions, theatre, tours and more. For more information on the types of tickets valid for use, see the Days Out website here.
4. Take in the view
In a city as frenetic at London, it’s rewarding to stand and take it all in from a distance every now and again. Some classic viewpoints to check out include Primrose Hill, the Shard, the London Eye, or the top of Tower Bridge.
5. Embrace free activities
London has a dazzling range of free activities, from world-class galleries and museums (Tate Britain, Natural History Museum, National Gallery) to tranquil parks and green spaces (Richmond Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens) to iconic sights (Abbey Road’s crossing, Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square).
6. Walk or bike
If you’re not keen on the hustle and bustle of public transport, the good news is that London can be eminently walkable if you plan your activities to focus on smaller areas each day (e.g. Covent Garden – Trafalgar Square – Buckingham Palace). Alternatively, hire a bike from London’s bike-sharing scheme and explore parks or travel shorter distances on wheels.
7. Join a tour
Tours, whether by bus, boat, bike or on foot, can be a great way to take in parts of the city in one fell swoop, or to orientate yourself before exploring more fully on your own. If a hop on, hop off bus is your style, check out the options from companies like Original London or Golden Tours. For other tour types, you can’t go wrong with highly regarded operators like New Europe Tours, Alternative London and Strawberry Tours (free).
8. Classic English food and drink
Immerse yourself in British life by sampling some iconic English food and drink. Start your days off right with a Full English breakfast (The Breakfast Club serve their version – ‘The Full Monty” – all day long) or go high class with a delectable cream tea (try Claridge’s for a touch of luxury). Other English standards to look out for include fish and chips, roast dinner, bangers and mash, toad in the hole, spotted dick and Eton mess. Try The Golden Chippy for fish and chips or The Andover Arms for a superb traditional pub.
9. Cheap theatre tickets
If you’re flexible about what show you see, it’s well worth checking out the TKTs Booth in Leicester Square for some on-the-day bargains. They sell off last minute tickets and often offer discounts as large as 40 to 50% compared with theatre prices.
10. Save with the London Pass
The London Pass can be a valuable asset if you plan to visit lots of paid attractions each day or want to streamline your tourist experience by only buying one ticket. It comes in 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 day passes and includes entry to over 60 top spots (including places like Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Kew Gardens). Often this includes fast track entry, too, to help avoid the queues.
Bonus tip: There are often discount codes available for the London Pass. Google before buying for even more savings!