03.01.2008 - 03.01.2008 0 °C
Having lived and worked here for quite a while in the 90s, London will always have a special place in my heart. Here are some tips and tricks based on what I learned then as well as what we came across on our most recent trip.
1) Buy an Oyster card as soon as you arrive. It's basically a smartcard that you use to pay-as-you-go for the underground, DLR, buses etc. You can buy them at most main stations and you'll need to add some credit to it as soon as you get it. It's super convenient, but the best thing is that it can offer savings of up to 50% on single fares. Additionally, having an Oyster card entitles you to discounts at a range of museums. Offers change from time to time, but we were able to get into the Museum at Docklands for half price, as an example. Visit www.tfl.gov.uk for more information.
2) Research what museums etc you want to visit before you arrive. Although we had seen the complete Tutankamen collection in Egypt and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, we wanted to compare notes by seeing both the related exhibitions (at the O2 and the British Museum respectively) while we were in London. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out for both.
Not something we saw in London... but you could if you plan ahead! The British Museum has a number of them, until April 2008.
3) Unless you want to see the latest and greatest musical or play in the West End, don't even think about paying full price. Try www.londontheatredirect.com for tickets where we paid significantly less for great seats.
4) Don't miss a cruise up the Thames! I lived in London for five years, and have visited dozens of times since I left, but had never done this. It offered a completely different perspective of the City and simply shouldn't be missed. If you're short of cash and don't care so much about the commentary, take a commuter boat rather than a tourist boat. You'll also save if you mention your Oyster card.
5) We still love the London Eye (the big ferris wheel at Westminster) which offers great views over the City. Try it at twilight for a different view!
The London Eye. Still impressive after all these years....
6) We're BIG fans of the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth which has an impressive collection of military hardware in addition to very high quality rotating exhibitions and a fabulous collection of war themed art. Even if you don't think you're interested in the military, it's a guaranteed thought-provoking and entertaining experience. We wouldn't miss it and used to pay good money to visit it several times a year. It's now - happily - free to enter!
7) For the third time during this trip, we walked along the Thames from Westminster to London Bridge. It's a fabulous walk that takes in many key sights: from Big Ben and the Eye, past the Tate Modern, the Globe, with great views of St Paul's and Tower Bridge. There are plenty of restaurants and bars along the way, in addition to free entertainment including skateboarders and buskers. If you're interested, this itinerary could easily include a flight on the Eye and visits to the horribly overpriced London Dungeon. And it's an easy walk over the pedestrian Millennium Bridge to St Paul's and the City.
8) Don't miss the Docklands. It's an easy trip on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), and there's SO much happening out there. The recent opening of the massive entertainement complex, the O2, has made it even more hip. We loved the Museum at Docklands which gave us the historical context of an area that struggled to find tenants back in the 80s an early 90s! Now, the area is booming and still growing. Get a ticket to a concert and give yourself an excuse to get out there. And while at the O2, check out Tapa Tapa where we enjoyed a fabulous pre-show dinner and after-show drink.
9) In terms of budget accommodation, check out chains like the Travel Inn and IBIS which offer basic but immaculately clean rooms. Public transport is SO incredibly good in London that you don't need to pay too much for a tiny, dirty room in the centre.
10) Finally, take out a second mortgage before you go. With the exchange rate hovering around US$2 for every british pound, you will find the city very expensive. The good news is that so much of London is free: it's fabulous parks (don't miss Speaker's Corner at Hyde Park every Sunday!), markets, the walk along the Thames, Greenwich, just about all the Museums and so on.