Are you planning a trip to London? Are you looking for some advice so you are more prepared for your time in London? Well, you have come to the right place, because I recently spent time in London and I’ve listed my top 7 tips to help you with your planning.
London is a major European city and almost nine million people live there. Planning an itinerary for your first time in London can seem daunting, but it does not have to be. I have used my own experiences during my first time in London to list 7 things I believe will make your first time in London much more effortless and fun.
7 Things To Know Before Your First Time In London
London’s Tower Bridge
1) Get A Visitor Oyster Card To Make Transportation Easy During Your First Time In London
A Visitor Oyster Card is like a credit card preloaded with “pay as you go” money that you will use for travel in London. You CANNOT purchase a Visitor Oyster Card once you arrive in London, so it’s prudent to get it at home either online or through your travel agent.
The London Visitor Oyster Card can be used on any mode of transportation London has to offer: the London Underground (the tube), London Overground, National Rail trains, trams, buses, and more. It is quite a bit cheaper to use the Oyster than to pay for single rides to a destination of your choice. And, there is no paying for a bus ticket in cash once you board, so the Oyster Card pays for itself in spades just for its convenience.
On all forms of transportation, you have to touch your Oyster card to the yellow card reader. It keeps track of where you are going so it knows how much to charge you. On buses and trams, you only need to touch the yellow reader when you board, as it is a single ride. At stations you will have to touch the yellow reader both going in and exiting, so your exact journey can be calculated based on how and when you traveled, and where you went.
There is a 5-pound charge for purchasing the Visitor Oyster Card, so when your first time in London is completed, save your card. You never know when you may find yourself in London again!
Riding the upper deck of a double-decker bus during your first time in London will give you great views of the city.
What happens if you run out of money on your Oyster smart card during your first time in London? You can refill it at various transportation stations and at tons of shops throughout London. What happens if there’s money left on your card at the conclusion of your first time in London? You can keep your card like, to use on future trips to London. Your Oyster card can be used by any family or friend who may be traveling to London in the future, or you can get up to 10 pounds refund, but this must be done before you leave London, and cannot be done once you return home.
A Visitor Oyster Card is a must during your first time in London
Children under 11 travel for free. If you have an 11-15 year old with you, they can get a “half adult” discount for up to 14 days. Purchase the Visitor Oyster Card from home, and then notify a transportation staff member once you arrive in London and they will make the distinction on their Visitor Oyster Card.
Another very cool perk of the Visitor Oyster Card during your first time in London is that you simply have to show your card at participating restaurants, pubs, shops and all sorts of entertainment for visitor discounts.
Having your own Oyster Visitor Card before you arrive for your first time in London is a great idea.
2) Stay In An Area Most Suited To You During Your First Time In London
Visiting a big city for the first time can be overwhelming. London is such a big city, a truly iconic European city. Just about 9 million people call London home. Depending on your preferences, and the goals you want to achieve during your first time in London, you have a very wide variety of neighborhoods to choose from.
Here are a few of the more popular sections of London for your consideration. Do your research. These suggestions only scratch the surface of what kind of ambiance is waiting for you during your first time in London.
Covent Garden When my family and I experienced our first time in London, we intentionally chose to literally do all touristy things, and we chose to stay in the very popular and very trendy Covent Garden section of London. Cobblestone lined streets and all the shopping your heart could desire, from locally hand-crafted items to world-class shopping from any top designer you can imagine, was available to us within walking distance. We literally walked to the London Eye, British Parliment, Big Ben, and Trafalgar Square.
The Covent Garden Market is the shopping highlight for any tourist during their first time in London.
All the Broadway-style theatres are located in the Covent Garden area offering all the top running musical and dramatic productions to you.
Mayfair/St. James Are you planning on visiting Buckingham Palace? Seeing the changing of the guard? Do you like antique shops and history? Then this is the neighborhood for you. Here you will find London’s best residential architecture and finest automobiles!
I highly recommend a visit to Green Park during your first time in London. First of all, it is simply beautiful, any season that you visit, but secondly, there are families wandering, athletes running, and it is a general lovely green space to spend time in.
Visiting Green Park is a must during your first time in London. Here it is ablaze with its autumn colors.
Of course, visiting Buckingham Palace is quite the thing to do if you are interested in royalty! Unfortunately the day we budgeted to see the changing of the guard, there was no changing of the guard. I hope you have better luck!
South Kensington If you want to experience London as Londoners do, this is the place for you as you experience your first time in London. Lovely gardens abound, and fantastic pastry shops will tempt you.
A visit to Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived, and currently Prince Harry and Megan Markle, and Prince William and Kate Middleton reside in, is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. You would also be very close to the iconic Hyde Park.
Shoreditch Looking for an artsy contemporary vibe? Then the Shoreditch area is for you. It is trendy and a colorful haven for those creative designers and artists that call London home. Art galleries in warehouse lofts and street art add to the hip vibe.
Notting Hill Lots of movies are made in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood because of how quaint and charming it is with its cobblestoned streets and colorful Victorian townhomes. If bargain hunting for antiques interests you, Notting Hill’s famous Portobello Road Market will delight you. All the major iconic attractions you would want to visit during your first time in London are simply a tube ride away
The very colorful townhouses that make Notting Hill movie worthy.
London offers so many neighborhoods with so many different characteristics, you will not go wrong if you choose the one that best suits your tastes and the goals you have for your first time in London.
3) During Your First Time In London Expect Great Wifi When Out And About
When we travel internationally we always inquire about getting a SIM card for our phones in the country we are visiting. During your first time in London, you do not have to worry about wifi when you are out and about visiting attractions, shopping, and dining.
Starbucks offers free lightning-fast wifi mostly everywhere in the world. Here we are having an afternoon break while visiting London’s Tower Bridge.
All major shopping destinations, just about every restaurant, and London’s iconic attractions all offer free wifi. You simply sign up when you are at your destination and you are connected! The public wifi is not secure, so keep that in mind when using public wifi during your first time in London.
4) 23 Major Museums In London Are Free
What a cool perk to have during your first time in London (or any time in London!) if you enjoy museums as much as we do. I am referring to Smithsonian-style, huge museums. Free.
I was able to admire first-hand van Gogh’s Sunflowers when I visited the National Gallery. For free.
The Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Science Museum, the National Gallery were the museums we spent time in. Do your own research to seek out those museums which interest you because there are 18 other museums to visit. For free.
5) Restaurants In London Are Fabulous
We were traveling in a group with one vegan (me), two vegetarians and an omnivore. That’s quite a wide difference of tastes to appease when selecting where to eat. Rest assured, during your first time in London, you will not have any dilemmas or problems pleasing yourself or anyone traveling with you.
I was very happy to have my own vegan menu to order off of during my first time in London.
Londoners love their food, and every restaurant we visited was outstanding. Londoners embrace alternative eating choices, and as a vegan, I felt comfortable and right at home with my very own vegan menus during my first time in London. There are so many restaurants to try so we took turns selecting restaurants for lunch and dinner. With our wide range of dining requirements, none of us ever had a complaint about a restaurant or cafe or pub we dined at or the food we ate.
6) Book Attraction Tickets Online To Save Money And Skip The Lines
Especially if any part of your first time in London falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it is generally wise to select which major iconic London attractions you want to visit and secure tickets online beforehand. You will save money, sometimes significantly. Also, some if not most of the attractions allow you to skip the wait lines and walk right on in. This is a great convenience especially if your schedule is jam-packed with things to do during your first time in London.
Our bird’s eye view of the very busy Thames River high up in the London Eye. You can see the egg carrying other passengers in this picture.
7) Save Money By Getting Snacks And Convenience Foods At Local Grocery Stores
Yes, it is fun to visit as many restaurants as possible for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during your first time in London. However, that may put a strain on your budget.
To save money, you can pop into a London grocery store and pick up sandwiches and snacks.
There are a lot of grocery stores in London you can visit. We visited Tesco, a lot. We purchased sandwiches and snack foods to carry along in our backpacks for the long days of touristing. Which was exactly every single day for us. Fresh fruits, such as apples and oranges are sturdy enough to last several hours in a backpack and remain intact. Plus, they are much healthier than sugary and salty. Granola is another tasty snacking alternative.
I bought almond milk several times and peanut butter was available in London. I sometimes have difficulty finding peanut butter in Europe as they are Nutella-crazy, or it is simply too cost prohibitive. Plus, the beloved peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great afternoon snack.
We made many quick stops into Tesco for drinks and snacks.
Yogurt, drinks, and chips/snack foods are all items to have available where you are staying or on the go, to save a little or a lot of money during your first time in London.
These 7 tips will ensure your first time in London will be a fantastic experience for you. Actually, we did not know about most of them! So from our first time in London, I created these tips to help you be more informed.
Have you ever been to London? What is a specific thing you would like to share with someone about to embark on their first time in London? Please put your suggestions in the comment section below.