London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

7 More Tips For A Great Time In London

26/10/2003, By Candice Caster

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 14357 votes


You are planning a trip to London – even the very words evoke a thrill! Recently, in attempting to put together some ideas for our upcoming trip to London, it occurred to me that I may have a few more tips to offer in addition to those previously provided. So, for those of you with travel to London in your future, in between ordering your My Fair Lady tickets and passes to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower, you may wish to consider the following and hopefully you will find them helpful:

1. Know where you would like to eat before you even leave home. I think this is essential for getting exactly what you want; we have yet to be disappointed, and dining is such an important part of a trip abroad. Maybe I am just a “grass is always greener” sort of person, but whenever we choose somewhere to eat merely by chance, I always seem to find, in the next block, someplace that looks so much better. You will have to do some digging in guidebooks, but it is certainly well worth it. Traveling in winter, we found that dining next to a fireplace greatly enhanced a meal and therefore became a requirement for us. We enjoyed lunch at a pub called the Windsor Castle, with its “blazing fires” as promised in one of our books (with an open patio for summer dining). Perhaps the description of “blazing fires” was a slight exaggeration, but, nevertheless, it was a charming place.

The Windsor Castle

I ordered their wonderful Portobello mushroom sandwich, and my husband had the best bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich he has ever tasted, and they were huge. In addition, the pub itself was of interest as it sits on the highest point of Campden Hill Road, and the story is that, at one time, Windsor Castle could be seen from here. We like to take the recommendations offered by the lesser-known guidebooks, such as Ruth Humleker’s London for the Independent Traveler, discovered in our local library. Some of these places are real “finds,” and we look forward to going to the Old Mitre Tavern, recommended by her, and dating from 1546. She gives instructions for searching for “an ornate gas lamp and a very little sign,” then worming one’s way down the alley to one of the smallest pubs in London for an “endearing” experience, a romantic description for sure.

2. London has many forms of transportation, not just the Tube. The Tube, or underground, is undoubtedly one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to get around in London. However, to limit yourself to this form of travel exclusively is to miss out on seeing much of London. Spend the extra money once in awhile for a taxi; we have seen so many places this way that we would not have otherwise. Also, don’t be afraid to take a bus. The Travelcard used for the Tube includes unlimited bus travel (with certain zone restrictions, however). Most people think they have to “master” the bus system, which, admittedly, seems a bit daunting.

View From A Bus

One of my favorite writers, Susan Allen Toth, provides a clear and simple explanation of the bus system in her book England for All Seasons and even recommends taking a public transport bus for a sightseeing tour. She cites bus number 11 as one which rivals most of the sight-seeing buses, as it passes by St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Savoy, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey, as well as venturing into Belgravia, Pimlico and Chelsea. In addition, riding on the upper level of a bus affords a view of balconies and other ornate architectural features that would go unnoticed from below. I might add that Ms. Toth’s books on England (there are three) are worth taking a look at, for, as of her last writing, she had been there a total of 32 times.

3. Go to the movies. It is easy to say, “I’m not going to travel all this way to do something I can do at home.” But London is not home, and every experience there is bound to be somewhat different. One of our best memories is of the rainy Sunday afternoon we spent at a showing of Billy Elliot. After wandering through the National Gallery all morning, we strolled over to Leicester Square and found ourselves in front of the Odeon Theatre. Many movie premieres take place in this theatre, and I had seen newspaper pictures of crowds gathered outside watching the stars arrive and walk down the red carpet rolled out on such occasions. Deciding that seeing a movie was the perfect way to spend the rest of this rainy day, we purchased tickets (all seats are reserved and we had to state a preference for “front, center or rear”) and killed time at a nearby Garfunkels over a banana split until the movie started. Our particular theatre in this multiplex was small (our “center” seats were in Row D – the fourth row) and we also had to make a decision about the kind of popcorn we wanted – salty or sweet. It was a delightful afternoon, and one that we would not hesitate to repeat.

The Odeon Leicester Square

4. There are interesting tours and walks in addition to the well-publicized ones. I have two examples of these: the first is the Alfred Hitchcock Walk which takes place every Monday at 11:00 a.m. from Queensway Underground Station at a cost of fifteen pounds. The tour is led by film writer Sandra Shevey who interviewed Alfred Hitchcock in 1972 in Hollywood and speaks about that meeting during the course of the walk. This three-hour walk includes not only places associated with Hitchcock’s life (he was born and grew up in London), but locations he used for his films as well, including Covent Garden, Kensington and Shoreditch. Another less-publicized tour is the Albert Memorial Tour, which is given by Blue Badge guides on behalf of The Royal Parks Agency every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. This national memorial in Kensington Gardens honors Queen Victoria’s beloved husband who died at age 42. At a height of 200 feet/61 metres, the memorial is made from marble, granite, glass mosaic, semi-precious stones and gold leaf and elaborate enough to warrant a 45-minute tour.

5. Put together a walk of your own; whatever your interest, London can accommodate you. If you are a reader, you may wish to refer to A Reader’s Guide to Writers’ London, which takes you through the literary history of various parts of London with interesting commentary on how these places featured in the lives of the authors and their characters. Similarly, The Mystery Reader’s Walking Guide: London suggests 11 walks that “follow the paths of the most widely read mystery writers, their sleuths and characters.” London is also the home of hundreds of movie locations. You can pay a visit to Nicholls Antique Arcade at 142 Portobello Road, and find that it was Hugh Grant’s travel bookshop in Notting Hill. You can see the home that doubled as Hugh Grant’s flat just off Portobello Road at 280 Westbourne Park Road, although without its shabby blue door which has been removed and sold off.

The Anchor

Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath was the site of the movie Julia Roberts was making in Notting Hill and is open to the public for viewing, free of charge. In Shakespeare in Love, Dame Judi Dench, as Queen Elizabeth I, appeared at one of the playwright’s comedies in the Great Hall at Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court, which is open several hours every day, once again free of charge, for those who wish to see it. You can have a drink at Bridget Jones’s local pub, The Globe, in Borough High Street, or at the Anchor Tavern like Tom Cruise did in Mission: Impossible. Or maybe you will just want to drop by King’s Cross Station to see where Harry Potter and the other young wizards-in-training boarded the Hogwarts Express for their new school of witchcraft and wizardry.

6. Buy the right clothes so you look like a Londoner. This is a great excuse for a new wardrobe (like you needed one – an excuse, that is; of course you need the new wardrobe). It also entails a great deal of shopping, months ahead of your trip, but trust me on this – it can be done! It also tends to push credit cards perilously close to their limits. But you don’t want to look like a tourist, do you? As the British would say, not on your nelly! (As if the ever-present camera and map are not clues . . .) Londoners wear dark colors in the winter, so, for a winter trip, those khakis we tend to wear all year round will just not do. A long dark coat is a must, as well. And one should really have new shoes, actually black boots, to wear.

Harrods At The Airport

The excellent condition of Londoners’ shoes has always been cause for dismay and true astonishment, for their shoes always look perfect! How this can be with the occasional rain is perplexing, to say the least. Tourists can always be spotted riding on the trains in the underground for their shoes look, well, pardon the pun, a bit shoddy. (You can forget the expensive haircut; your hair is not going to look good while on the streets of London. You’re going to burn up your curling iron the first time you use it in your hotel room even with that adapter you bought. But, wait. There is a tip about to emerge from this parenthetical: Don’t bring your curling iron from home, but instead head for the nearest Boots upon your arrival, and buy one with the proper wattage.) Now that you have all these clothes months before your trip, you can even wear them once or twice, and run around town looking like a real fashion plate, although you run the serious risk of maybe having to replace them before you board that plane. But don’t spend all your money too early because you will want to . . .

7. Save some shopping for the duty-free shops at the airport on the way home. There is no VAT on purchases made at these shops, and Gatwick has at least two – Harrods and Chinacraft – that are not to be missed. In addition, there are no limits on how many shopping bags one can carry on the plane – believe me, I know!

I will stop now, lest I appear to be a shallow person who cares for shopping above all else. I hope you have gained something from my tips, musings and personal preferences. The last two are just for fun, but, I suppose, fun is what your trip is all about – the planning certainly is. May your trip be all that you want it to be, and I wish you well!

Candice Caster

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Re: 7 More Tips For A Great Time In London

By pilch 05/11/2003, (Rating: 2.9 from 13473 votes)

Great article...

My ONLY problem with this super article,like so many of the others, is that I can JUST barely stand the anxiety of wanting to be in the most brilliant city on earth...RIGHT NOW...sigh..."LONDON"...YOU BEAUTY...!!!

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Re: 7 More Tips For A Great Time In London

By jen 12/11/2003, (Rating: 2.9 from 13480 votes)

Thank you for that wonderful article. I was in London this past summer and although it is only November, I am already planning next summer's holiday!! So thank you it was wonderful.

Sincerely, Jen Poellinger

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