Don’t let the thought of bad weather put you off London – even in winter it’s a magical city to visit with the Christmas lights looking spectacular and in spring the parks are full of daffodils and other spring flowers which make them a great place to sit and people watch.
Of course London has some of the best, and most famous attractions in the world – Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral and of course Big Ben, just to name a few, and all of these places should be on your “must visit” list when you get there.
But I’m going to give you a couple of tips on how to get around and other places to visit that you may or may not have thought about checking out when you are there.
The Oyster Card – this can be used on the “Tube”[London’s underground train system] as well as London’s above ground trains, buses and DLR [Dockland Light Railway]. You can buy it with 20GBP credit here in Australia before you go, and then just swipe it at the ticket barrier at the first tube station you use. Good thing about it is, that once you reach the price of a travel day card (which allows unlimited travel on all of the same transport options during one day), you won’t be deducted anymore for that day. And you can top it up at over 3,000 outlets around London - and, like the Hong Kong Card, it doesn’t expire.
Red Bus – hop on hop off tour. These sightseeing buses are available in many of the major cities around the world including Athens, Brussels, Paris, London, Rome, Edinburgh, Dublin, Barcelona, Berlin, and New York, just to name a few. I always take them at every city I visit (if available) when I first arrive. The ticket lasts 24-hours and I just think it’s a great way to get your bearings around a city.
I take it on its full loop first without getting off, and then use it to get around the city, getting off and on whenever and wherever I like. I remember the first time I took it in London (and this is a LONG time ago) - what I really loved was sitting on the open-air upper deck (for once it wasn’t raining in London) and seeing all the planter boxes on the first and second floor windowsills of buildings as I passed by, full of colourful spring flowers. Rain, hail or shine - its always a winner!
Kew Gardens – about 6 kms from central London (nearest tube station is Kew Gardens Station on the District Line) is a 300 acre UNESCO World Heritage listed site. You can just spend the day walking through the gardens or the green houses, walk among the treetops on the treetop walk or take a picnic lunch and just sit and people watch. It’s a lovely place to relax. If you want to, you can also visit the Kew Palace while you are there.
Use the Tube but don’t forget to walk! It’s very easy to get across London using the Underground Tube. The trouble is, often you use the tube to go four stations, and in fact if you had stayed above ground and walked, it was probably just a few blocks away! Central London is one of the easiest cities in the world to walk around and you’ll be astounded how close everything is and how simple it is to walk from one amazing attraction to the next. So, if weather permits, use your feet!
Markets – yes that’s right, London has some of the best markets of any city in the world and whether you’re buying or just gawking, they are a great way to fill a morning, afternoon, day or week! Some of the better ones are Camden Markets (selling pretty much everything), Portobello Road (antiques and bric-a-brac), Bayswater Rd (paintings), Covent Garden (clothes, arts & crafts, flowers, food); Borough Market (fruit and veg) and Billingsgate (fish market). Whatever you want, you’ll find a market somewhere in London to suit.
Hampton Court – when you visit Hampton Court you have the Palace, the formal gardens, the Maze and the Parklands to choose from. Hampton Court is next to the River Thames about 35 minutes by train from Waterloo Station (it’s within Travelzone 6 so travelcards that include zone 6 can be used to get there). You can get lost in the maze which claims to be the most famous maze in the world, visit the Palace and formal gardens or just wander through the 700 acres of Parkland.
Whatever you decide to do, have a great time in London!