We’ve been in London for over a week now and have been really busy seeing the sights and doing all the things. I’ll be sharing everything with you over the next few weeks but wanted to share some tips that have really helped us hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in London.
Most of these London Travel Essentials can be organised before you leave home, so you can start your holiday as soon as your plane lands at Heathrow.
Bring Local Currency
I always like to buy some currency local to my destination before I leave home. I ordered British Pounds at my local post office before I left, and even though the Australian dollar has an abysmal exchange rate at the moment, the post office doesn’t charge commission and rates are usually pretty competitive.
It gives me peace of mind when I arrive because I don’t have to worry about finding an ATM machine that will take my card or waiting in a long queue at the airport ‘bureau de change’ (who usually have the worst rates possible).
As a rule, I tend to bring about one weeks worth of spending money with me on most trips as a back up just in case I can’t access money from my bank account for a few days.
Book an Airport Car Service
After flying for 25-30 hours from Australia the last thing I wanted to do with a 6yo and luggage was catch the tube for an hour and a half into town. I booked a car service online before we left and a driver was waiting at the airport arrivals for us with a little sign with my name on it.
The driver was pleasant and took us straight to our digs, helped with the luggage and gave us some London tips. We paid £49 for our trip which isn’t too bad considering the Heathrow Express to Paddington costs £21.50 per adult (children are free) so a car is a viable option if there is a few of you travelling.
We booked online with Airport Cars, who provide free child seats on request.
London’s public transport system is one of the best in the world but you’ll need an Oyster card to get around as the buses are cash free. Oyster is a smartcard which can hold pay-as-you-go credit. Use it to travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail services in London.
You can order a preloaded Visitor Oyster card online or do what I did and just pop into any newsagent to purchase a regular one for £5. The £5 can be refunded at the airport when you leave and you can top it up with cash at newsagents and train stations when your balance is getting low.
Children under 11 travel free on most forms of transport including buses and tube when accompanied by a paying adult.
Local Sim card
Because we are in London for 3 weeks, using my Australian phone carrier for data and calls was not really an option. Data roaming overseas can get really expensive really quickly, so getting a local Sim card was must. Make sure your phone is unlocked from your network before you leave to ensure a foreign sim card will work.
I was surprised at how easy and inexpensive it was to do (for some reason I thought it would be difficult). I purchased a Lebara sim card (with a UK number) for only 99p from a local phone/computer shop. You then buy additional credit vouchers that have a code to top up your credit. For only £15 the UK plus deal gave me 3GB of data as well as a ton of local calls and unlimited sms. You will need wi-fi to set it up initially.
It’s been great to Google info, use maps, face time, send emails and Instagram on the go. I’ll be looking into local sim card options for all my big overseas trips from now on.
City Mapper App
If you only use one app in London make it City Mapper. It’s what the locals use to get around and providing you have data on your phone (see above), it will give you maps and several transport options for getting anywhere you want to go.
I’ve found it really useful for finding bus routes to destinations, the tube is fast but there is no better way to see London than from the top deck of a double-decker bus. Buses are cheaper than the tube too (only £1.50) so it’s a win win.
Just type in an address or destination name and it will find the quickest or cheapest way to get there from wherever you are. It also gives you estimated walking times, approximate taxi fares and step free route options. Never be lost in London again (unless you want to be of course).
So there you have it, 5 essential tips to make your trip to London awesome as soon as you step off the plane. Happy travels