London is probably one of the most want-to-visit cities in the whole Europe and it also is known to be one of the most expensive cities in terms of both traveling and living. But it seems like the myths about high prices do not hold back the tons of tourists that are coming to London every year, every month, regardless of weather conditions. Why? Because London has some magical or better to say royal feel in the air, that makes you fall in love with this incredible city and country once and forever. I hardly can describe the whole idea of the “royal feel”, but I am 100% sure you will know what I am saying as soon as you arrive in London!
London is not like any other city in Europe, not only because of its royal status, but also because of its size in terms of both territory and population (London reached the population of 6 million people in 1800!!). It is comparable to New York City, Tokyo, not less.
So before going to London as a smart traveler you want to have some basic knowledge of the city to feel comfortable and fully enjoy you trip.
When you arrive.
Arriving at Heathrow International Airports, you have a few options of getting to the city center. First, if you are staying near Hyde Park (Paddington Station) your fastest option would be Heathrow Express trains that depart every 15 minutes and take you non-stop to the Paddington station in 15 minutes. The ticket costs £20.00 one way and £34.00 with return (by the way you can use your return ticket within one month or so). If money is more of a priority than time, you can take Heathrow Connect train to Paddington, which is cheaper ( £9.10 single and £17.80 with return) and runs every 30-35 minutes, the journey takes also 30 minutes. From Paddington station you can take tube/metro to wherever your hotel is. And if you have some spare money or want more comfort and safety, cabs are at your service. :)
The Magical “Oyster Card”
I am sure you have already read about Oyster card, but i can’t skip this step. When you arrive at Paddington station you just need to buy an Oyster card if you are planning to use metro/tube more than 2-3 times a day (which is an impossible minimum for London) and also buses (you cannot visit London without getting on a red double-decker). The thing is that metro/tube is rather expensive in London and it costs about £ 2-5 a ride, so without an unlimited card you will soon go bankrupt, cause its impossible to walk the city all the time. I advise you to purchase a 7-day unlimited Oyster card for zone 1-2 (it covers most of central London) even if you stay less days, because anyway within 3-4 days you are going to pay not less than that. You will need to leave £5.00 deposit for the card, which you will be given back when you return your Oyster.
Staying at London Hotels
You know European hotels are almost the same everywhere and you kind of are prepared to be accommodated into a small guestroom with basic facilities and for a fair price. But for me London was a complete shock! We paid £132.00 per night without breakfast for a hotel near Bayswater station, which was a 4 star and the room that we got (a Superior DBL by the way) was so so so tiny that you could barely sit and walk to the bathroom without hitting yourself at the dresser or the bed or the bathroom door. We were told by our friends and the hotel staff that all London hotels of the same class have similar rooms and I do believe that anyway. This is just so that you know what to expect.
Mind the Gap Please
This is an expression that you will hear frequently enough to associate it with London ever after all your life :) . Metro/tube is generally very crowded night and day. It works till 1 am on workdays and till midnight on weekends. Once you have an Oyster you can use it on the famous two-decker red buses as well. Here’s a tip for the geeky ones: on Google Map you can get 99% accurate directions from one spot to another for London, including the bus numbers, wait times, etc. Absolutely irreplaceable for us!
Internet, Wifi, Telephones
If you want to be online throughout your stay and share your adventures instantly or just have access to the above mentioned magical Google Maps, you can buy a sim-card with unlimited high-speed internet connection and 300 minutes within UK for just £16.50! That’s a pretty good deal for Europe and has a quite high “return-on-investment”. ;) The most common in city is “CarPhone”, you will find it everywhere.
Wifi is available in most cafes and restaurants, but the quality is not consistent.
Eating Out and Food Prices in London
London is known to be quite expensive, but in reality this mostly refers to accommodation and transport (including air tickets). As for the cafe/restaurant prices the situation is pretty much the same as in any other European capital city. You can have a pasta for about £7,00-10,00 , a burger starting from £5,00 , a drink (coke, beer, a glass of wine) for some £2,00-5,00 and a fine steak for about £21,00-25,00. So overall a lunch/dinner for two persons in an average cafe/restaurant would normally be around £25,00 - £30,00 and a nice dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen with fine Rose wine would be like £50,00 per person. There are lots of supermarkets, were you can buy even cheaper food and prepare for yourself.
The central London is a rather big territory and there’s indeed so much to see and do in every neighborhood that you really need to prioritize the sights that you really want to see. The good thing about London is that almost all of the main museums and galleries are FREE to enter, which absolutely awesome. But the bad thing is the rest of the attractions are quite pricey, especially cathedrals like Saint Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. I would personally recommend visiting the Tower of London, the National Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum and the London Eye. The rest is up to you, or your pocket. :)
There is a cool and inexpensive burger chain called “Byron Burgers”. They have cafes all over the city so you can easily find one with Google Maps. The burgers here are of very high quality and when you eat it, you know you are eating real meat. Very tasty.
Primark. A very cheap and cool store chain in London, also can be found on every corner on Oxford and Regent streets.
Most of the stores on Oxford street are open till 9pm on weekdays and till 6pm on Sunday.
The souvenirs are generally £0.99 for a magnet, but you can get some cool union jack stuff for under £10.
Hope you guys will enjoy your trip to the lovely city of London and will share your thought and ideas in the comments below.