10 Tips for Loving London
Didn’t get your invitation to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Hmmm. Must have been an oversight. But Anglophiles are always intrigued by royal goings-on and the island nation expects a bumper crop of Americans to visit the UK this year, starting their trip in London, of course. Before you go charging across The Pond, however, here are some things you might want to know:
London is a noisy, crowded world capital. Londoners are as impatient as New Yorkers and prices are about as expensive as anywhere on the planet. That said, there’s an energy and excitement here you don’t find in smaller cities.
Book a city tour your first full day in town. Someone else can drive and arrange admissions to the top sights. Gray Line and Golden Tours, among others, will show you the highlights – and you go to the head of the line everywhere you visit. It helps orient you and you’ll get great visitors’ tips from your guides. It’s a smart way to get the lay of the land.
Do not miss the British Museum, the National Gallery and other top museums. Drop an optional donation at the door. The British Museum is really a world museum, reflective of that nation’s dominance of the globe at one time. Treasures include Egyptian mummies and the Rosetta Stone. Paintings in the National Gallery range from Michelangelo to Picasso. Take a map at the door or you will get lost!
The London Eye? Overrated. It doesn’t fit easily into the historic cityscape along the Thames River and it’s the most expensive Ferris wheel ever. A dozen people at a time are herded into a large clear plastic egg to take one excruciatingly slow turn on the circle (about 30 minutes) before being evicted. Better bets: The fascinating Tower of London and incredible Westminster Abbey. Both well worth the price of admission.
Forget the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Thousands of people gather daily to see it – or attempt to. Aside from catching a glimpse of the marching band, there is little to view. Done behind a stone wall and iron fence, only the first row of sightseers actually gets to watch. The rest hear some faint, shouted commands and can make out the tune of “Girl from Ipanema,” which seems odd. A better bet: Catch the changing of the horse guard at nearby Wellington Barracks, at St. James Park. It’s much more accessible, with just a few hundred people, so everyone gets a front-row seat. The horses and uniforms are gorgeous.
Catch a play. Agatha Christie fans must see “Mousetrap,” running 66 years and still drawing audiences. In this theater capital of the world, you really could go to a different play every night for a month. Tickets can be pricey, but you can sometimes find discount tickets at such spots as the booth at Leicester Square.
World cuisine is at your fingertips in this melting pot. Surprisingly, some of the best food is Italian. And you actually may have a hard time finding fish and chips. They also have killer Indian and Thai food.
Watch your step! Londoners drive as fast as the crush of traffic allows, and bicyclists and motorcyclists dodge in and out with no concern for pedestrians. Remember, traffic flows the opposite of what you might expect, so look both ways at least twice before setting foot in a crosswalk.
Plan to spend twice as much money as you think it should cost to visit. It’s just expensive. The currency exchange rate can change daily, so use a credit card when you can, for the best rate (ask if yours charges an exchange fee). DO inform your credit card company that you’re traveling so they don’t stop the card because it’s suddenly being used in another country. Frequent visitors often take a debit card to be used at an ATM. A decent hotel will cost upward of $250-300 a night. Anything less? Well, bring your own washcloth.
Do try using public transportation at least once. Taxis are plentiful, if not always easily flagged. But because traffic is so congested, it can be costly for even a short ride. Two all-day Underground passes costs about the same and you can ride it everywhere, as often as you want. It’s stuffy and too warm, but it doesn’t last long. Once you get your bearings, you’ll be able to navigate your way around town. Buses cost the same as the Underground, but they also have to fight traffic. And plan to walk – a lot. Much of what you’ll want to see is centrally located.
London offers a great taste of England, and even if you’re not a wedding guest, you’ll have a great time.