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London trip in Sept/Oct 2019

Hi there everyone!
I will be traveling to London as my first solo European trip. I need advice and I know you all are the experts.
* I like to stay somewhere reasonable ($$) and SAFE, but I like to be within a short walking distance of local transportation and/or sites to see. I like to experience the local bus/train travel but don't want to waste a lot of my precious time traveling between locations.
* Best transportation from/to airport?
* Any tips on whether I should take the bus or ??? Are there passes that help keep the costs down?
* I know there are a lot of touristy sites to see, what are the sites that should not be missed?
* Any non-touristy sites and restaurants you recommend?
* What am I forgetting???
I ordered RS London and it should arrive in a couple of days, but I'm excited and can't wait that long... Any help is greatly appreciated!

Posted by
1524 posts

Buy the Visitor Oyster Card. it is a transportation card that allows you to put money for your commute. It saves you money. There is also the London Pass, it gives you unlimited ride in public transport for the # of days the pass covers as well as free admission to some of the museums.

Stay in accommodations in the Kensington area. It is safe and near public transport.

Take bus or train to Subway from Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 to Earl's Court station. Then from there, take train on piccadilly line to kensington. First link below is an airbnb with reasonable rates in Kensington.

http://www.asterhouse.com/

https://worldonawhim.com/5-days-in-london-itinerary/

https://www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information/getting-around-london/oyster

https://www.tripsavvy.com/how-to-visit-london-on-a-budget-4138387

https://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/help/ticket-comparison/

Posted by
149 posts

-Traveling alone - consider Airbnb perhaps? Having a host can be very helpful if this is your first trip alone.
-Heathrow express
-Get a tube pass
-That depends on what your interests are.

You really need to read the RS book first. Make your tentative plan and then get feedback on your plan. It's hard to give helpful feedback when the forum doesn't know how long you will be there and what your interests are.

Posted by
5540 posts

Staying anywhere within Zone 1 of the underground would make sense, but will be more costly. Look at the Premier Inn chain, although they have dynamic pricing and therefore the best prices were taken months ago. Areas around Victoria, Soho, Kensington, Camden, Pimlico and Bloomsbury are popular. I don’t care for the Paddington area. What is your budget- in £ per night?

Which airport? Heathrow? Take the underground. Gatwick? Take Southern trains.

Get a visitor Oyster Card. The London Pass probably won’t be good value, but you need to do the maths. Buses are much cheaper than the underground and allow you to see more of London, but are slower.

What to see - how long is your trip? This will vary depending on your interests. Many museums and galleries are free. Walking tours give you a good background. There are lots of less touristy things, but what are your interests?

Food - Wagamamas chain is good. Pret a Mange, Leon, Marks & Spencer’s and the supermarkets are good for lunch. Many museums have good cafes.

Posted by
1220 posts

The visitor Oyster card makes no sense. Just get one upon arrival. The machines are as easy to use as a soda machine.

I agree it’s probably a good idea to read the RS guidebook as well as another one. Rick leans very heavy towards cute and quaint, but there are many hotels which may be boring chains but they do the job quite well.

Don’t worry about safety, anyplace a tourist would consider staying is perfectly safe.

The London Pass usually isn’t good value, it limits flexibility and remember, most major museums are free.

If you want to see the Houses of Parliament, you might want to include that on this trip. Eventually they will close for a lengthy renovation so it might not be an option on the next trip

There’s plenty of good information in other threads on this forum to read while you’re waiting for your book.

Posted by
690 posts

I have travelled to London about 10 time solo and it is a great city to explore on your own. While I have stayed in multiple different areas over the years, I keep coming back to South Kensington and the Aster House: http://www.asterhouse.com/. It is just a few minutes walk from the South Kensington tube stop which serves the Picadilly, Circle, & District lines (this will get your where you need to go for most of the tourist sites). Leoni who runs the B&B is a lovely woman and very helpful in recommending local restaurants and events. The South Kensington area has a lot of small, inexpensive eateries, nearby pharmacy, grocery store... to me it feels like home.

As for what's not to be missed, that depends on your interests, you can check out the RS books for recommendations, but for me the ones that I have enjoyed over the years are the Tower of London, Westminster (take the verger tour, it is worth it), Churchill War rooms, Tate (Modern or Britain), west end play, British Museum, and British Library. For something different, Kew Gardens is a welcome Oasis.

As for other options to consider:

  • London Walks tours: as a solo traveler it is great to go with a group. Over the years on my walks, I have met other tourists and had a lovely lunch. One time, I met a father and college-age son traveling together. The son was studying art and his dad didn't want to see a Tate Modern exhibit that I was going to, so the son and I went together and had a blast. Here is the link: http://www.walks.com/
  • Food tour of East London or Soho: this past December my husband and I took the East End tour and it was a blast. It was great to explore this area, eat fantastic curry on Brick Lane, the best bacon sandwich in the UK, and find cute little shops/markets. Here is the link: https://www.eatingeurope.com/london/
  • Borough Market: this is one of the oldest food markets in London. It is a great place to get Lunch, buy souvenirs, see demonstrations or take class. Here is the link: http://boroughmarket.org.uk/

As for Restaurants, there are so many to choose from, depending upon your budget, your location, and type of food. Happy to provide some recommendations if you let me know what you are looking for.

Enjoy London,
Sandy

Posted by
13063 posts

The Visitor Oyster Card costs £5 plus postage. The £ is non-refundable.

https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/visiting-london/visitor-oyster-card

A regular Oyster Card ( purchased in London) has a refundable £5 deposit. Here is more explanation of the difference:

https://www.londontoolkit.com/briefing/oystercard.htm

Both are good on the Tube, DLR, and buses, and give you a discount on the Thames Clippers ( not narrated cruise boats). I recommend the regular Oyster Card over the Visitor one as your cost is lower.

We mainly walk in London, but take the bus when appropriate. ( I do not like the Underground). This pictorial map will show you the main routes between the tourist sights in central London:

http://content.tfl.gov.uk/bus-route-maps/key-bus-routes-in-central-london.pdf

The bus is also less expensive than the Tube, but they can get stuck in traffic.

Posted by
2304 posts

What I Like best about the Rick Steves books are the step by step style of instruction for getting to and from airports, how to book a train, etc. Although useful I don't rely on his books as much for the actual sites to see, for that I love books such as the Eyewitness Travel series, mainly for the spectacular photos and illustrations. Just like you came to this site for multiple opinions, I recommend checking out multiple books and find a few that work for you.
Another pre-planning thing that really helps me is reading historical fiction about the place in advance, I find it helps me paint a historical picture (sometimes not 100% accurate, but still fun). Ken Follett and Edward Rutherfurd have excellent historical Fiction stories. I've always been fascinated with the history of the reformation and the Church of England which brought me to be fascinated by Elizabeth I. When I visited Westminster Abbey last Fall, I was blown away by seeing her tomb. The trip meant so much more to me because of pre-planning. I leave for France next week and followed my advice and am currently reading The Three Musketeers, just to give me a sense of the time.
As for transportation, as others have said, get the Oyster Card and use the bus system and Tube, it gets you everywhere you want to go quickly and efficiently.
Touristy sites I'd recommend-my top 3 are all historical, Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Westminster Abbey. We used London Walks for Westminster Abbey and it was really helpful to understand what I was seeing. Hampton Court has a very good audio tour, Tower of London's Beefeater walk is fun and then you can easily wander through the Tower and grounds the rest of the day.
I'm starting to ramble so I'll end it here, loved London, great choice for a trip.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you all so much for all the great tips and ideas. I am sorry - I should have waited until my RS book arrived, then asked more specific questions. I'll do that after I do my research. Thank you again!

Posted by
6338 posts

Excellent choice for your first European trip.

Been traveling and staying in London since my college days. Nixon was in office so a number of years.

Exciting city and as I like to say “ always changing, always the same.”

You’ve been given great advice about the Oyster Card ( get one when you arrive), London Walks ( all informative www.walks.com ) the London Pass ( not a good investment ) and recommends to consider an AirBnB.

I am sending you a PM ( personal message ) about the places I’ve stayed off and on over the years. Both in safe neighborhoods.

You asked about non touristy stuff. London’s parks are fabulous to walk about in. I’m attracted to strolling about cemeteries. Brompton and Highgate are favs.

I’m am not a shopper at all but love popping into Liberty, Harrod’s Food halls or meandering about Selfridges. Completely entertaining.

So are the museum gift shops if you like to pick up unique gifts. As I’m often there in November those shops are perfect spots to pick up Christmas Stocking gifts.

In August start looking at Time Our London on line to see what events might be happening in September and October. If into music and performance pieces research what might be scheduled at Wilton’s Music Hall, Bush Hall, Royal Albert Hall, and Cadogan Hall.

Lots of posters suggest evensong and try to attend in St Paul’s or Westminster. I like the one in St Brides.

I find spending a Saturday morning in the madness of Portobello Market great fun. Booths, food stalls, people watching. All of it.

The Royal Academy Of Art is interesting.

Many, many museums are free and ideal spots to use the loo, peruse the gift shops and enjoy lunch in their cafes. Having a spot of tea and a slice of cake at the V & A is very enjoyable.

Meandering around Brick Lane and Spitafields Market
is a good time investment.

Unique spots:
Mud Chute Farm
London Mithraeum Bloomberg Space
Twinings Tea Shop
The Old Operating Theatre Museum
Leighton House Museum
Watching the trio of pelicans being fed in St James Park
Looking for the green parrots in the trees near the Round Pound and Kensington Palace.
Seeing Tower Bridge lift. Check online for the schedule
The 2012 Olympic spots
Richmond Park
Kyoto Japanese Gardens

Lots to see and do in London. You’ll not be bored or hungry.

When the RS Guidebook arrives read it cover to cover. Loads of insightful info.

Don’t be disappointed but Elizabeth’s Tower which house Big Ben ( the Bell) and some of the iconic Parliament building is under scaffolding. Long over due restoration in progress through 2020 if not longer.

Lastly review what theatre is on while you are there. Always a great night out.

Posted by
14898 posts

How long is your trip? There are great day trips or you may want to spend 2 nights or more in another part of the country if you're going for 1.5 weeks or more. I promise you there will be more places that you want to see and things you want to do than you can possibly manage, no matter how long your trip is. That's why so many folks go back again . . . and again.

My favorite things to do in London are seeing plays (love the theatre), visiting museums (art museums not so much), and exploring the city with London Walks and any self-guided walks I find in guides or online. Museums I really liked - British Museum, Victoria & Albert, Museum of London, Tower Bridge, Churchill War Rooms . . . and that's just a taste. Pubs are a good place to go for lunch and there are some historic ones, look at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

The regular Oyster card is the best bet for transportation, convenient, easy to use (though it will sound daunting when you first read up on it, turns out it's simple), and saves money. London is big and the sights are spread out so you will need to use buses and the tube no matter where you stay. Taxis are expensive and traffic can be very slow. The best thing is to get a place that's close to a "good" tube station - one with at least 2 lines that go through the center in different directions. If you're near the Piccadilly (blue) line, you can use that to go to/from Heathrow. I've found it to be a convenient line for sightseeing too.

Posted by
3 posts

Two years ago this past March, I went on my first solo trip to - London. I had been once before with my husband so I had a bit of information to glean from. This trip I had other things I wanted to see and in 4 weeks time I had made arrangements for all parts of my trip - flight, housing, transportation, a list for each day and people I was to meet (friends from an Art Retreat here in USA). I stayed at one B&B in Queens Park and loved it. The owner's name is Liz and her dog Jazzy. I am not able to recall the name but I am sure if you inquire or research, you will find it. It was on a side street in a lovely neighborhood, close to small eateries and grocery shops for take out, Liz was great at contacting her local drive to get me to from London and full of information. I would suggest you see Kew Gardens - https://www.kew.org. I found it to be superb and loved be able to amble along at my own pace, stop at tea shops on the grounds and sit, rest and yes peruse gift selections. From Queens Park area, I went to Bath for three days/nights and found a so cute apartment on Air B&B. I love Bath and hope to return again. There are many small cafe's there to dine or snack at and you will feel totally comfortable. If you are a Jane Austin fan, you must see her home while she lived there. Going on a special trip solo is one of the highlights of one's life or rather it was of mine. To be so free to do what you want when you want to, to learn to ask people for help when you need it and question with ease is a reinforcement that yes we can take care of ourselves. I was also delighted to meet 'online friends' in person for museums, Parliament tour, lunches, teas, and yes I was there during the Westminster Bridge attack, we had just come from Parliament and those guards... It was a sobering moment of how short one's life can be in a moment. We ( English online friends) were fortunate to be two blocks away. I did learn a great deal about what I want to do with my life - to live and to be kind. savor your time in London

Posted by
12882 posts

Come to think of it, Nixon was in office prior to the Watergate break-in when I went to England and London the first time too.

Posted by
1176 posts

I have stayed at the London House hotel twice, solo, in the past few years and found it reasonable and near two tube stations. I have friends that like to stay at Preimer Inns and they have several in London and are a good value. I would stay in a Preimer Inn based upon my friends recommendations.

Posted by
5129 posts

I have a different take on the London Pass. Those who say it isn’t a good value are thinking about their personal travel or sightseeing choices, and can’t really decide if it is a good value for you or not.

As you do your research, make a list of where you want to go and what you want to see. Then price out admissions for those sites. See how many would be covered by the London Pass and what the difference is. This is really the only way to get a true picture of whether it would save you money or not.

The London Pass is a bit more appealing for a solo traveler since some other money saving techniques (2 for 1 discounts) really don’t apply. Also, if you decide the pass would provide value for you, remember that if you buy it through Costco travel it is a 4 day pass for the price of 3.

I used it in April as a solo traveler, saved money, and had quicker entrance to a few of my sites. I also visited a few interesting places that I might have skipped otherwise. I did do a careful comparison of my projected admission costs vs. the pass prior to purchasing and suggest that you do so as well.

Also, FYI, I stayed at Premier Inn Waterloo and it was a great location and I felt quite comfortable as a solo traveler.

Posted by
88 posts

First let me say that you have chosen wisely. I think late September/early October is a fantastic time to visit London. It's still warmish and the days are still long, and it's less crowded than summer. We've visited twice at that time of year.

I really liked the Pimlico/Victoria area It's safe and the prices tend to be reasonable. It's a quiet area that isn't too far from the attractions. We stayed at The Belgrave at 80-86 Belgrave Road twice and enjoyed both stays. It's a 5 minute walk from Pimlico station and about 10 minutes to Victoria station. You can be at most if not all of the main attractions in 30 minutes or less. There is also a useful bus that stops on that street. The Kensington area is also a great option if you can find reasonably priced accommodation. Those would be my top picks considering value, connectivity, and safety.

My list of things not to miss: Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, a proper afternoon tea, and a browse around Camden Market. Everything else is negotiable.

favorite restaurants -

- The Queens Arms at 11 Warwick Way. I thought everything I had there was phenomenal. We thought is was really comfortable and it seemed like it was full of mostly locals.

  • Johnny's Fish Bar at 142 Tanner St. for fish and chips. It's the best we had in London, but off the beaten path and hole in the wall takeaway place. We took our food to a nearby park once for lunch. They have a table in the back where we took our lunch the second time. I preferred eating in the park.

Everywhere else in London was ok but not particularly memorable. Except for one fish and chips place where the food was absolutely revolting. I had to throw it away and find something else to eat. It was that bad.

Transportation
Your best transportation is going to be the tube (and trains if you want to take a day trip out of town). Buses are also an option but they get caught in traffic a lot and seem like a little slower mode of transportation. It isn't that expensive. You can get an oyster card at the Heathrow tube station that can be used on the tube and on buses. You will need tickets for trains.

Just remember to tap in and out at the scanner on the tube and only tap in on buses.

Posted by
7 posts

If during your planning you decide to go anywhere outside London, investigate getting a BritRail pass before you leave home. There are different varieties of pass depending upon how many days you would want to use it and where you would be going. It's also not a problem buying train tickets for spur-of-the-moment trips. I did a combination of both on my two trips to England, the most recent last October.

There is a lot to see and do in England, so whatever you're interested in might very well be catered to by museums, etc. Below are a few sites I visited in October to give a sampler of what is available within day-trip distance from London:

-Shepherd-Neame brewery in Faversham. The company offers tours of their brewery, which has been on the same site since the 1600s. Included in the tour is sampling/tasting of some of the various beers they make; as a rarely-to-occasional drinker I found it very interesting and educational. The town itself is nice; cobblestone streets, small shops, places to eat.

-Bluebell Railway. Their East Grinstead station is also served by regular passenger service from London Victoria Station. If you've ever wanted to see and ride behind steam locomotives, this is your chance. The railway scenes on "Downton Abbey" were filmed there. The Bluebell Railway is primarily run by volunteers, and it shows!

-Oxford. My day in Oxford was centered around a walking tour of places where "Inspector Morse" was filmed. The URL is https://www.experienceoxfordshire.org/product/morse-tour-oxford/ . I have to say the people running these tours are extremely nice. I was running late, and as soon as I walked in the door one of the women said, "We've been looking for you!", and we set off to get me hooked back up with the tour.

-Fishbourne Roman Palace, easy walk from Fishbourne station. Ruin of a villa built during the Roman occupation. Features mosaic floors preserved in place. Highlight for me was the opportunity to touch and hold Roman British pottery.

-In London, the Imperial War Museum. It is very thought-provoking.

I hope this helps.