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Hotel & Transportation in London

Hello All, I just want to say thank you to all who replied to my previous questions about the transportation between Heathrow-City-Gatwick and logging in the City. Based on your advice, we decided to find a hotel near Victoria Station. Our flight arrives at Heathrow at 10:45 am on 11/29 and leaves from Gatwick at 1:00 pm on 12/1 to Venice. Staying at location near Victoria Station works better as we don't have to spend time commuting each day. I have new questions and hope you can provide me some tips: 1) Is it safe to use credit card to purchase meals, bus tickets, etc. in London? We plan to bring 200 euros and use credit card, if needed. I don't know how ATM works over there but will try.
2) What is the best way to go from Venice Marco Polo Airport to Bauer Hotel in St. Mark Square? We would appreciate any tips you can give us. Thanks! Kim

Posted by
1256 posts

Kim - Yes it is safe to use your CC for the purchases you mentioned. One thing, contact your CC company and let them know you will be traveling abroad. Give them the dates you will be traveling and the countries you will be traveling to. Also you may want to contact your bank and let them know the same thing. You may also want to request an increase of your daily atm withdrawl limit. ATM's work the same over therer as they do here. You put your card in the slot, key in your pin and the amount of cash you would like to withdrawl. As a side note when we travel overseas we take along two debit cards( 1 from our bank & 1 from our credit union) and2 CCs( 1 visa & 1 mc). I cannot assist with your Venice airport transfer. Also remember Euros will not work in London.

Posted by
11292 posts

Joel's post is excellent. A few additions: Here's Rick's money advice, with more details about what to do. Just read it a few times, and do what it says: http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/money-travel-tips.htm ATM's work the same in Europe as they do here. If an ATM in Italy doesn't have English on its screen, don't worry; just put in your card, and you'll be given the option to chose English. They are, without question, the best way to get cash in Europe. And yes, even if you found a place in London that would take euros, they won't give you a good rate; stow these and use pounds. It is perfectly "safe" to use credit cards in London, as long as you are aware of fees. But be prepared for situations when you can't use them, either because the establishment won't take them at all, or because they only accept only "chip and PIN" cards. I'm reading that it's become more common in England to be told that the store only accepts chip and PIN, when in reality they can take our swipe cards; you have to insist and get a manager or supervisor to show the staff how. Just as in the US, there are definitely places that take cash only (such as some less expensive restaurants). For "bus tickets," these are much more expensive when purchased as single tickets than when you buy an Oyster card. Search here or on other forums (or look at Rick Steves London) for details about the Oyster. continued..

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11292 posts

continued.. As for getting from the airport to your hotel: by "best" do you mean cheapest, fastest, easiest, or something else? I see your hotel is fancy, so their website recommends a water taxi http://bauer.hotelinvenice.com/location.html. This is indeed very nice, quick, easy, and scenic, but quite expensive (over 100 euros). For several people, it may be worth it. Other methods include: 1. The Alilaguna boat direct from the airport to St. Marks's. This is easy and scenic, but is slower than a water taxi, and only leaves 1-2 times hour. You would take the Orange line to the San Marco stop (last stop). Schedules and routes here (note that the current "summer" timetable ends early November, so you'll have to wait to get the times for when you'll be there): http://tinyurl.com/7uqwful (sorry, I can't get even the tiny version to hotlink). 2. A bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma, then a vaporetto ("water bus") from Piazzale Roma to St. Mark's. This is cheapest, but is not a "one seat ride," and of course takes time. If you're not taking a water taxi directly to your hotel's dock, be sure to print out a Google map of how to get to your hotel from the San Marco Vallaresso vaporetto stop (if you're taking the bus then vaporetto) or the San Marco Zaccaria stop (if you're taking the Alilaguna). Once you get off the boat of your choice, you'll need that map to find your hotel. Of course, if you're springing for the water taxi, the Bauer website indicates that they have their own dock, so it's much easier - door to door service.

Posted by
18 posts

Hi Joel/Harold/Nigel, Thanks for your advice. I forgot we have to use pounds in London. Thanks for the reminder. I never used CC or ATM in London so am a bit nervous about how it works but based on what you guys said, I will give it a shot. Hope the machines won't eat my card, hehe. Harold - I found a deal on Jetsetter for one night at Casanova of the Bauer (annex to the Bauer) for less than $200 including breakfast for 2. Can't afford the Bauer... Will explore the transportation mode you indicated. Do you guys recommend me to buy a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket if we want to see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, London Tower, Big Ben, etc? Kim

Posted by
28147 posts

As said above, Euros will do you no more good in London than Mexican Pesos in Orange County. Just as in California, you may be able to find somebody to take them but it will be expensive.

Posted by
15075 posts

In London some ATM's will offer you an exchange rate. Decline it. You will be able to continue without using their rate - which is never beneficial to you. I don't remember the exact wording of the screen message, but I think the alternative (that you should choose) was something like: continue without conversion. That means your bank will be charged in pounds and will convert to dollars to debit your account. They will give you a better rate than the ATM's rate. This happens at a lot of the ATMs at the airport. If you have a lot of sterling left at the end of your stay, you can use it toward your hotel bill. Just keep enough for your transportation to the airport. If you still have a bit in your pocket at Gatwick, buy a coke.

Posted by
6485 posts

Do you use your bank's ATMs here to withdraw cash? London is no different. So while there use a Barclay's, Lloyd's or HSBC ATM. They are all banks. Exactly like using a B of A or Wells Fargo here in SoCal. A bank is a bank. As far as seeing the Pallie, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, yes, you could see them by using the hop off or on bus. However, the best thing about London is it's a very walkable city. All those "sites" are within in easy walking distance from one another. So as another option to the bus, find the nearest tube station from your accommodation. Take to tube to the Westminster Station. Hopefully, you'll have a direct train (Victoria, Circle and District are the direct lines) but depending on where your hotel is you may have to change trains. Anyway, once you get to Westminster and exit into the modern station follow signage to Exit 1 (Westminster Bridge, London Eye). Climb up a few steps and before you will be the Thames, Westminster Bridge and across the river will be the Eye. Turn to your right and look up. Climb the steps. You are beneath Big Ben and Parliament. Westminster Abbey is viewable a block away. After visiting the Abbey walk across the street (The Methodist Westminster Church is on the corner) and follow Storey's Gate 2 blocks to Birdcage Walk. Turn left and follow it past St. James park on up to the Palace. Very enjoyable way to experience all that is London.

Posted by
209 posts

Before you go, do some credit card and debit card research. Ask what the foreign currency transaction fee is for both debit and credit cards. Ask about the foreign ATM fee for debit cards. Visa/mastercard adds 1% to all foreign currency transactions. Your bank may add more. For example, my Capital One Card adds nothing, but my Chase Card tacks on another 3% bringing the total to a whopping 4% on every transaction. Guess which card we use in Europe?---- BTW the foreign currency charge applies to train tickets and other purchases, so figure it out before you start making reservations and buying tickets. The same 1% plus applies to ATM debit and ATM card withdrawals but there will probably also be a flat fee. Find out what it is. Often a high fee is still less in the long run than a high percentage.

Posted by
18 posts

Claudia, I am checking Double Tree by Hilton London Westminster and Double Tree by Hilton London Victoria (across from Victoria station). Based on what you said, I think the hotel in Westminster area is closer to attraction, correct? Do you think it would be better to stay in Westminster or Victoria? We need to fly to Venice on Dec 1 from Gatwick but would like to see the famous places as mentioned while in London. Let me know. Thanks! Jenny,
We only have accounts with Chase and my Credit Union and credit cards with Capital One and British Airway. Can I use any ATM machine like Barclay, etc. (not my bank) to withdraw the monies using same PIN like here? Do you guys know how the Oyster card work? Do I need to buy one even though I stay in London a short period of time? Your advice is appreciated very much. Kim

Posted by
11292 posts

"We only have accounts with Chase and my Credit Union and credit cards with Capital One and British Airway." You're in luck - you have one card of each kind that should have low fees. Double check, but your credit union probably has low or no fees for foreign ATM withdrawals. My Chase account charges $3 plus 3% per foreign ATM withdrawal (yours may differ). And your Capital One credit card probably has no fees for foreign usage. Again, call them and check; if you don't get someone who sounds like they know what they're talking about, call back and get someone else. While you're calling, be sure to notify them of your dates and countries of travel. Use your ATM (bank) cards in the ATM's, not your credit cards. If you use a credit card in an ATM, it's treated as a "cash advance," which often has whopping fees and interest charges. continued..

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11292 posts

continued.. "Can I use any ATM machine like Barclay, etc. (not my bank) to withdraw the monies using same PIN like here?" Yes, that's what we're all saying. Using an ATM in a Foreign country is EXACTLY the same as using it in the US. You your card, choose your language, put in your PIN, and then choose your withdrawal amount. Actually, I lied in the paragraph above. There are two differences to be aware of: 1. You will be withdrawing from your checking account, unless your card is only tied to a savings account. You won't be able to choose which account you withdraw from, and probably won't be able to transfer funds from one account to another. So, be sure you have enough money in your checking account. 2. You will be asked how much you want to withdraw in local currency only; the conversion rate will not appear. So, if you want $500 worth of local money, be sure you know what that is (approximately) in euros or pounds. If you ask for 500 pounds when your limit is 500 dollars, the machine will reject your transaction. As said by Chani above, if you are asked about getting your money in dollars, say NO. You want the withdrawal in local currency, so the conversion is done by the bank at the "million dollar rate," rather than at the poorer rates they give individual customers.

Posted by
209 posts

Harald has it exactly right. The machines you should avoid are those that do not belong to actual banks. Those charge hefty fees. We use the ATMs either just outside or inside banks. We've had no trouble and no unexpected fees. In Britain, all the ATMs warn you that your own bank may charge you a fee. Your job is to know what that fee is or isn't before you go.

Posted by
209 posts

Oyster Cards give you a discounted rate on per trip prices. The price varies with the time of day. Rush hour is expensive. To use the card, put it flat on the reader as you go into the tube. It flashes and opens the gate. Make sure the gate is no longer lit by the person in front of you before using your card. Exiting is exactly the same procedure. Many of the gates have a little screen that will tell you how much you just spent (in parenthesis) or what you have left on your card. You can get a card at the local transport ticket office at Heathrow or any large tube station. You can add pounds to the card at the ticket window. You can also add pounds at the machines with a credit card. Our credit card sometimes worked and sometimes didn't for that purpose. You can also use the automated machines to check your Oyster Balance. You can use your Oyster Card on buses and local light rail too. If you think you made a mistake, we walked through the wrong gate and turned right back around, thus incurring a 4 pound charge each as the card was charged for maximum distance, go to the nearest ticket window and they'll straighten the problem out. If there is a guard at the gate, they will be helpful too.

Posted by
18 posts

Jenny, thanks for the tips on Oyster cards. I hope it's not complicated to use. Do you recommend us buying 2 cards: one for me and one for my husband? If not, do I get in the gate and pass on the card to him to get in? Which mode of transportation do you recommend for us from Heathrow to hotel in Victoria (or Westminster) area? I am waiting to see if Claudia will answer my questions on hotel (whether to stay in Westminster or next to Victoria Station). Harold, thanks for the tips on ATM. I feel more confident to use the ATM in London now. I also checked out the Alilaguna boat transportation mode from the airport like you said. I think we will use this transportation. It sounds easy to use and it's a direct route to St. Mark's. Hope San Marco stop is close to the hotel so we don't have to drag our suitcases for a long distance on the cobble stones streets. Do you know if, for any reasons, the Alilaguna boat transportation can be suspended temporarily? Do I need to also explore the bus and water bus transportation mode you indicated, just in case? Or that won't be necessary. Also, do you know how we can get from the hotel in St. Mark's to the port where the cruise ships dock? Thank you both for your help! Kim

Posted by
209 posts

Kimberley, You must get two Oysters. I never saw anyone checking but, they sometimes do and anyone in the tube without a validated ticket or an oyster card will get fined. In any case the machine reads which station you enter and exit from and at what time. If you use one card and then pass it to your husband, the machine will assume one person just took a maximum length trip and returned to the same station. Also you will find passing cards through the stile at the tube stations difficult as they are often very crowded around the stiles. Finally, I don't think the guards would approve of the maneuver.

Posted by
11292 posts

Each traveler is required to have their own Oyster card; they are not shareable. That's because London operates on zones, and you have to check in and check out for each trip, as Jenny described. Your fare is calculated based on zones, and the card has a daily cap, meaning that you never pay more than the price of a one day pass. It's all automated - you don't have to do anything, except "tap in" (place your card on the sensor) at the beginning of each journey, and "tap out" at the end. For your Venice arrival: as I said above, go to Google Maps, and get the route from the Alilaguna stop to your hotel, and print this out and carry it with you. Venice addresses are "special" and you will need the map, particularly if you're jet-lagged and tired. Do you have a guidebook for Venice and London (Rick Steves or otherwise)? This will answer your question about getting from your hotel to the cruise ship, how Venice addresses work, how to buy and use an Oyster card, and lots of other things. Can the Alilaguna be suspended? Sure, just like there can be disruption in any plan. More reason to have a guidebook with you. That way, don't have to memorize all the possibilities, but you can look them up when needed. So, if the Alilaguna is not running, you'll have the directions in your book for taking the bus and vaporetto, or getting a water taxi.

Posted by
11292 posts

I just read your initial post again, and want to clarify something. The City, when referring to London, doesn't mean all of London; it refers only to the oldest part, which is now the financial district. So a "City type" (as I heard referenced in a song) means a "Wall Street type," not a generic "urban type." So, your hotel will not be in "The City." Just to confuse further, there is the City of Westminster, but that's not what Londoners are referring to when they speak of The City. Yet again, a guidebook will clarify these points of confusion. While I do use and like the Rick Steves guidebooks, he's not the only game in town. But I do think it's essential to get one from somebody.

Posted by
28147 posts

Yes, one Oyster each please. Now to confuse you a bit more. Westminster is both a City in its own right within London, and a borough of London, in exactly the same place. Both the Double Trees you looked at are actually in the city of Westminster. The Westminster one is just an advertising name, same as the Victoria one. The Westminster one is the former Mint hotel - Double Trees have only just arrived in the UK - and is in an OKish area, nearest tube Pimlico - well actually the only tube. Its isn't really near anything other than Lambeth Bridge. There's not a lot of bus service there, certainly not a lot to get you to touristy things. I think the Victoria one is a former Holiday Inn that I have stayed in, or it sure looks like it on the map and the photo. I couldn't get anybody to answer the phone. If so it was pretty ordinary but convenient. Easy access to dozens of buses, tubes and HoHos. Touristy area. Hope that helps. Now somebody jump in and tell me I am wrong...

Posted by
28147 posts

Harold - great minds think alike, I was typing similar but not as well as you at the same time...

Posted by
18 posts

Harold/Nigel/Jenny,
Now that you can see I am an amateur. This is my first time taking an independent stopover trip in London. I don't know how people refer "the City" in London. What I meant it's a non-airport location. I will use the frequent miles by British Airways to make this trip, and that's why I have to fly out from Gatwick to Venice. I just want to visit famous places (the Palace, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc) while in London but would also like to stay at the hotel close to the tube to go to Gatwick. BTW, how much it costs for the trip on Gatwick Express. Does the Oyster card work with this too? Based on you advised, I think I will stay at Double Tree at Victoria Station. But how do I get to those attractions from the hotel? Taking the train, I guess. Sorry to ask many dumb questions but I don't want to get lost there so I want to prepare as much as I can. Thanks all again. Kim

Posted by
6485 posts

Kimberly ALL of your questions are easily explained in the RS Guidebook on London. Might be worth the effort to purchase it. Great little maps, walking directions, and will help you prepare so you won't get lost. You have also gotten good advice here. Please understand the Oyster Card is ONLY for the London Underground (the tube) and busses. Does not work for rail (train) transportation. Won't cover the Gatwick Express. From the hotel you have reserved you can WALK to Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Place. About 7 blocks. Here's the info on the Gatwick Express. http://www.gatwickexpress.com/en/tickets-and-fares/buy-online-and-save/ I'd like to think the people at the front desk can help you with this. As noted each of you will need an Oyster Card.

Posted by
28147 posts

I completely agree with Claudia - Kimberley, its time to dust off those guidebooks and read and understand them. The questions you now have are all in there, in a very easy to use and follow way. The RS book in your bag gives you easy references. Use plenty of highlighter - not on library books, of course.

Posted by
209 posts

Kimberly, Rick Steve's has a London Guidebook that would be just fine for your trip. There are others that would probably do just fine too. You will find transport info, maps, as well as credit card and ATM advice. You will have just two and a half days to tour London. I would plan your days by area so as not to waste time in transit. For example, the Westminster tube station exits to a glorious view of Parliament. Cross the bridge and you are at the London Eye. Walk the other direction and you will reach Westminster Abby in a few blocks. You could ride the Eye, walk past Parliament see Big Ben and tour Westminster Abby in a morning or afternoon if you have advance tickets for the Eye (buy on the net before leaving) or just do Parliament and the Abby. That will take care of a large part of your want-to-see list. Plan the rest of your visiting similarly. Either take the tube between areas or walk, particularly if Steve's has a scenic walk connecting the areas. But, do spend some time reading the guidebooks. You will get a great deal more out of your trip if you do and you will be less stressed.

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18 posts

Hi All,
You are correct. I will buy the guidebook. Between the guidebook and your good tips, we should be ok. Thank you again everyone. Wish me luck!!! Kim

Posted by
970 posts

Kimberly, ATM's in the UK work the same as in the U.S. Ask your bank or card issuer if they have an arrangement with a UK bank that reduces transaction and currency conversion costs. E.g. Bank of America has one with Barclays bank, so if you use a BofA card at a Barclays, you save a bit. American credit cards can be used anywhere, but because everyone is set up to take Chip & PIN UK cards, you may find someone who frowns at your U.S. card. Frown back, frankly. They are also set up to accept that U.S. card. (The chance of that happening in London or a touristed area is very small.) Now, some automated systems at gas stations, toll roads really can't take U.S. cards. ATM's will almost certainly give you a better deal on the exchange rate than your credit card. When I go, I grab cash from ATM's and only use credit cards for hotels and such.

Posted by
18 posts

Hi J.C.,
Thank you for the tips. We plan to use our credit card for hotel and restaurant. Do restaurants in UK accept US credit card? Or do you recommend we use cash at the restaurants? Also, do you recommend we buy Oyster cards? I know everyone suggested we buy 2 cards. Since we will only be in London for 2 nights (1 1/2 days) and can't use Oyster Card for Gatwick Express, I don't know if we should buy the cards or just buy tickets as we go. If we take the underground from Healthrow to our hotel at Victoria Station, how much does it cost? Again, do we use Oyster Card or just buy the ticket? We appreciate any tips you may have for us. Thanks! Kim

Posted by
970 posts

Kimberly, I have never had anyone in London complain about taking an American card. They know you're an American as soon as you open your mouth. And they know you don't have s Chip & PIN card. And they want your money. Remember, though, that the exchange rate from ATM's is very likely going to be a bit less than your credit card charges. Not enough to pay for another trip, but at least a few dollars or so. I would buy Oyster Cards simply because paying full fare on the Tube is crazy expensive. That assumes you will be taking at least a few trips on the Tube. The rules for Tube fares could fill several feet of shelf space. I don't think it's worth the mental effort trying to figure out the absolute cheapest way to go. For two days, the differences won't matter. The last time I took the Tube from Heathrow into the city was a few years ago and the fare was about 6 pounds. My gripe about the Tube from Heathrow is that there is no place to stow luggage, it stops a few dozen times, and will likely be very crowded by the time you get to your stop. You an buy Oyster Cards at the Heathrow Tube station, or at Paddington, Victoria, or any other station where you find a live ticket agent. The Heathrow Express costs 18 pounds, takes 15 minutes, has places for luggage, does not stop, is air conditioned (the Tube can get very warm) and is more comfortable than the Tube. The Heathrow Connect is in the middle, cost-wise, makes a few stops, and takes about 30 minutes to get to Paddington Station. Whether you take the Tube, Heathrow Express, or Heathrow Connect from Heathrow, you will need to change to get to Victoria. The Connect and the Express take you to Paddington Station. You can grab a taxi from there, or switch to another Tube line. Be aware that Tube stations on central London are large and often cavernous. If you have a lot of luggage, a taxi is worth the money.

Posted by
970 posts

And.... the Transport for London site is the site to go to for info about using the Tube, the bus, the trains, etc., etc., in London: http://www.tfl.gov.uk. Bookmark it in your smartphone's browser. A lot of useful apps for London are also out there. If you take the Tube to Victoria Station, it will pay to have a good street map to figure out where your hotel is. Ask the hotel for walking directions from Victoria, and get them to be specific about which street you exit Victoria on. It's a big station. Verify for yourself that the hotel is as close as it says it is. It's a pain to haul luggage around London after an all-night flight. If it was me, I'd take the Express to Paddington and a taxi to my hotel, and chalk up the cost to comfort and speed. But, that's me. Also, remember the Tube closes around midnight or so, depending on the line
.

Posted by
13026 posts

Kimberly, I agree that with your American magnetic stripe credit card you won't be frowned at when presenting it as payment. Such a thing has never happened to me. Now, you ask about paying the hotel and restaurant with the credit card. A hotel may not do this but at some of the B&Bs where I've stayed in London paying with a credit card will incur a surcharge from 3% to 5%. The B&B I stayed at in Kings Cross on this last trip this summer had this surcharge as policy. You may want to ask the hotel if that's policy with them. But, then again, you're at a hotel, not a B&B.

Posted by
18 posts

Hi J.C/Fred,
Your tips are great. I will take Heathrow Express to Paddington and taxi to hotel. After a long flight, I don't think I have the energy to take the tube. It's too bad that the Heathrow Express does not go to Victoria Station. I will ask the hotel to see if they will impose a surcharge if I pay by credit card or not. I found a good deal (50% off) at Park Plaza Hotel. They do not charge until after your stay. It covers one full english breakfast so we have to eat somewhere the first morning. Any ideas where to eat at Victoria Station area? Thanks! Kim

Posted by
333 posts

Honestly, Kim, if you're going to take the Heathrow Express and and a taxi from Paddington, you might as well use a car service straight from Heathrow to Victoria. It'll be cheaper. London Taxi advice from Tripadvisor

Posted by
4747 posts

Just to add another opinion, I don't find the tube from Heathrow to be very trying. You get on at the first stop so you can always get a seat for the bulk of the journey. You will be traveling in the middle of the day, so you don't have to contend with rush hour. You simply get on the tube at Heathrow, get off at Hammersmith and walk directly across the platform to the District Line and then take that to Victoria. You will encounter some steps on exit at Victoria. You can buy your Oyster at Heathrow and be done with it. However, I agree with Miranda. A car service will be cheaper than two Heathrow Express fares plus a taxi.

Posted by
4747 posts

Kimberly, The Park Plaza is a big chain hotel and they won't charge you a surcharge for using a credit card. I've stayed at the one right by Victoria Station before (got it on a Priceline bid).