Guest Post: A Single Girl’s Guide to Travelling in London

©Britainonview / Simon Winnall

Editor’s Note – The following is an excellent guest post from Amie Taylor – a young lady who fell hopelessly under the spell of London. Thanks, Amie!

Hi, I’m Amie, and I’m an Anglophile.

<Hi, Amie.>

I proudly admit this fact, and it’s evident to just about anyone who meets me.  I have Mind the Gap magnets and a full colour London calendar on my desk at work.  I’m trying to stop using the letter Z in the spelling of words.  My home is dotted with Union Jack décor and Beatles memorabilia.  My TiVo is backlogged with episodes of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, The Graham Norton Show, Downton Abbey, and Gavin and Stacey, and I shriek during Tottenham Hotspur football games like a crazy person.  Nevertheless, how my fascination with English culture initially began is slightly more embarrassing.

When I was a little girl growing up in Arizona, my friends and I were fascinated with a cult film called Grease 2.  We knew the entire thing by heart (including the soundtrack) and we would watch it repeatedly during the lazy days of summer.  It was in this film that I first laid eyes on a handsome English actor by the name of Maxwell Caulfield.  He had classic good looks, wore sweaters (or jumpers, if you please), and had eyes you could lose yourself in for days.  And as if those physical attributes weren’t enough to fuel my adolescent crush, then I heard him speak.  My ears immediately perked up when I heard that soft, lilting accent roll off his tongue, as he delivered his cheesy dialogue opposite a very young Michelle Pfeiffer.  I remember thinking to my 6-year-old self as I watched him on the screen, “I want to go where people talk like that all the time.”  And thus began my love affair with all things English.

I didn’t have the opportunity to visit England for the first time until 2009.  I was in London for 4 days as part of a 2-week trip to Europe with a good friend of mine.  It was during this trip, on a bus to Luton Airport at a god-awful hour of the morning to catch a flight to Amsterdam, that I wiped away my tears and vowed silently to visit my second favourite country each year—for at least a week—until I eventually moved there.

And I’m keeping my promise.  I recently returned from a solo 10-day trip to The Big Smoke.  My love for England grew exponentially on my holiday, and I continue to be enchanted by the small island with the very big heart.  I learned a great deal about the country I love so much, and I also picked up a few tips along the way about how to successfully travel and enjoy yourself in London as a single girl.  So here they are, in no particular order.

1.  I offer this first tip as a chronic over packer myself: Pack light, and use a well-made piece of luggage that either has shoulder straps or rollers. I promise you’ll thank me when you don’t have to haul your overly heavy bags up and down a ridiculous number of stairs in various Tube stations.  As far as what to pack, it’s all about the layers because the weather in London can change on a dime.  One minute the sun is peeking out, and the next there’s an ominous cloud cover and a torrential downpour.  Use your trip as an excuse to buy a classy, warm coat, a pretty scarf or two, a compact umbrella, and a cute, comfy pair of rain boots.  You’ll use these items well and often.

2.  Upon arrival at Heathrow, do yourself a solid.  Buy a round trip ticket on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. Yes, it’s more expensive than taking the Tube to get to Central London, but infinitely easier not to get lost, especially if you’re a first-time visitor.  It will also save you some serious time and a huge headache.  That alone makes it worth it in my book.

3.  Get an Oyster Card and a Tube map.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  You can get one before you leave online by visiting the Transport for London website, or you can get one when you arrive at Heathrow, Paddington Station, or at any Tube station.  It will save you TONS on travel during your stay, and it can be used on The Underground, as well as on buses.  Check the TFL website to determine what type of Oyster card best fits your travel needs.  Small Tube maps are available for free at any Tube station.   Carrying one with you when you travel can be a lifesaver, especially if there’s an unexpected Tube line closure.

4.  Always carry at least 40 pence with you at all times for the ladies’ room.  Yes, in many public places, you will have to pay to use the loo.  The price will vary from 20 pence to 40 pence (the most common price you’ll see in London is 30 pence), but it’s a smart idea to be prepared.  Nothing is worse than having to use the facilities and not having any change on you.  Note: you can use the loo for free in most pubs, restaurants, and museums, unless otherwise indicated.

5.  Pret A Manger is your friend.  This popular sandwich chain throughout London has free Wi-Fi, as well as yummy, cheap, on-the-go food and drink.  Of course, you should experience some traditional English fare whilst you’re there. But sometimes it’s nice to just grab something and go, when you don’t have the time or the money for a more formal dining experience.  Other chain restaurants I recommend in the city include Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), Giraffe, Pizza Express, The West Cornwall Pasty Company, and Masala Zone.  You can also find ready-to-eat options at supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer (M&S) Simply Food, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose.  If it’s a caffeine fix you’re craving, Costa Coffee and Caffé Nero are both great, and each have multiple locations in the London area.

6.  Stay away from any attraction with the word “Road” or “Market” in it on a Saturday.  As in Portobello Road, Abbey Road, Borough Market, or Camden Market, to name just a few.  I highly recommend visiting these attractions—just not on the weekends.  I also suggest avoiding the London Eye, Covent Garden, Harrod’s, and Piccadilly Circus on the weekends as well.  These places are an absolute madhouse, especially on Saturdays, and unless you’re a fan of wading through crowds, I wouldn’t advise it.  Wait and visit during the week when it’s less hectic.  A good guide book can advise you what days and times to avoid these major attractions in more detail.  My favourite (and the one I used on my trip) is Rick Steves’ Guide to England.

7.  Most museums and parks in London are free, so visit them! The museums do ask for a small donation to help keep them free for everyone, so it’s considered good manners to donate a pound or two when you visit.  Some of my favourites include the Tate Modern, The British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), The National Gallery, The Museum of London, and The National Portrait Gallery.  As far as parks go, I highly recommend Green Park, Richmond Park, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, and Hampstead Heath.  Note: There’s a small coffee stand at the overground station at Hampstead Heath that makes the best chai latte I’ve ever had in my life.  It’s the perfect accompaniment for a walk on one of the many beautiful footpaths.

8.  Take in a show (or two) using the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. If you’re not familiar with the genius that is TKTS, let me fill you in.  You can score half-price theatre or musical tickets to just about any show in The West End on the day of the performance, and sometimes a day or two before.  You just have to be flexible with your times.  I was able to score a front row, centre seat to see an evening performance of The Country Girl at the Apollo Theatre for half the price of the ticket’s street value.  And don’t be fooled by some of the other ticket brokers in the Leicester Square area; purchase your tickets from TKTS only.  You could be getting scammed otherwise.

9.  London is a hub of live music, so soak it up! Being a capital city, London is the place for up-and-coming musicians, as well as more established acts.  You might not be able to get tickets to see an act like Kings of Leon at the O2 Arena during your visit, but you can see lots of performers for less than £10, or even for free.  Some venues to check out include The Regal Room (above The Distillers Pub) in Hammersmith, The Bedford in Balham, and The Monarch in Camden.  If you do a little Internet research beforehand for what’s on during your holiday dates, you and your ears will be pleasantly surprised and entertained.

10.  Take a day trip or visit another country. There are several options for day trips to other cities in England from the London area.  I chose to take a day trip to Brighton during my holiday, and had a lovely time.  From the train ride there, where I saw some of the most gorgeous English countryside, to a walk along Brighton Pier and the surrounding rocky beaches, it was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Blighty.  Additional options for day trips from London include Bath, Windsor, Oxford, and Dover, amongst others.  You can also take a trip to France and many other European countries for less than you’d think.  Once again, do a tad of research before your trip, and you’ll surely reap the benefits.

11.  There is truth to the rumor that Englishmen are shy. I’ve experienced and witnessed this firsthand, and I’ve also confirmed it with a few of them as well.  Don’t take it personally if you aren’t approached or given a chat-up line during your time there.  Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Stiles have also experienced this in London Town, so you’re in good company.  British men tend to be more reserved than American men when it comes to flirting and dating, and they also tend to travel in packs.   But one thing is consistent with men of both nationalities, no matter which side of The Pond you’re on: If there’s an important sporting event on the telly, don’t attempt to strike up a serious conversation with one of them.  As He’s Just Not That Into You taught us, don’t waste the pretty.

12.  Use basic common sense when it comes to safety. Obviously, it’s not a smart idea to walk down a poorly lit street in a sketchy neighborhood alone after dark, no matter where you are in the world.  And as charming as England is, London is still a capital city and has its fair share of crime.  Just be smart, not neurotic, about your personal safety when out and about and you’ll do just fine.  I was out by myself in the city constantly, during the day as well as in the evenings, and I never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe.  In fact, I’d venture to say that I felt safer travelling alone in London than I did in New York City.  Just use your head and always be aware of your surroundings, whether using a cashpoint machine, riding the Tube, or walking in one of the Royal Parks.

13.  Be mindful of the language and cultural barrier. Newsflash: People speak English in England.  But if you’ve ever seen an English film or television show, then you know there are some words that don’t have the same meaning in England that they have in America.  Case in point:  A male English friend of mine once met up with an American friend of his in a pub.  His friend exclaimed very loudly above the hullabaloo, “It’s good to see you!  I love your red suspenders!”  The pub suddenly silenced.  My English friend replied in a timourous voice, “Thanks, but did you have to tell everyone?”  It turns out that, to a Brit, the word suspenders means garters—or more particularly—a garter belt.  What Americans call suspenders, the English call braces.  Another example: the word fag actually refers to a cigarette in England, and isn’t considered a derogatory term.  I highly recommend perusing an English slang/colloquialism dictionary before your trip (there are several available online for free, including one here on Anglotopia), just to get familiar with some of the words and phrases you might hear during your holiday.

Another thing to remember is how Americans can be perceived overseas.  Always be mindful of how loud you’re speaking and how frequently, whilst in public places.  One of the biggest differences I noticed in London came when I was riding the Tube.  Compared to the chatter and noise level I observed on the subway in New York, the London Underground is practically a library.  You won’t really observe the Brits being overly loud or obnoxious (whilst sober, anyway).  Just be sure to conduct yourself accordingly.  You’re always representing your country when travelling, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Do any of the other ladies out there have any London travel tips?

Comments

  1. avatarAlison says

    Don’t waste your money on the Heathrow Express, get the Heathrow Connect instead. It is only 10 mins slower, connects to the same stations and cheaper (a single around half price). That’s how smart Londoners get between LHR Paddington.

    heathrowconnect.com

    • avatar says

      Personally I prefer the Heathrow Express as it’s quicker and easier to get to from the various terminals.

      Smart londoners take the Tube – way cheaper than both options. But it takes forever and Londoners hate it when you ride the Tube with a ton of luggage.

    • avatar says

      I agree with Jonathan. Londoners take the tube from Heathrow to central London… chances are, your hotel is most likely within walking distance of a Piccadilly Line tube station, so no changing required at all.

      It is a long-ish ride (45 minutes) from Heathrow to Leicester Square. But even though the Heathrow Express/Connect is shorter (15-30 minutes), its more expensive, plus you end up at Paddington, where you’ll have to change to a tube line (unless your hotel is in the area).

      Also do head to Borough Market on Saturday – the crowds is part of the fun, and there are more stalls there than on any other day!

  2. avatarLindy says

    Can I also suggest not ever getting the Gatwick Express – it’s a con. The service (Gatwick Airport to London Victoria) takes 30 mins, but the normal service probably takes 32 mins. Hardly worth spending almost 3 times the amount for a few minutes!

    In terms of the Heathrow Express, it’s more expensive but it does save time. I wouldn’t rule out the tube as we’re all used to people with luggage, HOWEVER, if you travel in peak hour in massively packed trains with luggage, don’t expect to be popular with anyone.

    • avatarKate says

      Thanks – good to know. When I flew into London before I flew into Gatwick. I liked it personally, it’s a nice airport, and from what I heard not nearly as confusing as Heathrow. In the future, I’ll likely try getting a flight into Gatwick if possible.

  3. avatar says

    As a Londoner, who has worked on Tube stations I thought I would throw an observation in….

    The Heathrow Express is fine, yes it’s quick and it goes to central London. If you are going to be based in central London is Paddington it’s great, if you are staying elsewhere then it’s an expensive waste of time. Paddington is at the NW edge of the central area and once there you’ll need to take a cab (not cheap) or transfer to the Tube anyway, thus losing the time you saved by taking HEx in the first place.

    Many tourist hotels are located in Earl’s Court, Gloucester Road, Piccadilly and Russell Square, all located on the Piccadilly line, so travel from to/from Heathrow couldn’t be simpler. Get on, sit down and get off at your stop.

    When I worked at central London Piccadilly line stations I noticed from the time stamps on the tickets people handed in as they exited showed that those who had paid the premium to use HEx ended up taking longer to arrive at their final destination than those who had just sat on the Tube all the way from Heathrow. They had also had to change trains at least 3 times…..

  4. avatarShaw says

    What a well-written article! Thanks for the canny and witty advice. I’ve never really explored London and can’t wait for the opportunity. Cheers!

  5. avatarAmie says

    Lindy and Nick, thank you so much for your comments and sharing your suggestions. It’s so nice to hear from Londoners who know the best travel practices, and can give visitors like myself some insider tips for future holidays!

  6. avatar says

    Amie, respectful I disagree with some of what you wrote. Part of going abroad is getting lost. One of my favorite things was that 1 hour ride into London from Heathrow daily, and if you stay out by the airport you can get rooms for $80 USD…. Watching the people, listening to the buskers…. its an experience worth far more than the Oyster cost or the time given.

    Forget Pret A Manger… if you follow my advice and stay out by Heathrow, make a nightly stop off at Hammersmith and bring bags of goodies home. My favorite are the crepes.

    Oh and go visit Cardiff…. it’s pointless to go to London without visiting Wales…. home of DH, and TW…. and Clarky’s….

  7. avatarAmie says

    Liv, I’m a master at getting lost myself, especially when I visit London. It’s something I love about travelling as well, but not when I’m jet-lagged and toting my luggage with me if I can help it. ;-)

    Thanks for reading, and for your suggestions. Wales is certainly on my itinerary for next year’s jaunt!

  8. avatarHeather says

    Interesting article but as someone who travelers yearly to London, I’ll agree with Nick that unless you overpack and have heavy suitcases, the cheapest and easiest way into London is the Tube. There are spaces inside the carriage for luggage and while Londoners may not LIKE tourists coming on with luggage at rush hour, they are used to it. Save the pence for buying something nice in London.

    Second, British men like American men can’t be defined by a stereotype. I’ve seen shy men but I’ve also seen men chatting up everyone in sight. Sadly, the Hugh Grant/Colin Firth repressed Englishman is largely a myth.:)

    The chain sandwich shops are good, but my favorite indie place was found by noting all the workmen standing in line outside the shop. Sometimes, it’s more fun and cheaper to note where the workmen or cabbies eat.

    Cardiff is a wonderful daytrip break. About an hour and a half by train, which lets you off in the centre and a nice walk to the Castle. Had my picture taken in front of the Millennium Building and the fountain like a true Doctor Who geek.

    Cardiff is a wonderful daytrip for next years jaunt. Just about an hour and a half by train.

  9. avatarAmie says

    Heather, thanks for taking the time to read the article and for sharing your thoughts.

    Obviously, my tips list is based on my own experiences during my time in London. I truly love hearing about the experiences and preferences of others, as I think we can all learn from one another’s travels.

    That said, I fear my tip about Englishmen may have perhaps come across as stereotyping, but that truly was not my intention. The mention of their rumored tendency towards shyness is solely based on my own interactions, as well as those of other women I know. It’s also based on some conversations I’ve had on that very topic with several British men- some of whom I met in passing, and some of whom I know quite well. I do hope I meet the more forward, chatty type of Englishman you mentioned at some point during my future holidays there, and if they happened to look like Colin or Hugh, hey- then all the better. ;-)

    Thanks again for reading, and for your suggestions!

  10. avatar says

    One tip I have that is definitely aimed to the women – if it’s “that time of the month” during your trip, or it might be, sacrifice a shirt or pair of shoes and use the room in your suitcase to pack supplies. It’s not at all difficult to find tampons or pads in England, but it can be difficult to find brands you know. This comes from practical experience – I was in Cirencester with a group from my college when I realized Auntie Flo had come to visit, so I dashed off and popped into the nearest grocery store. They don’t have Always Sport tampons in England, apparently, so I grabbed a box of something that looked like it would be all right and ran back to rejoin my group before they noticed I was gone (ah, the beauties of traveling with a large group). Turned out they were fairly rough with cardboard applicators – I wince just thinking about them, and as soon as I got back home I tossed them. Next time, if there’s any chance of that happening again, I plan on adding a box of tampons to my luggage. The same concept holds true for any other toiletry you’re particularly attached to.

    Also – screw the idea of a “diet.” Eat whatever you want. I’m not saying you should gorge yourself, but enjoy the different flavors of things. Go to a Tesco’s or Asda and find things you haven’t tried. Even if it’s something you have tried – check the label to make sure it isn’t from the US and try it again. In England, Kit Kats aren’t bland wafers covered in chocolate like they are in the US – they come in flavors like mint and orange too (anyone know where I can get mint Kit Kats in the US?). Most candy isn’t as sweet as what we’re used to in the US – sugar rationing from WW2 lives on in modern candy recipes. I thought Skittles were absolutely delicious. Ketchup is another item that’s not as sweet (I loved British ketchup so much, I searched a year to find it in the US). Even a loaf of basic white bread is different. Eat the things you’ve always heard of – but beware, when you fall in love with the food, you will spend much time lusting after it when you return home and can’t get it anymore (I get excited every time I see a restaurant with fish and chips on the menu, but inevitably, by “chips” they mean “french fries” – I would KILL for real chips).

    • avatarAmie says

      Kate, thanks so much for reading, and for your comments and tips. I wholeheartedly agree about the lusting after products you can’t easily find stateside. One of the things I miss is the different flavors of yogurt (or yoghurt) available in the UK. Absolutely delicious, and much more creative than American flavors!

      And I concur about the chips (or crisps) as well. I’ve had some luck at Cost Plus World Market with some English products, actually. However, I’m making a mental note for myself to try the English version of Skittles the next time I’m in London. :-)

    • avatarJohanna Green says

      Kate- YOu are SO RIGHT on the sweets there and the food, i did what you said also and ate pretty much anything (although i’m STILL kicking myself for not eating fish and chips and getting a good curry!) The kit kats are awesome and I know a great place you can order them at ukgoods i love the ketchup also and prawn crisps were great too :) i’m still in love with Marks and Spencer and I did eat at Pret a couple times!

  11. avatar says

    I’m an American who moved to London for a job. Good job on the article. I remember my first visit on my own to London back in the 90s…it was amazing.
    I would definitely suggest buying a ticket to the hop-on-off bus so you can get a great overview of the areas, plus you can get off, check out the location and then get on the next one. It really helps you see a lot of the great attractions around London.

    The other thing I suggest is getting out of the normal touristy areas – go to Hampstead, walk around Wimbledon, take a boat ride to check out Greenwich!

    Eating – I have a bunch of recommendations for non-touristy stuff on my blog (use my search function for London)…people complain about London food and yet all they do is go to places in typical tourist locations – of course it’s going to suck! Places like Belgo, Little Bay and Wagamama are not super expensive and are really good!

    Consider staying in a B&B instead of a hotel. These are not your traditional B&Bs, but rather a room in a person’s private home. I stayed in one in Marylebone when I first moved here & for £35/night, I had my own room, a sitting room with tv, shower room & got a continental breakfast (cereal/bread/jam)…it was a bargain and the lady who owned the flat gave me great tips for the local area!

    • avatarAmie says

      Liane, thank you for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. :-)

      I completely agree about Belgo and Wagamama; kicking myself now for forgetting to include both of them in my original post.

      My friend and I did a hop-on, hop-off bus tour during our first trip to London last year, and you’re absolutely right; it’s a great way to see the city and get oriented with the different attractions.

      Great suggestion for the B&B as well! Thanks again for reading, and for sharing your tips. :-)

  12. avatarJohanna Green says

    I loved your story, I too was in London for the first time in January of 2009 to see Hamlet (David Tennant and the RSC) and I did a lot of what you refer to in this article. Definitely yes on luggage with wheels! Oyster card I had was VERY helpful and convenient when getting on and off the tube and the bus, which we used once. I LOVED Marks and Spencer’s Food and ate there pretty much every night, and at night when I came home to my little room in the b and b i stayed at in Bloomsbury I felt quite safe at 1 and 2 am walking down the street mostly because there were still people out and about and were actually friendly, i’d never do something like that here in the seattle/tacoma area, seriously. Yeah there’s crime but even when I was in other areas of london i still felt more safe there. I’d move there if i could. I took to the tube very quickly and always knew just where to go thanks to the map i had and the fact things are spelled out clearly in the different stations. I flew into Heathrow and got on the Piccadilly line, was fine with me time wise as it was a straight shot to where i was going (although i later learned if i had switched to the northern line i would have saved myself MANY blocks of walking down the street with my luggage ugh!)
    thanks again for your article. great ideas :)

    • avatarAmie says

      Thanks for reading, Johanna! So glad you enjoyed it. And David Tennant and the Royal Shakespeare Company doing Hamlet? Blimey, I’m jealous! ;-)

  13. avatar says

    Can I recommend our maps which will get you from place to place by bus, tube, train and walking. We are independent designers and independent publishers and we know London better than most. Thank you and enjoy the Capital.

  14. avatarYesenia says

    Hi Amie!

    Thank you for this article! I’m going back to the London in February 2011 – first time was Oct 2008 for Hamlet and Love’s Labour’s Lost with David Tennant *happy sigh*- and I wanted to make sure I read this article because, like last time, I’ll be heading over there on my own.

    Love all of the suggestions, most of which I’ve actually done in the past, as well as the ones from the comments.

    I was wondering what are your thoughts on Hostels vs Hotels especially for a single girl? Last time I was there I mainly stayed at hostels and had a pretty decent time but now that I’m going back I’m looking at hotels a bit more. I can afford the hotel but am slightly more interested in the hostel.

    Thank you again for this post! :D

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Yesenia! Thanks so much for reading, and I’m really glad you enjoyed the article. :-)

      On my last trip to London, I was extremely fortunate to have a friend host me in his flat for the 10 days I was there. It was such a luxury, as accommodations are very expensive there as I’m sure you know.

      However, on my first trip there last year, my female friend and I stayed at a hostel in West Kensington that’s actually called Ace Hotel (http://www.ace-hotel.co.uk/indexlondon.html). It was great- very clean and safe- and I considered it as an option before my last trip before I knew I’d have a flat to stay in. I also considered another place in Kensington called Base2Stay (http://www.base2stay.com/). A friend of mine stayed there with her husband when she visited London a couple of years ago, and they had a great experience.

      I think it just depends on how much time you actually plan on spending in your room (slightly more luxurious with a hotel as you know), how much privacy you want, and how much you’re able to pay for it. When I visited Paris last year, my friend and I stayed one night in a 8-bed dorm room with a bunch of other ladies. We made friends with some of the girls and it was certainly clean and safe, but it was a bit too much estrogen confined in a small space for my taste. ;-) However, the 2-bed dorm room we shared at Ace in Kensington was fantastic. We just shared a bathroom with the other guests on the floor.

      Some of the commenters have suggested B&Bs, and I think that’s the route I’ll take when I plan my next trip across The Pond. Please keep me posted on where you decide to stay, and how the experience is for you. Cheers, and have a wonderful time! :-)

  15. avatar says

    Thanks for the tip about TKTS. I’m planning a day and night trip to London after Christmas, mostly for the purpose of catching a West End show. Now I know where to get those tickets :)

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Hannah-

      Thanks for reading, and you’re quite welcome! For me, the only hard part about using TKTS was deciding what show to see. So many options, so little time! ;-)

      Enjoy your holiday, and please report back and let us all know what show you end up attending! Cheers. :-)

  16. avatarChris says

    Hi Amie

    Great article, although I have to be honest I am actually English but it’s really interesting (and quite flattering) to see what Americans think of England. I travel to London quite a bit so see friends and on business and personally like nothing more than getting off the Tube at Westminster walking across Westminster bridge and then along the south bank to Tate Modern. its a great way to see London plus there’s generally loads of street artists and what not to look at along the way. There’s also a Pub called the \’The Grenadier’ which is a short walk from Hyde Park Corner tube which I love, however I wouldn’t recommend it in the evening as it is usually rammed.

    If you looking to explore outside the capital then my personal recommendation would be Norwich (2hrs by train from London Liverpool street station). Its then about a ten minute walk to the city centre, where there is a great selection of shops and a Norman castle right in the centre. You can then go to the cathedral and explore the medieval part of the city known as Tombland. And if you’ve got time you can even catch the greatest English league team in action ;-)

    • avatarAmie says

      Thanks so much for reading, and for the great recommendations, Chris. I’ll certainly have to check out Norwich the next time I’m over- it sounds wonderful! And Norwich City F.C., huh? You don’t sound biased at all. ;-) Do they ever play Tottenham at Carrow Road? Because this girl is C.O.Y.S. all the way! :-)

      • avatarChris says

        Well to be honest despite being the greatest league club, (Steven Fry is a massive fan and he’s really clever!) we are in fact in the Championship which is the league below the Premier League. However we seem to be on fine form recently, so without trying to jinxs it we could be playing your boys next season ;-)

        • avatarAmie says

          Ah, I still have much to learn about proper football, and how all the leagues work. ;-) Well, if Stephen Fry is a fan, then your boys must be doing something right! And no jinxing. I’ll hope for a match-up next season, so I can see how they fare against the incomparable Gareth Bale. :-)

  17. avatarAlastair says

    Just a quick addition to the list of museums and galleries: the Courtauld Institute Gallery in Somerset House, on the Strand, is worth a visit. It’s not large, but has some very impressive paintings (for example Renoir’s Bar at the Folies Bergere) in a nice, intimate setting. It’s generally quieter than the bigger, better-known places.

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Alastair-

      Thanks so much for reading, and for the suggestion. This is the first I’ve heard of the Courtauld Institute Gallery, and I really look forward to checking it out during my next visit to London Town. Thanks again. :-)

  18. avatar says

    Hi Amie,

    Loved this piece! What a delightful writer you are. I’m living in the UK as an expat and these are all great suggestions. I remember feeling the same way you describe when I first started my love affair with England. Thanks for sharing!

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Erika,

      Thanks very much for reading, and for the kind words! I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece.

      One of these days, I hope to be living in the UK as an expat myself! ;-)

      Thanks again for reading. :-)

  19. avatarRachel says

    I was in London a few months ago and my hotel was right next to Victoria Station. In one of the guide books my Mom found that a one way ticket from Heathrow to London Victoria Coach Station was 5 pounds per person. Its slightly higher than the Tube but less expensive than Heathrow Connect or Heathrow Express and taking a taxi. It is slower (there is a bathroom on board) but you can see a bit of London. And its really handy if you are staying not far from Victoria Station or you can hop on the tube, bus, or get a taxi.

  20. avatarKelly says

    Hi Amie:

    My best friend and I went to London (my third time, her first) and stayed in a flat. DEFINITELY worth it. We had a one room flat w/ kitchenette, a microwave, our own bathroom, and free wifi for about $800 bucks for 9 days, two side streets from the tube stop w/ lots of character. It was in Bayswater so I felt really safe walking around after dark. There were a few for cheaper in Zone 2 but for my friend’s first trip, I wanted her to stay in Zone 1 (not that there’s anything wrong w/ the other zones, the tube travel is just slightly cheaper for people who are on a tight budget or recently lost their job before the trip, yep me!).

    I did the day trip to Cardiff halfway through the week to get out of the “OMGROYALWEDDINGZ” madness in London — more from the tourists at this point… it was amazing. I truly can’t believe we spent a full day there. It was rather inexpensive for a train ticket and a very pleasurable journey that left me wondering why the US hasn’t utilized trains in a more major way (but I know train tracks take up space and people don’t want to give up their land, etc…)

    I have a few other tips. Keep a copy of your passport down in the furthest recesses of your suitcase or send a copy to yourself via email just incase you lose your passport or unfortunately find your wallet nicked to provide some additional details to get a new passport for the return journey home. Sunscreen — you might not think you need it a lot, esp in the winter, but if you’re fair skinned, just a light coating two-three times a day can help.

    Pashminas make WONDERFUL gifts, there are awesome deals in the gift shops and work as scarves, drapes, blankets, etc. I have like 5. Plus, everyone in London on all the times I’ve been in the last 5 years have had one. A little bit of London to bring home and use year round.

    Have someone you trust keep tabs on your bank account at home so you don’t have to worry if the hotel/shop’s wifi is safe enough to check your account info. It also helps b/c the person at home can let you know if you’ve gone hog wild or not when those pesky conversion rates are the last thing on your mind…

    Youtube is a wonderful way to keep up with all your friends/family if you bring your own lap top. Instead of sending the traditional “here’s what we did today” email, we did youtube (AdelaideKellyUK). Our friends and family LOVED it and we ended up getting it shown on local tv (go figure!). We’d take a video, go home, upload it while we went out to eat or wound down for the night, then posted our link on facebook or twitter. Technology makes it so easy to keep up with people while they are traveling. WORD of CAUTION — unless you have an alarm on your house (like me!) or have a house sitter, this might not be the thing to post on Facebook.

    I think that’s what I can contribute now…. always take that leap and do the unknown, unless your gut screams NO at you. Otherwise, you’ll never know where that jump could have taken you!!

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Kelly-

      Those are all excellent tips! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences of travelling in Blighty, and thank you very much for reading! :-)

      • avatar says

        Hello Amie! very informative post for American visitors. Very well written….. but there is soooo much more to Britain than just London and Brighton. I know. I was born, educated and started my professional career in the City of London. I often escaped to Brighton at the weekend as it was the closest seaside. Then my younger sister went to Bath University and I went to visit one weekend. I couldn’t believe that such an amazing contrast to living in London, existed just an hour and forty minutes train journey away. I fell completely in love, moved to the West Country later that year and have enjoyed every minute of living here. Please do visit the West next time you are over and discover the magical atomosophere of beautiful Bath and the Cotswold countryside. More information and tips freely given if you would like to contact me. Trevor.

        • avatarAmie says

          Hi Trevor-

          You’re not the first person to tell me how amazing Bath and the West Country are; two of my English friends are from Bath, and they have been telling me how gorgeous that area of England is for the past couple of years. :-) I look forward to exploring it during future visits!

          Thanks so much for reading. :-)

  21. avatarCrystal says

    OMG, great article…found at the perfect time! I plan on taking holiday in September. It will be my first London trip, and I am going as a single gal. This is super helpful!!! Thanks to all those who shared as well. I am looking to continue my new love affair with England. I also hope to move there as well.

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Crystal-

      Oooh, lucky you! I’m so glad you found this before your trip; I hope some of the tips provided here will prove to be helpful to you! Enjoy your first-ever visit to the Big Smoke. It’s my favourite city in all the world. ;-)

      Thanks very much for reading. :-)

  22. avatarRob L says

    As a Scottish Lillywhite (Spurs fan) (you go Amie T! Norwich did make it and doing well – see previous posts) as well as my work I am down in London often. If you can get (I believe it is available across a number of platforms) TubeMap on your smartphone. 2 very good reasons for this (even more than it is free!)

    1. tells you not only the quickest route to your destination but also least stops/changes depending on what is most important.
    2. Looking at you phone (cell) means you don’t look like a tourist and avoid any “unnecessary” hassle.

    Oh and visit Scotland if you can. Different pace! plus Loch Lomand is only 20 mins direct from Glasgow but a life time in the making! Either way enjoy your trip. PS the Glasgow underground is very simple – not called the Clockwork Orange for nothing ;-)

    Hope that is of use.

    Rob

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Rob-

      Lovely to meet a fellow Spurs fan! Thanks very much for the TubeMap smart phone tip. My smart phone doesn’t work in the U.K. (thus, I use a pay-as-you-go dumb phone and a pocket-sized Tube Map when I’m over), but this is a great idea for those whose phones do work properly when they’re visiting.

      Funnily enough, I visited Scotland for the very first time just this past October. Your country is absolutely beautiful! I visited both Glasgow and Edinburgh, and though my American ears had a difficult time understanding what everyone I met was saying, I had a fantastic time. ;-)

      Thanks so much for reading, and for the travel tips. :-)

  23. avatarPickled Wizard says

    hi Amie,

    What an interesting article. I am always fascinated reading what others think of our fair land!
    London is obviously the place for anyone visiting for a first time – there is so much history and spectacle, anyone could easily fill a two week break, But, when the bright lights and overpriced coffee becomes too much, head west, or more accurately, South West. Trevor Jones nearly had it right – Bath is, indeed a lovely city, but keep going – all the way to Cornwall. It takes three to four hours by train (which is a wonderful way to travel, but can be pricey) or less tan an hour by plane (to Newquay) which can be very much cheaper if booked in advance. Probably best to do this on a subsequent trip, but if anyone wants to take a long weekend, in a fascinating, beautiful part of the world, where the food, beer and company is both superb and laid back, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are the place to be. As a bonus, it stays light much later here and the climate is much milder.

  24. avatarElizabeth says

    This article is great!! I first visited London on my own in October 2008 and had a fantastic trip!! It was nice to be solo on that first journey so I could indulge my own geeky anglophenia as much as I wanted. :) You are so right about trying to see the “typical” tourist spots during the week. I went in October so school was already back in session in England and many of the places I visited during the week were practically deserted. I wandered around Hampton Court by myself for about an hour or so before I saw another visitor. It was great and gave the place a completely different atmosphere.

    One thing I would suggest to new visitors is trying the London Walks. They are fantastic and relatively cheap. They have tons of different themed walks throughout the day and evening. The guides are great and they point out lots of interesting facts and places that I don’t think were covered in my guide books. Plus being a single girl in a new city in a new country, these are group walks so I felt completly safe and had a great time chatting to other visitors. I got some great tips! Some of the night walks include a stop at the pub which was also great fun in a group, instead of me standing with a pint on my own while all the guys watched the football. :)

    I would also second Bath as a day trip ot taking a tour of the Cotswold villages from Bath…if that’s your thing. Everyone will tell you that Bath is just amazingly beautiful but seriously, you should believe them. My jaw literally dropped on the train coming into Bath…it is gorgeous!!

  25. avatarHolly Evans says

    I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. I visited England way back in 1984 and loved the country and London. While in London my friend and I stayed first in the YWCA and then in what was then the brand new YMCA. The YWCA was old and almost quaint and I believe was strictly women. The YMCA was much more a hotel and also much more expensive if my memory serves me correctly. :) The for rest of England I stayed in B&Bs and really enjoyed them. The one I stayed at in Battle was built in the 1500s and the one in Great Malvern was a private home. They were wonderful and drove us to their favorite pub and down to the Tricounties Fair.
    Everyone was so friendly in England, even in London. I remember walking in the center of London at 9am and having business men greet me with a good morning! That took me by surprise; reminded me to the USA South.
    Some day I will make it back to England and hopefully get in a little of Scotland and Wales.

  26. avatarMaureen says

    The London insider is so right! Take the tube from Heathrow. YEs, it rattles and bangs away for 45 mintues but so what! I get off at Green Park and walk up to street level to Piccadlly , walk across to the Ritz and grab a taxi to my hotel or self catering flat or even walk if it’s close enough. Since I NEVER take more than a carry on with ten days worth of clothes I don’t have to haul any heavy luggage. VERY IMPORTANT – No heavy luggage.

    Pret A Manger is my life saver, also the Crypt Cafe at St. Martins in the Field church off Trafalgar Square. Free lunch time concerts and hot soup or anything else you want. I rarely spend $100 a day as Anglophile Aime recommends budgeting but I do pay more for my hotel. Nothing worse than being in a dodgy hotel even if you are out all day, you still have to come back to sleep in a scuzzy room where you really don’t even want to step out of bed without protecting your bare feet. Been there and don’t ever want to do it again. Never go below a three star rating and even that can be a risk sometimes. If you are going for more than a week or at least 7 days rent a flat and do your own cooking or bring your ready to heat and eat food from Sainsburys, TEsco, Waitrose or Marks and Sparks. I LOVE LONDON!

Leave a Reply