London eye - London travel tips for first timers

Essential London Travel Tips For First-Timers

In UK, EUROPE by IsabellaLeave a Comment

If it’s your first time in London, these London Travel tips will help you navigate the exciting city without wasting time and money.


You might have everything in your head or on your planner. All the things you want to see in London. But how can you reach all those unique attraction? In my 9-day London itinerary, there was a lot of walking involved because I love walking and find it the best way to know the city. Sometimes, distances can be too long, and you need to know how to use busses and the London TUBE. Regardless, using the London TUBE is an attraction in itself, in my opinion. I find it extremely entertaining. You will tell me.

ARRIVING IN LONDON

There are 3 main airports in London, Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stanstead, all of which are very easily connected with the city. We have arrived at Gatwick, and with the Gatwick Express, we reached Victoria Station in 30 minutes. It’s a little expensive (18 GBP) but worth the money.

Here below a quick overview of the three airports:

HEATHROW AIRPORT TRANSFERS TO LONDON

Located at about 14 miles from London city center, Heathrow is the most important and biggest hub in Great Britain and most probably the busiest in Europe. Its 5 terminals connect England with the most important international hubs.

No matter which terminal you arrive at, you can get from Heathrow airport to the heart of the city in a blick of an eye:

  • Heathrow Express train that gets to Paddington station in about 20 minutes at the cost of about 22 GBP
  • The less expensive underground (tube) (5.80 GBP) on the Piccadilly line will take about 1 hour. More info here.

FUN FACT: Heathrow Terminal 5 won the Skytrax price as the world’s best airport terminal in 2014.

GATWICK TRANSFERS TO LONDON

Gatwick is the second most important airport in Great Britain, where the majority of low-cost companies have their hubs. That’s where we arrived. It’s never been so easy to move around.

From Gatwick to London you have plenty of choices as well.

The Gatwick Express takes you to Victoria Station from where it’s easy to get to wherever you need to go.  It’s located at the terminal South, and it’s the fastest way to get to London from Gatwick. It’s quite expensive, around 18GBP, if you take the express line, the regular line is about 16GBP, and it takes a little longer.

Keep in mind that this is the line to Brighton, so make sure you ask which direction the train is going before getting on so that you won’t find yourself in Brighton instead. Not that it’s an unpleasant city. You should check on their site to know more about Gatwick express and purchase your ticket. If you buy it online, you usually get a discount. If you are on a budget, you can use the National Express bus, whose cost varies depending on the time. You can check out prices and purchase your ticket online here.

STANSTEAD TRANSFERS TO LONDON

This underestimated airport is actually one of the busiest in Great Britain and used mainly by low-cost companies.

From Stanstead to London, you can either use the Stanstead Express train that will take you to Liverpool Street in 45 minutes for 20 GBP, or if you are not in a hurry, the Terravision buses will take you to Victoria Station in 120 minutes for 8 GBP. Not bad!

HOW TO MOVE AROUND LONDON

Moving around London is the easiest thing to do once you learn the basics of how its incredible and efficient system of transport works. And that’s what I am going to explain in a bit. Follow me here.

All the means of transportation in London become an icon of the city and something Londoners are most proud of. The most efficient and fasters TUBE, whose colorful map has become the most popular souvenirs theme, the traditional black cabs, a little expensive but sometimes helpful. Last but not least, the classical red double-decker busses.

But let’s check them out one by one.

LONDON UNDERGROUND SERVICE ( aka the TUBE)

Did you know that London Tube is the oldest underground transportation system in the world? It has become the most common means of transportation nowadays in London because it’s fast and takes you almost everywhere.

From early morning to about midnight, you can easily and safely move around London by Tube. You need to know the below information:

The London Tube single ticket is normally £4.90, which is A LOT if you think about that. However, you can use the Oyster Card, and this is how you use it.

HOW TO USE THE OYSTER CARD

  • You purchase the Oyster card for £ 5, which is refundable at the end of your trip if you like. Otherwise, it has no expiring date.
  • Then you can decide the use you make, depending on how much you plan to use the local transportations and how many days you are staying.
  • To use the Oyster Card, with the pay-as-you-go system, you must top it up with some credit at the self-service machines located in every underground station, and every time you enter the Tube and scan the Oyster card to get yourself in, the card will be charged £ 2.40.
  • If you stay longer than 4 days up to a week, and you are planning to use TUBE and Busses a lot, you should buy the weekly Travel Card, which has a weekly rate of 36.10 pounds for zone 1,2, which is basically what you need to move around as a tourist.
  • The weekly travel card is what we had, and I just loved it just for the fact that we didn’t have to worry if we had enough credit for a trip or to have to top it up all the time.

LONDON BUS TRANSPORTATION SERVICE

If you don’t have to rush from one place to another. I love to get the bus because if you manage to take your eyes off your phone, you will see the city. It’s like a panoramic tour, and you can even decide to hop off and at any time you go. The bus network is massive and efficient, despite traffic, also because busses have their own lanes.

If a few years ago you could pay as you go to the bus driver or a ticket controller, now you can only pay with your oyster card, which you would top up at the machines found in every underground station. Easy.

You will see the bus itinerary and a timer at every bus stop that tells you how much you will have to wait.

GETTING AROUND LONDON BY NIGHT

After midnight, if you don’t want to break the bank using the cabs, the London night buses are available to take you home safe and sound. Because it’s the only available means of transportation, they are very much frequented and therefore relatively safe.

They run all night long, and you can find them by the N sign in front of the bus number.

GETTING AROUND LONDON BY CAB

For a door-to-door ride, the classic black cabs offer an impeccable and reliable service and, of course, super safe. The downside is that they are quite expensive and they get stuck in traffic. But in an emergency, you can always count on them. If you are in a rush, you better use the TUBE, though. I missed an important dinner once, when I was in London for business, just because I took the cab. I thought it would have been faster, and I was wrong.

GETTING AROUND IN LONDON ON UBER

Uber is a cheaper alternative to cabs for a door to door service, especially if you ask for the pool ride.

MOVING AROUND ON THE THAMES RIVER

If there is one thing that I regret is not having the chance to navigate the River Thames. I have never thought of it as a possibility in all the times I have been to London. This time we have found out that there is a shuttle service, actually multiple uses, that would take you from Greenwich to Westminister, with in between stops. You can go on a ferry ride or tour, depending on what kind of experience you want to have.

We had initially planned to go from the Docklands to Greenwich to visit the Royal Observatory, the Greenwich meridian line, and explore the so famous London Borough. Then we would have returned to base by the same ferry up to Westminster. The line I was suggested was Clippers

Well, once we arrived at the docklands we realized our plan for that day was too ambitious and we didn’t make it.

One good excuse to go back to London next year.

Anyway, if you wish to check out other companies and their tours, here below you can find some.

HOW DO YOU FIND THE FASTEST WAY TO GET WHERE YOU WANT FROM WHERE YOU ARE IN LONDON?

To not get lost and find my way around, I always use google map and love it; although I admit that sometimes I wasn’t given the best or most efficient options, I still found it useful. You can select the bus option, and the app will provide you with all the available combinations of means to get where you want, including time.

As I said, take it with a grain of salt and plan ahead of time. Especially if you need to be at a place at a specific time, give it some margin. It’s a busy city. Anything can happen. But here it’s never been more appropriate than here to say…Enjoy the ride!

HOW TO DEAL WITH LONDON WEATHER

We all have this stereotype in mind that London weather is always rain and fog, but nothing is further from the truth, at least not always.

We should know by now that stereotypes are based on fundamental truth, and probably most of the time, you can find a gray sky. However, call me lucky, in my 10 days in London in November, we found only one day of rain, and all the rest was sunny and relatively warm for that time of the year, of course. I remember, though, one December a few years ago, I was in London for a couple of days for work, and the cold wind was unbearable. You never know what to expect. I recommend, though, to dress up in layer and always bring a raincoat, because rain can surprise you at any time of the day no matter how warm it started.

Summers are quite warm and sunny, and you will love the cheerful atmosphere of people gathering in the parks having their lunch and warming up their pale winter skin. But always bring a raincoat with you. 🙂


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