Thursday, June 23, 2011

Howdy London!

The hub and I are taking a trip to London in August and I'm so excited. I'm a big history geek and I will finally get to see all those places I've read about in my favorite books!

We started planning this trip last summer intending to go in April. Then they announced the royal wedding and there went all our plans. Because we didn't really want to fight those crowds. So then we decided to go in May and a co-worker of my husband, who lives in England, told us to wait til August so the kids will be back in school and the tourist spots won't be so crowded.

BUT. You guys. There are so many, many decisions.

Like, what will we do? Where will we stay? Where will we eat? Will our magnetic-stripe credit cards work over there? Will my cell phone work over there? Will my ATM card work over there? Should we get a Oyster Card or a Travelcard? Should we stay in London the whole week or take a day trip somewhere? If so, where? How the freakin hell do we get from the airport to our hotel?

That last one has been my biggest pain in the ass. Everywhere I've stayed before, the hotel has a free shuttle service to and from the airport. But for the life of me, I can't find one in London that offers this service.

Everyone on the travel message boards all say "Oh, it's so easy. Just take the Tube. Then take a taxi to your hotel." What? That's easy???? No. That is not easy. Easy is getting on the shuttle bus at the airport that has your hotel name on it and it drops you off at the front doors of your hotel. For free. THAT. That's easy.

I've never been in a subway but I've seen pictures and that is what I assume the Tube looks like. Full of people and not a lot of space. So I can just imagine the glee all the Tube riders will feel when we come gamboling aboard with our luggage. I'm afraid that they will all give us the universal Bitchface. You know the face of which I speak. The one people give you when they think you're a moron and you're upsetting their life by being a moron. Yes. That face. I hate that face. I really don't want to see that face.

Especially after 10 hours on a plane.

If I get the Bitchface aimed at me after 10 exhausting & uncomfortable hours on a plane, you can expect me to react in 1 of 3 ways:

1) Cranky- Which means I will probably run over your toes with my rolling luggage wheels just for giving me grief.

2) Giddy- When I see you give me said Bitchface, I will giggle hysterically in your face.

3) Traumatized- I will burst into tears, because I will have forgotten that good things exist in the world.

Who knows which one it will be? I'm unpredictable.

I've already warned my husband and he's decided to travel with me anyway. He's a brave man.

So I need your help. What are your recommendations for hotels, restaurants, bookstores, site seeing, types of clothes to wear in August in London, any advice you've got will be most appreciated!

Including how to get to and from the hotel and airport please, without getting the Bitchface.


JenM said...

It's okaaayyyy..... Take a deep breath. London is one of my favorite cities and their subway system is one of the best in the world. We start every European trip with a few days there just to relax and get over our jet lag. We were just there a couple of weeks ago.

Feel free to send me an email, but just to address your most pressing question, the Picadilly line in the Underground starts/ends in Heathrow with stations in every terminal. Because it's the beginning of the line, when you get on, the only other people getting on with you will be people who've also just arrived. Everyone will have luggage, so don't worry about anyone giving you dirty looks. Everyone who normally rides the Picadilly line is well used to sharing the train with lots of travelers with luggage so don't worry about that either.

There is also an express train that runs from Heathrow to Paddington Station in London. We never take it because it's triple the price of the regular Underground per person (16 GBP vs. 5.50 BGP), and since we always book a hotel that is on the Picadilly line, the Tube is much more convenient. We don't have to transfer to a different train or take a taxi, we just hop off at the station nearest our hotel and then have a 1-3 block walk to our hotel. If your hotel isn't on the Picadilly line, then the express train might be worth it, but at Paddington station, you will still need to either get a taxi to your hotel, or transfer to the tube to get closer.

I can understand your concerns about using the subway if you've never used it before, but trust me, in Europe, the subways are a thousand times better than anything we've got here in the states. Everyone uses them. They are safe and very convenient. Trains run every 5 minutes are so and in the big cities, no place is far from a subway stop. In London, the signs will all be in English, so you'll even be able to read them. Once you start using them for sightseeing, you may have to transfer once or twice to get to where you are going, and you may get lost once or twice until you get the hang of it but that's part of the fun.

This post is getting a bit long, so send me an email if you want more info. I will just add that when you book your hotel, try to get a hotel that is on the Circle, District or Picadilly subway lines. Those are the most convenient ones for sightseeing in Central London and if you are on one of them, you won't have to transfer to a different line very often.

jen at delux dot com

Jenre said...

Um, I hate to tell you this, Kim, but in the UK the kids don't go back to school until September so I'm afraid London is going to be full of families with Children because August is peak holiday time.

The tube is easy peasy. I don't live in London (I live in the North of England) but whenever I've gone to London I've found the tube one of the best ways to get around. It will be signposted from the airport.

I'm not 100% sure about this, but I don't think you can get an oyster card unless you live in London. I always use travel cards when I go.

When I stay in London I go with work and they've put me up at the Hotel Russell in Russell Square. I've always found that to be very comfortable and the food is good. It may be expensive though!

Places to visit:
The Natural History museum
The London Eye
The Houses of Parliament
Buckingham Palace
Kew Gardens
There are several lovely parks
If you like art then I would recommend Tate Modern.
Take a trip up the Thames to Greenwich and see the observatory or the maritime museum.

That's only the tip of the iceberg!

You can probably spend a week in London going round and doing the sights but day trips out will be fun too. You could go on the train to Brighton and visit the royal pavilion and the pier.

Or you can go to Blenheim Palace which is supposed to be a very handsome place to visit.

Hope that's been helpful. Enjoy your trip!

Kim said...

JenM ~ Thank you! Your information is just what I needed to hear! No one else told me about the Picadilly line. I can't tell you how much of a comfort that is knowing there will be other people with luggage. I don't have any qualms about using it once we dump our luggage, but for some reason that, more than anything else, was really stressing me out. I had horrible thoughts of people shouting at me.

We thought about using Heathrow Connect, I'm not sure what that is, bus? train? but the web site says you can't use the Oyster Card to ride and the Heathrow Express says you can't use the Oyster or the Travelcard....see? So confusing!

I think we are leaning toward getting the Travelcard along with a LondonPass. I think..

I will probably send you an email because I'm a mess!

Kim said...

Jenre ~ I didn't know about schools starting in Sept. must not have kids.

Thanks for the hotel recommendation..going to check that out now. Is it on the Picadilly line by any chance?

All the sights you listed I have on my list except the London Eye. I'm afraid of heights so I won't be doing that.

Have you seen the Horseguards Parade? Someone said to see that instead of COG at Buckingham.

For a day trip we were thinking Warwick Castle? What do you think?

Oh and Hampton that a day trip or is it closer to London than that?

Where is Blenheim Palace?

There is so much to see! We were going to just stay 3 days in London then take the train to Edinburgh but we just kept adding things to our London trip, so we finally decided to stay and do Edinburgh some other time because I also didn't think we could do Scotland in 3 days either because that list was getting quite long as well. heh.

Thanks so much for the info!

Jenre said...

Hi Kim

Yes, Russell Square tube station is on the Picadilly line. The hotel is right round the corner. Turn left out of the station and at the end of the block turn left again and the hotel is just on the left there. Very handy :).

Not been to horseguards except to peek in on my way walking past. Your friend may be right about the parade. I've seen it on TV and it always looks impressive :).

I think you can travel down the Thames to Hampton Court so you could make a boat trip of it! I've not been, unfortunately, as I mostly go to London on business and so no time to play :(.

You should also go to to Tower of London, although be warned the queues will be huge in August so get there early.

Warwick Castle is worth visiting. In fact the whole of Warwick is a beautiful town with many Elizabethan buildings. You will need to hire a car to get there though because it's quite a long way from London - about 2 hours drive, maybe? The train may be quicker but I'm not sure how to get there on the train from London.

You could also take a day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and do the Shakespeare tour. That's a bit of a drive too though.

I think you are wise to put off the Scotland trip. It will take 5-6 hours by train to Edinburgh so you would only really get one decent full day to look around.

Hope that's helpful :).

Kim said...

Jenre ~ I looked up the Russell and it looks gorgeous! I think that's a winner. It has great reviews.

I also can't figure out how to get to Warwick on the train. I don't think there is a direct train, I think we will have to change trains at some point.

Thanks for the idea on the hotel!

JenM said...

The Heathrow Express is the train to Paddington Station and my guess is that you wouldn't be able to use the Oyster or Travel card for it. However, you can buy tickets online in advance.

We usually stay near Kensington Gardens. It's a bit away from the main part of tourist London, but because it's on the Picadilly line it's very easy to get anywhere and it's a really nice neighborhood. The hotel we stayed at on our most recent trip was the NH Kensington - it was very nice, definitely a business hotel and about two blocks from the Earl's Court tube station. We got a good deal on Priceline for about $150/night, but I think the normal room rate is around $200 or so, which is still not too bad for central London.

If you are a history buff, you've got to go to the Tower of London. It's amazing. I think they open around 9AM, but if you are there around 8:15-8:30, you'll be pretty close to the front of the line. Also, in August, you can tour Buckingham palace. That's only possible in August and Sept. when the queen is away on holiday. We did it 3 years ago and I thought it was worth it.

I also highly recommend Hampton Court - again, as a history buff, you've got to go there since it was Henry VIII's favorite castle. As I recall, we took the train right to it - it's not far out of London. I haven't been to Warwick Castle but I hear it's pretty impressive. We were thinking about doing it this last trip, but it's a two hour train trip each way and we decided not to.

I'd also second going to Greenwich. It's an adorable little village on the south side of the Thames just outside of London and easily reacheable on the Underground. If you want a taste of village life just outside of London, this is the easiest to get to.

A little farther (maybe an hour on the train) is Canterbury which is just beautiful with a cathedral and lots of old medieval half-timbered houses inside the old city walls. This is probably the easiest day trip you could make to medieval England since it's so close to London.

Kim said...

JenM ~ Oohh those are terrific ideas! Thanks!

The Tower of London is absolutely on my list. We are thinking of getting the LondonPass so we can avoid the longest lines. I've heard great things about the Beefeaters so I'm really looking forward to that.

Greenwich and Canterbury sound good too. I hadn't even thought of going there so I'm so glad you mentioned it.

Warwick does look wonderful but you may be right about it being too far. I didn't realize it was that far.

Buckingham and Hampton Court are on my list as well. Have you been to St James Palace? I have it on my list but I never hear anyone say anything about it one way or another.

Of course I want to see Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls Cathedral too. I think I have too much on my list! But I guess it's better to have too much than not enough.

I'll check out the NH Kensington. That is not a bad price at all. Most everything I have looked into is over $200 per night. But I haven't checked Priceline. I actually forgot about that site. I've been looking at Expedia.

Thanks for all the info, you've been a big help and I have your email so don't be surprised if you see a panicked email from me soon!

LesleyW said...

Just to say there is a direct train from London to Warwick. I was on it at the weekend.

Usually it leaves from London Marylebone but there are engineering works at the moment so at the weekend it was leaving from Paddington. Takes about 2hrs though so you might want to concentrate on London this trip.

Lori said...

You will have a great time, and as others have said, London is an easy and lovely place to visit. We have been twice with our 2 teens and we all love our time there.
What I wanted to mention, as a super easy way to sight see, is London Walks. We have done the regular walks on both of our stays in London, and our last one (last August) we also did some of the day tours. We visited Hampton Court and loved it. We also did day trips to Bath, and Salisbury/Stone Henge with London Walks and had wonderful experiences.
We flew in at Gatwick, so can't give any info on the tube for Heathrow, but we had the week travel oyster cards and used the tube constantly.
Enjoy, the planning and the trip.

Kim said...

LesleyW ~ Thanks! I'm writing that station info down. I think we need to go to Warwick it just looks so lovely.

I am really looking forward to seeing the countryside in that area.

Thanks for the info!

Kim said...

Lori ~ Thanks! I'm so excited I can't stand myself!

I've heard great things about the London Walks. Gonna check that out.

We are getting the week travelcard as well. Did you buy it before you left or did you get it over there?

Lori said...

Hi Kim,
I ordered the cards and had them sent to our home so I would have them when we arrived. Easy peasy and then I didn't have to worry about it after an overnight flight.
We had rented an apartment this time from Mary at and we just took the tube in and met someone there with the key and we were all set.
Visiting the museums in London is amazing, and admission is free. This time we visited the Victoria & Albert museum twice because the first visit just wasn't enough.
The only hard thing with planning a trip to London is deciding what you won't have time for, but that is what subsequent trips are for.

KarenB said...

I'm a Brit and I have lived in both Greenwich and Canterbury and they're both worth a visit. Greenwich is fab, on the river - you can get there on a river boat from the Embankment or by tube. I recommend the boat trip, great views. Greenwich has great places to eat pubs and restaurants - check out The Trafalgar pub, you must visit the National Maritime Museum, especially if you like great buildings.
Canterbury is small and walkable, mostly pedestrianised lots of live music in the streets, again loads of pubs and restaurants and of course Canterbury Cathedral is where Thomas Beckett was murdered. There's a fast train from St Pancras to Canterbury, it takes 50 minutes and it's a five minute walk into the centre of Canterbury from the station.
Hope this is helpful. If you need any help or info about the UK from a Brit let me know.

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