Recommendations for visiting London

Troy put together a list of suggestions for a friend visiting London and it’s worth sharing.  They make me jealous that I’m not back there right now!

Things to check out:

  • Tower of London
  • British Museum
  • at least swing by Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s
  • art museums, e.g. National Portrait Gallery, V&A, etc.
  • Walk along the south bank, see the Tate Modern and check out Borough Market
  • catch at least one musical
  • A river boat out to Greenwich is fun on a nice day (Prime Meridian!)

Walk: If the weather is nice, walk from Marble Arch through Hyde Park through Wellington Arch through Green Park to Buckingham Palace and then on to St. Jame’s Park ending at Trafalgar Square.  A great stroll and lots of nice scenes.

Check out the Olympic village out in the East End (assuming it’s open for visitors).

For shopping:

  • Portobello Road (especially for Saturday market)
  • Carnaby Street (just off Regent Street)
  • Knightsbridge (e.g. Harrods)
  • Camden Town (head north from the tube station on Camden High Street)
  • There’s also Europe’s largest mall, Westfield, is just above Shepherd’s Bush station on the Central line. It also has the best movie theater in town if you want to get off the grid.
  • In general, Oxford Street is blech slow tourist nonsense.  Avoid unless you want to punish yourself.

Food:

  • Red Fort or Cinnamon Club (fancy Indian)
  • The Punjab (not fancy Indian)
  • Yauatcha or Hakkasan (fancy Chinese)
  • Ping Pong (chain of affordable Dim Sum w/ great cocktails)
  • Bumpkin (yummy British)
  • If you’re around for a weekend dinner, make reservations at The Walpole in Ealing – a great local cafe open for dinners on Friday and Saturday nights only.  Reservations required.  Tell Wendy and Louis “hi” for us!

Enjoy! What are we missing?

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One thought on “Recommendations for visiting London

  1. So I maintain my own list (as I get asked a lot), and thought I’d share.

    Before you go:

    Call your bank to let them know you’ll be using your ATM abroad, and check your credit cards to know which have international fees and which don’t. My AmEx cards are transaction free, so I tend to favor them when I’m abroad so I’m not paying fees.

    On the money, pick an exchange rate that’s close to what the going rate is and just use that — you’ll drive yourself mad if you try and keep up daily. (http://www.google.com/search?gcx=w&ix=c1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=GBP+to+USD) . Your best method to convert money is to find an ATM and make a withdrawal. Doing it at the airport before is the worst exchange rate and will generally cost you transaction fees. Not worth it. Just find an ATM in Heathrow when you get out of customs. You won’t need cash until you get to the train station for your first taxi. You’ll find you use cash a bit more than in the US, and remember that the bills start at 5GBP, so you’ll have some 1 and 2 pound coins in your pocket. Change isn’t “worthless” like it is here. A 2 pound coin — that’s three bucks!

    I get asked all the time about the tipping. Here’s the scoop. It isn’t a tipping culture like it is in the US, so dial back all your thoughts on what to tip for. Wait staff make a full wage, so you aren’t stiffing them if you don’t tip like you do at home. 10% is the most you’ll tip in a restaurant. I tip an extra pound or so on a cab ride, as opposed to what we do at home, and you don’t tip in pubs at all — if you buy a drink in a pub, you don’t have to tip.

    Make sure you’ve checked your power converter situation before you go. Laptops and phones generally are universal power, but you still need an adapter, not a converter. I carry a Kensington travel power adapter (you can get them at Amazon or Best Buy), and then I plug my laptop into that. I use USB chargers off my laptop to charge my phones and iPads. And Sharon never takes her hair dryer, because it would need a converter. Read your manuals if you’re concerned.

    Once you arrive:

    Jet lag tip — for quickest adjustment, if you can last the day without a nap, staying up as late as you can, it makes the transition the easiest. Try and put yourself on British time as quickly as possible, including eating. If you need a nap, take one right when you get there, maybe an hour or a bit more, but get up and get on the day schedule. You’re still going to be off for a day — they say it takes a day to fully adjust per hour you change timezones, but I find it moves about twice as fast. With planning, you can be about full speed with two days transition. If you adjust some before you go, you make it easier too.

    Once you get settled, your best way around the city is by Tube or Bus. Everyone in London uses the Tube — it’s not like the states at all in this way — and it’s not that hard when you take al ook at the map. The best way to deal with it is when you go the first time, go to the manned ticket booth. When there, ask for an “Oyster” card, and put something like 20 pounds on it. You’ll pay a 5 pound deposit for the card, which at the end of your trip, on your last ride, you can turn the card in and get that money back. The Oyster is like the Metro SmartTrip card — when you walk to the lines, at the gates, you touch your card to the yellow circle, and it lets you in. The system actually calculates the best fare not only for each individual trip but for the day — you’ll never spend more than the best daily farecard with an Oyster. When you tap in, make sure it beeps — you can see a green light too . Nothing bad happens if you miss it, but they charge more for an invalid ride. Just trying to make your money last. 🙂 When you exit each time, your balance is displayed when you tap out on the yellow circle, so you know when to reload it. You can do that with the ticket guys again. The buses use the system too, so if you hop a bus, you can do that too. Very efficient. The Tube nearest our hotel is “Angel”, which is on the Northern Line. You can hop a station in either direction and switch to get to everything.

    Now, onto other stuff. Sightseeing!

    I recommend when you get in and get settled, take the double decker bus tour. There are several companies, and they’re all good, so just find a brochure in your hotel and ask where to find a stop. They’re hop-on hop-off, but I usually recommend you just ride one full loop and see it all. It will let you decide what you want to go back to.

    Sightseeing highlights for me would include The British Museum (where you want to see the Egyptian collection and the Parthenon from Greece, if nothing else) as well as the Rosetta Stone. Grab the little “two hour tour” brochure they have there to get the best recommendations.

    I think the climb to the top of St Pauls Cathedral is worth it — beautiful views of the city. The cathedral is worth touring as well. Tour the Tower of London — it’s also worth it. The Crown Jewels are fun to go see. Take the trip to walk by the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben (which is the bell, not the tower!), and then tour Westminster Abbey too.

    Harrod’s is a fun shopping experience, but be prepared for the crowds. Make sure to see the front displays too if you tour there. The crowds are generally better on the weekdays. For a walking shopping experience, get on the Tube and go to Bond Street. Get off there, explore the big shops that are there (Selfridges, among others), and then walk towards Oxford Circus. Make the right on Regent Street, and then wander off to the shops on the “left” side of the street there, and the ones behind it on Carnaby Street and behind. A neat shopping area. You make your way down to Picadilly Circus. London’s an amazing walking city. I don’t mind saying I usually take a couple of hours and just walk around the city.

    Now, onto some food recommendations. Despite the rumors, British foods can be really good, you just want to know what to look for.

    Yes, you need to try Fish and Chips. It’s a staple. In this case, you’re going to look for a good pub that will serve it. I find that asking at the hotel will give you a good “local” that can recommend one. If you’re walking around near Covent Garden, the chipper I like is The Rock and Sole Plaice (http://maps.google.com/maps/place?um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=rock+and+sole&fb=1&gl=us&hq=rock+and+sole&cid=18354524411613995895)

    The North Sea fish restaurant, in Leigh Street WC1 is recommended as well, as referred to me by a friend who knows.

    http://www.northseafishrestaurant.co.uk/

    Curry. If you’re up for Ethnic food, London is the place for it, and even more than British food, the locals will tell you that the National dish there is curry — or in our terms, Indian Food. I think the Indian in London is amazing, and so you’re looking for a Curry House. Again, the hotel can help, or if you give me an area of the city I can narrow it down. If you’re near Marble Arch, the Noor Jahan 2, at 26 Sussex Place, W2 2TH is really good.

    I’m going to give you a specific pub recommendation if you’re up for being adventurous. The Founder’s Arms, which is located right near London Bridge on the Southbank, has panoramic views of St. Pauls and the city, and good food and a great beer list. I turned Sharon onto their “Banana Bread Beer’ in a bottle there, and they have the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout that’s very good. If you’re up for the map challenge, take the Tube to London Bridge and follow the map — look it up here first and print — it’s not a hard walk, but it’s not obvious. This will be one of the few times I recommend a cab if you’re not up for exploring. It’s tucked away, but worth it. The beer selection is good and the views are great. They have an outdoor patio with heating if the weather isn’t bad.

    Also on my food list is “Mother Mash”, which is right off Carnaby Street. They make “to order” shepard’s pie, and it’s not only cheap but really good. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a favorite of mine.

    If you like sushi and Japanese food, and want something really fun, try Inamo in Soho. (http://www.inamo-restaurant.com/) The sushi is a ton of fun, and the tables are these interactive computers you order from. Check out the website for more details.

    A touch pricey but with great views on the river is Skylon in Southbank center. http://www.skylon-restaurant.co.uk. Also good for cocktails at the bar, the food is good and the service as well.

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