An October 2005 trip
to London by Sarah the Expat
Quote: I moved to London from Wisconsin in October 2002 when I married a British citizen and have since spent lots of time exploring on my own, with hubby, or with various friends/relatives who've come to visit. Updated whenever I get time to do something new!
1. Tower of London: Absolutely the best attraction of all the historic things to do. Lots of history, entertaining guides, time well spent!
2. Big Bus Tour: A great overview of London, all the major sights, will help you get your bearings.
3. St Paul's Cathedral: Again, lots of history, but if you're athletically inclined enough, a climb to the top affords a better, less expensive, and longer view over the city than a trip on the London Eye!
4. City of London Museum: London's history from ancient Romans to 20th century. Absolutely fascinating, and free!
5. Westminster Abbey: More famous dead people per square inch than can be believed--you'll really get a sense of just how long Britain's history is, especially if you're American.
The prices were reasonable and even on our tight budget we got a bottle of wine to share. The cannelloni was excellent, rivaling my favorite restaurant in south London.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 30, 2004
Original Spaghetti House
15/17 Goodge Street
London, England W1T 2PQ
They have all kinds of nibbles in single portions or larger for sharing (I like the tomato and goat cheese bruschetta), sandwiches, and larger main meals. It is reasonably priced; the most expensive item on the menu was a steak at £11. As for the cuisine, it's a bit of everything and it shouldn't be hard to find something you like!
Decor is a lot of dark, polished wood. Non-smoking seating is available.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 1, 2004
Henry's Bar and Cafe
London, England W1J 8HY
I had the caprino (goat cheese) pizza, which was nice, not spectacular. The menu was fairly bog-standard Italian, nothing particularly special. The olives and bread on the table were a nice touch, but this ain't America - you don't get anything for free. We got our bill and were surprised to find a $1.75 cover charge per person, which we assume paid for the olives/bread. So after my husband and I spent $8.50 on two sodas and some olives/bread we hadn't ordered, I'm not likely to give this place a favourable review.
You can get better, cheaper Italian food at La Pasta in Bromley, and if you're in Leicester Square, you'd be better off heading to Chinatown for a reasonably priced meal after a evening in the pub!
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 17, 2005
16 Irving Street
London, England WC2H 7AU
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 30, 2004
London, England NW1 4RY
+44 20 7722 3333
Attraction | "Reduced Shakespeare Company"
London, England W1V 9LB
+44 20 7413 1437
The museum is well hidden, a bit hard to find. Go to either Barbican or St Paul's tube stops and look for the signs. The museum entrance is actually located in the network of walkways called the Barbican, up above street level. Just walking through those can be an adventure!
Museum of London
150 London Wall
London, England EC2Y 5HN
+44 (207) 814 5613
Jerry Springer - The Opera
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 30, 2004
St Paul's Cathedral
The Chapter House
London, England EC4M 8AD
+44 (20 7) 236 4128
The London Eye
South Bank of the River Thames
London, England SE1 9TA
+44 (870) 500 0600
Attraction | "Sherlock Holmes Musuem"
The place is a small house decked out in the Victorian style, as though it were the fictional character's residence, complete with bored, spotty teens decked out in period garb. For your £6, you can look around, but there isn't any guided tour or anything. The gift shop was more entertaining than the actual attraction, and you can go in that for free!
I'd only recommend this if you are an obsessive Sherlock Holmes fan; otherwise don't waste the 6 quid.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on April 1, 2004
Sherlock Holmes Museum
221b Baker Street
London, England NW1 5RT
+44 20 7935 8866
The practical bits:
The nearest tube stop is Charing Cross or Leicester Square. Opening times are 10-6pm daily, with late nights ‘til 9pm on Thursday and Friday. Since it's one of the few attractions open in the evening, I suggest going then and saving the daytime for other activities.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 2, 2004
National Portrait Gallery
St. Martin's Place
London, England WC2H OHE
44 20 7306 0055
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 16, 2005
Florence Nightingale Museum
2 Lambeth Palace Road
London, England SE1 7EW
+44 20 7620 0374
Attraction | "Big Bus Tour"
Big Bus Tours-London Sightseeing Tour
48 Buckingham Palace Road
+44 (20) 7233 9533
Tower of London
London, England EC3N 4AB
+44 (207) 709 0765
20 Dean's Yard
London, England SW1P 3PA
+44 (20) 7222 5152
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on May 16, 2005
Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
London, England WC2B 5PW
020 7400 5007
Attraction | "English National Opera"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 16, 2005
English National Opera (ENO)
St Martin's Lane
London, England WC2N 4ES
+44 20 7632 8300 (bo
Attraction | "Cutty Sark Tea Clipper Ship"
Small children might not have the attention span for some of it, but the kids who were there at the same time as me were just having a good time running around and climbing up and down between the decks! Allow about 1 hour for it.
Opening Times: 10am to 5pm every day of the week.
Admission Costs: £4.50 for adults, £3.20 for children
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on May 20, 2005
King William Walk
London, England SE10 9HT
+44 20 8858 3445
1. Watch your volume level in public places. There are two main reasons for this. First, you annoy natives when you are overly boisterous. Look around when you're on London public transport--hardly anyone talks, most read their paper or book, trying to pretend none of the others exist. Please help keep up the illusion by talking quietly to your companions. Also, if you seem distracted and are obviously foreign by your accent, you make yourself a target for pickpockets.
2. Stand to the RIGHT side on the escalators. The left is reserved for people who think they are more important/busier/athletic than you and feel the need to sprint up the stairs. Standing to the left will most likely get you nudged politely or shoved violently, depending on how close to rush hour it is. Also make sure you have your ticket ready to put through the gate machines--nothing annoys people more than someone fumbling in their wallet/coat for a ticket when a queue is building up.
3. Remember you are in another country. While we speak the same language, the culture and lifestyle is different. Try to learn something from the experience rather than complaining. Yes, things are expensive, there are no free refills, customer service is practically non-existent, the pubs close at 11pm--it ain't home. But if you wanted things to be like home, you should have stayed there!
1. Stop in the middle of the pavement to pull out your map/guidebook or gawk at a poster/sign/busker. You wouldn't just stop suddenly on a motorway in your car, and London sidewalks (pavement as it's known here) should be treated the same. Pull over to the side and let everyone else go by. In fact, I advise looking at your maps and orienting yourself while in the toilet. Then you come out and look like you know where you're going, unlike most tourists.
2. Assume everyone is friendly and knows the location of London's major tourist attractions. This is not to say Londoners are NOT friendly, just that some aren't, and the more mean-spirited might knowingly give you wrong information. If you need to ask directions, instead of just stopping a random person, ask a bus conductor, a shop worker (make sure to buy something first!), or someone involved in working with the public. They are more likely to know the answer, and less likely to be annoyed that you asked.
3. Try to get an early start. You're on holiday for Pete's sake! Also, commuters OWN public transport before 9:30am on the weekdays. You don't want to get caught in that mob, and travelcards are more expensive if bought before 9:30am. This is the reason most tourist attractions don't even open until 10 or 10:30am--they don't WANT you to be there early! Have a leisurely breakfast at/near your hotel, and save any travel till after 9:30.
4. Give money to beggars. You only encourage them to continue, which makes the problem worse. Try not to make eye contact or speak (your accent will give you away as foreign). Beggars here generally aren't aggressive like they are in some cities, so they will usually leave you alone if you just ignore them. If you feel you must give someone money, give it to the men and women selling a weekly magazine called The Big Issue. It allows homeless or vulnerably housed men and women to earn a living selling something that is always a good read. It costs 1.20, and 70p of that goes to the person selling it. You can give them more if you like, just say "keep the change".
Public transport in London is not too hard to get to grips with if you are staying for an extended period. However, if you've only got a week, you should try to orient yourself before you get there! Have a look at the Transport for London website at for maps, prices, etc. They also have a great journey planner that has been my guide for the past year. I've gone over some of the basics of travel in London below.
London is divided into 6 travel Zones. It's easiest to think of a giant circle, with Zone 1 being a patch in the centre, and Zones 2-6 radiating outward. Most tourist attractions and major hotels will be in Zone 1 or 2.
First off, I'll say you MUST get a travelcard to do sightseeing. It's almost guaranteed that the amount of travelling you'll do will make the cost of a travelcard a bargain. You can buy them daily or weekly, depending on the length of your stay. If you buy a daily travelcard on weekdays, make sure you do it after 9:30am, otherwise you'll be charged more for peak use. If you buy your daily or 3-day travelcard in advance, ask for an off-peak and plan not to travel until after 9:30. Weekly travelcards do not have this restriction, but best to leave peak time to the commuters anyway. If you want to be really cheap, buy a bus pass. It might take you longer to get places, but you'll see more and avoid the Tube.
Travelcards can be bought from machines at rail or Tube stations, or from ticket windows. Some machines will take credit cards.
Types of Transport:
1. Buses: Central London buses are now pre-pay, you can get tickets from the machines at each stop. Better yet, buy a bus pass for unlimited journeys. Daily bus passes are available from the machines.
2. Underground Rail or "Tube": Made up of several different "Lines", can usually get you to any major tourist attraction. Travelcards are a must, make sure you have the appropriate zones to get where you're going (see "zone extensions" under the Overground Rail section).
3. Docklands Light Rail (DLR): Exclusive to East London, plenty of links with the Underground. You can also use travelcards, provided you have the right zones.
4. Over ground Rail (also "National Rail", "British Rail"): If you're sticking to London for your trip you probably won't use these trains much besides the journey from the airport. Travelcards are also good on these, but make sure you're only going within the zones you've paid for. For instance, if you have a zone 1-2 travelcard and you want to take a trip out to something in zone 4, you will need to buy a "zone extension". At the ticket window you should say you need "a zone extension from zone 2 to zone 4, return". You will get two tickets, one for your outward journey and one for coming back, only good on that day.
5. Taxi: Taxi stands are all around the city, major stations or hotels will usually have them. Try to avoid using cabs if you can, as they are very expensive. You are not expected to tip (they carry change). Black Cab drivers are famous for having "The Knowledge", meaning they studied London geography extensively and should know the fastest way from point A to B better than anyone. Despite this reputation, I've twice experienced drivers who either really had no clue, or pretended they didn't so as to charge more. Don't get into the cab until you've told the driver where you want to go and confirmed that they know the location and are willing to go there.
Top Tips for using public transport:
Double decker buses are great for cheaply seeing the sights. The Number 11 goes by almost as many sights as the tour buses and only costs one pound twenty pence. However, they are very hot in the summer (no a/c) so you won't want to stay on for long. Make sure to bring water with you.
Tube during the summer is also very warm and sticky (again no a/c). Bring water, and get off to get some air if you feel ill.
Don't give your used tickets to the "touts" in or outside stations. It's illegal and could get you into trouble, and these people are basically scam artists looking to make quick cash buy selling your ticket on to someone who is stupid enough to buy it.
Keep your travelcard somewhere on your person where it won't get lost, but it is easily accessible. There's nothing more irritating than getting stuck behind someone who is searching for their ticket!
Sarah the Expat
London, United Kingdom