This summer I spent a good bit of time in London. I went abroad from June 10th to July 24th and spent time in London, Malaga, and various parts of Italy. At just over six weeks, this was my longest trip yet (outside of my time spent studying abroad).
I used London as my launching point. I started there, and spent almost two weeks there before going on a vacation-within-a-vacation to Malaga, Spain. I returned to London, and met up with my sister, Melody, for a sisterly adventure in Italy. We returned one more time to London to spend a few more days before flying home at the end of July.
I also used London as my Hemmingway-esque retreat. I sequestered myself away in the anonymity of travel with the hopes of finishing the first draft of my first full length novel. I was successful, and Book One of Katerina Fairy’s story is officially underway.
But despite the lofty writing goal, I managed to find time to explore London a bit. I won’t say I’d be comfortable calling it home yet, there’s far too much to see and explore in a few short weeks, but I’m confident I was able to scratch the surface and taste a hint of everything that incredible city has to offer.
I thought about writing one mega-post about my time there, but quickly decided that that route would neither do justice to the city, nor be entertaining and manageable for you, dear readers. So instead, I’ve broken it down into a series of posts. This week I’ll talk about arrival at Heathrow Airport, the public transportation system, and general getting around and getting settled tips and tricks. In the following weeks I’ll explore the different neighborhoods and parks I frequented; the museums, marketplaces, and entertainment I enjoyed; my favorite bars (tough choice I know!); and my favorite eateries. If you’re considering a trip to London, or you’ve already been and just want to compare notes, please read on! I’d love to hear your favorite places too, so I can start my list of places to see for the next time I’m in The City.
So, arrival. I have found that whether I am coming from across the ocean, or just one country away, getting through Passport Control at Heathrow Airport can be atrocious. I have never gotten through in under an hour and most times it has been closer to a three hour process. It’s not that the process itself takes that long; a couple of questions, some proof of intention, and a stamp in your passport and you’re on your way. But the line has always been demoralizingly long. So, of these settling in tips, Tip #1 is pee before you get in line. Get off that plane and find a restroom near your gate. Don’t think you can make it to baggage and be happy about it. Tip #2 is add three hours to your travel time before making any plans for the evening of your arrival. If you land at noon, don’t think you’ll meet your mates at the pub for a pint, or collect your key from your AirBNB host by 2:00 or even 3:00 pm. Maybe 4:00 pm if you’re lucky.
Once you’ve passed Passport Control, congratulations! You’re officially in London! Your next step is to get to your lodging and drop your bags. If you are traveling with too much to travel comfortably by yourself, make your way to the taxi pick up station, hop into a famous Black Taxi, and be on your way.
If you travel light, like I often do, taking London’s incredible public transportation system is a convenient and far less expensive option. There’s a tube station right in the airport. At the station, pick up an Oyster card.
Oyster cards are a refillable payment card useable on all public transportation options in London. We’re talking the Tube, the Overground, busses, trams, and most National Rail Services. The card costs something like £10 to buy, but it’s a deposit you can get back at the end of your trip if you return your Oyster card. Put enough money on it for it to be convenient, but don’t go loading your whole trip’s public transportation budget on there all at once. If you loose that card, its like cash- i’s gone and lost. If you register the card there is a little more account security, and balances can be transferred to an new card. But if you aren’t there long, and don’t bother registering it, you’ll feel the sting when a £10 card with £30 in travel funds on it falls out of your pocket in the middle of the street. So Tip #3 is Get an Oyster card, but don’t keep more than £15 on it at a time. Thats more than enough for a day or two of public transport travel. Especially since the city has this great capping system where after a certain point, any future journeys in a given day are free. Learn more at the Oyster Card Website. You can top off the cards at any tube station. You can’t add more funds on a bus, but if you get on a bus with insufficient funds they give you one courtesy security ride, putting you in the negative, which will be repaid when you next top off funds.
So, Oyster card in hand, you climb into the next Tube car that arrives, grab a seat, and make your way to your new temporary home. This time I stayed in AirBNBs and CouchSurfed, but we’ll talk more about lodging and London neighborhoods next week.
Once you’ve checked in and dropped your bags, its time to begin exploring! A great way to explore the city is by riding the infamous red double decker busses. Each ride is only £1.50, and the network of busses canvasses much of the city above ground; giving you a better chance to learn the layout of your new neighborhood than you might get if you only ever ride the Tube underground. That’s why Tip #4 is Tour the City from the Top of the Double Decker Busses! If you have the time and the patience, hop on a bus and just see where it goes. You might find your new favorite restaurant, park, shops, or bar that way.
From here, get to call the shots. What do you want to see? Do? Explore? Discover?
From history and the classics, to modern art, to art so modern its still underground, you’ll find it in London. Which is why my Tip #5 is See the Big Sights, but Don’t Stop There. London is so much more than Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. There are museums, and marketplaces, gardens and theatre, concerts, bars, restaurants, clubs, and more.
So, go explore!
And check back in next week for some of my favorites in art, culture, cuisine, and architecture shrouded by the London Fog and waiting to be discovered.
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Have you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur. To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose, and on Instagram @travelingwithaeri.