Wednesday, July 9, 2014

London - Getting There!

I have a friend who will be traveling by herself to London and overseas for the first time.  That’s a pretty gutsy thing to do, in my mind!  I thought that this article would be helpful to her and to anyone going to London who has never been there before. 


If you are flying into either Heathrow or Gatwick, gird your loins.  You are about to land in chaos.  My best tips for getting through it as quickly and easily as possible include:
  • Do not check your luggage going over – take only carryon
  • Disembark as quickly as humanly possible
  • Run (do not walk) to the immigration lines
This may seem like hype, but in my world (one which lacks patience for queues), it makes sense.  Several hundred passengers are disembarking from your plane.  Try to get as close to the head of that line as you can.  You are about to go into a hall where dozens of airlines have dumped hundreds of travelers.  All of these are also waiting in line to get through immigration and customs.  Just a heads up.

The good news is that the lines usually move fairly quickly.  The bad news is that, even so, with all the people there, you will have to wait.  And, after being on the plane for all those hours – do you really want to have to go to a luggage carousel and wait for your luggage before departing? 

Finding Transportation

The English are pretty good at signage.  Follow the signs for your method of transportation.

There are some really great YouTube videos on getting to London Central.  We’ll talk about these in the following paragraphs.


See THIS For an excellent overview of your options for getting to Central London.  The following would be options I’d consider:
  • Taxi – easy, but extremely expensive.  You are looking at close to $100 one-way to get you to the city center.
  • Heathrow Express (train) – easy, and fairly fast (30-45 minutes to Paddington Station).  Cost is around $40 one-way.  However, if you are going anywhere else besides Paddington, you are going to have to connect via underground, taxi, or bus anyway.
  • Tube – with an Oyster card, it’s less than $10 on the Piccadilly line to Kings Cross.  It’s a little less than an hour’s journey from Heathrow, so get comfy and sit down for the ride. This is the least hassle and the cheapest cost.  You can plan your trip HERE.
An oyster card looks like a credit card and has a magnetic strip that can be read by the turnstyles in the underground stations.  You can purchase an Oyster card for 5 pounds (refundable upon the end of your trip).  You then top off the card with the amount of money to be used on your underground trips.  I typically put in 20 pounds and update it as necessary.  You can purchase these cards online or at the station.  To purchase online, see THIS.


The station in Heathrow and many of the larger stations will have walk up customer service (that you will usually have to queue for). There are machines that take credit and cash. 


From Gatwick, you’ll likely be taking the Gatwick Express.  It’s easy, fast, and drops you at Victoria Rail Station from which you can catch the underground. See the following YouTube Video for information.

The Gatwick Express.  The Express is a 30-minute, non-stop journey to Victoria. 

Getting Around London


  • Smartphone with British SIM card (you can get one at any mobile phone kiosk).  See my post on taking your smart phone.
  • Oyster Card.  The tube is so easy, that I usually just stick with an Oyster card and map for my travels.   
  • Smartphone Apps:
    • Tube Map London Underground maps out tube directions to get you to your destination
    • London Oyster Balance keeps you informed of the amount on your card.
  • Pocket London A-Z .

Hop on Hop Off Bus

A hop on hop off bus is:

A type of tourist bus or tram that follows a circular route with fixed stops through a city and that allows paying passengers unlimited travel for a day (or other period of time) with the freedom to disembark at any stop and reboard another bus or tram to continue their journey. Also referred to as “step on step off.”

This is essential, I think, if you’ve never been to London.  Use one at least for a day to get the lay of the land.  You can use the tube after that more cheaply.

There are only two bus companies: Original London and Big Bus. Any others are spin-offs of them.

Both companies have two main routes, one with a live guide and the other with a recorded commentary in different languages.

Both offer extras: a short river cruise, a choice of guided walks.  An offer of discounts for meals, and  fast track tickets for various attractions.


What should you see when you go?  I’ve been to London dozens of times and haven’t seen it all.  You could spend your lifetime exploring!

Some of the highlights of my trips have been:
  • London’s West End for a show (or three)
  • Camden Market
  • Fortnum and Mason to purchase my favorite tea
  • Greenwich – awesome little town outside London but still available using your Oyster card.  See the Greenwich mean time line, the Royal Observatory, the market, the Cutty Sark, the Royal Maritime Museum, and various other sights.
  • Covent Garden – shops and … weird stuff
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Buckingham Palace
  • St. James Park
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Royal Horseguards
  • Big Ben/Houses of Parliament
So many of these things are located within walking distance of each other – you’ll be amazed!

Good luck on your journey, and remember – travel safe, travel fun!