To me London is one of my most favourite cities in the world. I may be bias in saying this but after moving to London as a fresh of University student , one who had never left home before it soon became my new home and the place where I learnt about life and growing. The city is like the centre of the world and is filled with so many things to see, eat and do. London is a very popular holiday choice for South Africans regardless of the exchange rate. London attracts over 15 million visitors to the city every year. The city is constantly buzzing with festivals, theatre productions, shopping and so much more. Not forgetting all the history and beautiful building around the city. I have compiled a quick guide for travelling in London.
Places to see in London:
- Tower of London-Once this landmark was a prison and later became a palace. On the property the Crown Jewels are displayed , London’s famous Beefeaters can be seen as well as some gruesome yet interesting exhibits on the history and executions that took place here.
- St Paul’s cathedral is the largest and most famous of London’s churches. It sits atop the site of a Roman Temple. Sir Christopher Wren designed the rebuild.
- The London Eye- a fantastic birds eye view of London, Tickets need to be bought as it worth the price.Built to commemorate the celebrations of the millennium in 2000, it is Europe’s largest observation wheel. The trip last 30 minutes and rises 135 metres above the River Thames.
- Buckingham Palace-home to the British Royal Family and is opened to the public during the summer. The changing of the guards is a must see and those beautiful gates are defo instagram worthy,
- Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s column a popular tourist spot, built to commemorate the Lord Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish. The square is in the hub of everything including the Portrait Museum , the National Gallery and the South African Embassy.
- Westminster ABBEY- a popular church associated with the British Royal Family and is the preferred location for Royal Weddings.
- Greenwich -one of my favourite parts of South London to explore. Home to a few fantastic museums, books shops and of course the Greenwich MERIDIAN LINE.
- Hyde Park- is London’s largest open space. One of the highlights is the SERPENTINE River which is an 18th century man made lade popular for swimming and boating. The infamous speakers corner know for free speech is here too as well as Apsley House the former home of the Duke of Wellington.
- Victoria and Alfred museum one of my favourite museums in London , located in South Kensington and has 145 galleries with over 5000 years of art. From time to time the museum hosts special exhibits as well. My favourite galleries are the architectural and Greek galleries
- The Tower Bridge Experience– Tower Bridge is one of the oldest and best know landmarks of London. It has two huge towers rising 61 metres above the River Thames and two heavy drawback bridges. A museum can be found inside the Tower. A glass covered walkway across the top of the bridge offers spectacular views of LONDON .Watching the bridge open in 90 seconds and allow passing ships through is indeed a sight to behold.
- Madam Tussaud London – It has over 400 wax figures displayed here of celebrities , politicians and famous musicians from around the globe. Every year the museum is visited by 2.5million people. The wax figurines are very realistic and include several popular Bollywood faces.
- Shakespeare Globe Theatre – is a replica of the theatre Shakespeare would have used in his time. Besides watching a show there are guided tours explaining the history of the theatre. Visitors sit on benches or stand in the courtyard to watch the shows as they would have done in that era,
- Botanic Gardens of Kew- located in South West London on the banks of the River Thames. An amazing collection of plants and wildlife. During the year there are many cultural and musical events hosted here
- Tate Modern Museum – has two galleries namely the Tate Britain and Tate Modern .Housed here is a significant collection of British art from 1897 while the Tate Modern is home to modern art collections.
General London information:
- London has two main international airports. London Heathrow and London Gatwick. There are flights to both these airports from South Africa.Gatwick is much further away from the city centre but the flights are slightly cheaper but you need to know exactly where you will be staying as so you can get there easier. British Airways has just launched a direct Durban to London flight from King Shaka International Airport. Now this is pretty great as it means more Tourism to Durban and long haul flights just got shorter.
- South Africans do require a visa. Check out this post on how to apply for your UK Visa.
- Flights from South Africa to London include flying on South African Airways, Emirates(via DUBAI), Ethihad (via Abu Dhabi), Qatar.These are the most popular for flight options including British Airways.
- The currency used is the British Pound.
- Square three pin plugs are used as well as the European two round pins
- It is fairly easy to find your way around London with the use of public transport and the A to Z .
- On Christmas Day there is limited public transport so plan in advance.
- There are several accommodation options from hotels, B&B’s, AirbNb’s and hostels to suit all budgets. Deciding which part of London to stay in is also important tas this will affect your budget so it is important to have an idea of where you want to visit and what you want to see and do so you can pick your accommodation accordingly.
- Food from around the world is available and there are loads of halaal food options in London.
- As the Pound is rather strong against the Rand but there are several free things to do in London.
- Decide what time of the year you want to visit and book tickets in advance.Ticket prices over the festive season and school holidays can be expensive so advance planning is needed.
- Having luggage with wheels is a must when you are travelling as lugging cases up and down staircase is not fun. Check out https://www.houseofsamsonite.co.za/
- The transport is London is fantastic and runs 24 hours. There are so many options from the underground/tube, trains, buses, ferries, Black Cabs which can be expensive especially for a tourist.The best way to travel around London is to buy an Oyster Card it is an economical way of getting around is accepted on buses, trains, tube, and event the ferries. It is advisable to travel during off peak time where the prices are cheaper, students and seniors get a discount ticket price as well. To cut down travel costs it is important to stay not too far out of the city as the commute can end up been rather expensive.
- For those wanting to travel further from London the Eurostar is a great and fast way to travel to France, Belgium and Amsterdam. The Eurostar is a high-speed railway service and often offer great city break options.
- Travelling by coach or bus is relatively cheap in the UK, So it is possible to do day trips from London and explore the beauty of the UK.
- There are also several low cost airlines that fly from London thus making London a good base to travel from.
- The cheapest way to travel around London is by bus however you do need to get an Oyster Card.
- London has a public use bicycle scheme in use called Santander Cycles.10,000 bikes can be found at docking stations .The bikes are available on a pay as you go system and a membership basis.
- It is not advisable to drive in LONDON because of the traffic and lack of parking. There is also a daily charge for all vehicles entering the congestion zone in central London from Monday to Friday between 07:00am and 18;00.
- My favourite way of travelling through London is on the “tube” , which is the oldest underground system in the world. There are six zones into which London is divided and the zones are priced differently.
Day Trips from London :
- River Thames cruises
- Leeds Castle
- Windsor Castle
Things to pack for your trip to London
- Good walking shoes are an investment as you will be doing a lot of walking in London even though you might be getting public transport.
- A small umbrella is always advisable as London is known for its sudden bursts of rain all year round.
- Carry light jacket/jersey and a scarf even in Summer as the weather can suddenly change.
- Make sure you pack sunscreen as the London Summers can be very hot.
- Phone adaptors always wise to purchase an international adaptor.
- I always pack a light cotton scarf whenever I travel as it is a multi purpose accessory.
- A back pack is a must as with tall the walking and getting in and out of transport you need to keep your hands free.
- Do carry some smart casual clothing options for nights out and some nightclubs have a dress code of no sneakers or jeans.
- Make sure you have space for your shopping 🙂
Shopping in London:
London is a shopping Mecca for everyone regardless of your budget from high-end designer to your everyday shopping needs. Because of the weather there are several huge malls all over London to feed your shopping frenzy.Having lived in London I can honestly tell you it is not as expensive as people make it out to be and 9 times out of 10, I have found it cheaper than South Africa. BUT it is always advisable to have an idea of what it costs back home. One of my favourites stores is the Pound Store where everything is 1pound YES and that includes toiletries, books, chocolate like Toberone and beauty products.
For clothing and everything else Primark is a must for shopping and often things are reduced. A few tips for shopping at Primark grab a basket when you enter even if browsing as will end up shopping, go early as the store is always busy and does get crazy , if your find some thing you like in your size put it in your basket you can decide later.Often when I was having a crappy day I would go shopping to Primark which I later termed my ‘feel good’ store and for 20 pounds I would come home with at least 2 huge bags of shopping which included clothing, jewellery, makeup, shoes and household bits. I would often do my shopping for home here as it was so reasonable and even has London and England memorabilia for sale which is much cheaper than the touristy spots dotted around the city.
I also found that the supermarkets where a great place for shopping for non perishable food items like chocolates, teas , biscuits and even clothing. Most supermarkets have a great selection of food choices and work out cheaper than eating at a restaurant,Places like TESCO, SAINSBURYS AND WAITROSE are some of the supermarkets you will come across , so make sure you take a walk in and have a wander.
Dotted around the city , one will find several markets selling everything from food to clothes, fish and household wares. Borough Street market is my favourite foodie market. The quality and variety of produce available is outstanding not forgetting the food carts in the market. It is important to note which days of the week the market is open and what times. The Sunday Market in Petticoat Lane market is also great shopping spot for clothing and bric a brac.
- Oxford Street – the most popular street in London , it has over 300 shops on this street excluding the street vendors. Big department stores like John Lewis, Selfridges and Debenhams can all be found here. The little side streets of the main street offers small eateries and pubs for an escape from the crowds. Over the festive season, the street is beautifully decorated with Christmas Lights and every year there is a different theme and late night shopping happens with he lead up to Christmas.
- Westfield Shopping Malls– there are now two of these malls located in London one located in East London in Stratford City while the other in North London in White City. Both are huge with a large variety of shops , places to eat and even as casino in the East London.
- Canary Wharf based in the London Docklands area amidst the London Business district one will find a host of stores and eateries.With 200 stores and several high street stores it is a different shopping atmosphere from Oxford Street shopping.
- Covent Garden is a great part of London to explore located near Leicester Square you will find unique and creative clothing, jewellery, bath products and delightful lil cafes for a coffee. Not forgetting the talented street artists all over.
- Knightsbridge home to Harrods and Harvey Nichols
- Notting Hill famous because of the movie Notting Hill, has a variety of small shops, book shops , vintage clothing stores and antique shops.Notting Hill is also famous for the Notting Hill Carnival that happens during the summer.
London is a beautiful city and will always be one of my favourite places in the world for several reasons.I hope this London Guide helps you in planning and preparing for your trip to my other home.