In planning our trip, I fell into the trap of feeling like we had to attempt to hit all the big landmarks in many of the places we went to because
a) we were so close we would be crazy not to, and
b). We felt the pressure of ‘this is the only time you will be here so you must see anything that is thousand of years old and large’.
Seriously, you might have to go ahead and learn it the hard way, but a lot of the ‘must-sees’ are a disappointment due to the crowds thronging, the scaffolding that can often be in the way due to maintenance, and the fact that the photos of them on Google images are actually prettier (is that bad to say?)
Have a good hard look at the traditional must-do’s on your itinerary and weed out those you are purely going to see in order to tick them off your BTDT list. Instead add some quirky places to your sightseeing that will stimulate your personality and interests.
(We loved getting a bird’s eye view of London from the London Eye. )
If you are struggling to work out which things to cull from your itinerary, you can get a fair idea of what to expect when seeing some of the ‘must-sees’ by reading online reviews ( on Tripadvisor, Expedia or travel blogs)
I, for example, wish I had done more research on the changing of the guard, which I found to be tedious, cramped, boring and not worth the effort we put in to get there.
It would have been a far better use of time to have simply wandered around the castle and its stunning surrounds at a completely different time to the changing of the guard and seen it in a relaxed atmosphere.
On the other hand, I had regretted not taking the family to see Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in the States, so this time I made sure we went as the kids have always really enjoyed the Ripley’s books. This outing, geared to our interests, was a huge success and one of our highlights.
Wear comfortable shoes. Seeing London requires walking. We averaged 12 kilometers of walking a day and we aren’t even very adventurous. Comfort wins over pretty in my books when blisters are involved. Also, if you buy new shoes, do make sure they are broken in before your trip. Speaking from experience here!
See London from a bus/boat
London is vast. You will never see all of it in a month, let alone a week. But you can get a broad overview quite easily with a driving tour. Once you work out which of London’s boroughs you will get to, choose a bus/ boat tour that will take you past some of those that you won’t. It won’t be the cheapest thing you do, but a couple hours with a tour guide will give you a glimpse into the amazingness of London.
I read a lot of reviews by people who either love or hate the hop-on/hop-off bus. I can’t add to the debate because we didn’t dip our toe in to try one. We did however LOVE our amphibious, chose-it-for-its-novelty-factor Duck Tour. It was fun, only an hour and a half in duration and our tour guide pointed out places and mentioned interesting facts we could never have gleaned by ourselves. Another highlight!
*use your mornings for explorings!*
In my opinion and little experience, there are many reasons for this, although I can only come up with two right now:
a). You are fresh and haven’t exerted any energy yet. The perfect time to search out adventure! Later on you can bask in a well-earned siesta, before a more relaxed afternoon outing.
b). If you are venturing out of the immediate London zones 1 and 2 vicinity – going in the morning will give you plenty of time to sightsee before catching the metro back and still beat peak time craziness.
I tried so hard to book our Warner Bros Harry Potter tour for a morning session. These sessions book out quickly so we had to settle for an afternoon session. This meant that we came in already tired and we felt stressed for time as the place closed in two hours and we also knew we had a long arduous battle with peak hour metro changes and crowds. Which leads to my next 2 tips:
Book the important stuff online early!
Most attractions have websites and you can book months in advance if you are organized. Booking online often gives you a discount. It also usually means that you get to bypass the queues that are going to be outside many of the top attractions. Booking online guarantees you can actually get in on the day you hoped and planned.
My only hesitation with booking online is worrying that I lose money if circumstances such as flight delays cause me to not be physically able to show up when I booked.
That being said, I got online and pre-booked as much of this latest trip as I could well in advance. Heck, we even booked the a Tower of London for 5 hours after we arrived in Heathrow!
We made all our bookings but one ( remember which one that was?).
Do the important stuff first.
Ok, so not on Day 1 if you are bleary eyed, numb-bummed and delirious with jet lag. Duh.
But, if there is something you are desperate to do, prioritize it and slot it in early before fatigue or life thwarts your plans. Fit everything else in around these prioritized outings.
Lastly, leave some space for spontaneity
Don’t fill every moment with planned activities. ( I know- pot, kettle, black) be intentional about having some spare time to just explore and get a little lost so that you can discover and experience and stumble into little pockets of unprompted travel bliss. What memory-making thrives on.
And then a couple extra tips if you actually are me: make sure the house keys work, make sure you have the right directions for use of the house keys and definitely make sure that, if you book tickets to a theatre show, make sure you put a few reminders in your phone so you do not miss the show!
If folk are interested, I will be posting a few tips for eating cheap-ish in London next week. I am also working on a short post about the websites I used to get great discounts for many of London’s headline attractions.0