Travelling to London for the first time can be incredibly intimidating. I remember the first time I went, I tried to learn everything I could about the city, but no amount of preparation could get me ready for what the city has to offer. Mind you this is a good thing since there’s so much to see, do, and eat. Part of the adventure is getting lost and discovering new things, but doing a little bit of research does help.
I recently partnered with Expedia.ca to visit London again, and it was a blast. I had the chance to see new things, catch up with old friends, and of course visit old favourites. Getting to London has never been easier for Canadians; Air Canada, Air Transat, WestJet, and British Airways all fly directly to London while a few other major carriers will get you there with a quick stopover. Upon exploring it’s easy to rush out and start exploring but if you’re traveling to London for the first time, I’ve come up with a mini guide.
Plan your days accordingly
You’ll be tempted to go see everything, but it physically isn’t possible. Even when a ton of attractions that are close together you may still not have time to see everything. In the west end, there’s the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Cirus, and the British Museum all within reasonable walking distance, but you’ll be rushed if you try to see everything.
The South Bank has a ton of sites and attractions that you can follow in a natural way, but if you want to see everything, you’re better off taking your time. I recommend picking one or two “must see” attractions per day and just enjoying everything else you come across.
Prepare for sticker shock
Without a doubt, the biggest culture shock for people traveling to London for the first time is how “expensive” everything is. Everything in London is roughly the same price as Canada but you’re paying in pounds. With 1 English pound trading at about $1.90 that means you’re actually paying about double for everything. No matter how hard you try, every time you buy something, you can’t help but feel like you’re paying a small fortune.
Find out what’s free
Since you’ll be paying for everything in English pounds, your costs can go up pretty fast. Fortunately, there are plenty of free things to do in London so you can actually keep your costs down. Some of the best museums and galleries including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, and Natural History Museum are free, but so are other things such as the Sky Garden and walking the South Bank. Check out the Visit London website for more free things to do in London.
Learn how to use the Tube
The most important thing to do as a visitor is to learn how to use the Tube. The London Underground network is one of the best in the world and will get you just about anywhere in the city. If you’ve taken public transportation in a major city before, then it should be a pretty straight-forward process; look for the line you want to take and head in the direction of the last stop.
What can throw you off is that not every train goes to the last stop on the line, so you’ll need to refer to a map just to make sure you’re going the right way. To help cut down on transit costs, pick up an Oyster card which gives you a small discount on every ride and caps out the daily limit automatically once you’ve reached it – they’re available at any tube station.