Long Weekend in London? These 12 Tips Will Get You Through
We decided on late September -- since airfare prices to Europe tend to drop once fall begins -- and booked our flights. I went on the Travelzoo hotel search, and found a reasonably priced (for London) hotel in a good location -- The Rubens at The Palace.
About 7,000 flight miles, 72 hours, untold pints and a meat pie later, I still don’t know what “pudding” is, or why it’s part of an English breakfast, but I do know that London is a lot of fun -- if you do it right.
With that in mind, here are some tips for planning a quick trip to London-town.
Three things to bring with you:
- A power strip. If you’re coming from the States, you’re probably bringing a smartphone, and a laptop, and an iPad, and who knows what else. But the UK uses a different voltage and plugs than the U.S. Most good hotels (like The Rubens) will happily lend you a power adaptor, so you can juice up. But to charge multiple things at once, it’s a good idea to pack a power strip and turn one adaptor into six outlets.
- Walking shoes. London is a very walkable city – as long as you remember to look right before crossing the street. You’re going to want comfortable shoes as you walk through the city. A few walks I’d suggest: Stroll through SoHo – expensive shops, but nice window-shopping. Walk over the Millennium Bridge toward St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wander around Covent Garden, especially when it’s time to get a pint – there seems to be a pub on about every corner, and if the weather’s nice, a crowd to enjoy it with alfresco.
- A jacket – whatever the forecast or season. We were fortunate enough to get three very sunny days and no rain during our trip. (Again, September is a great time to visit.) But even though summer had just ended, it was starting to get chilly at night. And you don’t want to have to go jumper shopping in London.
- I made sure to download a Google map of the city offline to my phone before I left the States. Smartest decision I made all weekend. It was a life-saving – since I turned off my cellular data and was only using Wi-Fi. The GPS still worked on my iPhone, so I could use the map offline and know where I was. You can sneak Wi-Fi in most stores or pubs; often the code is on the menu, the receipt or available if you ask.
- On the app store, I added an offline London Tube map to my phone -- TubeMap by Mapway. The Tube is the most efficient way to get around town, and I referred to it often. One thing to keep in mind for those folks planning a late-night drinking excursion: The tube stops running at midnight.
- It’s not going to be cheap. We happened to be in London during the Rugby World Cup, which drove up hotel prices. The strong dollar has made Europe, Canada, Australia, South America and just about everywhere else in the world cheaper, but it hasn’t really dented the exchange rate with the pound. Combine that with the fact that London air taxes are about $50-$100 more than anywhere else in Europe, and it’ll be a pricey trip – even if you’re not shelling out pence for pints like I was.
- If your hotel has a full English breakfast included, take advantage. It’s a good way to get a big meal that will tide you over until tea time. The breakfast spread at The Rubens was a morning feast. I still don’t understand why mushrooms or baked beans are involved, but to each their own. A few other notes: Brown toast = wheat toast. Cumberland sausages = yum. And get the tea, even if you don’t drink tea.
- Find a way to get yourself a Balti. What’s a Balti, you ask? More or less, it’s an Indian or Pakistani curry dish – and it’s very good. So are the fish and chips – hard to go wrong. London is a melting pot, and you’ll find a ton of different cultural food choices. Well that, and pudding.
- Day drinking -- just do it. After quitting time, the Brits are known to enjoy a pint (or two). You’re on vacation, why not start a bit early? Stake out your spot, make nice with the barkeep and debate football (American or otherwise) with your fellow imbibers. I was surprised how many folks wanted my opinion on that Sunday’s NFL schedule – they love a good bet in England. You need to get your day drink on – because most pubs close by 11 p.m. or midnight. After that, it’s off to the clubs.
- See a live soccer match. I can’t stress this enough. Even if you don’t like sports, few events capture British pop culture quite like a football match. The fans are diehard – standing the full game, singing songs that include hand motions and choreography, living and dying with the result. The best parallel in the U.S. is the passion that college football brings out. London has five Premier League teams, plus several other teams in leagues below that. We caught a Fulham v. Queens Park Rangers match at Craven Cottage (won by Fulham 4-0), and it was a highlight of the weekend. The football season runs from August to May.
- Crowdsource ideas on social media – more of your friends have been there than you think. I asked Facebook for advice and several folks recommended getting a bite to eat at Borough Market – in Southwark, not far from Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Think of an upscale farmers market with artisan food stalls and shops. I got myself a meat pie, and I don’t think I needed another bite of food the rest of the day.
- If you’re feeling like a tourist, there’s plenty to do – whether it’s a stop to see Big Ben, the Tower of London, a turn around the London Eye, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, etc. Catch the heavy tourist attractions midweek to avoid the weekend crowds. If you want to see Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, consider attending a service. It’s a free way to get in, it’s amazing to hear music in these grand buildings – and you save the £20 admission.
Be selective, have a plan of attack for tourist stuff – especially on the first day there with jet lag – and enjoy yourself. London’s calling!