Traveling out of the country can be both scary and exciting! While guidebooks provide a ton of information, there are some things you just don’t learn until you hit the pavement. I’m sharing my best London Travel Tips gathered from 3 recent trips to London in the past 3 years! Hope you’ll find at least one or more helpful. Here goes!
Hold your mail – head to uspsgov.com and fill out the mail hold form. Just enter the dates you’ll be gone and when you want your mail delivered. Much easier than asking a neighbor to check your mail everyday.
Passport check – make sure your passport will be valid during your stay and will not expire within 6 months of your travels.
Using your phone overseas: Depending on your cell phone provider, you may have a free international talk, text data plan already attached to your phone (we did when we used Sprint). This past trip, I called AT&T and was given the option of paying $10/day for unlimited talk, text and data. Depending on the length of your trip, this can be a good deal. We use data quite frequently when we’re out and about for google maps, tube map, Uber, etc. Don’t worry – if an International calling plan is too expensive, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many free Wi-Fi spots around London, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and some museums.
Purchase an external phone charger – Using my camera when we’re out all day will have my phone battery drained in a couple of hours. Purchase a small, lightweight external phone charger with at least 8000mAH. We have one that is 20,000 mAH and we can top up everyone’s (the kids) phones while we’re out sightseeing. It’s really one of our best purchases.
Purchase a power adapter: For the UK, it’s a standard 3 prong device, these can be found inexpensively at Target, Walmart or online at Amazon.com. We’ve found that many hotels have extra adaptors, so if you forgot yours, just call the front desk and see if you can borrow one during your stay.
Call your bank and credit card companies. It’s important that you notify your bank and credit card companies to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling. I always travel with my bank debit card (to get cash) and 2-3 credit cards that do not have foreign transaction fees (like my Chase Sapphire). Tip: Always take photos of the back of the cards you’re taking with you. This way you can call your bank directly should your cards get lost or stolen.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”
Be weather prepared – I like to think of London weather as similar to Seattle weather: dark and rainy during the winter months, warm in July and August. If your forecast calls for rain, invest in a good rain jacket with a drawstring hood (trust me on this one!) and big pockets. I’ll take a small umbrella in my crossover purse just in case the rain becomes heavy, but I find carrying an open umbrella to be cumbersome while sightseeing. Summers can be hot in London and we found that many businesses (including museums, restaurants and some hotels) don’t have air conditioning, so dress appropriately.
Purchase an Oyster Card – Riding the tube is by far the best way to get around London. It’s inexpensive and you won’t get stuck in traffic like you do if you ride the bus. You can pre-purchase your card and have it mailed to you, but we suggest saving the postage and buying your cards when you arrive. You’ll pay a £5 refundable deposit. You can purchase Oyster Cards at the kiosk in any tube station. If you’re not sure how much money to load, start small, your balance will show each time you swipe it and you can top if off at any station.
Download a Tube Map Planner app or bookmark a tube map planner site: We loved using the App. Just enter in your beginning location and your destination and it tells you what Line to get on, if you’ll have any transfers, etc. We find the app helpful when we’re out and about and need to take the tube several times during the day.
Get your local currency! In the UK, you’ll need pounds (as of this writing it’s $1.33 for £1). Get cash out of the ATM at the airport. We have always gotten great exchange rates from the airport ATM, it’s quick and easy, you can usually find an ATM machine next to the Currency Exchange booth after passing through baggage claim.
Always pay in pounds! You may find when making a credit card purchase that the cashier will ask you if you want to pay in pounds or USD. Always choose pounds. If you choose USD, you’re going to pay their exchange rate which is usually pretty high.
Eating out in a city like London is very expensive! With 4 kids in tow, our food budget gets multiplied by 6. To save money, we find the nearest grocery store to our hotel and purchase snacks, fruits and drinks that we can take back to the room. It’s nice to have some munchies after a long day of sightseeing! Look for TESCO grocery stores, they seem to be everywhere.
Our favorite budget saving place to eat in London (and Paris) is Pret-A-Manger, they offer fresh, natural food at a great price. We can grab a sandwich and drink for less than £5. If all else fails (which it does with kids) we head to McDonald’s or order pizza in – cheap and easy! Tip: To save money while dining out with kids, we always ask for tap water
Free walking tours – You can’t beat a free walking tour! Depending on the age of your children, this is a fantastic deal! Tipping is expected at the end of the tour – typically £10-£20 depending on the number in your party and the length of your tour. I like Free Tours by Foot (they even have a self guided tour map if you want to head out on your own!) Try a free Harry Potter walking tour – the kids will love it!
See a show! – Broadway shows can be very reasonable in London. We got great seats to Wicked for £40. The same seats in Dallas cost us over $100! Locate a TKTS booth to find same day discounted tickets. There are many kid friendly shows like The Lion King, Matilda and Aladdin and the kids will be excited to take a break from walking!
Have tea! Afternoon tea is a daily ritual in London and on the top of many tourists’ list, but let’s face it, it can be an expensive outing! Because I was traveling with my husband and 2 teen boys, I did not book an afternoon tea for us. My adult daughter and I made a last minute decision to have tea at the very famous and trendy Sketch London. Sadly, they’d been booked for weeks. So, my tip is pull the trigger, make that reservation before you leave- you can always cancel if your plans change or kids don’t feel up to it. If Afternoon Tea is in your budget with kids, try these darling kid specific afternoon tea locations: the Busy Bee’s Afternoon Tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel or the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the Sanderson.
Check out the London Pass – While we chose not to purchase the London Pass, I felt it should at least be mentioned because it is a good deal. The reason we did not buy it is because our budget did not include admission to half of the attractions included. If your plans include visiting most of the attractions, then it’s worth looking into. You can purchase multi-day passes that include skip-the-line benefits and 1-day hop-on hop-off bus ticket.
Hop On Hop Off Bus – If you only have 1-2 days in London – this is hands down the best way to see the major sights in London. Just be warned, London traffic can be pretty terrible and you’ll spend a lot of time at a standstill. If you know this ahead of time, relax, just take in the sights, you’ll be ok. You have many choices in bus tours, we have used both The Original Tour and City Sightseeing.
Go out at night: If you’re like our family, we start sightseeing early, go hard all day and we’re in bed by 9. I know, it’s pretty pathetic. If you’re an early to bed, early to rise family like we are, set aside one day where you’ll go out in the early evening. There’s nothing like watching the sunset over the Thames and seeing Big Ben lit up at night. If you’re planning to ride the London Eye, purchase a ticket for 30 min before sunset. You’ll have the best views ever!
Take a day trip – There are many day trips you can take by train or bus that leave London early morning and have you back by early evening. We enjoyed our day trip to Stonehenge and the gorgeous city of Bath. Another fun trip is to head to Windsor Castle for country views and a smaller changing of the guard ceremony. Another idea for a popular day trip with families is the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour – you have so many options!
Have you visited London and the UK? I‘d love to hear your best tips on how to save time and money in London!