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First time visitor on solo London trip

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Jan 6th, 2013, 06:26 PM
  #1
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First time visitor on solo London trip

Hi,
I'm a twenty-something woman traveling to London in a week and a half-- my first solo trip so far from home. I'll be flying into Heathrow and was hoping to have a few questions asked to ease me into it.

My plane will land around 4pm and I was planning on taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington and perhaps getting a cab from there, to my hotel. I'm not too worried about navigating the tube system, but I'd prefer not to do it with my giant suitcase. Is it fairly easy to catch a Black Cab from Paddington Station?

Also, I'm really there for a conference, but I want to do some touristy stuff while I'm free. Like I said, I don't mind navigating the tube, but I don't want to miss anything interesting I might find walking. Is it reasonable to walk from the Tower of London area (near my hotel), to the Westminster area?

Any other suggestions for a first time solo trip to London? Things to make it easier on me, since I'm already completely nervous.

Thanks!
megslynne is offline  
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Jan 6th, 2013, 06:39 PM
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The Heathrow Express almost never makes sense and especially not to get to where you are staying. It is very expensive and only gets you to Paddington. From there to the Tower by cab (especially during the massive afternoon traffic) will cost an absolute fortune.

Your best bets are either a pre-booked car service like justairports.com which will be much less expensive and easier than the HEX + a cab - OR - the tube.

Sure you can walk from the Tower to Westminster -but it is along way and there is a direct tube connection w/o any changes that would take minutes instead of an hour.
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Jan 6th, 2013, 07:05 PM
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You're staying at the Tower so it's completely useless to take the Heathrow Express and then take a cab completely across the largest city in Western Europe to your hotel - that will cost a TON.

Just get a car service (Just Airports gets many nods on this board) and you'll save money because the car service will be about 30-35 quid but the H'Ex plus cab would be closer to 40 (or more) and would take longer.

What's "reasonable" for walking? It'll probably take you the better part of an hour, dealing with walking on busy city streets, to get from the Tower to Westminster. If you're on the east side of the Tower, it will take longer.

There's no real reason to be nervous, Britons speak some variant of your own mother tongue. Just pay attention to the crosswalks - when they say "LOOK RIGHT" do that.
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Jan 6th, 2013, 07:17 PM
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"H'Ex plus cab would be closer to 40 (or more) . . ."

A lot more. the HEX alone is £20. A cab from Paddington to say Tower Hill will easily run £30.
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Jan 6th, 2013, 08:18 PM
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I have no idea about cabs, since I've never used them in London. My first thought was that you should use a smaller suitcase. Then I saw that you are going to a conference, so maybe you need the space for multiple sets of nice clothes.

London in January can be a bit cold and wet. And if you plan to walk around in the afternoon (after your conference?) it may already be dark. It should be reasonably safe, since there will be lots of other people around, but I'm not sure how much you will be able to see. Also, many museums and other tourist sites close early in the afternoon.
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Jan 6th, 2013, 08:45 PM
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Hi Megslynne, “Just Airports” gets very good reports on this board. I have also used “Hotels by Bus” from Heathrow to central London – very satisfied with this service. The latter delivered a couple of folks at other hotels before dropping me at mine near Trafalgar Square.

But I was so relieved not to be alone in a cab considering the traffic in midday watching the meter.
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Jan 6th, 2013, 10:24 PM
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From where you're staying, I'd suggest you need to make friends with the buses and river services as well as the tube:

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/15101.aspx
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloa...nnium-pier.pdf
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloa...rines-pier.pdf

Things you could walk to from that area, apart from the Tower itself, (but still more convenient by bus):
Borough Market and South Bank
Spitalfields/Brick Lane
PatrickLondon is offline  
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Jan 6th, 2013, 10:28 PM
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PS: the least cumbersome route by tube, if you take a smaller suitcase, would be Piccadilly Line to Hammersmith, walk a few steps across the platform to an eastbound District Line for Tower Hill. But there are steps and stairs at Tower Hill, and a bit of a walk across main roads and down a slope to where I assume your hotel is (at St Katharine's Dock?). But this does sound like a case (no pun intended) for a car service.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 01:59 AM
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There is so much to see in London that it would be worth working out in advance which places are most important to you. There are lots of museums with free entry too where you can just give a donation or pay for specific exhibitions so these might be good for you if you can't spend long looking around as you are at a conference. Travelling by bus and boat as already suggested also enables you to see things that you might miss in the underground. There are also plenty of tour buses in the city to see the main sights easily.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 02:44 AM
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>>Also, many museums and other tourist sites close early in the afternoon.<<

This is not true. It gets dark between 4-4.30pm in Jan, but the tourist sites stay open til c.6pm as normal.

I wouldn't personally walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster in January, it's a long hike along busy pavements (sidewalks) in cold and probably damp weather. For walking, I would get to your destination and walk around the local area.
Kate is offline  
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Jan 7th, 2013, 08:14 AM
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Yeesh, if the HEX is 20 quid now, then it's really a rip-off. And my estimate in my head was closer to Janis' but I wouldn't take a cab that far in London so I didn't want to throw out such a number. $80 from airport to hotel for train and cab, $50 for a more direct shot with Just Airports. Do the math and you save yourself admission to the Tower by hiring the car service. Even if the transport is comped by your company or the meeting organizer, you'll save time with the service.

I didn't register when you're going. A straight walk from your hotel to Westminster will be about 2.5 to 3 miles. That's a nice thought in 65-degree (18C) weather but you won't have that. The District/Circle line will take you from Tower Hill to Westminster in about 15 minutes.

There is also no straight walk - check out londontown.com for maps. London is NOT a grid-street system like Manhattan or Washington DC.

Londontown.com will have ton(ne)s of ideas for walks, touring, shows, etc. Very useful site.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 08:37 AM
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your hotel will be reasonably close to the start of the route of the no 11 bus.

here's the route:

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaro...ps/buses/?r=11

there are loads of interesting places before you get to Westminster - St. Paul's Cathedral, the Old Bailey, The Temple, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, the Mall; if you buy a travel pass or have an oyster, you could use it as your own HOHO bus.

no need to walk all the way, just pick your spots.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 08:50 AM
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My advice: take a smaller suitcase, you won't need 3/4 of what you bring.

And if you do need something that you didn't bring, there are lots of stores. Think of it as an opportunity to try something new. I love the tights and underwear from M&S.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 09:34 AM
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I really have no idea what anyegr means by museums/site closing in the early afternoon. Not only do they stay open til early evening, several museums are open late - like til 9 or 10PM one or two nights a week.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 10:55 AM
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janisj: When I was in London in July 2011 I thought everything I wanted to see closed too early. Westminster Abbey at 16.30, Wellington Arch at 17, St Paul’s Cathedral at 16 etc. I wasn't that interested in going to museums, though.

A quick look at museum websites shows that British Museum closes at 17.30 except on Fridays, National Gallery closes at 18 except on Fridays, National History Museum closes at 17.50 except on one Friday a month, Science Museum closes at 18 and V&A closes at 17.45 except on Fridays.

If you are an ordinary tourist and have all day to walk around in museums, that's fine. But the OP mentioned going to a conference and those usually take up most of the day.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 11:34 AM
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Those times aren't exactly "early in the afternoon"; but it's a fair point that someone tied up in the business hours will have limited choices.
PatrickLondon is offline  
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Jan 7th, 2013, 02:23 PM
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A few key questions are

(1) how many days of the week and a half will be taken up by the conference?

You probably will not get a lot of sightseeing done during the conference, but you are likely to go out on the town (well, out to dinner) with colleagues you meet at the conference, so you can get a lot of London flavor if they are knowledgeable. If this is your first conference, don't feel guilty about socializing. It is a prime reason for being there. Think of it as "networking." When you get old, you will want to skip the shrimp and have room service, believe it or not.

(2) are you staying in a conference hotel or have you found your hotel independently?

Staying in the conference hotel has a lot of advantages if you hang out in the lobby or bar where everyone passes by. Meet people who are going out, go with them. If you are not in the conference hotel, make it a habit to go there for breakfast and stay through cocktails.

(3) on what days of the week does the conference begin and end?

If the conference ends mid-week, you may be able to stay on at the (usually cheaper) conference rate while you sight see. Ask in advance. If it ends on a Friday, you may well find that weekend rates at a more centrally located/better hotel will be a good deal. Just because you started in one hotel doesn't mean you have to finish there.

I second the idea of using one of the car services (we have used JustAirports) _from_ Heathrow but you don't have to book both ways at the same time. You can wait until closer to departure by which time you may have found another attendee to share the cost or you may be staying more centrally and be confident about public transportation.

4. General advice from someone who has organized, gone to and spoken at many, many, many conferences.

Work really hard not to take a giant suitcase. Look at the various packing sites on the web, focusing on ones for business travel. Two trouser suits, two skirts, a couple of blouses with buttons, some dressy T's and a few scarves will see you through. Conference rooms often have drafty air conditioning, so wear layers. Nothing too young or too sexy.

Don't drink too much. It is a quick way to blow your career.

Everyone at conferences has a fear of having to eat a meal alone, this includes the conference speakers. If you see room at a table or someone sitting alone or see a table that is only partially filled, go up, introduce yourself, and ask if the spot is free. You are the future of your profession! Give them the chance to brag, "I had lunch with her back before she won the Nobel Prize!"
Ackislander is online now  
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Jan 7th, 2013, 02:39 PM
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When I was in London in July 2011 I thought everything I wanted to see closed too early. Westminster Abbey at 16.30, Wellington Arch at 17, St Paul’s Cathedral at 16 etc. I wasn't that interested in going to museums, though. >>

i find it very irritating that so many attractions and sites in the UK close so early, leaving the tourist or traveller with a long gap to be filled between the end of the touring day, and going out for a meal. even 6 pm would be better.
annhig is online now  
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Jan 7th, 2013, 02:54 PM
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i find it very irritating that so many attractions and sites in the UK close so early, leaving the tourist or traveller with a long gap to be filled between the end of the touring day, and going out for a meal. even 6 pm would be better.

Surely the fact that many of them are free must be some compensation for tourists only having 8-10 hours a day to fit them in.
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Jan 7th, 2013, 03:02 PM
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Surely the fact that many of them are free must be some compensation for tourists only having 8-10 hours a day to fit them in.>>

mainly museums which are restricted to the metropolis and other conurbations. for those of us who live out in the sticks, [or in our case, beyond] there's very little that is free, and what there is we've seen many, many times.
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