How would a first timer see London?

Old Aug 25th, 2000, 06:54 AM
  #1  
bc
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How would a first timer see London?

Okay, I'm not like the rest of you guys. My only European experience was a cruise a couple of years ago. I would like to go to London in 2001 (with hubby and mom) (on a limited budget yet), but really don't know where to start. I have been doing a lot of research, but am at a loss. I would really only like to be gone 7 days (including travel days) and most guided tours are longer than that. Although our budget is limited, it is not "shoestring". I simply want to find the best deal I can. Do you think a guided tour would be best? Is London easy enough to get around in (at least I do speak the language!)? How would I find the cheapest airfare (I'm not particular as to what time of year I go--I would prefer not to go in very, very cold weather). Also looking for a moderately priced hotel--would there be anything decent in the $150-$200 a night range? I would appreciate any advice you folks might have. Thanks.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 07:23 AM
  #2  
elaine
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Hi bc
Everyone's a first timer on their first time!
You are off to a good start by thinking and planning ahead. Buy at least one all-purpose guidebook and a map of London so as you read about things you can see them on a map--it helps immensely to orient yourself in advance a bit.
I have sightseeing notes and travel tips and scads of websites for London; if you are interested, email me.
If you don't want to buy more than one guidebook, or aren't sure which one to choose, go to your library first or browse for a long time in your tolerant local bookstore. Each of us has likes and dislikes about various guidebooks, and there is no one perfect one as far as I know, but I like the Fodor's guide.
You can find a more than decent hotel under $200. You can do a search on this forum for London hotel, and also you can go elsewhere on this Fodor's website and design a "miniguide" that will make hotel and restaaurant suggestions.
London is very large, but it is easy to get around by the Underground (aka, the tube, in America we call it the subway system but subways are something else over there) and London is also very walkable as long as you have some stamina and comfortable shoes.I don't know your respective ages, but regardless of stamina, I always prefer centrally-located hotels. It makes it feasible to make pit stops to drop off packages, pick up a sweater, or just relax for an hour in between activities.
Weather is pretty moderate most of the year. Count on taking umbrellas no matter when you go. I've encountered 60 degree temperatures both in February and in June.
There is a wealth of information about London on this forum. If the Search function is working properly, it will bring you very valuable information.
Even older postings often have a gem of advice or a special hint that showed up only the once, so it's worth skimming through.
Enjoy your planning and your trip.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 07:27 AM
  #3  
elaine
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I just realized I didn't want to mislead you--February temps can certainly get a lot colder than 60 degrees F; that was just fortunate.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 07:28 AM
  #4  
Robin
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Hi Barbara,

Unless you find it totally intimidating, try to do a trip on your own. This is a great resource for narrowing down and revising your ideas. Since you've been reading, why don't you make a list of what sounds great to you, both in and out of town. Then come back here and ask for comments on your choices. Fodorites are great at catching overly intense or unrealistic plans! I would absolutely start with an afternoon bus tour, just to get an overview.

The great thing about London is that in general people are so kind and attentive. It's not just that you share a language-- they are genuinely easy to be with, so it's not at all intimidating. An organized tour would certainly make sure you got around and saw a lot, but without the personal touch. But you know yourself and your family-- it may be right for you.

In any case, do go-- it's a wonderful city!
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 07:49 AM
  #5  
Steve Mueller
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Barbara,

Instead of browsing at the library, try browsing at the bookstore. The bookstore will have the more current publications. You may even end up buying something.

You shouldn't have too much trouble finding lodging in London for the price range you mentioned. You could even go into the $100-$150 range and find something acceptable.

The are a number of legitimate reasons for going with a tour: 1) Very intimidating language and cultural barriers; 2) Traveling to regions where the tourism industry is poorly developed (e.g., parts of Eastern Europe); 3) Elderly people often prefer tours because of physical difficulties with luggage, etc. The first two reasons don't apply to London. If the last reason doesn't apply to your group, go on your own.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 07:53 AM
  #6  
Lori
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Barbara,
You are planning far enough ahead which is a good thing. Depending upon where you depart from 7 days in not alot when you include travel days, I would suggest trying for a couple more if possible. Other then that I'd say London is the easiest city to manage in and I would not even consider a guided tour. You can take a guided city tour to give you the highlights and then go take in what interests you the most. As for hotels, you can find lots in your price range but I'd consider an apartment if there are going to be three of you. You'd have more room and also the ability to fix some meals and snacks which is a big savings (London can be expensive to eat in). Cheapest air would normally be in the winter - it is not the most pleasing time to be in London as the trees have no leaves, the flowers are not blooming, etc. I'd opt for a "shoulder" month, either early spring or fall. We always go in April and it's cool but lovely as the flowers are marvelous. I've been in the fall and in the winter too and prefer spring. Winter days are very short, it gets dark about 4:30 p.m. so your sightseeing can be limited by daylight hours. You will get tons of advise on this Forum but ultimately you will have to decide what works for you. One thing you might consider is what is called a "hosted" tour. You get your air, hotel and a 1/2 day sightseeing included and you are free the rest of the time. All the major airlines have these I believe, but I honestly think you can do this yourself with no trouble at all. Just prioritize what you want to see and do - you will never be able to do everything of course but you will manage to see what is important to you. Read lots of guidebooks, if you don't want to buy them take them out of the library. Xerox pages with info you are interested in and make a binder. You will find you add and subtract things as you go, it's part of the fun of planning. As questions of this Forum whenever you feel lost, everyone here is a great help.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 07:59 AM
  #7  
bc
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Thanks for the help---I have been looking through guidebooks already but am overwhelmed by the info. (I seem to find that guidebooks are a much bigger help to me AFTER I have been to a place once and have a feel for it). Right now, I simply don't know what to expect at all. I believe, based on Lori's advice, we may try to go on our own or find one of the "hosted" tours. Unfortunately, due to circumstances at home, 7 days is the maximum for us to be away. Please feel free to give me any other tidbits of advice you can think of, and I will ask questions as I go. Thanks again.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 08:05 AM
  #8  
anoma
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BC:
On my first trip to London I made use of the Hop-on/Hop-off Tourists buses. I purchased multi-day tickets and on the second day made full use of the information given the first day. I also would tell you to stay away from the "London Eye" It is overpriced and a time waster. You did not say what month you were going but remember that Changing of the Guard takes place every other day in Fall and Winter. Have fun!
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 08:56 AM
  #9  
sally
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unfortunately i have only been to london once. i definately plan to return though. anyway, i went in january and was only there for 4 days. the weather was beautiful. we wore lined rain coats a day or two. it never rained. i think we were pretty lucky however. but just to let you know, it is possible to have good weather in the winter.

this is the way i approach a trip. first of all i don't assume that i will only go there once. that's not to say that after i've been i might not care to go back--but i don't plan that in advance. anyway, i go through some guide books and make priorities. sounds like you have a fair amount of time so you should be able to do alot of the main things in london. you may even want to go outside of london for a day---like to windsor castle--that's an easy day trip. then i do as much as i can but i also have some relaxation time. for instance in london you will want to do high tea at least one afternoon. in london i did this at Brown's Hotel and i highly recommend it. i think you have to make reservations in advance but we made them after we got there. also if you like the theatre london has great theatre. so you might want to do that at least one night. we did not have advance tickets and just walked up to the box office on the day of the show. however, as i said, i wasn't there in the height of the tourist season.

i loved some many things about london it's hard to remember what was the best. and as i said, i didn't do it all. i will tell you though that i really enjoyed westminister abbey. also, on sunday morning we went to "speaker's corner" in hyde park. it was like stand up comedy. i'm sure you will see it mentioned in your guide books.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 09:19 AM
  #10  
Tinder
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Look for a consolidator ticket in the off-season. The weather will be cooler but you will not pay as much in airfare.
Look into staying in a bed and breakfast instead of a hotel. Prices are much lower. Use the Underground, or "tube", to get around, or use the lovely red buses.
And for goodness sake, go for at least two weeks. If you're going to spend the money to get there, stay long enough to really have some fun and get into the museums, art galleries, theatre, etc. If you only go for 7 days, including travel days, you'll have 5 days in London, half of which will be spent in jet-lag hell. Really, try and stay longer!
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 09:23 AM
  #11  
Mark
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Just got back from our first time trip to UK. Had a great time. We stayed three days in London and four days in Oxford. I planned the whole trip, flights, hotel reservations, tours, etc. all via the internet. While this can be a bit overwhelming with so many options (as I am sure you have found out), the best advice I read from others who have replied, is to plan in advance what you want to do, see, and places you wish to visit outside London, if that is in your plans. Then you can map out your strategy from that list.

As far as airfare goes, summer will always be more expensive but there are several ticket consolidators who have reasonable airfares. The only caveat is that once you make the purchase, you cannot cancel, even for health reasons without a hefty penalty, which can sometimes be the entire fare. Most offer travel cancellation insurance to take a little of the worry from this aspect of your vacation. But continually check the major airline sites as well because sometimes they have special fares that are even cheaper than the "cheap fare" sites.

There are plenty of hotels that could accommodate your budget, depending on the time of year. Summertime might slim down your choices a little. Try Hotel-Assist.com to find some special offers for London hotels. We used this and everything went smooth. We stayed at the Grange Rochester Hotel, Vincent Square, in Westminster. The hotel was very nice and the breakfast scrumptious. If you are sharing a triple room, the price would likely be within you budget and you are within easy walking distance of Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament (Big Ben), Buckingham Palace, and Victoria Station. London is very easy to get around in, esp. via the Underground (subway). An all day pass will cost about $6.00 or so per person, which allows you unlimited travel all day, but you cannot begin use until after 9:30 am. Victoria is also the place to catch various coaches and trains so your getting about is very easy. You might enjoy one of the many day trips from London to surrounding sites, such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath, Stonehenge, Leeds Castle, Canterbury, etc. A good tour company we used was Evan Evans Tours (www.evanevans.co.uk). I have heard others who were dissatisfied with them but we had a great tour. Last, take good walking shoes. You will be glad you did, an so will your feet!

By the way, we are still Buckeyes even though we now live in Iowa. Say hello to Ohio for us. Hope this helps. Safe journeys and have fun planning!
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 10:04 AM
  #12  
bc
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You guys are really great! You have helped me get the courage to at least get started---I was soooo overwhelmed. Thanks for the insight, and especially thanks, Mark, for the ideas for hotels and airfares. Tinder, I really wish I could stay longer than 7 days, but that does leave us 5 days in London, and the reality of it is that being the parent of a severely handicapped child does not give one the freedom to stay away long. Believe me, five days in London will be a huge experience for us!
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 10:42 AM
  #13  
Lori
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Barbara,
It's me again - regarding the "hosted" trips, I don't know where you will be flying from but Iknow Brisith Airways and American both have them. Callthem and request a tour book (they are fun to look through even if you don't use them). Even tho you have 5 days (and 5 days is better then noo days) consider one day trip out of London to give yourself a feel for the country. If you don't want to plan it yourself EvansEvans or Frame are both good companies and handle all sorts of day trips (Bath, Canterbury, Oxford, etc.) As I said prioritize your sightseeing "want to sees" but try and leave a little flexible time for the spur of the moment things. Over organization is not good either. If you find guide books a bit overwhelming look at some websites instead, most of the famous sights have one.

Another thing I'd like to recommend seeing a show there are 3 of you going, do not take public transportation into London - starting off a vaction dragging luggage through the Underground is not a good beginning. Make a reservation for a driver pick up service (www.chauffeur.co.uk) is one, for a flat fee they pick you up at Heathrow and take you to your hotel -- door to door service and it can't be beat when you are tired and jetlagged. It's worth the money, about 30-35 pounds from Heathrow if that is where you are landing. We always use a service and it's great.
Cost wise it's a good deal really.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 10:43 AM
  #14  
Lori
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Please excuse the typos in my last post, my keyboard or something is acting weird.
 
Old Aug 25th, 2000, 10:56 AM
  #15  
wes fowler
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Barbara,
You can indeed enjoy London without breaking the bank and mortgaging the old homestead! Think offseason, early spring or late fall. Look for flights to and from London originating on a Tuesday or Wednesday for most favorable fares. Use the underground and double decker buses (the latter preferably) and buy economical weekly passes in London. With careful pre-planning you can arrange your own self guided tours in city buses, see all of the major London sights except Buckingham Palace and Harrod's, and spend less than one tenth of a commercial guided tour.
Browse through your guidebooks (and do use more than one) have your travelling companions do the same, plot out what you want to see and then prioritize and pare down to occupy your five days without running yourselves ragged. Plan one evening at the theatre; use the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square to pick up tickets to a drama rather than a musical. You'll find costs far less for a straight play rather than a musical and have the experience of seeing some of the world's premiere actors in action. Scour this website for hotel recommendations and give serious consideration to leasing an apartment. Investigate London's many, many ethnic restaurants for bargain, quality dining. Come back with your questions and concerns and you'll find sensible, practical and economical advice from contributors here on the forum. In short - go for it!
 
Old Aug 28th, 2000, 07:49 AM
  #16  
Dru
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Barbara, I was just in London for the 1st time this past May & I got so much wonderful info from this site!! May was a great time, just prior to peak season, but not too crowded yet. We were lucky, the longest we ever waited in line for anything was 10-15 minutes, we hit the major sights early in the morning & that's probably one reason for the shorter lines. With just 5 days in London, personally I would not venture out of the city, because there is SO much to see. Early in your trip do a hop-on/hop-off bus tour (I think we used the "Big Bus"). This will let you see a view of most of the sights, will get you somewhat orientated to the city & then you can decide which sites you want to go back to see in greater detail. I loved Westminster Abbey (pay for the verger tour-more than worth it!), loved the Tower of London (if you are interested write the Tower at least 3 months in advance of your trip for free "Ceremony of the Keys" tickets {do a search on this sight for more info}- we loved it. We were not disappointed by anything in London. Just figure out what you are most interested in. History, plenty to see there; art, some of the greatest gallerys in the world. Seeing things that most interest your taste will at least help narrow down your list of what you "must" see. We got our tube tickets in advance & sightseeing bus tickets in advance also. Prepaid, so we had more money for the fun stuff. If you would like any more specifics feel free to email me directly. You will have a GREAT time!! We were 2 women on our own & we felt saft & London was easy to get around in (just get the best walking shoes your money will allow!!!). Have fun, Dru
 
Old Aug 31st, 2000, 07:52 PM
  #17  
Maura
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You will have a great time in London just relax. I'm going back in January just for the Harrods sale. I would never go back during the summer months, even if the prices were the same it is just far to crowded. I too took the hop on hop off bus. You see what you want now like those escourted tours that take you where they have deals. Please don't go on those 7 day escourted tours not only can you do more on your own you can do it for less money. Personally I like staying in the Kensington/S.Kensington area the tube lines that go there are better for 1st time tourists. There is plenty to do in London but don't forget the day trips out of London either pick up a tour for them or go on your own. Windsor is just a public bus away. We went on a escourted tour to Bath as well it would have been cheaper to do it on our own. As for hotels all the airlines have packages-includes hotel and air,which I find is the cheapest way to go. For my January stay Virgin Atlantic quotes me a fare of $505 yet if I do a pkg deal with them my price is $650-750 which includes a3 night stay . Good Luck and have fun.
 
Old Aug 31st, 2000, 08:01 PM
  #18  
maura
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Barbar I didn't even touch on Londons public transportation. It is so easy to get around. Don't forget to get a pass for the tube/buses you can get them for 1 day 3 day etc. I only mentioned a couple of the day trips before there is alot to see in london and I would concentrate on the city for the most part. Besides the above mentioned Windsor and Bath Hampton Court is a fun place you can take a boat ride up the Thames and then take a public bus home. Stonehenge and Stratfor upon Avon, Oxford,Dover are all possabilities but take more time.Good luck
 
Old Aug 31st, 2000, 08:59 PM
  #19  
Joan
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We were just in London in June and stayed at the County Hall Travel Inn. It was only $90.00 a night. Good size rooms, clean, restaurant downstairs,great location. It's right by Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Waterloo Station, and London Eye. All less than 5 minutes walk. Book early--they fill up. We also did the Big Bus the first full day we were in London. It gave us a good feel for the city. Enjoy- it was wonderful!!!
 
Old Aug 31st, 2000, 09:50 PM
  #20  
refethy
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I was in London for 1 wk in may. Mt tips:


1. go to the theatre! You have to take in at least one show (I saw three).
2. Use London Walks Tours. You don't need reservations. Pick up a brochure and have your party decide on times. These are a great way to see London. The night tours are great.
3. Do the hop on hop off bus on your first day to get your bearings.
4. Eat at museums.
 

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