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Oct 16th, 2015, 07:50 AM
  #1
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Resources / How-to be better prepared to make the most of London trip

Hi all,

I am heading to London for couple of weeks in first week of November. I would be staying near Green Park - Piccadilly Circus area. This is my first visit. I want to make the most of it. I would be glad if you could recommend any books, specific guides, online resources, podcasts, apps, etc that I could go through or have with me when in London, to understand the city better from the following points of view:

1. Context - Historical, societal, architectural understanding

2. Practical - For ease of navigation

3. Recommendations - restaurants (vegetarian-friendly), must-do's for first visit, shopping

4. Events - be up-to-date with the schedule of latest art gallery exhibits, theatre, talks, etc

I have varied interests and at this stage, I am looking to explore London as much as possible from diverse points of view.

Thanks in advance.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 07:55 AM
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1. Start your visit by going to the Museum of London; it gives you a very good overview of the history of London
2. Citymapper is a handy app for getting around London
3. www.opentable.co.uk is a great site for finding restaurants and making reservations - you can see reviews on there as well.
4. Time Out is good for finding out what's on in London
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Oct 16th, 2015, 08:01 AM
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Do some walks with this group:
http://www.walks.com
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Oct 16th, 2015, 08:10 AM
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Get yourself familiar with the public transport system:
http://tfl.gov.uk/maps/visitors-and-tourists

You do not pay cash-per-ride. Everything's designed to get you to buy tickets/passes in advance - but you do not need to buy anything before you leave, despite the Visitor Oystercard they try to push at you (you can get that at the airport when you arrive - if you're staying two weeks, get an Oystercard with a 7-day travelcard for zones 1/2 plus the add-on fare to get you into the zone from the airport).
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Oct 16th, 2015, 08:20 AM
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Really?

You have no clue as to "must-do" activities?

You need to get going on the research. Honestly, this forum is comprised of people who are donating their time and effort to learn about other places, give information and interact, but not to do the most basic research for you.

There are too many resources for and about London to not have any information at this point. Just starting out with Londontown.com or some website that rhymes with Hodor's would get you going. It's not like the latter doesn't have 7-day suggested itineraries for London on its London page.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 08:40 AM
  #6
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Tulips, elberko, PatrickLondon, thank you so much for your prompt responses. It is the kindness of people like you on this forum that makes novice travellers like me feel comfortable to post for help.

BigRuss, if you read my post carefully, I am not asking people what are the must-do's. I am asking for resources that enable me to absorb the London experience (including the must-do's) to the fullest.

Suggestions could be anything from the latest and most user-friendly app with walk routes or notable parks, or it could be a book on the city's urban planning over the years or the challenges it faces as the burden of growing population makes the city come up with unique solutions, or it could be a Michelin star restaurant someone personally enjoyed, or podcasts with commentary on the architecture of major landmarks. I have been obviously pouring over various websites and taking notes. I believe in fresh perspectives and to me, personal suggestions from passionate travellers are precious. For example, reading welltraveledbrit's TR uncovered chinaexchange where talks and conversations with notable people are routinely held. I loved the idea and most likely would have missed it otherwise.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 08:48 AM
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Tfl's website (already given above) andbr />
http://www.timeout.com/london

are pretty much all you will need...
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Oct 16th, 2015, 09:04 AM
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There are of course no end of books about London, far more than you could reasonably be recommended to absorb in the time you have available. Just pop into any Waterstone's or Foyle's bookshop and there'll be a section devoted to all sorts of books about London.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 09:09 AM
  #9
 
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Start your visit buy getting an Oyster card (visitor version or otherwise and using that to get around. You can order them sent to you in advance of arrival or get them after you do arrive.

We keep ours for repeated visits (which we make) and have found it makes getting around so very convenient (assuming you aren't adverse to using public transport).

During our most recent visit in August we finally attacked the bus system and that was a great way to see stuff and get around.

We leave for London in less than two weeks and hope you enjoy the city as much as we always do.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 09:16 AM
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Ah. Just seen your other thread. If you're here with someone, check to see if you're likely to want to take advantage of any of the 2for1 offers at www.daysoutguide.co.uk. If you are, or even if you only think you might be, print off the vouchers and bring them with you. When you get here, you'll need to get your 7-day travelcards in the paper format from a national rail company, NOT Transport for London (although you can use the cards for exactly the same services). You'll still need to put some pay-as-you-go money on a TfL Oystercard each to get yourself into London from the airport on the Piccadilly Line, and to get to the nearest National Rail station to buy the travelcards (that'll be Victoria, which you can get to by bus from the Piccadilly/Green Park area).
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Oct 16th, 2015, 09:28 AM
  #11
 
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For me the best way to immerse myself in a place I haven't been is to use Google Earth. You can also use Google maps with the satellite layer turned on but it's not as easy to navigate. Start dropping down pins at your hotel, airport, restaurants, sight seeing locations, etc. Then you can start getting a better feel for where you're going and what it looks like. Make sure 3D buildings are turned on. For many areas now the entire city will come alive when you view it from an angle. You can then use street view to get to know the neighborhood around your hotel, where grocery stores and pharmacies are, etc. You can also use the measuring tool to get a feel for how far things are apart for planning your day.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 09:37 AM
  #12
 
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For any new place I start with the Michelin Green Guide. Not only does it have a very comprehensive list of all major sights - with historical context, but it also tells you how long it will take to see it. For instance, it will tell you that the Tower of London takes 3 to 4 hours versus 30 minutes (which some earlier posters seemed to think based on their itinerary).
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Oct 16th, 2015, 11:46 AM
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"it could be a book on the city's urban planning over the years or the challenges it faces as the challenges it faces as the burden of growing population makes the city come up with unique solutions"

I'm not sure London's worked out any response to its current planning problems - of which a growing population is the least important: those contributing most to today's growing numbers are as relaxed about minimal space as any 19th century refugee from an Irish famine, Russian pogrom or Midwestern provincialism.

The classic book on the subject (Peter Hall's Cities of Tomorrow) was updated last year to about 2011, and puts London's past 140 years of approaches in the context of peer cities' philosophies. To appreciate it, you need the photos, so the Kindle version just doesn't work: it's a hefty paperback, but it's possible to get the gist over a couple of intercontinental flights.

A 6-episode BBC documentary miniseries (A Secret History of Our Streets) has disappeared from the BBC's catch-up site, but may be available on youtube or a similar benign pirate. It's also updated to 2012, and covers some of the recent problems caused by seriously rich kleptocrat refugees and discomfort-insensitive young foreign strivers. The full list of Series 1 episodes (which cover London) is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04bzppg/episodes/guide, and this might help you track pirated versions down.

The issue - and in particular the Green Belt policy whose downside Hall ignores - obsesses the Economist, which runs tendentious articles on it any edition it can find space in. Worth just browsing The Economist's excellent search facility (Fodors: do so and weep).

London's three recent positive contributions to general urban planning issues are:
- Buses. Its past ten years' advances in kit and information provision make every other major urban system look Victorian.
- Contactless bank cards. The Oyster card was a shameless ripoff of Hong Kong's Octopus - but worked. It's now been overtaken by simple contactless bank cards
- Public-sector capitalism. London's equally shameless naked appeal to the inner businessman hidden in the souls of other transport systems' bureaucrats has been a stroke of genius. London-area public transport has gone through a revolution since 2000 - largely funded by downtrodden taxpayers in Holland, Germany, France (and especially the City of Paris) and Hong Kong, whose transport administrations are diverting their stakeholders' money to providing ours.

London's negative contribution has been the unjustifiable squandering of investment and space on bike stunts - reducing provision for walkers and public transport users to benefit an insignificant nano-minority.

Because journalists like bikes.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 12:07 PM
  #14
 
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I always like to make a google 'my maps' of the places I'm interested in seeing, restaurants, etc. That helps me group things together and plan out transportation. You can also look at bus/tube routes on Google maps & then save your route to your calendar. I found this handy for times when I didn't have wifi or my cell service was poor.

I love London's bookstores. I enjoy Waterstones, but if you also want to go to a historic and just lovely one, check out Hatchards. It's right in the same area as Liberty, Fortnum and Mason, and the Royal Academy of Art.

If you are going to a play (if you like comedy check out "the play that goes wrong") book a meal beforehand. Many restaurants near the theaters do a quick and reasonably priced pre-theatre meal.
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Oct 16th, 2015, 01:16 PM
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You are clearly interested in some of the more arcane experiences that London has to offer so I proffer these suggestions:

The no 11 bus will take you from Victoria Station round Parliament Square, up Whitehall, round Trafalgar Square, along the Strand [alight on the left for Covent Garden[ and Fleet Street, [Temple on the right, RCJ on the left, and don't miss the beautiful interior of Lloyds Bank at Temple Bar] up Ludgate Hill [alight on the left for the Old Bailey, and St Paul's] then finally deposit you at London Bridge.

You might be interested in spending an hour or two in the Temple - the heart of Legal London with beautiful gardens, the ancient Temple Church with its relics of the Knights Templar, and a chance to go and see the law at work in the Royal Courts of Justice "over the road" [ie across the other side of Fleet Street].

for more ideas, try this thread:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...rip-report.cfm

far more things than you can do in a week or two though.
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Oct 17th, 2015, 12:28 AM
  #16
 
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rtwin80days,
Apologies for any overlap...

PatrickLondon suggested http://londonist.com which I found useful and interesting.

If you look at London Walks do look at there specialist walks (generally on the weekends) they tend to offer some more offbeat topics/areas.

We enjoyed the Marx Walk
http://www.marxwalks.com One of the good things about these walks is that you don't book ahead of time so if the weather's bad you just pick something different.

We looked at Eventbrite to find lectures and went to a few, at SOAS, Kings and at the Bishopsgate Institute. We very much enjoyed a lecture by the design critic of the Guardian on the Seven Dark Arts of Developers

Here's the podcast
http://www.podcastchart.com/podcasts...-of-developers

My husband read Roy Porter's London a Social History before our trip.


There are some interesting walking tours and events that focus on Huguenot History.
http://www.huguenotsofspitalfields.org

We enjoyed a walking tour with Rachel Kolsky who does a number of Jewish themed tours in the East End but also tours of some of the "urban renewal" around KingsCross and a number of different areas.

http://www.golondontours.com/GoLondonTours/Home.html
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Oct 17th, 2015, 12:53 AM
  #17
 
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Fantastic tips here.

@Patricklondon: Regarding 2for1 Daysout eligibility

I've found travelcards aren't necessarily a good deal for me because I do so much walking. If you don't want to get a travel card, would not arriving at an airport and getting return tickets with a National Rail company (eg. Gatwick/Stansted express)also be a way to become eligible for the offer? I believe Heathrow and City airports don't offer any return tickets into the city that would make the 2for1 coupons valid.

Thanks for your confirmation.
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Oct 17th, 2015, 03:22 AM
  #18
 
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kinda of going with flanner on most of this except for

"London's negative contribution has been the unjustifiable squandering of investment and space on bike stunts - reducing provision for walkers and public transport users to benefit an insignificant nano-minority.

Because journalists like bikes."

my own view is journalists hate cyclists as it gives them a chance to make money by pointing at them and describing them as they wish to sell papers.

That London travel volumes are expanding exponentially is fascinating, what the affect of high speed broadband would be on London (rather than the pitiful thing it mainly operates with), while the provision of more bike lanes and less space for cars would all be interesting.

You know it is almost as if there should be some sort of computer modelling traffic flows for London...
http://content.tfl.gov.uk/traffic-mo...guidelines.pdf
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Oct 17th, 2015, 04:02 AM
  #19
 
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After further research, I've found using the Gatwick Express does make the 2or1 coupons valid. However, using the Southern Line trains which are cheaper than the Gatwick Express is a cheaper alternative.
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Oct 21st, 2015, 05:26 AM
  #20
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Thank you all for your responses and insights. Past few days were all about running round to collect documents (long long list!) for the UK visa and we are finally done applying for it. Now, it's time to immerse in the reading up about London (and rest of the UK - we had to cancel our 1 week Europe break from London as we need separate visas for Schengen zone and we don't have the time for it sadly) and planning the trip.

There seems to be no dearth of cities and towns we can visit from London and it would be interesting to see what we can fit in, considering the weather in last week of Nov. Oxford, Cambridge, Stonehenge, Windsor castle, Hampton Court palace, Bath, Salisbury, Cotswolds, York, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwick castle, phew, the list goes on. We can easily make a week out of these. We wanted to go to Scotland for a week, but it seems the weather will be worse there than the aforesaid places. I am not a good planner when it comes to understanding vagaries of weather and planning well. But I was told that the higher you go, the wetter and colder it'd get.
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