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What's the best way to see London on your own?


What's the best way to see London on your own?

Old Jan 28th, 2009, 04:43 AM
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What's the best way to see London on your own?

We'll be in London for a few days - travelling on our own. What is the best way to plan and execute an itinerary? What guide books are best? Should we join day tours once we're there? Are there good ones that aren't too commercialized? I have looked at many guides at Borders and Barnes and Noble but they all have pages and pages of information that I won't need once I get to London and sections on places we won't be going to at all. I don't want to be lugging around all that extra weight - I just want to have what we need for each day's itinerary. I may end up cutting apart whichever book I settle on,and only taking the sections that I need, but I could use your advice on which one to get.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 05:09 AM
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Walking on your own and exploring is to me, the very best way to go, although a good ghost walk is always fun.That said, having a (waterproof) map (the London A to Z that folds out is excellent) and a good guide are essential.

I am also a big fan of the Guide Friday bus tours on a first jetlagged day--unless it's rush hour. You get kind of an overview of the city and if you like you can hop on and off but mostly you can just sit there a bit dazed and mentally record where must- see sights are and their relation to each other for walking.

The biggies of course (like Fodor's which is relatively slim) and the Time Out book of London Walks as well as the Time Out Book of London are great and you might want to try some of the guidebooks online which allow you to download just the sections you want. There are also some pocket book sized guides (Insight etc) that are nice to tuck along. I always check the Good Pub Guide because well, I like good pubs, but you can get that in the UK or look at it online. I am like you though--guilty of pulling out sections of books (although as of late I am kinder and just copy them into a folder) that I like. There are many, many more guide books to London avaliable IN London so you might want to make some very general plans and then firm them up once you get a sense of distance and time.

There's so much--a few days is probably enough to either just wander around or set an itinerary of things you most want to see. Doing some touristy stuff like taking the boat to Kew and/or Greenwich are fine ways to really "see" the city from the river as well as walking one way and taking the Tate to Tate ferry the other.

I know exactly what you mean when you go to Barnes and Noble and you look at the London shelf! Unfortunately over the years my own travel shelves are beginning to look like Barnes and Noble!
Have fun planning!

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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 05:13 AM
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Hi BN,

Why not start by looking up Londn under "Destinations"?

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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 05:17 AM
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In our several trips to London, we've always made a list ahead of time of things we wanted to do and then grouped them geographically, always leaving time for "surprises" and spur of the moment decisions. For example, we put the Banqueting House, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Tate Britain in a group.

We've liked Fodor's, Frommer's, National Geographic (especially for historical notes) and even Rick Steve's for some walking tours. We also detest lugging around guide books and found Fodor's City Pack on London to be a great source to carry - it has good summaries of major attractions, food, shopping, maps of the Tube, etc. It's small and very manageable.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 05:19 AM
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I really think Rick Steves books are excellent for first-timers anywhere. He cuts to the chase, and gives you the goods on all you need to know. I'd get his London book and his alone. Just another thought.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 05:48 AM
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Rick Steves books are like a 'best of' album. The sites he suggests are all good but not necessarily the ones that would be your favorites. His books also include a lot of usefull basic information for first timers.

I would at least check a RS book out of the library but couple it with a more complete travel guide such as the Michelin Green guide before deciding on your itinerary.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 06:05 AM
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I would do the 'hop-on hop-off' bus. I was there for a weekend and took the bus. The ticket includes a walking tour where you can see 'Changing the Guard' at the Buckingham Palace. They don't change the guards everyday so make sure you ask which day they'd perform such.

You can purchase either a 24-hours or 48-hours ticket. You can practically go around London with that bus, stopping at your desired destination then take the bus to the next destination, or you can take the bus and ride the whole route to see London before stopping at any destination. Hope this helps!
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 06:20 AM
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You sound overwhelmed already. So, take a deep breath; one task at a time.

First, start with a Fodor's guidebook of London (online, etc...). Make a list of MUST SEE and a list of NICE to See.

Fit the MUST see on whatever amount of days you have. Go online and print the best info you can find on those sites.


Identify the closest metro stations for every MUST SEE sight that you were able to allocate on your itinerary. Cross reference on your Streetwise Map.

You now know where are you going, when, and how to get there. You are done.

The idea of the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour at Victoria Station is a good one; Refine the plan as you go through this process; it should be a dynamic plan, don't sweat the small stuff if changes are needed. Remember: One thing at a time.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 06:23 AM
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www.Londontown.com is a good site for what to do.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 06:42 AM
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You didn't say how many days you'll be there.

Here's what I usually do when I'm visitng a NEW city:

1) Look at Rick Steves' guide for ideas. He has itinerarys for X days. Also, I like the fact that he gives *s to the attraction, so you have some idea of which ones are the must-sees and which ones are "must-sees if you have extra time).

2) Decide WHAT YOU ENJOY and pick the attractions. If you have absolutely NO interest in art or paintings, then skip Nat Gallery, Tate Britain etc.

3) Streetwise map is a must.

4) I personally like to take the Lonely Planet guide with me. I find the descriptions to be detailed but the guide remains light. FWIW, I stopped buying guidebooks.... I just take out the newest version from my local library.

5) London Toolkit has several self-guided walks. You can print out the itin and follow the walk yourself.

6) IF you are a HUGE art fan, then I would highly recommend getting the BLUE GUIDE to London's Museums and Galleries. It is wonderful. the downside is that it's very heavy to lug around.

7) Look into guided walks by London Walks.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 07:08 AM
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Stop in the British Tourist Office on Regent Street and pick up the monthly planner. It includes a map, a guide to the major sights, theater and concert listings, museum hours, and the tube stops for any attraction you might want to see. It's paper, weighs about an ounce, and should be supplemented by a really good map -- like the A to Z -- for walking. We make the tourist authority one of our first stops on all our London trips. You can also pick up information there on special interest tours and the invaluable London Walks program.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 07:25 AM
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For getting around, don't forget the maps and other advice at
www.tfl.gov.uk, in particular:


which shows you bus routes in relation to the main attractions.

There's also this experimental and unofficial, but rather fun, interactive map of buses from a (rather limited) number of points in central London (click on a yellow circle):
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 08:24 AM
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As another poster has said. First think what you want to visit - not want the guide books say or what you think you ought to visit.

Walking is the easiest way and the Time Out walks are good. You could combine that guide with another one giving you more history if that's one of your interests.

Split your days into areas to make it easier on yourself and if you're a foodie then plan a lunch venue as part of your day (somewhere with a view or some history if poss to make the most of your day and give yourself a rest too).

The bus tours are a good thing to do on day one especially if you're a little jet lagged. Look out for free talks at certain times of the day at many attractions - you can check the times on the internet before you go.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 09:43 AM
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We always buy several books for each city or country, one that focuses on a general overview, one with walk, one for dining etc - then just bring the parts that cover the places tht we need. Also vital is a good map (street and public transit) for each member of the party.

I wouldn;t do tours within London unless you see a walking tour that really interests you. It's a very easy city to get around - and walking/exploring/discovering new places is a lot of the fun.

For major what to sees - look at destinations here.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 10:20 AM
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If you do decide to take a guidebook that you own, take it to Staples or Kinkos and have it spiral bound. When you travel, slip out the pages you don't want or need and use post-it note tabs to quickly reference what you need.

On the other hand, you can assemble your own guidebook from web print outs and photo copies.

Along with your guidebooks, get a sturdy map like Streetwise and mark the locations of the places that appeal to you. You'll get an idea of how to group sites to make the best use of your time.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 10:36 AM
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The London Walks walking tours are excellent. Intelligent, experienced guides. Take a look at their website (google London Walks). I have been to London more than 20 times and I still learn so much each time I take a London Walks tour and it is fun.
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 11:27 AM
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One way also to organize your ideas is to consider you can do about three things in one day, and vary those things, for example a museum, a church and a market or a museum, a guided walk and a department store. And don't forget to indulge what you like to do at home but experience in a new environment, bookshops, coffee shops and films are some of mine but if you have other hobbies or interests at home, explore what might be possible to entertain those in London.
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 03:29 PM
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As a first time traveler to London I bought Rick Steves guide book and love it - i have read three others but like his best. Its easy to read and I think it's easiest to read and if you are trying to travel on the cheap it has great info.

also researching online and printing out what you want/need.

also the advice of taking breath and one thing at a time is GREAT!!! i was very overwhelmed too but everyone on here is so helpful.

have fun!!!
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 03:35 PM
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When we travel I look through a variety of travel books to decide which one provides the most information I'm interested in. Then I decide what we might like to do and I research on the internet. I print out info and put it in a small binder, which we take on the trip. Then when we head out to see the sights, I just remove the pages I need and take them with me.
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