London Bridge might not be falling down however you may find yourself falling over your own two feet exploring London's overwhelming amount of things to see and do.
After an easy flight from Bangkok to London Heathrow, via the comfortable Sri Lankan Airlines, we were throwing ourselves into one of the most buzzing cities in the world.
For first time travelers London is an amazing place to visit, there is the flash of the West End, recognizing all those famous landmarks, working out the Tube and spending all day exploring. We wanted to see everything and explore as many of London’s diverse neighborhoods as possible, picking centrally located accommodation was key.
There are a few simple steps to help make your arrival a smooth one as you navigate your way around. Firstly heading into London from Heathrow is fairly easy and cheap if you’re willing to sit back and catch the tube for an hour. Grab yourself an Oyster card for around £5-£6 and charge it up and follow the signs that say 'Underground', the journey should cost about £7 and takes you into the heart of the city. Alternatively get the Heathrow Express which takes about 20 minutes & costs a bit more, around £21-£26 one way. If you’re staying for a while in London and will mainly be in the central areas get yourself a weekly pass (£30-£35) which will save you a stack, not to mention you can catch any bus in any travel zone, all inclusive.
Once you’re in the city you will need a place to call home. We stayed several days at Hyde Park Executive Apartments which we’d highly recommend, reasonably priced and nicely renovated, not to mention a few minutes’ walk from two tube stations. Alternatively get on board Air BnB for access to beautiful homes at small prices, especially worthwhile if you’re in a group. We did both in London and found the fact that we had cooking facilities and our own space to be such a luxury. A fridge and a kettle make a huge difference when you’re travelling on a budget, throw in an oven and stove and you’re cooking with gas, literally. Our Air BnB host was amazing and even had tea, coffee, free bottled water, breakfast and bathroom amenities waiting for us. Email us for her details.
Working out where to stay can be tricky depending on what you want to see and where you want to explore. Here’s a bit of information to help make the choice:
Piccadilly/Soho/Covent Garden great for central sightseeing such as Leicester Square, St James Park, Buckingham Palace, West End, Chinatown, Oxford Street and Regent Street. Prices for accommodation will be high however you should be able to walk to most places. Mainly an area for tourists and travelers, expect crowds and premium prices. Be warned about walking anywhere here. Tourists insist on stopping dead in the middle of the path to take photos.
Westminster perfect to see the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and the Tate, it’s close to the sights but in a more corporate setting. Plenty of tourists throughout the day and options close to a variety of transport. The Westminster area is also a business district, expect it to be busy during peak transit times.
Bayswater/Kensington a great mix of locals and travelers, this area is close to Hyde Park however a little further out so it’s not too hustle bustle. There is a stack of food and drinking options in this area and its a safe neighborhood. A short bus or tube ride to Notting Hill and the museums.
Knightsbridge/ Belgravia/Chelsea being one of the most affluent areas in London, these neighborhoods are best recognized for their spotlight in the popular TV show, Made in Chelsea. Home to the famous Harrods department store and being in close proximity to Hyde Park expect to indulge in fabulous shopping, dining and drinking, just remember you’ll be paying top dollar for the privilege. Cut off an arm or a leg as down payment for staying here.
Barbican/Islington/Angel makes up a wildly popular area now overrun with trendy professionals and young yuppie families. Angel has become a hot-spot for drinking and dining and everyone is effortlessly cool. Not as close to sights as other places, it’s a good chance to get a glimpse into everyday London life. Be careful around Barbican at night near the government housing.
London Bridge/ St Pauls set on separate sides of the famous Thames river, these neighborhoods are full of suits navigating their way to work. Throw in a hefty portion of snap happy tourists and you’ve got more organised chaos than Piccadilly Circus. With the Borough market, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and St Paul’s Cathedral within arm’s reach you’ll have a lot to see in the day.
Shoreditch/Old Street is where the youth have flocked to be wild, young and free, in other words so hipster it hurts. The hottest bar will be somewhere uber cool and grungy and no doubt have changed by next month. Check out Spitalfields markets for some great vintage finds and explore Brick Lane on Sundays for pumping beats and pop up market stalls. Hands down one of London’s quirkiest neighborhoods, only stay a while if kids that take themselves too seriously bother you.
Kings Cross is often overlooked unless you’re staying at one of the youth hostels however it is a great location if you’re keen to explore North London. Not far away from Old Street or the famous Camden markets it also has lots of nightlife options close by. Great if you’re heading on a train trip around the UK or taking the Eurostar to Paris or Brussels.
So now that you have a place to call home for your stay it’s time to work out how long you’re going to stay, what you’re going to see and what budget you’re going to do it on!