Friday, January 02, 2009

Visiting London

I know many of you have plans to visit London in the coming months, so with the help of my trusted friend Lonely Planet: London, I’m writing this post for all you coming to visit.

London is a fantastic city! It’s truly a global city – very cosmopolitan. On any given day, I will hear at least 10-15 different languages spoken on the Tube and around town. London is made up of little neighborhoods each with its own unique character, charm, and atmosphere.

Let’s start with a bit of logistics:

Travel to/from London Heathrow to Clapham Commons:
The cheapest way to get to our home is via Tube: Take the Piccadilly Line (dark blue) to Green Park (few set of stairs here); transfer to the Victoria Line (light blue) towards Brixton; and a final transfer to the Northern Line (black) towards Morden (walk across the platform). Get off Clapham Commons and walk towards the Common (park), where you will see the Holy Trinity Church. Once you past the church on the common, you should be able to locate our street and walk to the end of the road. Most likely, one of us will greet you at Clapham Commons Tube station.

Travel Tips:
- Travel light, if all possible. Seriously, you don’t want to be lugging heavy suitcases up and down the Tube stations. London is an old city and many tube stations do not have escalators or elevators. Limit yourself to one suitcase if you are a solo traveler.

- Bring warm clothes to layer. Do not forget scarves, hats, gloves, tights, warm coat and boots! Of course, do bring an umbrella, although it hasn’t rained much since I arrived (knock on wood). It's very cold right now -- around 40F high; and 30F low. Brrrrrr. Dress accordingly.

- Do get an Oyster Card as your major source of transportation is the Tube. When you first get your Oyster card, you will need to pay a refundable £3 deposit if you are only adding cash to pay as you go. Single rides on the Tube within Zone 1-2 is £1.50 (there’s a daily price cap, meaning you'll spend no more than £6 on any given day regardless of how many times you hope on the Tube.)

- $$$. London is an expensive city. The current exchange rate is around 1.5 (down from 1.9 over the summer!). But since most of you are coming from San Francisco, going out, eating, and drinking is somewhat comparable, unless you’re in extremely touristy areas or at ultra exclusive restaurants and bars in Mayfair, Chelsea/Kensington, and Knightsbridge.

A pint of Heinken at All Bar One is £2.50; M&S sandwiches are between £2.00 – 3.50; dinner for two at our local Thai restaurant is £35.00 (includes appetizer, three dishes, and a bottle of house wine + tip). It’s not so bad!

Misc. Stuff:
- While in the UK (and most of Europe), get use to showering without shower curtains. They have this half shower door in the bath tub. While in London, get used to not having electric outlets in the bathrooms (yes, how annoying!). I’m still trying to figure out to remedy this – an extension cord perhaps?

- Be prepared to walk, walk, walk. Lots of walking in Europe, in general. It’s too expensive to have a car in London, plus £8.00 congestion fee to drive through central London?

Some things not to miss while in London (in no particular order):
- Tate Modern
- London Eye
- Borough Market
- Big Ben + House of Parliament + Abbey
- Buckingham Palace
- St. Paul Cathedral
- Tower Bridge + Tower of London
- Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square + SOHO
- Oxford Street (shopping, shopping, shopping)
- Shakespeare Globe
- Hyde Park

Check out some guides for other useful information:

If this is your first trip to Europe, below are my top five cities to visit on your first trip over the pond. Do allow yourself at least 3 full days in each city so you don’t feel so rushed. These are all big cities with lots to do and see. Some museums (ie. Louvre and the Van Gogh) will take a half-day.





Foodie friends and wine lover should do a trip to Tuscany or the French wine country. Sunbathers -- do come in the summer or early fall and plan on the Greek Isles, Amalfi coast, Cinque Terre (Italy), French Rivera, and Baleric Islands (Spain). Snowboarders/Skiers --Swiss Alps, of course. These are just suggestions -- possibilities in Europe are endless with time and money.

Getting from London to Paris is a breeze via the EuroStar from King’s Cross/St. Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord International (2.5 hr). If you book early and don’t mind an early departure, you can get one-way tickets for £29.00. From Paris, you can take a fast train to Amsterdam, then fly to Barcelona or Rome, and back to London to catch your flight back home out of Heathrow.

Traveling around Europe from London is very easy and cheap. EasyJet operates out Gatwick Airport and has an extensive network throughout Europe, as does RyanAir, which operates out of Stanstead Airport. Be careful when booking with low-cost carriers, as they often operate out of smaller remote airports, which means extra travel time. We prefer to travel out of Gatwick Airport; it's more convenient. You can catch the Gatwick Express Train from Victoria Station (30 minutes), or catch the Southern Line from Clapham Junction (a short bus ride from our flat). It takes between 30 - 38 minutes depending on the train.

Okay, I think this is all for now. Please feel free to email us if you have questions or comments. We look forward to hosting you all in London! If anyone is planning a summer visit, I will permanently move to London at the end of May. Keenan and I plan on taking a long overdue honeymoon to southern coast of Croatia during the first week of June. Otherwise, feel free to visit!

Happy Travels, Lily


  1. "get used to not having electric outlets in the bathrooms (yes, how annoying!). I’m still trying to figure out to remedy this – an extension cord perhaps?"

    Be very careful doing that. Part of the reason there are no outlets in U.K. bathrooms is because the voltage here is much higher than in the U.S. What might be a mild "zap" back home, in the case of some water splashed on the plug or puddled on the floor (remember those missing shower curtains) can leave you a walking leg of roast pork in merry 'ole England.

    Much safer to wrap a towel around and head back to your bedroom to blow-dry your hair, methinks :-)

  2. If Bert and I are not visiting by Easter holiday, we'll definitely be there by first week of June!!