Visiting a country for the first time can get a little scary and I am very thankful for the little preparation I have done before the big adventure. I am a first-timer to London myself and I will share how I “winged” it in the British country if ever you’re going there for the first time as a tourist.
1. Flights and getting to London
Coming from the Philippines, you can imagine how far the UK is. I’m really not a fan of connecting flights, so we booked a direct flight instead. A direct flight from Manila to London Heathrow Airport will take about 14 hours. That’s if you can manage to stay inside a plane for 14 hours lol but do not fret! there are also connecting flights from Manila to London. Emirates has one I think but since we wanted to get there fast, we booked a direct flight with Philippine Airlines. Keep in mind though, when you book returning flights with the same airline, remember your point of entry. Our point of entry for our Eurotrip was in London, which means we go back to London for our flight back to the Philippines because we booked a returning ticket with the same airline. If ever you’ll be coming from another european country, there’s the option of taking the Eurostar train to London or going to London via Plane. If you’re taking a plane to London, you can choose British Airways or perhaps you’d like a more chill journey (but longer), then take the Eurostar. There are trains going in and out of London. Just make sure you have the right visa though.
2. Where to stay
You have lots of options in London when it comes to lodging. You have three options. Hotels, Airbnb, Backpacker Hostels. Of course, when we say Hotel it’s not always cheap, but you get the luxury of staying in comfy beds, clean bathrooms, room service and sometimes free breakfast. I would most definitely recommend staying with Airbnb. Sometimes I could find flats/houses that are much cheaper than hotels and it has like a room or two, a common room and your own kitchen. If you’re rather adventurous and on a very tight budget, there are also Backpacker Hostels in London. You’ll surely meet new friends there. I did consider though, that our lodging should be in Central London and quite near train stations. So we got a hotel near Regent’s Park. Your life would be easier if you consider these things.
3. Plan ahead and download apps
Thank god for the advancing technology right!? Believe me when I say your phone will be your bestfriend in another country. Before going to the UK, I have downloaded offline maps of London and apps for the tube (train). I also did my own research and written down notes on how to get from Point A to Point B. What station is nearest and where to go down. Trust me, Google Maps will help you. But if ever you don’t have data, make sure you have your offline map on your phone. If you are fond of another language, you can also download english translator apps. List down things you’re going to do, directions and addresses. You’ll be glad you did so. I used this offline map called Ulmon. It also has a London Tube map and recommendations for activities.
4. Transportation in London
Getting around London is quite easy. There are cabs, buses and trains you can catch. The tube is London’s underground train system and it will be the most convenient way for you to go around. You need to use an Oyster card for both the tube and the buses. There is also the option of taking a taxi but it’s ~*expensive*~. Well, everything in London is expensive lol. So let me teach you how to use the London tube.
- Buy an oyster card: Since it’s your first time, you might get intimidated by the self-automated machines. It’s rather easy to navigate. You can buy new oyster cards from there as well as paper tickets for a whole day use. Take note of the Zones when buying paper tickets. Most attractions are usually included in Zones 1 and 2. Don’t worry, you can ask questions and assistance, there are people there ready to help. Some stations have ticket offices too if you don’t like navigating through a machine.
- Reloading your oyster card: On the ticket machines, there’s a spot there where you touch your card and it reads how much credit you have. If you want to top-up (add credit) you can simply choose that option. Choose the amount you want to add, slide in the coins/bills/credit card, and then touch your oyster card again to the reader to add the credit (It will indicate in the screen). Keep in mind that some machines only accepts coins and credit cards, some don’t accept bills.
- Getting inside: Simply touch your oyster card on the reader so the gates will open. If ever you’re out of credit, it will not open up.
- Knowing what train to ride: Here’s the London Underground Map
You will be guided by the colors of the line. Once you know what line/train you will be using, all that’s left to know is which train goes in that direction. It will be either north, south, east, west bound. Once you go inside, every train line has two different directions. Make sure you enter the right platform. You can also check the big maps there before entering a platform. I’m gonna give you an example on how to ride the train. From Warren Street Station, I want to go to Victoria Station. If you can see, there are two train lines stopping in Warren Street Station. One is the Northern Line (Black line) and the other one is the Victoria Line (Light Blue line). I need to ride the Victoria Line (Light Blue line) going South bound to go to Victoria Station. I will then go to the right platform and wait for the train. Inside the train you could also see the stops so you are aware when you’re getting down. As you arrive to your destination, you can follow “Way Out” signs to exit the station. You will need your oyster card or tickets again to exit the station.
- Buses: You can also use your oyster card on buses. Every bus stop has a timetable and a list of buses stopping at that area. That’s why it’s very helpful if you check what bus you’ll be riding before hand. Same procedure with touching your oyster card on the reader next to the driver. Though, some buses have readers on the other entrance at the back of the bus. If you have a paper ticket, kindly show it to the driver.
5. What to do in London
Harry Potter Studio
If you are a fan of the magical world of Harry Potter, then this is the place for you. I was giddy when we went here. Seeing the set and the stuff they used for filming were there. It truly is a heaven for Harry Potter fans. You may purchase tickets there if you’re going on your own. If you’re coming from central london, I would recommend joining a tour. You can google tours that go to Harry Potter Studio. Great thing about tours is that transportation is included. You get to ride the bus together with other tourists and the guide would give out the tickets on-board. No more hassle of lining-up in the ticket office! If you’re planning to buy souvenirs from the studio, let me warn you that they’re rather expensive. Well, it’s Harry Potter.
Portobello Market/Notting Hill
If you have a knick for antiques or just want to visit the site where they filmed “Notting Hill”, Portobello is an interesting place to be. You can also find cheap souvenirs there. When I say cheap, it’s like the “divisoria” type items that are sold £15 for 3 items and the like. If you want a food journey, Portobello Market has a wide selection of food stalls, cafés and restaurants. You can check out my Portobello Blog <– here
Seeing Westminster will give you quite the London feel. You will find the Big Ben there and the Westminster Abbey, so don’t forget to take pictures, for it will be your one true proof of London hahaha. When you get to Westminster, you will already see the London Eye by the bridge. It’s quite a near walk if you want to get a closer look, or even ride the London Eye. There will be a long line though.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Cue Sherlock theme lol but if you are an ultimate fan of Sherlock, I know this will be on your go-to list. Just having your photo at the facade in Baker Street is already an achievement. They also have guided tours if you want to go up the apartment. You can purchase tickets inside the souvenir shop.
The London Beatles Store/Abbey Road
That popular pedestrian lane would most definitely ring a bell to Beatles fans. Abbey road is just a walk away from The London Beatles store in Baker Street which just beside the Sherlock Museum. They can provide you with a map if you’d like to visit Abbey Road to get your picture taken while crossing. But please be mindful of the cars passing by, it’s still a normal street after all. Don’t make people wait.
This place is quite far from Central London. I would also recommend getting a tour for this so you won’t have problems with transportation and tickets anymore. Sometimes you can even catch the queen in Windsor Castle! I’ve learned that whenever the flag is up, it means that the queen is there. It’s really a marvelous place with all the great structure. There are also guards in red uniform, marching around the area. Please respect them and don’t poke them or something, they’re doing their jobs in peace.
I would still recommend getting a tour for this. We got a packaged tour for Windsor, the Roman Baths and Stone Henge. Well, that’s if you don’t mind going on and off a bus and feel like being rushed. The Roman Baths can get crowded and it’s quite hot in this area. Be careful of the slippery rocks though so you don’t slip. You’ll find many performers outside the baths which was more enjoyable for me. I’d rather chill outside next to the abbey though. It was already like being in Italy.
Well, what can I say. It’s a bunch of rocks in an open field lol but still it’s a piece of history though. Once you get to the entrance, you’ll get to ride a bus to the actual stonehenge. To be honest though, I was more fascinated by the vast open field around it. I wanted to roll over the fields and just lay there.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. People in London are rather nice. Well, most of them. They would be willing to help you out with anything. Just say thank you afterwards 🙂
So yea, these are some of my experiences in The Great Britain. I hope I helped you somehow. London is a very clean city, so please follow the rules and don’t throw rubbish everywhere. Seat belts are very important! Even in taxis. Don’t forget to wear them. Enjoy your first ever UK trip! You will have loads of fun. If ever I forgot some more places to go to. Please comment them down below. Thanks!
Currency in the UK: £ GBP (Great British Pound)