I’ve posted tips and favourite things about London before. It’s my favourite city to visit, one of only two cities I’m truly in love with, and the city that holds some of my favourite memories. It shocks me when I hear people who haven’t visited talk about why they wouldn’t want to go. I hear a lot of ‘it’s too busy’, ‘I don’t like anything in the city’, ‘I’m not a fan of cities’…and honestly, my advice is to always, always give London a shot. Do it your way and you will love it.
Sometimes, going a huge city can be a pain, and I get that. London is one of the most visited cities in the world, if not the most visited city. Crowds are real, prices are higher, and it’s fast paced. The first time I visited, I was only a teenager and under the wing of a person who knew more about the city than Toronto. When I went back as an adult and lived nearby, there were so many things I learned about the city that people who don’t live there either don’t know, or forget. A few of these make your trip so much easier!
Everything closes at 5 or 6 in England. Coming from the Greater Toronto Area, I don’t think my town has had businesses actively close at 5 pm each day since halfway through the 90s. Almost all shops and tourist-centric things in Toronto are open until 9 or 10 pm (give or take a few specific ones). Even banks are open late and 7 days a week now. When I went to London, I was shocked to learn that most of their tourist sights close at 5 or 5:30. Sometimes 4:30! The British Museum, for example, is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Which means, if you really want to beat the crowds, you have to be there before noon. If you’re planning the tourist spots or shops you visit, be sure to check out times of service – it may change the itinerary of your trip.
Tubes are cheap…if you use your credit/debit cards or an oyster card. The tubes are fantastic. They’re quick, convenient, frequent – the perfect transit system. They’re also expensive. I didn’t realize when I visited for the first time that the single ride tickets they sell actually double the price of a ride. If you get an Oyster Card (which is free) and load it with money, it will cost far less per ride than if you buy tickets. I know even the Oyster Card is out of date now, as most tube stations (if not all) accept debit and credit cards with the tap feature. It’s easy and your bank will do the converting so you don’t have to worry.
Most European cities are two hours away by train. For all of the time I spent in London, I don’t know why I didn’t try to take more day trips to neighbouring cities in Europe. Brussels and Paris are both two hours away by train. Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Bruges, and a few other cities are an hour or two by plane. Train and plane tickets are actually pretty reasonable. If you leave London early, you’ll arrive by 10 am when everything opens up. And you can leave in the evening and be home by midnight. Busy day but so easy!
Cost of living is higher in the city than outside of it. It’s pretty well known that the cost of living is high inside the city. Food, drinks, and accommodations are all going to be way more expensive in the city centres than if you were to stay just 30 minutes outside of the city. Even people who work in the city are paid more than those who live outside of it to make up for this inflation. It’s worth remembering this when you are looking for places to stay and restaurants. London is an expensive city to be sure, but you can make it affordable if you expect certain high prices and try to save money in other places. Maybe you rent an AirBnB with a kitchen so you can cook breakfasts and dinners for yourself rather than eating out every meal. Or, maybe you love eating out so you stay just outside of the city rather than in the centre.
Bring a hair serum or some hair product to tame frizzy hair. When I moved to England, I forgot that the country is actually an island. And being an island that largely has a wet, damp climate, I also forgot that wet, damp weather means frizzy hair. I am not a hair person so usually I’ll let it air dry and put it up in a bun through the day, especially if I’m traveling. I wish I brought with me some kind of hair spray, smoothing serum, hydrating whatever that I could spray in my hair or take with me and apply when needed. I would go out in the morning with nice, easy hair and by the end of the day it would be huge, unmanageable and tangled. Plus, the water in England is actually pretty hard (as in, full of minerals that are chalky) and it will likely dry your hair out, making it even more difficult to tame. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the bad hair days I had.
These might seem all over the map but I swear, I would have changed the way I visited London if I knew these beforehand. Especially the hair one…believe it or not!
What is your favourite city to visit?