We are less than a two weeks away from our trip to Europe, and while I’ve posted about Paris planning (Paris: Le Plan et Le Pass and Le Tour Eiffel), I have yet to discuss my London research. I was a little late to the London planning party partially because I didn’t know where to start. We are staying there more time, but I really had much less knowledge about what to do. In November I grilled some dear friends who used to live there and they helped me get a start…but then I did nothing for several months. I’ve spent the last several weeks exploring my usual planning sites and talking to other friends, and I think I finally have a more solid plan in place….but with the requisite flexibility, of course.
We are, once again, going with the philosophy of less is more. We know we can’t see everything and won’t have fun if we try. So I am narrowing down some of our “must haves” and ensuring they make it in the plan. This list includes Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben/Parliament, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the British Museum and the Tate Modern.
My friends suggested that we check out the “hop-on, hop-off” double decker bus options for London. They think that is really the best way to get to know the city. We are staying on Piccadilly and the bus will go right by our hotel, so it could be a very convenient option. There are a few different companies that run buses and they have package deals that give you other perks like boat rides, walking tours, etc. The positive reviews declare that they are convenient and allow you to cover a lot of ground. The negative reviews claim that the information provided isn’t over interesting (on certain routes) and the buses get stuck in a lot of traffic.
I have narrowed my focus to two companies: The London Pass (run by Golden Tours/Gray Line) and The Original Tour. The London Pass is similar to the museum pass we purchased in Paris, but it also includes the hop-on, hop-off bus with multiple routes. Honestly, without considering the bus, the way I plan to see London, the Pass won’t pay off the same way it would in Paris. For example, it is good for the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, but I don’t plan to go to both of those places in the same day. Therefore, I would have to buy a two day London Pass and that isn’t cost effective.
The second option is The Original Tour. This pass includes the multiple-route hop-on, hop off bus tour. It also provides some freebies such as a boat tour of the Thames and some walking tours. There are no individual museum/attraction admissions (but they can be purchased separately). This option seemed better for us because they were running a special. In addition, considering that we plan to “hop on” at our hotel, the routes seem better for us. We bought this tour for one day and bundled a Tower of London admission so we don’t have to wait in the ticket line there (I read it gets crowded). As soon as we arrive in London, we will go to validate our online (print-at-home) tickets at one of the indicated locations so we are ready to rock and roll on our first full day!
I’m still researching an Oyster Card, which is a pre-paid metro/subway (aka, tube) card. I’ve read that it can be a cost saving to buy it in advance but I’ve been told by other friends that it isn’t necessary. Since our trip is close, and I won’t receive it in time anyway, I’ll just wait and chat with our concierge.
I was excited to read about the redesign/relaunch of the Heathrow Express. Since we are landing in the afternoon, I read that taking a cab from Heathrow could take up to an hour to downtown and cost as much as 80 GBP. No thank you! Since we plan to pack on the lighter side (ha! let’s see how that goes), I am planning on using Heathrow Express instead. The trains come every 15 minutes to various terminals in Heathrow and it only takes 15 minutes to Paddington Station (clock starting from the final Heathrow pick up…see diagram above). Once at Paddington, there is a newly designed/expanded taxi station to provide access to the rest of the city. We purchased round trip tickets for just 50 GBP, and learned in the process that kids under the age of 15 travel free. I booked online and printed the tickets at home. EASY! Just remember, for American English speakers, a “return ticket” is a roundtrip ticket, not just a ticket for the returning part of your trip! (you’re welcome)