London Basic Travel Tips
My friend Squigs, an artist based in New York, is heading back to London for a quick visit. Squigs is an overall great guy who is passionate about art and beer. As part of the Happy Hour Guys, he is keen on visiting some great places to enjoy his favorite adult beverages in London. Since I was there twice last year on holiday, I shared a few of my thoughts with him. Also, with British Airways offering their 2 free nights accommodation promo again, more people are headed to London these days.
From the airport into London
- The Tube: Cheapest option but the longest ride Price £5. A bit awkward for those with a lot of luggage. Journey time is about 50 mins to Central London.
- Heathrow Express: One of the most expensive train rides in the world. Connects Heathrow to downtown (Paddington Station – of Paddington Bear Fame) in 15 mins. Price £20 for online purchase. Then you still have to transfer and get to your hotel.
- Hire a driver, it’s cheaper than you may think. I’ve used Exclusive Airports before and really like them. It’s about £39 pounds for a car. The driver is waiting inside the terminal and drops you off at the hotel door. Efficient, polite, quick and no-nonsense. Great for groups.
Buy an Oyster Card. An absolute must for using London’s efficient public transport (tube & buses). Like an MTA card in NYC or Suica in Tokyo, it’s a pay as go card that has a daily cap pricing (you’re never charged for more than one days travelcard). It’s super easy to use and practical. It really helps you blend in as a local and also saves a lot of cash (usually 50-60% off buses and tube rides compared to buying separate tix). You can buy these at tube stations or the airport.
When you get into town, go to a newstand and buy a Time Out Magazine. It will give you the up to date listing on show, bars, pubs, festivals, museums, etc and anything cool/fun happening in the city. These come out weekly so it’s the best way to get up to date info (written by locals) on what’s happening in the city. Remember, buses come with a view. Use your Oyster Card (and a good guidebook) for an easy hop on/off do-it-yourself tour to get oriented. Another smart option is to join a guided walking tour of the city.
- Lamb & Flag 33 Rose Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9EB, United Kingdom. Even though its right around the corner from Covent Garden and Leicester Square, it’s just enough off the tourist track for a local experience. I like to go here for a drink before a show. They serve the Fuller’s Brand of Beers and seasonal proper British ales. The food is traditional british pub food. Charles Dickens drank here. If you want to be transported to Victorian England, drink here.
- Red Lion 2 Duke of York Street, Mayfair, London SW1Y 6JP, United Kingdom. Kind of hard to find but this is my go to place if I’m anywhere around St. James/Picaddilly/Mayfair area. Small & Cozy. They serve the Fuller’s Brand of Beers. Free Wifi. Traditional British Pub food. Can’t go wrong with Fish & Chips or Steak & Ale Pie.
- Ye Old Cheshire Cheese 145 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2BU, United Kingdom. Super historic and a must stop on any Fleet St tour. Rebuilt shortly after the great fire, this is where Charles Dickens would drink. It’s a labyrinth with lots of different nooks and cranny’s inside. The food can be hit or miss but the atmosphere is well worth it. They serve the Sam Smith brand of beers.
- The Old Bank of England 194 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4A 2LT, United Kingdom Probably one of the most beautiful pubs in London. Converted into a pub in the mid 90’s from a Bank of England old building. Serves Fuller’s Brand Beers.
- The George 213 Strand, London, Greater London WC2R 1AP, United Kingdom. Built in 1723! This is a good place for lunch as their carvery is very affordable. Real Ales and IPA’s. Beers are hand pulled and direct from cask. You can’t miss the Tudor exterior.
As you know craft beer is a relatively new concept in London. It’s really this wonderful backlash against the corporate take over of the great historic public houses (pubs) of London. Unfortunately, several of the historic places I listed above, although friendly, are owned by corporations.
Craft Beer Company 82 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TR is at the front lines of the craft beer movement (thus the name). I would make this your first spot to go on your craft beer quest. Talk to the owners and the locals in the pub and let them be your guide. The good thing is, they are as passionate about craft beer. Do not visit their location in Brixton (Brixton is a dodgy neighborhood).
Tea: Time to lift the pinky
- Fortnum & Mason: Tea has been the mainstay of this historic department store built in 1707. The recently renamed Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is on the 4th floor and a fantastic place to take part in the beloved institution of afternoon tea. It’s fancy and a bit pricey, but a truly British experience. I had fun and the Mrs. loved it. Reservations are recommended.
- Historic Hotels like the Brown’s Hotel or the Goring also host an afternoon high tea.
- For a budget option, the National Gallery and Kensington Palace also do a nice tea that is affordable.
- Curry/Indian Joints: You can’t go to London without trying the best remnant of the former Empire: Curry Restaurants. Ask a local where their favorite is located. If it’s full of locals and buzzing with activity, then you hit the curry jackpot. If you want to eat at a Michelin rated Indian spot, go to Quilon in Westminster. Took the in-laws there and they LOVED it. Super great food and excellent service.
- Wagamama: Great place to go cure a hang over or just have lunch. This Japanese noodle house is cheap and tasty. Some have communal benches so you can get cozy with neighbors and make new friends.
- Borough Market: An amazing food palace. This is the heart of the current British culinary movement for fresh local food. A must visit for anyone passionate about food.
Coffee: Caveat Emptor – London is not the best for coffee and it’s usually rubbish
- Cafe Nero A chain and great alternative to S’Bucks. All over London. Decent espresso and coffee. Free Wifi.
- Milkbar 3 Bateman Street London W1D 4AG: Good Espresso and lots of other stuff. Lovely for breakfast.
Places like the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tower Bridge, British Museum are free for visitors. Also, the changing of the guard (Changing of the Horse Guard is better) is also free. St. Martin-in-the-fields also has noon-time free concerts. Also, a great inexpensive (free) way to experience Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s is to attend an evensong service. It is the sung liturgy and an excellent way of experiencing the architecture, acoustics and spirituality of these time-honored buildings.
Hackney & Peckham are hipster central. It’s like Brooklyn or SilverLake/Echo Park in England.