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London is a huge tourist destination and we can’t believe it’s taken us so long to finally visit. We were thrilled when Norwegian Air started offering non-stop flights from Tampa, Florida to Gatwick, London and took it as a sign to finally get our butts over there. We are happy to report that we had an amazing time and will definitely make another trip back. There were a few things we learned on our first visit and hope these tips will help when you make that first journey to London.
…take the Gatwick Express.
Taking the Gatwick Express to the city center may seem like the only option especially when you see the signs everywhere in the airport. We were about to purchase a ticket for the Gatwick Express, but we spotted an airport concierge desk and inquired about transportation to the city and surprisingly we were advised not to take the Gatwick Express.
Instead, the concierge suggested we ride the Thameslink train and the ticket would be cheaper and cover all Underground transportation for the rest of the day. It was basically a one-day pass that was only available for purchase within the airport so once you leave the airport, you wouldn’t be able to get this discounted ticket.
…get an Oyster Card if you have a contactless credit card.
Technology is awesome and it’s great that our contactless credit cards from the U.S. worked perfectly fine in London when using the Underground. If you plan on taking public transportation, then you will most likely be hopping on and off the trains or buses and using your contactless credit card. If you do not have a contactless credit card, buy an Oyster card (London’s Transport Card). You’ll load money onto the transport card and “top it off” at a kiosk located within numerous stations once the balance has depleted.
…forget to bring Melatonin.
If you are the type that suffers from serious jet lag, Melatonin will help with your regular sleep cycle. We usually bring Melatonin with us on all of our international trips but we forgot to bring it to London. We went to a pharmacy and surprisingly, Melatonin was not sold over the counter. The pharmacist informed us that Melatonin was a prescribed medication in London. Obviously, we didn’t have a prescription so the pharmacist suggested some alternatives. Crystal took the alternative medication and was able to sleep throughout the night but felt pretty groggy the next day. Melatonin does not give her this side effect, so she regretted not brining it with her.
…get stuck in rush hour.
When we were leaving the Sky Garden, we didn’t realize we had hit rush hour. It was about 6PM and we were shocked to see a VERY long line leading down to the tube. If you are in a hurry or the type that gets claustrophobic, we suggest avoiding rush hour in the mornings between 07:30 and 09:30 and the evenings between 17:00 and 19:00.
…take out a ton of cash.
We tend to worry when we don’t have cash while traveling and think we took out a bit too much and lost out on the exchange rate. London is very credit card friendly and we can’t recall a time when we actually needed cash. Towards the end of our trip, we were trying to spend as much cash as we could so that we wouldn’t lose out exchanging it back to U.S. dollars.
…check the schedule for the Changing of the Guards ceremony.
We woke up early and had some tea and cupcakes at Peggy Porschen Cakes and had plans to watch the famous Changing of the Guards ceremony. We didn’t realize until we were in London that it was a bank holiday and didn’t think much of it at first but while we were enjoying our treats, we decided to double-check the schedule to see if the bank holiday interfered with the regular schedule…and it did. We sadly missed it as it took place a little earlier than normal.
…check to see if sites are under construction.
Iconic structures like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Millennium Bridge were all under construction when we visited in May 2019. We woke up for sunrise to take photos at these locations and showed up super early not knowing everything was under construction. We suggest checking for updates on their websites so you don’t show up seeing just a construction site. Big Ben is expected to complete construction in 2021.
…look for a service charge on your bill.
It is customary to tip 10% in London at restaurants but more often than not, we had a service charge on our bill, which is basically a tip. I asked one of the servers if additional tip was left on top of the service charge and she said the service charge was the tip so there was no need to leave anything else. Of course, if you’re feeling extra generous or the service was exceptional, by all means, leave an extra tip.
…buy your tickets online if you are visiting the Tower of London.
The Tower of London is a popular attraction and the lines were already forming 30 minutes prior to opening. There were also two separate lines. One line for guests who had purchased their ticket online and another to purchase tickets at the gate. If you purchase your ticket the day of, you will then have to get in a second line once you have purchased your ticket. Essentially, if you buy your ticket at the gate, you will have to stand in two lines, which means longer waits.
…eat some traditional Shepherd's Pie at the Grazing Goat.
We had to try at least one British cuisine and we went with the classic Shepard’s Pie. Most people suggested we try Fish and Chips but Crystal doesn’t eat seafood so that was a no-go. We found great reviews on Yelp about the Grazing Goat and the reviews did not fail us. The Shepard’s Pie at the Grazing Goat was superb. It’s a bit on the pricey side but well worth it. We also enjoyed feeling like a local amongst young business men and women enjoying happy hour with their co-workers.
London is a very easy city to navigate and we utilized both the tube and bus throughout the entire trip. It also helped that we stayed at the Kimpton Fitzroy Hotel which was located right next to Russell Square Station. We were a little disappointed that some of the major attractions were under construction, but still had an amazing time and will definitely revisit soon!