It’s tourist-time and the Brits are all a-buzz with Olympic excitement. That is, those that haven’t fled the country in search of peaceful beaches and days filled with sunshine. So, you’re coming to London with all the excitement of a four year old on Christmas, but have done zero planning and have only been told by helpful friends and family to ensure you eat some Fish and Chips.
Fear not, I’m here to help!
First of all, we need to get some before travel organisation sorted. You’ve come to the right place as I happen to be the packing master. I always manage to perfectly smush everything into my case and have yet to forget an essential item.
What to Pack
A couple days before packing, make a little list of all the things you think you’ll need or must not forget. It seems silly, but things can get a bit hectic the morning you leave for the airport and there’s nothing worse than stirring from your tired daze on the way to catch your flight to a sinking feeling in your gut as you picture your passport sitting by the door at home. A checklist is just a super simple way to ensure you’ve got all the goods with you.
This may be the city of fog and rain, but this time of year is hot and humid. Combine humidity with faulty air-conditioning on a packed unground train, and you have yourself a disastrous, sweaty concoction.
Bring light clothes, shorts, jeans, tshirts, tank tops, dresses, a cardigan or light jacket, and a rain coat just in case the weather changes. (it always changes)
Besides your passport, nothing is more important than comfortable walking shoes! If you’re coming to London, you will be doing a lot of walking. There’s nothing that puts an immediate damper on a sunny day of exploring like a blister. Personally, if i’m going to be sightseeing or walking around all day, there is nothing i’d rather wear than some workout clothes and running shoes. But, the Brits find this very odd. Here, work out clothes are for working out, period. If you’re happy to be spotted as a tourist from a mile away and want to just be comfortable, wear whatever you want. But please, no jeans and running shoes. Please.
If you plan on going to posh restaurants, afternoon tea, or clubbing, I’d suggest bringing a few nice dresses and one pair of black or nude pumps that go with everything. Men must have formal shoes and a nice shirt to get into a nightclub, no T-shirts or sneakers allowed.
Toiletries and Necessities
This seems obvious, but I have a few tips to travel light when it comes to toiletries.
I happen to have a strange obsession with travel size products. I don’t know what it is about a mini tube of toothpaste or mini bottles of shampoo that drives me crazy, but I love them. However, these wee gems are incredibly overpriced.
Here’s my tip: go to your grocery or drug store and purchase empty mini travel bottles. There are usually different sizes and containers designed for different consistencies of products. Fill up your containers with your favourite products, and put a little sticker labelling the contents.
A good toiletry bag is incredibly helpful for organised packing. If you’re in the US, I’d recommend Target or Sephora for the best travel bags. If you’re packing something that would be disastrous if a leak were to occur, put it in its own ziploc baggie before placing it with the other toiletries.
I know it may be overcast or raining most of the time, but even when the sun is no where to be seen, you are being exposed to UV rays. You should always use face moisturiser with at least SPF 15 and should cover the rest of your skin with protection to avoid becoming a tourist lobster.
Bring or buy a little hand held fan.
When you’re trapped on the underground in sweltering heat, smushed up against people with no regards for your personal space whatsoever, the only thing to help you through to the next stop is a little breeze blowing against your face.
Bring a secure bag.
A backpack isn’t ideal unless you have someone travelling with you that can keep an eye on it, or a way to keep the zippers secure. Big open purses are perfect for thieves to slip their hands in and steal your wallet, passport, phone, etc. London is reasonably safe, but thieves do operate in most touristy areas.
The most obvious of them all: bring or buy an umbrella. If you’re wondering why, you’ll soon find out.
Don’t panic if you forget an essential, you can pop into our drug store Boots whilst you’re here for any toiletries you need.
The most important item for travelling around London is the Oyster Card.
This little card allows you to travel all around London by tube and bus. There are a number of options with this card and anyone behind the counter at the station will be happy to help, but i’m sure all stations will be packed for the Olympics so i’ll you give my advice.
I suggest buying an Oyster Card with a weekly travel pass for £25. The card itself is £5, so your total for one week would be £30, for two weeks, £50. You then select which zones you will be travelling in. If you’re in central London, zones 1 and 2 should cover it. You can top up your card with an extra £10 in case you travel out of the zones you have selected so it can be automatically deducted from your card. This card covers unlimited travel between buses and tubes so instead of paying every time you hop on and off, it’s one set price. Any questions can be answered on the TFL website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/
What to see/What do do
We could be here all day if I were to tell you all the magnificent things to see and do in London. If you’ve never been, i’d suggest you do all the touristy sightseeing because it really is amazing. I’ll make a brief list of ideas of what to do, see, and eat. You can also check out my London page here for ideas.
Take a picture with Big Ben and walk around Parliament Square, obviously
Ride the London Eye and walk by the river on South Bank
Take a River bus from London Eye Millennium to Greenwich
For a different view, visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and climb alllll the stairs to the top
Photo opps at Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus…
Walk through or have a picnic in Hyde Park and St. James Park
For shopping or to wander: Harrods, Selfridges, Oxford Street, & King’s Road
Go to the Theatre for a show or musical
Wander around Covent Garden & Neal’s Yard Wander around Soho
Wander around Leicester Square (pronounced Lester no Li-ches-ter you Yanks)
Go see Portobello Road and wander around Notting Hill
Free museums! V&A, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Museum, etc.
Go clubbing in Mayfair
Alright, I think you’ll be plenty busy with all of that.
I could literally do this all day, but i’ll just put some of my favourites for taking visitors. Afternoon Tea: one of my favourites is Sketch or the famous Savoy
Borough Market: Foodie Heaven. You must go here!
Visit Camden Town and go to the Food Market on a Sunday: whilst in Camden, pop into Chin Chin Laboratorists for the most amazing liquid nitrogen ice cream
Go to Brick Lane on a Sunday and visit the Food Market
Harrods and Selfridges Food Hall
My favourite Italian lunch: Princi
Fresh, Healthy lunch: Ottolenghi Best Breakfast: Modern Pantry
Best Fish & Chips: The Rock & Sole Plaice in Covent Garden
Best burgers: MEATliquor
Best Sushi: Yashin, Roka, and Nobu are pricey but phenomenal – Tsunami is more reasonable
Best Lebanese: Maroush is incredible and has locations all over London
Beautiful Afternoon in Richmond Park with lunch at Petersham Nurseries
Gorgeous desserts, the best macarons, and some good dim sum: Yautcha
If you’re starving whilst out and about and need something quick, pop into a Pret for a fresh, reasonably healthy sandwich. These are just as prevalent as Starbucks and should not be hard to find.
Alright, I think that’s a good starting point and i’m sure you already have plenty ideas of what to do. If you have any ideas or suggestions that i’ve missed, feel free to leave a comment.
I hope you have a memorable trip to London and that this post has been helpful! Take lots of pictures and have fun!