Travel Advice - London, UK


If you are traveling with us to the 2020 International Reunion in Long Melford, please be sure to review important general information here as well as our travel advice for Long Melford.


London Tourist Guide

For maps and vaious helpful links, be sure to check out VisitLondon.com.


Official London Pass  

Consider purchasing the London Pass. It includes a one day hop-on, hop-off bus tour to help you get oriented and admission fees to dozens of popular London attractions plus fast-pass entry at many sites. 


Getting To and From London 

It is much cheaper, and also faster during the daytime to travel between London and Heathrow by taking a tube ride rather than a taxi. The fastest and most expensive tube trip, the Heathrow Express, goes to Paddington Station, which isn't close to any of the places we like to stay. Especially when we have arrived at Heathrow well before our hotel will allow check-in, we just take the local train using our Oyster Card, enjoy the views, and get off at a station closest to where we are lodging. If transporting luggage up two or three flights of stairs will be a problem, make sure to choose a tube stop with elevator service, and plan to take a taxi from that station to your hotel. You can find information regarding stations with step-free access at Wheelchair Access & Avoiding Stairs or the London Underground's Avoiding Stairs Tube Guide.  You can purchase Visitor Oyster Cards (see link below) at the airport or in advance of your trip to use for discounted fare for your tube trip, using any major credit card.

If you are taking a morning flight out, we recommend staying at or near Heathrow, to avoid travel delays that might cause you to miss your flight.  Heathrow takes the “check-in 2 hours before flight rule” seriously.  On our last Clopton Reunion trip, we arrived at check-in 45 minutes before flight time but were told that we were too late to board.  So we had to pay fees for a flight change and stay at a hotel until the next morning, at considerable expense.

Heathrow now has four hotels connected to Terminal 4 by underground passageways and about a walk that is shorter than the walk to the tube station.  Less expensive hotels can be found on the periphery of the airport, but this trip we plan to stay at the Holiday Inn Terminal 4 for the convenience of not having to get our luggage onto buses or into cabs to travel between the hotel and the airport. 

Listed by cost (lowest first), here are a blogger’s recent reviews of the four Terminal 4 hotels, with links to the hotel sites themselves. These hotels would also be good places to stay on the way to Long Melford for anyone arriving on Sunday, the 28th.  One caveat:  I read in a review of the Crowne Plaza that a guest nearly missed his 7:00 am flight out of Heathrow because he couldn't get access to the walkway at 5:00 am and couldn't get a taxi or bus at that time either. Attendees planning to stay at one of these hotels should plan later morning flights, order a taxi the night before, or make arrangements with the chosen hotel to gain exit to the walkway in the early morning. 


Getting Around London

Don’t even think about renting a car to get around in London. The streets are much too congested,  it is too easy to take a wrong turn, and parking is non-existent or extremely expensive.

Instead, consider a Visitor Oyster Card, which offers discounts off single-fare ticket prices and is the most cost-effective way to travel around England's capital city.  It is a pre-loaded smart card that lets you skip ticket lines for quick access to the Tube, buses, Tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services. You can add money to your card, as needed, at any tube station and thousands of shops across London. London is much bigger than it looks on the map, cabs are expensive and cabs and buses move slowly in the congested day time traffic; so when you are in a hurry, take the tube.  When you can, avoid traveling outside zones 1 and 2 in early morning (6:30 -9:30 am) and evening (4 to 7 pm) peak hour periods during week days when fares will be higher.  However, there is a daily cap on fees that will be deducted from the card, so if you will be in and out of the tube several times in a day, peak charges won’t matter.  See https://www.visitbritainshop.com/usa/~/media/files/pdfs/tr20200003%20voc%20onlineukv1%20004%202020.ashx? for rates, caps, and savings 

Keep your card at the end of the trip - whether or not it still has money on it - because it doesn't expire and you can save the loading fee (currently 5 GBP) by using the same card the next time you go to London.  Children under 11 travel free with a fare-paying adult, and discounts are available for children aged 11 to 15.  There is no discount for seniors.

When time allows and we are going a long distance, we love to travel on the upper deck of a bus and enjoy the views. Indeed, we sometimes will travel a long bus route from its beginning to end, just to see the sights. By serendipity, we have discovered some lovely areas and small museums this way.  An online bus route map is available at https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/bus.


Lodging

You will save a lot of money if you find lodging that is:

  1. very close to a tube station
  2. has a nearby bus stop
  3. has nearby grocery stores with takeout food

Tube and other transfer fares will be lower if your lodging is in Zones 1-3.  If you choose lodging outside those zones (which will be substantially cheaper), balance the room price savings against the increase in Oyster Card transit fees as you travel around, longer transit times and the inconvenience of not being able to get back to your lodgings in mid-day to drop off purchases and take rests.

If you are staying in a hotel, we recommend taking a package that includes breakfasts.  Eat heartily, and plan to have a late lunch.  Consider eating dinner in your hotel room.

Here are a few sites that may help you find lodging; if you Google on “London Hotels” or a variation of that keyword, you will find many more:


Shopping

We used to love antique shopping in London’s flea markets and stores, but currently find that we do much better on eBay. If the experience of a market is desired, we recommend:

  • Bermondsey Square Antique Market. Friday mornings from 6 am to 2 pm. This used to be our favorite, but when last visited, it had shrunk down to a few dozen stalls with mediocre merchandise.
  • Portobello Road. Saturday mornings. This has always been a crowded tourist trap, but we used to find some quality items at this location. It has dwindled from year to year. On our last trip, we decided not to visit.
  • Camden Passage Market. This locale has some interesting shops that are open most days, but main market days offer more kiosks and stalls on Wednesday and Saturday from 9 am - 6 pm.

If you liked the BBC production, Selfridges, you may enjoy visiting the flagship store at 400 Oxford Street:  https://www.selfridges.com/US/en/features/info/stores/london/.  Another famous upscale department store is Harrods of London, at 85-137 Brompton Road:  https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/designers/harrods-of-london.  See also https://traveltriangle.com/blog/london-shopping/ and https://www.city-walks.info/London-en/Shopping.html.

Be forewarned though, that a 20% Value Added Tax (VAT) will be charged on most of your purchases (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value-added_tax_in_the_United_Kingdom), and that you may also be required to pay duty when you bring the goods through US customs (see   https://www.smartertravel.com/customs-duty-free-guide/).


Museums and Galleries

Most museums and public galleries have lunchrooms that  offer reasonable prices. Three of our favorites are:

Other free (except for special exhibits) museums and galleries we like include:

  • The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square (diverse collection of art, photographs, theatrical memorabilia, etc.).
  • The Museum of London (150 London Wall, in Docklands; history of London from prehistoric times to present).
  • The Natural History Museum (On Cromwell Road, near the Victoria & Albert; kids will especially like the dinosaur exhibits; the Museum of Science is nearby).
  • The British Museum (On Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury; archeology and culture exhibits, with fabulous collection of Greek and Egyptian art and artifacts).
  • Tate Britain (Milbank Road near Vauxhall Bridge; British art from the 1500’s, featuring a wonderful collection of Turner paintings as well as paintings by other British artists).
  • Tate Modern (Holland Street, Southworks; International modern and contemporary art. Also check out its fabulous garden.
  • The Imperial War Museum (Lambeth Road in Lambeth; features a fine collection of artifacts of various wars, including uniforms, arms, planes, tanks, and a memorable reconstruction of a World War I trench).


Churches

London is filled with lovely old churches, with doors left open so that you can wonder inside.  Sometimes you will come across a rehearsal or concert; in any event they are a good place to sit and contemplate when your feet need a rest.  The two most famous:

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral, save the 20 GBP admission charge and instead attend one of its free services.  We especially like the 45-minute choral Evensong service that starts at 5 pm and the 10:15 am to 11:15 am choral matins on Sunday morning.
  • Westminster Abbey, save the admission fee by enjoying an Evensong or organ recital. These are held at various times; please check the Worship & Music schedule for more information.

See also the following site for information about other exceptional churches and cathedrals:   https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/the-most-beautiful-churches-and-cathedrals-in-london/.

For information on churches sorted by borough with denominational information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_churches_in_London#Kensington_and_Chelsea.


Other Free things to Do


Paid Theater and Concerts

Especially in summer, London is full of tourists and the best shows sell out well in advance, so consider booking early.  However, if you feel lucky, consider this last minute purchase office at Leicester Square where you can only  purchase tickets in person for that day or the next two days, sometimes at substantial discounts:  https://officiallondontheatre.com/tkts/  Websites that facilitate advance ticket purchases and provide reviews include the following. You will find many more sites with a Google search.


Downton Abbey

Two websites to review if you are a Downton Abbey fan are:


Greenwich

It is well worth taking time for a day trip to Greenwich. It is easily reached by taking the Northern or Central tube line to Bank Station, where you transfer to the Docklands Rail line. This will take you to the Cutty Sark stop in Greenwich, via an above-ground rail line with excellent views of the developing Docklands area. Travel time from central London is about 40 minutes. Greenwich can also be reached by boat, by bus, and a walkway underneath the River Thames.  For boat trips, see https://www.visitbritainshop.com/usa/hop-on-hop-off-river-roamer-thames-cruise-and-emirates-air-line-cable-car/.

Guided walks are available from the Greenwich Tourist Information Center, located near the Cutty Sark. That ship is an old sailing schooner that is open to the public for a substantial admission charge. The town of Greenwich is very quaint and has many interesting antique stores and shops. The town hosts a mediochre antiques and collectibles market every Thursday from 7:30 am - 5:30 pm. There are many family style eateries there, as well. The town counsel hosts a website with links to all of the major tourist sites.

All of the major sites are pleasant walks from the Cutty Sark. Among our favorites (all with admission charges; some covered by a London Pass):

  • Ranger’s House. Built in the early 18th century, this lovely mansion now houses the Suffolk Collection of 53 paintings that formerly hung at Malmesbury in Wiltshire. Malmesbury was built by Catherine Knyvet, second wife of Thomas Howard, who was the first Earl of Suffolk [relationship to Thomasine Knyvet (b. ca. 1454), second wife of Sir William Clopton (b. ca. 1450) not determined]. A large and lovely portrait of Catherine, painted by William Larkin around 1615, has an appropriately prominent position in the mansion’s main drawing room. The collection includes portraits of some of their descendants and their spouses. Some portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyke and Sir Peter Lely are in the collection.  The museum is best reached by strolling up the steep path on the right side of Greenwich Royal Park, behind the Maritime Museum, to the top of the hill.  After admiring the view and the rose garden, follow the signs to the entrance.
  • National Maritime Museum.  Plan to spend several hours in this huge museum, with its many exhibits concerning British naval history and navigation.  There are many “hands on” exhibits that appeal both to children and adults.
  • The Royal Observatory.  Greenwich meantime is determined from the meridian that runs through the observatory.  The museum features interesting exhibits about the history of astronomy, and has a planetarium with shows.  It is adjacent to the National Maritime Museum.
  • Queen's House.  Designed by Inigo Jones in 1616, the Palladian-style mansion that Charles I gave to his wife, Henrietta Maria, in 1635, now hosts the extensive fine art collection of the National Maritime Museum.


Rental Cars for Outside London

Again, don’t even think about renting a car in London for travel to Long Melford or elsewhere; London streets are much too congested, it is too easy to take a wrong turn, and returning the car to London will be time-consuming and expensive.  Instead, either rent a car at the airport (after staying overnight at an airport hotel to get over jet lag if you are just arriving) or take a train to Cambridge or another location outside London, and rent your car there.  The United Kingdom no longer prohibits rentals to seniors who are 70 years or older, but some rental companies may refuse to rent to older persons.


Contributed by Susan Henderson:  henderson@ameritech.net 

If you have any questions, please contact Susan or:

  1. CFA Secretary/Treasurer, Pat Clopton Wheeler, at 325-773-2714 or pacw2@sbcglobal.net
  2. CFA Vice-President, Judy Timmons, at 803-782-6880 or judyhtimmons@yahoo.com