Wednesday, January 23, 2019

London Travel Tips for First-Timers

If you're reading this, then you're probably doing a lot of research on your upcoming London trip. I myself spent hours going on different sites and reading various blogs to help me and hubby plan for our vacation last November 2018. So here's a list of some of my tips to make your planning a bit easier based on my personal experience.


Of course, applying and getting approved for a tourist visa are the first steps in your adventure. Read all about my detailed guide on how I got a UK Tourist Visa (from the Philippines) HERE.


I think that as long as you are near a train station in Central London, you'll be fine. As for us, we decided to stay in the Paddington area since that was where I found affordable hotels, plus easiest access to airport.

I booked via before I even applied for our visa so there was free cancellation just in case. We stayed at the Royal Cambridge Hotel, just a few minutes walk from Paddington Station (very important since we would be walking with our heavy luggages!). There were also lots of restaurants and souvenir shops in the vicinity.

The neighborhood. The whole row of buildings on the right are actually different hotels, including ours.


The Heathrow Express is the fastest way to travel from Heathrow Airport, going direct to Paddington Station in just 15 minutes. But it's more expensive than the regular train, although you can get cheaper tickets when buying in advance.

We took the TFL Rail Train (from Heathrow Terminal 4) which is a cheaper and slower alternative to the Heathrow Express. It basically runs the same route between Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station, but with stops. It takes 30 minutes, which really isn't a big difference especially if you're not pressed for time.

We arrived at night so we rode the train at around 9pm. Super comfortable and there were hardly any other passengers!


Read HERE to know more about the different travel passes (Oyster vs. Travelcard or both) and what would work best for you.

As for us, we decided to use an Oyster card for the duration of our trip. An Oyster card is a smart card that you add money to, so you can pay as you go. Oyster cards are charged on a per journey basis but has a daily maximum. Once you hit this 'price cap', you are no longer charged for subsequent journeys made that day. So very cost efficient if you make 3 or more trips in a day.

We bought our Oyster card when we arrived at the airport. There are self-service ticket machines right before you enter the train station (this was at Heathrow Terminal 4). We used this for all train and bus travel in Central London, except when we went to Windsor Castle which needed separate tickets. We would also just top up every few days or as needed.

our initial load was £15 per card

We refunded our deposit/unused amount at the Heathrow Airport station before flying back home. You also get to keep the cards as a souvenir.


There's so much to do in London that your itinerary will really depend on your interests, what you want to see, and how much time you have. This BLOG was very helpful when I was planning our itinerary around London. I especially found their walking map very useful, with attractions that are in the same vicinity grouped together (which will save you a lot of time and energy travelling from one location to the next).

The farthest we ventured out of Central London was Windsor Castle and we didn't take any day trips anymore to places like Stonehenge/Bath (since hubby already went before and I wasn't really interested in going as well). We did take a 4 day trip to Edinburgh, Scotland which I highly recommend visiting if you have time.

Windsor Castle


The London Pass is a sightseeing pass (available for 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 consecutive days) which gives you access to a choice of over 80 attractions in the city.

I was contemplating whether to get one but after studying it more, figured that we wouldn't be able to maximize it anyway. It really depends on your itinerary and the places you want to visit. In order to make the most out of the pass and save money, you have to visit 3-4 attractions a day which is possible, but in my opinion very hectic and tiring.

In our case, the only places we actually entered and explored that were included in the pass were Windsor Castle and Tower of London. The other attractions included in the pass like Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Kensington Palace, Shakespeare's Globe Theater are places we visited but didn't enter anymore (in short, nag picture lang kami sa labas lol).


Example is the Harry Potter Studio Tour which does not allow walk-ins and must be purchased in advanced.

Also be sure to check on the opening dates and hours for any of your must-see attractions (ex. if you want to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace). Some places are closed for one day per week while others may be closed due to renovation or a special event.


If you have a tight budget, there are many things to do in London that are free.

There's free museums like the Museum of London, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum and many more.

National Gallery

You can take a stroll or have a picnic in Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens...

Or just go around looking at the pretty houses in Notting Hill...

You can also go window shopping in Harrods, one of the world's most famous department stores. I was amazed how huge this place was!

If you like nice views of the city, check out the Sky Garden, London’s highest public garden. You just need to book online beforehand to secure a slot. I suggest right before sunset so you get a view during the day and at night. Saves you £32.00 instead of going to the top of The Shard.

Check HERE for other free London activities.


Citymapper was very useful in helping us navigate our way around London. It's a super handy app with up to the minute train, tube and bus information. We mostly used the train but because of the app, we were also able to successfully use the bus a couple of times without getting lost. ;p


For those who are planning to go to Edinburgh, Scotland from London, I highly recommend taking a train (vs. plane). If you check the flights, travel time is just 1 hour 20 minutes compared to 4-5 hours on the train. But if you study it carefully, you would have to fly from a much farther airport in London (Stansted or Luton Airport which is more than an hour away from the city), be there 2 hours before your flight, and then travel at least 30 minutes from Edinburgh airport to get to the city center. If you total your travel time, it would be almost the same or even more than taking the train!

Another plus for taking the train is you won't have to deal with security checks or worrying about baggage weight. You are also treated to amazing scenery the whole ride. The train then arrives at Edinburgh Waverley Station which is right smack where the action is (we even just walked to our hotel). We booked our train tickets via and I'll make a separate more detailed post on our whole Scotland adventure.

Btw, we stayed in the same hotel in London when we got back from Edinburgh. So we were able to ask the Royal Cambridge Hotel if we could leave our 2 big luggages with them while we were at Edinburgh. They agreed, so we were able to bring just our handcarry bags which was so convenient!


We went early November so it was already super cold, but not freezing. Anyway, as with any trip, always check the weather forecast for the day and bring an umbrella since London weather can be unpredictable. It rained a few times when we were there, but the rain was just light. Not like here in Manila na downpour talaga.


The UK uses a three-pin plug. You can easily buy a travel adapter from any hardware shop.


If you're planning to go shopping the UK, you're eligible for a tax refund when you spend over the minimum purchase amount of £30 in a single transaction. Goods with 0% VAT are not included though, like most food items, books, newspapers and magazines, and children's clothes.

When paying for your purchases, ask for a Tax Free Form (if they don't offer you one). Then at the airport, you have to go to the customs desk before checking-in your flight and present your completed Tax Free Form, passport, receipts and purchases to get the refund.

I was worried that they needed to see the items I bought since I mostly shopped in Primark and had used some of the stuff already haha! We also bought toys from The Lego Store and we removed them from their boxes since it was so bulky.

But good thing they didn't ask to see the items anymore, probably because it was a minimal amount. They would probably need to check the items if they were expensive. ;p

Anyway, the amount was refunded to my credit card the following month.

So hopefully, all of these tips will help you in planning your dream London vacation! The internet is really your friend since you'll be able to get all the information you need online. So good luck and happy travels!

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