Top tips for visiting London for the first time … Part One

Get an Oyster card

 

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If you only buy one thing when you get to London, make it an Oyster card. ( £5 deposit is payable) These handy pay-as-you cards are issued by Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk) and make travel on London’s buses, trains and tubes much cheaper and easier. Using an oyster doesn’t just save time, but it saves money, a central London cash tube journey is £4.20, while using an Oyster card the fare is only £2.20. Can be picked up any tube station including Heathrow, and Oyster ticket shops.

Get a London A to Z Map Book

 

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Despite everyone owning a smart phone , nothing will replace the humble A to Z London map book.Long after your phone battery has died , the A to Z is worth its weight in gold with every London street clearly marked , you can pick one up at any bookstore.

Get good waterproofs

London is well known for its unpredictable weather. The day may start sunny & bright but by lunchtime there could be torrential downpours, ALWAYS carry a foldable mac or an umbrella you have been warned

Do your Web Research

There are a number of sites to check that will save you cash, & give you itinerary ideas here’s are a few of the most popular

http://www.lastminute.com – as it says on tin last minute deals for literally everything Hotels , trips , attractions , spa days , show tickets .

http://www.opentable.co.uk – a London restaurant discount booking site that finds the closest restaurants to your location or budget , discounts can be up to 50% off.

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com– not necessarily a tourist site , but sometimes they have great deals for all so worth checking out.

http://www.airbnb.co.uk
With the average London hotel room hitting £160 per night, AirBNB is an ideal solution to finding accommodation . Also by having an apartment, you can make your own meals saving more cash for that big night out. Just pick somewhere near to transport links and within zone 3 of the tube map as a rule so your not wasting time travelling back & forth.

http://www.southbanklondon.com – For all things cultural in London , theatre , gallery events , art , head to the the Southbank located steps from London Waterloo station on the river always good for an afternoon stroll.

See London from the River

 

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Cruising down the Thames is a great way to see London and rest your weary legs. Check out http://www.thamesclipper.com for times & routes and the good news is you can use your oyster card for a discounted fare.

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Check out the best free view in London

The Sky Garden , aka the walkie talkie building is London’s best kept secret , located across the river from the famous London Shard which charges an eye watering £32 to check out the views down the Thames, book into the Sky Garden for totally Free entry for the same view , plus you get a shot of the shard in all your pictures , the only catch is you need to book in advance at https://skygarden.london . There is also a cafe and restaurant at the top so maybe splash out on dinner with the money saved on entry fees.

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Check out Londons best Museums

Great activity for a rainy day there will be a few rainy days , no matter what time of year you visit, this is London it rains accept it. London’s museums are world class and more importantly most are FREE , here are the main ones not to miss ….

British Museum

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Where: Bloomsbury
Open: 10am-5.30pm every day, till 8.30pm Fri. Closed 1 Jan, Good Fri and 24-26 Dec.
Description: An always busy and always fascinating collection of over eight million objects. Themes include Leaders & Rulers, Animals, and Money.

Museum of London

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Where: London Wall
Open: Every day 10am-6pm. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Description: One of the world’s largest urban history museums. Exhibitions include the story of modern London from 1666 to today.

Science Museum

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Where: South Kensington
Open: Every day 10am-6pm, except 24-26 Dec.
Description: Vast museum of advancements in science, medicine, technology and industry. Suitable for young and old alike.

Natural History Museum

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Where: South Kensington
Open: Every day 10am-5.50pm. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Description: Life and earth science specimens in five collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology.

National Portrait Gallery

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Where: Just off Trafalgar Square
Open: Every day 10am-6pm. Thu-Fri until 9pm.
Description: Founded in 1856, it has over 195,000 portraits, from modern subjects to paintings from the 16th century.

For more ideas on what to do and what to see check out the official Visit London Website https://www.visitlondon.com

 

Virgin Trains 1st Class London to Liverpool ….

I was in Euston station, for my first trip on Virgin Trains, up to Liverpool. I was excited to bag a seat up front in first class, but what’s it really like ?, is it worth it? , it was time for me to get on board & check it out.

The Lounges

  
  Euston’s first class lounge


Liverpool Lime Street first  class lounge 

On a first class ticket your entitled to lounge access , but before you get all excited, it’s nothing like the Virgin Atlantic clubhouse , much to my bitter disappointment.

To be honest it’s somewhere to grab a snack , and escape from the crowds. There’s pay bar , with free soft & hot drinks and a few snacks which were pretty thin on the ground. Limited to crisps, biscuits and some sorry looking fruit. I wouldn’t bother getting to the station early just to spend time in the lounge, but if you find yourself with time to kill before your train its worth popping in for a cuppa.

On Board

This is where the magic happens, the first class carriages  are usually grouped together at the front of the train , shut off from the rest of the train with frosted glass to keep out prying eyes.

 Plenty of room to swing a cat or two 

The first class carriage was nice and spacious , with plenty of room to stretch out. Seats are configured on a table of 4 or 2, and every seat has a power point , so perfect for keeping everything in your electronic arsenal  fully charged. Though I’m disappointed to report, the promised free wifi failed to work at all on both legs of the journey, which was a bit of a bummer.
 Table for two 

About half an hour into leaving Euston , the food & drink service started passing through the carriage. Wine & spirits are free on board , and the food choice served is dependant on the time of day . As I was travelling mid afternoon it was mainly sandwiches & salads on offer.  I had dinner plans in Liverpool , so my deli plate successfully plugged the gap til I made it to dinner .


Yay it’s the Wine Trolley

  Mid afternoon food offering
 Ain’t no party like a in seat vodka party 

Even going to the loo gave me a bit of a giggle, in typical witty Virgin style.

But Is it worth it ? 

Virgin Trains regularly run special fares, and the on board experience in first class  is definitely worth the splurge , especially during busy periods as you can pick your seat when booking, so you know exactly where you’ll be sitting.

On weekends you can pay £15 on the train to upgrade your standard ticket to an available first class seat , but there’s no free alcohol and the food is limited to a small snack box. But it’s worth it for the comfort and power socket especially on longer journeys. The seat & space are the main factors your paying for here.

Weekend food offering in first class 

With journey time to Liverpool an extremely swift 2 hours, and fares bookable up to 24 weeks in advance , starting from just £16.50 each way travelling to Liverpool, was speedy efficient, and extremely comfortable, they just need to work on getting that Wifi up and running .

Check out all their UK destinations at http://www.virgintrains.co.uk

Please note my ticket to Liverpool was generously provided by virgin trains in order to write this review. 

Sky Gardens London’s best views for free  

Visiting Londons best free view at the sky garden

It’s been criticised for feeling like an airport terminal, perched on top floors of London’s walkie talkie building.

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The Sky Garden is officially London’s highest public garden , and the waiting list for a free entry slot is now rumoured to be over 3 months long, the word on London’s best new freebie is certainly out of the bag.

 

As soon as you step out of the lift on the 35th floor, there’s an airport terminal feel about it., but don’t let that put you off. To be fair the garden part is pretty sparse , but this is totally forgotten when you catch sight of the view.

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Londons best free view

 

The Shard is slap bang in the middle of your eye line. You can be smug in the knowledge that you’ve saved yourself the Shards pricy £25 entry fee,  and the angle is perfect for that Shard Selfie from the outside terrace.

 

Shard selfie time …

 

With the Gherkin and Cheese Grater building to the rear , and a birds eye view on the Tower of London to the left, the view is pretty amazing from all angles.

 

View down the Thames

 

Great views from all angles …

And with the entry money saved you can splash out a glass of wine from the Sky Pod, located on the atrium floor which serves coffees , wine , and bar snacks . 

 

Great spot for a glass of wine

My top tip is to book a late afternoon slot, when the day trippers have all gone home then you can watch the sun sink into the Thames. So hurry and book your slot now , and you might get in before the summer !! Highly recommended.

Book your free slot through http://www.skygarden.london  

 

Night time at the Sky Garden

 

My YotelAir Experience #LondonHeathrow

London Heathrow has been like my second home this year, but I must admit, I’d never thought to check out short stay hotel specialists Yotel, located in Heathrow’s Terminal 4.

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Previously dismissing it as, paying to sleep in a coffin sized room, I was pleasantly surprised when the folks at Yotel, invited me to stop by, and check them out. With an early flight, long before the tubes started running, it was the perfect solution, as you book in blocks of time rather than the usual overnight, so if you only need 4 hours that’s all you pay for. Arriving around 10pm and checking out at 5am the next morning here’s my experience;

It helps, if like myself , you had a hotel stay in Hong Kong. The apartment I spent a week in, was twice the price and roughly the same size, so when I opened the door, the size of the room didn’t phase me. And whilst the room isn’t by any means big, there’s more than enough room for 2 adults to move around.

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So what’s in the Room ?

The bed converts from a couch to a bed at the press of a button, when your ready to go to sleep. There’s a row of handy plug sockets and strong free wifi to keep Blogger HQ running, as well as loads of lighting opinions, including sexy purple for couples.

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The bathroom is a normal sized wet room, my only gripe is , when you have a shower, and then want to go to the loo your going to get wet feet, as there’s nothing to contain the water.

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With free hot drinks from reception aka Mission Control, I had a Blake Seven flashback when I was walking to my room , but you’ll have to be over 40 to get that joke .

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Yes there’s no windows, bell boys or plush lobby areas like the Hilton upstairs, but it depends on what you want. If you can put the bill on your expense account, then Yotel is probably not going to be your first choice. But for your average traveller, looking for somewhere to grab 40 winks on a layover, or myself got a crack of dawn flight Yotel is a great option.

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I could definitely spend a weekend in a Yotel , especially as I spotted that at the New York Yotel, some pods even have a deck and hot tub and presumedly windows or that would just be plain weird.

Yotel delivers what it says on the tin, its clean, efficient and comfortable.
I will definitely be giving their New York pad a look when I pass thru town, to give that hot tub party for one a whirl.

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For more information about Yotel and its locations check out http://www.yotel.com

Please note the room was complementary in order for me to write this review , but as usual the opinions are all mine

Ten Things To Do in Derry, Northern Ireland 

As Northern Ireland’s second city , Derry has certainly had a troubled past . But after being named 2013’s City of Culture and named by Lonely Planet’s as one of the top 5 cities to visit, things are certainly very much on the up for Derry.

Derry is a safe , vibrant city, rich in cultural heritage and more importantly compact with the help of the walls is easy enough to cover in an extended weekend break.

1. Walk the Wall
Built in the early 17th century, Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. The Wall celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2013 and has been listed as one of the ‘World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die (UNESCO)’. The wall is over a mile in circumference, standing 26 feet high and 30 feet wide in places, it also boasts twenty-four original cannons , including the mighty Roaring Meg and is popular with the locals for an afternoon stroll to take in the great views over the River Foyle.

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2. Have some Proper Irish Stew
An Irish staple, made with mutton, root vegetables, potatoes and lashings of gravy, be sure to make time to have an authentic Irish stew.

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3.Discover Derry’s Story at the Tower Museum
The impressively Tower Museum tells the story of Derry’s history, from its geological formation millions of years ago, right up to the present day, covering everything from the Plantation, through to the Siege of Derry and the city’s troubled political past. The museum also houses the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which deals with the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera which was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal. Well worth an afternoon visit.

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4. Get the guided tour with Martin
What local man, Martin Mc Crossan and his team don’t know about Derry, just isn’t worth knowing . With 4 walking tours a day at 10am, 12 midday, 2pm and 4pm , there’s no need to book just turn up. Its a great way to get your bearing and an overview of the cities history. http://www.derrycitytours.com/

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5.The People’s Gallery of Murals
The world famous open air People’s Gallery consists of twelve large scale murals by 3 brothers known as the Bogside artists. The People’s Gallery, is located in the Bogside neighbourhood of Derry and depicts the events surrounding sectarian violence and civil rights protests in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Well worth a look.

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6.Walk the Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is a cycle and footbridge bridge across the River Foyle in Derry. It opened on 25 June 2011, connecting Ebrington Square with the rest of the city centre. It was built to help to improve relations between the largely unionist ‘Waterside’ with the largely nationalist ‘Cityside’, by improving access between the two areas.

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7.Visit the Bogside
Whilst Derry is now moving forward into the future, and trying to leave its previous troubles in the past. Its impossible to ignore what happened here, over 40 years ago on Bloody Sunday. There’s a Bloody Sunday Memorial garden, as well as the iconic, You are entering a Free Derry wall.

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8. Visit St Columb’s Cathedral
St. Columb’s Cathedral was built in 1633 by William Parrot for the Honourable The Irish Society, The Cathedral has many fine stained glass windows, regimental flags, memorials and a large collection of historical items. And is the city’s most historic building

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9.Check out the Peace Flame
Situated at the side of the Guildhall in the center of Derry, you’ll find this small park, In May 2013 a perpetual Peace Flame Monument was unveiled by Martin Luther King III and is one of only 15 such flames across the world. Great place to stop and take a breather on one of the benches.

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10. Get out of Town
After taking in sights of Derry, its time to get out of town and on to the Causeway Coastal Route. Rated as one of the Top Five Road Trips worldwide. The route runs between Belfast and Derry and follows the coast road through the nine Glens of Antrim, winding between various picturesque villages, deserted sandy beaches and unforgettable scenic locations. The route highlight is the unesco world heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast which is approximately an hours drive from Derry. If you fancy taking in sights at a leisurely pace check out Causeway Campers, they have cute converted original VW camper vans, perfect for a few days on the road. http://causewaycampers.com/

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What I love about London , and you should too…

Its official London, has been voted the worlds favourite tourist destination. With 18.7 million visitors expected this year, a whooping 8% rise from last year.
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As a Londoner born and bred, sure its a bit manic sometimes, and yes the weather is lousy and its getting more and more expensive to live here, but there’s is no place else I’d rather call home.

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So here are my top loves about London, and if your one of the 18.7 million making it to our fair city this year, be sure to check them out for yourselves.

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There’s always something going on London is definitely a place you can never get bored, there is always something happening everyday of the week. An opening here, a pop up there and festivals galore. Check out ONINLONDON (www.oninonline.com) a great site for letting you know what’s on in and around London, also includes local events if you want to experience real London.

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Museums
It always catches me out when I travel abroad,and I’m asked to pay to go into a museum. In London, we like to share the love with free entry for all. Here’s my personal faves.
British Museum
fascinating collection of over eight million objects. Themes include Leaders & Rulers, Animals, and Money.

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Museum of London
One of the world’s largest urban history museums. Exhibitions include the story of modern London from 1666 to today.

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Science Museum
science, medicine, technology and industry. Suitable for young and old alike.

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Natural History Museum
Life and earth science specimens in five collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology.

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Parks
Londoners love a park , Green , Regents or Hyde even Hampstead are all great spaces, find a deckchair and do a spot of people watching.

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Markets
There’s nothing better on a weekend than, getting up and having a wander round the local market. My personal favs are Columbia road Flower Market in Hackney on a Sunday morning from 8am and Borough Market in London Bridge open every day but Sunday is a Foodies paradise, and the smell around the market hall is sublime.

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The Southbank
The place to hang out on a weekend , there’s always some festival, or event happening, or you can just hang out with a coffee. I also like popping into Festival Hall to check out the free exhibitions.

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Brick Lane
If you want a decent curry in London, its got to be brick lane, in the heart of Banglatown. Though be sure to do your research as there’s loads of restaurants to choose from, a rule of thumb is if its filled with Bangladeshi’s your usually good to go.

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Theatre
London is bursting at the seams with theatres, from long running thrillers to a feel good musical. In order to save the pennies, I usually head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Sq to check out what’s going cheap.

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So these are some of my London Loves , leave a comment and let me know yours !!!

Sightseeing in London by Air , Land & Sea … 

So you arrive in London ready to see the sights, but you don’t fancy the usual hop on hop off , bland guided tours on offer. Not only are they pretty expensive for a family, but theres no chances of mingling with us lovely Londoners.

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If you really want to see the real London , firstly it helps if you’ve ready my Top London Essentials post, just case read you haven’t, read it Here https://eatsleepshoottravelblog.com/2014/07/28/top-london-tourist-essentials-hometown-tourist-project/
Armed with your Oyster card & AtoZ London is your oyster, hence the name I presume. London here we come ..

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Air

Its possible to see London from the air from as little as £4.00, so avoid the daily scrum and huge queues at the London Eye and head to Monument Tower. Located round the corner from Monument tube station the 202 ft tower was building in commemoration of the great fire of London by Sir Christopher Wren. There’s over 300 steps to the top via 1 winding staircase so leave the buggy’s at home for this one but when you reach the top you get an excellent via of the Shard and all along the River Thames down to Tower Bridge. Open daily 9am to 5pm, go at the start or end of the day to avoid the dreaded tour groups.

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If you have cash to splash, check out
The London Helicopter
http://www.thelondonhelicopter.com/
From £199pp for a 20 minute whizz over the rooftops of London, its great for that special occasion.

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Land

The best way to see London is either on foot ( that’s where the AtoZ is worth its weight in gold ) or from the top deck of a Red London Bus.

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Whenever I travel,the first thing I do when I get to a new town, is check out the free walking tours. Now of course they’re not really free , you’d have to be a real scumbag not to leave a tip , though I did once in paris it was just so boring, I had to ditch the walk in the first 20 minutes. The great thing about the free tours, it hasn’t cost you a bean. If you are lucky to get a great guide and enjoy your tour paying £10/15 per head as a average tip,
here’s a few to get you started:

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http://freelondonwalkingtours.com/

http://www.freetoursoflondon.com/

http://www.newlondon-tours.com/daily-tours/royal-london-free-tour.html

http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-walking-tours/

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If you don’t fancy all the walk be sure to jump on the heritage route number 15 bus taking you from Trafalgar Square down to Tower Hill . Its pretty special as it’s the only route that still uses the original Routemaster buses, and you can you use your Oyster card as its the normal fare.

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Sea (well river really but sea sounded better )

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One of the best ways to see London and get your bearings is from the river, The Thames Clipper is mainly a commuter service stretching from Waterloo down to Woolwich Arsenal
but as a tourist the best stops are:
Greenwich for the National Maritime Museum
Tower Pier for London Bridge & the Tower of London
London Bridge for the Shard & Borough Market and best of all you can use your oyster. The Thames Clipper thankfully has clean loos & you can even get a cheeky drink to sip out on the deck and pretend you on your own yacht , with 100 of your new friends. Fares from £6.12 single with your oyster or the best value for sightseeing is the River Roamer an all day ticket valid every day from 9am adult single from £16.50 Family Roamer (2 adults / 3 children) £36.00 total bargain !!

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