First Time Traveling to London as a Local for United States Citizens

Please share this one!

Travelling to London for the first time is a bit challenging, especially for newbie travellers. It’s not only about a long cruise, but also the fact that this big city has the list of endless things. Creating the list of priority places to visit is a good idea, especially if you’re going there only for a few days. Also, make sure to prepare what items to pack for your successful transatlantic flight.

What to prepare as United States Citizens?

First things first, passport (valid for the length of how long you stay) is a must. But you don’t need a visa for tourist purposes. You only need it when your planned stay is more than 6 months. For more information, see this official site!

If you’re going there with kids, they will also each require own passport. Plus, you may need extra documentation to prove that you’re their parent or authorized to go with them – this is particularly true if the child’s last name is different than yours. This can be the child’s certificate, an authorized letter of consent from the child’s parents, or a certificate of adoption.

Other checklists you should be aware of:

  1. Prepare the cash, British pounds! There are some exchange options to choose from, and an ATM withdrawal is more recommended for lower fees. Exchanging currency at big hotel or airport desks tends to charge higher fees.
  2. You may also need a power plug adapter, because sometimes it’s hard to find the electric outlet that fits to the plug of your own electronic plug-ins.
  3. How to drive safely in London? Everyone drives on the left side of the road in London. So before hitting the street, it’s not bad idea to see the British Highway Code to keep safe. Or try the highly efficient Tube to get around more quickly!
  4. How about medical insurance? The National Health Service will care for anyone including tourists, but it’s not free for visitors. For elderly travelers, getting additional coverage from their medical insurance is recommended so they have an insurance plan that covers care overseas.

Another important to pack is wet weather gear (e.g. waterproof footwear and rain jacket). It’s much better to expect rain so you can prepare yourself better, even when you visit London during hot days of summer.

Don’t forget sturdy shoes since people in London are likely to be having a lot of walking!

Arrival into London, from Heathrow airport to the city

The flight time from the US to London is about 8 hours. There are several choices to land, but Heathrow airport is probably the most popular airport to land for Americans. It’s the biggest airport in this country, and also one of the busiest airports in this planet.

And you can go to central London from the Heathrow airport in several ways. The main ones are as follows:

Heathrow Express

For most convenient way of going to central London, Heathrow Express is your best bet especially if you’re in hurry. The train of this non-stop, single journey service leaves every 15 minutes and you’ll arrive at Paddington train station 15-minutes afterwards.

While this service is exclusive, the quickest way to get into central London — it is more expensive.You can get the ticket slightly cheaper by booking the ticket ahead of time (14-90 days in advance). See more at the following URL!

Heathrow Connect (TfL Rail)

Heathrow Connect is worth a try for more affordable choice, at half the price than the Heathrow Express.

It’s not as fast as Heathrow Express. The journey time from the airport to Paddington station is about 35 minutes. It stops in several locations (e.g. Hayes, Hanwell, and Ealing Broadway) and ends at the Paddington station.

It seems Heathrow Express is more promoted than Heathrow Connect by airport staffs. So if you don’t ask about Heathrow connect ticket, they are likely to ‘help’ you suggest the pricey one from the dedicated ticket machines.

Underground Tube!

This could be the most convenient option (depending on your situation) and cheapest way to go to central London. Heathrow airport have several underground stations linked to the London Underground. And you can get to the station easily since it’s clearly signposted once you’re in the arrival hall.

You get the ticket with Oyster Card or Travelcard. Most people prefer choosing Oyster Card since there is no restriction on times and zones – for more guidance see this official site!

You can also use a contactless bank card, but do this carefully. You can tap it on a reader without entering any pin number and the money is taken out of your bank account. But there is also the risk of ‘card clash’ if you tap your entire wallet on the reader since the machine will take the money from any card it detects first!

Although Underground Tube is convenient for most people, it’s not recommended for anyone. If you arrive in this city with a lot of luggage, Heathrow Express is a better idea, particularly true if you arrive in London during heavy traffic.

Underground Tube is also not good idea if you have mobility issues, because not all underground stations have lifts.

Heathrow Coach

Or you can use a frequent coach service. The main one is National Express, which is also the biggest coach operator in this country.

How long it takes is dependent on the traffic condition, typically 40 to 60 minutes on average. It’s worth a try if you have lots of luggage, especially if your destinations are Hammersmith or Victoria station. See more at this URL

If you miss the last train /tube at night, you can use the N9 night bus instead of an expensive taxi. As the name suggests, this service operates all through the night.

London itinerary if you’re on a budget

We all agree that this city has everything, including free attractions. A lot of places you can explore for free, without spending a penny.

Street art in Shoreditch

Some of the most popular ones include;

  1. Stunning art galleries at the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, or street art in Shoreditch.
  2. For most museums, you don’t have to pay. Some of worthy museums to visit include the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, the National Gallery, and the Science Museum.
  3. Historic sites. For examples – the Tower Bridge, the Buckingham Palace to see the changing guard ceremony, and the Houses of Parliament where you can find the Big Ben.

Another idea, Hackney Market (also known as Broadway Market) is a nice place to find lots of affordable things. Here you can find dozens of handmade crafts, accessories, vintage clothes, and (if you’re lucky) unique souvenirs.

It is a famous, oldest lively trading street in London with neighborhood feel. You can find a real strong community vibe of Londoner’s families, young couples, and many cute dogs.

Interestingly, this street market is only available on Saturday, located between the London Fields and the Regent’s Canal, from 9AM to 5 PM. It has become one of popular places for East Londoner’s on the weekend.

Many famous landmarks are close each other

For example The Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and The Mall are all found in one large area but within walking distance. Also, 10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards Parade, St. James’s Palace, and the Churchill War Rooms are in the area as well.

We can also just walk across the famous Westminster Bridge from the Houses of Parliament directly to the next Landon landmark, the London Eye. Walking around for tourist destinations in this area is very easy.

The same goes for the Soho area, you can venture into many different worthy visiting locations in one day. These include Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square. The Royal Courts of Justice, Somerset House, and Chinatown are easily accessed as well in this area.

Although some of these places are not completely free, they’re well worth to visit.

Again there are lots of things to explore in London for newbie travellers during the day or at night. And if you go with your family, see these worth visiting places in London for families!

Where to stay?

The answer comes down to your personal preference, and of course the budget. If you’re looking for more affordable price tags, don’t choose areas very close to the city center.

Of course …, everyone (especially a newbie traveller) wants to visit the most iconic things of London like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, or King’s Cross Station (Platform 93/4 for Harry Potter’s fans). But if you expect a feel for real London, get out of the London center to find the real culture of Londoners.

The good news, some London’s districts are easily accessible and have hotel /hostel /Airbnb lower in price. Here are a few examples;

  1. Holland Park and Notting Hill, if you love pastel-colored house or are boutique shoppers.
  2. Dalston, if you’re a music lover especially jazz, techno, and hip-hop.
  3. Brixton, particularly if you love Boho and Hippie style.
  4. And for the latest trends and fashions – Hackney, Old Street, or Shoreditch.

The areas above are likely to help you enjoy London as a local, since you’ll find original environments of Londoners such as independent bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.

The most important thing, make sure the location of where you stay is convenient to access with public transportation, especially the Tube.

London food experiences as a local

The city could hurt your trip in food costs if you’re not smart on what to buy. However, everyone wants to do and see the best things in London, the same goes on what to eat.

While the goal is similar for everyone, the situation can vary by individuals. Depending on your personal preference, here are a few tips to help yield the most of your visit.

Cheaper, but still worth visiting for good taste

Broadway Market is a good place to start. It has lots of thing as mentioned earlier, including foods. You can find various street food stalls, from traditional mash and pie eateries to cupcake stalls.

It’s also easy to find a wide range of vegetarian and free-gluten foods for people with gluten intolerance (celiac disease). Plus you can enjoy what you eat in the sunshine since London Fields is very close here.

If you can’t wait until Saturday, consider visiting Borough Market which is open every day (except Sunday). It is in the heart of central London, specifically Borough High St, London SE1 — which is south of the Southwark Cathedral and close to the Victorian railway arches.

This place is stuffed with various food goodies, including an instant grab-&-go first meal of the day or lunch. The Famous Monmouth, for example, is good to visit for a cup of coffee. Also, Borough Market hosts a range of fun and lively events throughout the year.

The best time to visit this foodie playland is on Wednesday to Saturday (10 AM to midday, the liveliest time). If you don’t like the crowds, get there earlier at 8 AM. On Mondays and Tuesdays are not recommended since not all stalls are open.

Maltby Street Market is also worth a try (see the official site). It is similar to Borough Market but with a lot less people (smaller).

What’s more?