Here are some London travel tips and hacks for a quick visit to make your stay more pleasant and save you some money!
I love London. That’s why I spend nearly every birthday there.
It’s like my buddy Sammy said:
“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”Samuel Johnson
I can’t count the number of times I have visited London. Definitely over 100.
And, until recently, usually just for a few days.
So I thought I’d share a few travel tips and and travel hacks for a short trip to London.
Take the Tube
Seriously. Get yourself an Oyster Pay as You Go Card and take the tube.
Buy it when you land at the airport. And use it to take the Tube all over London.
This is THE most important London travel tip and hacks for a quick visit. It cuts the cost of using the London Underground and busses in half as opposed to using single trip tickets!
The majority of Londoners use an Oyster card to pay for all their public transport needs. And while many are now migrating away from Oyster cards to using contactless credit or debit cards on public transit, as a short-term visitor to London the pay as you go Oyster card is still the way to go.
The pay as you go Oyster card is a permanent reusable card that you buy and load with money and then you can top it up from time to time. Buying the card and topping up can be done with cash or credit/debit cards at any Tube station. Just follow the instructions on the screen.
Then simply tap your card at the Tube turnstyles as you enter and exit a Tube stop and the fare is deducted from your card. To check the balance on your card, tap it on any Oyster Card machine in any Tube stop.
As for navigating the Tube, well, that’s why God invented Google Maps! Google Maps will provide detailed directions for finding your way to a Tube stop, along a Tube journey (including transfers) and walking directions at the other end.
Easy peasy and Bob’s your uncle!
Buy a SIM Card When You Arrive
Speaking of using Google Maps, if you’re not from the EU and don’t have an international cellular plan (or if you pay AT&T $10 a day for international data), do yourself a favor and buy a SIM card for your phone for your stay in London.
Using this London travel tip and hack for a quick visit, you can google, insta, facebook and snap all over London. Oh yeah, and navigate the Tube using Google Maps!
You can pick a SIM card up at London airports after arrivals.
If you are at Heathrow and don’t know how to switch out your SIM, swing by the SIM Local shop and they’ll swap the card out for you. There’s one in many of the arrivals areas.
But if you’re comfortable swapping SIMs yourself then you can find SIM cards at WH Smith shops and there are even SIM card vending machines. And it’ll save you £5 over the SIM Local shop.
At London Gatwick Airport your only choices to buy a UK sim card are at a vending machine or at WH Smith shops. Same at Luton and Stansted Airports.
And if you are arriving into London City Airport you’re coming from within the EU so just use your EU SIM, silly! Well, at least until Brexit screws up the ability to use the same SIM card in the UK and the rest of Europe.
For £20 or £25 you’ll get a SIM card with plenty of data to last during you short stay in London.
I like Vodafone because it seems fast to me, but WiFi on the London Underground by Virgin Media is a perk for being on the EE network.
You do you!
PRO TIP: If you are traveling as a couple then only one of you needs to get a UK SIM. Then that person turns on their mobile hotspot and the other person can tether to the phone with the local SIM in it: two SIM cards for the price of one! Lisa and I do this all over the world!
London Airport Transfers
Heathrow Airport Transfers
If you are flying into Heathrow, save a ton of money and do as Matty says: buy your Oyster card at the Heathrow Tube stop.
Then use your new SIM card in your phone to create a route to your destination in London.
Then take the Piccadilly line into central London and follow your route from there.
Depending on the time of day and your destination it will cost between £3.10-£5-10 and will take 45 minutes to an hour. Paying cash for single ticket Tube trip instead of using an Oyster card is twice the price!
This is a huge cost-saving London travel tip!
Besides, the alternative of taking the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station is around £20. And if you aren’t going to the Paddington area you are going to end up on the Tube anyway!
And taking a taxi from Heathrow to city center is basically costs infinity and may or may not take half a lifetime (ok, more like £50- £ 75 and 30 to 120 minutes).
For exhausted Americans landing at Heathrow in the morning on an overnight flight it’s not awesome to sit on a crowded Piccadilly Tube car for 45 minutes. But it’s still worth it!
Gatwick Airport Transfers
From and to Gatwick you can use an Oyster Card to pay for fares on the Gatwick Express, Southern trains and Thameslink trains between London and Gatwick Airport and then jump on the Tube once you are in the city.
Luton and Stansted Airport Transfers
Well congratulations for saving money by flying on a low cost carrier. But now it’s time to pay the piper.
Airport transfers from and to Luton and Stansted mean a £7-£13 bus ride into the city unless you want to pay twice as much to take a train to the city to the Tube. Length of that ride depends on traffic. But hey, you just came of a sky-bus anyway so you should be used to it!
Book a Homestay to Save Money
Hotels in particular are quite expensive. That means booking a homestay can save you a ton of money. One look at this map tells the tale.
So our biggest money-saving London tip and hack for a quick visit is to seek out homestays in London instead.
You’ll save a lot of money and have full apartment amenities like a kitchen and sitting area.
Now THAT’s affordable luxury travel!
You save even more money by staying outside of the center but on a convenient Tube stop. Camden Town and Shoreditch are hip places to stay for less with easy access to all the tourist destinations by Tube.
Walk in London
As far as London travel tips and hacks for a quick visit once you are in London, this is my strongest recommendation: walk.
London is one of the most walkable cities in the world, particularly in the city center. With wide sidewalks and lots of parks to cut through it’s just the best way to get around London.
You miss so much of gorgeous London when you’re on the Underground!
And if you walk so far that you get tired just use your Oyster card for a Tube ride home.
There are loads of beautiful London walks you can Google: The London Wall Walk, the South Bank River Walk, The Jubilee Greenway, a Walk Around Westminster, Green Park to Leicester Square. All great.
Better: just start walking and explore London by foot.
Visit the Tower of London
Yep, it’s the most touristy thing to do in town. But YOU’RE A TOURIST. And cliches are cliches for a reason!
So take the time to visit the Tower of London on a Beefeater tour. It’s fun and fascinating.
You’ll get to see where Henry VIII liked to chop his wives heads off, cells where noble prisoners marked days in captivity by making scratches in cell walls and of course the Crown Jewels.
Ride the London Eye
Another super-touristy must-do (for many) is to ride the London Eye.
It’s called ‘flying the Eye.’ You get into a closed car on this giant ferris wheel and take in unbelievable views.
Personally, I don’t love heights. And it’s a 30-minute ride.
So for me, the London Eye Champagne Experience is definitely the way to go!
You get a glass of champagne as you enjoy beautiful views of London. Champagne is served by your host who can also answer questions. And you’ll also enjoy skip the line access, priority boarding and souvenir mini-guide.
Our London travel tip: Fly the Eye in affordable luxury!
London Travel Tip for Food: Drink and Eat at Pubs
Sometimes it seems like there is a pub on every corner in London. Sometimes two.
But the reality is that 17 pubs close every week in the UK. So go pubbing before it’s too late!!!
And the old trope about terrible English food at English pubs is (mostly) a thing of the past. Today many pubs pride themselves not just on traditional fish and chips and bangers and mash, but also offer gastropub-type food. You’ll even find travel keto diet friendly options.
So saunter into as many pubs as you can in London for lunch or dinner and a pint or three.
We find that if you duck down a narrow street you tend to find the older and more interesting pubs.
But every pub has a story.
Drink Cask Beer In London Pubs
And while you’re in a pub be sure to try at least one cask/bitter beer.
Yes, it will likely be warmer than beer you are used to. Yeah, it’s got a unique taste.
And London hipsters will tell you that cask ale is a drink enjoyed mainly by old men. But that just makes it that much more enjoyable in a retro-cool ironic kind of way!
I love it. My favorite is London Pride. So try at least one is our London travel tip!
You Can Plug EU Plugs Into a UK Socket
Disclaimer: I’m not saying you SHOULD do this London travel hack for a quick visit…just saying you CAN.
If all you have are EU plugs or EU converters, you can still plug into UK sockets.
We learned this travel hack in Malaysia where they seem to have about 3 different kinds of sockets. But it works as a London travel hack for a quick visit too: you don’t need a UK converter to plug EU plugs into UK sockets.
It doesn’t look like you can fit round plugs into square sockets, but you can!
The trick is to press in on the bottom ground hole (with something PLASTIC, for God’s sake!) while you push an EU plug into a UK socket.
Here’s how that works using my PLASTIC glasses as a tool.
More disclaimers: Make sure the power strip is off or unplugged if you do this. And/or flip the wall socket off before you do this (most UK wall sockets have switches to turn them off and on). Don’t leave something important plugged in in case of power surge. If something terrible happens and your phone/laptop/whatever gets destroyed or you start a fire then that’s on you because my final disclaimer is: don’t do this. Umkay? Umkay.
Bottom Line – London Travel Tips and Hacks for a Quick Visit
Lisa and I have both had a life-long love affair with London.
Lisa studied abroad in London during university. I’ve been visiting London since I was 14 years old.
We simply love it.
And so we hope that these London tips and hacks for a quick visit help you fall in love with London too!