Showing posts with label London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London. Show all posts

Saturday 25 February 2012

How to choose the right accommodation in London?

Wherever you go, accommodation is usually one of the most important things that need to be arranged. Usually it pays off to make your reservations ahead of time or at least check out your options.

This is also true when travelling to large cities, especially in top season. London is no different and since this year it is the place of Summer Olympics, you should plan ahead if you wish to get a good accommodation for an acceptable price. The best ones are usually the first to fill up.

Luckily in cities like London there are a number of options to choose from. The best choice usually depends on the available budget and purpose of visit. However there are three things one should always keep in mind regardless the nature of visit: location, location and... location.

First and most usual option are many hotels and hostels you can choose from. In London you can stay in a budget hotel or hostel (a single bed in a large dormitory can be found for as low as £10 per night) or you can choose one of many luxury hotels, where you can easily spend thousands of pounds per night.

Another option worth considering is Couchsurfing. As a member of the Couchsurfing community you can sleep on another member's couch for free. This might be quite a gamble but on the other hand you can also get lucky and have a great time meeting some extra friendly people, that might also let you have a taste of the local scene with them.
If you are looking for a way to meet local people, this might just be the thing for you. It is however more suitable for people travelling alone - it is obviously harder to find someone ready to welcome a group of five friends in his apartment for a week, compared to a lonely traveler.

There are also agencies offering a thing in between the two options above. That's right - you can live in a luxury of a high end hotel and yet live like a local. They offer the chance to stay in private homes for the length of your visit.
onefinestay is a popular example of such an agency specialized in London area.

You can get yourself a really luxurious place for an affordable price. The service is called "the unhotel" - imagine the best hotel service without the marble lobby. They give you the chance to stay in someone's place while they're out of town. A chance to live someone's life for a few days and nights while the agency provides all the things you may need.

From the photos on their website it definitely looks worth checking out. However I have yet to try this thing out myself to see how it really works.

These vacation rentals from onefinestay are certainly worth considering if you are looking for an alternative to a hotel when in Central London.

If none of the options above seems like your cup of tea, you can do what I did during my last trip to London - stay at a friend's place. There are many reasons to go for this last option, but usually there are also some downsides to it.
In my case it meant ignoring the advice I emphasized above - I couldn't choose the location of my accommodation. This meant I had to sit on a train from Uxbridge to central London and back every day of my stay.
I didn't mind it - I got time to make plans on the train every morning... and I got to see Uxbridge. Not many London visitors can say the same!


Wednesday 17 August 2011

Wordless Wednesday: London Tower Bridge at Dusk


Thursday 11 August 2011

Visiting London Hyde Park

One of the most popular parks in London is Hyde park. It is one of eight Royal Parks of London.

There are also other things one can do besides walking around and relaxing in the green environment of Hyde park. Many frequent joggers use it as their training grounds. Spread on 142 hectares (350 acres) it offers plenty of space even for the fittest.
There are many organized running events organized within the park with participants coming from all over the world. For instance there was a triathlon (with no entrance fee) held there on 6th and 7th August.

If you are not a sports type of person, you can also use the park to simply enjoy the sun. Whether you do it on a deck chair or on a chosen patch of well kept green grass, is up to you.

For those who enjoy great views there is a chance to do it from a 60 metre Giant Observation Wheel at the Bandstand in Serpentine Road. It offers great views of Hyde park and nearby city areas.

If you feel like debating with strangers about topics that interest you or just want to scream at the whole wide world, you should probably stop at the Speakers Corner (located in the north-east corner of the park - on the corner of Park Lane and Cumberland Gate, opposite Marble Arch tube).

If you walk north of the park there is a popular area of Notting Hill worth checking out. It was made even more popular by the 1999 film starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
An upcoming event definitely worth visiting in this area is also an annual event called the Notting Hill Carnival, this year taking place on August 28th and 29th.

For those looking for different kinds of challenges, there is also a chance to take part in some casino games nearby. The Grosvenor Victoria Casino (also known as Vic Casino) is located on Edgware Road just north of Hyde Park.
This casino is literary a historical landmark for poker players. Almost every top poker professional in the UK has found their way there.

To us the park served as a meeting point with some old friends living nearby. We entered the park on the exact opposite side of our meeting point on purpose. This allowed us to enjoy a walk through the entire park, relax, take some photos and watch people walk by. It was fun and would strongly recommend it as a convenient getaway from the city's hustle and bustle.
We will definitely visit it again - if possible we will try to adjust our visit to one of the frequent sports events held there. Can hardly wait to do it.

I just hope these recent horrible events in London do not last much longer. It is frightening to watch the devastation on the news every day.


Monday 8 August 2011

London Parks

According to Wikipedia The Greater London Urban Area is the second largest in the EU with a population of over 8 million, while London's metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of between 12 and 14 million.
For a city of this size, London has a surprisingly large amount of green areas. Most of them belong to many parks.

The largest group of London parks is The Royal Parks, this year celebrating 160 years of existence.
There are 8 parks included in this largest group, together covering almost 2,000 hectares of ground. The Royal Parks of London are lands originally owned by the UK monarchy. They used them for recreation (mostly hunting) of the royal family. There are public rights of way across the land but public access still depends on the grace and favour of the Crown. A typical British concept, if you ask me.

Royal Parks of London include the following 8 parks:

  • Bushy Park,

  • Green Park,

  • Greenwich Park,

  • Hyde Park,

  • Kensington Gardens,

  • Regent's Park,

  • Richmond Park,

  • St. James's Park.

Each one of the listed parks has something special to offer. Let me mention just a few highlights:
  • Hyde Park seems to be the most popular due to its location and many events taking place there,

  • Green Park can also get pretty crowded due to the vicinity of Buckingham Palace,

  • the north side of Regent's Park is where the London Zoo is located,

  • Richmond Park is so huge there are deer roaming around free.

Apart from those mentioned above there are also many other parks and green spaces located in the London area. Many are well worth visiting, so I suggest you do your research while planning your trip to London.

During a recent visit to London I had time to visit a few of the mentioned parks. Additional information regarding the most prominent and famous of London parks - London Hyde Park and its surroundings will be introduced in one of my upcoming posts.


Monday 1 August 2011

British Museum eyeOpener Tours

British museum is one of many London museums with free admission. It would be worth visiting it even if it wasn't free of charge.

It houses artefacts from all periods and from all over the world. Even if you think of its collection as a heap of stolen goods by the British empire, it is still worth taking a peek.

The museum holds a total of around 6,000,000 artefacts. This is a number hard to imagine, but when you spend a day or two in this institution and fruitlessly try to see everything on display you begin to understand the scale of things... there are less then one percent of artefacts on display at any given moment!

If this is not enough to convince you into visiting, there is more free stuff to make you change your mind.
There are short eyeOpener tours introducing different areas of the Museum's collection, led by volunteer guides. No booking is required. You can read more about it here.
I took advantage of this and really enjoyed seeing a couple of sections with a super nice and knowledgeable guide. I highly recommend you take advantage of this.

In addition to all that you can also take part in Hands on sessions, where you can take a close look and even touch some of the ancient artefacts. This was a first time for me to actually hold a real stone arrowhead in my hand.
Things presented were not just some copies but real stuff! How cool is that? I guess you have to be a bit of a history buff to really appreciate this, but along with great explanation from the staff this was a really great experience.

So do yourself a favour and reserve at least an afternoon within your London trip for a visit to this gem of a museum.


Wednesday 15 June 2011

Wordless Wednesday: London in sepia


Thursday 9 June 2011

Central London details

We rarely take time to admire details surrounding us. This is true for both - nature and urban areas.

When walking in old city centers it usually isn't too hard to spot some true gems. Central London is no exception.
Both of these photos were taken during a short stroll down the Oxford street.

Usually stopping for a moment is all it takes to notice an interesting detail or two. If the lighting is right and you happen to have your camera within the reach, you are very close to making some nice photos.

I think we should all stop, take a deep breath, and enjoy the moment a bit more often. This is not always very easy to do, but trust me - it is usually well worth the effort.


Monday 6 June 2011

London Markets

One of London's best experiences is definitely visiting a few of the cities famous markets. I suggest you visit at least a few from the list bellow.

This is a London market shortlist with opening hours (a much larger market list is available at Wikipedia):

  • Borough market - Fruit wholesale (04:00-08:00 Mon - Fri), Farmers' Market (12:00-17:00 Friday, 10:00-16:00 Saturday).

  • Camden market - Weekends from about 09:30 to 17:00.

  • Columbia Road flower market - Sunday: 09:00-12:00.

  • Covent Garden market - Great atmosphere, but not for shopping. Open every day 10:00-18:00, atmosphere: all the time.

  • Greenwich market - A series of small weekend markets selling antiques, arts & crafts, clothing and books. Open on weekends.

  • Portobello market - Loads of antiques and various unusual items. Saturdays from about 06:00 to about 16:30.

  • Spitalfields - Fruit and vegetables (Sunday: 10:00-16:30).

To sum it up - the best time for a visit is during a weekend when they really burst into life. You should however expect most of them to be pretty crowded.

Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to visit all of the mentioned markets. Besides many bargains waiting for you, there are also food stalls to be found in some of the mentioned markets or nearby (e.g. Camden Town). Food is usually fresh, tasty and quite affordable.

If you do not have time to visit them all and can't decide for one of the mentioned markets, I suggest you go to Camden Town, where there is a little bit of everything on offer. Camden Market is just one part of it.


Wednesday 1 June 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Big Ben in the distance


Monday 23 May 2011

English Breakfast - The Organic Way

When visiting a country I always make an effort to try some local food. Although one can find excellent representatives of almost any cuisine in London, I do not have a very good opinion on typical British cuisine.

When someone mentions English cuisine I think of fish and chips, jacket potato and English breakfast. I am sure there are other dishes I have not tried yet, but I have to leave something for my next visit.

During my last visit I followed a tip from a friend living in London and was pleasantly surprised. We visited Surrey Docks City Farm and tasted some delicious stuff.

First I have to point out this is an organic farm and yes, it is in situated near the city center, by the river Thames. For me it was a surprise to find a real farm with pigs, cows, ducks, goats, sheep and who knows what else so close to central London.

It was quite a contrast looking at all those animals, smelling the air full of various odours you would expect to find on a farm and seeing London city skyscrapers on the other bank of the river rising high in the air.

Everything we tried was delicious and was obviously made from organic ingredients. I have had English breakfasts before, but was not impressed. At Surrey Docks City Farm it was delicious, the portions were quite generous and prices were really affordable.
I had fresh mint tea, others had some coffee and everything was delicious. I saw some maps of Italy hanging on the walls, so I suspect there might be some kind of connection between the good food, proper coffee and Italy.


Wednesday 18 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday: A pint at Queens head pub


Saturday 14 May 2011

World Cuisine in London

Like most large cities (at least in Europe), London offers a great diversity of food from all around the world. One of the reasons is definitely a mix of people from all over the world living there.

There are some parts of London that look like they belong to other countries. People dress according to their traditions back home. Also restaurants reflect this - in China Town you can obviously find all kinds of restaurants from the Far East.
In some other parts of the city a different pattern is easily noticed. Half of the world's countries can have their food embassies (i.e. restaurants) lined-up side by side in a single street.

In my opinion traditional English cuisine is not really something to brag about - at least compared to some other European alternatives. Nonetheless (or maybe exactly because of it) some of the best representatives of world's cuisines can be found in London.
It is not always easy to pick out the really good ones, but it is worth giving it a try. I asked for some local advice and got a chance to taste some great stuff.

All you can eat Chinese places in London China town are not really all that special. I tried my luck with one of them and I can't say anything good about the experience.
On the other hand I got a recommendation for a sushi place in the same street which turned out to be really great. It is a simple Japanese restaurant with genuine and tasty food that comes in generous portions and is reasonably priced. For two persons I suggest you try a "Bento box" (sushi selection) and continue with a main dish each. You can expect to pay between £15 and £20 for the whole deal.
The place is called Misato and you can find it on 11 Wardour Street. I suggest you avoid lunch time hours as it can get quite busy.

Apart from that I even found a place where they serve really good traditional English breakfast, but that is a whole different story. For more information on that you will just have to wait for one of my next posts.


Monday 9 May 2011

How to get around London on a budget?

Getting around London can be an expensive activity. When you have a limited amount of time and want to see as much of the city as possible, it is impossible to avoid all expenses.
Nevertheless you can try to choose the best travel option for your type of trip.

The usual arrival to London is through one of its airports. You can easily spend a fortune on a ride to the city center. If you plan in advance, you can do the same for as little as £2.
I have devoted a whole post to this topic. If you want to know more, you should check out my advice on how to get from airport to central London.

Walking... definitely the cheapest way to move around the city center. You can definitely walk between some of the famous sights and see the city at the same time. Tube is a great thing but you don't get to see all that much while underground.
Remember: your journey can often be the highlight of a trip, it does not necessary mean reaching the destination itself is the thing.

Renting a bike
There is a number of bicycle rental companies around London. If this seems the right thing for you, you should check out Barclays Cycle Hire.
If you use the system the right way, you can get away with paying as little as £5 per week. That is how much you have to pay in advance - renting for up to 30 minutes is free.
However you should be aware London is not the friendliest city for cyclists out there. There are not all that many bicycle lanes in the city center. Since pavements are reserved for pedestrians you will often have to use the bus lane.
You should also keep in mind driving on the right side of the street. As you should know, in UK the right side is actually the left.

Do you like Oysters?
Well even if you don't, I suggest you get yourself an Oyster Card as soon as you get near a Tube station (Americans would probably call it a subway station).
You can use Tube, DLR, London Overground, Bus and tram, National Rail and some riverboats using an Oyster Card and pay roughly half the price you would have payed using cash (actual ticket prices are available here).
There are roughly two options for using an Oyster card. You can load a travel card onto it, or load some cash and pay as you go.
You should consider both options and choose one depending on how much will you be moving around. For instance if you plan to use the Tube for 5 to 7 days, you should probably choose the 7-day travel card.

Moving around using the Tube is the fastest way. It is actually a bit like a teleport - you get quickly from point A to point B but don't get to see anything on the way.

Check out the Transport of London webpage for up to date London traffic info and prices.
They offer a useful Journey Planer for free. Try it out, it might come in handy.

Another very useful resource with loads of information on London is Visit London.

There are also other transport alternatives... like for instance riding in a Cycle rickshaw. I actually saw quite a few of those.
If there is another transport option I left out, please do not hesitate to comment.


Wednesday 4 May 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Royal Wedding Decoration


Saturday 30 April 2011

How to get from Stansted airport to central London?

London is one of European cities with many low-fare airline connections. There are at least four airports near the city of London - Heathrow (LHR), London City (LCY), Gatwick (LGW) and Stansted (STN).
London Heathrow Airport and London City are the closest to the city center and also the most expensive of the three. This unfortunately means low-fare airlines usually do not use it. If you are looking for a cheap flight you are stuck with the last two.

Regardless of how much you have payed for your low-fare airline ticket, a trip from the airport to city center (and back) can easily cost you more than that.
When flying to London Stansted Airport you have many different options for a transfer to the city center.
The fastest way at the moment is Stansted Express which reaches London Liverpool Street in 45 minutes and leaves the airport every 15 minutes.
For other train options check out the National Express East Anglia webpage.

Buses are the cheapest option at the moment. EasyBus company offers rides to Baker Street from £2. If you are planning to use their services you should book online as fast as possible. If for some reason, you fail to reserve your seat in advance, they have an office just next to the exit of the airport building (you can expect the ticket to cost around £9). They will put you on the first available minibus to the city. They leave every 20 minutes and take approximately 80 minutes to reach their destination.
You can also use their services to reach the airport from the city, but you should keep a possibility of congestion and other delays in mind. Your airplane will not wait for you!
It does not matter if you are not flying easyJet. You can use easyBus services regardless of that. They use a funny slogan stating "Even RyanAir passengers welcome!".
They also offer similar services from other airports (e.g. from London Gatwick Airport there is a connection to Earls Court that takes approximately 70 minutes).

There are also other - a bit more expensive bus and coach options. Those are worth checking out if easyBus has all seats booked or their destination does not suite you.

Of course in addition to that there are many rent-a-car and taxi options available, but any of those might cost you a fortune.


Friday 29 April 2011

Time to visit London again

It has been more then five years since my last trip to London. I thought it wouldn't take so long to return, but it did.
Since a friend of mine is living in the city suburbs, working for a British company, I thought to myself - when, if not now?

I have always had something important to do and London, being just a few hours and a few dozens of Euro away by any of the low-fare airlines, has been postponed for many times.

So, that's that - plans have been made, tickets bought and a couch reserved. London here I come!

I have chosen the date of my visit with the royal wedding in mind. I will be just missing the event and also hordes of tourists pouring in from all over the world. I hear Brits are divided into two groups these days - those who can hardly wait for the event to take place and others reserving airplane tickets to escape the madness.
If I were a local I would definitely fall into the second group.

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