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What you need to know before visiting London

So you’ve set your sights on your first long holiday overseas – and you’ve chosen London – how exciting! It might sound like a daunting task, but London is a city so full of travellers and ex-pats, that it’s actually quite easy to find your feet.

Before you pack your bags there are a few things you’ll need to sort out though: Flights, Travel Insurance, and a place to stay for your first few nights at least.

 

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See Big Ben in London, England

Where to stay in London
If you don’t have friends already living in London to stay with, your best bet is to find a hostel that offers a weekly rate or rent a room for your first couple of nights.  Staying in a hostel or share house surrounded with other experienced travellers is a great way to get advice and tips about what to see, what to do and where to go out.  Try the YHA London website or AirBnB to see what’s available.

If you are staying a week or more you may want to consider staying in a house. Some of the safest suburbs, very popular with other Australians, are Camden, Clapham, Fulham and Earls Court.  The average monthly rent in London can range from £574 to £1331 for a studio, so you might want to share!

Most areas are safe if you’re sensible and smart: don’t walk around in the middle of a park at 3am drunk; don’t get so drunk you fall over; don’t get into compromising situations you can’t handle. These rules apply to living in any big city, and London is no different.

Getting Around and Connected in London
The best way to get around London city is by the Underground (or Tube), which is pretty amazing compared to Australian public transport systems. You can get around pretty much everywhere in the Greater London area, every 1-6 minutes. It is fast and easy to use, though can get pretty crowded during peak times.

Get yourself an Oyster Card to ride the Tube. The Oyster card can be topped up and reused for all your travel, and the ticket prices are much cheaper than single trip tickets. There are weekly and monthly options and if you have a valid student ID, be sure to use it for cheaper deals.

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A weekly travel pass makes travelling around London cheaper

You probably won’t want to drive a car in London traffic, however it’s good to know that you’re allowed to drive with your Australian drivers license for 1 year after you arrive in the UK before you have to exchange it.

Look out for overseas global roaming charges if you are using a UK sim card – they can mount up.  Try using Skype for calls home or to friends – its free or cheap!

Let the fun begin!
Once you get settled into life in London, you can start planning weekend trips to other counties in Europe. The discount airlines can get you pretty much everywhere in Western Europe in 1-3 hours and for cheap! The best-known are Ryanair and Easyjet, although smaller regional airlines like Norwegian can take you to out of the way places too!

The UK is also the home of some of the biggest music festivals in the world, including Glastonbury, and V Festival. London hosts the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park the first weekend of July each year.

Summer is the best time to experience the cultural diversity of London with many local festivals and parades each year. The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual 2-day festival in August, led by the local West Indian community. Also in August is the Carnaval del Pueblo, a celebration of Latin American culture held in Burgess Park.

Other must-sees are the Camden Markets, where you can pick up pretty much anything your heart desires! – plus shopping at Harrods, free music at the Notting Hill Arts Club and don’t forget your local pub!

Must-do attractions

There are so many iconic landmarks and historic buildings in London that every traveller must see at least once in their life.

The Tower of London is over 900 years old and was once the Royal Palace and Fortress, a prison and a place of execution. Visit the most recognisable bridge in the world, London’s Tower Bridge and walk across the high walkway.

For museum and gallery lovers, the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Britain and Tate Modern have the most extensive collections of human history, culture and modern and historic original artworks.

London’s West End is home to the biggest stage shows and musicals, and although theatre tickets can be quite pricey if you’re able to get in line early for standby tickets, most theatres will sell unsold tickets for about 70% discount. Students can often get discounted tickets too.

Other posts on the OTI Blog:

Watersports around the world
The world's most incredible youth hostels!
Cool Things To Do in Poland!
A Trip to Italy's less touristy spots!