All About England: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go

 

Since England is an English-speaking country, first time travelers to the country tend to drop their guards. But during my first visit there, I was not only surprised by the many dissimilarities, I also ended up committing a few faux pas. The fact is there are many things about the country that are completely different from what we are used to. Here are some of them:

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Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

1. People are, in fact, pleasant and very helpful. And they say actually apologize for things like accidentally bumping into you on the street.

2. The usually have separate faucets for hot and cold water. Careful not to turn the hot water faucet too far or you WILL get burned.

3. Your servers at restaurants will ring you up at the table, and not many of them will be pleased if you asked for wine recommendations.

4. Don’t believe the myth. The food is actually good and hearty. Definitely try the Full English for breakfast.

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Sosharu (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Sosharu (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Nando’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Preserves and cheese, Borough Market (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Brindisa Tapas (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Brindisa Tapas (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Q Grill (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

5. They won’t let you order food at pubs unless you secure a table first, and not many do takeaways (that’s British for take out).

6. Speaking of pubs, many of them close early. Like 11pm early. Even in London.

7. The public transportation will get you literally anywhere. While planning for my trip in the Cotswolds, I was terrified that I’d get stuck somewhere in the middle of the country if I missed a bus. My fear was quickly dispelled as soon as I realized that even in the countryside, buses and trains run pretty regularly.

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Bibury (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Chipping Camden (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Chipping Camden (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Burford (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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House in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

8. You need to keep up the pace during rush hour in London. That’s usually between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning, and from 5 to 7 in the evening.

9. Some hotels, especially the cheaper ones, may not have in-room air conditioning. This may not seem so bad during the cooler months, but in the summer time, it CAN be torture.

10. They actually have good coffee and nice coffee shops. The afternoon tea, however, is a lovely affair that you must partake in at least once. I very much enjoyed the one at sketch in London.

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sketch in London (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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sketch in London (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

 

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Exploring One of London’s Oldest Neighborhoods

Compared to New York, Tokyo or Los Angeles, London is a small metropolitan. But within its city limits are several neighborhoods—a just little over 40, in fact—and each of them possesses a plethora of sights and diversions that could easily fill up your day of exploration.

Within the City of London, one of the oldest neighborhoods, for example, historical attractions, bustling markets and awe-inspiring architecture abound. Here are some of the best ones you can visit and explore in one day.

 

Where to Stay: Experience the best of both worlds at the newly opened Batty Langley’s Hotel. The beautifully furnished hotel boasts rooms and suites with Victorian flourishes and antique furniture like gorgeous four-poster beds and exquisite old-fashioned ceramic bathtubs as well as modern conveniences such as Bluetooth and Apple TV connectivity and complimentary high speed WiFi. Best of all, they offer breakfast in bed so you can lounge in bed a little longer the next day!

Tip: If you’re planning on maximizing your time in London and visiting many of its popular attractions, the London Pass is a convenient and money-saving tool to have. It gives you access to over 60 of the city’s attractions at no further cost as well as skip-the-lines privilege to some of the most famous ones. Plus, you won’t have to keep standing in line for tickets, it’s so easy to use (show to scan and you’re in!) and you get an attractions guide book for free. Purchase the London Pass before you start your day of exploration in the City.

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is a must visit sight in the City of London. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Start your day early at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which opens to visitors at 8:30 am except on Sundays. While not included in the London Pass, tickets are affordable and can be purchased online.

One of London’s most famous attractions, the cathedral is a sight to behold both inside and out. It’s the site of several important events in British history, including the funeral of Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, as well as the final resting place for several people of great significance like Alexander Fleming and its own architect Christopher Wren.

While its history is impressive, it is a far cry from the architecture and design of the cathedral, both of which are lavish and spectacular. While photos are not permitted inside perhaps to preserve its sanctity, the stunning mosaics and paintings, intricately designed arches, columns and ceilings, and incredible high altar will forever be etched in your memories. Borrow the complimentary audio guides, as they’ll offer interesting facts and insights you wouldn’t otherwise know, and conquer your fear of heights and climb the steep steps up to the Whispering, Stone and Golden Galleries for awe-inspiring views.

Tower of London

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Visit the Tower of London and learn about its role in history. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

After a couple of hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk about 20 minutes southeast to the Tower of London. Or save time and take the Circle or the District Line from Mansion House Station to Tower Hill. When there, head straight to the entrance and bypass the line with your London Pass.

The Tower of London is one of London’s most historic and most important sites, with a grim history that only adds to its appeal. Today, it is home to the magnificent Crown Jewels as well as the imposing Royal Armouries in the White Tower, both of which you must visit early on as they draw the most crowds. Take your time in both areas as there’s so much to see and connect to history. Later, visit the Tower Green Scaffold Site, where Anne Boleyn was executed; the Bloody Tower, which harbors a harrowing secret and where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned; and Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, burial place of Anne Boleyn.

While they can draw such large crowds, the 60-minute Yeoman Warders tours that starts every 30 minutes from the Middle Tower, are certainly worth going on as they are very informative and also fairly entertaining.

Tower Bridge

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The Tower Bridge is one of London’s most beautiful bridges. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Grab a quick bite at New Armouries within the tower grounds and then head straight to Tower Bridge mere steps away. Again, bypass the line with your London Pass and spend around 30 minutes or so exploring it. But before you do, make sure to take photos of the bridge, which is picture perfect especially when it’s bright and sunny in London.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition is worthy of a visit, even if you only have an hour or less to spare in your day. You’ll get a chance to see its interiors, learn about its construction as well as bridge engineering, see its Victorian engine rooms, walk over the Thames over transparent glass floors, and even witness fascinating bridge lifts (check the schedule here).

After your visit, visit the Girl with a Dolphin Fountain along St. Katharine’s Way for a great photo opportunity.

Leadenhall Market

Walk about 16 minutes to Leadenhall Market where lunch options are aplenty.

The covered market is one of the city’s most famous, thanks to its beautiful Victorian roof and the fact that the Diagon Alley scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were filmed here. However, it’s also known for its food stalls, shopping opportunities, restaurants and pubs. Take your hungry troop here for a much needed refueling and break.

Don’t be shy and take photos of the market. Everybody’s doing it!

London Bridge Experience

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Take the older kids to see the London Bridge Experience. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

While you can take the bus from Leadenhall Market to the London Bridge Experience, which is also included in your London Pass, walking over London Bridge is much more scenic and will only take 13 minutes of your time.

The London Bridge Experience welcomes kids of all ages (except perhaps infants) but may be disturbing for the little ones. The older kids will certainly get a kick out of it however, especially if they are into scary mazes. Comprised of two parts that altogether takes about an hour, the tour starts with a themed, story-telling narration of the bridge’s fascinating and at times dark past as well as a small exhibition that depicts its history, and then takes visitors to a dark and at times scary maze that they have to pass through.

The staff will give you a chance to skip the maze, so you will have the option to experience only the first part that offers quite an insight to the bridge’s history.

Museum of London

Take the Northern Line from the London Bridge Station to Moorgate and walk less than 10 minutes to the Museum of London since you’ll have plenty of time to spare.

Continue your day immersing in London history and visit the kid-friendly Museum of London. Here, you and the kids will be transported to the city’s different yet equally intriguing eras—from London before it became London through Roman and Medieval London as well as the time of the Plague to the modern city we’ve come to know and love—through several galleries and recreations. There are interactive displays as well, which are perfect for teaching the kids, and temporary exhibits that London Pass holders can visit for free.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Travel Tips for Visiting London for the First Time

London is an easy city to familiarize yourself with, so even if you come unprepared and decide to just wing it, you’ll find the city pretty effortless to become acquainted with and accustomed to. Still, it’s nice to be just a little prepared and look like you know what you’re doing. With these ten tried and tested travel tips, you might just even blend in with the locals.

 

Get an Oyster Card. Everybody in London either walks or uses the public transportation (or realistically, both). The city’s network of public transportation, which consists of buses, the Underground trains, National Railway trains, trams and even boats, is very efficient, very effective and the fastest way to get around (the trains especially). Before you start your London explorations, obtain an Oyster Card that you can “tap up”—meaning add credit to—at every National Rail and Underground station as you go. Oh, and do memorize these symbols below…

bustop – London bus stop symbol

179px-Underground – London Underground symbol

nationalrailicon – National Railway symbol

Get a Pay As You Go SIM Card. Unless you belong to an amazing cellular network, an international data plan might be just a tad too expensive for what you need. As soon as you get to London, visit a local store and get a Pay As You Go SIM Card, which allows you to choose and purchase a bundle that fits your needs best. These bundle are usually cheaper and provide more minute, text and data allowance. Best of all, you can purchase and activate a bundle through your phone.

Get a London Pass. If you’re planning on visiting many of London’s most popular attractions, London Pass will save you a ton of time, money and hassle. Starting at £59 for a 1-day pass, the passport will give you access to over 60 attractions at no extra charge, as well as discounts and extra perks at many others. Additionally, you’ll also get Fast Track access to a select few—the Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and the London Bridge Experience, for example—so you can beat the lines and save even more time.

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Tower of London grounds (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Learn the Currency. Much like the rest of the city, the British pound or pound sterling is pretty straightforward but it’s still a pretty good idea to familiarize yourself with them, especially the coins. Londoners are usually very patient, but you still wouldn’t want to be holding up a line while you try to figure out which one’s 20p and which one’s 10p. The banknotes are usually £5, £10, £20 and £50 bills while the coins you’ll come across are usually 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. And when someone asks you for 5 “pee,” don’t freak out. They only mean 5 “pence”.

Skip the Cabs, Take the Tube Instead. London, like many metropolitan areas, is plagued with really bad traffic. This means that a £15 cab ride can easily turn into a £30 one during rush hour. With your Oster Card tapped up and ready to go, you can easily hop on a train to get to your destination in no time. It’s cheaper, faster and also very easy to figure out as timetables, directionality, connections and stops are displayed at every single station and every single platform. And if you’re still not feeling confident, simply use the Google Maps app on your phone. It’s pretty good at providing idiot-proof instructions on getting from one point to another using public transportation.

Visit by Neighborhood. While London is quite compact, every neighborhood in the city has a number of things to offer. If you have plenty of time in the city—3 weeks perhaps, I would suggest exploring it one neighborhood at a time. This will give you ample time to get to know each one—as they each have their own distinct personality as well as must see sights. Go for a literary walk in Bloomsbury, go shopping in Soho and Mayfair, visit the historical attractions in the City, enjoy arts and culture in Shoreditch, etc.

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Carnaby Street in Soho (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Look Right Then Left. If you come from a country where people drive on the right, which is basically most countries, it’s easy to get confused when navigating the streets on London. The whole United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road. While you might not be doing any driving during your visit there, this is still a very important tidbit to remember as you’ll need to remember which way to look when crossing streets. Always remind yourself to look right first and then look left. Look right then look left. Make this your mantra for the next few days until it’s practically second nature.

Stay on Your Left-Hand Side. Pedestrian traffic is much like vehicular traffic. Everybody walks on the left side, on the streets, up the stairs, at the stations… Or at least they should be. Most people do, but it can get a little confusing since most visitors and tourists don’t follow it. The best thing you can do is keep walking on the left side but pay close attention to oncoming traffic so you can dodge accordingly.

Take Some Day Trips. There’s a lot to see in the city itself and chances are you may not be able to see most of it during your visit. If you’re staying for two or three weeks however, it will be good and a nice change of pace to visit some of the smaller towns and cities outside London. Literally everything is a leisurely train or bus ride away. Take a couple of days or even weekends to visit Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bath, St. Ives, Weymouth, Brighton, Canterbury, or even Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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Bibury in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae)
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Bath Abbey in Bath (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Get Some Clear Plastic Bags for Your Liquids. If you’re planning on visiting other cities in other countries while there—Marrakesh, Madrid or Lisbon, perhaps—it’ll be good to know some of England’s rules for air travel. One clear-cut rule that airport security is firm about is your liquids storage. They prefer that all flyers use a clear, resealable bag that’s about a little bigger than the Ziploc sandwich bags we have in the US to store their liquids. If you use the wrong container—a big Ziploc bag or a clear make-up bag, for example—chances are they’ll make you take them out and repack them in the preferred bag. Don’t worry, though. The airports usually have these bags on hand, whether for free or for purchase, so you can go to the airport and grab a couple before going through security. Also, bear in mind that every passenger has a limit of 2 bags max, so make sure to only bring the necessities.

 

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.