Three long years have passed since my husband and I first planned a trip to Iceland and Britain. The first two years were shut down by COVID, the third year had too many family commitments throughout the year. Finally we are leaving on this adventure. I shared our travel preparations for our time in Iceland HERE! Today I want to talk about our visit to the UK.
We are fortunate to have neighbors with family in the UK who visit often, and spend at least half of their time as tourists based in London. We picked their brains constantly, digging for tips that would work well for us. We love staying in an AirBNB where we have a small kitchen and separate bedroom, so were really excited when they suggested we do just that. They recommended finding one in an area that was convenient - close to a tube station and close enough into the city that we wouldn't spend large parts of each day travelling. They mentioned several areas to look.
Our neighbors also suggested we pre-buy a Brit Rail pass. When there they alternate a day in the city with a train trip out into the country. These passes come in four and eight trip versions, and there are several levels to choose from depending what area(s) of the UK you want to see, so be sure to look at their service area map carefully before you decide. You buy your pass ahead of time and then activate one day at a time as you use them. We chose a 4 day pass and are tentatively planning on Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bath and one yet to be decided. But we could change that on a whim.
Oyster Card - it is a smart card that you add money to, so you can pay as you go. It is good for travel on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, most Elizabeth line, IFS Cloud Cable Car and Thames Clippers River Bus services. There is a Travel Card as well, but as far as I could tell, the Oyster Card is the better choice.
As we didn't want to be too committed while we are in London, or spend all our time taking in tourist sites, we didn't choose to to buy a London Pass which gets you access to tons of tourist attractions. A three day pass will save you about 50% on entry fees and the website offers a sample three day itinerary. Be aware that some tourist attractions get booked up, so I am not sure how this pass works to get you in during those times. Ask the question before you buy and remember, whether you buy a London Pass or not, if there are popular tourist sites you want to see, book them before well before you go.
When you are exploring an unfamiliar area, especially a foreign country, it's great to activate your cell phone for local use. The number one thing we use is the data as we use Google maps when walking to keep from getting lost. In the past, we always purchased a local SIM card for my husband's cell phone once we had arrived, but he recently discovered he could order one ahead of time and have it mailed right to our home. No idea if there are several that provide this service, but the company he went with was Simcorner.com. (Update - we were unhappy with this sim card. Very poor reception. There are others with a better reputation.) Now he can switch the UK SIM card into his phone on the plane to London and it will be active when we land. This is so much easier.
Eurostar International on our own - London to Brussels (through the Chunnel), then a train change to get to Bruge. We arrive about 1 p.m., check into the hotel we booked through Eurostar at the same time - the Grand Hotel Casselbergh - conveniently near both the city and the train station, and then have the rest of that day and until 1 p.m. the next before we have to head to the train to return to London. We arrive back about supper time. I am over the moon that I get to realize this dream.
Last but not least is choosing how to get from the airport to your hotel or rental. There are six choices at varying prices. Pick the one that best suits your needs. Sometimes it's worth paying more to have a car take you to your destination, especially if you are arriving late at night or you have mobility issues. We are arriving around noon, so have lots of time and a transit station by our apartment so will be taking the tube. If we don't like it, we will make a different choice on our return to the airport. You'll find an overview of your airport transportation choices along with price ranges HERE!
We are so excited about our trip to the UK and I can't wait to share in an upcoming article pictures and follow-ups on all we did, along with what worked and what we would do differently next time.