It took us a while, but this summer we finally decided on a vacation. London, UK. What a city! What an experience! The history, the vibe, the shopping and the hustle and bustle that is London. For a week, we took in what this world class city had to offer. Here are some useful tips and insights for those thinking or have made plans to visit London.

 

Flight and Arrival to England –

Our 7 hour, overnight, direct flight from Toronto had us arriving into Gatwick Airport. Prior to leaving, Greg found a gem of time saver. It’s called the Gatwick Premium Pass.

Before passing through to the Baggage Claim and Customs, all arriving passengers have to pass through Border Control. This is where you present your passport to a Border Control Officer and are officially allowed to enter the country. To sum it up, the line leading up to this check is insane.

This is only part of the line at passport control in Gatwick Airport! We skipped the whole line! P.s. I took this BEFORE I saw the sign that said no pictures. I did not take another picture while in the area after I saw the sign!

 

In order to avoid this, Gatwick Airport offers a service where you can bypass the line, ergo the Gatwick Premium Pass. For 25 pounds total, Greg and I were able to purchase this pass, beat the huge line and enjoy our vacation sooner. After purchasing the pass, Greg was sent an email confirmation. When we arrived at the Border Control area, we presented our confirmation to a staff member who immediately ushered us to a Border Control Officer. Within minutes we were collecting our bags and making our way to the city.

This was such a huge time saver and I highly recommend spending the money on this service. For more information on this service go to www.gatwickairport.com , click on the Passenger Services tab and scroll to Premium Passport Control.

Or click here-

http://www.gatwickairport.com/at-the-airport/passenger-services/upgrade-your-airport-experience/

Getting into London from Gatwick Airport – 

We had heard that driving into London should be avoided, so we opted to take the train. The Gatwick Express was an easy and reasonably priced (18 pounds/person) way of getting from Gatwick Airport to central London.

We were able to purchase our tickets ahead of time by going to www.gatwickexpress.com . The Gatwick Express picks up inside the airport and takes passengers directly to Victoria Station, in central London. From Victoria Station, we were able to jump on the subway (The Tube) to a stop within walking distance to our hotel.

Before getting on The Tube, we went the Visitor Centre inside Victoria Station. The person who helped us was extremely helpful and knowledgable. Not only did he provide us with great information, but set us both up with our unlimited Oyster card, that was good for our entire trip.

The Oyster Card is the pass that allows for transportation on the London Underground (the Tube), buses and other modes of public transportation around London, operated by Transport for London (TFL).

One word of caution, if you do decide to take the train into London, there many stairs, some escalators and very few elevators. Be prepared to carry your luggage up and down flights of stairs. It was a heat wave when we were there (when does England get a heat wave?) so this made for a bit of a rough arrival after a long overnight flight.

Image from visit london.com

 

Getting Around London – 

One word, EASY. The London Underground (aka The Tube), along with the bus service, is so well laid out that we felt like locals after the first trip. From the transit maps, station announcements, signage in the stations and the Transport for London (TFL) website tfl.gov.uk , travel around London is a breeze.

**Good Tip – If you have an iPhone the London transit info loads automatically into the Maps app! So, all you have to do it type where you want to go and it will give you all of your route options! You would have to try to get lost!

This is when we went from our hotel to a restaurant (Mr. Chow). Just pop in the address and you see the routes in real time. Sometimes there are options, just pick one that works for you!

When you select the route, this is the detail that your iPhone shows you. So specific! It made getting around so easy!

However, London really needs to improve accessibility for those with mobility issues. There are few elevators (lifts in London) and many trains require riders to step up onto them. We didn’t notice any such trains that were designated as being accessible.

Thinking of renting a car? You might want to reconsider if you normally drive on the right-hand side of the road! I’ll explain why in a future post about going to visit Highclere castle.

Leaving London – 

Despite the fantastic train service to/from Gatwick Airport, we took advantage of a car service that was recommended by our friend’s, whom we had dinner with at Mr. Chow (more on that dinner later). It is called British Airport Transfers.

For 51 pounds, we arranged pick up at our hotel for the approximate 1 hour and 40 minute trip to Gatwick Airport. We were picked up in a Mercedes van. It was super clean and spacious. Our driver helped us with our luggage and was very polite and professional.

Given that we were booking with less that 24 hours notice, we had to call. If you book further in advance you can do so through their website www.british-airport-transfers.co.uk . Without question, we would recommend this company!

 

There are more post to come in the next few days that will go into where we stayed, what we did, shopping and our indelible visit to Highclare Castle (the Downton Abby castle!!!!) I hope they will all help inspire you to travel and book a trip!