Many people have asked for the minute details of how I planned & executed this short trip to my dream destination, and so here I am breaking it down into 4 essential steps that I followed.
A. Applying for the VISA
B. Long wait for the VISA to arrive (but there are many things to plan for instead of sitting idle)
C. Book flights, ho(s)tel, and any other special tour you want
D. Reach London and take care of some basic requirements while you tour around
Part B: Long wait for the VISA to arrive
The best time to visit Europe is during Summer/Fall. Because of the cooler temperate climate, Indians will have a hard time seeing anything properly in any other season. My VISA would arrive after 3-4 months, so it would be already in the 11th hour of Fall. Winter would start soon, so I needed to plan accordingly.
Clothes and accessories
The first is clothes. If you can’t stand chilly weather, pack your thermals. Pack a raincoat or an umbrella, for example in London weather, you can never predict the rain (first-hand experience). Finally, some trendy clothes will do, and a warm overcoat/sweater on the safe side. Pack a thick jacket if you are going in October/November. Wear covered shoes, since you never know how the terrain will turn out. Have a small backpack with you to carry water, your passport, cards, an umbrella, and an external phone charger.
Second, there are so many things to see in London alone that you would be disoriented reaching there if you hadn’t planned it out. For me, Love and London was an excellent travel guide to me for 3 months before I traveled. You can check her YouTube channel, it’s very detailed and informative. In a nutshell, you need to plan each day according to the zones there. London has Centre, East, West, North, and South ends. Each of them takes approximately a day to cover. Do not forget, London is a MASSIVE city! You need a minimum of 6-7 days to cover it.
Central London is a high-density built environment, with high land values, a high daytime population, and a concentration of regionally, nationally, and internationally significant organizations and facilities. The best ways to travel through this city area are the bus, Uber Boats, and the underground (tube). The obvious spots to hit are:
A lot to cover, right? And I have not even mentioned the nooks and crannies that add to the flavor of the city. Especially if you are a Harry Potter fan, you cannot miss King’s Cross St. Pancras station, where near rail platforms 9 and 10 there is the famous Harry Potter shop for souvenirs. Provided you want to explore each and everything comfortably, catch the Changing of Guards, and click some memorable pictures while eating tasty street food, all these will take 1-2 days to cover. And I have not even begun to scratch the surface!
The West End is an amazing place. You can find so many theatres and pubs that maybe a whole day can be spent here just for the cultural enrichment of your soul. Chill in Chinatown and try some delicious Chinese/Japanese/Korean delicacies. You can finally choose to watch Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, the oldest running play in the world for 70 years, at St. Martin’s Theatre of West End. So free an evening for the murder mystery journey! There are eight members of the cast, and by 2012 more than 400 actors and actresses had played the roles. The recent actors are also doing a marvelous job of carrying the tradition forward, with the cast telling us in the end not to reveal the ending! I won’t, that’s for sure!
East London and North London
They are respectively the financially posh-ended and open-spaced park-filled areas of the city. If you are just in London for a touristy/historical visit, you can give these a skip. But if you want to have a shopping spree, see a Sunday Flower Market, or just visit the iconic Abbey Road, drop in there and have the best time of your life! Keep a day or two for calmly exploring them.
The Royal Observatory (where the Prime Meridian is marked), National Maritime Museum, and Cutty Sark (the old sail ship) at Greenwich on the south bank of London are the most famous parts of South London (i.e. south of the river Thames). You can also pay a visit to Wimbledon. Frankly, it’s a lot to take in, and you can easily spend morning to night over here. These are some spots you cannot miss: https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/best-things-to-do-in-south-london
How to plan for travel inside London
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT think you can travel taking a Black Cab each time. You will simply not be able to afford that. If you have to take a taxi, call an UBER. But London is the best city with tons of options for public transport. The bus is the least expensive, followed by Tube, DLR, Overground, Rail, Ferry, and Emirates Cable Car. And you can access all of them through a tap with your contactless-enabled card, either by Debit, Credit, Google Pay, Apple Pay, or the famous multipurpose OYSTER travel card. This is available when you arrive at the airport, so no need to fret over it from back home.
A data-enabled SIM card is a must, and you can get one from a Sim card shop, or a vending machine at the airport. Choose your data plan, insert it into your phone, and voila you have a working SIM in the UK! Everything in London is very easily accessible, so don’t worry. If you need any help, kind helpers and police officers are there to guide you all the way. There are several WiFi hotspots in the city, starting from the airport. I accessed the Heathrow WiFi and talked to my family while I waited in line for Customs.
All you need to do, however, is plan out your days and mode of travel in general (can skip the finer details during planning), before you arrive. Because from the moment you reach London, time will fly by fast, and you can miss a lot of superb locations because of poor planning. While it’s easy to manage in the city, without a solid plan, you will later think “I wasted a lot of time.”
Start looking for budget hotels, or if you are young and/or solo/with friends, choose smart hostels where you can get really cheap dormitory beds. There are several of them in the Central and West parts of London, but it is better to choose those near a bus or a tube station. At the end of a very long day, or travel to and from the airport, you do not want to be walking more than 5-10 minutes from the nearest stop at night.
Best APP to get information on hostels/hotels: Booking.com
Best APP to download while navigating the city: Citymapper (with live updates)
Look forward to the next parts of the series to know what went down when my VISA arrived!