Do not make these three mistakes when flying to London
For a cheaper and less strenuous trip do not make these three mistakes when flying to London
1. Flying into Gatwick.
When flying to London the cheapness of the flight is not always the only consideration. Flying into Gatwick will almost always be cheaper. But why? You see it has cleverly added the prefix “London” to its name and now markets itself as “London Gatwick” in an attempt to filch some of the massive market share of its arch-rival Heathrow. It’s a legitimate tactic I suppose but do not be fooled. Gatwick is not in London. In fact, it is in Sussex, and there is an entire county, Surrey, between the airport and central London. Many an American has arrived here after an exhausting flight to find a further arduous ninety-minute treck to their hotel awaits them.
Now as an airport Gatwick is excellent. Good duty-free, sophisticated shopping, efficient staff and….Well, who cares?! Let’s be honest when we arrive at an airport most of us can’t wait to get out of there as quickly as possible. And thereby lies the problem. Gatwick has poor connectivity to the capital. It is over 55 miles away by road or at least an hour and a half by public transport. It’s a bit like an Englishman wanting to fly to New York and being dumped in Bridgeport Connecticut. Who wants that hassle after an intercontinental flight?
Although I have many issues with Heathrow, it is at least efficient to get in an out of. It sits directly on the Piccadilly line underground and as subways in the UK are actually reasonably pleasant experiences the trip into London isn’t a chore. HA! I know what you are thinking. I will hire a car at Gatwick and drive into London. Think of the freedom it will give me. Well, my friend that brings me to mistake number two.
2 . Never hire a car in London.
Most Americans are simply lost without an automobile. It’s in the national DNA. Nobody ever uses public transport, it is all so dirty, dangerous and tiresome. Anybody walking the streets is instantly arrested as a vagrant or security risk. So it’s natural to want to behave as you would when travelling to different States in America. As you pick up your four-door gas-guzzling SUV and cruise through the beautiful Sussex countryside, you will feel, briefly, like you have made a wise decision. Then you hit the M25 orbital motorway that takes you into London. Or rather it doesn’t. I don’t care what time of the day it is, what month of the year or what the weather is like. You will come to a dead stop. That breezy sixty-minute drive into London your sat nav told you to expect has suddenly turned into a three-hour nightmare.
And when you arrive at last in the West End? Where on earth are you going to park? Parking in London is nigh on impossible for anyone with an income south of an oil billionaire. The city is just too compact and medieval to waste space on car parking. Hotels rarely offer it. When they do, it is frankly at an exorbitant rate. Expect to pay around $40-60 a day in central London. Even if you are lucky enough find a parking meter on the street, it will devour your spending money. Wouldn’t you sooner spend your £200 in Harrods or Liberty rather than some dingy underground car park in Hammersmith?
Finally, the coup de grace. If you drive into central London, you will incur the “congestion charge”. This is £11.50 daily. Additionally, be warned your car lease company will bill you if you don’t pay in advance and more than likely double your fees with so-called “administrative charges”. The underground and “Routemaster” red buses are splendid ways to see the city and interact with “real” Londoners. Do yourself a big favour and forgo the car.
3. The best things in London are free.
Yes, you heard me. Free! Nothing, nada, zilch. I sometimes weep to see queues of Americans standing waiting to attend some of the rip-off attractions in the City when so much better ones are available for nothing.
London has the finest cultural institutions in the world. Moreover, most our Museums and Art galleries are free. You may think they are going to be stuffy and academic and ”not for me.” You would be wrong. Not only are architecturally beautiful and exhilarating places to visit but they also have great cafes attached too! My favourites are the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery. The best thing is they are all within a few minutes of each other. So if one doesn’t appeal to you-you are practically next door to the next.
You could spend an entire day in the Royal Parks. London is one of the greenest capitals in the world with several beautiful parks that frankly make Central Park look like a turnip patch. My own personal favourite is St.James Park, just five minutes walking distance from the magnificent royal palaces of St.James and Buckingham. Furthermore, self-service “Santander” Bikes are available throughout London’s parks for a ridiculously small charge, and if you have children, this is a cheap and fun way to enjoy the city.
Finally, don’t forget the pubs. Don’t fall for the rip-off high price cocktail bars or brasseries plaguing the West End. These are not pubs (short for public Houses). They are atmosphere free and about as genuinely English as Maddona. Travel to trendy Shoreditch or more down to earth Fulham for a real British boozer. Oh and don’t tip the barman!