First things first
–Get an Oyster card. You can get one immediately after getting off of the plane, and it will save you more on trains than if you try to pay using your card. The card requires that you put at least £5, which shouldn’t be an issue considering you’ll be using the trains to exit the airport anyway. Technically there are two types of Oyster cards, but getting a regular blue one is all you need to be concerned about (the Visitor card has restrictions you then need to be concerned about).
**Your Oyster Card will work in Greater London, and Central London.
–Get a Tube Map from any tube station. Any Underground service station will have free tube maps. This will be imperative during your stay in London. Some stations have the maps easy to find (near the exit/entrance), others you may need to ask for assistance in finding as the stations throughout London are huge.
–Get a map of London. You’ll need it. The city is comprised of 9 Zones, which include Central and Greater London. There are 8.3 million inhabitants of London (not including visitors and commuters from outside of London, as of Feb 2012), there are hundreds of buses, and it is considered the biggest city in the EU. You’re going to get lost, and you’re going to walk up and down a number of streets repeatedly only to realize that your destination is tucked behind a random building on the other side of the street. At least WITH a map, you stand a chance (if your GPS goes out especially), but without a map. You’re just screwed.
**The transportation in London is called the tfl (Transport for London) you can access their website, here.
–Depending on what airport you’re flying into, will determine what Tube (or rail) you’ll need to use. For example: Heathrow is accessible via the Piccadilly line. Piccadilly is a central tube line, so this train will take you through Zone 1 (Central London). However, the London City Airport is off of the DLR, and London’s Luton airport is off of the National Rail services. These trains require multiple forms of transportation in order to reach Central London (Zone 1). (Fact: Heathrow averages as the 3-4th busiest airport in the world for the last three years).
–London is comprised of 9 Zones. Each Zone has its own fare, and commuting to and from the various zones produces different fares. These fares also change depending on the time of day (peak and off peak hours). Zone 1-2 is considered the most central to London, and where you’re likely to find majority of the tourist attractions.
–You will spend most of your money in London on transportation (after accommodations). Be prepared for that. This was probably the biggest shock for me when I first got here.
Other important stuff
-If you need a SIM card or a UK number you have a few options. There are service providers like: Vodafone (which I presently use), TalkTalk, GiffGaff, and FeelAtHome. The cheapest option is likely to be either GiffGaff or TalkTalk, depending on your needs.
-Depending on where you’re staying in London will determine how easily accessible certain grocery chains are.
Sainsbury’s– is the most “grocery store” like. It sells a variety of foods and has small cleaning/back to school/liquor sections. They have a good selection of refrigerated items, and produce. You can find Sainsbury’s pretty easily throughout Zone 1-2. But also exist beyond those primary Zones.
Lidl– is a cheaper version of Sainsbury’s (although Sainsbury’s isn’t too expensive). Be warned that they have long lines and do not have bags (you have to bring your own, or carry the items by hand). More prevalent in Zone 2 and beyond.
Wiko– a houseware/kitchenware store that also sells small quantities of pre-packaged foods. If you need to buy tea sets, pots and pans, shower curtains etc. then this is a good option. Pricing is reasonable. Generally Zone 3 and beyond.
Tesco– you can find ‘express’ Tesco shops fairly easily. There are a couple sprinkled in Zone 1, and beyond. They tend to offer ‘reduced’ pricing for certain items (produce, meats etc. that are expiring). Be careful (of course) of items that might qualify as dangerous if consumed beyond the expiration date. But they can offer really good deals on other items.
***There are a couple Whole Foods locations in London as well.
I wish you luck!
Enjoy your stay here in London, it’s a good place.
Crowded, but nice.
Always ask if you’re confused or need directions, and if someone is an asshole to you for trying to ask- then find someone else.
It’s simple really.