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The Vine: April 20, 2012

Submitted by on April 20, 2012 – 9:07 AM47 Comments

Since you have so many well-traveled and/or UK-based readers, I thought this time-sensitive issue I've been puzzling over would be perfect for an Ask the Readers. In short, the Life Partner and I will be traveling to the U.K. from the U.S. at the end of July 2012 for his close friend's wedding. The wedding itself is on the coast in Cornwall (the day after the Opening Ceremonies), but we have an opportunity to a) stay in the center of London affordably for a few days after the wedding and b) obtain some free passes to an Olympics event or two. 

The questions are: Should we? Will the city be crowded to the point of being unenjoyable during the Olympics? We've booked some preliminary accommodations that can be changed and wouldn't be too much of a loss to cancel altogether, but soon we need to make more expensive decisions including plane tickets. Given that I'm the sort of person to evacuate a city I live in when a big event comes to town, are we crazy to be heading into the belly of the beast? Any recommendations for non-Olympic/non-"major tourist trap" things to do in London if we do go? Thanks!

C

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  • Lizzie says:

    London resident here. I would say central London will still be enjoyable even during the Olympics. It's a big city, and the majority of the events will be taking place to the east of the centre and a good way out of town. Central London itself will probably look much the same as it always does. Maybe a few more people on the tube, but I certainly wouldn't avoid it on the concern of it being too crowded. I mean, it's always crowded, but it's still a working city and most people will just be carrying on as normal.

    If you think about it, it's probably the best time to come and see London. Everywhere is getting spruced up in anticipation, and everyday hassles like roadworks and infrastructure maintenance are getting done ahead of time so they won't disrupt the games. Seriously, the place is never going to look better or be more welcoming and user-friendly to visitors.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    It will be astonishingly crowded, I expect, but if it were me I wouldn't let it put me off. Take the Tube out to Kew Gardens for a bit of peace when it gets to the point you can't take it any more.

    Do not, repeat DO NOT, go to the Tower of London in the tourist season.

    Try the Courtauld Gallery. Walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. If you do one touristy thing, go to St. Paul's (be sure to climb all the way to the top).

    The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is good. It incorporates the the Royal Observatory, and is a bit out of the way.

    If you want to take a day trip, catch the train to Winchester and go to the cathedral there (where Jane Austen is buried). Totally awesome.

    Have a fantastic trip!

  • Faye says:

    I love that you're so positive Lizzie – I was about to say 'NO! Stay away! It's going to be a travel nightmare'!

    Tho C if u have tickets to events then definitely dont pass it up – as I dnt know anyone who managed to get tickets.

    Just be prepared for it to be really really busy and if its hot, do your best not to go on the tube. Also, if you are going to and from Cornwall by train, book well in advance on Trainline as that way you'll get the best deal.

  • Canyon says:

    Another Londoner here to give you the pessimist's view! Given that we are already being warned by the mayor's office to avoid public transport wherever possible during the Olympics (!), I would count on delays and congestion — though delays and congestion are an everyday occurrence anyway, really. A lot of Londoners will probably leave during the Games, so that may free some things up, but I'd expect that the city will be even more crowded than usual because people who come for the Olympics will most likely want to do usual touristy things as well (if I'm here at the time I will be hunkering down with DVD box sets myself).

    I wouldn't say don't come because hey, if you've got the opportunity, you should take it, and London is a wonderful city and well worth exploring. Maybe just try to avoid the most touristy spots and do things that are a little more off the beaten path. And expect crowding and delays. Same advice as I'd give anyone who visits, really.

  • Clobbered says:

    @Other Katherine: isn't the Greenwich maritime museum and RGO smack next to the Olympian equestrian site?

    OP – Consider actually embracing the Olympic experience and just getting your passes and go. I know people in other Olympic cities who did the whole skip town thing and after regretted it. If you want to avoid they worst crowds, pick sports that are not popular with the locals (say, baseball).

    Think about staying at Shepherd's Bush. If you are a good walker you can see tourist things, eat at some great restaurants and shop without ever having to tackle public transport, which is normally excellent but may be creaking under the Olympic strain.

    Finally, if you are going to be in Cornwall and want to skip London entirely, there are some cool cities to go to with fine sightseeing – Bristol/Bath, Portsmouth, Brighton….

  • Whitney says:

    I would definitely take the opportunity. Olympic tickets are often quite difficult to obtain (at least, they were for the two most recent US ones), so if you've got a guarantee to get in — for FREE — I would not pass it up. You don't say whether or not you get to choose which events you see; if you do get a choice, you can minimize the crowds by picking less popular events.

  • The Other Katherine says:

    @Clobbered – crap, you're right, the dressage events are at Greenwich Park. It looks like they commence on August 2nd. I guess the National Maritime Museum might be OK for Aug. 1st, otherwise C should probably skip. Ah, well.

  • Katherine says:

    Re: the Olympic events tickets, according to my London-dwelling cousins, most of them are already gone and were very hard to come by in the first place. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news in this regard, but there are so many other amazing things to do and see that I don't think you'll miss them at all. :)

  • Leigh says:

    I went to the '96 Olympics in Atlanta (my dad lived there at the time and was able to get tickets to several events). I know it's a different kind of city but really I don't have any memories of it being a horrible nightmarish crowded experience…it was fun! I say embrace the opportunity, and just put your zen pants on regarding crowds and slow transit.

  • Melanie says:

    I'm not a Londoner and know nothing about it, but if I had a lock on affordable accommodations and tickets to Olympic events, I wouldn't miss it for the world. That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, IMO.

  • Nora says:

    I went to London for a week or so not in Olympic season and was thoroughly unimpressed, so don't look to me for recommendations on visiting, like, ever. However, one of my business clients who both lives and works in London is planning on leaving the country entirely during the Games to avoid all the foofaraw.

  • Lizzie says:

    I stand by my optimism! London's always crowded with tourists in the summer, but we manage. And if you stay away from the really touristy stuff (I agree that the Tower of London is best avoided) you'll be fine.

    Kew Gardens is an excellent suggestion, and it's also to the west of the city, so about as far away from the Olympic site as you can get and still be in London.

  • Jay says:

    Another London resident, I vote go! Mostly as im jealous you have acess to tickets. Do allow tonnes of time to get to wherever you need and if you get somewhere early that's extra sightseeing time. The tube is sweaty hell in summer so consider the bus as a longer cheaper cooler alternative that incorporates sightseeing.

    The GILT program will be running all summer for cheaper theatre tickets, some shows are dark during the Olympics and others believe they will struggle for audiences so the offers are good.
    http://www.getintolondontheatre.com

    Do have the usual precautions against pickpockets etc, crime will be rife as it always is during tourist season. Never take your tickets out until you're getting them scanned at the venue.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    I've been daydreaming about a trip to London for years now – so for my own selfish reasons, I love this post! (Also, I sympathize completely with C – I can't imagine being stuck in any city holding the Olympics. I'm a native New Yorker and I can barely stand summer with all the tourists!)

    Hope you have a fabulous time, whatever you decide to do. I have to say, if you have the shot at getting free passes to Olympic events, I think that would be motivation enough for me to deal with my crowd-hating issues and go!

  • Vancouverite says:

    Not sure about what London will be like, but as another crowd-averse person, I have to say that being out and about in Vancouver during the Olympics was an amazing and unforgettable experience. Yes, there were crowds, but everyone was in an overwhelmingly positive mood. Vancouver tried to manage the traffic, and overall I think it worked. Street parking was a lot more limited on major thoroughfares, transit was increased, but the main thing was that for the majority of times, everyone just waited patiently in line.

    I have to say, if given the opportunity, I'd attend another Olympics in a heartbeat (in fact, life partner and I are talking about Brazil 2016). The atmosphere is like nothing else, even if you don't attend any events. People come from all over the world and are so happy to talk with you. When are you going to have another chance to go, and with free event tickets to boot!

    Maybe the summer Olympics will be crazier than in winter. Vancouver is also a lot smaller of a city than London, but I'd have no hesitation. Go!

  • VickyT says:

    I would agree with other comments, but particularly having lived in Sydney during the Sydney Olympics, I would agree with whoever said "embrace it" – in Sydney in 2000 it was an amazing experience just to be in the city, there was a great feel to it. And to have a chance to see some Olympic events is not to be sneezed at (ask anyone in the UK that tried and failed to get tickets to anything!)

  • Nicole says:

    I lived in downtown Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. Granted, Vancouver is tiny compared to London and the winter Olympics are never as big as the summer. However, there were a lot of really freaked out people who were convinced the Games would ruin our everyday lives – we were being encouraged to change our work hours to avoid rush hour traffic/transit! And you know… there were some small changes to our routine, but otherwise it was fine. (My pet theory is that a lot of locals avoided downtown like the plague – transit was a breeze!)

    The streets were crowded but so many were closed off from traffic so it felt like one big street party. There was a carnival atmosphere for most of the two weeks. The tourists were fine. It felt really safe because of the increased police presence. The city was cleaner than it's ever been, because they were being so careful of how they looked to the world. I'll also never forget the roar of noise when Canada won the hockey gold! It was pretty magical.

    The only concern might be higher costs than normal. Almost every restaurant upped their prices for the two weeks. Not to mention accommodation costs. Good luck!

  • Dan says:

    I'm an Olympics fan and avowed crowd hater, but I'm still going. Luckily, I'm on my own, so I don't have to worry about courtesy to another individual which can be trying. I went to the Vancouver games, and I thought they did a great job. I expect London will do a similarly competent job of managing the masses. I also expect that if you have any interest in Olympic sports that it will be an absolutely electric environment. I'm going to be on vacation, so I know I'm going to be having a good time regardless. You should do it. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should take advantage of it. Unless you have difficulty navigating walking and standing, you should not pass up the opportunity. I'm getting SO EXCITED!!!

  • Debineezer says:

    I stayed with friends for the '96 Atlanta games and wouldn't have missed it for anything. So much fun and I don't even remember the crowds.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I visited London almost–oh,God–fifteen years ago, and heartily agree with the recommendation to spend at least one day in the country. My mother booked a "Jane Austen" trip with a local guide, complete with flat cap, braces, and Mr. Toad car, and we had a ball. (One caveat–thatch cottages don't get any more thrilling after the first dozen or so.)

    But if you go to St. Paul's (and you totally should) read Connie Willis' short story Fire Watch and her two part novel Blackout and All Clear. They focus on St. Paul's and really make you feel the depth of love and history that surrounds the building.

  • attica says:

    I'm also going to recommend going to London. My advice is to use tactics and logistics learned the hard way in a overpopulated public high school: bone up on indirect access routes. That is to say, going around may be longer as the crow flies, but faster if there are too many other folks in the way. Study your maps before you go!

    NYC example: when wanting to get to a particular 5th Ave address, say Rockefeller xmas tree, don't use 5th Ave to get there — use Madison and then cut over on the nearest cross-street. Easier on the soul, and quicker to boot.

  • drsue says:

    Another vote for not missing an olympics. I was in Salt Lake for the 2002 winter games, and it was incredible! I am so glad I was here, and be part of another one in a heartbeat. Yes it is crowded, but everyone is there to be a part of it and have FUN! SLC was never so alive as when the Olympics were here.

  • Brianne says:

    I've actually heard quite the opposite, that seeing the city during the Olympics is one of the best times to go. Many people will be scared away. People were freaked out about the Olympics in LA in 1984, but the freeways were apparently really empty and open. Just like when we had Carmageddon last year (one major freeway completely closed for a day and a half), the fear of God kept people off the roads and it was actually a quite pleasant weekend.

  • Jenn says:

    Not from London and haven't lived in an Olympic City during the Olympics, so take this with a grain of salt. But I did attend the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta with my church music group and it was a BLAST! It was crowded and hot, but it's still one of my most treasured memories. None of the events were sports I was passionate about, but being there, in person, to see these athletes compete was just awesome! I also love the Olympics, so I would LOVE to be in your position. If you could take it or leave it, then it's probably not worth the extra hassle.

    I'm heading to London on vacay next month, but I'm very much looking forward to all the tourist-y things, so no help there either. But if you can get Olympic tickets, take them and go!

  • Karen says:

    While I have not been to an Olypmics, and didn't even try to get to the one in Vancouver, even 'tho it was only 90 minutes away, friends who lived in Vancouver had nothing but good things to say about the Cultural Olympiad that goes on at the same time. They attended various performances and shows, and no sports, and had a great two weeks seeing artists that normally wouldn't be travelling to Canada.

  • Buni says:

    It's a bit touristy and – lord knows – not cheap, but the London Eye is totally worth it. Honestly. The queues can get a bit crazy in the day but if you go v. early or, if you're lucky, get on one of the twilight trips (may be late in August though) it's brilliant. I've been here 12 years and I will never get tired of going round the Eye.

  • Buni says:

    …oh, and I once spent an hour 'n' a half quite happily sat by the shark tank in the Aqaurium. It was strangely soothing.

  • Morgan says:

    Another vote for going. I live in Calgary and was just a kid when we hosted the Olympics, but it was amazing. Even if you don't go to any of the events, it's such a fun time to be in a city – it's like everything kind of stops and there's just so much to do and see. So being in London AND getting to be part of the Olympic festivities? Say yes!

  • phineyj says:

    I think the extra visitors for the Olympics will be at least partially offset by Londoners staying out of town or taking holidays on the relevant weeks. London is always busy morning noon and night anyway, and there are major events all the time. The tip above about finding out alternative ways to travel is a good one — I well remember watching the London Marathon a few years back — the DLR (light railway) broke and my husband and I ended up advising about a dozen panicking out-of-towners in the ways of the bus, the Tube, etc…!

    Comfy shoes, a decent A to Z and being prepared to walk will help a lot. One thing to look out for is that the Tube map is just a schematic — you may be able to walk between some lines/stations much more quickly than doing the transfer underground.

    It's hard to know what to recommend without knowing a little about your tastes, but personally I'd avoid the entire West End like the plague. I also think the area round Bankside (Globe Theatre, Tate Modern) will be ridiculously crowded those weeks – but the river walkway is very attractive – just aim to do it early in the morning. Boat trips are always fun.

    If you like history you can wander round the Inns of Court for free. I love seeing lawyers in wigs rushing around with their heaps of papers, but maybe that's just me…

    I also really like what has been done to the area around King's Cross station and St Pancras — there's the Wellcome collection, the British Library (which has the Magna Carta), King's Place (music/art venue) and the restored St Pancras station buildings are amazing. All of that is pretty much free.

    All our national museums are free to go into too, although you have to be a bit cunning — get there in the morning, go to the furthest part of the museum and work your way back down to avoid crowds. I can't imagine the V&A getting crowded, or not in every gallery, but it can take a while to find your way out without a sherpa.

    When it comes to theatre I much prefer the National Theatre, which is a 50s building and a lot more comfortable than being squished into a 'historic' West End theatre (and overcharged) and having to queue for hours for the loos! The Southbank Centre (music venue) is a brilliant place to sit inside and get a coffee. Or just sit — you don't have to buy anything.

    Hope that is some help, but if you're not a history/arts/museums sort of visitor let me know and I will make alternative recommendations. I was focusing on the free stuff to save your money for the travel, coffees, food…(also I hear that you can't take so much as a bottle of water into the Olympic Park itself, so the catering on those days is going to set you back a bit).

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    You know, every time New York DOESN'T win an Olympics bid, I'm totally relieved about it — the crowds! the traffic! the crazeballs security! — but this thread is making me rethink my curmudgeonliness ("curdudgeon"?) on the subject. The closest I've ever been to an Olympic event is rooming with someone who hooked up with Nelson Diebel. Actually going would probably be really awesome.

  • CindyP says:

    I always recommend smaller, more offbeat museums no matter what, and that would go double in a situation like this. My London experience is almost 25 years in the past, but I really liked the Museum of London: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/

  • Claire says:

    As a Sydney resident, I say: Go! It'll be crowded but it will be a happy crowd.

  • Chesh says:

    I'd also recommend staying in the Shepherd's Bush area, or maybe London Bridge, because you could walk to most major museums from there. Either way I'd definitely go! If you're concerned about the biggest attractions being too crowded, you can probably find half a dozen lower-profile activities that would interest you. There's a museum of dentistry, even. Pop some of your hobbies into the Time Out London site and see what it spits out. I've also found a lot of slightly offbeat attractions through the 2FOR1 London guide.

    My caveat would be to avoid Oxford Street at all costs, because it's a crowded hellscape full of slow-moving tourists walking seven abreast even in the pit of the off-season. If you want to experience British high street shopping, go to Westfield in Shepherd's Bush.

  • DCB says:

    As a home counties resident I'd say "go". Tickets for the Olympic events are few and far between, it would be a shame to squander them, and London is always crowded in summer but we cope anyway.

    If you find yourself at a loose end and the weather is kind then a walk along the south bank of the Thames is always interesting. On the other hand if the weather is normal for England in July then I'd recommend the Imperial War Museum as being a bit out of the way and a fascinating day out.

    I would also second The Other Katherine on her recommendation of Winchester. The cathedral is indeed lovely but the rest of the town is also well worth a look, as perhaps the most quintessentially English small city I know of.

    Hope that's some help and enjoy your visit!

  • Tina says:

    Another Londoner here saying definitely go for it. We are splitting the difference and getting out of town for the first week and coming back for the second (which is when our tickets are for). Most people who applied did not get any tickets at all so if you have an opportunity for some, definitely go for it.

    Yes, it will probably be crowded and I wouldn't recommend getting in a taxi at all as they won't be able to use the Olympic lanes, but if you stick to the tube to get around you should be fine.

    Also, London in August is not like New York in August – it is usually cool and rainy. It is extremely unlikely that you will be in the middle of sweltering heat.

  • Cyntada says:

    Can't help with London, but the Olympics were in Los Angeles when I was a teenager, and I saw something I never thought could be: Disneyland was deserted. DE. SERT. ED. As in so deserted, my friend and I were walking on to popular rides and getting the boat all to ourselves because the operators were thrilled just to have a reason to pull the lever. Even saw Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach enjoying the day, because: deserted! Olympic events were scattered all over So Cal, including in Orange County, and everyone was crowding those places. No one left to visit The Crowdedest Place on Earth.

    Hopefully, your experience of London will be that everything you want to see will be blissfully peaceful, and as to the difference, Zen pants highly recommended.

  • Faye says:

    Adding some examples – and please go no where near the big old touristy things like the eye or the British Museum, which are crazy at the best of times. Time Out has some great examples in its Secret London sections, with cool little museums and hidden gardens

    http://www.timeout.com/london/aroundtown/features/9451/Hidden_London.html

    I second the suggestion of the NT over the West End (though having just seen Matilda and Sweeney Todd I would heartily recommend both) and the South Bank is all lovely – though as its near the Eye beware the crowds – try walking along the embankment side (you are right next to the fancy buildings rather than looking at them from the better view on the often crowded Southbank). On the Southbank front if you need a breather in the dark, the BFI has the Hitchcock season running this Summer.

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/hitchcock/

    If you plan well you can meander round back streets of amazing houses in areas like Chelsea, Kensington and Knightbridge without having to hit any of the busy main streets (though as Hyde Park is a venue even that may be busy).

  • Cait says:

    OP here, thank you all for the excellent input! I've been busy at another wedding and away from email since Thursday night. Still not sure if we'll do London (a couple of days in Iceland are a tantalizing alternative) but I truly appreciate your thoughtful responses!

  • phineyj says:

    I know where you're coming from, Sarah…I'd describe the London attitude to the whole thing as 'curmudgeontotheMAX' but it has been quite interesting these last few months to see people grudgingly getting a bit excited. Although I still think we should have let the French do it and we could have nipped across on the Eurostar and they could have done the tidying up.

  • Kristen B says:

    You have accommodations AND tickets? Holy crapballs, why are you even asking this question!?!? GO! I want to live vicariously through you!

  • Tina says:

    Oh, and if you want to see some truly Olympic level whining please see this, from a man who is supposed to be a beloved comedian (I can only think that he must be sleep deprived since his wife has just had a baby). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/22/olympics-thank-god-for-sponsors

    As for other things to do, there are so many wonderful things to do in London! Here are a few: Spencer House, Apsley House, Eltham Palace, the V and A, the tour of the House of Commons, Greenwich Greenwich Greenwich, Dennis Severs House, Sir John Soane's Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, Dr Johnson's House, the British Library, the Design Museum, Selfridges, the Brick Lane Beigel Bake, the National Portrait Gallery, the Courtauld, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Academy, etc etc etc.

    Sorry to go on. But it's a fabulous city. If you can overlook the whining (see above).

  • Laura says:

    Another Brit here, saying "go for it". Since the wedding's in Cornwall you'll be getting a taste of the countryside (and the Cornish coast has the scope to be truly spectacular in August), a couple of days to see the city for contrast could be really neat. Yes, it'll be a bit of a scrum, but if you sort of brace for that I think you'll have a great time. If you can, avoid the Tube at rush hour (before 9 and between about 5 and 7:30) – London is much more walkable than you think, and if you're fairly fit and healthy doing chunks of the city on foot can be a great way to see it. Consider spending some time in the parks (Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Green Park), or down by the water, if the weather's half decent. Check out some of the free museums – the British Museum and Natural History Museum are jewels in the city's crown and may actually be quieter than usual while the games are on. And if you do have a shot at tickets for any events (they were like gold dust over here), I'd say go for it. I live 40 miles north of London, in Cambridge (also well worth a visit, though if you have only a few days on this trip I'd suggest spending them all in town), and the only thing that's keeping me away is the fact my first baby's due July 31 (and I hugely don't want to go into labour on the Tube :D)

  • Laura says:

    Another Londoner chiming in with a "Yay" vote (and as an aside, I didn't know there were so many of us – hello everyone!) I applied for and failed to get Olympic tickets, and I'm still sorry. But I'm looking forward to it, I have to admit, and if you're prepared for some bustle, and invest in some research, I think you'd love it.

    I've never got around to doing most of the touristy things, but the Wellcome collection is always worth a visit, though not necessarily if you're squeamish. One of their previous exhibitions featured anatomical models that… haunt me. It'll be summer, so if you're prepared to walk around, some of the best parts are found by wandering. Highgate cemetery is a surprisingly lovely walk, and Angel is lovely – Sadlers Wells theatre, an antique market, some excellent places for brakfast, and Ottolenghi's restaurant, which I love.

    Also, in defence of Charlie Brooker, curmudgeonly has always been his schtick. Just go with the vitriol.

  • Abigail C says:

    Oxford resident, long-term worker in London here. I say go, but stay to the west of central London – Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, even Notting Hill or the Paddington/Bayswater Road area are all good. If you can get tickets to an Olympics event, then obviously go to that, but central London – the National Gallery, British Museum, and other cultural attractions will all be open and probably not as crowded as usual (i.e. Londoners will have scarpered and the Olympics crowd most likely not that interested). If you find it intolerable, west London is a good jumping off point for Oxford, Bath, Straford, and a wealth of other destinations which are an easy day-trip.

    Enjoy!

    Abigail

  • Sarahnova says:

    Like a lot of big cities, London is basically a lot of villages all yoked together and orbiting the centre. If you want to do something different/explore one of the "villages" and experience something a bit more chilled, I'd recommend the following:

    - Maida Vale (aka Little Venice)
    - Brixton (strong Afro-Carrib influences; a little rough around the edges, but ignore anyone who dooms-and-glooms about it being dangerous – I live there)
    - Stoke Newington (lovely green, lots of local Turkish businesses)
    - Richmond; enormous, amazing park, and the river.

    I also love the Museum of Surgery, in London Bridge, if you have a taste for ye olde-fashioned gore.

  • CJ says:

    As someone who lived in an Olympic city (Atlanta 1996) I say if you have the opportunity to go to anything take it. Yes it will be crowded and crazy but it's such a cool feeling to be part of the events. I got to see a baseball game, some swimming & gymnastics. It was really really fun. Maybe it was because I'm a former gymnast & a baseball lover but I had a great time even when it was super crowded (which usually puts me right off).
    Have a great trip!

  • hari says:

    London will be hellish in August but then it's always hellish in August. Not really about weather but just the people.

    That being said, I recommend Borough market which is a great food market near London Bridge Station open on Friday and Saturdays, and I recommend looking for off the beaten path pubs – anywhere within half a mile of something tourist-y will overcharge you.

    Same thing is true for food – there's a couple of good chains if you're looking to keep costs low and they generally avoid the tourist tax. Pizza Express aint bad and often there are iphone vouchers you can get the meals. Wagamamas is all japanese noodles though prices have gone up recently. Nandos is South African chicken by way of Portugal and is pretty reasonable.

    Avoid places like the London Dungeon or Madame Tussauds unless you have a real yen for them. Queueing to get in will take several hours unless you are there at the crack of dawn.

    If you can I'd do the Buck house (buckingham palace) tour. It's not as glitzy as you might expect and generally gives you an insight into the royals if that's your thing.

    Whatever you do make sure you have both a bottle of water and a book for the tube. Sometimes the trains stop in tunnels due to delays – and you'll be very grateful for both.

    Also buy an oyster card – it's a fiver and fill it up with money for pay as you go travel or a pass. Don't pay cash for tube or bus fares – oyster fares are half as much as cash fares.

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