Tips for London travelers (and free things to do and see) by Bob and Rebecca Whitesel, 7/11/17.
TRAVELING AROUND LONDON
During my research trips to England, I’ve discovered a few tips that can make life easier. Mostly about London but also including Cambridge/Oxford/Peak District/etc., I hope these insights help you more fully experience the wonders of England.
Get an Oyster Card (you can order it before you go) which allows you contact-less payment on the subways and buses. It depends on how much you travel but Rebecca and I are very active and thus usually go through about 40 pounds a week. Each person (except for the very youngest) must have an Oyster Card (you cannot swipe in another person.)
The tubes (subways) are fast but can be crowded. Avoid the tubes during rush hours especially if you have luggage. Remember, rush hour on London public transportation (private cars are not advised) such as the London tube (subway) is M-F 7:30-9:30 am and 4:30 – 6:30 pm.
During the day, I travel by bus. If you’re staying in Islington, a number 4 will get you to St. Paul’s Cathedral and a number 19 will get you to Green Park and Regent Street.
Go up to the top of the bus and wait until the front seats are available. Then sit in the front which is like having a tour bus ride through English streets.
Once you get on the bus hang on. It seems as if most bus drivers are retired Formula One drivers. Hang on every single second you are in a bus.
When approaching your stop, ring the bell. Then, to keep from being thrown around as you approach your bus stop, look for a stoplight where the bus might stop so you can go down to the exit (while the bus is not moving).
WEATHER & CLIMATE
England is an island, so there will be short showers (some longer) and temps in the 60s and 70s. So bring a light raincoat with a hood. But, it can also get hot (81 degrees in 2017 in Oxford).
There usually aren’t any mosquitoes, so people will sleep with their windows open. And, because of the island climate there is rarely a need for air conditioning. But, if you need it please respect their culture and just bear a little heat (it will be short lived and rare).
DINING OUT & CREDIT-CARDS
When you eat at restaurants, they will not bring you the bill until you request it. They usually don’t mind people staying around a while in the restaurant. So don’t expect the waiter to bring the bill until you requested.
Apple Pay is taken in most places and seems to be me more secure than using a chip or a magnetic swipe card. Most restaurants will not take swipe cards, so make sure your credit and debit cards have a chip if you want to use them. Also make sure you have a pin number associated with a credit card, because many restaurants want a "chip and pin "rather than a "chip and signature," the latter is more common in the states.
Remember, Americans are perceived as loud and boisterous. The English speak in more muted tones (unless there’s a football [i.e. soccer] game going on). Please keep your voice down and respect their culture.
FREE THINGS TO DO
As noted above, ride upstairs in the front of a double-decker bus for a tour-bus like view of London. (You also might want to pray for bicyclists in front of the bus, which the bus drivers follow much too closely :-O
Go to the Horse Guards stable/museum in the morning and watch the horse guards from just a few feet away. They will go through their changing of the guard right in front of you. This is different than the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (where you will probably be over 100 yards away and several rows deep). At the aforementioned Horse Guards stable/museum you will be just a few feet from the majestic horses and the young 20-something soldiers riding them. It’s a great experience for kids and it’s free every day.
The museums are mostly free and one of my favorites, of course, is the British Museum. Be sure to see the Rosetta Stone and explain it’s significance. Also see the winged bull statues from the Ancient Near East and the Elgin Marbles. When you are ready for something to eat go back to the front of the museum and walk through the gift shop. In the back of the gift shop is a pizzeria which also sells sandwiches and is usually never busy.
Victoria and Albert Museum has a great amount of historical artifacts. And it is right behind Holy Trinity Brompton church if you want to go to church there on Sunday mornings. It is at this church that the Alpha Program began and Nicky Gumbel is the pastor. If you go to the Victoria and Albert Museum after church (which as I mentioned is right behind the church) you can have lunch in the very ornate cafeteria. Just cross through the outdoor courtyard and you’ll find a large café on the north side of the courtyard.
It is always great fun to take a "river boat bus" and visit Greenwich where the Maritime Museum is housed (another free museum). The most enjoyable way to Greenwich the is to catch a river bus from Tower Bridge or even further upstream at the Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theatre. Walk around Greenwich and then walk up the hill to overlook London and Greenwich. You can even stand on the Greenwich Mean Time.
Visit Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theatre and catch a Shakespearean play for only 5 pounds. Yes that’s right, if you want to sit it may cost you 40-50 pounds. But if you’re willing to stand in front of the stage and have the best view in the house, you can do so as a "groundling." This is a tradition that dates back to 1599. Peasants were welcome to come watch the plays but had to stand, so aristocrats could sit in the seats. It’s still only 5 pounds to stand and even these sell out. People bring their raincoats (with a hood) in case it starts to rain (and no one ever leaves when it starts raining – this is England after all). As a groundling you can’t sit down (some kids might get antsy) but adults would love it. If you don’t get tickets, but still want to go, arrive early at the Globe Theatre and lineup at the box office door. People who can’t use their tickets will sell them to you. Bring cash because you are purchasing tickets from individuals, but this is sponsored by the theatre and you can find good seats. Try and get there about an hour before the show because there are usually 15-20 people in line for returned tickets.
A beautiful view and inexpensive dining is available on the six floor of the Tate Modern museum (free again). You can’t miss the museum because it’s right across the Millennium Bridge from St. Paul’s. It was formerly a power station and is noticeable because it still has a giant smokestack. But now it’s a gallery for the modern art run by the British government. On the six floor you can get snacks while overlooking the Thames and there is a dining room with good, yet reasonably priced food (and amazing views).
A great option for lunch nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral is the 101 café at the Salvation Army building. Just use your Google map to find the Salvation Army international headquarters. You can go for a nice lunch and also support the Salvation Army. It’s never too crowded, though there is usually a few people that know about this hidden gem in the city.
Go to "evensong" at St. Paul’s Cathedral for a wonderful experience (just like John Wesley did on the night his heart was changed). Rather than having to pay for tickets to tour Saint Paul’s you can go to evensong at 5 PMmost nights. Go up to the front desk and ask them about entrance to evensong and ask to be seated in the "choir." If you’re lucky they will put you in the choir section, where you will sit where kings and queens sit.
GETTING AROUND (and back home):
If you are staying in Islington and riding a tube to Heathrow it will take (if it is not rush-hour) a minimum of 2 hours and 15 minutes to get through security and then to terminal three at Delta.
When returning to the US, utilize the mobile passport app and usually you will be allowed to go through an expedited US Customs line:https://www.mobilepassport.us
BEFORE YOU GO TO ENGLAND
Contact your mobile phone company and see if it makes financial sense to get an international phone plan. I have one that costs $10 a day but it allows me to use the minutes I typically use in America.
If you have an unlocked cell phone you can inexpensively buy a replacement Sim card in England once you arrive. However in that case you will have an English number and it will cost you extra to call any phone registered in the US.
Don’t forget to purchase and print out any hard copies of train tickets you may need while you’re here.
Be sure to keep your passport safe and out of sight. The same goes for your wallet. London is like any big city, it has its share of pickpockets.
Don’t worry about exchanging US dollars for English £ until you arrive. There are change shops at the airport, but you probably will get a better exchange rate at one of the local Post Office stores.
If you’re planning on taking the subway, known as the "tube," then you’ll usually have to carry your suitcase up and down stairs in most locations. There are some elevator locations that are handicapped accessible and you can check a map for them. But traveling light is always better when using public transportation.
The English cabbies are not only colorful, but they also know a great deal about the area. They can give you fantastic insights on where you’re traveling. But, they are not as cheap as using Uber. So depending upon whether you want to save some money or learn more about the sites you’ll be passing, will depend upon which you pick.
DOWNLOAD A FEW HELPFUL APPLICATIONS
I utilize Google maps because they let me create an accurate route based upon public transportation. Also a good exchange application that lets you figure out how much something costs can be helpful. Uber has drivers almost everywhere, so that’s another good application to download.
Finally, I want to strongly urge everyone to be extra, extra cautious while walking in England. Remember the English drive on the left-hand side of the road (please don’t call it the "wrong-side of the road). This means before you cross any roadway you must "look right, then left." I always tell students that at every street – "look both ways before crossing any curb." Remember always look both ways.
The OxfordTube http://www.oxfordtube.com/ (a bus, sometimes called a coach) leaves from nearby London’s Victoria Tube Station every 15-20 minutes. You can buy your tickets online and it might be a good idea to do so before you leave, since you may have to print them out. They “will send a PDF to you in an email. Please print the PDF as your proof of purchase and exchange it for a ticket with your driver." Also remember, that rush hour on the London Tube (subway) is M-F 7:30-9:30 amand 4:30 – 6:30 am. The Oxford Tube and the X90 both leave London’s Victoria Station every 12-20 minutes, making stops at Marble Arch, Baker Street, Notting Hill Gate, and Shepherd’s Bush before heading to Oxford. Tickets cost £17 if you’re returning the next day, or £20 if you’re returning within 3 months. Travel time is approximately 100 minutes during off-peak times. The Oxford Tube: 01865 772250. X90: 01865 785400
From Oxford colleague Peter Forsaith: “The X90 is a parallel/competing service to the Oxford Tube. Same prices etc.. They run slightly different routes out of central London; the Oxford Tube via Notting Hill Gate/Shepherds Bush, the X90 via (near) Baker Street. Little advantage in paying in advance really… Students going to Christ Church should get off in St. Aldates (make sure to tell the driver), which is directly outside. For Lincoln College get off in High Street (Queen’s Lane), walk up High St to opposite The Mitre, then up Turl St. (5 minutes).”
Trains from London leave Paddington every half hour, costing around £20 for a single trip, and takes approximately one hour. For national rail inquiries, call 08457 48 49 50 or visit their website. Note: cheap tickets can be purchased in advance for as little as £10 return. Check the website of contact National Rail for details. From Peter Forsaith, “Trains, there is now a regular train service from London Marylebone station (200 yds from Baker St.) as well as Paddington. Similar frequency. The return tickets can be used for either. This may be easier depending on where your students are located in London. Journey times both about 1 hour (incidentally, advise them not to catch a stopping train ie stops all stations) to Oxford from Paddington, these take for ever!)”
(Prof. B’s NOTE: It is a long walk from the train station to the center of Oxford. If you travel by train, plan on hailing a taxi to and from the train station. However, if you travel by bus they can deliver you to the center of Oxford.)
THINGS TO DO IN OXFORD
Tour Christ Church, St. Aldate’s Street, Oxford, Oxford OX1 1DP. http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/visiting/timesandprices.
“Christ Church is both Oxford University’s largest College and the Cathedral Church for the Anglican Diocese of Oxford. Visitors are welcomed throughout the year to enjoy Christ Church’s beauty and fascinating history. However, please note that Christ Church is a working academic and religious institution and some areas, including the Hall and the Cathedral, may close, occasionally without notice… The visitor entrance is through the large gate in Christ Church’s Meadow Building.” http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/christchurchcollege.htm. Here you will a ee the seminary [Christ
Church College] where John and Charles attended. Also look for his painting in the dining room [a very famous dining room, often used in movies to represent Oxford].
Lunch Option A: Cafe of St. Mary Church, University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, High Street, Oxford OX1 4BJ,http://www.university-church.ox.ac.uk/contact.html.
Lunch Option B: The Eagle & Child, 49 St. Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LU, 01865 302925,http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theeagleandchildoxford/findus/This is where the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others) gathered on Tuesdays to read and comment on each other’s writings.
Enjoy the ambiance of Oxford. Perhaps you will climb to the top of St. Mary’s Church’s spire for a bird’s eye view of the “city of spires” (be forewarned, small stairs and cramped).
Punt (boat) the Cam. The Cam is the river that runs through town he whose bridge over the Cam gives Cambridge its name. Planting the Cam will allow you to have the best views of the oldest colleges. You will also see the Bridge of Sighs which was informally named because it resembles a similarly named bridge in Italy (though it really is quite different). Nonetheless it is a landmark and only visible from a punting boat. You can even rent a boat yourself and try punting. However don’t do this in lieu of having a guide take you up the Cam too. The guide will take you past most of the colleges. If you punt yourself you’ll probably go around in circles for the first part of your rental period, while trying to get the hang of it. And if you don’t fall in the water, you will create a humorous experience for your companions and passerbys.
Also Cambridge seems to me to be more compact than Oxford that Cambridge. It feels less spread out and more easily navigable.
THINGS TO DO IN BRISTOL
See The New Room, the first purposely built preaching hall with designs ideas by John Wesley (notice the big clock donated by John to keep preachers short). Stand in the pulpit where John and Charles preached. Your Charles home. And don’t miss the new museum (with activities for the kids too) that is the best, most entertaining Wesley museum I have ever seen.
The New Room, 36 The Horsefair, Bristol, UK. BS1 3JE http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/thenewroom.htm
info Web: www.newroombristol.org.uk Facebook: The
New Room/John Wesley’s Chapel Twitter: @NewRoomBristol
“There is a regular train service from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads that takes 1 3⁄4 hours and then it’s a 20 minute walk to the New Room or there is a bus service or taxis are available. The cheaper alternative is coach and there is a National Express service from London Victoria to Bristol which takes 3 hours and then just a five minute walk from the coach station to the New Room. http://mailto:info, Telephone: +44 (0) 117 9264740. Dr. Whitesel’s notes: The National Express coach (long-range bus) service leaves Victoria Coach Station SW1W 9TP and you will want to book tickets to the Bristol Coach Station, Marlborough Street Bus Station, Bristol. BS1 3NU.
THE PEAK DISTRICT
This is the melt in this area between Scheffield in Manchester. Stay at a bed-and-breakfast in either Manchester or Scheffield and rent a car for daily excursions into the rolling peak district. You can also take buses from Scheffield to the center of the Peak District.
Go to Castleton in the middle of the peak district to begin your adventure. There is a park interpretive center there were you can get maps and information. Ask them about the hidden dale where scenes from "The Princess Bride" were filmed. There is a hiking trail through it just a quarter-mile from the interpretive center. But it has a Hidden entrance so be sure and ask how to get there and have them show you on a map. Then walk there from the interpretive center. If you’re driving by car there are parking spaces at the interpretive center.
If you’re driving by car leave town headed to the east towards Manchester and drive up one of the narrowest as most winding roads in the Peak District. When you get to the top drive a few more miles and you will find a parking lot and a trail head that leads to the Mam Tur. The Mam Tur is a high treeless peak with great views but also often howling winds. You can walk up there on an easy half mile hike: https://www.walkingenglishman.com/peakdistrict04.htm
When in the Peak District be sure and visit Chatsworth. This is one of England’s most magnificent manor homes and the scene of countless movies. Parking is free and you can visit the café without paying for the tour. You can also wander the grounds without paying for a tour, but in the tour is you see the inside of the house. This great home has been the backdrop for many movies and television shows. And, it’s a good way to understand how the aristocracy once lived.
There are many winding roads and hiking trails around the Peak District. Rebecca and I found that we can easily spend a week in the Peak District enjoying the many small towns and beautiful dales. Set aside enough time to explore and enjoy this English gem.
JOHN & CHARLES WESLEY SITES
Walk around Wesley Chapel and view Wesley’s grave behind the chapel. There are plenty of things to see in the area (Susanna’s grave across the street and a room with the benches from the Foundry). Also, a few blocks away is the "Charterhouse School" which John Wesley attended and often they have "Evensong" services led by the pensioners (much like in Wesley’s day). The chapel is beautiful.
Go to Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral
and then walk down Aldersgate Street.
Arrive at the location of the Aldersgate Flame at the approximate time as Wesley arrived at this spot where his heart was strangely warmed. "At the approximate location of John Wesley’s conversion on 24 May 1738, a modern bronze sculpture erected in 1981 commemorates the event and features text from Wesley’s journal describing his conversion experience.” http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/aldersgateflame.htm. On the way stop by the location of John Bray’s house (Little Britain Street) where John and Charles often attended the Moravian small group meetings.
(Check back before you go … these tips are "to be continued." 🙂