Restaurants: (book as many of these ahead of time as you can-see note on Visa Concierge Service).
Any good bookstore in the US sells "Zagat" food guides for different cities. They are totally reliable because the reviews are written by people who have dined there. I have them for every city I travel to. Buy one for London and take it with you as a great reference.
- The Ivy or their sister restaurant J. Sheekey (both in the theatre district). Bistro atmosphere, great location for pre-theatre. Contact them both by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rules - The real essence of England; moderate price, just off the strand; has been there since the 1700's, have their "sticky pudding" for dessert. Avoid some of the wild game meats except pheasant unless you are adventurous. The atmosphere is a "must see" in London. Their email address: email@example.com
- Gordon Ramsey - in the Chelsea Dist. There are two restaurants. Very expensive and formal but perhaps the best meal I've ever had anywhere except perhaps in Lyon, France. ($450 for lunch for two).
- Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place - very exotic and interesting interior. Contemporary Asian food. Lunch is cheaper than dinner. A FUN popular upbeat place for young people.
- Rasa Restaurants - great Indian food. There are several in the city in different locations - some vegetarian, others offer both meat and veggie dishes. Delicious!
- Have tea at "Fortnum and Mason." High tea is around 5 or 6 with savories and sweets. The British do "tea" religiously.
- If you have a Visa Card you can call the Visa Concierge Services. in the US. Tell them all of the reservations you want, like the car below and/or restaurant reservations and they will make these arrangements for you at no cost. Their phone number is 800-953-7392.
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- From the airport to your hotel I like to prearrange a car because you arrive jet lagged and it's not much more than a taxi to arrange a car. A reliable company I have used many times is St. John's Wood Cars. They pick you up at baggage claim with your name on a sign. They do charge for waiting time if your plane is late. I believe the basic charge is around $55 plus tip to take you to and from Heathrow to central London. Call them from the US/They don't have email. London is 9 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time..
St John's Wood Cars
90 Haverstock Hill
London NW3 2BD
0207-431-8555 (from UK)
011-44-207-431-8555 (from US)
Because the "tube" aka "underground" is SO easy to use, I never take taxis. You can buy a one-week pass at any underground station for around $30 that gives you unlimited use in Zone 1, which is central London. If you have to go further out into Zones 2, 3 or 4, you just buy a supplemental ticket. There are tube stops almost on every block in the city. It is truly the best way to get around. The pass (oyster card) also allows you to take all red double decker busses, which sometimes makes sense if you are only going a few blocks and don't have time to walk. The underground lines are color coded with different names. You just look at the end destination and you know which train to get.
You swipe the oyster card upon entering and exiting the station. There are two sides of the track on each station and always a large map so you can easily figure out in which direction you want to go.
- The Wallace Collection, Hertferd House, Manchester Square - a charming small house museum with a lovely central covered courtyard where you can have lunch.
- The Victoria & Albert - by far my favorite museum with interactive learning and fabulous exhibitions.
- The British Museum - you will see an incredible glass hanging sculpture in the foyer by Dale Chihuly, the famous Seattle art glass sculptor.
- The Queens Gallery and the Queens Mews.
If you are fascinated with royal things and or horses, these are two great stops. I believe the Mews are only open on Wednesdays but check in the "Time Out" magazine.
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Theatre & Entertainment
- As soon as you get to London go to any newsstand and buy a "Time Out." It will list all the theatres, reviews, special events with box office numbers, times, etc. Any play with Dame Judy Densh is a must.
- Unlike America, everyone eats ice-cream in the theatre and SMOKES in the drinking area.
- If the musical "Never on a Sunday" is still playing by Andrew Lloyd Weber - see it. It's truly wonderful. Any play or musical in London is a magical experience.
- If you go to Leicester Square, there is an official half-price ticket booth that opens around 11 AM (by noon the line gets long). Make sure you don't go to some of the smaller unofficial half-price lines/booths that are along the walkway when you get out of the tube. Many say they are rip-off's. This one is in the center of the open square near the open park. They will have a HUGE lighted board listing plays & musicals that are for sale at half price. The theatres are all so small that it doesn't matter where your seat is and you can save a bundle with a great selection of probably 50 things to see.
- The Savoy is world famous. They often feature a production from Gilbert & Sullivan. I loved "The Mikado." The restaurant I mentioned above called "Rules" is within walking distance of the Savoy.
- The Royal Ballet (and opera) are out of this world. If you've never seen "Covent Garden," see a performance there. It's one of the most elegant and grand houses in Europe. They also have back stage tours if that interests you. Don't get side benches in the upper floors for a performance, they are uncomfortable. Tickets are often sold out in advance so I would encourage you to order these online in advance. I saw "Cinderella," the ballet. It was heavenly. The US stage productions look so minimalist compared to what London produces.
- Almost everything is more expensive than in the US
You have to go to Harrod's. I like to take home little gifts like tea, jams or chocolate which make great hostess gifts in the US. Their food court is an eye to behold and don't forget to see the Memorial to Princess Diana and Dodie al Fayad near the escalator.
- If you like fine, soft, wonderful Egyptian cotton men's and women's underwear, T-shirts for cold weather, tights, etc., then go to the department store "Marks & Spencer." I stock up on black tights, sheer & opaque, every time I go there because it is softer than anything I have found in the US and it wears like iron. They have several grades of Egyptian cotton so look for the nicest.
- There are several antique markets that are wonderful to explore. I usually go to "Alfie's," a 4 story building a few blocks off Edgeware Rd. on the Bakerloo tube stop. It's located in an Arab neighborhood and the selection of antiques is terrific. I always take home some antique silver culinary items like oyster forks or individual tea pots. The selection is wonderful.
- Reject China stores are everywhere in London. If you need extra pieces to your set of China or Irish crystal, you can get some great prices at any of these stores.
- Charring Cross Road is where all the hundreds of bookstores are located if you like to explore book stores. Foyles is my favorite.
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Other Travel Tips
I would advise getting some British Pounds Sterling before you go because you'll need it for the transportation in from the airport unless you want to stop at an ATM at Heathrow, which can sometimes be difficult to find and sometimes they are out of money or don't accept your particular kind of ATM card.
Take an extra photocopy of your passport and pack it in one of your suitcases in case you lose your passport.
Upgrade your economy ticket to business class with miles if you can. The difference in how you arrive on the other end is like day and night. I usually find that if I arrive during the day I can usually fall asleep for a few hours (because it is night time here), and when I wake up I take something which helps me to sleep through their night. The next day I'm raring to go. Getting sunlight in your eyes helps your body and mind get into the new rhythm.
Great Web sites to prepare for your trip:
http://www.i-uk.com General info on traveling to Britain
http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic Currency convertor.
http://ticketselect.co.uk Buying theatre tickets online
http://www.OfficialLondonTheatre.co.uk/ London Theatre Guide
http://www.albemarle-london.com/breathoflife.html London Theatre Guide
http://www.timeout.com/ Online version of "Time Out"
http://www.rules.co.uk/ Rules Restaurant
http://www.london-eating.co.uk/19.htm The Ivy Restaurant
How to Get the Best Exchange Rate (and Avoid Fees)
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