Money Matters, London
Your friends who are saying not to get cash in advance probably because of the falling pound may have good intentions but I don't think they're right.
The rate that your bank will give you from an ATM will not be a great rate plus they probably will have a handling charge.
I'd always recommend buying in advance with one of the online foreign exchange companies. I did a post about this on our blog 3 Guys on a London Bus. Here's a link to the post - http://3guysonalondonbus.com/2010/02/where-to-get-the-best-pound-exchange-rate-when-visiting-london
Hope that helps
Unless I'm changing thousands of pounds or dollars I have given up on the currency exchange booths when i travel, as more often than not I simply get had. In this case I recomend you put your $575 back into your bank account and withdraw it from the ATM in 100 pound increments. I don't like to carry too much cash around and while London is generally a safe place its not wise to carry too much money around. Also if you change all the money you're more likley to spend it very quickly. In the UK its the small things that really eat up your money fast, so the less you carry the fewer impusle buys you're likley to make.
I was back in the UK last week and I forgot how heavy the loose change was! It literally weighs you down! I think you'll finish up with around 350 pound which ever way you do it
The so called "City" is London's financial district.
The City is today a major business and financial centre, ranking on a par with New York City as the leading centre of global finance; in the 19th Century, the City served as the world's primary business centre.
A number of skyscrapers have been built in recent years in the City of London and further skyscrapers are either under construction or planned to be built soon
For money exchanging in London the best rates I have found are offered by a company called Thomas Exchange Global. They seem to have the smallest spread between buying and selling rates and there is zero commission.
They have offices at Victoria, near the coach and rail station, and The Strand, near Trafalgar Square. You can check current rates, locations and contact details via their website.
You wont have a problem finding a Exchange office, it felt like I saw one in every corner as we walked through city of London.
They are open to 9-10pm (I think) it was really long opening hours.
So dont worry.
I think everyone knows that the British Pound Sterling (GBP) is the official currency in London. The pound sterling is divided into 100 pence and the denominations for coins are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p; £1 and £2. The denominations for banknotes are £5, £10, £20 and £50, etc.
For information and conversion check out this website:
In London buy an Oyster card for travel by tube and bus - much cheaper and saves queuing for tickets all the time.
Loads of places to go for free museums; churches etc, check out costs before you go. Costs nothing to have a pic with a policeman, soldier etc.
A place to see real history is to walk round historic areas for free. The walk on this link should not disappoint, it covers a lot of architecture used in historical films. Don't be confused by the name Temple, it is a legal not religious term here! http://www.londontourist.org/walk%20three.html
Loads of places to sit and eat a picnic so buy sandwiches for lunch, Marks and Spencer + Pret a Manger are excellent quality.
Ask for tap water in restaurants and if you are not too hungry just have a starter and dessert for dinner, stand for no nonsense from waiters, you are paying! Won Kei at 41 Wardour Street, London is a MUST, very reasonable as are many of the other Chinatown eateries.
Another place I have eaten superbly well is Bistro 1, 75 Beak Street in Soho. A modest establishment with friendly staff and the very best value, http://www.bistro1.co.uk/
Buy tickets for shows at the official booth in Leicester square for later in the day, huge discounts. Beware of fakes offering so called discounts to the unwary.
Plan to see London area by area, its quite big and time can be wasted if you don't appreciate this. A little planning will save loads of time.
United Kingdom is still one of the few EU countries that has decided not to adopt Euro dollars and cents and stay with her own old currency of pounds and pennies.
So still have to change pounds whenever you go to UK.
1 Pound = 1.48933 Euro
1 Pound = 1.96220 US Dollar
At least UK has turned metric and we no longer have to convert between pennies, shillings, pound sterling. Just to know what is a quid.
The money used is Pounds Sterling, some places will, accept Euros too.
There are ATMS ('a hole in the wall') all over the place, and the majority of them do not charge you to withdraw, which is great! (In South Africa there are hefty ATM withdrawal charges)
Another convenience is being able to ask for Cash Back from the local supermarkets when you pay with your debit card. There is no charge for this.
Saves time, hassle and is safer.
Cheques are accepted in most places but aren't used that much anymore.
Although ATM machines are to be found all over, the transaction is always in local currency. BE PREPARED. For example, do not go up to an ATM and think you'd like to withdraw $500 worth of local currency. You first must know the amount in local currency that $500 will buy. I always carry a currency cheat sheet when travelling. In addition to ATM transactions, it's also easier to bargain and make purchases.
For a cheat sheet go to to http://www.oanda.com/cgi/convert/cheatsheet
I've discovered this place that offers very competitive rates for US dollars and Euros, with no commission charge or service charges. They have 2 branches in London, one in Victoria and one on the Strand.
Bypass currency exchange businesses and use your ATM. You're likely to get better exchange rates and there's no risk of incurring heavy commision charges.
ATMs are everywhere so it's also the fastest way to access your funds.
If concerned, check with your bank before you go to make sure your card will work. I believe you need a 4-digit PIN.
London is one of those places that will drain your wallet very quickly. This is one place which requires me to be very budget minded. Just about everything in this city is expensive to locals and foreign visitors alike. Here are some things which helped me out.
(1) Use ATMS to withdraw cash whenever you can. Your bank will likely give you a better exchange rate than the airport, the train station, or the exchange kiosks.
(2) Do not take a taxi. Avoid this at all costs. A ride on one of these could cost you more than a day's wages. Take the tube or a train from whichever airport you fly into. Also make use of the city's excellent transportation system, most notably the tube--mind the gap!
(3) Dont feel like you have to splurge on food. Paris would probably be the place for that. London does have good restaurants, but they are very expensive. Fish and chips, a ploughman's lunch at the pubs, and fast food will do your wallet the least amount of damage. I would even consider bringing some snacks from home so you will not have to eat out as much. No really, I am serious. Wait until you see how much it costs.
(4) This is a good place to research hostels. Hotels are going to cost you a bundle. However, I got a decent rate in the middle of winter at a small hotel near Victoria Station. The bathroom was shared, but the room did not cost me an arm and a leg. You might want to check with the tourist bureaus at the airport when you arrive. There was a place that could find you something in your price range just before getting to the trains at Gatwick airport. They found me a decent hostel for the night.
Fondest memory: Coming home not broke because I avoided the most expensive stuff.
I know, I know. Just stand still in London and the money seems to evaporate.
Still, seven million people manage to live quite happily there, by no means all of them multi-squillionaires, and many many more commute in every day, so it must be possible to manage. Here's some ideas...
Remember that most of the big museums and galleries are free. That should help a lot for starters. For a while in the 1980s and 90s, charging exhorbitant admission fees was considered de rigeur, but the institutions and government realised their mistake when the punters failed to turn up.
Look out for free or low-cost entertainment. City churches do lunchtime recitals of a high standard, and there is good music to be heard for free in the foyers of the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Centre.
Avoid buying anything from street traders in tourist haunts. Many of them are out to fleece you.
Make the most of your Travelcard - you should get one of these that best matches the length of your stay.
Choose restaurants and pubs away from - not necessarily too far - obvious tourist centres. Go for independent places rather than big chains, and make the most of local food specialities, which are part of the experience after all.
Buy food for picnics from street markets and check for bargains in big supermarkets like Tesco rather than convenience stores.
Stay overnight in small hotels, guest houses and B&Bs outside the Circle Line. Don't despise places like Ealing or Richmond, it's easy enough to get into the centre in the morning if you avoid the horrendous rush hour.
Other tips will be added when I think of them!
Bring mondo $$$...as a Canadian, I had to make sure I have enough $$$ for the conversion to Pounds. Think the rate's about $2.25 CDN to 1 Pound. YIKES!!!! It's safe to assume that I didn't spend too much in London.
Fondest memory: Hanging around at Picadilly.