When to visit attractions
London is a great city to visit, but perhaps unfortunately you’re not the only person to think so! It is always crowded with tourists, and to make the various sights even busier, sometimes we locals like to go along too! So it’s good if you can to plan ahead and consider what might be the quieter times to visit. Of course it is obvious that weekends are likely to be busier than weekdays, and that school holidays are also very busy (though some of the museums, for example the Natural History and Science Museums, are often also very busy in term time with visiting school groups). But some factors are less obvious, so when I recently came across a website suggesting the best times to visit for many of the major attractions I thought the information worth saving and sharing here. So here are their suggestions:
Week days: the first hour of opening (10:00 – 11:00)
Weekends: the museum opens late on Fridays, with fewer people about.
Imperial War Museum
Week days: first thing Monday is the quietest, or try the end of any day (after 17:00)
Weekends: first and last thing on a Sunday are your best bet
Week days: midweek is quietest, also Mondays tend to be quiet (but beware Bank Holiday Mondays when the opposite is true)
Weekends: arrive as doors open at 10:00 – gets much busier from lunchtime onwards
National Portrait Gallery
Week days: Monday morning is a quiet time to visit
Weekends: as for the the National Gallery, arrive as doors open at 10:00 – gets much busier from lunchtime onwards
Natural History Museum
Week days: weekday afternoons are best as the mornings are busy due to school groups, especially in the dinosaur section. But Fridays are busy all day
Weekends: first thing in the morning or late afternoon, i.e. close to opening and closing times (opens at 10:00 with last admission 17:30, closing at 17:00)
Royal Academy of Arts
Week days: Mondays and Tuesdays aren’t as busy as the rest of the week
Weekends: Sunday mornings, just after the galleries open at 10:00
St Paul’s Cathedral
Week days: the cathedral opens early for services at 7:30am and 8:00 (everyone’s welcome), and then officially to sightseers at 8:30, with the galleries opening from 9:30. If you can get to the Whispering Gallery at 9:30 you’ll have a chance to play around with the acoustics without too much interruption.
Weekends: opens earlier than most other places and as with many others, first thing is best
Sir John Soane’s Museumv
Week days: the quietest time to visit is 10:30-12:00, and the quietest day is Wednesday Weekends: usually quietest 11:00-12:00 on a Saturday (and shut on Sundays)
Tate Modern & Tate Britain
Week days: Tate Modern is open late every Friday, and the Tate Britain on select Fridays. These are often quiet times to visit, but otherwise visit first thing in the morning
Weekends: first thing is always less hectic, with Sunday at 10:00 your best bet of avoiding the crowds at both
Tower of London
Week days: early morning on a Tuesday.
Weekends: early morning on either day
Victoria & Albert Museum
Week days: weekday mornings better than later in the day
Weekends: first thing on either day is best
The famous British Bobby - or not!
Take a look at the attached photo. Two men wearing black Magnum boots, dark uniform trousers, utility belts, stab-proof vests, hi-visibility jackets and dark blue forage caps so they must be policemen, right? Wrong. These two men have no more legal powers than I do, they are what is known as Enforcement Officers. If you look closely you can see that written on the back of the police style hi-visibilty jackets. The problem, and it is all over Britain not just London, is that there are so many people wandering about in quasi-police uniforms that a foreign visitor would be hard-pressed to know who was who. I know cynics who suggest it is merely an attempt by the authorities to fool people into thinking there are more proper police officers on the streets than there actually are. I make no comment.
Let me try and talk you through the whole thing. Firstly, proper police officers, how do you tell them? Well, anyone who is wearing the traditional "Bobby" helmet is probably a proper, trained police officer, they are the only ones allowed to wear them with one exception (see next paragraph). Female officers wear the fairly distinctive bowler type hats. However, not all police officers in uniform wear the helmet. Depending on various things, many of them wear forage caps like the ones in the photo, and some even wear berets or baseball caps, although this is unusual. One way, you can tell a proper police officer or Special (again, see next paragraph) is that their forage caps will have a blue and white chequered band round them. Unless, of course, you are in the City of London (only the central "Square Mile", not London as a whole) when the band is a red and white chequered pattern. Confused yet? I haven't even started.
Next we have Special Constables. "Specials" are members of the public who volunteer for unpain police duties, get some training and have legal powers when they are on duty. In days past, they were only allowed to wear forage caps but now they are allowed to wear the "bobby helmet". Trying to fool the public again? "Specials" were immortalised in the famous old music hall song "My Old Man (Said Follow the Van)" made famous by Marie Lloyd, the last two lines of which are,
"Well you can't trust a special like the old time coppers,
When you can't find your way home."
Next up are Police Community Support Officers. Again employed by the police, they have no legal powers above that of an ordinary citizen, little training, yet are dressed similarly enough to confuse the visitor. Look out for a plain light blue band on the caps.
Then we have traffic wardens. The same uniform as police officers and specials except for the fact that the chequered band on the forage cap is yellow and white. They have limited legal powers, all to do with traffic control.
Finally, we have the local authority wardens or enforcement officers. As I said at the top of this tip, they again have no legal powers although they can issue some sorts of tickets for parking and, I believe, some other offences like littering. Other than policing on the cheap, I can see no reason for them. I read and hear that they are meant to ensure public confidence but they certainly don't instill confidence in me!
So there you have it. If, and I hope not, you have any problems in the UK then you can probably ask for assistance from any of these but what level of service you get can potentially vary greatly.
500 pounds fine
Be aware there is a hefty penalty for urinating on the streets.
We are talking a fine up to 500 pounds!
The same goes for feeding the birds at certain places.
...and even spitting can be fined with a £80 penalty!
It's all part of Section 5 of the Public Order Act, 1986 (and local bylaws).Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Adventure Travel
- Water Sports
Beware- Safety on Thames Path
If you are walking or cycling along this section of the river between North Greenwich station and the Cutty Sark it’s a section by the Thames Path on the National trail that it doesn't have any safety fence or wall due to the developments in the surrounding area.
The area it's wide enough so you can avoid going near the edge but if you do have any small children then it’s advisable to keep an eye on them as that stretch of the river it's very deep.
Also some of the signs are facing at different directions and again these it's down to the developments on that part of the area, as they move them around but never put them back in the right order.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
What is the weather going to be like? is probably the most asked question about the city on all travel websites.
London's climate is relatively mild compared to other places of similar northern latitude due to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream that originate in the Gulf of Mexico so we don't normally get very harsh winters. Having said that, Great Britain is a comparatively small island and weather patterns are also influenced by the Arctic Jet Stream.
Right now as I write this in mid July near London Heathrow it hit 98.6F (37C) with clear blue skies earlier today, temperatures in Central London at street level have soared way above 100F in the past. It could chuck it down with rain in the morning. Then again it might not. Your guess is as good as mine.
Six months ago in January I got up for work at 5am and it was a crisp 21F or minus 6C. That is nowhere near as cold as cities like Toronto or New York with a similar latitude at that time of year.
For those who don't understand the technicalities and science of weather prediction, don't worry. or fret too much. You are not the only ones. We haven't a clue what will happen here either.
The United Kingdom is a prosperous and developed country. If you arrive without an umbrella and it pours with rain (which is possible at any time of year) you can buy one here. If you get here and find it's "a bit nippy" you can buy a warm jacket from Primark for $20. If you packed thermal Arctic gear expecting it to be freezing, and it's scorching hot don't panic. There is always a market on ebay for it and you can use the proceeds to buy short pants(trousers) and some t-shirts.
I have included the government's own link to their National Meteorological Office. They are responsible for the weather forecasts so don't blame me. :)
This is pretty serious. You'll embarrass yourself at the very least if you get this wrong.
STICK TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ESCALATOR UNLESS OVERTAKING.
Treat the escalators of London like a highway - some people are moving very fast and will overtake you. If you stand two astride across both lanes of the elevator people might shove or curse you - you are breaking very serious etiquette. For the workers of London, time is money. There's a lot lost when you loiter, and they want to get everywhere very quickly. If you block their path, expect their wrath.
It might seem rude, but when you live a city as crowded as London, it's a very good way of keeping pedestrian traffic flowing. It's actually annoying for me coming back from London and finding people not practicing this rule in other parts of the world.
DON'T URINATE IN THE STREET
On my walks in Central London i noticed that there are much less public toilets than there used to be, which posed a problem in the cold weather. So you have the choice of popping in to a pub to relieve yourself but you would feel obliged to purchase a drink and you would face the same problem an hour or so later. Other options is to try and sneak into a fast food joint but some of the toilets there have a numerical lock and the number will only be given to genuine customers. The parks seem to be the only place where i could find public toilets easily. Should you risk hanging it out in public you could face a £80 fine.
This is a warning for people like me, who come from countries where we don't pay for seating.
I am not used to it, so when I see a seat in a park, I sit, only in London, you soon are asked to pay for the pleasure.
Not cheap either.......
In St. James Park, Deck Chairs had to be paid for and Cost....
Up to 1 hour: £1.50
Up to 3 hours: £4.00
All day usage: £7.00
Deck chairs are available from March to October during daylight hours, weather permitting.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Women's Travel
God damn London is busy
With so many people walking about at all times of night, they become part of the scenery. And they move. It's like a constantly changing landscape. You can look up at a building, into a shop window, or down a side street, and when you look back at the path you've been treading, it's changed dramatically. It can be very disorienting.
It's part of the excitement of a big city, but you have to be on your toes to avoid bumping into people, especially strange men who ask "can you do me a favour?" when you slam straight into their face on a dark, shaded corner, or suddenly find yourself being offered cocaine from a dealer in Soho without time to think of a response. It's not a dangerous city, but there are always problems for the unwary.
Most times the speed of the city will just cause others to get annoyed with you. Londoners are always going somewhere, and they want to get there yesterday. If you dawdle on the street, or chat on the escalators while blocking the left lane, you might get shoved or shouted out. There's a way of behaving in big cities to ease the congestion, and they are usually sensible.
Driving on the left side
The roads - almost always- have markings that help you remember to stay on the left. For example, when approaching a T-junction, the left side of the road has broken double white lines and a triangle.
These markings also help you to remember to stop and yield to the traffic coming from your right. Once clear to cross, you cross on the opposite side of the road. You might find it a challenge at first, but you will quickly get used to it.
Health and safety hazards in West End theatres
Attending a West End musical is one of the absolute highlights of a visit to London, and well worth the expense. Having been lucky enough to indulge in two West End musicals - the excellent Billy Elliott and the stupendously wonderful Oliver! - during my recent trip, this travel tip is written (only partly) tongue in cheek!
West End theatre has been part of London life for centuries, and many of the theatres are now a couple of hundred years old. The upside of this is that they are beautiful, atmospheric buildings steeped in history - and the downside is that you'd never be allowed to design a new theatre with the same configuration as one of the old ones because they are not compatible with modern expectations regarding public access.
I bought tickets in the 'circle' - the upstairs bit for the uninitiated - because (though hellishly expensive) they were all I could afford. I hadn't been to a theatre in the West End for over 20 years, and it came as a nasty shock to remember that few - if any - of these theatres have lifts. Most access the circle via a staircase adjacent to the foyer, and it's a long, relentless climb up!
As I emerged from the access staircase, I was struck by an unexpected wave of vertigo - something I don't usually suffer from - as I looked down towards the stage. The seating rears up from the orchestra pit at an alarmingly steep angle, and though it arguably lends an air of intimacy to the venue, I found it made me feel slightly dizzy and somewhat unsettled. The steepness of the terraces on which the seats are mounted would also make it very easy for someone taking a tumble to do themselves some nasty damage as you could fall quite a distance (although there are barriers which would stop you plummeting onto the lower level).
Stage visibility can also be limited from seats on the extreme edges of the circle, so make sure when you're booking that you select tickets as close to the centre as possible.
So, if you are a thoughtful and generous soul who is considering treating someone to a West End theatre trip, give a thought to their health and mobility before you select tickets: the elderly and those suffering from limited mobility and vertigo probably won't be able to access seats in the circle. And for those who are staying with friends or family, and are looking for the ideal gift to express their gratitude to their hosts, theatre tickets are a sure fire winner with most people, since although most Londoners wax lyrical about the wonders of West End theatre, few actually venture there regularly!
Guidance on photography in churches: Homer's Rules
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the culture which has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists need to bear in mind that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF the 'focus assist' light!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
Photographing the blessing of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!
Green Motion Car Hire Stansted....Stay away !!!!
What ever you do stay away from Green Motion car Hire.
I thought I had found a great deal when searching for a car hire company through the website "Cartrawler" but after booking and doing some research on the net the alarm bells started ringing. As it was going to cost me almost 50% more if I changed by booking, I decided to persevere and see what happens.
Picking up the car and checking out was almost too simple and I was away on my holidays within 15 minutes so I thought that maybe the reviews on the internet were exaggerated.
After my 30 day rental period I returned the vehicle and all seemed well when the young attendant signed off on the car and I was on my way.
It wasn't until I returned to Australia that the emails and scams began. I was suddenly hit with a bill for excess mileage and for a damaged windscreen. Being forewarned I immediately replied that my contract was for unlimited mileage and that I had a signed document stating the car was returned in good condition. Now 2 weeks later the emails are still coming. They seem to have dropped the claim of excess mileage but persevering with the damage claim.
Even though I have travel insurance to cover car damage I refuse to bow to this company's obvious scams and devious dealings.
For the sake of a few dollars saved I urge any travelers to look elsewhere for car hire rather than use Green Motion.Related to:
- Road Trip
The fake St Paul's Cathedral tip
Did you really believe the London Tourist Board when they told you about the city's splendid cathedral, St Paul's, by the great architect Sir Christopher Wren?
Actually, as you can see from my photo, once you get close to St Paul's Cathedral you will see that the great walls of Portland stone are a complete mirage. When Sir Chris finally completed the 111m high 65,000 tonne dome in the 1690's he discovered to his horror that the budget has been completely exhausted. So he constructed the remainder of his grand design out of scaffolding poles, canvas and cheap black paint. So the cathedral is really a tent - minus the GAZ stove, dangerous guy ropes and dead spiders, of course.
You have been warned...
LOCATION: temporary scaffolding covering anniversary restoration work, 2005/6 (did you really think I was telling the truth ;o) Actually all the scaffolding and cranes have now gone at last (2011), you can get a great view of St Pauls for the first time in years!!Related to:
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
Try to avoid Heathrow for the sake of your sanity!
My husband describes Heathrow (particularly the hopelessly outdated Terminal 1) as a "third world" airport, and I am afraid that I have to concur with this uncharitable judgement! The infrastructure is undersized, the buildings are dilipidated, the facilities are outdated and the overall sense is one of pervasive dingy gloom: in short, hardly the sort of welcome that you'd wish to extend to visitors.
If you are taking an intercontinental flight, you will probably have little choice but to use Heathrow as your point of entry. However, if you are travelling from inside Europe and have the option to travel via Gatwick or Stansted or another regional airport, I would strongly suggest that you consider them as alternatives.
We were in London in December during a very cold spell - I was going to say 'unseasonably cold weather', except that this is the third cold winter in a row, so the 'surprise factor' associated with snow should be diminishing. Because of the snow and subsequent ice, Heathrow was operating only a skeleton schedule for several days, and services were further disrupted over the following period as airlines tried to catch up on the backlog. Over the same period, both Gatwick and particularly Stansted experienced nowhere near the same disruptions, due partly to the fact that they are less busy, but, more importantly, because they were better prepared to deal with cold weather. Part of the problem seems to be that in the wake of allegations about monopolistic practices, British Airways was forced to unbundle its assets a few years ago, and the airports were sold to private operators who do not necessarily place great priority on cold weather preparedness.
Travellers planning to access Central London by public transport may be tempted to favour Heathrow because it is on the underground (tube) network, whereas Gatwick and Stansted are not. However, this is not quite the advantage that it might seem, as it is a long and tedious haul out to Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line, and overground rail links (such as the Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Express services) are much faster and more congenial.
I love almost everything about travelling, but Heathrow ranks as one of my least favourite places in the world, and for the sake of my sanity, I avoid it like the plague! And if you have no choice but to use Heathrow, and tumble off an intercontinental flight, dazed, confused and sleep deprived, wondering why you have spent all that money to come to a place as depressing as this, take heart, because it can - and will - only get better!
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