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Student Guide to London Travel

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Piccadilly Circus picture Piccadilly Circus Hotels Review

Piccadilly Circus, London from Photo Gallery

c Kathleen Crislip

Before you go to London:

Lovely London, spendy but friendly, is a should-see student travel spot. Make plans before you go (scroll for all).

  • Should I make reservations in London?
      Yes -- see places to stay in London below.

  • How should I pack for London?:

    Learn how to pack the basics -- for London in spring and summer, add or subract clothing as you would for the Northeast US (like New York). Bring a very small umbrella and light rain anorak or jacket that can be rolled tight for toting in your day pack while touring. Bring an electrical converter -- British wall plugs won't accept your electrical devices. Comfy walking shoes are a must.

    Getting to London:

    You'll find the best airfare to London from student airfare agencies like Student Universe. Watch for specials and you can save a bundle. Don't be fooled by some airlines' "student airfares" -- student airfare agencies have the real deal. Airfare sales do happen, though -- check student airfares against an aggregator's roundup of regular ticket prices.

    Air to London may be cheaper with an air/hotel package, but those stays are usually very short.

    Where should I stay in London? How much will it cost?:

    A West End (below) London hostel is the best way to go for budget lodging in London -- funky little hotels can be charming, but London is very expensive. Ask to see a hostel room before you pay and choose a dorm (several bunks in one room) for the cheapest London lodging.

    Expect to pay $25-$35 for a London hostel bunk.

    Getting around in London:

    The London tube is a major miracle of modern transportation -- learn to love it. Though it's the oldest in the world, London's subway (but don't call it that) is clean, safe and efficient. And if the tube doesn't take you close to your London destination's door, the bus (maybe a double decker!) will.

    Plentiful black London cabs have fixed prices -- get a few folks to make a cab's cost equal the tube.

    British money and London budget:

    England's currency is the pound -- don't plan on using euros. Exchange rate is bad (about $1.75 is normal). London is expensive -- plan $55/day. Food and beds are spendy but clubs can be cheap; museums are free. You won't miss truly adventurous food by cheaply cooking in your hostel kitchen.

    What to do in London:

    London's history is long and deep -- do tour the London Tower. For free music ideas, see the Free London List. Borrow someone's copy of the Time Out music/film/event guide or check Time Out online for non-free music happening in London. Consider buying a one day Original Bus Tour pass ($28) to hop on and off at major sites. Spend whole days hanging out in places like Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden. Take a great (free) Soho podcast walking tour. And check the top free things to do in London.

    Safety, crime and travel health care in London:

    The artful dodger does lurk in the London tube -- consider figuring out in advance how to stash travel cash. You can feel physically safe in all of London provided you use basic travel safety precautions. Terrorism is not a big concern, despite some US hysteria over the '05 tube bombings.

    US travelers get free emergency room care in London; all else is pay as you go, though your US health insurance probably covers you. Food and tap water are perfectly safe in London. You don't need travel immunizations for London.

    London photo galleries:

    Whet your travel appetite with some London photos meant just for student travelers -- most were taken on gray days because, honestly, that's the sky you may see in London much of the year.

    London's West End is backpacker central:

    Think about staying in London's West End (north of the Thames River, west of Piccadilly Circus) -- try the Wake Up London hostel for cheap, safe lodging. You can walk to nearby Hyde Park and take the tube everywhere, like outdoor markets or Notting Hill.

    Mail, Internet and Phone Calls in London

    UK mail is quite speedy -- if you'll be there a few weeks, set up a snail mail address.

    You can buy phone cards good for making calls in England for about $3-5-10 USD in UK convenience stores, major train stations like Waterloo, your hostel and airports. You can also buy a UK cell phone for $50 or less and make cheaper UK calls than with a roaming US phone -- look for phone vending machines (seriously) or try a Carphone Warehouse storefront.

    The Dover Castle Hostel (south of the Thames) has free wifi, but free or even cheap wifi in London hostels is scarce. Hostel internet access (their computers) is ludicrously expensive. London does sport internet phone booths on street corners -- spendy but handy. Chain easyInternetcafe, boring but predictable, can be found in places like Burger King.

    London with a Tour Group

    Visiting London is so expensive that going with a tour group is a great idea -- it can be cheaper and much easier than visiting on your own. Several companies specialize in student group travel -- try EF Tours for a very decent experience: I've traveled with EF Tours, and I would again.

    Getting Out of London

    Ireland is home to cheap European air champ Ryanair -- departs from all three London airports and gets you around Europe and to Ireland for as little as $20. Take the under-Chunnel Eurostar to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam to catch a European train with a Rail Europe pass. Ferries exist, too.

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