London: Where to Stay and How to get Around

 

“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.” -Samuel Johnson. Samuel sure knew what he was talking about when he uttered this famous quote. London is a brilliant city flowing with youth, heritage, history and modernity. It’s like a big casserole of everything lovely (without the calories!) It has music, art, family friendly experiences, plenty of romantic opportunities and fun around every corner. The hustle and bustle of the city will energize you and fill your head with memories to cherish for a lifetime. In this article I will review the London hotel we stayed at (The Rubens at the Palace), our airline experience getting there, renting a car and doing luxury in London on a budget.

We flew to London at the end of April…it was a little cool and over cast but overall lovely weather. Most days by the afternoon shorts and a t-shirt were what you wanted to be in. We didn’t have the craziness of a high volume of tourists and most things we didn’t even have to wait more than 10-15 minutes to see instead of the hours of wait time June-Sept would bring. I’m going to walk you through our vacation as simply and orderly as possible, I do get a little excited and my natural tendency to talk fast really comes out my fingers about 100 words per minute. If anything is unclear or you would like more information on something send me an e-mail and I’d be happy to respond as best I can.

Leaving the Airport

When planning out our airfare I knew that after a 10 hour flight we would be exhausted, not to mention we’d never been before and had no idea where to even begin going. A lot of people will say to take the tube (here is a map of the system) which is basically a subway system. This is definitely an option but for those of us who live in places without subways it can be overwhelming. You can always take a taxi (TIP the black cabs are under special rules with the mayors office to charge the same rate, other taxis are fine also but typically you cannot hail them on the road you must call the private company for a pickup – not everyone follows this rule of thumb though) or another option we chose was to hire a private car – I know, you’re thinking that’s crazy and expensive but it was well worth it and not that badly priced especially because we had 3 in our party. I hired a SUV to pick us up from Heathrow with a great company called Exclusive Airports. You will need to give them a copy of your itinerary so they can track your flight and adjust a pick up time if needed. The driver had a sign with our name on it by the coffee shop in Heathrow, he took our bags and wheeled them out on a cart, loaded the SUV and took us to our hotel. This cost us about 44.00 Euro for the larger vehicle…and just a TIP if you need a car seat you’ll save money by bringing your own and it makes cab rides easier if that will be your main source of travel. Don’t forget to tip your driver!! 🙂

Hotel Review

We stayed at the luxurious Rubens at the Palace in which I cannot, again I say, I cannot say enough good things about! This is not exactly a budget friendly hotel but the value is incomparable. We’ll start with the staff, professional seems to be an understatement. As soon as we were dropped off by our private car, the concierge took our luggage and walked us inside to the check in desk. There we were greeted with smiling faces. Our bags were up in our room and on the bed waiting for us as soon as we opened the door to our room. You have to keep in mind, rooms in Europe are very small compared to the United States. This room was very “spacious” for a European hotel. We had a huge king sized bed and a fold out bed for our son located in the room. We didn’t feel cramped or like we didn’t have enough space even with all of our luggage. The bathroom was also a comfortable size with plenty of counter space. The room service was great (although I do have to recommend against ordering complete meals as it was lacking flavor but it was a great option for snacks and soda as we watched movies). Speaking of movies,  you can rent a variety of different movies for all ages and in multiple languages. They do have a restaurant on site although we didn’t try it as it was probably the source of the food we ordered from room service. If ever we had a question, smiles and help was all we received and if ever we lacked anything in our room we had someone knocking on the door within minutes of phoning the downstairs desk. The concierge would hail a cab for us every time we left the hotel and he always had the most pleasant attitude of all the staff offering up advice and taking family pics for us (and with us!). They have someone posted at the door 24/7 so you will never open a door or hail your own cab. The hotel has a fantastic location! Hop in a cab and you are at some of the most popular tourism sites in London within minutes. Buckingham Palace is a short walk away, Big Ben and the London Eye will be about a 10 minute ride and the famous London Tower is only about 15 minutes. It is walking distance from Victoria Station (a tube station that has a variety of great places to eat by the way) and a multitude of other restaurants and little shops. There is a convenience store located a couple doors down where you can go anytime of the day or night for some soda, chips, souvenirs or other necessities. All in all I’d say everything about the hotel was wonderful and convenient, definitely money well spent and a #1 recommendation from yours truly.
Rubens at the Palace


Rubens at the Palace

Car Rental

I’ll be honest, being from Vegas we thought to ourselves “Psh, driving in a city no big deal…even if it is on the wrong side of the road!” and I’ll tell you what…we literally returned the rental car 3-1/2 hours after picking it up for what was supposed to be a 4 day rental. I’d have to say this was probably what my husband was looking forward to the most about London – driving on the other side of the car on the opposite side of the road – awesomeness and thrilling in theory but makes you want to crap your pants in reality. London drivers are a forced to be reckoned with. It felt like hysteria, my advice would be to only get a rental car if you plan to go to suburbs of London or further into the countryside. We actually received a ticket for parking in a condo-owner area only that for us was not clearly marked as such (we were only there for about 20 mins but because of the CCTV cameras they will always get you) thankfully, when we returned to the US, I e-mailed and told them we were American and our ticket was dismissed – hmmm now that I read that I wonder if they really were being nice about it…Anyways, we booked the car with Europcar and again, when we returned home I called them and told them what happened and they even returned our money for the unused days (since you do have to pay upfront) TIP make sure you get a car with GPS in it so your phone isn’t always using data.


Auto Europe Car Rentals

Traveling By Train From London

When it was time to go to Paris, we took the EUROSTAR (TIP sign up on Eurostar’s website before you go and they will send you deals and coupons you can use on your purchase) from St. Pancras railway station to Gare du Nord station in Paris. This was a great line to travel on and I highly recommend it. They have a little cafe bar on the station with food and beverages. The seating is a little tight but you can reserve your seats online for whatever you choose. It’s a very unique experience in that you actually travel under the water of the English Channel for about 20 minutes and then through some French countryside before arriving at Gare du Nord – they have rental car stands within the train station and on a side note it is much easier and relaxing to drive in Paris than in London and I think it is well worth your money.


Buy Eurostar tickets here

Airfare

We flew with British Airways and while the crew was polite, fun and tentative the plane itself was old, dirty and stinky. Our pilot was fantastic and made a surprisingly smooth landing in the middle of a storm in London. My tv in the headrest didn’t work the entire 10 hour flight there and they wouldn’t move us as a family to different seats. They only wanted to move me which we didn’t want to separate with it being our sons first plane ride ever. The food was okay, we didn’t really eat much the entire way. My husband swears he would never fly with them again but I think if it was a nicer plane he may change his mind as again the crew was fantastic.


Virgin Atlantic airways

This will wrap up the overview, I personally can’t wait to stay at The Rubens again as it was one of my favorite parts of our entire vacation. For information on popular sightseeing spots in London click here Sightseeing in London and make sure you’re prepared for your big trip by reading my article London Travel Tips.

Until then…Happy travels my fellow gypsies!

5 thoughts on “London: Where to Stay and How to get Around

  1. I used to drive for my job and had to go to London a lot. I had to switch on my ‘London driver take no prisoners’ attitude! You have to be really aggressive… Well done for trying!

  2. Great read!! Did no one advise you not to drive in London?? Even us Brits don’t do it unless we’re mad. If you want to visit some places outside of the city next time you visit give me a shout and will more than happily point you in the right direction.

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