Planning a very last minute trip across the pond
August 12, 2015 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a US passport, tickets to see Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre in London next week, and oh so many questions. Please help me make this happen!

This is probably totally crazy, and I'm not exactly a spontaneous, last minute kind of person, but I think I might regret it forever if I don't make this happen, so here goes:

More than a year ago I snagged two tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican in London on Aug 18. However, for reasons, I didn't think I could make this work, both financially and logistically, but now I think maybe I can make this work.

Let's assume I can get a ticket from Boston to London for a price that won't bankrupt me, which looks like it could be possible based on some preliminary investigation that I just did earlier today. My rough travel dates would be 8/16-8/20, but that may change based on airline flights. This is going to be so very long, but if you want to skip all the extra details, I've bolded my main questions, and written them in order of importance. So here we go:

1) Where to stay?

I'm not interested in doing the hostel, 10 people to one room thing, but I'm not made out of money either. Ideally, I would find somewhere to stay for around 4 nights at around $150. Cheaper than that would be awesome, up to $200 would probably be doable. I'd love to find somewhere to stay with convenient Tube access and that would allow me to get to the Barbican Theatre reasonably easily. I'd prefer to stick to walking or taking the Tube in general, but if the best way to get to Barbican is via cab, that's fine. Suggestions for specific hotels or general areas of London to look for would be great. I'm not looking for fancy accommodations, but I'm going to be a 20-something female traveling alone, so if there are any places I should avoid in terms of safety/comfort walking around by myself, I'd love to have that in mind. Also, is it safe to assume that there's wifi at most hotels?

2) What to wear?

What does one wear to a play in London and at the Barbican specifically? I've found some references to "smart casual" but don't really know what that means. Is this on par with going to a play on Broadway? I'm thinking a nice, classy knee-length dress with wedge heels, and a nice cover up. Does this sound right? Should I wear tights? I may come back and post pictures of my potential outfit.

For day-to-day wear, is it still sundress weather for day time sightseeing? I'll definitely bring a nice pair of jeans as well. Would these sneakers in black be okay walking around shoes? What about these sandals? I want to be comfortable, but I also don't want my outfit to scream "tourist."

3) What should I make sure to bring?

As far as money is concerned, can I just get US dollars converted to pounds at the airport when I land in London? Or should I try to do that in advance? My American Express card just got re-issued so that it now has a chip. Will that be acceptable at most places? I'd rather avoid carrying around a lot of cash if at all possible. I also have a debit card and a Visa card, but I don't think those have chips, so does that mean they aren't going to be usuable? (I will be notifying my bank ahead of time about my travels so that no fraud alerts get triggered if I use them in London.)

As far as staying connected, I have an Iphone 5 from Sprint. Do you think it's reasonable to just go to airplane mode (so turn off cellular and data roaming) and take advantage of wifi whenever possible? Since I'm traveling alone and I won't be driving anywhere, I don't really think I'll need more than that, but maybe there's something I'm not thinking of? I'll also be bringing my ipad with me (any travel apps or guidebooks I should download?), but I'll probably leave my macbook at home, even though it makes me twitch to think about not having my computer with me for more than a few hours.

If I do make this trip happen, I'll also need to snag some electrical outlet converters, I'm assuming. I have Amazon Prime, so if you have specific suggestions for converters from Amazon that would be great. I'm on several prescription medications, so should I just make sure to bring everything in the original prescription bottle? It's kind of annoying since I'll only be bringing about 5 days worth of meds and the pill bottles take up a lot of space, but there's probably no way around this.

Is there anything else that I should make sure to bring that I haven't thought of yet?

4) What to do?

I've been to London one other time with family about a decade ago. I did lots of touristy things (London Eye, changing of the guards, crown jewels, etc), so I'd like to avoid that stuff. Also, this is going to be a short trip, so I'm looking for more low key, relaxing ways to pass the time. I'm a big fan of walking around, taking in the sights, visiting shops, and quiet/casual restaurants and cafes. Are there cool book stores that I should go to? Particular parts of the city that are good for wandering around? Recommendations along those lines would be appreciated, but I'm open to other suggestions.

I'd definitely like to make it to the Sherlock Holmes museum, and of course there's the play, but those are the only things I'm set on. Also, I'm an experienced horse rider, and I've always dreamed of going for a ride in or around London. Hyde Park Stables looks kind of pricey, and this may be too late to arrange this anyway, but if anyone has done some kind of one off ride in or around London, please chime in!

Oh, and if it looks like this is going to actually happen, I might post to IRL to see if any London mefites are interested in some kind of meet up.

5) Safety or other concerns for a woman traveling alone?

I'm used to flying alone, and I've navigated Boston and NYC on my own plenty of times. Is there anything London specific I should keep in mind? Or do the usual things apply? (Keep purse close, be aware of surroundings, don't wander down dark alleys, don't walk around with earphones, don't be flashy with jewelry or electronics, etc.)

So, is this crazy enough to work or just plain crazy? Thanks to anyone who read through this very long question and I will be very grateful for any and all guidance, even if the advice is "don't do this."

I've been reading through previous ask posts like this one and this one, but I have some specific things that I don't think have been covered previously. Also, I'm kind of in a time crunch.
posted by litera scripta manet to Travel & Transportation around London, England (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When I was at a big event at the Barbican I stayed at the Thistle Barbican. Small rooms, friendly staff, breakfast. I walked back and forth to the Barbican (10-15 min) at all times of the night and day and it was totally fine. There is a nearby Tube stop but not *right* there. I took the tube from Heathrow and it was fine. There are also some AirBnB rooms in the Barbican if you don't mind that sort of thing, some of them looked nice. Definitely cheaper.

I had an iPhone 5. It was unlocked. I got a SIM card at a nearby Carphone Warehouse for 15 pounds and had as much data as I could use (plus a local number for calls/texts) for the whole time I was there. But really, yes, you can probably manage with just wifi. Check this question for more. The Barbican has a library inside it with free wifi, fyi. Get the Citymapper app.

Chip and pin card should be fine everywhere. You can get pounds at the airport ATMs. There is wifi at the airport. If you have a bank that is a national bank in the US (Bank of America or similar) they can give you some pounds before you travel. Phone and laptop (I'd bring it?) just need adapters not converters and many hotels (Thistle Barbican definitely) offer adapters if you space bringing them. You can also get them at a Target or someplace in person also.

I went to a lot of weird smaller museums many of which were fun (trip one near the Barbican, trip two various places). Feel free to look at my photos and see if anything grabs you and YES call a meetup, the London MeFites are wonderful.

I think it sounds like great fun. Enjoy!
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 PM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

As of 2013, American-style swipe cards were fine everywhere I tried to use a credit card in London even though the entire internet was in a panic about needing a chip + pin in Europe. Hopefully someone who's been more recently can confirm that's still true.

Your amex is likely not a true chip + pin unless you requested one specially (standard amex cards just have chips but not the chip + pin system). If you have time, pick up some pounds at your local amex or FX place before you go so that you don't have to worry about it right when you're getting off the plane (but yes, you can definitely change money at the airport if you need to).

I've done a lot of roaming around London on my own since I was a teenager, and have always felt 100% safe (I am a woman, but grew up in a not so great neighborhood, so my take on that may be different than yours). I usually buy a package of international data and texts for my phone before I go (buying a sim card is a better value, but I usually can get away with the $25 package for a week away so it's not too bad), just in case I get totally lost and want to use phone data to get directions. A London A-Z can also be very handy if you just want to wander without worrying too much about getting lost/using phone data - any newsstand should have them and they're pretty inexpensive.

As for things to do, Borough Market is a spectacular place to get lunch and is a very short walk from the Tate Modern (yes, it's a giant tourist attraction, but it's also wonderful) as well as the Globe, Golden Hinde and about a zillion other tourist attractions. You can walk along the river and then across to the Tate Britain if you want to spend most of an afternoon walking and looking at art.

If you like clothes shopping or fabric/yarn crafts at all, go to Liberty. Foyles is a great/huge bookstore.

Clerkenwell is good for walking around/restaurants, but there are tons of great neighborhoods to walk around in. I'd just pick a couple of attractions you want to see and plan to spend some time exploring before and after.
posted by snaw at 7:28 PM on August 12, 2015

1) I've stayed at this hotel in Russell Square multiple times; it's just down the block from the Russell Square tube station (Piccadilly Line) and a short tube jaunt from there to the Barbican. A single is in your price range, but will be small (as in, "wow, I think I'm in a cupboard" small). Premier Inn is a budget line with a number of hotels near the Barbican. Ditto jessamyn's suggestions.

2) For an evening performance in London, I usually wear professional clothes (skirt/nice top/blazer/boots); what you describe sounds fine.

I'd check to see what the London weather is doing. It's now in the warm(er) season, so lots of 70-degree temperatures.

3) I would bring multiple cards, as I found during my stay this summer that some cards absolutely would not work in some places and absolutely would work in others (using a US card to top up an Oyster card proved to be a massive hassle--you will, incidentally, want an Oyster card, even for a short stay). A chip is a plus, but most UK readers can handle swipes.

I converted my cash while I was in the US, but it's easy enough to do while you're at Heathrow (there's a Thomas Cook near the baggage claim exit, IIRC).

I made all my phone calls using Skype--just remember to set up a credit line ahead of time.

These are the adapter plugs I use. They are also quite easy to find in the UK, thanks to all the tourists.

Yes, bring all the original prescription bottles.

Depending on how budget your budget hotel is, they may or may not have shampoo, so keep that in mind.

4) Bookstores! Here's a map. I love Foyle's (new books) and Skoob, Any Amount of Books, Quinto & Francis Edwards, and Judd Books (secondhand).

There are lots of beautiful parks (e.g., Hyde Park). But London itself is very walkable--I like to walk from the British Library down to Russell Square and then over to Covent Garden.

I don't know how much museum-ing you did when you were there with your family. The British Museum and the National Gallery are gigantic, of course, but the National Portrait Gallery is very manageable if you have to be economical with your time, as is the Wellcome Museum.

5) As a small single woman, I've never felt at all unsafe, even relatively late at night (usual precautions aside, like keeping a close eye on my purse). If you're around the theatres, those areas are going to be busy well into the night, including the tube stations.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:32 PM on August 12, 2015

London is full of student residence accommodation that you can rent in the summer, the rooms will be private in a block and look to start from around £50 per night, here is the university of London page, just search for London student summer accommodation and you will get multiple hits.

Regarding credited cards, I would be wary with the amex, not because of the chip, it's just not accepted at a lot of places in the UK that a visa or MasterCard would be, not sure whether this would be a problem with ATM's.
posted by biffa at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you have an unlocked smart phone, and you're used to using it a lot, it is totally worth buying a SIM and some data. Google maps for getting around is unbeatable, especially the public transport option, and also following the blue dot. Go to a phone shop, they can sort you out in about 20 minutes generally. Bare minimum, download the London version of CityMaps2Go. The blue dot on that works without internet (it's magic).

Your clothes sound fine, but remember a cardigan, umbrella and pack some tights too, just in case the weather does stupid things.

Catch the tube (or bus) to the theatre. Everyone else will. Have a read of the tube website - it looks like you should be able to use your AMEX directly at the ticket gate to get on the tube, but depending on fees, it might be worth getting an oyster. Or ask around, one of your friends might have one from a previous trip.

Have a good read of the AMEX terms of service when it comes to overseas transactions. If the fees are crazy, look into a prepaid travel visa card (personally, I just eat the fees, but it sounds like you're travelling on a tight budget).

If you like the theatre, you can try and get day tickets. We got 12 pound tickets at 10am the day of for "The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime", which was one of the best plays I've ever seen. If I were in London by myself, I'd stalk the day tickets and half price booth at leicester square, and see a new thing every night!

The Tate Modern is great and free, and the cafe at the top has one of the best views in London. The East end can be good for walking in, especially if you like street art. My sister had a street art app, and we went Banksy Hunting - I don't think we found any, but we had a good time wandering the side streets near brick lane. I feel perfectly safe wandering the centre of London at night.

You can buy adapters at the airport. I assume you just need a laptop and/or phone. I take one, and charge my phone off my laptop. Check that it can handle 240V (it should say somewhere on the cable/plug).

Print hard copies of things you might need. In the case of a technology fail or bag losing incident, it is invaluable to have maps for where you're staying (including contact details), copies of your passport, phone numbers to cancel your credit card etc etc in hard copy. Leave a copy at home too.

Have fun. London is awesome.
posted by kjs4 at 8:04 PM on August 12, 2015

2) The last time I was at the Barbican, there were people doing the nice jeans & jacket thing, dresses, some people were 'dressed up', some were not. There are a lot of tourists there - you'd have to put in some effort to stand out.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:14 PM on August 12, 2015

In my case it was going to see David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing in 2011. You're not alone. :-)

1. AirBnB is indeed an option. But hostels really are not bad. I found a great one that had some four-person rooms, and on that trip I stayed there and it worked out superb.

2. What you're thinking of for the theater sounds just fine. I wore a dressy-ish cardigan-and-white-pants outfit, me. As for "sundress weather" - be ready for that, but also be ready for cool conditions too. Not, like, thick sweaters, but have a couple long sleeved things or a thin jacket just in case.

3. I'mma skip, as you've got lots of advice.

4. I really, REALLY fell in love with the narrowboats in Regents Canal. I ended up taking TWO canal rides back and forth between Camden and Little Venice, just because I could; it's a cheap trip down a pretty canal, which takes you through Regents Park, and you can get off and stroll around "Little Venice" at one end or Camden Market at the other. Or get off at the London Zoo in the middle. Or just go back and forth on the boat.

The London Writers Museum was funky too.

And pace yourself in the British Museum. I tried to do the whole thing in a day and hit information overload after only about three rooms. (But do at least try to check out the Rosetta Stone - even if you're not impressed, someone else around you will be. One of my favorite memories is being at the British Museum and looking at the Rosetta Stone, and suddenly hearing a 20-something guy behind me start to totally flip his shit because "omigod, that's the Rosetta Stone. The actual Rosetta Stone. That's it. Right there." It was adorable.)

5. If you know how to navigate in an urban area, you got this. It's the usual women-in-an-urban-environment stuff.

And I'll add a 6th -

6. If Benedict Cumberbatch is even half as awesome as David Tennant is, go ahead and wait at the stage door with all the other fangeeks and try to get his autograph. It's been 4 years and I am still having fun talking about how David Tennant actually stopped signing my program to look at me for a split second when he heard me congratulate him in my American accent, and ask "did ye really come all that way just for this?" and then tease me about jet lag. Get yourself your own Cumberbatch story.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 PM on August 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

I hope it isn't too lame to link some previous London-stuff comments I made? This one as a summary and this one is a little more in-depth. Highlights from those: if you aren't too play-ed out, the Shakespeare's Globe theater is a lot of fun (especially the cheap, historically-accurate standing-room "Groundling" tickets); the #12 bus is a normal bus which happens to have a beautiful route right by a ton of tourist sites; walking Tower Bridge and the south bank of the Thames in general was fun (and there's a book market some days if I recall correctly); if you like antiques you'll love the Portobello Road Market on Saturday and if you love food you'll love the Borough Market any day; Hyde Park was a nice daytime stroll and Primrose Hill in Regent's Park was a lovely twilight walk with a view of the city.
posted by spelunkingplato at 10:52 PM on August 12, 2015

Firstly, you are way overthinking this. The two things you describe above the fold (a passport and tickets to the Barbican) are all you really need to enjoy London)!

1) Where to stay?

If I were you I'd airbnb it. Feel free to stay somwehere not-Barbican - Old Street, Angel, Farringdon, Whitechapel, Aldgate will have more choice and are a tube or bus ride from Barbican. You could even walk if you're really keen on seeing the city.

London is as safe as any other city. There are no 'no go' areas, definitely not in Zone 1. Get an Oyster card.

2) What to wear?

Wear whatever you like to the play. Jeans and tshirt would be fine. An evening dress would be fine. Business wear would be fine. The theatre isn't a sartorial Big Deal, it's not a wedding or the opera - some folks will look very fancy and you will feel underdressed; and some folks will be art students wearing ripped jeans and DMs and you'll feel like a stuffy bourgeoisie. Be comfortable!

Be warned that our summer is not really happening this year. You've got equal chance of it being blazing hot vs raining. Bring a couple of outfits you can add a sweater to, and stop off in H&M Oxford Circus if you've really misjudged. You won't scream 'tourist' unless you're with fifty other people all wearing matching backpacks.

3) What should I make sure to bring?

Bring your Amex by all means but expect a 70% fail rate for places accepting it - businesses are charged more for transactions made on Amex so they will always prefer Mastercard or Visa credit or debit. Grab some cash at the airport and use your debit card in ATMs when you get here.

Anything you forget (except meds) you can buy here. Get travel insurance.

4) What to do?

If you like walking and people-watching, try Camden Market, walking along Regents Canal, and up around Primrose Hill. There's a big zoo there too, ZSL, actually OK as these things go. Try wandring around Hampstead Heath - it's the largest open space in Europe (I think) and there are outdoor bathing ponds which are lovely in the right weather and only about £3 to enter. Hang out in East London (Shoreditch and the environs) for hip coffee and art pop-ups. Wander around Bayswater, Notting Hill and Kensington High Street for beautiful houses and street markets. Check out Covent Garden and Seven Dials for map shops, book shops, tiny vegan restaurants. Hire a bike (red Santander stations are all over the place) for a great way to explore the parks - St James, Hyde Park etc.

5) Safety or other concerns for a woman traveling alone?

Get the Citymapper app. Programme it with the address of where you're staying. Boom you are a native Londoner.
posted by citands at 2:15 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can wear whatever the hell you like to the theatre in London, so long as the person in front of you can still see the stage. If you wear a giant pineapple hat, you will incite annoyance. If you wear a bright yellow pineapple dress with rips in it and technically people can see your underwear, nobody will care. This is a wonderful city built on a solid foundation of not paying too much attention to other people being themselves. Dress up if that's fun for you, but don't worry about it.

London is wonderfully walkable, although it makes sense to get the tube to a place and then walk about from there. Two days in particular that I'd suggest:
Day 1: Get the tube to Charing Cross. Walk from Trafalgar Square up the Charing Cross Road to Foyles (pop into Any Amount of Books on the way), then take a left into Soho and wander around there. Move in an easterly direction but do not be tempted to do this along Oxford Street. When you get as far as Selfridges, start moving north along Marylebone High Street (cw: unbelievably posh) and go to Daunt books. Try to end up in Regent's Park.
There are quite a few museums and galleries along this route. The National Gallery may not be operational as there is ongoing industrial action. You can fit in your visit to the Sherlock Holmes museum at the end as it's right near where you'll end up.

Day 2: Get the tube to Bethnal Green, walk west along Bethnal Green Road until you hit Shoreditch, then head North towards Dalston and Haggerston. You'll get a really nice range of London communities this way, from the remnants of the old East End/Cockney stuff, to the newer immigrant communities, to the achingly cool hipster/artist set. Just pop into places you see on the way and explore.

I think you might be able to go horse riding in Richmond Park, so a third day could be that plus the delightful Kew Gardens. If you do go to Kew, go and get a picnic from Newens, the shop everyone calls Maids of Honour.

And for the love of god, get an Oyster card as soon as you hit British soil. Load it up with money and then just tap it on the yellow round things to enter and exit the tube. If you go on a bus you only need to tap when you get on. Do not, do not buy paper tickets. Everyone will hate you and you will hate yourself and you will hate everything and much misery will rain upon our fair city. Oyster. And yes, as citands said, Citymapper, the app that is quietly running London behind the scenes, we all just do what it says mechanically. I only wrote this because Citymapper told me to.
posted by Acheman at 2:25 AM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

1) Try to get as much walking in as you can. London is very walkable and thats how you see stuff.
I am struggling to think of an area in Central London that either me or my wife ever felt unsafe in.
For Barbican, we generally would get off the Tube at Farringdon and take a nice walk through Smithfield Market and walk by one of my favourite old churches: St. Barts

2) Pretty much anything goes but generally people are dressed as you would dress to go out for an evening meal with friends. Most men have button-up shirts. Some have coats. But there are people wearing jeans and t-shirts too. As others have said, it is hard to stick out.

3) Central London is very tourist-friendly. Anything you forget to bring is easily had. You just need an adapter for your electricals. If you want a SIM card with data while you're here these can be had at most grocery store checkouts, next to all the candy bars and such.
Get an Oyster card for travel when you arrive. Without it, travel will be unnecessarily expensive.

4) Charing Cross, Soho, Covent Garden are the big walking areas full of tourists at all times.

If you want to see more of Dickens London, I'd suggest walking around the Inns of Court.

Bloomsbury: walk from the British Museum up north through all the garden squares. After that walk over to the British Library and the Wellcome collection.

Southbank walk: Walk across the Thames either at Westminster or at Somerset House and then walk East along the south riverbank. Lots to see along the way. Keep going to Southwark Cathedral.
posted by vacapinta at 2:27 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just coming in to say: don't worry about dress code. I've been to their classical performances in jeans and trainers. Some people dress up, some don't.

I think London is the easiest place in the world to visit and I'm not just saying this because I live here. You have some great answers already. Don't stress and enjoy your trip!
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:44 AM on August 13, 2015

I was in London this Monday for the first time in three years and these are the things that caught me out as a visitor:

Firstly, it's been an odd summer, and it rained. I was SO GLAD I had an umbrella and rainproof jacket. Then the sun came out and it was boiling, I was SO GLAD it was a mini umbrella and super lightweight rainproof.

Secondly, you can't get on the bus without a ticket already. A bus-only day ticket is £5 from newsagents all over the place and also tube stations. Bus-and-tube is more I guess, but coming from Bristol I think London buses are wonderful (plus, all the sights you get to drive past without even being on an expensive tour.)
posted by glasseyes at 7:17 AM on August 13, 2015

get an Oyster card as soon as you hit British soil. Load it up with money and then just tap it on the yellow round things to enter and exit the tube.

Just FYI for Americans who would never believe this: You can return your Oyster card at the airport on your way home and they will GIVE YOU BACK YOUR MONEY that you had on it. Oyster works for bus-and-tube. Load it up and have fun exploring. I went to London by myself for the first time last year and the second time this year with my sister. Go to meetups, have fun exploring.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

One pitfall to watch for with ATMs: especially if your bank has no or low foreign currency transaction fees, don't let the ATM do the pounds-to-dollars conversion for you. I was "offered" such a service by the ATM in Paddington station; I forget exactly how much it would have cost me to do so compared to letting my bank make the conversion, but it was around $30-40.

If you want to be in London but slightly off the beaten path (only ever so slightly), I recommend spending a morning or afternoon in Greenwich. The Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory is fascinating; you can see all four of John Harrison's (not the Cumberbatch villain in Star Trek, heh) marine timekeepers, three of which will be running. There's also a lovely market in Greenwich where you can do some shopping and get lunch; if it's a nice day, you can take it to the park.

I won't try to talk you out of the Sherlock Holmes museum, but don't make the mistake I made of thinking it is in any way an Arthur Conan Doyle museum. It's essentially a fictional museum or reenactment of what Holmes & Watson's digs may have looked like, wax statues of characters from the stories, etc. I was going in with the mindset that I'd be seeing "real" items like drafts or early editions, some of ACD's stuff, maybe information about the Sherlock Holmes legacy, but there was nothing like that. But this is really about expectations--I think I would have appreciated it a lot more had I known what it was going in.

Finally, if your previous visit didn't include the British Library, that is an absolute must-see. There is a (free) exhibition room where you can see mind-blowing stuff like the sole manuscript of Beowulf, John Milton's personal journal, a Gutenberg bible, iconic Beatles lyrics... this is a real treasure of London that sort of hides in plain sight.
posted by mama casserole at 8:24 AM on August 13, 2015

Since someone mentioned Kew gardens, there is a Spice Festival on whilst you are in town, with lots of fun spice related food and drink activities.

I'm going to be slightly contrary and say that if your cards are contactless then you can just use those and not bother with the Oyster (although there may be exchange rate costs for many small transactions). That's what I do now, the cost is the same and it saves you a small amount of trouble. That said Oyster is easy and convenient and they do indeed give you your leftover money back when you're done with it, so it's not really a hardship to get one.
The Tube goes everywhere and everyone uses it, but consider getting busses if you have the time and it's not rush hour. Sit on the top deck at the front if you can, see the city as you travel. The Busses are very good, with the exception of the new Routemasters (curvy things with open platforms on the back) which will boil you to death if it's hot.

You should definitely pick up a cheap data sim. Having data available is very useful when you're stuck somewhere unexpected and are not sure how to get back to where you should be.
Google Maps and Citymapper both deal with London transport very well.
Also you can use it to get in touch with London MeFites, who are generally nice and helpful.

The weather is always changeable, it should still be pretty warm, but will probably rain at least once.
Your clothing choices seem fine and will not mark you out as a tourist. London is diverse, clothing wise.
If it rains you can always go to the pub or get on a bus, or buy a cheap umbrella at most shops.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:46 AM on August 13, 2015

You guys are amazing! All of your answers have been super helpful, and I'm feeling much more excited and a lot less nervous. Tickets are booked (can't believe I'm leaving in a little over 48 hrs!), so it looks like this is definitely happening.

I should have mentioned that I also have a Visa Credit Card in addition to the Amex and a Bank of America debit card, and I'm taking all of those with me. It sounds like the lack of a chip and pin won't be as big a deal as I originally thought. I'm going to go to Bank of America to get some pounds before I leave since it will be one less thing to stress about.

It sounds like it's worth it to get the sim card, so as long as I can get my iphone unlocked, I'll go with that.

I've got to do some packing and run some errands, but I'm going to come back later and mark best answers and start planning out what sights I want to see based on all of your amazing recommendations. If anyone has anything else to add, I'll definitely continue checking on this thread.

Thank you all so much!
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:45 AM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

One point, if you go to a pub you order drinks at the bar. There will be a queue but it's invisible, try not to jump it.
posted by biffa at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2015

I just got back from London and saw Hamlet with Cumberbatch. Whatever you do, do NOT take out your cell phone. It's a good show, but my son and I were far more knocked out by As You Like It at the Globe Theatre.

And definitely hang out after the show; he comes out and is very nice to fans.
posted by kinetic at 5:32 PM on August 15, 2015

I'm back from my short jaunt across the pond, and I had such an amazing time! In retrospect, I have no idea why I was so nervous about any of this. I did feel 100% safe everywhere I went, even in the late and very early morning hours. It was actually very liberating to travel by myself, and London really is incredibly easy to navigate. The tube was a dream compared to the T here in Boston. Citymapper and citymaps2go were both a huge help.

I've marked a few best answers but really, all of these responses were great, and I'm going to bookmark this thread for my next trip to London, because there are so many things that I didn't get the chance to do, and I can't wait to go back, as soon as my schedule and finances allow it.

Oh, and I did get my moment with Benedict Cumberbatch! Turns out that lots of people start lining up before the play even gets out, so I was too far behind the crowds on the day when I went to see the play, but I went back the next night and stood outside for close to two hours in the wet and cold, but I got to be right in front of the crowd of people. It's all a little bit of a blur, but I got my program signed, I told him he was amazing and I was from Boston, and he made a cute self deprecating remark about his Boston accent in his upcoming movie, Black Mass, and I told him I was really excited to see it, and it was basically one of the best moments of my fangirl life. I also got a bonus glimpse of Steven Moffat, who I guess went to the play that night, and then left via the stage door.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:25 PM on August 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

« Older Blueberry Birthday Party   |   How to end night teeth grinding? Mouthguards just... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.