Some Basic London Travel Tips for Soccer Fans
I am not going to attempt a travel guide to London, which may be the most-written-about travel destination on Earth. But if you are watching soccer in England, you will almost certainly be in London at some point, so here are some suggestions for getting into and around England’s capital city.
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Assuming you come into Heathrow, as most people do, my first suggestion is get a window seat (the right side is probably better) and enjoy the show — while looking for football grounds on final approach. I wrote a whole post about this.
The same thing applies for flying into Gatwick, but I don’t know which side is better there.
Getting in From the Airport
From Gatwick, it’s pretty simple: You walk outside and jump on a train. It’s about half an hour to either London Bridge or Victoria, from either of which you can jump onto the Tube. The Gatwick Express goes to Victoria for about £20 in less than 30 minutes.
A taxi from Gatwick to London Bridge will cost £50 or more and actually take longer than the train. Enough said, eh?
There are multiple ways to get into Central London from Heathrow — starting with not going into Central London. I often choose to spend my jet-lag day not dealing with that madness, and I instead take a bus someplace else.
Bus from Heathrow
Consider National Express, the inter-city coach service. From the Heathrow Bus Station, you can get a bus to Oxford, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton, … all sorts of places that make nice landing-day destinations and also have football clubs.
National Express also has a lovely coach every hour to London Victoria Coach Station, which is about a block away from Victoria Train Station. If you book ahead, it’s about £10, and a very comfortable 45 minutes or so into town.
Check their website for schedules and fares.
Tube from Heathrow
Even cheaper, of course, is the London Underground, but I think this is the worst way into town. It takes a solid hour, and that’s sitting in a train car that is usually cramped with people and luggage.
A better train service is TFL Rail, which runs every 30 minutes from Paddington and takes about 35 minutes. Oyster Cards and contactless work here, as well.
The quickest and most comfortable, by far, is to take Heathrow Express, a 15-minute train from Heathrow to Paddington Station. If you book this ahead it can be around £23, and with WiFi, comfortable seats and plenty of room, it’s a great way to go. It’s also cheaper and faster than …
I guess if you want to be all executive and stuff, take a cab. The traditional ones will run you about £60 or more to Paddington (just for comparison to the Heathrow Express).
Getting Around London
I used to say you need an Oyster Card, and they are still handy. But now regular contactless cards and devices work, as well. An Oyster is the reloadable card that gets you onto the Underground, buses, London Overground, and even some regional rail services out to a certain point. (For example, the Southern Service to Crystal Palace or the London Midlands to Watford).
You can buy an Oyster Card at any station (including the Tube at Heathrow), and you can also add to your balance (“top up”) at any station.
I highly recommend taking the bus instead of the Tube; it’s actually cheaper, and of course you get to see everything along the way. And you’re in London to see stuff, right?
There are some excellent apps with all of this info; I happen to use CityMapper, but it’s not the only one. Wherever you are, it knows what transit is nearby and when it will arrive — not just when it’s scheduled, but how it’s running — and it can also tell you how long it will take to walk or bike, as well as estimate taxi or Lyft/Uber fares.
Obviously, Lyft and Uber are very helpful apps, and so is Gett, which will get you a traditional black taxi.
OpenTable works there, as well.
For figuring out what is going on around town, check out YPlan.
Rick Steves, the famous American guidebook author, is said to have quipped, “There are a million hotel rooms in London, and they are all expensive.” This isn’t quite true, but there is some real sticker shock coming your way if you’re not ready for it.
I am truly blessed to have a place to stay in town, but sometimes I’m just passing through for a night, in which case I almost always stay in a Grange Hotel. Most of them are refurbished old hotels in central locations, and if you are willing to walk down the hall for the bathroom you can actually stay — in London — for less than £100 a night.
Booking.com is an excellent way to search for hotels, hostels, and even apartments.
For suggestions like the best historic pubs and walking tours — and, really, more than you could ever even think to ask about — dig Londonist.com.
For every soccer game going on around town, check out The London Football Guide — and please contribute to his coffee fund!
Random Suggestions I Have Come Across
Just a few off-the-usual-track things I have found in my wanderings:
- Borough Market, a great market area with food stalls and shops.
- Brixton Market, an old neighborhood place in a heavily Caribbean neighborhood that is getting hipstered up and has some great food.
- Pop Brixton, which is another artisan food hangout in South London.
- St. Bride’s Church, a Christopher Wren church said to have inspired the modern wedding cake. It’s also the home church of the journalism industry, which is dear to my heart, and has a great pub, The Old Bell, as a neighbor.
- All the Lebanese restaurants up and down Edgeware Road. I had my mind blown at Maroush.
- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
- Also over the holidays, all the lights around Oxford Street, Carnaby Street and Covent Garden.
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