I am planning a trip to Europe(from the US) in January of 08' and I will be going alone (I'm also a girl). I'm going to take a contiki tour of central Europe but am interested in seeing the England area separately. I would like to avoid booking a tour in London as it seems expensive and over structured but the task of planning a week in London alone seems daunting. What hostels, tours, restaurants, and shows do you recommend? I really need to be able to map out enough for myself now so that I'm not just wandering aimlessly in London. ANY suggestions would be great! I know that a lot of you feel completely confident jetting wherever without all the planning, but I have barely left a little town in Georgia my whole life so going to a foreign country alone is a very big deal for me. I'm very excited, I just am nervous about everything!
London is really not that hard to get around in. All you need is a good map of the Tube, and you will be fine. A week will give you lot's of time to visit most of the things there are to see. It would even give you time to make a daytrip to Bath, Cambridge or Brighton (or maybe somewhere else).
I think the first thing you need to do, is to get a guidebook on London, and to make a list for yourself. On that list you add the things you really need to see, and the sites you want to see (the wannasees) My advise it to don't make a day to day, hour to hour plan, but to make it to the must-sees first, and if possible combine them with nearby wanna-sees.
Decide for yourself if you want to spend the money, on things like the Eye (high price, great view, but only for a limited time), St Pauls (it's an outrage to ask money for cathedral in the first place imo, but this was too much).
For Shows, I think it is hard to help you, I am not a musical lover myself, but I went to see We will rock you in London, the storyline is crap, but the songs were OK. I think it is best to read reviews, and just go to those you think will appeal to you.
Hostels: there are a lot of hostels in London, I think all are pretty expensive, if you compare it to other cities. They also tend to be booked full on fridays and saturdays with people from other parts of the UK, coming to London to go out for a night on the town. When choosing a hostel, check if it is close to a metrostation, this will mean you can get to the Center pretty fast. If you like to see a lot of musicals, then maybe it would be wise to choose a hostel in the area with the theaters you would like to go to.
Don't be too nervous about venturing out into the big world. I think that if you have to pick a city to start, then London is great. They speak your language, and it won't give you the huge cultureshock, other countries can give you. There are a lot of girls traveling alone around the world, (if they can do it, you can do it) The great thing about traveling alone is, that you are most likely to make contact with other people sooner, than if you are traveling with two or in a group. (and nobody to wait for, doing everything on your own terms)
organised guides are great as you dont have to think about what to do and where to go. but as you say, these, especially in london, can be quite expensive...
As mentioned, get a guide book, plan the kind of things you want to see and map it out for yourself. The way to get around in london is a london traveloyster card, which is a new(ish) prepaid system for travelling, though you do not have to use it, but it saves about 50% of the cost of normal tickets!!
There are free things to do in london as well such as parks, museums, and gallaries.
Dont forget your umbrella. Have a great time
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Despite what most British people say about British Rail, it isn't actually that bad. I've been catching the train to college every day for a year and a bit now, and I've never had any major problems, granted, it isn't Switzerland, but its not that bad.
The London Tube is also very efficient. Getting around isn't difficult, providing you've got a decent map (London is hell for walking around, believe me...)
I personally wouldn't recommend going to Cambridge/Brighton, its not really worth it...Bath is historically interesting though and makes a good day out (not too good if you suffer from respiritory problems since it is Britons most polluted city). Cambridge again, has interesting bits, but not staggeringly so...As for Brighton, the Pavillion is worth a visit but the rest of it is very touristy and not that great. The beaches aren't amazing (but there are good fish and chips!)
Hostels/hotels - good luck, they're all expensive, extortionately expensive. You might be better off staying in Croydon or something, which is part of Greater London and commuting in in the mornings, the prices are cheaper.
As for where to go;
St. Pauls Cathedral is incredible, though as has been said previously, it is disgusting that they charge you to get in. They should only have a donation box...Not something like £9 to get in...Though when I went with my friend we just went to one of the services and walked around afterwoulds .
Natural history museum - I'll be doing my work experience placement there in January so say hi! Yeah, its great there, really interesting.
Science museum - also interesting.
British museum - if you have a particular interest in one period of history then its worth popping in, otherwise its not really designed for walking around all of it! I'm going to visit the Terracotta Army exhibition next week, I'll tell you if it is worth the £10 entrance fee...
London Eye - expensive but great views of the city, especially at night.
Also - try going around the Monopolly board, sounds stupid, but we did it for a competion and it is great for seeing the city because you litterally go all the way around the city.
As for shows, Her Majesties theatre is great, really great! At the moment, though I don't know when it finishes, Phantom of the Opera is on, gonna see that in a couple of months...Which ought to be good. Also seen Mamma Mia (Abba), Blood Brothers and Lord of the Flies recently, all of them have been great!
Restaurants - no idea, when I go up to London with my friends we don't eat out 'cos none of us can afford it...Well, we eat out, but the chippy doesn't count really!
I actually quite enjoyed going to Cambridge, it makes for a good day trip. I wanted to see King's College, it was beautiful. Would also recommend a visit to Oxford if you like university towns. I refused to go into St Paul's because of the price they charged for entry, but it's good enough just seeing it from the outside. Check out the Tate Modern if you're interested in art. Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery are also interesting stops. Covent Garden has a lot of shops, restaurants, and other entertainment stuff, it was bustling with activity when I went there, so do check it out.
Don't worry about going alone, you'll be okay so long as you're careful and keep your belongings safe. The tube is pretty efficient, as others have mentioned, although it can get confusing at times. But you'll work it out once you're there.