Sean McLachlan, author of 'Moon Handbooks London,' answered your questions on London.
Sean McLachlan: Hello everyone! I'm Sean McLachlan, author of Moon Handbooks London, which just came out a few months ago from Avalon Travel Publishing. I'm happy to be here and to see all your questions. There are quite a lot of them so I'm glad many of you sent them in early! Some questions are similar, so I might refer you to a previous answer. If you get a chance, drop by seanmclachlan.com to learn more about me. The website is still under construction, so apologies in advance for any broken links. Well, let's get started...
MO-town, Utah: My girlfriend is English, so we make it to the homeland about once a year. We've been to most of the main attractions in London, so what sites/locations/destinations/etc. would you suggest that would impress even an English(wo)man?
Sean McLachlan: Depends on what she likes. If she enjoys Classical music, take her to a concert at the Handel House Museum. If she likes the outdoors, take her for a picnic at one of the larger parks. It's amazing how quickly you leave the city behind. Richmond Park is one of the biggest and even has its own herd of wild deer. The London Wetland Centre is an amazing marsh ecozone made from reclaimed industrial land. Both are a bit far from the center, though. Closer in but just as relaxing is The Regent's Park. A fascinating but often overlooked museum is the Old Operating Theatre, which makes a trip to a modern doctor seem relaxing by comparison. The good old days? Not if you were sick! Another great and often overlooked attraction is the ornate Victorian cemetery at Highgate, where famous people such as Karl Marx are buried. There's a beautiful collection of Chinese ceramics at the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art.
New York, N.Y.: What's the weather like in late November? Dark and depressing all day as they say? Unbearably cold? Raining all the time? Or is it more like NY—cold, sunlight for at least a few hours, rain now and then? Thanks!
Sean McLachlan: I won't lie to you; November can be pretty dreary in London. It gets cool (but rarely cold, usually in the 40s or 50s Fahrenheit), overcast, and it can rain for days on end. Snow and hail are rare, but would be a relief after the incessant rainfall. On the other hand, sometimes the clouds can break up and you'll be surprised by a mild, sunny day. Don't waste that time—get out and walk! But don't forget to always have an umbrella with you because the weather can change very quickly. You'll be on an island in the North Sea, after all. Luckily, and probably not coincidentally, most of London's best attractions are inside, so don't despair.
Washington, D.C.: I am going to London in mid-November with a history buff for three nights. He loves Roman history and military history. What do you consider "must-see's" for him, and what area of town do you recommend staying in?
Sean McLachlan: The British Museum had an excellent section on Roman Britain, including the amazing Vindolanda Tablets—letters from a Roman fort that include military reports, requests for leave, even a birthday invitation! In the City (a section of central London around St. Paul's and the Tower of London that comprised Roman Londinium) you can see portions of the Roman Wall and the foundations of the Temple of Mithras. The Museum of London, also in the City, has some restored Roman rooms and a good view of a portion of the Roman wall, with a medieval wall built atop it.
For military history buffs, a visit to the Imperial War Museum is an absolute must. There's everything from WWI tanks to modern spy equipment. The Trench Experience is especially harrowing. Another great sight is the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, the underground bunkers from which Churchill planned the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Normandy. It's been left just as it was and is very atmospheric. If you have the time, the Army Museum and the Guards Museum are both worth a look.
Since you are pressed for time I would suggest seeing the British Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms, and the Imperial War Museum. It's best to stay in central London. The City will put you in old Londinium (although prices are high) or you can stay in Bloomsbury and be right next to the British Museum. Both neighborhoods will put you an easy walk or Tube ride from all the places I'm mentioning here, although the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, south of the Thames, and a bit of a Tube ride from everywhere.
You are fortunate to be going in November, because that's when England remembers its war dead. The Field of Remembrance, in the Westminster Abbey gardens, will open on Thursday, Nov. 8th. The Field is divided into different sections, each dedicated to a specific regiment or theater of war. Individuals are memorialized by small crosses decorated with red poppies. The Queen generally opens the Field, but to be there for the opening ceremony you have to be a member of a regiment or historical society. The general public gets in later that day. At the moment the Queen is scheduled to arrive at 10:45 a.m. I believe it opens to the general public an hour or so later, but of course the schedule may change between now and then.
I highly suggest that you take your friend to see the Field of Remembrance. The sight of the entire garden covered in red poppies is like nothing he will have ever seen and is a truly moving experience. You'll also get a chance to mingle with veterans of various wars and hear their stories. I always try to go and plan to attend this year as a member of the Salonika Campaign Society.
Phoenix, Ariz.: What are the must see sights in London for a person who will be there for five days?
• National Gallery/Trafalgar Square/St. Martin-in-the-fields (all right next to one another to make one easy trip, although St. Martin is currently under renovation)
• Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
• Houses of Parliament/Big Ben
• Westminster Abbey
• Thames Walk
• St. Paul's Cathedral
• Tower of London
• British Museum
• One or more of the old, historic pubs like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at 145 Fleet St. in the City or The George at 77 Borough High St. in Southwark
Of these, the most missable is the Changing of the Guard. While it's famous and makes for a nice spectacle, I think it's overrated and it's always crowded, making it hard to get a good spot unless you come quite early.
For a great panoramic view of London, climb the 530 steps to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome of St. Paul's. The London Eye, a giant Ferris Wheel on the South Bank of the Thames, is a popular attraction and actually gets you higher, but I prefer St. Paul's because for less money you get to see both the cathedral and a fine view. Since St. Paul's is right in the historic center of London, I think the view is actually better than atop the London Eye.
I highly suggest walking along the Thames Path, either on the north or south bank of the river. On a nice day you can get lots of great pictures of the river with historic buildings in the background. It passes many important landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul's, so it's a scenic way to get around.
Even if warm beer isn't your thing, I recommend a trip to a pub because some of them are 300 or more years old and pubs are a cornerstone of English culture. My book lists my favorites, chosen for atmosphere, good beer, historical interest, and lack of televisions. Two of the oldest are mentioned above.
Tours of the Houses of Parliament are generally available only in August and September.
Even though you won't be there long, it's best not to try and see everything on this list. Find some nice spot to sit back and people watch. Pubs are great for this! People tend to be very chatty at the actual bar, less so at the tables.
Fremont, Calif.: In April 2008, a friend and I are taking a taste of Europe type trip with Trafalgar. We are going to extend in London for a couple of days. I know that it is not much time, but what would you recommend as the "do not miss" sites, and would you recommend a couple of restuarants? We are both ladies in our late 50's with a broad enjoyment of food and sites.
Sean McLachlan: For my top picks in London, see the question above from the person staying for five days. For a two-day stay, I suggest Westminster Abbey, Thames Walk (weather permitting), St. Paul's, Tower of London, and the British Museum.
As for restaurants, that depends highly on what you like. Rules at 35 Maiden Lane has excellent but pricey meat dishes and is the oldest restaurant in London—they opened in 1798! If you're lucky they'll have fresh game from their estate in the Pennines. Tea at the exclusive Savoy hotel is quite an experience too, but also pricey. Afghan Kitchen at 35 Islington Green is cheap, filling, with no atmosphere, but excellent food you will have a hard time finding anywhere else. For some of the best fish and chips, go to the oldest chippery in town, the Rock and Sole Plaice, at 47 Endell St.
I'll be making some other restaurant and site suggestions to other people, so skim through all the questions for some more ideas.
Murphy, N.C.: Hello, Sean. I need to find inexpensive airfare from London (Heathrow) to Paris (Chas. D'G) leaving London on November 24, 2007 and returning November 30, 2007. What suggestions can you offer?
Sean McLachlan: Connie, there are plenty of budget carriers flying from Heathrow to Paris. EasyJet, Ryanair, and bmi are good bets. There are plenty more. You might also want to try Eurostar, a train traveling from the center of London to the center of Paris. It's more expensive, but more convenient and since you won't have to get to/from the airport, the price may not be all that different. Shop around!
Gainesville, Fla.: My fiancee and I are backpacking through Europe over winter break and we'll be starting in London on December 16. We are both college students so its important for us to stay on a budget, especially in the more expensive cities like London. Can you recommend a hostel that has the best mix of location/price/quality? We've heard and read good things about Palmer's Lodge. Also, we'd love any affordable dining recommendations, we want to avoid the "touristy" places as much as possible. Finally, how would you recommend getting from London to Paris? Eurostar will cost nearly double a flight on EasyJet ($114 USD vs $59 USD, both final prices after taxes/fees) for the both of us although logistically it would be much easier.
Sean McLachlan: Your best bet for cheap accommodation are youth hostels. You'll usually have to share a room with other backpackers, but you'll save lots of money. My favorites are the YHA Holland House in Holland Park, and the Astor Museum Inn right next to the British Museum at 27 Montague St.
There are plenty of budget carriers flying from London to Paris. EasyJet, Ryanair, bmi are good bets. There are plenty more. Try to avoid flying out of Luton, since that's far from London and expensive to get to. You want Heathrow or Gatwick airports. Also factor in your travel cost/time to and from the airports. Since Eurostar takes you from city center to city center, it may not be much more expensive, and it will be more convenient.
I have never stayed at Palmer's Lodge (too many hotels in London to cover them all!) but I make some more suggestions for cheap accommodation in reply to the other questions. For good dining options, also see the answers to other questions. Congratulations on your engagement!
Knoxville, Tenn.: I will be taking a cruise departing from Dover and arriving in London-Gatwick. What's the best (cheapest) way to travel?
Sean McLachlan: I'm unclear as to where you are traveling. If you mean traveling to London from Gatwick airport, the cheapest way to travel is by bus, operated by National Express, which takes about 90 minutes to get into town. If you are in more of a hurry, the Thameslink train will get you to King's Cross or Victoria stations in well under an hour for only a few pounds more.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: My wife and I visit London every year in late November, usually on Thanksgiving weekend and have been doing so for over 10 years. During this time we've seen a real improvement in the quality of the food but we're also becoming keenly aware of how expensive dining has become. What hints do you have for saving a few quid on meals, especially dinners? Also, do you know any places that still offer the traditional Carvery experience in central London? Thanks!
Sean McLachlan: If you don't mind greasing it up, there are plenty of good, cheap fish and chip places. The sandwich shops are healthier, and equally cheap. You can find them just about everywhere, especially anywhere where there are a lot of office buildings. The Café in the Crypt below St. Martin-in-the-Fields is good value for money if you don't mind eating next to gravestones. It was undergoing renovation two months ago, but should be open by the time you go.
As for a good traditional carvery, it's hard to find anything cheap, but The Albert pub at 52 Victoria St. has a good one upstairs for £16.50 for three courses plus coffee.
Also check out my responses regarding vegetarian dining (the next question) for information on cheap Brick Lane Indian cuisine. Skim through my responses to other questions for various other recommendations. Try Afghan Kitchen at 35 Islington Green and Food for Thought at 31 Neal St.
Seattle, Wash.: Hello. I'm wondering what suggestions you'd have for a vegetarian dining in London. Any tips or excellent veggie options?
Sean McLachlan: Since you said vegetarian and not vegan, I assume you don't mind if your restaurant serves meat as well as veggie dishes. If this is the case, you're in luck. London is filled with excellent Asian (especially Indian) restaurants that serve lots of vegetarian options. They're everywhere, but the most famous center for Indian restaurants is Brick Lane, which has dozens of them. As you walk down the street, touts will come out offering all sorts of deals. You can haggle for more, too, like free beer or and extra 10% off. If you decide to go with one, make sure you make him repeat the deal to the waiter, and make sure the waiter goes through with the deal. Every time I've gone I've had to gently remind the waiter about what we agreed on, but I've always had a good meal too.
Simply the best vegetarian restaurant I've been to is Food for Thought on 31 Neal St. I'm a meat lover but I go there every chance I get! The food is awesome and the place serves as a meeting place for vegetarians and vegans in London. Everyone sits at long tables so it's quite social. Ask the people sitting next to you and you'll get plenty more recommendations.
Fenwick Island, Del.: A girlfriend and I are planning on doing a girl's week in London. What neighborhood is a good central location to see the sights, is safe, and also fun? We are in our 50's and have never been there before. -Barbara
Sean McLachlan: This depends on what you want. Here's a breakdown of the nicer central neighborhoods and the general cost of hotels.
• Westminster and Victoria: Close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace, and the travel hub of Victoria Station. Tends to be pricey.
• Mayfair: Good shopping district. Pricey.
• Covent Garden/West End/Soho: Great for nightlife, theater, and dining. A whole range of prices.
• Bloomsbury: Close to the British Museum. Quiet neighborhood after dark. Wide range of prices.
• Chelsea/Kensington/Knightsbridge: Great shopping and good dining. Pricey.
• Notting Hill: Great shopping and dining. Pricey.
• The City: the oldest neighborhood in London with lots to see. Quiet and safe at night. Pricey.
• I would avoid Southwark and Piccadilly. They are the least safe neighborhoods, although they are safer than most American cities!
Orinda, Calif.: We are a family of 4 (with 2 young girls ages 8 and 9) traveling to London next summer. We have noticed that most British hotels only sleep a maximum of 3 per room. Do you have any recommendations for us at a reasonable rate? Thanks for your time!
Sean McLachlan: If you don't mind staying at a youth hostel, many have four-person rooms you can hire out. That way you'll have your own room, although in most cases you'll have to share a bathroom. Your kids may love the raucous, mostly twenty-something atmosphere, or they might hate it. Some youth hostels don't allow young children, however, so it's best to check ahead. You could also try the Merlyn Court Hotel, actually a bed and breakfast, which has quads. It's near Earl's Court Tube station, which is convenient for getting around, and there are lots of shops and restaurants nearby. Kensington Gardens is close too. They offer basic but decent accommodation.
Saint Augustine, Fla.: We'll be in London from 31 December to 5 January. We'd like to attend the theater at least twice. We'll we have a good chance of getting tickets then for top shows at the Leicester Square discount ticket booth—or should we plan on ordering ahead of time to assure that we get the shows we want to see?
Sean McLachlan: I'm glad you mentioned the Leicester Square TKTS booth, because that is the only one run by the Society of London Theatre, the industry's marketing organization. It's better to avoid the many other "half price" ticket booths in town because they can be a bit deceptive in what they offer. You can end up paying more than you think for bad seats. I'm not saying they're all dishonest, but it's impossible to tell the good from the bad. Stick to Leicester Square.
The TKTS booth can generally get you good seats, but it's based on availability, of course. I suggest going on your very first day so you can book as far in advance as possible. That way you'll have more options.
The website officiallondontheatre.co.uk has information on what's on and you can buy (full price) tickets online. I have a long essay on getting cheap tickets on page 146 of the book.
Chicago, Ill.: Is there a public transportation pass that covers both the Tube and buses? If so, what is it called and where can one buy it? We'll be there January 7 to January 12. Thanks for your help.
Sean McLachlan: What you want is the Oyster Card, a refillable smart card. Check it out at oystercard.com. Try to figure out how much travel you will do beforehand and only put that amount on. You can order an Oyster Card beforehand with your credit card from the website. Be sure to read all the information, too much to repeat here, before ordering.
Oyster Cards are convenient, the balance never expires, and they can be used on all public transport. Fares are cheaper with an Oyster Card so most Londoners have one. I highly suggest anybody staying for long periods of time get one. You can also get unlimited 7-day and 3-day passes, probably less of a deal since you will be there five days, and you have to use them a lot to actually save money. If you buy one, get it for Zones 1 and 2. You probably won't go further out from the center than that.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi! My husband (33 yrs) and I (29 yrs) are traveling to London and Paris over Christmas and New Years this year—London 12/24 to 12/28 and Paris 12/28 to 1/1. I think we'll be able to entertain ourselves for the Paris leg of our trip but I am a little worried about what we would be able to do/see in London 12/25 and 12/26 which are major holidays in the UK. I'm assuming lots of sights and restaurants/bars might be closed. Any suggestions? We will be staying at the Intercontinental Park Lane. Any tips (on Paris too!!!) would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! Melissa
Sean McLachlan: Melissa, hmmm&problem. I believe the great department store Harrod's will be open, and that's a sight in itself. They pride themselves on selling literally everything legal and have vast departments for anything you can think of. The Food Hall is great when you get hungry. The Christmas displays are amazing even if it's closed. Actually, that whole neighborhood is filled with shops and will be lit up and have countless window displays. It's the city's most popular shopping area so I'm sure some shops will be open for last-minute buyers.
Of course, the churches such as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's will be having choral masses. The acoustics are fantastic and the interiors are beautiful. All churches should be open on these days, and central London, especially the neighborhood called The City, is filled with historic churches, some dating back to the Middle Ages.
While it may be a bit cold, try a walk on the Thames Path for great views of the river and historic buildings.
One thing you shouldn't miss is the giant Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square. The adjoining Oxford Street is garlanded with thousands of lights, so it's best to go at night.
You might want to check the websites of major sites such as the British Museum. Sometimes they have special holiday hours, although Christmas is the one most of them close for.
West Palm: Hi Sean, I will have an entire "free" day in London on October 19th. I've done all the usual site-seeing. Any suggestions? How about a day trip to Battle? Thanks, Marie
Sean McLachlan: Marie, if you mean the town of Battle in East Sussex, I'm afraid I've never been there. So many destinations, so little time! Check out battle-sussex.co.uk for more information. An editor of mine who lives in the countryside nearby says the Battle of Hastings site isn't actually that interesting. For a great small English town, I recommend a daytrip to St. Albans, which I cover in my book. You can get more information at stalbans.gov.uk. For some more off the beaten path ideas, check out the answer I give to the question about taking an Englishwoman around London.
Centereach, N.Y.: We plan to be staying in the Kensington area and want to find a tour to see Stonehenge. Any help would be appreciated, thanks. Ed
Sean McLachlan: Ed, there are innumerable bus tours that take you to Stonehenge. You'll see them advertised all over town and in your hotel lobby too. I can't really recommend one as being much better than another, but here are some questions to ask:
1. Where else do they take you? Check if the trip includes Avebury (another megalithic site and highly recommended), West Kennet Long Barrow (also good) or Silbury Hill (right next to West Kennet but not as interesting).
2. How long do you stay at Stonehenge?
3. Do they stop at a particular restaurant for lunch? It's better if they don't, because it will usually be mediocre and overpriced. It's better if they just drop you in Avebury or some other town and let you pick a place yourself.
4. Do they pick you up and drop you off at your hotel?
5. How many people per tour? The smaller the better, of course.
The commentary on bus tours is generally rather superficial, but I'm picky because I used to be an archaeologist. Read up on the site beforehand.
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.: Hello, next year we travel to England with senior citizen friends who have never been there before. We will stay in London, but want to make one overnight train trip to the country side. What would you suggest to get the best experience for our time and money?
Sean McLachlan: Tough question because all the countryside is beautiful in England, assuming it isn't raining! If you want to see some of the best, and you don't mind a long train trip, I recommend the Lake District. The Lake District is incredibly lovely, especially in spring or summer, and has been a favorite attraction since the days of Jane Austin.
The White Cliffs of Dover, in the opposite direction, is just as lovely (if a bit windy) and much closer to London. You can actually do that in a daytrip.
If you want something more rugged go further north to the Peak District, or if you really want to get adventurous, go to the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. These last two are a bit far and more for serious hikers, however. Both regions have some stunning, if rather barren, landscapes.
Trains across England can be quite expensive, but the price goes down considerably the earlier you book. Do NOT wait until the last minute to book a train, or you will blow your budget! Check out nationalrail.co.uk for booking and some travel tips and destination guides.
For some nice countryside in London, try Richmond Park, a giant park with wild areas, deer, and lots of birds.
Anonymous: Hey, Sean. My husband and I (both 36) are arriving in Heathrow and staying in London for a couple days in November. We will have time to explore, shop and hang out 11/7 and 11/8, departing on 11/9. We love indie music and fashion and want to see the "best of" historical sites, as it's his first time there. First, given that we will be coming straight to the hotel from Heathrow and want to be central for our travels, what location would be best for our hotel? (If you can name an inn that runs around $150 USD, with bath included [en suite], that would be ideal.) Have you ever stayed at the Georgian House? I would appreciate some realistic day/night itineraries that we could follow by foot and by Tube, including spots on the west and east end. Thank you!
Sean McLachlan: For a two day tour of London, see the other question on this topic. My book has a detailed two-day walking tour of London that runs a couple of pages of description.
If you like indie music, you should check out Berwick St. just north of Broadwick St. There are more than a dozen shops crammed with vintage vinyl and used CDs, including a lot of European titles you'd have a hard time finding in the U.S. My favorite is Reckless Records at number 26 selling rock, pop, reggae, jazz, folk, experimental, and classical. South of the intersection with Broadwick St., the record shops end and the porn shops begin. Avoid at night! Just to the east at 7 Broadwick St., in a nicer section away from the porn shops, is Sounds of the Universe, a popular store for roots, reggae, house, break beat, hip-hop, Latin, postpunk, African, funk, northern soul and smatterings of just about everything else. It's mostly CDs but there's lots of vinyl if you're into DJing. My vote for the best music store in London!
I'm not much into fashion, but there are plenty of clothing shops in Camden Town. For vintage clothing go to Portobello Road.
The great thing about Heathrow is that it has its own Tube station, so you can hop on the Tube and get to just about any neighborhood. Since you are pressed for time, I suggest staying in Covent Garden, the West End or Soho. This cluster of neighborhoods has great nightlife, theater, and dining. You'll be close to a lot of the major sites too.
I have never stayed at the Georgian (there are innumerable hotels in London!) but for hotels I have stayed in, there's nothing in your price range in the area I mention that isn't a youth hostel or requires you to share a bathroom. For a tad more you can stay at the Fielding Hotel. It's decent, but with a great location. There's no elevator, however. Sadly, you'll be hard pressed to find a nice en suite room in a central location for $150.
Voorhees, N.J.: Any ideas on beating the high cost of London hotels?
Sean McLachlan: Short answer: No, London is horribly expensive.
Long answer: If you don't mind sharing your room, youth hostels aren't just for youth anymore. Some are quite clean and central, and have a safe so you don't have to trust your valuables to the kindness of strangers. Also, my book lists hotels for all budgets, although the cheaper ones often have small rooms and sometimes shared bathrooms. Even the most central neighborhoods, however, have some remarkably low-priced hotels. Remember, though, that you won't get a big room and all the amenities you're used to in a decently priced American motel. Think small. Think basic. It's OK, you probably won't be spending much time in your room anyway.
Los Alamitos, Calif.: Hello. I will be spending the week of February 10th in London with my boyfriend from Northern England. We have been a few times before, but neither of us know London well. As Valentine's Day will fall in the middle of our trip, I was wondering if you had any unique suggestions for romantic places/ways to celebrate? Thank you so much!
Sean McLachlan: Well, the weather might not cooperate, but London can be a surprisingly romantic place. See the question above about where to take an Englishwoman for some good date ideas, especially the picnic in the park. As for romantic spots, a fine restaurant never fails. But that's not terribly unique. The London Eye, which I mention in response to other questions, offers champagne flights, which would be a pricey but definitely unique experience. A good chilly date place is the Absolut Ice Bar at 31-33 Heddon St., belowzerolondon.com. Everything is sculpted out of ice, including your glass. Thermal caps are handed out on entry.
Tucson, Ariz.: I will be arriving Gatwick Airport on Sunday morning, Nov.18 with my 2 daughters and 2 grand kids [ages 13 and 10]. We have a reservation at a hotel close to Victoria Station. What is the best—and cheapest—way to reach our hotel? The hotel is probably far enough to not be able to walk to, but close enough that taxi drivers would be upset because the fare would be low. That is 5 people, plus baggage.
Sean McLachlan: How close is close? You might be able to walk it, but with luggage and kids in tow (not to mention jetlag) that might not be advisable. Contact your hotel and ask what bus line they are on. That might be the best way, but make sure you get clear instructions as to which bus you need to get on, and don't be afraid to ask the driver for help. They're used to it! There's a Tube (subway) station at Victoria, so ask your hotel if they're near a station, although I have a feeling the bus will be easier.
Also, London taxis are accustomed to short runs, so you might want to ask if they'll take you. Make sure only to take licensed black cabs. They are the only cabs allowed to prowl the streets for fares. You can hire other cab companies by calling them, but NEVER take an unlicensed cab you find on the street. They will often rip you off or worse. The Black Cabs (which aren't always black, by the way, although they all have the same Fifties design) carry five or six people with room for luggage. The cab license is white and should show clearly on the back of the car.
Roswell, Ga.: Bringing my 5-year-old daughter to London to see her best friend who recently moved there. It will also be my first trip. How do we make the most out this trip and plan to do, see and experience things for both child and parent?
Sean McLachlan: As parents, you and I both know kids like familiarity. You might want to show her pictures of famous London sights beforehand to get her interested. Kids really like the London Eye, basically a giant Ferris Wheel that had "pods" instead of seats. You can stand and move around quite comfortably as the ride takes you high above the Thames for a great view of London. The lines are horrible, so reserve ahead of time at londoneye.com. A cruise on the Thames may be fun for her, and you can get package deals through their website.
She might also like the London Zoo. It's not terribly different than other zoos, but it's still a good one and there's a petting zoo. The Regent's Park nearby can be used to burn off some of her energy.
Studio City, Calif.: We'll be in London March '08. Can you recommend affordable accomodations. We'd like to be near Harrod's however are open to other locations. Thank you. Anne
Sean McLachlan: Anne, getting a cheap accommodation in that area without staying in a youth hostel is tough. One good place is the Merlyn Court Hotel, actually a bed and breakfast. It's close to Earl's Court Tube station and while it's a mile to Harrod's, the shopping district starts way before that. You can also take a bus that will get you there quickly. It's also close to Kensington Gardens.
Rock Island, Ill.: For connecting international passengers, Heathrow (LHR) has long been a disaster of an airport, but how does LHR get away with this policy of limiting passengers to one carry-on, no matter what the second piece is, when they can get aboard their flight from the U.S. (or anywhere else) with a carry-on and a small personal item like a purse or briefcase? Is this likely to change? (In May, the security guard would not allow ANY second piece, no matter how small. What should we do, throw away a camera or a purse when we're continuing on to Frankfurt?)
Sean McLachlan: Because London has had a more recent terrorist attack than the United States, and their security services have foiled several others (thanks to tipoffs from moderate Muslims who want the fundamentalists out of their community), the security situation at Heathrow and other UK airports is unlikely to change anytime soon. It's a pain, but it's their country and they'll do what they think best in order to protect it. Every country makes its own rules, in addition to a minimum standard agreed on internationally. Two things you can do is make sure everyone in your party has the largest carry-on bag possible, and have a big coat with lots of pockets you can stuff with essentials!
Carmichael, Calif.: What is the best way to obtain tickets to the 2008 Chelsea Flower/Garden show? Approximately what is the cost? Thanks much.
Sean McLachlan: You can find them online at: http://rhs.org.uk/whatson/events/chelsea2008.htm. Costs vary and are listed on the site. Please note that you must book in advance. You can't buy tickets at the gate. It's an amazing sight so make sure to bring your camera.
Los Angeles, Calif.: What do you think is the best area in London for a "home base" when staying with kids (ages 10 & 13)?
Sean McLachlan: See my answers above about recommended two-day sights and neighborhoods. Any central neighborhood is reasonably safe. Make sure you stay near public transport to avoid long walks and whining. The one really central neighborhood I'd avoid is Piccadilly (too crowded and noisy). Southwark gets seedier the further you get from the river, so you want to avoid that too. London is far safer than most American cities, but can get pretty rowdy on Friday and Saturday night. If you're out late (which you probably won't be considering the age of your kids) you'll see lots of public drunkenness, people peeing on the street, and the occasional fight. Not something you want your kids to see, although it might give them some lessons on the problems alcohol can lead to. :-)
Rochester, Minn.: How does one get an egg, perhaps two, over easy in London without creating a national emergency?
Sean McLachlan: Over easy is not something that's really known in England. You'll probably have to give instructions. I heartily recommend a full English breakfast, complete with eggs, beans on toast, bacon, hash browns, and mushrooms. You can easily skip lunch. These breakfasts are available cheap in many cafes and sandwich shops, and are often sold throughout the day. Good value for money.
Port St Lucie, Fla.: What is the least expensive way to get from central London to Southampton on Monday, November 5th?
Sean McLachlan: The cheapest mode of travel is by bus, nationalexpress.com.
Sacramento, Calif.: I am going to London for the first time from Nov 20 to Nov 27. What will the weather be like? I purchased the 4-day Heritage Pass. What are your recommendations for some must-see locations? Is it a good idea to purchase an Oyster card to cover my day-to-day travels around London?
Sean McLachlan: See my answer to the other Oyster Card query above. Since you will be staying exactly a week you might want to consider a 7 day travelcard instead. This is only a cheaper option if you plan to use a lot of public transport. Generally the Oyster Card is cheaper, but you'll have to try and figure out how much you'll use it in order to put the right amount on it. You can always top it up and the counter of any major Tube or bus station.
Sean McLachlan: Well, it's been fun. Thanks for all your interesting questions. There are a few I didn't have time to get to, but those were generally covered in the answers to other questions, so scroll through the rest of the chat and you'll probably find what you need.
There's lots more information in my book, Moon Handbooks London, published by Avalon Travel Publishing. It was lots of fun to write and I'm back at it again in the spring for the next edition. Feel free to visit me online at my (still under construction) website at seanmclachlan.com.