I’m sure everyone knows that the WONCA Europe conference is in London this year on the 28th of June to the 1st of July. I was born in London and have lived here for the majority of my life and would consider myself a thoroughbred Londoner. Therefore, I thought I would compile a post that sums up what you need to know to visit the greatest city in the world which happens to also be my home town. Disclaimer: This is only my opinion on London life and you can take or leave what you like.
Flying into London
There are five airports to choose from and I will go through them in order of preference.
City airport – this is the smallest airport and is located in east London, near the venue of the conference. I love it because it is small which means it is easy and quick to get through security and customs. The downside is that not all companies fly there and I think the flights are slightly more expensive. However, the joy of being at my front door (I live in east London) within one hour of landing is sufficient to warrant the extra pounds for me. A word of advice though, eat before you get there when you leave London because the restaurant meals are eye-wateringly expensive.
Heathrow – you cannot go wrong with Heathrow. It’s the biggest of all airports with five terminals and is located on the west side of London. There are three ways of getting into London from here. The Heathrow express which takes 15 minutes, costs £25 to get into Paddington station. I think it is a bit of a waste of money because the Heathrow Connect (run by Transport for London – TFL) takes 30 minutes to Paddington and costs around £10. There is also the Piccadilly line (TFL) which takes about 40 minutes to get to central London and costs only a few pounds. You will have to buy a ticket for the Heathrow Express before getting on it or you can use an Oyster card or your bank card for TFL lines (see later).
*ADDENDUM* The Elizabeth line has opened since I wrote this post which means that the Heathrow Connect has been replaced by the Elizabeth Line to Paddington.
Gatwick – this is located on the southern side of London and is also a safe bet. Like Heathrow, there is a Gatwick express and a normal train and it’s much cheaper to get a normal train which will take you to Victoria station. You will need to buy a ticket before boarding for both options.
The budget airports – I prefer Luton airport marginally to Stansted airport for no reason. They are both very far from London and will take about an hour to get into a central London station (Kings Cross or Blackfriars for Luton and Liverpool Street for Stansted). Like all budget airline airports, prices once inside are a premium and expect it to be a bit grotty when you’re inside but the flights are often cheap which will offset the experience.
Eurostar – Don’t forget the wonderful Eurostar which connects London to Paris and Brussels. Having lived in Paris, I am a huge fan of the Eurostar which will take you to St Pancras International which is right next to Kings Cross station.
Travelling around London
London is such an easy city to travel around and the buses and trains are run by Transport for London (TFL). When using the metro (we call it “the tube”), you will need to tap in and tap out at each station with either an Oyster card or your bank card. You can get an Oyster card at any station but you will need to add money to it (“top it up”) or you won’t be able to use it. TFL will automatically calculate how much you have used in a day and will only charge you either for the total number of journeys you have done or the day rate, whichever is cheaper, so feel free to tap in and tap out freely. Don’t forget to tap in and tap out though because they will over charge you if you don’t.
There is an extensive bus network in London and they are really easy to navigate with a little help from Google maps. Just a note about the iconic London red buses – they are designed by Thomas Heatherwick who designed the torches and flame for the London Olympics. You just need to tap in when you get on because all buses are a fixed fare.
Night travel is pretty easy and there are some tube lines that are open past midnight. You can get night buses but these can get quite rowdy with drunk Brits. Uber is the best for taxis but there are other companies such as bolt and kapten which are also reliable but you need to download the apps. You can hail black cabs on the street but they tend to be expensive.
Travelling to the venue
The excel centre is on the DLR line which is in east London. The station that you want is Prince Regent. Click here for more details.
*ADDENDUM* The Elizabeth line has opened since I originally wrote this blog post which means that you can get from central London to Custom House (venue) in 20 minutes.
The preconference will be at the resource for London which is by Holloway station on the Piccadilly line. Click here for more details.
I tend to use GoogleMaps when travelling around London but Citymapper is also excellent.
Where to stay
The area around the venue is rather lacking in entertainment and I don’t really recommend staying around there as you will probably be travelling to other areas of London to socialise. Staying around Holloway Road where the preconference is will also be ok but it will be far from the Excel centre. London is big and you have to accept that all destinations require approximately 30 minutes for travel if it feels close and an hour if it doesn’t.
London has had bad press for safety but actually, it’s a city where I feel safe walking around as a female by myself even in the early hours of the morning. Exercise normal caution such as not having your wallet on show but generally speaking if you’re a seasoned traveller you will be fine. There are pickpockets here but they tend to target those who look clueless. Be guarded but don’t be concerned.
London is expensive but it is also possible to do on a budget. I will do another post on how to navigate London on a shoestring in the coming months. I cannot wait to welcome you in London.