London: The Final Destination

This year my family picked London (United Kingdom) as our vacation destination and, after a short family council, we decided to schedule our trip in the middle of May. I’m not going to insist too much on our choice of the location. London is the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and probably the largest urban zone in the European Union, with a very long and rich history. There are a lot of things to see and plenty of attractions to enjoy. And getting a taste of the British accent looked like an interesting experience, not to mention the entertainment, the music and the pubs.

You will probably ask “Why in the world would you pick the month of May this year?”

I can understand your consternation: this is the year of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the year of the 2012 Summer Olympics – the first event was scheduled for 2 – 5 June and the last for 27 July to 12 August. So, why May?

The first reason has more to do with our desire to visit the city in a relatively calm period, with less tourists and better chances to enjoy the typical life of London. While the precipitations were supposed to be relatively frequent in May, we calculated that the month of May is not the rainiest of the year and we might get lucky – as you will see in the photos, the weather cooperated more than we hoped.

Finally, the month of May seemed to be not only the period of the year when all of us were available for a break, but also a great opportunity to save; still out of season, some hotels and flights were definitely cheaper this time of the year.

Choosing a flight is a matter of patience and… Internet surfing. Web sites like Expedia, Travelocity, iTravel2000, and airline sites as well, offer promotions from time to time.

It is recommended that you plan everything well ahead of time (at least two or three months before the trip) in order to benefit of seasonal deals. Or, if you work with a travel agency, they should be able to do most of the work for you. In our case, British Airways was a choice motivated by a reward program that helped us to offset the costs significantly. In the end, every individual situation is different.

Accommodation is another story. You can book a whole vacation package (sometimes at a very good price) or, separately, the flight and the hotel (if you have other arrangements). As always, the Internet is your friend.

The area located North of Hyde Park (Marble Arch, Paddington and Bayswater) is populated with many hotels of which some are usually expensive for the budget conscious traveler, while others are cheaper and very basic. The prices can be very volatile – based on the time of the year and even on the day of the week (in this tourist frequented area they are more expensive in the weekends).

Most of the larger hotels (more than 100 rooms) are old but well maintained with large lobbies and restaurants at the main floor. The smaller ones (20…40 rooms) are essentially Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses. The rooms are spacious but not excessively large. The extras (like phone or Internet) are rarely included in the room price – try the pubs or cafes nearby for free Wi-Fi.

We decided a bit late to buy the tickets and probably missed some good opportunities but in the end the costs were reasonable for an economy class flight with British Airways and accommodation in a 3-star hotel near Hyde Park. This was a decent deal in one of the hotels in the Paddington area – Lancaster Gate Hotel – a triple room for around $250 (about £150) – still expensive even at a 40% discount rate but not unexpected considering the fact that we needed accommodation for three adults. And, please remember that this was May, two months away from the pick season and just three weeks before the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

But before we arrive and settle, let’s spend some time on preparation. Without question, a well planned trip is a successful one. Others may disagree with this assertion just because they think it is a lot funnier to face the unforeseeable. I’m sorry folks, I am exactly the opposite: part of the fun is in preparation and research. In the following posts you will see why. In the mean time, try to find few more reasons to visit London and post some comments on my blog.

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