Tim: Â Hooray! London is a delicious, dirty city, and I, Tim Willoughby, am right in the middle of it with Tom Reeve and Dan Barrett, all ready to talk
about exactly how delicious it can be. We’re here to show you exactly how to make the most of Grand Prix London.
Suffice to say, we are preparing this Grand Prix London primer from a pub. This is not just a coincidence or an easy place for us to meetâ€”there is a
lot that London has to offer above and beyond what will be at the Grand Prix site, and we hope to be
able to share some of it with you (including great places to get a great drink).
Of course, before you can follow all of our best advice, you have to get here and get used to getting around, so I’m going to hand over to Tom for some
Tom: Â Now, I would hope that by this point you’ve planned out your journey at least as far as a train station, airport, or secluded bay in which to
moor the pirate ship. The most likely places for you to end up are Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, Luton, or City Airports, or St. Pancras International
train station (for those of you who prefer trains under bodies of water to flights over them). What you do first will depend on where you come in;
For Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton airports, you’ll want to get a train into town. Trains run from Luton into St. Pancras, from Gatwick into LondonBridge
or Victoria, and from Stansted into Liverpool Street.
For Heathrow and City airports and St. Pancras train station, you have the good fortune of arriving already within the main London transport network.
Congratulations, you get to skip a step!
Now, once you get into London itself, the first thing you should do is find a ticket office at an Underground (or â€˜Tube’) station and pick yourself up
an Oyster card. This is a smartcard that can be used to store both weekly/monthly/annual travel
passes and, more importantly for you, a â€˜wallet’ of money for use on pretty much any form of public transport within London. The reason you want one?
Cash fares are significantly higher than Oyster fares (Dan: As in, at least 50% more). Not only that, but if you use an Oyster card for travel, it will
automatically cap at a fixed daily amount, which is particularly useful if you’re having a sightseeing day and hopping on and off buses and Tubes. So
it’ll save you money, it saves time messing around working out which ticket you need and feeding coins into machines, and you can just tap your wallet
on the ticket barrier and scoot straight through feeling like a local.
Getting around central London, taxis are, as you might expect, the most expensive option. On the plus side, licensed taxi drivers are required by law
to study for a preposterously comprehensive test of routes, landmarks, and so on known as â€˜The Knowledge.’ If you give them an address, they will get
you to it. If you’re in a group, in a hurry, or it’s late at night, taxis become much more attractive options.
The Tube is very easy to use but a little more expensive and less flexible than buses. You know exactly where they go from and to, they don’t have to
worry about traffic, and the maps are a lot more comprehensible than bus maps.
When it comes to getting around within central London, however, locals will tend to walk or get the bus. This can be slower than the Tube, what with
traffic, and requires more knowledge of the city, so ideally do so with a map. Unlike some newer cities, which were planned, London just sort of…
happened… over a period of hundreds of years, most of which predated the car. As a result, roadmaps of London can look more like an accident in a
spaghetti factory than a modern capital.
If you have a smartphone, you definitely should check on the appropriate market for a Tube map application that you can use without a data connection.
And if you do ever get lost in London, Tube stations and bus stops should have maps. Don’t bother asking people on the street for directions, as your
average man on the street in London doesn’t know where he is. Policemen and taxi drivers are your best bet if you have to get directions, but if in
doubt just try to find a Tube station, where you can check maps, get advice from the staff, or use an information point to get free travel information.
Speaking of travel information, head on over to http://www.tfl.gov.uk/. There are maps, up-to-date information on
disruptions and engineering work, and most importantly a Journey Planner there that can work with addresses, train and Tube stations, bus stops or
postcodes, and can give you the best route for a particular journey at a particular time of day. You can also get 24-hour travel information by phone
at 0843 222 1234. I particularly recommend using the Journey Planner before you leave to work out your best route to wherever you’re staying when you
arrive, and print out or write down that journey.
London’s big enough that you won’t see it all by wandering around. If there are things that you specifically want to see, chances are that they are in
Tube Zone 1. There is a lot of fun to be had by roaming the streets (we’ll get onto that later), but by and large if you find yourself somewhere
desolate and bare looking, you’ve strayed too far South of the river and should jump on a bus or train North sharpish.
Now, assuming that you make it into town, we’re guessing you’ll be after something to eat. Fortunately, we’re here to help dispel all those foul
rumours that you can’t find decent food in England!
Places to Eat
Tim: Brick Lane (Aldgate, Aldgate East or Shoreditch High Street Tube stations) for a curry. Curry in England is a bit of an institution, and indeed a lot
of dishes on the average British curry menu were designed by Indian chefs for English palates (either milder or a lot spicier than is
traditional). Brick Lane boasts one of the highest concentrations of Indian restaurants in London, and a bit of window-shopping and haggling can
probably get you an even better deal than the ones on public display. Nearby but off Brick Lane itself is a branch of Mirch Masala (hit the â€˜Restaurant’ tab, you’ll want the East London location), Tom’s
favourite Indian of all time (OF ALL TIME!). If you do go to Mirch (as it’s known to its devotees), then you should order the Onion Bhaji for
appetisers, at least one between two and up to one each. If they’re as good in that location as they are in the Tooting branch, you may be ruined for
fried-onion-based foodstuffs for life after a visit.
For traditional English food, Rules near Covent Garden is a good option, as are St. John and Roast. Near Rules in Covent Garden (itself a
great destination for ambling around, with plenty of interesting shops and an indoor market) is Wahaca, an amazing (and cheap!) Mexican restaurant. Chinatown has as much to offer as you’d
imagine, and a personal favourite of Tom’s is Rasa Sayang, a Malaysian/Singaporean place on the edge of
Chinatown that’s great for a quick bite.
When it comes to another English classic, fish and chips, The Fryer’s Delight on Theobald’s Road (near Holborn Tube station) is my (Tim‘s) choice, but
there are quite a lot of good chippies. Fish and chips is something of a national institution for England, and we’re not talking a McDonalds
Filet-O-Fish and some fries here. Try it. Trust us.
Speaking of McDonalds, while they are boring and predictable, a useful thing to know is that they typically have free Wi-Fi in London, so if you need
to hook up your laptop, they aren’t a bad option.
Borough Market, just across the river from the Grand Prix venue, is a cornucopia of culinary delights that will be open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (opening
times on the site). Think of it as one of the best delis in the world, with lots of opportunities to taste things and very good quality food of all
varieties. It is busy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look. Whether you’re looking to browse and graze, pick up something to take back to the
venue to eat for lunch and make everyone jealous, or pick up treats for the folks back home, Borough Market comes highly recommended.
Dan: A few favourites of mine scattered around the city include Cafe Pacifico (Mid-price Mexican in
Covent Garden), Abeno (pricey and fancy teppanyaki-style Japanese), and Garlic and Shots in Sohoâ€”every dish is smothered in garlic, and they have over 100 different flavoured
vodkas. Nearer the venue, Mama Thai is only open Friday lunchtime but is THE BEST lunch in
East London, and Spitalfields Market has a large range of takeaway lunch options.
Classic old pubs and other places to drink
Tim: England is well known for its public houses (you may know them as â€˜pubs’), many of which have hundreds of years of history. A few recommended drinking
The Princess Louise, which Tom will happily claim as the most confusing pub in the world having tried to meet people there before.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
is the oldest pub in London, and is awesome according to Mr. Willoughby.
near the Grand Prix venue. Not the most English of drinking establishments, but who’s complaining?
Dan: They might not necessarily be as old as they appear, but Samuel Smith’s pubs look the
part and serve traditional beers at some of the lowest prices you’ll find in the city (Under Â£2.50 a pint).
If you’re looking for somewhere a little more modern to get some drinking done, your best plan of action will be to either head directly North into the
Shoreditch/Old Street area, or West towards Covent Garden and Soho. I’d love to recommend my native Camden, but sadly it’s the Camden Crawl that weekend, which means every pub/club is open to ticket-holders only. Of course, if you
want to blow off the Grand Prix and spend a drunken weekend watching bands you’ve never heard of (one of which may or may not be the next big thing),
go for it!
In Shoreditch (an area somewhat similar to Williamsburg in New York City, being populated by hipsters who’ll likely look down on you over thick-rimmed
glasses), you’ll find pool at the Elbow Rooms, The Old Blue Last (home of Vice magazine, bands every night),
Bier by the Stein at the Bavarian Beerhouse, as well as all manner of other curious little bars.
Want to go clubbing? Near the venue to the North you’ll find Fabric (Â£15 per head),Cargo lurking under some railway arches (pricey), and The Aquarium (which has a swimming pool!). In Soho, try Punk, or
head to Kings Cross for Scala. There’s also London Magic-player favourite Bloomsbury Lanes, which offers bowling, pool, table football, and karaoke as well as drinking and
dancing into the early hours.
Dan: Oxford Street is the country’s busiest shopping road, and has all the major chains you could want to
go to for clothes, music, gifts for friends/familyâ€”get off at either Tottenham Court Road and walk West, or in the thick of it at Oxford Circus. Regent
Street, which crosses Oxford Street at Oxford Circus Tube station, also comes stocked with big shops, including the inevitable Apple Store and Hamleys, one of the largest toy stores in the world. At the Tottenham Court Road end, Foyles is one of the oldest and largest bookstores around, and the Charing
Cross Road on which it lies is also home to a number of specialist, antique and second-hand bookstores.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to brave the inevitable crowds in Camden despite the Crawl, head up to Camden Town Tube station and walk up
Camden High Street to the various markets, home to a thousand tiny stalls, more piercings than you can shake a stick at, and Cyberdog.
(Knightsbridge) is possibly the world’s best known department store, and even if you might not buy anything there, the food halls are certainly worth
having a wander through – and where else will you buy a Â£500 silver knife?! Selfridges is like Harrods, only with prices you or I can afford, while Fortnum and Mason offers all kinds of luxury food and drink, and is great for portable and delicious
Which Sights to See
Tom: The Science Museum, Natural History Museum (worth a walk past at
least, as it’s a fantastic old building) , and Victoria and Albert Museum are all free to enter, and right
next to each other. Take a Tube to South Kensington, head up above ground, and you can catch all three museums within a short walk up Exhibition Row,
then carry on past the Royal Albert Hall, one of the UK’s most famous concert halls, and from there it’s a stone’s throw to Hyde Park, which if the
weather stays good is a great place for a stroll.
Closer to the centre of town, the British Museum holds a range of antiquities and exhibits, while the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are just off
Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross or Leicester Square Tube stations). The Tate Britain and Tate Modern (Dan: warning, the latter may confuse) are galleries specialising in, surprise, British and
If it’s a nice day and you feel like a walk, but not a park, I (Tom) recommend heading to Charing Cross station, taking a look at Trafalgar Square,
then walking South down Whitehall. You’ll pass a lot of historic buildings, a lot of statues, a lot of Government departments and so on, you might see
some impressive-looking guards, you’ll pass Downing Street (where the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer live) and end up at Westminster,
where you can take in Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament (including Big Ben, which actually refers to the largest bell in the tower rather
than the clock tower itself.) Time it so that you arrive just before an hour is struck for full effect! If you still have some energy left, head West
from Westminster (the opposite direction from the bridge) through St James’s Park, and you’ll come to Buckingham Palace.
Dan: Sights to AVOID include: Madame Tussauds, The London Dungeon, The London Aquarium, and the London Eyeâ€”all o these are super-touristy, have huge
queues, and are massively overpriced (Â£20 or more admission). Attractions actually worth paying for are the Tower of London (a lot of history, and you get to see the Crown Jewels!), or an open-top bus tour, which will cover all of the major sights. (Tom: I actually disagree on the London Eye!
If you’re in a group and the price doesn’t scare you off, you can get great views of London on a clear day, although the lines can be worrying.)
How much will it cost, or, the Consumer Pint Index (CPI)
BeerÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Aim for around Â£3. (Don’t pay more than Â£4.)
Most alcoholic drinks (Beer, Cider, a single measure of a spirit with mixer, etc.) shouldn’t come to more than Â£4 unless they are cocktails. Cocktails
should be under Â£10 (Tom: I would generally expect to pay Â£6-8.)
Meals (excl. alcohol)
Fast foodÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1-2 Pints (McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway, the usual suspects.)
Value ChainsÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â 3-4 Pints (A step above fast food, but not as time-consuming as a proper restaurantâ€”Nando’s
for good grilled peri-peri chicken, Wagamama for noodles, ramen and other Japanese bits and pieces, Wetherspoons and other larger pub chains.)
Regular restaurant Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 4-6 Pints (e.g. Chinese, Indian, most non-chain restaurants)â€”though you can have a bash at haggling!
Good restaurantÂ Â 6-10 Pints (some of the places mentioned earlier, such as Roast or Rules would fit in here.)
Tim: You might have noticed that on the Friday prior to the Grand Prix there is a wedding going on. Prince William and Kate Middleton are getting
hitched, and the whole country is getting a day off to celebrate. This is a big deal, and you will find that London is a busier and boozier place for
it all weekend. My (Tim‘s) recommendations for dealing with this are to make sure to be a bit flexible about what you want to do. Travel may be
disrupted a little due to the number of people in the city on Friday, and many of the more touristy spots (especially Buckingham Palace) will be crazy
Most locals will be enjoying the sunshine and probably having a drink or two. One of the best places for this is any of the massive parks in London,
all of which will have screens up showing the wedding. Expect boisterous singing of the National Anthem and, assuming it’s hot, lots of people working
sunburn. It should be a fun day!
And of course, if there’s anything you want to ask us, or any more specific advice you’d like, catch us in the forums…