Bill McChesney's Expert Tips on Visiting London

Submitted by:
William S. McChesney Jr

                          London Tips for ’65 Tigers

Over the years Deni and I have learned to love London along with the easy ways to access not only all of the local delights, but also excursions in the UK and Europe. We have learned all sorts of tricks to have a great time without breaking the bank. We go in the off seasons (late fall, winter and early spring) when the prices are down and there’s so much to do and there are not quite so many tourists, though post-Olympics London is more popular than ever. One has to be prepared for gray days and some rain, but in the end there is nothing to stop you from doing whatever you want. Here are some of our thoughts:

1. Lodging . We use short-term lets and serviced flats that cost one third of hotels and where we, Deni that is, can cook our own meals. No more breakfasts for £25. Most rent for a week or more, but some agencies like the Ascott Group are more flexible. We usually stay three weeks.

We have used:


• With Home from Home last year we found a clean  "portered”  (doorman/concierge sort of) flat with full kitchen, two baths, washer/dryer, full gym, squash court, and indoor swimming pool in Bayswater close to excellent transportation (more below) for £800 a week that we now rent directly from the owners from New Zealand who have become good friends.

2. Transportation is easy:
• Get a pay-as-you-go Oyster card that works on the Tube and bus system.
• The Tube system is easy to navigate but we love the bus system especially when we are not in a rush. It is always a great tour and a great way to see neighborhoods that you may wish to revisit.
• There is a wonderful free app, Citymapper, that you can use with your iPhone to give you the best directions to the closest bus stop or Tube station to get you where you want to go. We hardly ever need to take a taxi. For years we were confused by the bus system but now find we can get almost everywhere with this app.
• We also love the Senior Railway Card that gets us 30-40% discounts on the rail system. You can get this at Heathrow, before taking the train into Paddington (saving £50 or so). This makes day trips to Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, Norwich etc., quite easy and reasonable.

3. Entertainments . There’s so much to do and especially if you book online before your visit:
• Most of the museums are free but have wonderful special exhibits for which you will pay extra. However, if you join as a member (at most £72 for the British Museum for example) you have free access to great lectures and all exhibitions that require extra money for tickets and you avoid all the timed entrances. Just get there and go in. Also, you generally get a percentage discount in the gift shops, which are the best places for postcards and small goodies for friends and grandchildren.
• Our favorites are the British Museum (must see the Elgin Parthenon marbles), Tate Britain with a great number of Turner and Moore art (a bit out of the way but not crowded with a fun luncheon restaurant with the Rex Whistler mural), the National Portrait Gallery (great introduction to English History) and the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square (with St. Martin's in the Fields Church across the street with excellent concerts and a very reasonable cafeteria in the crypt), the Victoria and Albert next to the Natural Science Museum that has excellent special exhibits, Tate Modern is fun but best enjoyed as part of a day on the South Bank (more on this later), The Wallace Collection is great with fantastic armour, art and antiques with a superb garden dining area.
• Most museums have some sort of café but many have some of the best restaurants in town. They will be a tad more expensive but you will avoid the herds of grammar school children being taken out for field trips, and believe us they are wild, noisy and everywhere!

   o   This has the best view over-looking Trafalgar Square, so truly great for lunch. Reserve if you want a window table.
• If you love Opera, and we do, having been subscribers at the Met in New York for 25 years, we now go to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden were we can book good seats online and also go to the less expensive English National Opera just a few steps from Trafalgar square. If you really want a special evening, get your opera or ballet tickets and then book your dinner at …
It is the most fabulous experience to sit in this extraordinary architecture and have your first and second course before the performance, and then to come back for dessert or cheese during the interval. For a simpler evening, you can get delicious nibbles and a bottle of wine at the bar before the performance, and your unfinished wine will be there for the break.
• The theatre scene speaks for itself. We prefer the intimate spaces and smaller venues with our favorite British actors. (Between Harry Potter and Downton Abbey everyone knows them all!) Again we book online and have found that the half price deals at Leicester Square are best for the big musicals etc., and not much of a bargain for others.
• Concerts are all over the place. While we prefer Classical Music and especially oratorios there is something for every taste at Southbank Center, Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican and many others easily found online. Remember many of the churches have fantastic concerts for very little money.
• Sports. Bill loves English football, follows the Premier League and is able to get tickets for Fulham matches online at their charming 25,000 person stadium on the Thames. They are a losing team so there are tickets available; you will avoid a bunch of hooligans and have a great time. It is more difficult to get tickets for Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspurs in London though it can be done.

4. Dining . The dining experience is fantastic. You can have some of the finest dining in the world though we tend to seek out bargain gourmet or gourmand spots.
• Our favorites of the expensive ones (and we usually focus on the less pricey ones) are Rule’s ( on Maiden Lane near Covent Garden, the oldest restaurant in London and great with game and traditional English food; J. Sheekey (, a fish restaurant near theatres; Racine ( near Harrods and The Summerhouse ( on the canal in "Little Venice” near Paddington Station. In good weather it is a treat to take the tube to Richmond and eat at The Petersham Nursery ( or tube to Kew and enjoy The Glasshouse ( This is wonderful before a meander through Kew Gardens. All these need reservations in advance. There are many, many more and half the fun is reading a menu and giving something a try.
• We particularly like mid-priced ones. Côte Brasserie ( is the best French chain followed by Café Rouge (; both of these are all over London and the UK. We love the English traditional meals at the Swan ( just over the Millennium Bridge next to the Globe Theatre on the South Bank. Savoir Faire ( has a prix fixe 2 course lunch for £13, and it is about 2 blocks from The British Museum and has extremely delicious simple French food. Golden Dragon ( is our favorite of many in Chinatown and also close to the theatres (best spare ribs we have ever eaten bar none).
• The variety of lower priced restaurants is phenomenal ranging from Thai, Indian, Chinese, Lebanese … you name it. The classic technique of reading menus and walking in still works at lunch, especially since Americans tend to eat lunch at noon or 12:30 and Brits a bit later. For dinner it is always wise to get a reservation.
• If you are a member of a club that has reciprocal privileges with a London Club they offer some of the best dining deals, and some also have rooms. The Royal Automobile Club also has a resort with pool, spa and golf course in the country south of London. We particularly enjoy the Reform Club on Pall Mall. Expect a great atmosphere (you must wear a coat and tie), good food and reasonably priced house wines.
• We often go out for lunch and dine at our flat thanks to Deni’s cooking excellence. It is obviously always a treat to visit the famous food halls of Harrods and Selfridges as well as Whole Foods on Kensington High St., but the supermarkets are sensational. Waitrose is excellent followed by Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury. Waitrose is our favorite. The produce is excellent and the variety of poultry amazing (guinea fowl, pheasant, goose, duck or duck breasts, quail and partridge). If you love real lamb, not old mutton, the Welsh lamb is fabulous although not quite pré salé from Normandy. Fish is usually great in all the restaurants, and you can judge by the lines which are the good Fish and Chips places. When we have cooked fish at home, we will go to a local fishmonger rather than a supermarket.
• If cooking is not your thing, takeout is fabulous. Just pick a national cuisine and most likely there will be a restaurant within a few blocks that will have a take-out service. Also, all the supermarkets have a great variety of fabulous "ready meals” which are quite delicious.
• Wine, beer and spirits are also much cheaper in supermarkets.
• London is a perfect home base for one day or short excursions. We have used our Senior rail passes for day trips to Norwich, Lincoln, Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury and even Salisbury. It’s easy to do and many towns are easily walkable from the railway station.
• Booking far in advance, we have gone to Paris for a day on the Eurostar for about $75 round trip. This kind of Senior pricing is available only in the off-season and best booked about two months in advance.

As you can see, we really do a great deal and absolutely love living in a London neighborhood. If you have any comments or questions about something we have not mentioned, shoot us an e-mail.



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