Visiting London in a Motorhome
We love cities. We really do but visiting them in a motorhome brings with it a specific set of challenges. In Hamburg we camped in a poky little parking lot right in the center but close to all of the action. In Amsterdam we stayed a quick ferry ride away from the main hustle and bustle. Neither of these were options for visiting London, there just isn’t a facility to park near the center of everything. So instead we decided to stay a short train ride outside the city at Abbey Wood Caravan Club Site. It turned out to be a great choice.
The first fact you should know if you plan to visit London is that almost the entire city and some outlying areas are part of a Low Emission Zone. If your vehicle is not eligible to enter, or is eligible but you don’t register in advance (this applies if you are not driving a GB registered vehicle) the fines are eye-wateringly huge. I am talking £500 or £1,000 ($630 to $1,260) depending on the weight and age of your motorhome. So if you are driving a non British motorhome don’t even think about exiting the M25 motorway without registering on-line first. As our motorhome is fairly new and is registered in the UK, we were OK to enter. We did check first though!
Abbey Wood is inside the LEZ but, despite being part of London, it is surprisingly leafy and green. There is a shiny new train station just ten minutes walk from the site so you can be in central London within thirty minutes or so. Most of the trains drop you off at stations near “the city” - the financial heart of London (London Bridge or Waterloo East). From there you can access the Underground network and pretty much get anywhere you want to go.
The public transport in London (known as TFL - Transport for London) is extraordinarily good, probably one of the best systems of any city we have been in the world. It’s certainly not typical of the other places we have visited in the UK. We like TFL because it is completely integrated, whether you want to take an overground train and underground train, a bus or a boat - it is all run by TFL. You can buy a single journey ticket, or a one day travelcard but it is cheaper and more convenient to use a contactless card or app. We used the contactless payment on our mobile phones (Both Google Pay and Apple Pay work). It’s so easy - you just tap your phone at the ticket barrier at the start and end of your journey and the charge is made for that trip. Depending what zones you are traveling in, the amount you will be charged during the day of travel is capped. For Abbey Wood (zone 4) to central London (zone 1) the daily cap is £9.80 (US$12.37). Once you reach that limit you won’t be charged any more. You can travel as much as you like until 4.30am the next morning. We found this the perfect way to get into London and travel around while we were there.
We spent a couple of days in London and actually stayed in a hotel for one of the nights as we had our birthdays to celebrate. Iain and I have birthdays on consecutive days - so it’s always fun to do something to celebrate. We have been to London a gazillion times, so didn’t feel the need to see any of the typical tourist sites. We’ve seen almost all of it before. Instead we decided just to wander around and get a feel for the vibe of a few areas we don’t know so well. We went to Exmouth Market for lunch, a part of London we don’t know and found a cool hipster neighborhood with some excellent food choices. Generally we found London to be vibrant, clean, well run and everyone we came across was cheerful and friendly. This goes somewhat against the city’s reputation and certainly was in contrast to some of the other places we had visited in the UK.
We did a few cool things to celebrate our birthdays. This year was a big one for me (half a century) and I decided my gift would be to see Hamilton in the West End. Eons ago we got up early to grab the hottest tickets in town the day they went on sale and scored some sweet seats a few rows from the front. Saying that Hamilton is good, is a bit like saying “have you heard of this thing called bread well now you can get it sliced”, or “ I just discovered this band from Liverpool called The Beatles” - it’s kind of obvious that it was amazing!
The hotel we stayed in was fabulous too; we used air miles to stay at the Mondrian in the South Bank area of London. Super modern and cool, and when we got back to our room they had gifted us a bottle of champagne for our birthdays. We were impressed and decided we wouldn’t hesitate to stay there on any future London trips.
We had not spent a lot of time in the South Bank area of London before and we started of our second day in London, Iain’s birthday, with a trip to Borough Market. This is a fantastic gourmet food market with some amazing treats and eats. We had a tasty breakfast and bought some pies to take home for our dinner. Iain’s request for his birthday was to visit one London landmark that neither of us had visited before, Abbey Road Studios. We rode the tube to St John’s Wood and took a short walk to join several other tourists walking across the famed zebra crossing and peered through the railings at the studio. Iain is a big Beatles fan and this was a real treat for him.
We ended our day with another typical London experience - getting soaked in an epic storm. We sheltered in a pub for a while, before taking our sorry, sodden selves back to the hotel to pick up our bags and get the train back to Abbey Wood.
It was a fantastic few days in what we think is one of the world’s greatest cities, and Abbey Wood turned out to be the perfect base for exploring it. But the next stop is the Eurotunnel. It’s time to head south for better weather.