Trying to keep the kids amused during the summer holidays?
Platform 9 3/4 is not the only weird feature of Kings cross, it is also one end of possibly the only place in the universe where you can go on an "Infinite Loop" by continuously taking the "Northbound" Tube.
Welcome to the twilight zone.
Go to King's cross and take the Northern line "Northbound", at the next stop get off at Euston. Now take the "Northbound" Victoria line, at the next stop get off at King's Cross!
Probably the best kept travel secret is Southern Trains advance fare, bookable on the Internet, of £3 to and from Gatwick Airport. The journey takes only a minute or two more than the Gatwick Express and the trains are just as comfortable. This fare is more than five times cheaper than a one way fare on the Gatwick Express.
The past week has seen the DLR train connection to London City Airport closed for line upgrades. Before setting off to the airport, it is wise to check online at www.tfl.gov.uk or www.londoncityairport.com to check for travel disruptions. There are replacement bus services in place but you should give yourself an extra half an hour if taking these to allow for delays and traffic
As an enthusiastic and regular traveller, I love to make use of all modes of transport when travelling. Train journeys are so much more than getting you from A to B, they allow you to see the local environment, save money, reduce carbon emissions and if you are lucky, you may get to meet some locals and get a great insight into real life. My top highlights and tips to train travel around the world are:
1) The bullet train (Shinkansen)
Japan's iconic bullet train lives up to its reputation. Fast, clean and always on time, the bullet train (Shinkansen) travels up and down Japan's main rail network, transporting you from hub cities like Tokyo and Kyoto in a matter of hours. Trains travel at speeds up to 300 kph and are a great travel experience. The city to city centre network means that they can be time saving as well, much quicker than travelling via Japan's notoriously remote airports.
The downside is that train travel can be very expensive, particularly at today's exchange rates. A single ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto starts from GBP100! However, there is a solution... if you are a visitor to Japan then before you travel you should get yourself a Japan Rail Pass. Available in 7, 14 and 21 day flavours, you can save a huge amount of money if you plan to travel more than a couple of times on Japan's rail network. A 7 day Japan Rail Pass costs around GBP235 at current exchange rates - just slightly more than the price of a return journey.
More details can be found at www.japanrail.com/JR_shinkansen.html
Your local travel agent or www.japantravel.co.uk can sell you a Japan Rail Pass
Remember, you have to get a Japan Rail Pass before you leave for Japan and it must be validated once you arrive in Japan. My recommendation is that get yourself a reserved ticket whenever you travel, as services can get quite busy at times. You can get reservations just 30 mins prior to travel. When you get to the Shinkansen station, go to the ticket office and ask for a reserved seat or go to the English speaking Tourist Information centre in the main stations for further help.
One additional tip, if travelling with a group of friends, also note that the seats also spin around so that you can sit face to face. Just place your foot on the lever under the seat and spin (thanks to a local passenger for showing my friends and I this!)
London to Paris in just over two hours? Yes we can with Eurostar departing from the newly redeveloped London's St Pancras station. The grandiose building solicits great thoughts of the history and romanticism that is linked with a train travel. Train travel for this popular route is recommended over air travel as it is quicker, cheaper and all the more comfortable. There are different classes of service available depending on your desires and travel times. My personal recommendation is to double check the price of leisure select ticket - the business class travel for leisure travellers. It often is available for just a small supplement and adds to the journey experience with food and a shorter minimum check-in times. The great thing about the Eurostar is that it goes straight into Gare de Nord, right in the heart of Paris. Here you can join the metro system and get to wherever you want in Paris.
My top tips would include being flexible with times to get the best deals and consider visiting some other of France's cities like Lille which offer an interesting alternative to Paris. Also try and avoid restaurants near the station, they tend to be more catered for tourist but as a result more expensive and less authentic.
Book tickets on www.eurostar.com but also look out for special offers.
3) Maglev - Shanghai
I had to end the tip with the world's fastest train. Shanghai's Maglev airport train shoots you across 30km at over 500 kph - the world's fastest. Take it for an experience rather than ease, unfortunately it doesn't take you right into the city centre but the station is well connected by taxis which wait around the station.
A one-way ticket is just around GBP5 so well worth the experience.
Hope you enjoy your train journey.
This week's heavy snowfall has reminded me of the fragility of the UK transport system. When weather is bad, it's worth remembering to check your airport's website to see if your flight has been cancelled or not.
BAA, operator of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted (www.baa.com) offer a flight text service to keep you informed on the status of your flight.
The 11 route takes commuters through the tourist heartland every 10 minutes or so. The route takes in Ludgate Hill, St Pauls, Bank of England, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Victoria Street, the Strand and much more. The cost is 90 pence (with an Oystercard) so is far better value than the tour companies.
The 11 route runs between Liverpool street Street and Victoria Station. You can get hop on from the Strand, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Parliament Square and Ludgate Hill.
The community narrowboat called Angel II takes either community groups or private groups on tours of the canal. You can sleep up to twelve but it's nicer with less. It's based in Angel, near the tube. The skipper will take you either west through the Islington tunnel up to Camden and through London Zoo and Little Venice, or east to Broadway Market, Victoria Park, The Palm Tree pub in Bow and so on. You can turn up the Hertford Canal and go up to Hackney Marshes too.
There is a great wealth of history in terms of the industrial revolution and the various types of architecture but also the canal provides a welcome corridor of nature right through the centre of London. At 2mph it's an easy pace and you will learn how to do the locks and steer the boat. You can do an evening, a day or a week. It's self-catering.
Along the way is the London Canal Museum and various lovely old pubs. The Islington tunnel is 886 metres long - it's very impressive. Bring a nice bottle of wine and cruise through some of London's finest history. It's so peaceful.
just off Graham Street N1, by the City Road Basin, it's just down from Angel Tube.
The best way to view London is from the river and the Thames Clippers river taxi does the job. For £8 you can buy a River Roamer (after 10am weekdays and anytime weekends), and get on and off the boats all day. There is no garbled commentary (that's so common on the leisure boats) and it runs from Millbank (Tate Britain) to O2 at Greenwich stopping at all the usual sights (Tower of London, London Eye, The Globe, Greenwich etc).
The seats are comfortable, all seats have good views and there is a bar serving snacks, coffee, soft drinks, wine and beer at reasonable prices. The boats get busy towards the end of the day, especially travelling east. You may have to wait for the next boat, or make your way home by bus or tube. Even so, if you start early, the River Roamer ticket is good value.
This website offers a web-based cycle route planner you can use to search cycle routes anywhere in Europe. The planner combines several existing, described routes to make your cycle route complete. It's a Dutch site originally, but with the English translation you can use it anyway.
Need to travel outside of London to a regional office or just to see a little of England? Don't just rush to the airport. Direct trains from London Euston take you to Manchester (and other northern cities) in less than 2.5 hours which, by the time you've got to the airport, checked in and got through security, is longer than your one-hour flight actually takes!
Virgin trains offer a great first class service with very attentive staff. When making this journey I often plug my laptop in to the socket at my seat and catch up on some work or just sit back and enjoy the English countryside. A much more stress-free trip than a visit to Heathrow for a one-hour flight!
If you are a solo traveller staying in London for a few days, taxis will prove very expensive. Buy an Oyster card and top it up with some money, then use it on any bus or tube/subway journey for half the price of paying cash. Cost is £3 (refundable deposit).
Any subway/tube station
If you need to travel between the West End and Canary Wharf then using the Thames Clipper boat is a great way to travel and do some sightseeing en route. Regular services run from Embankment and Waterloo among others to Docklands and Canary Wharf.
It is often quicker to walk from one place to another than sit in a traffic jam in a taxi. It is healthier too. Avoid crowded shopping streets in favour of almost deserted side streets which run in parallel, eg. Wigmore St rather than Oxford St.
Air travel today is increasingly associated with long queues, dire customer service and delays on the ground and in the air. There is one airport that seems to consistently dispel this every time I travel there. That is, London City Airport. 22 minutes from Bank and about 12 minutes from Canary Wharf on the DLR, London City airport has flights to numerous European and domestic destinations. In addition, BA will be starting transatlantic flights (business class only) from London city in the summer!
Check-in (with luggage) can be done an hour before the flight and I've even managed it 20 minutes before the flight! Security queues are short and efficient. The airport does not have all of the facilities you would find at the larger airports such as numerous shops, lounges, etc, but at the end of the day it does what you want - helps you to get from A to B.
A number of the hotels surrounding Heathrow Airport offer good deals on car parking. This means that should you want to park your car at Heathrow - it can be a similar cost to get a night in the hotel and parking as just parking on its own! Contact the hotels directly for further deals and details.
Hotels surrounding Heathrow airport (and other airports around the country)
Travelling to Manchester? Don't necessarily head to the airport. Train connections are frequent from London Euston and if you are already in the city, then try heading up to Euston for regular (every 30 minites) connections to Manchester. Journey times are 2hrs 10mins and you can buy a ticket before you board on www.virgintrains.co.uk.
Money saving tip one - don't buy a fully flexible ticket. Instead, go to the ticket counter at Euston and buy a saver single or return for your journey. It's unlikely the train will be full (especially 1st class) and you will save a lot of money on your saver return.
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