When you arrive in London at the Heathrow airport, you are processed by the arrival system. There is little you can do except to move with the crowd. You move from your airplane with the other passengers to the terminal. You make your way to the immigration area and queue up for processing. There is nothing that you can do until you are admitted into England.
Once in, however, you have a multitude of things you can do. What to do first? You should immediately get your bearings and then move off to enjoy your visit. The first thing to do is to get a map. Luckily the transit authority provides an instant aid to your need to get your bearings. From the immigration counter, proceed directly ahead to the wall in front of you. There you will find a rack of brochures for various attractions in and around London. Look for the transit map.
Get a Transit Map
The rack of brochures will have a map of the London transit routes. On one side, the London Tube map shows the various subway lines and stations. The other side has a map of the major bus routes that tourists use. This guide from the transit authority is very useful. It's size is perfect, not too large but large enough for the print to be legible.
London has a fabulous subway system, the Tube, that whisks people all over the city quickly and fairly cheaply. It's really great at moving people but not so good at moving luggage. There are a lot of stops that load many, many people onto each train heading into London. As the train gets crowded, luggage gets in the way. When those with luggage want to get off, there can be considerable congestion making a quick exit difficult. The Tube is not recommended for tourists arriving with a substantial amount of luggage. Remember that the Tube is designed to move commuters to and from their downtown office jobs. Heathrow is at the start of the line so by the time each train reaches London, there can be thousands of people on board. You should avoid travel trouble by staying off the Tube if you are traveling with luggage.
While you are standing at the rack of brochures, be sure to review the other available publications. Often there will be discount offers on attractions. The variety is constantly changing so ever visit is sure to have different publications. Several of the discounts are substantial, some offering coupons that are valid for 50% off admission or admit a visitor for free for every paid visitor. Other brochures will offer various free incentives such as dessert with a meal, a hotel room upgrade or even a free meal. Be sure to check these brochures as London is quite expensive to visit and opportunities to save money are rare.
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Mind the gap!
At many of the Tube stations, there is a gap between the station platform and the Tube car. Signs and announcements warn you of the gap. If you are not careful, you could catch a heel in the gap and have an accident. Walkers, canes and other small items might also lodge in the gap. Please pay attention to the relative location of the Tube car and the station platform whenever you are boarding or exiting a Tube car. Since the phrase "mind the gap" is so common on the Tube, it has become popular with tourists. There are t-shirts and signs sold in shops displaying the slogan. It is a whimsical way to show that you have been to London when you wear one of these souvenir t-shirts.
Rather than the Tube, a better option, might be surface buses. These too can be quite busy making it difficult to get off with your luggage. They are also much slower than the Tube from Heathrow into the city. The surface buses are also not recommended for tourists arriving with a lot of luggage. Buses do allow a view of the city while traveling. The Tube is generally underground, although parts of the trip in from Heathrow is above ground. There is little to see, however.
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The best options for tourists arriving from Heathrow is to either take a cab or the Heathrow Express train. Both of these are more expensive than the Tube or a bus, but they are much more convenient. If you travel as a family group of 4 or more, you should take a cab. A couple or a single person will pay less using the Express train. Remember that the Express train takes you to Paddington Station so a cab from there will likely be necessary. Paddington is a great location to consider for your hotel accommodation. This area is central to many of the tourist attractions, it is quiet and good values can be found when shopping for hotel rooms online. It is also well served by the British rail system so a visit to the English countryside can be started here after your London visit is over.
Once you arrive at your hotel and plan your adventures in London, you will really enjoy yourself. Armed with your transit map from Heathrow, you have everything you need to get around easily. Although most tourists tend to use the Tube to go everywhere, give the surface buses a chance. They travel the roads all over the city. Once aboard, you can view the buildings and activity in the city. On the Tube, all you will see are subway stations and people. The buses are also cheaper than the Tube. A daily pass for the bus is about half that of the Tube. You won't get to your destination quite as fast, but you'll see more during the trip.