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Geek Travel To London From the US — Tips? 1095

Posted by timothy
from the see-the-largest-paired-bluetooth-devices dept.
Audrey23 writes "I am traveling to London from Washington state for two weeks in December for pleasure (use-it-or-lose-it vacation scenario) and was wondering if I should bother bringing my laptop. I know that I would have to change the region code on my wireless amongst other things and the power cord would have to be changed for a UK outlet. Would I be better off not bringing my laptop and just using Internet kiosks (do they exist in London?) or would having my laptop be a better choice to keep in touch, off-load my digital images etc? I plan on hitting the British Museum but was wondering what geeky things to do that are in London that might be worth going to and any tips hints on overseas travel for geeks? I travel quite a bit in the states but this will be my first trip overseas and want to make the best of my stay in merry old England. What words of advice do you travel seasoned geeks have for me?"
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Geek Travel To London From the US — Tips?

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  • For starters... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:37AM (#30211408)

    Don't call it 'merry old England'.

  • by Shrike82 (1471633) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:39AM (#30211422)
    I second the Science Museum recommendation - an amazing place to visit and it's free! The Planetarium [london-planetarium.com] is also worth a few hours.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:40AM (#30211440) Homepage Journal

    LOOK TO THE RIGHT

    Because everybody in north America drives on the wrong side of the road, you just don't know it yet.

    I live in Australia (where we drive on the left) and I once had to work in South Korea where they drive on the right. I was okay as long as I thought about it every time I crossed the road. It was a mistake to talk on the phone to my wife back home while walking back to the hotel from the pizza shop.

  • by Jojoba86 (1496883) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:41AM (#30211452)
    If you're there for two weeks get out of London too! Trains are quite good to places like Oxford, York and the South Coast to see a bit more of England, which are all quite different to London. Oxford is definitely worth a visit, and the steampunk exhibition that's on in the Museum of the History of Science should fill your 'geek' critea.
  • Re:asdf (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:43AM (#30211464)

    UMTS doesn't have such a thing as a "region code", anyway: either you've got the hardware to talk on rest-of-the-world radio frequencies, or you don't. Wi-fi is the same everywhere.

  • by Neil_Brown (1568845) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:44AM (#30211472) Homepage

    Perhaps the geekiness has got to me, but, I always travel with a computer - for me, currently, my netbook, simply for size and battery life reasons - it's not a huge weight if I don't use it, it's encrypted and everything important is backed-up on my server back at home in case I lose it / it gets stolen, and is great for whiling away time at airports, checking what's going on wherever I am, as well as just keeping up with my email - different strokes for different folks, but, I prefer to be in touch and accessible (but not necessarily to work colleagues) when I'm away.

    I wouldn't think too much about it, though - just pick up a plug adapter. If you're going to be bringing lots of powered appliances / chargers, I tend to find the cheapest / easiest solution is to bring a multi-way extender, and one plug adapter, rather than lots of plug adapters (although this is a habit I started for business travel, I now pack this for personal travel too, especially when travelling with my girlfriend, since it just makes things easier for charging phones, iPods etc.).

    Feel free to drop by one of the local LUGs, if you're a Linux user, or just fancy a geeky chat - SCLUG's my local, down in Reading (about 25 minutes on the train, from Paddington, London) - or just message me on here, since I enjoy meeting new people!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:47AM (#30211494)

    London's climate isn't particularly friendly this time of year. Anyway, if you need a computer, bring one. Laptops typically have power supplies which can take any voltage between 110V and 240V, so you'll only need a cheap plug adapter (do check!). US WLAN frequencies are a subset of the European frequencies, but most public WLANs restrict themselves to the US set of frequencies to avoid tech support for travelers not getting a connection. The number of open WLANs is shrinking though; definitely not ubiquitous. Don't rely on open WLAN if you need internet access on the go. The cellphone standard over here is GSM (or UMTS/3G) and the frequencies are different from those used for GSM in the US. Unless you know that you have a phone which works and a plan which won't bankrupt you, best get a cheap prepaid phone. Incoming calls and SMS are free in Europe.

  • by legoburner (702695) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:49AM (#30211512) Homepage Journal
    And the natural history museum is just up the road from the science museum - perhaps the most impressive museum building in the world, built to be a cathedral to science and full of dinosaurs, rocks (including meteorites), a cool earthquake simulator, large mammals, and more dead things in jars than you will ever see anywhere else in your life.

    The Victoria and Albert museum is over the road from that too, and has a gigantic old persian rug (and I mean gigantic), and the very impressive cast courts that preserve many european statues and facades which were destroyed in the various conflicts since the victorian era.
  • by Tolaris (31078) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:50AM (#30211522) Homepage

    Most London streets have "look left" and "look right" painted on the road at the crossings.

  • Re:asdf (Score:5, Informative)

    by Amarantine (1100187) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:52AM (#30211554)
    Yes, there is such a thing. Every country can decide what channels are allowed to use. Not every frequency/channel is allowed for free use in every country in the world. Cisco accesspoints, for example, have a configuration parameter to specify the country it is used in, so it won't use channels it isn't allowed to use. Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WLAN_channels [wikipedia.org].
  • by Malc (1751) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:53AM (#30211562)

    Where are you staying? If it's a secure place, then bring your laptop for when you're "at home" for planning your day, photos, etc. There are tons of coffee shops and even pubs with wireless, sometimes free. Personally though, I leave it at home and just carry a camera, A-Z and a Lonely Planet guide (along with a small but wind resistant umbrella, etc), but I can see the benefit to being able to check google maps and the TFL. BTW, tfl.gov.uk will be your best friend at figuring out how to get between any places, especially considering that large parts of the Tube close at the weekends for engineering works. Having a laptop with me around always ways on my mind due to the risk of it being stolen - yes, one of my work colleagues had his bag (containing work laptop) stolen from under a table six of us were sitting around, in a pub in Soho.

    Other than that, get out an enjoy yourself. London is a walking city, even in December when the daylight is limited and it can be blustery and wet. One of my favourite walks is from parliament, down the South Bank to the Tower: London Eye, South Bank, Tate Modern, Southwark Cathedral, The Globe, St. Paul's Cathedral, Borough Market, City Hall, Tower Bridge, etc. Greenwich is ace. You can get a Soho walking tour from Trafalgar square. The Royal Parks are awesome. There are tons of little villages that have been over-run by London growing outwards. Then there are more free museums and galleries than you can shake a stick at, and always a trusty pub nearby when you want a break.

  • by inkhorn (650877) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:57AM (#30211592) Homepage

    I second the Science Museum recommendation - an amazing place to visit and it's free! The Planetarium [london-planetarium.com] is also worth a few hours.

    Err, you haven't been in a while have you. It closed in 2006.
    You'll be after the Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich if it's astronomy you're into.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @06:57AM (#30211600)

    I doubt very much that you will have to do anything to your Wi-Fi - I just went to NY from London with my laptop and it was fine - it's just different bands being licensed differently in different countries - you'll find common ones though.

    Get a second power cord for your laptop and just wire a UK plug on. Simple. No messing with adaptors. Check the PSU will work beforehand of course, but they all do now.

    Tips for free WiFi:

    Individual Pubs (http://www.individualpubs.co.uk/) there's only two of them in London. The Pembury tavern is well worth checking out and the landlord is a former Cambridge University security researcher and geek - check out his homebrew Linux/Python/PostreSQL EPOS till system!

    JD Wetherspoon pubs (http://www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/) these are everywhere and should all have WiFi (open, bogus email signup required) unless the kit is broken.

    Fuller's pubs (http://www.fullers.co.uk) I think all have free WiFi now (protected, key available at bar) - port 80 + DNS only, unlike Wetherspoon's wich you can use arbitrary ports.

    Wetherspoon's do coffee, etc so you don't have to be drunk all the time!

  • Museums (Score:3, Informative)

    by zoeblade (600058) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:07AM (#30211656) Homepage

    The Natural History Museum and Science Musuem are practically next door to each other, and are both essential to any good trip to London. Google Maps link [google.co.uk]

  • British Museum (Score:5, Informative)

    by jolyonr (560227) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:08AM (#30211662) Homepage

    Don't forget the British Museum recently* split into two, the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum - which used to be the British Museum (Natural History). The British Museum, which houses things such as the mummys, Elgin marbles, Rosetta stone and various other things we stole from around the world during our colonial past, is in Holborn, pretty central in London, and the Natural History Museum, with dinosaurs, big stuffed blue whale and a fabulous mineral and gemstone collection is in South Kensington, right next to the Science Museum (as mentioned previously) and Victoria and Albert museum.

    Entrance to all of these is free. Some special exhibits need payment however (usually temporary ones).

    When you get to the airport, as long as you're not feeling too lazy, don't try to get a taxi to London, it'll cost you $80 or more (it's a long way). Go to the underground, get an Oyster card with (say) £20 of credit on it (you'll have to ask at the manned ticket office for this), that works for all your underground and bus travel in London, much simpler and quicker than using cash. You can top it up if you run out (you can check your balance at the station or register online to top it up automatically).

    Have fun!

    Jolyon

    * - in 1881. That's recently for us Europeans!

  • by Alphager (957739) <florianhaas&fsfe,org> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:08AM (#30211672) Homepage Journal
    I would also recommend the Imperial War Museum [iwm.org.uk] if you are interested in ww1 and ww2.
  • by gclef (96311) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:10AM (#30211686)

    A few quick translations for folks who (like the questioner) haven't been to London before:
        A-Z: the street maps of London are a (softcover) book of their own, called the A-Z. You can buy it once you get there. The streets of London can be *very* confusing without an A-Z, so if you're planning to walk around, one of these will be very valuable.
        TFL: Tube for London, aka the subway.

    Personally, I'd recommend the following: If you have enough space on camera memory sticks to do without the laptop, do so. I spent a month in Europe this past summer, and the only tech I brought with me was a camera and an iPod Touch. The Touch allowed me to check mail/websites/etc and use Skype at various Wifi locations to call whomever I needed to, which realistically was all I needed while on vacation. I also grabbed a multi-country plug adapter that also included a USB power port, and just carried that in my bags (it was quite small). In short, your camera, some extra memory sticks, and a smartphone should be enough to cover what you need...I think the laptop is just extra weight.

    Also, if you're going to be in the UK at the winter solstice, go to Stonehenge that day. Yes, it'll be a madhouse, but that's part of the fun.

  • by unts (754160) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:11AM (#30211692) Homepage Journal

    Changing wifi settings is not needed - it is still 2.4ghz

    The UK allows a couple of extra channels (12 and 13) that I believe you can't use in the US. It might be necessary to change some settings to allow use of these channels.

    However, few APs actually use these channels, so it's unlikely to be much of an issue.

  • Bzzzt. Wrong. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:16AM (#30211732)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WLAN_channels [wikipedia.org] - While the technology is the same, some channels may not be used in certain regions of the world. Also, there are limits on the maximum power level, IIRC. So the OP is correct (regarding the WiFi - for UMTS, you're right)- he should change the region setting in his wireless device to avoid trouble.

    Captcha: regret

  • Where to start (Score:3, Informative)

    by Karem Lore (649920) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:17AM (#30211736)

    You have:

    London Tate Gallery
    British Museum
    British Library
    British Science Museum
    British Natural History Museum
    London Dungeons
    London Eye
    London Aquarium
    Madame Tussauds
    SOHO (just roaming around late at night)
    Wembley Stadium for a match or gig if one is on.
    River Thames Boat trip.
    The Tower of London
    Visit the Houses of Parliament
    Shakespear Globe tour
    Royal Opera House
    National Gallery
    National Maritime Museum

    The list goes on: http://www.visitlondon.com/ [visitlondon.com]

    Just a word of advice, if you are going for 2 weeks and are relying on the underground, look into getting an Oyster card. This will save you money on using the tube: https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/entry.do [tfl.gov.uk]

  • by SMoynihan (1647997) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:23AM (#30211772)

    I second the Imperial War Museum. For bonus geek points, the building in which it is housed used to be Bedlam.

    Two other, slightly less well known places:

    Hunterian Museum at the royal college of surgeons - incredible array of medical curiosities.

    The Wallace Collection - Incredible array of art and armour housed in a splendidly ostentatious yet intimate townhouse. One Sunday a month, the rooms are lit candlelight.

    For a Cthulhuesque experience, you can trace the two halves of Babbage's Brain

    (*spoiler* one is in the science museum, the other the Hunterian)

  • by djkitsch (576853) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:25AM (#30211792)

    ...but the Planetarium closed down a few years ago. It was turned into a "celebrity cinema" bit of Madame Tussauds, showing showbiz movies. Philistines.

    However, the Greenwich Observatory has their own, new planetarium - it's brand new, and right by the Greenwich Meridian:

    http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/planetarium-shows/ [nmm.ac.uk]

  • by MoogMan (442253) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:34AM (#30211854)

    Take a four-way power strip as well as an international power adaptor, it's most useful for charging.

    UK is ~240V, so duoble check that your device chargers cover that range.

  • by ra1stlin (686227) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:37AM (#30211868)

    As far as I know the channels that change between regions in Wireless cards are the extremes, so you don’t have to have problems to connect to the majority of wireless Access points without changing anything.

    For electricity voltage you have a change to take into account, in the USA electricity is 110-120 volts 60Hz, in Europe it is 220 volts 50Hz, so you will need a charger that supports dual voltage or one specific for European electricity.

    My advice, take your laptop with you if you plan to connect to internet every day, it is practically sure the hotel you stay on will have Wireless for clients, or at least you can find hotspots all over London.

    Things to do in London (tourist mode ON)

    • Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
    • Go to South Bank, here you can see the London Eye, Tate Modern, The Globe Theatre
    • Visit some street markets. The most popular are Camden Market and Portobello Market, following closely by Greenwich Market.
    • Visit Westminster Abbey
    • Visit the Tower of London
    • Visit St Paul’s Cathedral
    • Visit the Tate modern and the National Galleries
    • Visit the British Museum and the Natural History Museum

    NOTES for tourists:

    In England the cars travel in the left lane, remember this when you cross a street

    In England the subway arrives from right to left, not form left to right.

    The average temperature on December is 4C (39F) so Wrap up warm

    London is a city with a lot of places to go, so take your time to search de web and find the ones that are interesting for you.

  • by jacksonj04 (800021) <nick@nickjackson.me> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:39AM (#30211894) Homepage

    Small but incredibly useful tip if you plan on travelling around London to see the sights and intend on using the tube (It's easier and in most cases faster than anything else):

    Get an Oyster Card [tfl.gov.uk] instead of buying individual or daily tickets. Cheaper fares, easier getting through the gates, and it works on busses as well.

  • by Matrix14 (135171) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:40AM (#30211908)

    The Science Museum has a working Difference Engine (although it's just on display) and half of Babbage's brain.

  • by dguaraglia (1685158) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:41AM (#30211914)
    I've used Boingo in the UK (and Brazil, and Argentina, and the US) and can only say good things about them. It seems they have agreements with all major players (like BT, Orange, etc.) so you can use your Boingo account pretty much anywhere in the UK where you see the "WiFi zone". There are sooo many interesting places in London. Some of the not so obvious: - The National Archive - The Victoria and Albert museum - The Sherlock Holmes museum - Abbey Road (if you are into The Beatles) - Greenwich - The Naval museum (in Greenwich) - Newton's (and many others') tomb at the Westminster Abbey - Millions of others I can't recall at the moment Learn to use the Tube, it will take you everywhere you want to go but Greenwich. Also, you can spend a day or two in Cambridge, only 50' away by train from King's Cross, you can pretty much walk everywhere from the station and so many things to see. The Scott Arctic Expedition museum, The Cronophage (although it's *very* disappointing), the colleges and you might even get a glimpse of Stephen Hawking if you are lucky enough (tip: he goes for a tea at the local John Lewis every now and then. That's where I saw him :)) And by Jove, drink some propper beer while you can! Cheers
  • by raju1kabir (251972) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:47AM (#30211968) Homepage

    If you're going to be bringing lots of powered appliances / chargers, I tend to find the cheapest / easiest solution is to bring a multi-way extender, and one plug adapter, rather than lots of plug adapters (although this is a habit I started for business travel, I now pack this for personal travel too, especially when travelling with my girlfriend, since it just makes things easier for charging phones, iPods etc.).

    I go the other way. After making 10-20 international trips per year I was fed up with dealing with all the plugs.

    I picked one plug type to standardise on for all the devices I travel with. I went with the US earthed type because they're the most compact and they don't fall out of the sockets. My laptop, phone charger, etc., all have that plug (and I have a power strip of that type at my desk at home).

    Then I carry a little 3-way cube (one plug and three sockets). It's tiny, 2.5cm per side plus the pluggy bits sticking out. picture here [redhillgeneralstore.com]

    Then I bring the appropriate single-purpose adapter for the countr(ies) I'll be visiting. I hate the multi-plug ones (the kinds with slidey bits to change which plug they go into) because they always fall apart. The single-purpose ones last for years. I use WonPro WA-II series, which have no moving parts, provide proper earthing when possible, and accept any type of plug. pictures here [wonpro.com]. They cost about $3 each at shops in town and are indestructible.

    I plug my stuff into the cube, the cube into the country-specific one, and the country-specific one into the wall. This approach is more compact, more reliable, and way cheaper than the alternatives. From one outlet (often all you'll get in a hotel), I get 3 US-style outlets and one universal outlet.

  • by Whalou (721698) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:49AM (#30211978)
    Last time I went to France I bought a portable hard drive with an integrated media card reader to backup my pictures. The one I got was from Wolverine Data and it worked well. Except for the lack of claws.

    Here's a link to their product page [serverlab.net]
  • by ocularsinister (774024) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:49AM (#30211984)
    I agree about the Science Museum, but I think you'll find the planetarium a disappointment - they've shut down! Instead, consider a visit to Greenwich which *does* have a working planetarium.

    Also - don't bother with the London Eye - it's very expensive and mind crushingly dull.

    Since you are in London for 2 weeks, consider a trip to Oxford or Cambridge, both are possible as day trips. Cambridge has a great little museum of scientific equipment that I can highly recommend. (http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/).

  • by autora (1085805) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:51AM (#30212000)
    Mate - read the post more carefully - we are talking about 3G dongles that you plug into your laptop not phones. I am well aware that phones can be used truly as pay-as-you-go - in fact I run my iPhone as payasyougo.
  • Going to Oxford (Score:4, Informative)

    by mlush (620447) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:54AM (#30212030)

    Do NOT go to Oxford, or if you do, only go for an afternoon. Once you've seen the university, it is an extremely tedious place.

    Go to Oxford and spend that afternoon in The Pitt Rivers Museum [ox.ac.uk] and the Museum of the History of Science [ox.ac.uk]

  • by xorsyst (1279232) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:55AM (#30212034) Journal

    Get up to Bletchley Park, home of the UK WW2 code breaking effort. And Oxford is good too (way better than Cambridge, and cheaper to get to).

  • by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:56AM (#30212038)

    Ironbridge [wikipedia.org] looks like a very interesting place to visit if you can spare the time outside London. Lots of early Industrial Revolution relics. Speaking as an Australian, there's no part of England that's too far away from London to visit - but your mileage may vary!

  • by twoshortplanks (124523) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @07:58AM (#30212056) Homepage
    You can buy a pay as you go phone at the airport or on any London high street. A cheap model shouldn't cost you more than 20 pounds. This solves the problem of a) your phone not working here because you don't have roaming b) People not being willing to call you back because you've only got a US number when you roam c) Stupidly high roaming charges.
  • by autora (1085805) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:00AM (#30212074)
    Not true - all the operators allow you this returns policy. My point stands - there is very little difference between the packages and O2's network sucks. Not going to do your homework for you, but as an example: 3G states 14 day money back guarantee here: http://threestore.three.co.uk/broadband/?id=1397 [three.co.uk]
  • by rapiddescent (572442) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:02AM (#30212088)

    > beware of roaming fees

    If you have a 3G phone then just pop into any of the multitude of mobile phone shops (TMobile, Orange, O2) or bigger super markets and ask for a 3G "Pay as you go" SIM card. They cost about GBP15 and come with credit so you can make calls to book restaurants and check the web whilst on the move. If your phone is locked against a provider at home, then just get a "pay as you go" USB 3G dongle for your laptop. They start at about GBP20 and can be used anywhere (I've used mine in the mountains of scotland).

    If you are bringing a laptop - remember that the UK is 240V. Most power bricks will auto switch to 220V-240V but worth checking. You will find UK power plug leads on any electrical store or one of the "aladins cave" electrical shops on Tottenham Court Road.

  • by Wite_Noiz (887188) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:07AM (#30212112)
    Get the train from Euston to Bletchley (40 mins) and visit Bletchley Park: http://www.bletchleypark.org/ [bletchleypark.org]
    The Computer Museum is geek heaven!
  • by slim (1652) <john AT hartnup DOT net> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:10AM (#30212142) Homepage

    I like London. But I'd still say, if it's a two week visit, get the hell out of London for at least half that time, and see some other parts of Britain.

    One of the more picturesque cities (Bath, Oxford, York). Or a smaller town. Or some countryside.

    Get a guidebook (I like Lonely Planet) and follow your own tastes.

    As others have said; your laptop will work with a simple travel plug. It's easy to find WiFi - less easy to find free WiFi.

    Most important of all, in London:
    DO NOT EAT AT AN ANGUS STEAKHOUSE or similar. They are expensive tourist traps that serve revolting food. Nobody goes twice. If you're wise you don't go once.

  • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:10AM (#30212144) Homepage

    Take your laptop. Make sure your hotel has WiFi. Use the WiFi without changing the settings and without fear; the US uses a couple of extra radio frequencies that the UK doesn't, but since all the access points / routers will be British, your laptop will only lock on to the British frequencies, so it isn't a real issue. You absolutely will not get hassle for this.

    Forget internet kiosks. They're as crappy in the UK as they are everywhere else in the world. Even being quaintly retro-fitted into a traditional red phone box with an innovative stainless steel vandal-proof trackball doesn't detract from the universal crappiness of internet kiosks in general. If you absolutely must, use a proper Internet cafe, but even so you'll be better off with your own laptop and free WiFi at a normal cafe. Lots and lots of cafes offer free WiFi. You can also get pay-for WiFi at many pubs, and those which are part of the British Telecom BT Openzone [btopenzone.com] network will allow you to carry over WiFi credit from pub to another pub.

    Take only one British plug adaptor (you can buy them at the airport) but take a multi-way gang lead. That way you can plug multiple American electronic devices into one British socket. Hotels the world over have a shortage of sockets, this is no different in the UK, so make the most of one socket rather than buying converters for several.

    Make sure your cell phone is compatible with GSM/3G/UTMS and that your cellular provider is aware that you are travelling to the UK.

    The British Museum is pretty good, albiet small, and offers a lot which American museums don't. Bear in mind that the Rosetta Stone is not as large as you might imagine. The Science Museum covers pretty much the same things as other science museums in other capital cities around the world, it's good but not particularly different from what you have back in the US, unless you desperately, desperately want to see a working version of Babbage's 250-year-old mechanical computer. If you want a second museum day, consider the Victoria and Albert museum which has lots of steampunk and design things.

    If you have only one day out of London, visit Bletchley Park [bletchleypark.org.uk], the WWII codebreaking base with lots of old computers. You can catch a train from Euston station, takes about 45 mins. If you have a second day out, visit Oxford [visitoxford.org], the quaint picturesque university city with Cotswold stone buildings and lots of really distinctive museums. You can catch a train from Paddington station, takes about an hour. Neither Bletchley nor Oxford train station are in the middle of where you want to be (it's difficult to plan infrastructure in towns built a thousand years ago), so expect some walking.

    Absolutely do not hire a car. Firstly, the steering wheel and handbrake will be on the wrong side of the car, secondly it's expensive, thirdly the roads are significantly more crowded and more wiggly than you are used to, and fourthly we have lots and lots of roundabouts which are entirely different to four-way stops in ways which you can probably not even imagine.

    Taxis are expensive. Use the plentiful and frequent underground (subway train) service, buy an all-day or all-week pass. This pass will also cover you for the busses.

    Get the London Popout Map [amazon.com]. This covers the main pedestrian areas, underground map and bus routes in a very compact form, slips easily into a small pocket and uses a very geeky, very neat origami folding method which means you can quickly and discretely open it in a confined space, without looking like a potential mugging victim.

    Get an Underground Overground tube map. You can buy these from dispensers on the underground platforms. They show the actual physical route and actual physical distances the tube trains take; the traditional symbolic map doesn't demonstrate the real distances between stops. You

  • British Library (Score:5, Informative)

    by macklin01 (760841) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:13AM (#30212160) Homepage

    Go see the British Library. It's free, and they have a great collection of illuminated manuscripts [british-library.uk], Da Vinci sketches, etc. My wife and I really enjoyed it, as it's a well-hidden gem. Really enjoyed seeing a copy of the Magna Carta [www.bl.uk].

  • by LizardKing (5245) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:23AM (#30212220)

    In England the subway arrives from right to left, not form left to right.

    There's no fixed rule. On my daily commute, the Jubilee line train arrives from the right at Finchley Road, and from the left at Londonbridge. Your "things to do" list is spot on, but it's also worth pointing out that the museums are free entry.

  • Re:dont overthink (Score:3, Informative)

    by frisket (149522) <[ei.liramlis] [ta] [retep]> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:25AM (#30212228) Homepage

    Region code? WTF is a region code in your wireless setup? I've lugged laptops over half the planet and never needed to reset anything to get wireless...

    Power cord is easily changed, or buy one of those multi-prong adapters. No new transformer charger should be needed: all laptops seem to be auto-voltage-sensing now. But yes, bring the lapdog. Internet cafes are all over London, but they're a hassle compared with having your own machine.

    Make sure the laptop is charged before both outward *and* return flights -- the only hassle you're likely to get is from security asking you to turn it on when you find it's discharged...

  • Re:For starters... (Score:3, Informative)

    by mike2R (721965) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:31AM (#30212280)

    Don't call it 'merry old England'.

    Also, the word 'quaint' may not be taken in the complementary way you think it will..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:37AM (#30212312)
    Are you left handed? The whole point of traveling on the left was to keep your sword arm on the side of oncoming traffic, and was the way everyone did it until Napoleon's time. He made it law throughout the french empire in europe that people travel on the right hand side, just to be different from the brits. And the USA followed suit of course seeing as they modeled their country on France.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:39AM (#30212326) Journal
    Yes, the buildings themselves are fascinating. Westminster blew me away and no geek should visit London without paying respects to Newton who is burried under it's floor. As others have mentioned the British museam is awsome and will easily cost you a full day. The Rossetta stone is just the tip of the iceberg, you cannot look at the greek/egyptian stonework and fail to be impressed with such skill and precision from bronze age and earlier tools. The hyroglyphs(sic) in particular look like they've been carved into the red granite with a laser beam.

    Frequenting the pubs is a key survival tip, it's the only place where you have any chance of getting something edible for a reasonable price.
  • by OneSmartFellow (716217) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:56AM (#30212440)
    I'd stay long enough to change planes and head for someplace nice. Try a cheap flight to Malta, or Cyprus. Life's too short to be in England in the winter.
  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:58AM (#30212452)

    Try the local bitters, see if they have any local breweries, try anything you've never heard of.

    Amen to that. In fact try everything that sounds stupid or wierd. Our beers aren't called 'Bud Cool' or 'Rugged Macho' or anything like that, they have quirky names like 'Crop Circle', 'Granny wouldn't like it', or 'Piddle in the Hole'. Try them all, there are hundreds of different hop and malt combinations that make some of them similar to pils, but nicer, through to ones that look and taste like chocolate.

  • by Fred_A (10934) <fred AT fredshome DOT org> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @08:58AM (#30212456) Homepage

    Yes, the buildings themselves are fascinating. Westminster blew me away and no geek should visit London without paying respects to Newton who is burried under it's floor. As others have mentioned the British museam is awsome and will easily cost you a full day. The Rossetta stone is just the tip of the iceberg, you cannot look at the greek/egyptian stonework and fail to be impressed with such skill and precision from bronze age and earlier tools. The hieroglyphs(fixed) in particular look like they've been carved into the red granite with a laser beam.

    Coming back from Egypt (again) I have to say that it is indeed very fascinating (not only because the Christians pretty much stole most ideas from their pantheon). They started lots of ideas in numerous domains that others later built upon. It's a very interesting civilisation. The main collections are at the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum thanks to our pillaging of the colonies in the last centuries (and in Egypt of course, although it's much more of a mess there).

    In the field, there are still innumerable buildings with carvings that are perfectly legible (some could have been carved yesterday, although they lost their colour), and if you bring the right book they aren't even that hard to read (if you aren't in a group since you'll only have about 5 to 10 seconds).

    Frequenting the pubs is a key survival tip, it's the only place where you have any chance of getting something edible for a reasonable price.

    Actually if you explore the side streets, you'll often find small strange looking restaurants that offer interesting alternatives to "pub grub" with soup and simple affordable nutritious food.

    When you're in London, try to rent something like a room with a kitchen (same price as a hotel). And grab some food at your local M&S for breakfast and supper. Try the "Citadines". They're usually good value.

  • by thaig (415462) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @09:02AM (#30212490) Homepage

    The Science Museum gets my top vote - I love it. You can see Babbage's difference engine, for example, or the NeXT cube that the WWW was born on.

    If you can afford a day then get on a train to Cambridge - there is a bus from there to the Duxford Imperial War Museum. There are a lot of wonderful aircraft (e.g. see the TSR2) and there is a land warfare exhibition too which is enormous. It's a lot of travelling but I loved it.

    There is a very good RAF museum that's closer at Hendon which is good if you can't make the longer trip.

    At Greenwich (gren-idge) you can see the observatory at 0 degrees longitude. The main geek interest here is seeing how the longitude problem was solved - I thought it was a wonderful story with a great moral for computer scientists and engineers about complexity.

    The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is also pretty good.

    But it's worth catching a play or some music because those are the things which are best here.

  • by Malc (1751) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @09:05AM (#30212522)

    Yeah, there are two bus services to Oxford who both run 24 hours per day, often 3x per hour. I think they have free wireless too. I prefer Cambridge though as tourist. Ugh: all the hordes of visiting school children and other tourists around Carfax is enough to put anybody off Oxford. At least it's close to Blenheim Palace and the quaint village of Woodstock.

    Is Bletchley Park easy to get to from London using public transport?

  • My tips (Score:4, Informative)

    by rpjs (126615) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @09:25AM (#30212714)

    * Get yourself an Oyster Card [oystercard.com] - you can get one from the tube stations at Heathrow Airport and are valid on most public transport in London [tfl.gov.uk] including all Underground (tube) trains, all local (red) buses in London, some "overground" (i.e. not tube) trains (from 2nd Jan 2010 almost all trains in London will take it) and some river-boat services [tfl.gov.uk] (the river boats are not cheap but can be a great way to see the sights along the river). You have to pay a £3 deposit plus whatever credit you'll want to start with, but you can get that back plus any unused credit by surrending the card at a tube station when you leave.

    * If you're flying into Heathrow and you don't have too much luggage, then the tube to central London is by far the cheapest option. There are also two "overground" rail services, the non-stop Heathrow Express [heathrowexpress.com] (15 mins to central London) and the stops-at-local-stations Heathrow Connect [heathrowconnect.com] (25 mins to central London). Both are rather more expensive than the tube, the Express especially so, and neither take Oyster. There used to be an Airbus services from Heathrow to central London but that stopped a few years ago. National Express [nationalexpress.com] run some coach (long distance bus) services to/from central London that call at Heathrow but they will be the slowest option and you may need to book your tickets in advance.

    * If flying in to Gatwick, then your best choice is rail to London. There are two services: Gatwick Express [gatwickexpress.com] is a bit more expensive but faster and has more luggage space. Southern [southernrailway.com] is likely to be a bit cheaper and not quite as fast. Be aware that although the two services are run by the same company, tickets on one may not be valid on the other. Neither will take Oyster as Gatwick is well outside the city boundary of Greater London. In the unlikey event you fly into Stansted (which doesn't have many flights to/from North America) then the same applies to the Stansted Express [stanstedexpress.com] rail link. There are cheapish coach links from Gatwick [nationalexpress.com] and Stansted [terravision.eu] but they will be a lot slower.

    * Wherever you fly into, DON'T take a taxi into London unless you really need to and have LOTS of money! Having said that, if you're not sure how to get to a particular place, London cabbies have to spend several years learning "The Knowledge" [tfl.gov.uk] and will always be able to get you to where you want to go, for a price.

    * I second the motion to go to Bletchley Park [bletchleypark.org.uk]. This is outside of London but only about 45 minutes from Euston railway terminus by train. It is an absolute must see for any geek: not only does it have working replicas of the Turing "Bombe" and Colossus machines, but it has subsidiary museums [bletchleypark.org.uk] on site of computing and other technology.

    * Amberley Chalk Pits [amberleymuseum.co.uk] museum in Sussex might be of interest to you too, with displays of agricultural and industrial technology, transport and communications (TV and radio museums). It's about an hour and a half from Victoria railway terminus.

    * If you're interested in transport, then the London Transport museum [ltmuseum.co.uk] at Covent Garden in the centre of London is a must see.

    * If you do travel outside of London by train, then unless you're going long distance (more than a couple of hours from London) you won't need t

  • Re:asdf (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @09:36AM (#30212852)

    Since 2003 all wireless adapters in PCs have complied with 802.11d "world mode". this means the "region code" is put into the wireless access point. control over localized transmit power and channels is enforced by the AP. you are not allowed to bring a US access point to Europe or vice versa. However your US laptop adapter will automatically assume the rules offered by any foreign access point you may encounter in a hotspot.

    So unless you are doing ad-hoc wifi, you do not need to anything to set your region code.

  • Re:dont overthink (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @09:53AM (#30213022)

    the natural history/british/science museums are an absolute must

    but the pick of the bunch is the royal observatory (and greenwich in general). i go there at least once a month just to check out harissons clocks, they are totally mesmerising.

    the best thing is that all this is free

    probably a daft question but if you're going to london on holiday why not leave the laptop at home and avoid the internet cafes for a week or so. i'm sure the world of twitter/facebook (and even /.) can survive without you :-)

  • Re:dont overthink (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lurching (1242238) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @10:27AM (#30213376)

    DO NOT BUY A US POWER STRIP TO USE IN THE UK!!!!!!

    Seriously. Remember, the UK uses 240 volts and the US power strips and internal breaker are rated at 120 volts. The strip will most likely not survive the experience. An adapter plug only gets you plugged in. It does not change the voltage. There are adapters that can change the voltage, but for limited wattage.

    As for sights - The Imperial War Museum (WWI and WWII weapons and gadgets), the Science Museum (Industrial Arts including lots of steam engines and boat models), The British Museum (lots of historical "stuff" from all over the world), Westminster (no cameras allowed), St Paul's, Windsor Castle, Camden Lock Markets, London Museum (history of London), National Museum of Art, Tate Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, etc.

    Get a multizone (1 thru 6) London Transport pass (Oyster card) and you can go almost anywhere on the tube or buses.

    Try out some of the great Indian curry houses, China Town restaurants, a Sunday Roast at a pub.

    I spent 4 months working there, sight-seeing on the weekends, and know that there are things that I missed. Take your laptop, get one of the British HSDPA modems if you are running Windows - they don't have drivers for Linux. Take a good digital camera and burn CD's of of your photos each day.

    Good luck.

  • Re:Food advice. (Score:3, Informative)

    by radish (98371) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:43AM (#30214364) Homepage

    Well I lived in England for 30 years and I have no idea what you mean by "boiled meat"...I don't think I've ever had such a thing (possibly outside of a NYC hotdog, although calling that meat is a stretch). Traditional British food is much maligned but really good when done well, but modern British cooking has borrowed heavily from other parts of the world - just like some other places you might be more familiar with. Or did you think Pizza was invented in the US?

  • Re:Heathrow (Score:3, Informative)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:13PM (#30214784) Homepage

    > Luggage is only lost at Terminal 5 at Heathrow.

    Be careful at the airport in general though. There are a lot of criminals picking on confused and jet-lagged easy targets who are trying to concentrate on all the signs rather than their bags.

    > And pray to some deity that you don't have to be involved with Air France.

    British Airways are not much better. Their staff have an unfortunate habit of going on strike at short notice, and BA will do fuck all to get you to your destination. A hotel for the night or a refund isn't much use when you need to be somewhere and and all the last-minute tickets are 5x the price of yours.

    > the fact that they drive on the wrong side

    It's hopefully obvious but don't forget that you also need to look the other way when crossing the road.

    > Don't worry about the food - it's far better than the rumor has it.

    No, English food really is that bad. We all eat foreign food. Indian is the most popular, although like most places outside of India itself the food is more like 'Indian style' tailored to local tastes.

    Real English food is both unhealthy and bland. Stick to Asian or European.

    Oh, and when we say "Asian", we mean India/Pakistan and the surrounding area, not the Far East. I think I'm right in saying that most Americans think of Japanese and Chinese people as Asian.

    > you can visit Winchester (old capital of England)

    A short extract from Crap Towns:

    "Any character disappeared from the town centre when the high street received the chain store make-over, house-prices are exorbitant and cater exclusively for well-heeled London-employed family-builders seeking old England, and the countryside has been hewn by Maggie's M3 legacy. And that isn't the half of it. It's the middle-class complacency, nay arrogance that defines the place."

    I would recommend Bletchly Park, the home of the world's first computer and the place where war-time code breakers worked.

  • Re:Food advice. (Score:3, Informative)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:33PM (#30215978)

    >> I lived in England for two years.
    When? in word war 2?

    >> Skip traditional "English" food, it's bland and tedious

    Thats really funny coming from an Yank. I'm a Brit living in US now. There's a lot of things in the US thats better than the UK but food is definately not one of them. Compared to the UK there's absolutely no real variation of choice here when eating out for a reasonable price.
    Its all the same chains everywhere you go. Endless amounts Chillis, Wendys, Applebees, etc in every direction and they all serve the same bland crap as each other. Macdonalds and burger king and wendys etc etc are all American in origin and are the ultimate in bland. Most Americans espeically in the mid west think anything even slightly spicy is way too hot. They put so much sugar and/or corn syrup in EVERYTHING in the US you can't hardly taste the actual food.

  • Bring a lot of money (Score:3, Informative)

    by neurovish (315867) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @02:46PM (#30216896)

    Not sure if anybody has mentioned this, but London is insanely expensive. Imagine New York pricing on everything, except multiply that by the current exchange rate ( 1gpb = 1.65), plus add in some VAT. Basically, if you run in an off license (british for kwikie mart it would seem) for a bottle of water, it will be about $4 for something non trendy. Also, don't expect your credit/debit card to work anywhere, all the cards over there have chips and vendors either don't want to use the mag stripe or don't even know that it is possible. Fortunately though, most ATMs will work (and your bank will probably charge you $3 each time you use one).

  • Re:Remember... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ogive17 (691899) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @03:22PM (#30217290)
    I spent 2 days in Paris. The "worst" thing that has happened to me in a foreign country was when I was in Tokyo and older Japanese would refuse to sit next to me on the subway... the last open seat on the train was always the one right next to me.

    The worst thing a tourist can do is demand someone speak their native tongue. I have witnessed others do this and can see how someone might think it was arrogance... I know whenever I travel I try to learn a few basic phrases in the local language.. and ALWAYS know how to ask someone if they can speak English in their native language. I can ask that in 7 languages!
  • Xenophobe guide (Score:2, Informative)

    by mahadiga (1346169) <mahadiga@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @02:02AM (#30223212) Homepage Journal
    You may need The Xenophobe's Guide to the English [ovalbooks.com]

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