As part of our Great Apps for Travel series, we’ve collated our top picks to help you get the most out of your time in the UK using your smart device. Read our download below for tips on how to book transport and accommodation, how to easily navigate the complex London Underground, ideas for what to do in your spare time.
BEFORE YOU GO
Skyscanner and Momondo
As all Aussie travellers well know, getting to the rest of the world from this island of ours doesn’t come cheap. Obviously, the further away you go, the pricier your plane ticket will be. And being a solid 24 hours away on a jumbo jet, you can’t get much further than the UK.
There is a range of ways to track this and do your best to keep your costs down, including our top pick Skyscanner, which we wrote about in our Great Apps for Travelling to China. But it always pays, or in this case ‘saves’, to check other top sources too. One of our other top app picks is Momondo, which has a consistent 4 and a half star rating for delivering consistently competitive results. Like Skyscanner, you can also search for hotel offers and car hire deals at lots of different price points. You can also set up an alert for your flight path, which will monitor when it goes up or down in price – time to book!
Even those who swear by flying by the seat of their pants and refusing to book anything before rocking up see the logic in booking a bed for a night or two after getting off the 24 hour (often sleepless) flight from Australia or New Zealand. Hostelworld is the best resource to find a cheap place to rest your head, and can sort according to price, availability, location or style of accommodation. With locations all over the UK, it’s easy to book your whole trip in one sitting, or just as easy to jump on the evening before and find a bed in places as remote as the Hebrides or the Scottish highlands. You only need to pay a deposit on your room, so the upfront costs are low, keeping your plans secure until you pay upon check in.
Heathrow Airport Guide
Most major international flights to the UK go into the West London hub, which is the busiest airport in Europe and the third-busiest in the world. If you’re going to be landing in the controlled chaos that is LHR after 24 hours on a plane, you’re going to want to be prepared for everything it could throw at you. The Heathrow mobile app throws up terminal information, news, shop and restaurant information, flight updates and even car park booking. It’s also the best way to figure out how to get out and away, whether you’re getting the Tube, catching a classic British minicab or transferring to one of London’s numerous other airports to explore the greater UK. It also provides visitors with a gateway to the city that awaits them, with a weather and city guide. Gatwick, London City Airport and Stansted also have their own apps.
Barclays Bike App
There’s nothing like exercise to shake off a bit of jetlag. Riding around European cities such as London is considerably safer and more bike friendly than their Australian and Kiwi counterparts, so there’s no excuse not to hop on a bike and get around to all those famous sites. The location-based app shows where the nearest Boris bikes (so-called for London’s mayor Boris Johnson, who spearheaded the initiative) station is, where you can rent a bike from, and return it to another station.
Even for the seasoned London, the Tube can be confusing. The Tube Map app is absolutely essential for visitors who don’t want to be seen wrangling a large paper map and flipping it upside down to best read it. Tube Map obviously provides a map, but also allows you to set up notifications for certain lines with track work, as well as see what’s going on across the whole Underground network. Don’t be caught out in peak hour without knowing exactly where you’re going – the Tube can be busy and even dangerous at this time for under-prepared travellers.
It might sound trite, an app for showing you were to board to the subway to get off as close to the station exist as possible. You might sneer, but wait until you’ve walked a kilometre through Green Park station. Then you’ll thank yourself for the app! Tube Exits is packed with little tips and tricks to make reaching your destination as easy as possible, including advice for which carriage to board to always be adjacent to your exit, route options and which side of the train to get off.
SITES AND ENTERTAINMENT
TripAdvisor is essential for the discerning traveller, and is especially helpful in a country such as the UK when the options are limitless. Hundreds of hostels, thousands of restaurants and seemingly millions of attractions can seem daunting without guidance, which is exactly what TripAdvisor provides. Want a hotel with breakfast included close to Buckingham Palace? Trying to figure out whether a night at Heston’s is worth blowing the budget? Wondering what the best place to go walking in the Lakes District is? No worries, someone’s done it before and can fill you in with a review of their first hand experience.
Museum of London App
Not everyone is a museum, and not every museum has something for everyone. But for those who love the opportunity to travel through time and across cultures, it’s hard to go past the Museum of London. The museum's impressive app also provides an interactive user experience, something that is especially popular with kids, teenagers and the boyfriend/girlfriend that was dragged into the museum kicking and screaming. The British Museum, one of the world’s foremost historical museums, also has an impressive app.
Paying for data overseas is usually for the crazy rich or just the plain old crazy. The free Wifi-finder app for smartphone lets you search the places you plan to visit that day or week, and bookmark each free Wi-Fi spot to use upon your arrival. The clever little app can hook you up with thousands of locations, but beware – you’ll need Wi-Fi to connect to it initially. Luckily, Heathrow (and other airports) provides it for free!
The search engine giant’s maps app is always useful, whether in Charring Cross or Stone Henge. When overseas, it really comes into its own though. Provided you’ve purchased a British sim card (or have used Wifi-Finder to get some free net time) with some data, using it to navigate charming English country lanes or getting onto the freeway for an epic northern road trip works like a dream. If you’re on a budget, you can always use Google Maps for directions and take screen shots to store them to your device.
With our ANZ dollars dropping through the floor, it’s easy to ignore the figures and simply reminisce about life in 2011. Unfortunately, the glory days are over for now and things are looking a bit direr for us Antipodeans. The handy Xe Currency app can tell you precisely how dire, with hourly updates on currency fluctuations. For those on a strict budget, it’s a must-have. Note that it reflects the actual exchange rate, not the decidedly average one that your bank will charge you.