With the European Discovery trip, and most trips that Contiki offers that leave from London, its important to note that London itself is not actually included in your trip which means if you want to do London you are going to need to do it on your own. Contiki will, however, arrange your accommodations in London if you would like to explore London a few days before your trip or for a few days after your trip has ended. Because of my budget and the fact that London was at the bottom of the places I wanted to visit, I just made sure to book a flight that would get me to London with enough time to see and do what I wanted to. If there is a lot that you are wanting to see and do in London I would recommend being there a few extra days at least. It is also important though to remember that everything is going to cost you more in London so be prepared for this.
Getting to London is fairly easy from any airport, but if you choose to travel in the winter like I did, or during high travel times, expect delays whether it be due to weather or long secruity lines. Also, be prepared to wait quite a while to make it through customs when you get off the plane. What's great about Heathrow (which is where I flew in) was that there was a tube station at the airport so after getting through customs and grabing my suitcase, I headed straight to the Tube and went to the hotel.
In London, I stayed at the Royal National Hotel which is located near the center of London and is a decent hotel. I wouldn't say that it was a great hotel, but it did fine for one night and for my needs. The one good thing about the Royal National for people going on trips with Contiki is that the Contiki Basement is located right around the corner from the hotel so you can go down there to get internet access; meet up with fellow travelers; or weigh your suitcase to make sure you are within the weight limit that Contiki has set. This is also where the pre tour meeting will be held.
I got to London later than I had expected which through me off and caused me to have to rush to make it to the hotel/Contiki basement in time to meet a fellow traveler, Tara, who was from NC and was also travelling by herself. I had managed to meet Tara online through the Contiki Forums before leaving and we had arranged to meet up in London and explore together. We had also pre planned what it was we were going to do and had booked tickets online so we wouldn't have to wait in a long line at each of the attractions we were going to go to. Pre planning for London is something I highly recommend if you are only going to be in London for a few hours/a day. Also, I recommend if you have that time crunch, to go ahead and book whatever tickets you can online before you leave.
Tara and I had decided to spend our day in London doing three things. First, we jumped in a taxi and headed down to the London Eye and the Thames to take a River Cruise that we had pre booked. The river cruise is something that I HIGHLY recommend. It about a 45 minute cruise up and down the Thames that introduces you to the sights in London from Parliament, the London Bridge, the Tower of London, and other great places. You can either sit inside the boat or out on top and take great pictures of the area. There is also an individual who is guiding you during the River Cruise telling you where you are and giving you and insight into the history of London. In the winter, the cruise can be very very cold and windy, so if you are doing it then, be sure to wear extra layers, gloves, and a hat. This was a nice taste of London and a great way to start the trip off.
After the River Cruise we embarked on a joruney on the famous London Eye. Tara and I had decided to do something special for our London Eye flight by booking the Champagne flight where you get a glass of champagne during the flight. We decided to do this to start our trip off on the right foot and celebrate being in Europe. It was really nice to sip a glass of champagne while looking out over London. I'd also recommend the London Eye as it is a great experience and again, you get to see the city in a unique way.
After the River Cruise and the London Eye we went to the London Dungeons as this was something that Tara was interested in doing. Basically the London Dungeons is a "themed attraction" that focuses on different stories from the history of London. It is very theatrical and entertaining, but only because of how dumb it is. Unless you like tacky themed attractions, I do not recommend the London Dungeons. It was interesting, but I would have much rather spent my time going to Westminster Abbey or the Tower of London. We ended up leaving the London Dungeons before our "tour" was over because we really weren't that interested anymore and because we had to get back to the hotel in time for our pre tour meeting.
For Contiki goers, the pre tour meeting is a time where you meet other travelers and your tour managers and you take care of routine things such as checking your insurance, passport, and filling out emergency contact information. This is really just an informational meeting, but its important that you go if you can because details of the next morning and your departure are given out. After the pre tour meeting a grouo of us went out to dinner to an Italian restaurant just down from the hotel. This was one of the BEST places we ate the entire trip and I wish I had remembered the name of the restaurant. After we ate we went to a convience store and picked up some snacks for the bus and went back to the hotel to get some sleep before our big departure. Other people from our tour decided to go ahead and start the party by going to the bar attached to the hotel, but I recommend going to sleep and getting rest so you can start things out on the right foot the next morning.