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 below for tips on how to book transport and accommodation, how to easily navigate the complex London Underground and ideas for what to do in your spare time.
Before you go
Skyscanner and Momondo
As all Aussie and Kiwi travellers know, getting to the rest of the world from this side of the earth doesn’t come cheap. Obviously, the further away you go, the pricier your plane ticket will be. And being a solid 24-48 hours away on a jumbo jet, you can’t get much further than the UK.
There are a range of ways to keep your costs down, including our top pick Skyscanner, which we wrote about in our article Great Apps for Travelling to China. But it always pays, or in this case ‘saves’, to check other top sources too. Another app to check out is Momondo. Like Skyscanner, you can search for hotel and car hire deals. You can also set up an alert that will notify you when the price drops for your desired destination – time to book!
Hostelworld is the best resource to find a cheap place to rest your head, and you 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 view the evening before and book in places as remote as the Hebrides or the Scottish highlands. You will only need to pay a deposit, so the upfront costs are low, keeping your plans secure until you pay upon check in/out.
Heathrow Airport Guide
Most major international flights into the UK arrive at 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 anything it could throw at you. The Heathrow mobile app provides 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 - whether you’re getting the Tube, catching a classic ‘British Black Cab’ - 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.
For the inexperienced traveller, 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, 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 for under-prepared travellers. Don’t forget to look into getting an oyster card if you’re planning to use the tube often, it’s a much cheaper option than paying each time.
It might sound trite, but an app for showing you where to board the subway and to get off as close to the station exists. You might think it silly, but wait until you’ve walked a kilometre through Green Park station. Then you’ll be thankful for the app! Tube Exits (for androids) is packed with 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.
Another to look into for entertainment deals is lastminute.com. This also gives you access to last minute hotel bookings.
Museum of London App
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) provide it for free!
The search engine giant’s maps app is always useful, whether in Charring Cross or Stonehenge. Provided you’ve purchased a British sim card with some data, (or have used Wifi-Finder to get some free net time), 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.
The handy Xe Currency app can give you 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 necessarily the one that your bank will charge you.