As part of our 'great travel apps' 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 tips on how to book transport and accommodation, how to easily navigate the complex London Underground, as well as discover ideas for what to do in your spare time.
Before you go:
Skyscanner and Momondo
As most travellers 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. But it always pays, or in this case ‘saves’, to check other top sources too. One of our other top rated apps is Momondo. 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!
Hostelworld is the best resource for finding a cheap place to rest your head. 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 jump on the evening before and find a bed in places as remote as Snowdonia 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.
The Heathrow App
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 provides terminal information, news, shop and restaurant information, flight updates and even car park bookings. It’s also the best way to plan your transport to your hotel, whether you’re getting the Tube, catching a taxi or boarding a domestic flight. 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.
Santandar Cycles 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 cycling at home, so there’s no excuse not to hop on a bike to explore all those famous sites. The official Transport for London app sends bike release codes straight to your smartphone, so you can skip past the docking station terminal and get on your bike quicker.
Even for the seasoned London 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 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.
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 where the best place to go walking is in the Lakes District? 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 buff, 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 and teenagers. The British Museum, one of the world’s foremost historical museums, also has an impressive app.
The free WiFi Finder app lets you search the places you plan to visit, and bookmarks each free WiFi spot in that area so you can use it upon your arrival. The clever little app can hook you up with thousands of locations, but beware – you’ll need WiFi to connect to it initially. Luckily, Heathrow (and other airports) provide it for free!
Google Maps is always useful, whether in Charing Cross or Stonehenge. Purchase a local sim card with some data (or use WiFi Finder to get some free net time), and use it to navigate charming English country lanes or explore busy city streets. If you’re on a budget, you can always download maps via WiFi and then use them offline to search and navigate without an internet connection.
The handy XE Currency app allows you to calculate currency exchange rates on-the-go, with hourly updates on currency fluctuations. For those on a strict budget, it’s a must-have.