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ERIC'S TOUR OF London Logo

Clicking on the Roundel Logo will take you to the official Tube site and the London logo will take you to the official City of London site.


Before I start, I have to let everyone know that many Americans go to England expecting it to be easy because they're just like us. That isn't entirely accurate, and despite the language differences, which are minor, there are enormous cultural differences that are quite tangible. I have tried hard to explain them to no avail. Along comes Jane Walmsley with a book called Brit-Think, Ameri-Think which explains it all nicely and the reasons behind it. It's rather witty yet entirely accurate. Follow the aforementioned link to Amazon and buy it. It's a fantastic book.

I walk or take tube almost everywhere and so should you – it's cheap, easy, and convenient. There is no need for a cab 99% of the time. You'll need a one week (7 day) travelcard for zones 1 and 2 (if you will frequent other zones you may buy more zones of course -- and in fact if you're going to visit zone 3 more than once, just get a three zone card instead of two) which is around £35 and well worth it, since all trip charges are distance based.

On arrival to the airports LHR or LGW take the train (Heathrow Express to Paddington Station or Gatwick Express to Victoria Station) into the city. If you're not in a hurry you can try coach (bus) service or Heathrow Connect. Either way, cab it to your hotel from the train station. Make sure you use a licensed cab at a taxi stand or your run the very real risk of being ripped off or robbed. THE TUBE IS NOT WELL SUITED FOR LARGE LUGGAGE! At the risk of sounding discriminatory, London has many areas that are not accessible to those who are mobility impaired -- if you walk with a cane, brace, need a wheelchair, or other device, you will find London to be less than fun, as much of the city is very old and simply not accessible to you. Besides, you want the chance to experience the dreaded "tube snot."

Remember: most things here do not have air conditioning and in the summer it's hot. I would suggest spring or fall. Winter is probably too cold for most people, especially since it will also be quite wet. Still, it's my favourite time to go because I like the cold.

I have deliberately left off accommodation recommendations since a lot of that is personal preference. London happens to be home to Claridges, widely regarded as the very finest hotel in the world. If you can muster up enough cash to stay here for one night, you won't ever forget it. Let me put it to you this way: when they deliver your morning paper, they iron it for you and it comes with white gloves so your hands need not get dirty.

Except as noted to the contrary, everything recommended here I have personally experienced, so I am confident in the suggestion. I have many things yet to do, and many things I've done that I'd not recommend. In short, if it's here it's great! For your convenience, I have listed the nearest tube stop in blue lettering. (If you are concerned about something that is missing, please contact me and I will tell if you it's left off because I didn't like or because I hadn't yet got to it.)

Most of the public museums are free nowadays. A few still charge.(A word of warning: The Sherlock Holmes museum is really boring. I wouldn't suggest it unless all the other museums are closed and it's your last remaining choice -- or if you're a huge fan.)

  1. Victoria and Albert or the V&A as it is called. (South Kensington) Lots of historical significance here. A quick walk to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. It's more interesting for the temporary exhibits than the standard ones.
  2. The Science Museum (South Kensington) -- hi-tech stuff. I enjoyed it. This is my type of museum. From the science of space to the science of your body. This takes me hours to go through.
  3. Museum of Natural History (South Kensington) -- dinosaurs, minerals, meteors, and stuff. Conveniently next to the Science museum. I rather enjoy a quick walk through of some random galleries.
  4. Museum of London (St Paul's) is a fantastic museum not to be missed. Very well done. The history of London. Views of the original Roman wall that surrounded Londinium. Absolutely brilliant.
  5. London Transport Museum (Covent Garden) is one of my favourites but if you're not into transportation this one isn't for you. Trains, busses, subways, trams, and all those fun things. You can do it in an hour or a day.
  6. Photographer's Gallery (Oxford Circus) has some great exhibitions from time to time. It's well worth a look. It has recently moved so be sure you have the current address on Ramilles Street -- many guidebooks have the wrong address.
  7. Tate Modern (Southwark + fairly long walk) Depending on the exhibits, it's good. The building alone is worth the trip as it's a converted power station. Awe inspiring is the best way to describe it. When you leave, walk across the impressive Millennium Bridge and you'll be at Saint Paul's Cathedral.
  8. If you like money, the Bank of England Museum (Bank) is interesting but open weekdays only during Banker's Hours. Lots of cool coins to see in addition to bills and manufacturing information. And a great gift shop for collectors. No free samples unfortunately.
  9. Imperial War Museum. (Lambeth North) I thought I'd hate it when my friend Jan insisted we go, but I didn't. I loved it. There was an amazing exhibit on the Holocaust there (for 14 and older only) that will blow your mind. Very painful, I must say. I won't ever go again, but you should see it once.
  10. The most famous museum is, of course, the British Museum (Russell Square or Goodge Street) which is akin to the Smithsonian, and to be sure, you should go. But to be honest, I didn't think it was much better than average because I am just not personally into ancient artefacts (but that's my thing and your results may vary). The museum includes the Rosetta Stone, Cleopatra, and the Portland Vase among other things and some amazing Egyptian antiquities.
  11. Museum In Docklands. (Canary Wharf or West India Quay DLR) What a cool museum about what one might assume is a dreary topic. It's not. I loved it. Quite a bit about the Thames and the Docklands area. And after I toured it, I found out it was part of the Museum of London which explains why it's so good.

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Other Attractions:
All attractions charge admission.

  1. Westminster Abbey (Westminster) Don't miss it. Period. Everyone who's anyone is buried here. This building is from the 1400s and is the home to most of the rulers of England; greats from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Churchill. Awe inspiring in every sense of the word. (Across the street you can see Parliament and Big Ben. A few blocks away is #10 Downing Street.)
  2. London Eye (Westminster) Way worth it. Get there first thing in the AM or be prepared to wait forever. Clear day only. Bring a camera to capture the amazing views. Sometimes they have night rides and you should do that as well. They day ride is more important, but the night ride -- for frequent visitors -- is unique.
  3. St Paul's Cathedral. (St Paul's) -- not much to say except you NEED to see this. Like Westminster, this is awe inspiring. You may attend services here if you so desire. I sat through a bit of one but I was uncomfortable so quietly exited.
  4. British Library (King's Cross) Enter in through front door and go left to the interactive exhibits. See the very first Gutenberg Bible. Hear some of the most historic speeches of all time spoken by the original person. See Beethoven's own handwritten compositions. The Magna Carta, Declarations of War (WW1 and 2), Tolkien's draft of LOTR. Everything is here. Fantastic! Stamp collectors please note that the legendary Penny Black is here -- straight to the back with the stamp collections on the back wall.
  5. Speaker's Corner (Marble Arch). Sunday Mornings 11am to 1pm only (for the best part). The famous ritual in England where all the nutters come to speak on various topics and face merciless heckling from their audiences. (Allow 30 minutes tops)
  6. London Zoo (Camden Town tube + 274 bus): Kick ass. Not only do they have some unusual animals, they have an underground vault in which they keep nocturnal animals. Penguins, Bats, Meerkats, Otters, and the usual gang of critters populate this zoo, with the larger animals (Elephants and such) at a different zoo well outside the city. Early AM weekend is best or weekdays if school is in session. Limited tube service on some weekend days -- check before going. Return bus takes you to Baker Street tube as well if you prefer.
  7. Harrod's is listed under shopping (below) because it certainly qualifies as shopping, but it's definitely an attraction.
  8. Tower of London (Tower Bridge). Get there Sunday Morning for the first tour -- about 930am to get your tickets. No lines to speak of at all. Take the first Yeoman Warder tour (1hr long and free with admission) and then after the tour, hot-foot it to the crown (drool!!) jewels. Not to be missed. If you don't do it exactly in this order, you will have an interminable queue and waste half a day.
  9. London Walks Tours The Ripper tour (take at night only, please) is the best and scary. Other tours are good. Select according to interest. Various tube stops as indicated in the brochure. Visit their official website for a complete list of available walks.
  10. The changing of the guard (Green Park, St James's Park or Victoria) is very popular, but I don't know why to be honest. I guess it's the history. I suppose it's something you should do once. It's at Buckingham Palace, of course. Check times as they vary according to her Majesty's schedule.
  11. Portabello Road (Notting Hill Gate). Cool in-the-street shopping. Old curios, antiques, and such. It's an outdoor flea market. Don't expect bargains though. Go Saturday only (go early 10am latest) even though open other days, you don't get the street stalls that make this world famous. (Again this could go under shopping but it's more attraction than anything else).
  12. Camden Market (Camden Town). Cool in-the-street shopping on Sundays only. Get there early, but not too early. 11am is just about right. Allow some time and roam about. When it gets crowded, they close the tube for entry and you'll have to take a bus or taxi to your next destination.
  13. Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum (Baker Street) -- the original tourist trap. You've got to do it once just to see some of the way cool statues. Early AM please as the queues are horrendous. You probably won't want to go back, but it's worth it for one try. They have a "horror" section and you should save your few pounds and skip it unless you like people jumping out of dark corners to scare you. That part is really for teens -- it's like a mini London Dungeon.
  14. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is cool. You can see how people used to walk under the Thames to and from work in olden times. (Island Gardens DLR or Cutty Sark DLR) There's a DLR stop at each end so walk one way and you're done. Start at Islands and walk to Cutty Sark, which gives you the benefit of touring the area when you get there. You can also continue to walk through to the Greenwich DLR and on to the Royal Observatory.
  15. The Royal Observatory (Greenwich DLR). This is a not-unreasonable walk from the end of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, so you can do it as part of the same trip.The Royal Observatory itself is not all that interesting, though it is worth a look for the views. The real attraction here is that Greenwich Mean Time starts here. You can stand right on the line under a cesium atomic digital clock. It sounds hokey but it's pretty cool, just like standing on the dividing line between two states or countries. The view from up here is bloody fantastic.
  16. Thames Barrier (Pontoon Dock DLR). This is an amazing feat of engineering. Many thought it couldn't be built, and it was the subject of "Engineering Marvels" on the History Channel. It's also got a nice park to walk through. You cannot walk to the barrier and security is heavy, but if you've got the time and inclination, it's worth a visit. (Zone 3 tube ticket required).
  17. Abbey Road. (St. John's Wood). Walk to the famous Abbey Road studios, and you can take your picture in the same crosswalk the Fab Four used. Be careful as it's much busier than when they did it. Some days you can actually stand in the doorway and take your photo. Be there early in the day and avoid weekends as it will be crushingly crowded. Also admire the graffiti on the wall which is whitewashed frequently as it fills up rapidly.
  18. Old Operating Theatre. (London Bridge) Very macabre and gristly. The entranceway stairs are terrifyingly decrepit, and narrow. But it was a very enjoyable experience.
  19. The O2 Arena (aka the Millennium Dome) (North Greenwich) This famous dome on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands is an amazing building. The O2 is an amazing arena. It's been -- since it opened -- voted the best arena in the WORLD by Pollstar and I must agree. I've stolen some facts from their website:
    * The O2 has an overall diameter of 365 metres, an internal diameter of 320 metres, a circumference of a kilometre, and is 50 metres high at its central point
    * The twelve steel masts are 100 metres high
    * If you turned The O2 upside down, it would take Niagara Falls 15 minutes to fill it
    * Alternatively, you could fill it with 3.8 billion pints of beer or the contents of 1100 olympic-sized swimming pools
    * The volume of The O2 is equal to thirteen Albert Halls, ten St Paul’s Cathedrals, or two old Wembley Stadiums
    * 18,000 double-decker buses could fit into The O2
    * The Eiffel Tower could fit inside The O2 lying on its side
    * 12 football (soccer) pitches or 72 tennis courts could fit in The O2
    The bottom line is you have got to go even if it's to walk around, see a movie, take in their indoor ski slope, eat at one of the many restaurants. But try and get tickets to a concert. It's worth it.
  20. Movieum (Westminster) If you're a movie fan, you'll like this tourist trap. Lots of stills, authentic props and costumes and the like. If you buy your ticket from the booth outside you'll pay a few pounds less than the box office. This was the London Film Museum and they've just renamed it to be more 'hip'
  21. Further afield you can try Oxford -- a cool college town. Windsor is ok if you're into the royal castle and such. I think Oxford is of wider appeal and has more to see. You will need to check the trains. Thameslink is the train service you'll take for either destination. Times and fares vary.

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Many shops are closed Sundays even those in the tourist areas. In non-tourist areas, shops close much earlier than you're used to back in the States.

  1. Harrods (Knightsbridge) -- if Harrods doesn't sell it, it doesn't exist was the old saying. It's not nearly what it used to be, but worth a shot. Go to the top and wind your way down over the course of an hour, leaving via the food halls. Other stores of renowned include Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols, and John Lewis.
  2. Piccadilly Circus tube exit at night after 7pm or so and walk towards Leicester Square tube. The night walk to take. Lots of cool things to see: both shopping and people watching in the area. For movies, the Leicester Square Odeon is where all the big movies premiere. UK movie theatres are reserved seating and be prepared for severe sticker shock at £10 or more per person. It's also a short walk to Trafalgar Square. You can make this a longer walk by going from the London Eye, across the cool metal bridges, and up the street through Trafalgar Square into Leicester Square and doing the walk in reverse.
  3. Book Row as I call it. Exit at Tottenham Court tube. Go down Tottenham Court Road towards Foyle's the second largest retail bookstore on the planet -- the first is in Oxford (via train). Continue down the street passing lots of smaller bookstores until you get to Leicester Square tube. (Forbidden Planet is the best Science Fiction & Fantasy bookstore on the planet but is not on Book Row any longer, having relocated to near Holborn tube on Shaftesbury Avenue.)
  4. Walk up Oxford Street to pass all the main shops and many department stores (and many of these are open Sunday). Exit at Marble Arch, go up the street until you're tired or until you hit Tottenham Court Road (passing Bond and Oxford Circus on the way). You'll pass Savile Row if you need a tailor.
  5. Hamley's Toys is enormous and is just a few blocks from Oxford Circus tube on Regent Street.
  6. Also a few blocks from Oxford Circus is Carnaby Street. Although it's not much now, everyone should say they were on Carnaby Street. Walk towards Hamley's down Regent Street. It's behind the Liberty store.
  7. Lilywhite's is the unfortunate name of this store located in Piccadilly Circus. This is the largest sporting goods store anywhere. It's six floors and makes Sports Authority look like the men's room at the bus station.
  8. See Portabello Road under "attractions" also.

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WARNING: Avoid ABERDEEN STEAKHOUSE PLC chain at all costs -- there are several restaurants in this chain, but they have the same look. It's unclean and very bad food; it's a health risk. Seriously; even the Travel Channel had a show about it. DO NOT GO. I unwittingly ate there and speak from personal experience. Here's a 2008 article from the London Times on that same chain. Now that we have that unpleasantry out of the way, we can move on. Whilst in England, there are a few things you might wish to know:

The English (excluding pubs) are much more formal. Everything is polite and proper with adults. Kids, it appears, have no manners in any culture.

Service here is much slower than the United States. At restaurants you will never get the check if you don’t ask for it. It’s called “The Bill,” so when you’re ready, ask your waitperson “May I have the Bill please?”  Many establishments include the gratuity and some don’t. Check carefully.

Tap water is drinkable here -- a really odd taste to it in my opinion whilst others think it's brilliant. Always get a bottle of water at the table – “sparkling” or “still” as you prefer. If you order meat, many restaurants will not ask you how you like it cooked and just bring it to you how they think best -- medium-rare usually. Deal with it or make sure you specify how you want it done.

Smoking is allowed pretty much everywhere outdoors in the UK. Due to recent changes in laws, the UK is much more smoke free including most pubs and restaurants. Many still may have smoking sections, though this is slowly changing. Smoking is tolerated in in many places you wouldn’t expect like restrooms. Accept it, because you can’t change it -- but the law slowly is.

  1. Bunches of Grapes Pub: (Halfway between Knightsbridge and South Kensington). Traditional pub fare. Eat upstairs for the restaurant feel or downstairs for the pub vibe. A fine place to try the traditional Fish and Chips.
  2. Patisserie Valerie.(locations all over London) Not only do they serve a typical English breakfast, they have the finest croissants I've ever tasted in my life. The croissants are better than anything I've had in France even. (Everyone should have traditional English breakfast once: eggs, bacon -- it's Irish Back Bacon and not American Bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, and toast. It's the cholesterol surprise.).
  3. Rules (Leicester Square or Covent Garden) One of the finest restaurants in England (not the fanciest). It's one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in Europe and possibly in the world. Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities while he ate here and he's not the only famous diner over the years. Kings and statesmen aplenty ate here. Much of the food is hunted and killed at their own private preserve. Reservations are a must. This is probably your number one must-eat experience.
  4. Hard Rock Cafe. (Green Park) The original one is right here. They're all the same the world over. But it's neat to eat at the first.
  5. Little Italy on Frith Street (walk from Piccadilly Circus) Fine Italian. Reservations suggested. Do not confuse with other places with the same name. This place serves some of the finest Italian food I've ever eaten.
  6. Pasta Brown is a chain, but the food is serviceable so if you need somewhere safe, look out for these. I'm sure you can figure out what they serve based on their name.
  7. Pizza Express is a serviceable chain as well. I'm sure you can figure out what they serve based on their name. They have pastas and salads as well.
  8. Although I've not eaten at Simpson's-in-the-Strand (Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Leicester Square, or Embankment), all accounts indicate it's kick-ass and second only to Rules. This is a formal restaurant and jacket and tie are required for gentlemen. Reservations a must.
  9. Geales Fish Restaurant (Notting Hill Gate). Great place, really and I don't even like fish. John Cleese hangs here too.
  10. For fast food, there is a chain called EAT that is remarkably good, has a decent value for money compared to everything else, and has locations scattered all over town. Not as cheap as Sainsbury, Tesco, or M&S but still a good bet.
  11. There are also a remarkable number of Sainsbury Local, Tesco Metro, or M&S local stores (small) popping up which are a great and cheap way to get some basics. I much prefer Sainsbury for everyday use. M&S is much better for fresh foods: fruits and meats. Tesco just doesn't impress me. There's also Waitrose but they don't have the smaller stores.

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(Most theatres are near Leicester or Piccadilly Circus -- otherwise known as the West End)

  1. Mamma Mia: Classic mindless drivel set to Abba tunes. Kitschy and fun. You'll be stuck with the tunes in your head forever. You are the dancing queen, seventeen....
  2. Avenue Q. The famous "dirty puppet" play. That may sound simple, but it's so much more than Sesame Street Porno. You really should see it. (See blog review)
  3. Mousetrap: Another good one to see (Agatha Christie) in only for the fact it's been running for over 50 years (as of 2006) and is the longest continuously running play on Earth.
  4. Plus there's the usual lot of rotating Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera and Cats being his best if you feel you must see Webber.
  5. Les Miserables was born here at the Barbican before moving to the West End. Everyone should see this period opera at least once.
  6. Billy Elliot. I can't say if all Americans will get this play or understand it. But it's an amazing work of art. I highly recommend it to everyone. It's been called "The Best British Musical Ever" and I have to agree -- it may be one of the best pieces of the theatre ever. This work of art is phenomenal. See it. (See blog review) Americans will find it easier if they've seen the film first.
  7. Plays change seasonally and you'll have to wing it, though there's always something in addition to the classics. If "Dinner" or "Art" are playing, they're quite good.

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The Queen’s English and American English are not the same language. Do not ask for a napkin in a restaurant because they will ask you to leave. (A Napkin is a Tampon. A dinner napkin is called a Serviette). Do not ask for the bathroom because they’ll laugh hysterically. You want the toilet or “gents” or “ladies” or WC. Nobody there has any idea what an Eggplant is; you want “Aubergine”. If you’re a druggie and ask for a joint, you’ll get a roast beef. If you ask for a Macintosh you’ll get a raincoat.

In short, you might want to have a copy of ISBN 0-902920-60-X and read it before the trip. There's also a website of some value in this regard. It’s a suggestion because you’ll have no trouble without it, but it will save you some embarrassing moments. Another good website for comparing our cultures and language is effingpot.

England and America are two countries separated by a common language.
--George Bernard Shaw

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Dorling Kindersley's book "London: Eyewitness Guide" is the ONLY tour book you need. Period. Just search at your local stockist, and be sure the issue you have is no more than one year old. Current edition is ISBN 0756615461 and is for 2006.

If you want some reading that captures the essence of London, I suggest "smoke: a London peculiar" -- a wonderful magazine about which I have blogged.

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Walking & Driving :
When you walk, drive, and whatnot it will be on the opposite side of what you’re used to. It also means to look the OPPOSITE way when crossing a one-way street. Your first day there, you will forget at least once and have at least one near-death experience. Do not jaywalk in the UK. It’s frowned upon.

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The English always apologize giving the illusion of politeness. They never say excuse me. "Sorry" is the official apology after you’ve caused offence or "Pardon" or "Pardon Me" if in advance such as you need to get by in an aisleway. If you bump someone, you say “Sorry,” but if someone is blocking your way it’s "Pardon Me."

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Money is simple. There are 100 pence to a pound sterling(£). All coins and bills are different sizes and colours. Money is called out “four pounds fifty” which means £4.50. You may use your ATM card here if you have a four digit PIN, however your bank may charge you an excessive fee for international ATM use, so check first. Stick with the credit card for the more favourable exchange rate. Traveller's checks are not advisable.

All prices include all 17.5% VAT taxes (reduced to 15% at the moment on many items). Save all receipts for anything you buy that you do not consume whilst there and you may be entitled to a VAT refund on departure. More importantly, in the event of a customs dispute on arrival in the USA, this is your only proof you’re right. You are guilty until proven innocent. $800 per family maximum duty free. Many items -- especially fresh foodstuffs -- are prohibited, so check before buying.

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What To Wear (Clothes) :
Clothing in the UK looks the same as in the US and Canada, but some things aren’t the same. You won’t see sandals anywhere except maybe at the beach. Shorts are relatively rare. T-shirts are common and sometimes are even considered fancy if plain (no writing at all).

Overall, people dress more formally, at least inside London itself, than here. A typical day out for a Briton would be business casual for us. At theatre proper attire is still common though not generally required. Jeans are not common except as day-wear, and even then blue ones are not seen much except in the touristy areas. Eschew blue jeans -- black is okay.

Button down shirts for gents and a proper blouse for ladies are the order of the evening. During the day a rugby or golf/polo shirt will do. Slacks all around or khakis or a smart pair of cargo pants (not the baggy type) also work. A sweater (jumper) over it all will work wonders at night -- weather permitting. Summer visitors should be reminded there is no air conditioning in most places (hotels, stores, restaurants) and the tube can be especially unbearable.

Although Britain has become more casual recently, that simply means you don’t need a tie and coat. Short sleeves are pretty much unwelcome at many higher-end restaurants even in the dog-days of summer. In the winter, it’s still very formal and proper dress will be required. Restaurants here are more than happy to turn you away with un uplifted nose if not dressed properly. Here's the current weather courtesy of BBC:

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Mobile (Cellular) Phones:
Will my mbile phone work in London? If you are a US/Canadian resident, the answer is complex. If your carrier is T-Mobile or AT&T, the answer is yes. Make sure, if you're on AT&T your phone is Quad-Band -- Tri-Band phones don't always work everywhere. If your carrier is anyone else, the answer is probably not. Most US carriers operate on the TDMA or CDMA networks. Europe uses GSM. Although US carriers are offering GSM service now, most phones do NOT have this multi-mode capability. Further your GSM phone must operate on the European GSM frequency which is different than the US frequency. In short, check with your carrier. (Also check your rates. T-Mobile is around 99 cents per minute for UK calls while the others are $1.50 per minute or more.)

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This page last updated 4 January 2010 and was created 8 January 2004.