Traveling to London was one of the best shore leave experiences in my whole career as a seafarer! It was filled with uncertainty, excitement, fear, surprises, and thrills.
Mixed emotions were running around me but everything went perfectly well even if I only made a snap decision for this shore leave to happen.
I have gone there THREE TIMES already; the first two being solo and the third one with my friend Jeiel. Jeiel was ecstatic the moment he stepped out of the train and saw his old, long-lost friend Big Ben.
It’s perfectly safe when traveling to London even if you are a first timer. The UK has tight security, especially in the capital. Their train station is packed with CCTVs and uniformed security guards.
When you are in London, you can see more of them sometimes in patrol. Not to mention they have Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, M.I. 6, and the Kingsman working in the shadows watching out for your safety.
Visa or Passport Requirements
As a seafarer, you don’t need a special UK visa when you want to travel in their country as long as you call in their ports.
You only need to bring your Passport or Seaman’s Book whichever the Agent says which. I remember taking my Seaman’s Book with me so I could be identified as a seafarer if authorities asked for it.
But when you are going to the UK from a place other than the UK or UK territory (like Algeciras to Gibraltar), you will be blocked by border control like what I experienced.
What to Pack
I expect you won’t spend the whole night there unless there is some special circumstance that permits you to do so. Just bring the normal things you always bring with you when going out.
An extra jacket or anything for the cold is also helpful even in summer as the temperature dramatically drops during sunset.
It would be a sin to forget your fully charged phone, powerbanks, and your latest camera so don’t get too excited and leave those vital stuff behind.
An Internet connection is also a must. Don’t go traveling to London if you don’t have an internet connection on your phone. Your smartphone will serve as your radar when navigating through the streets.
Without the internet, you will be blind and deaf. Applications like Google Maps, and Google Translate are important to your trips.
This is the United Kingdom and everything will be quite expensive. But I managed to spend €100.00 (converted to GBP) on two shore leaves.
But that’s far too low compared to your salary, latest iPhone, or other folks who spend GBP 5,000.00 on their London vacation trip. It’s once in a lifetime experience. It’s worth to take a shot.
Go out there
Now don’t be a lazy potato couch after your watch and create reasons for you not to go ashore. If you think that going for a shore leave is expensive, I created a post on providing Eight Tips to Have a Fantastic Shore Leave Without Spending Too Much to which most of the guides are already provided here.
I also busted the myth on costly city excursions which basically tells you that increased spending ashore is not always equal to increased happiness. It could be the opposite and filled with regrets.
I also created a post on reasons Why You Need to Go Ashore. Click on those links to find out more.
Seaman’s London Travel Guide
Where Your Port Should Be
Not all ports that you call in the UK are favorable for London travel. Grays and Purfleet are very nice and can accommodate vessels with a size of 16,000 GT.
You must be in these ports to take advantage of it. Most of these ports are in the Thames River and the inner you go, the closer it gets you to London.
But you must always check the train station nearest to your port because they are your best choice of transport for going to London.
We were in NuStar Terminal located in Grays which has shopping centers and a train station 20 minutes away from the ship.
You are lucky if you dock here or at other terminals close by like in Purfleet, Northfleet, Tibury, and Greenhithe.
Choosing Your First Destinations
When we talk about traveling to London, we are talking about a lot of places. The Shard, St. Mary’s Axe, Big Ben, London Eye, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Baker Street and many others.
You can’t go to all these places in four or six hours including travel time or you’ll miss the enjoyment.
If you are in Thames River, Fenchurch District is the closest. Remember the bridge that is often seen in TV or movies with two towers in the middle of a river? Most people mistakenly call it the London Bridge. Actually, it’s called the Tower Bridge (for a very obvious reason!)
Near that tourist spot are The Shard– a skyscraper that looks like an unfinished or broken glass tower on its apex, St Mary’s Axe– seen on Thor 2, and Tower of London– a castle-like structure that showcases the 15th-century history of the Kings and Queens of England, The Leadenhall Building, 20 Fenchurch Street AKA The ‘Walkie Talkie Building’, among others.
Here are a few pictures taken from my age-old Lenovo phone built in the WWI era and my latest Oppo A37 phone. You can identify which ones are which. I’ll be sprinkling more of my London travels throughout this article.
Tower Bridge, The Shards, and St. Mary’s Axe alone are more than enough to get you to cloud nine. But If you want the iconic Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, or London Eye (a very huge Ferris Wheel), be sure you have another 15 to 20 minutes of travel time.
Travel time means the point from where you left a certain place to the point you arrived at your destination. This includes walking, riding with spaceships, or running with fellow aliens as long as you haven’t reached your arrival point.
Big fan of the best Consulting Detective in the world? You can also visit the Sherlock Holmes Apartment/ (slash) Museum at 221B Baker Street.
The place is packed with tourists crowding to go inside. Entrance is free on the ground floor but there is an admission ticket on the second floor.
The ground floor is filled with souvenir items including his famous hat, pipe, scarf, and many others. I bought a keychain there and gave it to my sister.
Three stations for the three times I’ve been there. Every visit was unique and exciting. Whether I travel solo or with partners, I always fully enjoy my adventure.
Traveling Through Trains
Public trains connect the UK to every city and town in the country. Now that you know which part of the country, or the Thames River you are, your third step is finding the train station which leads you to London.
I mentioned that London is a huge place so you have to plan the site that you want to visit.
Fenchurch District is only one ride from Grays NuStar Terminal. I already laid out which points of interest you should consider when in Fenchurch District.
You must spend considerable time visiting the tourist attractions there. They may be a walking distance away but if you chase the moments, you might find yourself wasting time by traveling too often.
Next to that is the Westminster Station. But to go there, you have to stop at Fenchurch District, transfer to Tower Hill Station (a few minutes away by foot), and ride another train going to Westminster Station.
There are signs everywhere or you can ask the locals like fellow passengers for directions.
Baker Street Station is also accessible, only one ride from Tower Hill Station. It would look very complicated at first especially when you check the train maps and their layouts.
You must always ask the security guards, ticketing counters, or locals who know the place very well.
Ticket Price to London
Ticket price varies considerably throughout the year. My first and second trip from Grays train station going to London was only about GBP11.00.
That was an unlimited ride for the whole day including those places I mentioned. The third time was quite expensive, about GBP17.00. It was summer so I think that caused its increase.
You should get the unlimited ride because it saves time lining up for a cue on every train transfer. Time here as a seaman is more than money.
Strikes, Re-routing, and the Chief Mate Getting Mad
There were times the train didn’t go as exactly as what my helpmate (Google Maps) told me about. Even the locals wondered why the trains stopped at a certain station and did not proceed as they should.
This happened on my second London trip. It was worse when I went back to the ship as the schedule and routes got scrambled.
I asked the uniform guards and said there was an ongoing strike and the trains were re-routed. He then told me which train station should I go to get back to Grays.
I was two stations away from it and the train arrived really late. But I didn’t get nervous. My phone was still 40% charged and I had some spare cash with me in case I needed a taxi as a last resort.
Imagine I started traveling back to the ship from Westminster Station at 1500H, reached the dressing room of our ship at 1805H, and went straight to my watch until midnight.
When I passed by the CCR for my watch, the Chief Mate got so mad at me. Maybe because I was 5 minutes late. But most probably because I was 97% going ashore at every port. His first words when I came back were,
“This is not a passenger ship that you should always go ashore!”
He had his reasons but I didn’t care much about it because everything I did that day was freaking awesome! And I have my own reasons too.
What to Do When You Reach London
Seafarers have a very different time frame than regular tourists. We are a quick tourist as I would say.
We have time constraints behind us so we should use every moment that we have ashore to enjoy, have fun, and make it a memorable one.
So bring out those cameras and take as many pictures as you can. Motion your proudest, loudest, funniest, craziest, and most awesome (don’t wanna break the momentum) gestures with Big Ben, James Bond, or Theresa May in the background.
You can even do break dancing in a certain spot and get your partner to shoot you with your camera. Do Facebook Live, talk with fellow tourists, buy souvenir items, watch other tourists do crazy stuff, and take more pictures and videos of the place. You can do anything just make sure you won’t attract the police or it would be a very different story.
There are so many places that you get excited about when you reach a specific destination so you must take your time and enjoy the moment.
Whenever I’m ashore, I don’t usually eat much or spend more of my time eating inside a restaurant. I prefer to have a light snack and bring it outside where I can have a very nice view of the city.
Then after I have my fill, I go again roaming around the wonderful attractions.
Going Back to the Ship
Going back on board should be easier to do than traveling to London for the very first time. You just have to retrace your steps and voila, you’re home- or I should say home ship home.
But to do this requires a very sharp and photographic memory. If you don’t have it (congratulations, you’re normal), your phone can help.
It’s either you take pictures of relevant, conspicuous marks like a sexy billboard or you can use our old friend Google Maps. He will guide you back until you are safely on board.
I hope to see you in London one day.
May the winds be in your favor.