Just returned from a two-week holiday in London and Paris, Chiobu provides you with a useful and detailed itinerary.
First and foremost, we all know holiday in Europe = SHOPPING! BUY ALL THE BAGS AND SHOES! Therefore, it’s important to know about VAT refunds. Even after googling online before flying to Europe, I was still clueless about VAT refunds which was super frustrating. This is what I learnt from experience:
VAT Tax Refund FAQ
Q: I am travelling to a number of EU countries, where should I claim my tax refund?
Claim your refund at the last stop in Europe. Meaning, if you are travelling from Singapore -> London -> Paris -> Singapore, you should claim all your taxes in Paris.
Q: My flight back to Singapore has a connecting flight (transit), where should I claim my taxes?
I travelled from Singapore -> London -> Paris -> London (transit only) -> Singapore, and I claimed my taxes in Paris, which is considered the last stop of my EU trip.
Q: How much do I have to spend at a shop or mall to be entitled tax refunds?
Ask the shop assistants as different places have different minimum spending. You can almost get refunds on taxes for everything you shop. I was in Prada and the minimum spending is £100, but it is only £45 in Superdry. In Paris, it is mainly 175€.
Q: Should I get refunds in cash or through credit card?
I’ve learnt through the hard way. In my opinion, you should always get the refunds back through credit card because it saves a lot of trouble at the airport. If you opt for cash, after getting the custom officer to stamp on your form, you gotta go Travelex to collect your cash back and this may mean traveling to another terminal. I was in Orly, Paris terminal W and I was told that Travelex is in the other terminal. I waited for 15 min for the train to get to the other terminal but I gave up as it never came. Instead, I came back to Singapore, cancelled the CASH option and input my credit card details on the form, mailed it back (waste my money).
Airline: British Airways SIN – LON, S$1269 (return), LON – PAR S$130 (one way)
Mitre House Hotel (London) – 7 nights, £85/dbl room/night
Hotel Du Chemin Vert (Paris) – 3 nights, 95€/dbl room/night
Total Air Tickets + Accommodation: Approx S$2,238.05/pax
Arrival >> Outlet Shopping >> Fish and Chips
At the airport, purchase Oyster card (7 Day Pass) to travel around London for only £40. You can take train and bus with this card.
I chose to stay in Paddington area because it’s very convenient (somewhat like an interchange for trains). There are buses to main shopping areas and back to Paddington even after midnight. Mitre House Hotel is an OK hotel, located near Paddington station (3 min walk). None of the reception staff was friendly throughout our stay, except for an old Chinese man.
BICESTER VILLAGE (OUTLET SHOPPING MALL)
We went Bicester Village on the first day which was awesome. Bicester Village is an outlet mall that has awesome brands at discounted prices. Fuss-free way to get to Bicester, go to this site and purchase Shopping Express tickets (£25); you will be entitled a 10% off coupon which you can use in certain outlets if you choose to go to Bicester by Shopping Express. There are a few pick up points. We were fortunate that our coach driver took the initiative to double up as a tour guide, telling us some info on places that we passed by. We reached Bicester Village at about 10.30am. Once you reach Bicester, take your 10% off coupon and CHIOOOOONGG to Prada else there will be a long queue before you know it.
Prada items are super cheap at Bicester. I bought a sizeable, full leather bag for £495. Card holders and key pouches are like £75 (in Singapore, it’s about $280). I regretted that I didn’t buy more at Prada. Aaargh! Anyway, remember to get your tax refund forms from all the shops which you have shopped.
The Shopping Express Coach will leave at 5pm and reach Guoman Cumberland Hotel (or Marble Arch Station) at about 6.30pm. Brit food is mainly Fish and Chips, Bangers ‘n Mash etc. Our coach driver recommended several Fish and Chips places and we happened to be passing by one. Yandao and I requested for him to drop us off so that we can try out the Fish and Chips (OUR FIRST PROPER MEAL IN LONDON)! Excited!
2 Farmer Street London, W8 7SN
Located in the heart of Notting Hill directly behind The Gate Cinema. Nearest tube station: Notting Hill Gate.
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday, 12PM – 3.30PM
Dinner: Monday to Friday, 6PM – 10.30PM
Weekends: Saturday, 12PM -10.30PM
Sunday, 12PM – 9.30PM
We had Pollock (£10.75) and ordered two sides, Chips and Creamed Potatoes at £3.45 each. You would have thought that when you order their Fish (cooked in crispy batter), it will come with chips (cos it’s Fish and Chips yo!), but no, when you order their Fish, it comes with only fish. Anyway, Pollock was a wrong choice cos it was so small and we were sharing. We thought that the portion will be huge cos we always hear stories about how people always share food in Europe, but boy, were we wrong.
The fish was so small, even my side dish was bigger than it. We should have ordered the sole, a larger portion. The chips were nay, but the creamed potato was the bomb. Very smooth, buttery and creamy. It was almost as good as Au Petit Salut, the best I ever had in Singapore.
Free Walking Tour >> Pollen Street Social >> Shopping at Carnaby
We signed up for a free walking tour by Sandemans. It is a 2.5h walking tour and we met the friendly tour guides (in red t-shirts) at Hyde Park Corner at 11am. Our tour guide, Rachel, was awesome. She was super candid when relating the history of London to us, which made it very interesting.
Places we went: Hyde Park Corner; Buckingham Palace; Changing of Guards; Churchill’s War Cabinet Bunker; Houses of Parliament; St. Martin-in-the-Fields; Westminster Abbey; Trafalgar Square; Nelson’s Column; Wellington Arch; St. James Park; 10 Downing St; Horseguards; and Big Ben (renamed Elizabeth Tower).
Even though it’s a free tour, do tip your tour guides generously at the end of the tour. Chiobu & Yandao are in the pic. Check it out.
Pollen Street Social
1 Michelin Star
10 Pollen Street
City of London
Greater London W1S 1NQ
(See review of Pollen Singapore)
We took a bus from Parliament Stop to Pollen Street Social for lunch as we had reservations at 2.15pm. You can take bus 159, 12 or 3 towards Oxford Circus. Please make your reservations online before heading down as it was very crowded when we were there during a weekday lunch. My lunch at one Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social was the BEST meal I had during this London-Paris trip.
The place is bright and unpretentious. The servers were friendly and sincere. We were there on a weekday afternoon and the place was bustling with life. Great atmosphere.
Yandao had 3 courses (£25.50) while I had 2 courses (£22). Add another 20% for VAT and 12.5% for service charge.
After the meal, start your shopping at Oxford Street which is very nearby. There are Topshop, Mango, Zara, H&M, Muji and Marks & Spencer. You can also walk to Carnaby Street where there are G-Star, Onitsuka Tiger, Peekaboo Vintage, Lucy in Disguise (thrift store opened by Lily Allen, along Lexington Street).
Because the stores close early in Europe, the shops were already closed when we were there. However, if there’s time, go to Regent Street, Old Bond Street, New Bond Street for all the high end fashion like Chanel, Gucci, LV (flagship store), Hermes, Miu Miu, Jimmy Choo and Mulberry. We heard that Chanel prices are the same throughout Europe, so just buy your Chanels and don’t wait.
We were so full from Pollen Street Social with all the freebies we didn’t have dinner that night. If you must have dinner after a heavy lunch, please shop before looking for food cos the restaurants close later than shops. It was an awesome day!