Helen Ochyra

Correspondent

  • London, England, UK

Helen Ochyra is a London correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide. Ochyra’s articles have been published in U.K. newspapers The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, as well as in a wide variety of international magazines. She has written guidebooks for Rough Guides and Michelin and an app called Quirky London. Aside from London and the U.K., Ochyra also specializes in writing about the U.S. and Australia. She lives in Enfield, North London, with her husband, Douglas.

  • On March 26, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the newest shows in London?

    London's West End is the world's leading destination for musical theatre, which the exception of – arguably – Broadway, and so you can expect there to be new shows in town pretty much whenever you choose to visit.
    But this month one new show has really got everyone talking and at the moment the hottest ticket in town is also the newest. The show I am talking about is, of course, the Book of Mormon. This much anticipated show based on the Mormon religion is written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame and has been drawing huge advance ticket sales and adoring crowds. It's an extremely entertaining show, with plenty of giggles, and if you can possibly get a ticket, do. It's almost certainly the best show in London right now.
    A close second in my opinion would be Matilda, also a fairly new show. This is based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name and features some of the most spectacular set pieces involving child actors there have surely ever been. It's suitable for (almost) the whole family (ages 6 and up) too.
    Other new shows in town include A Chorus Line which tells the tales of a line-up of wannabe dancers at a Broadway audition and Let It Be, which showcases more than 20 Beatles songs. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also set to open in May.
  • On March 26, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the best way to haggle in London?

    Although many destinations around the world encourage haggling, in London this is not a practice that is very common. In fact, most British people will shy away entirely from discussions of price, preferring instead to simply pay up and move on.
    That being said, there are bargains to be had in certain places if you are prepared to haggle. Markets are the number one hotspot for this, with most market traders willing to consider a small drop in price if you are buying more than one item. Or you could try asking for a little extra for free.
    You may also be able to haggle with small companies offering tours - if you are in a big group you could try asking for one person to go free, for example. Don't be surprised though if people are not receptive to haggling in London, it is rarely seen and you should expect to pay the marked price in almost all instances.
  • On March 26, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What should I pack for a trip to London?

    The weather in London is never guaranteed so the first rule of packing for a visit here is: bring lots of layers. In the summer you can get away with far less than you can in the winter, but even at the height of summer you should still expect chilly nights and early mornings so bring a few jumpers/sweaters that you can carry around with you easily and throw on when it gets cold.
    Rain is fairly common so a jacket that is at least partially waterproof and an umbrella are a good idea. Even in winter it rarely gets cold enough for thermals but pack a heavy duty coat if you don't want to spend all your time cooped up indoors.
    You are sure to do a lot of walking while in London so bring comfortable shoes for exploring. If you plan to go out on the town at night though bring dress shoes or heels, and if you want to visit some of London's luxury hotels and restaurants, a smart dress or jacket will mean you don't feel out of place.
    Lastly, don't forget to pack your camera - there is so much to see here and you'll want to capture it as much as possible! Other essentials include: a power adaptor for all your gadgets, backup batteries and memory cards for your camera, a smartphone with a travel guide app or a travel guidebook but don't worry about cash - there are ATMs everywhere and very few places don't accept Visa and Mastercard.
  • On March 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best free museums in London?

    One thing London is known for is the quality of its museums - as well as the fact that many of the larger ones are completely free. Here is my pick of the best:

    British Museum
    The British Museum has a very real claim to being the best museum in the world. The collection of artefacts housed here is truly immense, running the gamut from Egyptian mummies to Aztec sculpture, Chinese ceramics to Greek jewellery. You could spend days here, literally.

    Science Museum
    One for all the family, the Science Museum has hands on exhibits covering every aspect of science from deep sea to deepest space. Find out what makes you who you are, discover the development of aviation and discover how we made the modern world. Adults should visit on the last Wednesday of the month for Lates, when it's over 18s only and there are bars set up around the museum.

    National Portrait Gallery
    History comes to life when you see the faces of the people who made it, and the Portrait Gallery has paintings of pretty much every great British "name" you can think of. Take the escalator up to the top and work your way down through history, checking out everyone from Newton to Churchill, and get up to date on the ground floor with JK Rowling and Kate Middleton.
  • On March 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best free museums in London?

    One thing London is known for is the quality of its museums - as well as the fact that many of the larger ones are completely free. Here is my pick of the best:

    British Museum
    The British Museum has a very real claim to being the best museum in the world. The collection of artefacts housed here is truly immense, running the gamut from Egyptian mummies to Aztec sculpture, Chinese ceramics to Greek jewellery. You could spend days here, literally.

    Science Museum
    One for all the family, the Science Museum has hands on exhibits covering every aspect of science from deep sea to deepest space. Find out what makes you who you are, discover the development of aviation and discover how we made the modern world. Adults should visit on the last Wednesday of the month for Lates, when it's over 18s only and there are bars set up around the museum.

    National Portrait Gallery
    History comes to life when you see the faces of the people who made it, and the Portrait Gallery has paintings of pretty much every great British "name" you can think of. Take the escalator up to the top and work your way down through history, checking out everyone from Newton to Churchill, and come bang up to date on the ground floor with JK Rowling and Kate Middleton.
  • On March 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the one must do activity when visiting London?

    Picking one must-do activity in a city like London is almost impossible but if you're really pushed for time the best thing to do is to take a walk along the river.
    Travel by tube to Westminster station (Jubilee, Circle and District lines) and start in Parliament Sqaure, where you can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben towering above you. Cross the river here and turn left along the river path. You'll pass the new London Dungeon and then the London Eye. Continue past the Southbank Centre and the National Theatre to reach the Oxo Tower where you can travel up to the top floor to take in the view (and a drink if there's time).
    From here it's a short walk along to Tate Modern art gallery, home to the UK's leading collection of modern and contemporary art (and free to enter). The Founders Arms pub on the riverside here does great pub food and real ales and has a cracking view across to St Pauls Cathedral.
    Complete your walk by crossing the river on the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls. You can get back on the tube here at St Pauls station (Central line).
  • On March 21, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    Should visitors rent a car in London?

    The short answer to this is simply: no. With its ancient street pattern, narrow roads and heavy traffic, London is not a driver's city and it has one of the best public transport systems in the world because of this. Driving in the centre of London is usually far slower – not to mention far more stressful – than taking the tube, but if you want to go directly from A to B, you can flag down one of London's plentiful and very professional black cabs pretty much anywhere. There is also an excellent bike hire service with drop off points around the city.
    For short visits, staying in the city centre, your best bet is to arm yourself with an Oyster card and take the tube. You can pick up a map of the system at any station and there are further maps on all trains. The different lines are colour-coded so it's easy to use, and outside of rush hour it is a far more pleasant experience than you have probably been led to believe!
  • On March 21, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the tipping etiquette in London?

    The etiquette of tipping always generates a lot of debate and is a highly personal concern. I've heard of a general rule in the past that seems about right: you should tip anyone who moves you, your food or your hair. With that in mind, here is my advice on how much to tip:

    Taxis
    Standard practice is generally to round up the fare. In my view anything over about £8 should be rounded up to £10 – who wants to hang around waiting for that much change anyway? If your driver has been particularly helpful with recommendations or helping with luggage then tipping more will of course be appreciated. Carry some change so you can choose how much to give on hopping out rather than having to wait around awkwardly for a few pound coins.

    Restaurants
    For a long time standard practice in the UK has been to tip about 10% but in recent years a "service charge" of 12.5% has crept onto bills and has not been a popular initiative. If this is on your bill you don't need to tip in addition and if service has been bad you are within your rights to ask that it be removed. As a rule, if nothing has been wrong with the service or the food, leave at least 10%. Most restaurants will give you the option of adding a gratuity when paying by card but leaving cash is probably better if possible as you can be sure it will get to the staff.

    Bars
    Tips are not expected in pubs and as a rule if you've gone up to the bar to order your drink, paid there and carried it back to your table yourself then you needn't tip, and hardly any Londoner would. However, if you've had table service you should tip about 10% and, as with restaurants, you may find a 12.5% service charge added when table service has been offered.
  • On March 19, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the best time to visit London?

    London has so many different things to offer that there is hardly a bad time to visit. If the weather is miserable head to the shops or a show, if Covent Garden is packed take a walk down to the river, if it's too dark in the afternoons to enjoy the parks check out the museums instead.
    Having said that, there are some times that are better to be in the city than others and if you want to enjoy a particular aspect of London life there are some simple rules of thumb to follow:

    Love shopping? Avoid December and January
    If you are visiting London to shop, forget the first couple of weeks after Christmas when the "January sales" make for massive queues, crazed bargain hunters and a lack of new stock in all stores. The run up to Christmas should be avoided too - this is too hectic a time to even try to walk along Oxford Street and the malls will be full to the brim with people desperately dashing for the last Christmas ham or roll of wrapping paper.
    Much better to visit in February or March when the sales stock has been cleared out and the new season of summer clothes is in the shops.

    Love being outside? Go for spring
    Spring is the best time to visit London's parks and gardens, with the flowers bursting into bloom and the sun starting to warm everything up. Kew Gardens are fabulous in the spring, and it's also warm enough for a stroll in the park – but quiet enough to sit and comtemplate too.
    If you want to walk everywhere (which is the best way to see the city) then spring and autumn are perfect – crowds are thinner than in summer, and the weather is cooler.

    Got kids? Stick to summer
    If you've got kids you might feel constrained to the summer holidays – but there is an upside. During the school holidays lots of London's attractions put on extra kids activities, and the theatres are more likely to be running shows targeted specifically to families.
    If you can visit in the May half term break this is even better – and the weather is usually best at this time of year.

    Want culture? Try autumn
    The summer can see a dearth of culture in the city as everyone heads out of town and the tourists take over. Autumn sees lots of the museums and galleries launching new shows and exhibitions to tempt them back, and is an excellent time to visit as the autumn colours develop too.
  • On March 19, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the weather like right now in London?

    It's March so the weather in London at the moment is extremely changeable. We are having an exceptionally cold March this year and have had snow, but we have also had a fair few sunny days. Forecasters are predicting further cold weather the rest of March but once we get into April London will almost certainly shrug off its winter coat and temperatures will return to double figures (in celsius).
    In the spring, expect some rain – although not nearly as much as you probably think you should expect – and, hopefully, plenty of those moments where the sun suddenly bursts through the clouds and makes you think about taking your jumper off.
  • On March 15, 2013
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  • On March 11, 2013
  • On February 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    Where is the best shopping in London?

    London has shopping of all shapes and sizes. Here is my pick of the best places to flex those credit cards:

    Malls
    If you want everything under one roof head to Westfield Stratford, Europe's largest shopping mall. Every big name from Adidas to Zara can be found here, although most stores are more high street than designer - think H&M, Hollister and Topshop. Westfield London, in Shepherd's Bush, has a slightly more high-end feel, with one end of the mall devoted to names such as Gucci and Tiffany.

    High street
    Oxford Street is London's most famous high street and is home to the flagship store of British stalwart Marks and Spencer, the temple to all things fashion that is Selfridges and middle class mecca John Lewis. Don't miss the massive Topshop on Oxofrd Circus.

    Designer boutiques
    New Bond Street is lined with high-end stores such as Chanel, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo. Just around the corner on Savile Row you'll find the best men's suits made anywhere.
    In Knightsbridge, head to luxury emporiums Harvey Nichols and Harrods and in Chelsea walk the Kings Road for chic boutiques and high-end high street names – look out for the airy London home of Anthropologie.

    Markets
    East London is the place to head for markets selling quirky fashions. Head to Shoreditch for the Sunday Upmarket at the Old Truman Brewery for one-off clothing and funky homewares.
  • On February 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    Where is the best shopping in London?

    London has shopping of all shapes and sizes. Here is my pick of the best place to check out. Credit cards at the ready!

    Malls
    If you want everything under one roof head to Westfield Stratford, Europe's largest shopping mall. Every big name from Adidas to Zara can be found here, although most stores are more high street than designer - think H&M, Hollister and Topshop. Westfield London, in Shepherd's Bush, has a slightly more high-end feel, with one end of the mall devoted to names such as Gucci and Tiffany.

    High street
    Oxford Street is London's most famous high street and is home to the flagship store of British stalwart Marks and Spencer, the temple to all things fashion that is Selfridges and middle class mecca John Lewis. Don't miss the massive Topshop on Oxofrd Circus.

    Designer boutiques
    New Bond Street is lined with high-end stores such as Chanel, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo. Just around the corner on Savile Row you'll find the best men's suits made anywhere.
    In Knightsbridge, head to luxury emporiums Harvey Nichols and Harrods and in Chelsea walk the Kings Road for chic boutiques and high-end high street names – look out for the airy London home of Anthropologie.

    Markets
    East London is the place to head for markets selling quirky fashions. Head to Shoreditch for the Sunday Upmarket at the Old Truman Brewery for one-off clothing and funky homewares.