London Update: Pounds or Euros?

I am going to be visiting London for ten days and need to know if I should exchange some of my crappy American dollars for either British pounds or for Euros? My bank, which apparently hires complete morons, doesn’t even know where I should go to exchange some cash, so I assume they are completely incapable of providing advice regarding which cash system I should be exchanging my money for. Additionally, I was wondering if I could rely on a credit card (VISA) for my spending needs while in London, or is cash my only friend there? (NYC is a credit card city, although our street venders are cash only). I admit I am extremely reluctant to walk around London with hundreds of British pounds (or should it be Euros, instead?) in my pocket.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
This entry was posted in London, England and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to London Update: Pounds or Euros?

  1. Elf Eye says:

    My daughter and I were able to largely rely upon credit cards both times we visited London. For cash transactions, we did use pounds.

  2. Jessica says:

    Hi GrrScientist-In October, I did not exchange money beforehand. I used my credit card and ate a few ATM fees just to try to get the best exchange rate possible. All transactions were in pounds, no euros. My Lonely Planet guide says credit and debit cards are accepted almost universally in London, mostly Visa and Mastercard (not so much American Express or Diner’s Express). There are also ATMs just about everywhere. I also highly recommend using your credit card to buy an Oyster card. Totally worth it rather than buying single tickets every time you ride the Tube (I think you can use it for buses too). When you do hit up for first ATM, go for a couple hundred pounds. It will go fast!

  3. Pounds. British people hate the Euro.

  4. Coturnix says:

    They use pounds there, but your credit cards will work everywhere (your bank will automatically convert into dollars according to the day’s exchange rate).

  5. Elf Eye says:

    Oh, yes, save all your receipts. As you depart, at the airport you can apply for a refund of whatever Value Added Taxes you have paid.

  6. ATMs and banks usually give you the best rate. Don’t walk around London with a lot of money on you. In fact, don’t walk around London period unless you stick to well-lit streets. Don’t bother with euros unless you’re going to the continent.

  7. Jeff Knapp says:

    Yep! Pounds are it. England is not actually part of the EU as of yet. And, yes, keep a little cash on you but, mostly use your ATM or credit card if you can. You are used to New York, in many ways London is sort of New York with a British accent – with common sense, it is not any more dangerous than NYC is. There are good areas and some not so good areas. The tube is every bit as good as the NYC subway system for getting around.
    Also, I HIGHLY recommend the ScienceMuseum. It is one of the best science museums I have ever seen. One of my favorite exhibits is a recreation of Babbage’s mechanical computer.

  8. Orac says:

    My daughter and I were able to largely rely upon credit cards both times we visited London

    You have to be careful here, though. Some credit cards charge a ridiculously high fee for making a purchase in a non-U.S. currency. I discovered this last year during my trip to London. Both my VISA and Mastercard tacked on surcharges for every purchase. My American Express Blue card, on the other hand, charged no fee and provided the best exchange rate.
    Lesson: The next time I go to Europe, I use my American Express card for as much as possible, only pulling out my VISA for merchants that don’t take American Express. Not as many merchants take American Express, but most of the tourist attractions do, as do enough shops for it to be useful.
    Also, the comments about ATMs are correct. Use your ATM card to get money when necessary. Most ATM cards, particularly if they’re a VISA or Mastercard debit card, work with networks in the U.K. and Europe. They dispense British pounds. Check with your bank whether your ATM card works with networks common in London before leaving. I bet it probably does.
    Finally, having just been to London last August, I second the recommendation to get an Oyster Card and charge it up with a week’s worth of unlimited travel in the zones on the London Underground you expect to be traveling in. (We did zones 1 and 2, which cover all of central London and out a way.) You can go almost anywhere by the tube. It’s an amazing system, at least as extensive as the New York subway system. You can go pretty much anywhere you’d want to go.

  9. travelgirl says:

    i agree with everyone above, with one exception: i have no problems walking anywhere in london, including those places where some angels fear to tread. absolutely, don’t have tons of cash on you — let your ATM card rule the roost, but don’t be afraid to walk around. that’s one of the pleasures of london is that it’s so walkable for being so large…
    i’ve done the walk from paddington to holborn, all around soho / leicester square / charing cross / piccadilly circus after midnight (among many others) and never had a problem. be aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables in a money belt, and you should be ok.
    getting the oyster is a great idea and, if memory serves, you can also use it for the buses above-ground, too… even though zones 1-6 (all zones) will give you a very wide range, 1-2 should be enough for the few days: the british museum, kensington, the national gallery, the west end, westminster and parliament, the embankment, british library, tons of downtown are all easily within zone 2. the only outside point of any note will be heathrow, and that’s a one-time expense on arrival and departure…
    are you sure you won’t be able to pack a guide (like me)? 🙂

  10. JM says:

    Pounds. The British don’t like Euro’s (something to do with Belgian sausages)
    Also, if your ATM card is linked to Cirrus (an international payments system) you can use just about any ATM machine in the country and get cash advances off your own credit card. In many cases, you may even have access to your savings account.
    BUT. Be careful to get internet banking before you go so you can transfer money between your savings and credit accounts. Even if you’re Cirrus linked you can’t always tell ahead of time which account the money will be drawn from. Sometimes its the credit account, sometimes the savings – it varies depending on both your bank, the bank that owns the ATM and the country you’re in.
    In my case, for example UK ATM’s take the money off my credit account but in France (say) it comes from my savings account.

  11. You called the bank employees morons, yet you post to your blog for advice?
    Pot, meet Kettle.

  12. BachFan says:

    I recommend hitting the ATM at the airport for enough cash to get you to wherever you’re dropping off your luggage, and to tide you over until you find an ATM that’s on your bank’s network.
    Also, before you go, make sure the PIN for your ATM card is only 4 digits long. Many overseas ATMs won’t allow you to punch in a longer PIN. (And if you memorize your PIN using letters instead of numbers, please be aware that most overseas ATM keypads aren’t marked with letters.)
    And England isn’t part of the euro zone … you’d have about the same level of success trying to use euros in London that you’d have here in NYC.

  13. Lionel L. says:

    Something to check is if your bank has a partnership with a bank in the place where you are going to be visiting. For instance, when I was a Bank of America customer, BoA had a partnership with a bank in Mexico. When visiting Mexico I was able to use the Mexican bank’s ATM machines without paying fees just as if I was using a BoA ATM. It was handy and saved me a few bucks in the bargain.

  14. SimonG says:

    Plastic will do fine. I’d probably get a little bit of cash in case you want any odds and ends – magazines, sweets, whatever. You’ll probably find a lot of places which will take any major currency – certainly Euros and US Dollars – but you’ll get a lousy exchange rate. Possibly useful for emergencies.
    Some hotels will do currency exchange, but again you won’t get a good deal.
    Some but not all taxis will take credit cards. However, there’s no real need to use then. The London Underground is fairly quick and efficient. Bear in mind that the Underground map is not remotely to scale; in the centre – round Leicester Square, Covent Garden and such – it’s quite reasonable to walk if you’re only travelling a couple of stops: get yourself an A-Z.
    Assuming you’re flying in to Heathrow, there’s an underground connection or the Heathrow Express. Underground might be a bit cheaper, but it takes a lot longer.

  15. themadlolscientist, FCD says:

    You called the bank employees morons, yet you post to your blog for advice?

    Actually it’s not as silly as you might think. A lot of the best travel advice comes from people who have recently been where you’re going.
    I used my ATM card (Cirrus, non-Visa/MC) all over England and Germany a few years ago. No problem, even in restaurants and other businesses, which amazed me no end. Just about every place would give me cash back too.
    You may be able to get some walking-around money at the British consulate or at a large branch of a bank. But no need to get too much. Try not to exchange money at airport kiosks, they’ll kill you with inflated exchange rates.
    And forget about the euros. Pounds are the way to go. Just make sure you’ve got a very tough change purse. They’ve gone completely over to 1- and 2-pound coins, which weigh a ton! 🙂
    Have a great trip!

  16. Kaleberg says:

    If you have an American Express card you might consider travelers’ checks. Depending on your account they may let you order some in pound denominations on the internet and sent to you by mail.

  17. Chris O says:

    Pounds rather than Euros, as the Uk decided they wouldn’t adopt the EU currency. Few to no shops in the Uk will accept the Euro. Credit cards are acceptable almost everywhere, but you’ll want a few pounds on you for things like the bus. Currency can be exchanged at lots of places all over london, though the airport is probably the easiest.

  18. David Rickel says:

    You might let whoever handles your credit card know when you’re planning on traveling–I’ve heard of travellers getting their accounts put on hold because of unusual spending activity.