Excited for your trip to the Big Smoke? We have the essential things you should know before visiting London. If it’s your first time in our wonderful and vibrant city, these tips will ensure you’re fully prepared to get the most from your time here! Get to grips with London now!
Get the currency right
In the UK we use Great British Pounds (GBP), known as just ‘pounds’ for short. You’ll find them represented by this symbol: £. Whilst it’s always good to have some cash on you, the majority of London businesses accept cards.
Can London tap water be drunk?
Yes, London tap water is supplied by Thames Water and is safe to drink. In restaurants they’re legally required to provide tap water for free with your meal if you ask for it.
Are London museums free?
The majority of London’s museums are free. From the British Museum, to the Natural History Museum, and the V&A. You could entirely fill your days here simply wandering around and enjoying the history on display in London.
Can London get earthquakes?
Like most places on earth, London can experience earthquakes. However, these are very rare in occurrence and you’re very unlikely to feel any noticeable tremors whilst visiting us in the city.
London public transport is excellent – Get an Oyster Card
London is one of the best connected cities in the world for public transport. We highly recommend using it whilst you’re here. You can get an Oyster Card whilst here to tap in and out of public transport across the city. Or nowadays you can also simply tap your debit or credit card.
How London buses work
London buses do not accept cash – so you will either need an Oyster card or a credit card with contactless to use our buses. The buses work on a tap-in only system so a one-stop journey will cost the same as travelling the whole line.
How London underground works
The London underground is a series of trains that span the majority of central London underground. These really are one of the best ways to get around the city, and again you can tap in and out of these with a contactless card.
Stand on the right, walk on the left
Whilst you’re on the tube escalators ensure you follow the right standing etiquette! If you wish to simply stand on the escalator, you are advised to stand on the right. However, if you want to walk down, walk on the left. If you stand on the left you may feel the wrath of busy Londoners!
You can walk everywhere
Whilst our transport system is exceptional, London really is a walking city. If you want to see the most, and the more uncommon parts of the Big Smoke we really suggest walking your journeys so you don’t miss any aspect of the city.
Drive on the Left
If you’re renting a car whilst in London, remember we drive on the left and move around roundabouts clockwise! This is also important to note whilst your crossing the road if you’re travelling from somewhere where you drive on the right!
Where is the London congestion charge?
A large portion of London is subject to the congestion charge. This is a charge that is aimed at reducing the amount of cars in the city and can be very expensive. For this reason we really suggest leaving the car at home, or opting for public transport if you’re able to.
You can find the area affected by charges on TFL’s map.
Which London airport is closest to the city?
The closest airport to the main city of London is London City airport, located in the Royal Docks. However, Gatwick Airport has a quick train that comes directly into London Victoria. Whilst Heathrow is accessible via the tube.
Tax (VAT) included in prices
For those visiting from America, you’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to work out the taxes before getting to the till as they’re already included in the price on the shelf.
British English is different from American English and so we’ve put together a few translations to help you out:
Loo = Bathroom
Quid = Pound
Cheers = Thanks/Celebratory
Mate = Friend – very common way to address people in London
Chips = French Fries
Crisps = Chips
Lift = Elevator
Biscuit = Cookie
Queue = Line
Bin = Trash Can
Ground Floor = First Floor
Cashpoint = ATM
Petrol = Gas
Learn how to pronounce place names
British place names can be challenging (even if you’re a local), so we’ve put together some of the tricker London places and how to say them so you can impress the locals!
Westminster = West-min-ster
Leicester Square = Less-ter Square
Marylebone = Mar-le-buhn
Greenwich = Gren-ich
River Thames = River Temz
You’ll need an adaptor
The UK uses three pin plugs, otherwise known as type G. Make sure you have the right adaptor before you get here to make sure you can charge your phone!
Don’t miss afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is a staple of British culture. It consists of three courses, usually displayed on a 3 tier cake stand. The three courses normally consist of delicate sandwiches, cakes or pastries, and traditional scones served with jam and cream. Obviously each London afternoon tea destination put their own spin on it but it truly is a British experience not to miss on London.
Free things to do
London has a reputation for being expensive, and it’s not untrue. However, there are plenty of free things to do in London. From exploring the free museums, to window shopping in London’s markets, to creating your own walking tour of London’s landmarks, you can get away without spending a penny on entertainment during your time here.
Buying theatre tickets on the day
If you want to watch a play or musical in the Westend but don’t want to spend the money, you can look out for cheaper tickets on the day of the show. We really like TodayTix as an app for this!
Download Citymapper & Google Maps
Citymapper is by far the easiest way to navigate the city, from telling you safe walking routes to where to stand on the platform for your train. We highly suggest getting this app on your phone for your visit to London. We also find Google Maps a great option for pinning places and restaurants we want to visit. Why not head over to our Google Maps profile to see the places we’ve got pinned!
British pub etiquette
No trip to London is complete without going to the pub. Unlike most countries, in British pubs you are normally expected to go up to the bar to order your drinks and food (some exceptions do apply). So make sure you don’t sit around for ages and walk up to the bar to get in those drinks!
Avoid Oxford Street
We love shopping, but there are plenty of options other than Oxford Street! During the holidays and at the weekend Oxford Street can get exceptionally busy! Travel to areas further out of central to experience a more relaxed shopping experience – we personally love Westfield Shopping centre in White City or Kingston’s High Street.
Day trips out of London
If you’re staying in London for a little while don’t miss out on all the other beautiful cities and sights the UK has to offer! There are many places within a couple of hours travel of London, from Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, to seaside cities such as Southampton and Portsmouth.
Tipping in the UK is not expected quite as much as in America but it’s important to understand what you can expect. Often restaurants will add a 12.5% service charge to a bill, this is not a legal requirement to pay but most people will accept this charge and not leave a tip. If you’re somewhere where you would like to leave a tip, card machines often ask you how much to add now, or you can leave coins on the table as you leave. Depending on the service you could leave a tip of anywhere between 10% – 15%.
Respect the queues
Us Brits love to queue. If you see a queue in a pub, a bar, a shop, or particularly for the loos – make sure you respect it and wait your turn! If you try to skip ahead of people you’ll get some funny stares and maybe even confrontation from some very annoyed Londoners.
Rent a bike or scooter
If you want to get around quicker but above ground, London has bike and scooter points for hire all over the city. You will have to sign up for their apps ahead of time (especially for the scooters as you have to be IDd). The rental bikes in London are colloquially known as Boris Bikes, but officially they are currently Santander bikes.
Discover London from books and film
The second best way to experience London, if you’re not here in person, is through books based in London and films filmed in London. We’d recommend checking some of them out ahead of your trip to inspire locations you may like to visit. For fans of a romantic film, our rom-com guide to London is the perfect way to see the city through fresh eyes.
Expect every weather
The UK has a reputation for bad weather (think wind and rain), and whilst this isn’t untrue, we also get some lovely weather. It’s difficult to predict what the weather in London will be like throughout the year as it can be very unpredictable. In one day you can go from brilliant sunshine to torrential rain, to a scattering of snow – so come prepared for everything!
Emergency number 999
If you happen to get into trouble whilst in London, it’s essential you know the emergency phone number. If you need an ambulance, the police, or firefighters, the emergency number to call is 999.
About The London Eats List
We are a blog dedicated to all things London, helping inspire your trip to our beautiful city. From which cafes to visit (we love Grind London), to where to get the best ice cream in the city, we’ve got all the details you need!