Nobody wants to stick out like a sore thumb or waste time figuring out the basics when you’re visiting or moving to London. These are our top 10 tips to make sure your time there is hassle-free.
1. Escalator etiquette
It’s no coincidence that we’ve placed this at number one.
You don’t want to be standing still on the wrong side of the escalator when a frustrated London businessman is trying to make it to his train. And, as they’re impossible to avoid, it’s important that you read this one tip, if nothing else.
The rules are (some think they originate in 1928) stand on the right and walk on the left. This allows a constant flow of harried Londoners to catch the next train and ensures you don’t get pushed aside.
2. Travel with a card
Whether you’re in London for a week, a month or a year, this is the easiest way to use the city’s public transport network. Using a Visitor Oyster Card, Oyster Card or Travelcard allows you to load credit to spend on the Tube, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway and most of the services offered by National Rail in London, as well as many other forms of public transport.
Choosing which card to use depends on how long you intend to stay in London and how often you’ll be using the public transport.
If you’re in the city for a couple of days and you’re planning on using public transport only two to four times a day, then the Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or a contactless payment card will be your best options. These will also allow you to travel to the outskirts of the city.
If you only want to use public transport within central London (zones 1 to 2 or 1 to 4), and intend to make more than four journeys a day, every day, for a week or more, then the most cost-effective option will be a 7 Day Travelcard.
3. Travel by train
The railway network is made up of an interconnecting underground and overground system that extends throughout and outside the city; it’s probably the most efficient way of getting around London.
You can get maps of the underground here, but if you’d like an effective way to manage all of your railway travels, try using an app like Station Master. It even lets you know the best door position for exit at every station.
Try to avoid travelling during the weekday rush hours of 07:00-09:00 and 17:30-19:00. If you’re worried about getting on the wrong train, you can check the front for the destination.
4. Get on your bike
You can rush around London on the Tube, jump on and off double decker buses and in and out of black cabs, but if you really want to get a feel for the place you need to have your own feet – or wheels – on the ground.
Santander Cycles is a bike-sharing scheme that allows you 24-hour access to two-wheeled transport every day of the year. These bikes, nicknamed “Boris bikes” after London mayor Boris Johnson, can be found in docking stations around the city and are available to hire with a bank card.
It costs £2 for 24-hour bike access, with the first 30 minutes of each journey free. Thereafter, every further 30 minute period is £2. If you want to avoid a big bill, you can dock your bike every half hour and avoid any further charges.
If you’re planning on a whole day of cycling, it’s cheaper to use a bicycle rental company. Then take your time on a selection of routes around the city.
5. On your feet
Walking is a great way to get around and see the city. It’s also free, healthy and green.
You don’t have to walk all day to get a street-level view of London, you can hop off the Tube one stop before your destination and walk the rest of the way; many stations are only a five minutes apart.
Alternatively, if you really want to stretch your legs, there are a number of walking routes to try out. If you’re sightseeing and worried that you won’t make it where you need to be on time, use a journey planner to double-check.
6. Free attractions
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to see some of London’s finest attractions.
There are also a number of outdoor green spaces that host a variety of events and offer a place to relax.
These include the 350-acre Hyde Park, which boasts a lake, flower gardens and over 4,000 trees. If you’re there in winter (November to January), you can even enjoy open-air ice skating around the Victorian Bandstand with thousands of lights overhead.
Also, don’t miss the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
7. Money, money, money
Credit cards, such as Visa and Mastercard, are accepted throughout London’s bars, cafes, restaurants and retail stores, while Diners Club and American Express are less popular.
Colloquially, a pound is often referred to as a “quid”, £5 as a “fiver” and £10 as a “tenner”.
The specifics around tipping in London will differ depending on which services you are using and where these services are.
In restaurants, the standard tip is usually a minimum of 10-15% of the bill. Always check to see if this amount has automatically been added, especially if you’ve been eating with a group of friends.
Tipping isn’t compulsory at pubs, although it may get you faster service and bar staff appreciate it.
Most hotels in London will include a service charge of 10-12% in their bill. Concierges and door staff are tipped at your discretion, with porters being the most commonly tipped.
With taxis, it’s considered polite to tip 10-15% of the fare for black cabs and licensed taxis. Most people will simply round up to the nearest pound. The length of your journey and how much the driver assisted you with your luggage should also factor into your decision.
With so many things to do in London, it’s sometimes easier to have all the information in your hand. We’ve already mentioned the Santander Cycles and the Station Master app, but there are others that can also help.
One app is the London Official Events Guide, available on iOS and Android devices, which helps you find your way around the city without any of the data charges. The app provides you with offline information like tips to find top attractions, things to do and restaurants in the area.
Street Art London, available on iOS devices, allows you to find London’s famous street art through maps, guides, artists and dates. Your favourite Banksy piece could be just around the corner.
Citymapper London is available on all mobile platforms and allows users to access information regarding public transport, accurate to the minute. You can view maps offline, as well as being able to check prices, taxi fares and route disruptions.
10. Emergency numbers/staying safe
The general rules of taking care of personal belongings and not venturing into dark, dingy alleys late at night apply in London as much as they would anywhere else.
In an emergency phone 999 or 112, or, to contact the police for non-emergencies, dial 101.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you move around London with the confidence of a local, and yet still allow you to feel like a tourist.