It’s always fun and satisfying discovering a city you’ve never visited before. And yet, should you be lucky enough to visit a metropolis as full of myriad attractions, sights and sounds as London, then you may find a little advice on how to get the absolute most out of your time doesn’t go amiss…
Don’t forget your manners
To be fair, it’s not exactly true that manners maketh the man in Britain anymore; it can be as noisy and loose a place as any other – especially in the diverse and ever-moving capital. However, that’s not to suggest utterances of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ still don’t go along way on these shores. It’s customary that when you bump into someone to say ‘sorry’ – even if somebody else has actually bumped into you. Yes, really. It’ll endear you to the locals in no time.
Don’t forget London’s busy
A simple – if easy to forget – rule here; don’t block the entrances to Tube train stations and platforms and try not to stand in the middle of the pavement checking your map app or a physical map. London’s all about the hustle-bustle – and not just during work hours on weekdays. But the biggest sin you could commit in this area? Standing on the wrong side of the escalator blocking those busy commuters wanting to walk up it – always stand on the right!
Don’t forget your brolly
If you haven’t brought one with you, buy an umbrella immediately you get here – it can (and does) rain every season and however the sky may look in London.
Don’t forget to try British dishes
Any Londoner worth their salt is serious about their food and regularly tries out all the cuisines under the sun available in this extraordinary city, so make sure you take their example and don’t limit your taste buds to what you’re used to. Having said that, when in Rome, as they say… so be sure too to give some classic English cooking a go – a full English breakfast, a Sunday roast and cracking plate of fish and chips’ll go down a treat.
Don’t forget to visit the pub
If you’re interested in coming to London, one of the reasons must be because you fancy sampling some British culture and there are few places where that applies more than an old-fashioned public house. Granted, to get a taste of the classic country pub you’ll have head outside of the city, but what of those irresistible city pubs? Well, you can’t walk a few yards in the West End (especially Soho) without passing one. Be sure to step inside when you do.
Don’t forget to stay central
No question, unless you’ve a very specific reason not to do so, it’s definitely in your interest to book a room at a hotel that’s relatively central (like, say, the Marble Arch London by Montcalm) in order to make the most of as many of the attractions – so many of which are, yes, centrally-located – as possible.
Don’t forget a hotel breakfast
Following the general ‘bed and breakfast’ British custom, the first (and most important) meal of the day is usually included in the price of the previous night’s stay; not just in London hotels but those throughout the UK. In which case, you’d be foolish to forego a hotel breakfast of a morning, not least because it’ll doubtless prove cheaper than doing otherwise and’ll give you a great chance to sample a full English (see above).
Don’t forget how to tip
If you are visiting a pub, remember that tipping isn’t that common – and unless there’s an additional food service, there won’t be any table-service. If there is a food service or if you’re in a restaurant, then the usual tip is around 10-15%.
Don’t forget to book ahead
Be mindful not only to book ahead when it comes to your place of stay, but also for the attractions you really want to check out. Many of the major ones – the London Eye, Westminster Abbey or a night at a West End theatre – tend to sell out quickly, so it’s as well to do some hunting on the ’Net before you leave home; you’re bound to discover discount prices that way too.
Don’t forget free things to see and do
That said; don’t overlook the fact that some of the big, must-see places in the Big Smoke won’t cost you a penny. Many of the major museums (the British, Science and V&A Museums) and galleries (the National, the National Portrait and all the Tate Galleries) are free to enter.
Don’t forget public transport – and the Oyster card
The London Underground (or ‘Tube’, as it’s known) is a hugely popular, usually very efficient way to get around the capital, but that’s not to rule out buses (a great way to see the sights here, there and everywhere), river taxis or even, if you’re the cycling kind, trying out a ‘Boris bike’. If you plan to use public transport (and why wouldn’t you?), be sure to buy an Oyster card (a tap-in-and-out electronic payment that works like a credit card); it’ll save you significant money.
But don’t forget to avoid peak hours!
For non-commuters, trying to use Underground and Overground trains or buses between 7 and 10am and 5 and 7pm on weekdays is a real no-no; it’s rush hour and can be something of a nightmare getting about then. Alternatively, if you fancy encountering commuters at their least responsive and grumpiest and getting crammed together with other people like a sardine, then go right ahead!