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Big Ben in London. Photo: Kosala Bandara
London is huge and it’s all-embracing. Suffice to say, whatever your interest and budget, you’ll find something that matches it in London. Our main advice for first-time visitors is to put aside the “must-do” lists for a moment and spend your time seeking out things that you will personally enjoy — you’ll never manage to see it all in one trip anyway.
However, there are some general tips that will make your trip to London go a bit easier (and a bit cheaper, as well). Take note of the following advice for exploring the city and enjoy your trip!
London tips for a better trip
1. Do remember your “please” and “thank you.”
The British sometimes have a reputation for being extra polite. While this isn’t always strictly true, we do like to pepper our speech with “please” and “thank you”. Adopt this habit and you’ll earn our thank yous! And if you bump into someone accidentally, always apologize — even if it wasn’t your fault. (It’s a bit weird, but you’ll see people doing it everywhere!)
2. Do keep it down.
Londoners tend to keep to themselves — and that means also keeping the volume down. You’ll notice that streets, public transportation, and even restaurants are relatively quiet (especially by American standards). Speaking loudly is one sure way to draw attention to the fact you’re a tourist.
3. Don’t block the way.
It’s a busy city, and people are usually on a mission to get somewhere. It’s really appreciated when visitors don’t block the exit of a tube train or stop in the middle of the street to check their map.
The biggest sin for Londoners, though? Standing on the left-hand side of the escalator, thus blocking others from passing. Always, always
Do prepare for cloudy and rainy weather. Photo: Roberto T.
4. Do bring comfortable shoes.
You’ll be doing a lot of walking in London, so bring shoes for comfort. Unless you’re going somewhere particularly high end, dress codes tend to be fairly relaxed.
5. Don’t forget your umbrella.
Chances are it’ll rain while you’re in London (even in the height of summer). Come prepared.
Do… partake in the Full English Breakfast experience. Photo: Ewan Munro
Eating and drinking
6. Do try British favorites.
You’ll find plenty of US chains here, but it wouldn’t be a proper trip to London without sampling dishes such as a Full English breakfast, a Sunday roast dinner, fish and chips or a tikka masala. An equally British tradition is our cosmopolitanism and diversity. You’ll find great cuisine from all over the world in the city. Make like a Londoner and try as many as you can!
7. Do spend some time in a traditional British pub.
You haven’t experienced London until you’ve seen it through a pint glass (and you can always have a pint of lemonade if you don’t fancy trying bitter). Here are tips on navigating British pub culture.
8. Don’t tip like you would in the US.
The British don’t tip in a pub or a bar, or even when ordering pub food if it’s not table service. Save those pennies for extra drinks! Here’s our guide to tipping in London.
9. Do eat and drink somewhere other than Leicester Square.
The eateries surrounding this tourist zone are expensive and bad, and you’ll only be hanging out with fellow visitors. Check out our London nightlife guide
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10. Don’t pay for your water in restaurants and pubs.
Safe-to-drink tap water should always be available for free.
Celtic Hotel is one of our favorite budget sleeps in the heart of London. Photo: Craig Nelson
11. Do pick a centrally located hotel.
There are loads of reasonably priced hotel options listed on EuroCheapo. Being able to walk to more places will save you time and money. Here are 5 budget hotel picks under £100 per night.
12. Don’t skip your hotel breakfast.
Breakfast is included in the price of many hotels in London and will help you significantly save on eating out costs. If that rate includes an English Breakfast (like at the Celtic Hotel), eat up!
13. Don’t carry all your valuables on you.
It shouldn’t be necessary to take your passport out with you (leave it in the hotel safe instead). Be sensible about how you carry things around, too, and go for zipped bags rather than trouser pockets. Sadly there are opportunistic thieves in any city—why make their lives easier?
14. Don’t leave your bags or luggage unattended in public places.
Other than the fact that someone is likely to run off with them, they get treated very seriously. One unattended bag may spark the evacuation of an entire train station, so hold on to your belongings tight.
Do get tickets in advance for busy sites like the London Eye to score good discounts. Photo: Phil Dolby
15. Don’t underestimate the size of London.
This city is huge! And you’re never going to see it all in on one trip. Rather than creating a crazy itinerary where you rush from one sight to the other, take it a bit easier and focus on your absolute must-dos. Check out these budget itineraries for 1, 2 and 3 days.
16. Do book ahead for major sights.
Once you’ve made your hit list, take a look online and see if you can book in advance. Many places, such as the London Eye, offer discounts for advance booking online.
17. Do make the most of London’s free attractions.
18. Do visit at least one of London’s markets.
19. Don’t ignore London’s green space.
Set aside some time to stroll in Hyde Park, or to take a trip up Primrose Hill. You’ll experience a much more relaxing side to the city. These green spaces are great places to have impromptu picnics, too.
20. Do get in line.
We Brits love to queue! If there’s a tourist attraction, popular café, or ATM, chances are we’ll be standing in line in front of it. We expect visitors to embrace our love of the queue, too. So apply patience, and definitely don’t think about pushing your way to the front.
Do ride the Tube in London but don’t forget that sometimes walking is easier! Photo: Davide Simonetti
21. Do try walking it.
If you’re staying in central London, most major sights will be in walking distance. It’s a much better way to see the city than crammed into the Tube.
22. Do embrace all forms of public transport.
23. Do get yourself an Oyster card.
24. Don’t ride public transport at peak hours, if possible.
That’s before 9:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. in the evening. It’s when buses and trains are at their busiest and locals are at their grumpiest. It’s definitely time better spent walking (or in a café or bar!), if possible.
25. Don’t rely on the Tube after midnight.
Night transport in London is completely different to the day, so plan ahead if you’re going to be out late. There’s more detail in our London nightlife guide.
Have a do or don’t for visiting London? Share with us in our comments section below.