Staying in London? Do’s and Don’tsJuly 9, 2018
As a traveler, it is a good idea to embrace the culture and to blend in with the residents. You will feel British, and isn’t that the point of your travel experience? What if you are staying in London for the first time? How will you fit in and know the customs? Here is a quick list that can help you get started:
Do these things to “fit in” and make the most of your trip:
- Try new things
- Understand public transportation
- Visit free attractions/museums
- Wear conservative clothing
- Book ahead for main attractions
- Stay in a London vacation rental apartment in the city center
Don’t be “that” tourist:
- Don’t spend all your time indoors
- Don’t be intrusive with your camera
- Don’t talk too loudly
- Be careful with your money
- Visiting attractions during peak hours might be a mistake
- Don’t book every moment of every day
Try new things
It would be a shame to get back home and feel as though you never left your own neighborhood. London is a multicultural city where you will hear many different languages. Talk to strangers and ask about their favorite London spots, then go there. A new adventure awaits around every corner. Ride a bike, take a river cruise, attend an opera—the possibilities are endless. This is the best part of travel, trying new things!
Do try different foods and be willing to visit places that interest others in your group. You might be surprised to find a new favorite cuisine or an appreciation for a type of art you learn about while there. There are many non-touristy things that can add to your experience.
Understand public transportation
When you are in central London, you will find ample buses, taxis, and tube options. There is usually no reason to rent a car. We found that using Google maps gives you options of finding the fastest route or the one with the least walking. You can find where the stop is and when the next bus or train arrives. Very easy! Knowing the “rules” can keep you from being rude to those around you, and will help you easily navigate public transportation.
Bus: You should tap on the bus with your Oyster Card, then quickly find your seat. As you leave the bus, you don’t need to tap off. Really. Others will be using that spot to tap on as they board, and you will get in their way.
Taxi: London Connection suggests you use on official “black taxi” when needed to get around the city. Black taxi drivers accept credit cards and they know London well. Other taxis often waste your money and time searching for places that official drivers have visited hundreds of times. FYI, the newest electric “black taxis” are actually white.
- Walk short distances above ground that are only one tube stop away — it is quicker than going down escalators and through the tunnels for a short ride
- Get an Oyster card or Visitor Oyster card
- Stand on the right on the escalator, leaving the left side for others to pass
- Don’t block the doorway of the train while waiting on the platform, or after stepping inside
- Mind the gap
Visit free museums
Many of the best museums in London are free. A donation is appreciated, but not required. The Museum of London has new galleries that cover 350 years of London’s history. You can visit for a few hours, and then do other things in the area. If you really enjoy a particular attraction, stay longer or return later in the afternoon after the crowds are gone. Some of the museums are open one or two nights a month at night. A night at the museum could be your reality!
Wear conservative clothing
You will notice the residents of London seem dressed up, compared to other countries — so don’t dress sloppy. If you want to fit in, don’t wear bright or flashy clothes. Having sneakers as your shoes shouts “tourist!” Since some of the streets are cobblestone, it is important to find comfortable and sturdy walking shoes. If you are going there next week and don’t have leather shoes already broken in, then take your exercise shoes. It might be better to look too casual than get blisters that ruin the rest of your trip. Check our Anglophile blog for more ideas: 5 Packing Tips for Every Season in London.
Book ahead for main attractions
If there is somewhere you don’t want to miss, be sure to reserve ahead of time. The lines to purchase tickets at the Tower of London are known to be very long. Booking online will save you time and money. Some of the favorite shows, such as Hamilton, don’t have same-day or discount tickets available. If you want to see Hamilton or Harry Potter, you better get your tickets well ahead — maybe before you even book your flight or accommodation. Plan your trip around these important events. And don’t fly in the same day or day before. You will have jet lag and fall asleep; I speak from experience!
Stay in a London vacation rental apartment in the city center
London Connection chooses vacation apartments within walking distance to many attractions and restaurants. It really is about location. You will have a convenient place to stay and so much more, such as your own fully-stocked kitchen. Gather your family at breakfast to go over plans for the day, or to relax in the beautifully furnished and decorated lounge in the evening. You will notice a big difference from a hotel that will barely accommodate your suitcases. No keys under the mat here like you find in a typical airbnb: you are met face-to-face by the local let-in manager that will orient you to your flat and the neighborhood. You will enjoy the comforts of home while having new adventures.
Don’t spend all your time indoors
England is known for her beautiful palaces, parks, towers, museums, markets, and shops. You need to get out and experience them. The plentiful gardens in London are not to be missed. Bring comfortable walking shoes and enjoy the tranquility of nature.
Don’t be intrusive with your camera
You might find yourself walking down the street and see an amazing view that you just need to capture with a photo. Step to the side and let others pass as you set up your camera. When you are ready, get in place for the perfect shot. Be sensitive if your shot will include other people; some might feel uncomfortable being photographed without permission.
Cameras are welcome in most areas of museums. Even the National Gallery allows the priceless art objects to be photographed (without a flash). Be courteous to others that are there to bask in the beauty and save the image in their own mind, rather than on their phone. Don’t step in front of them. Wait your turn, and then step aside.
Don’t talk too loudly
A little courtesy goes a long way. Many of the spaces you will visit have a reverent atmosphere, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Churchill’s War Rooms. Museums are crowded, but quiet. Restaurants are busy, and tables are close. Be aware when you are in public settings not to draw attention to yourself by speaking to your friends and family as though you are all alone. Some personal discussions should be saved for a private moment, away from those not involved. And always — be aware of your volume.
Be careful with your money
First of all, don’t flash your cash. You don’t want to be a target by pulling out a wad of bills to pay for a sandwich at a food truck. Use your card whenever possible, and only carry a small amount of cash in your wallet. If you’re planning to make large cash purchases, then use a neck wallet that fits beneath your clothing, or a belt strap. Retrieve the needed cash out of public view once you are ready to spend it.
Next, you don’t want to pay too much. Shopping at Harrods is fun, but expensive. By all means, visit Harrods for the experience. You will find wonderful souvenirs at Portobello Road, Covent Garden market, or even Piccadilly Circus. Exchanging money at the airport is convenient, but more expensive than at cash points (ATMs). Don’t plan to tip 15-25% that is customary in other countries. Food service employees base pay is higher (not minimum wage) in London. 10% is plenty and is often shown as a service charge on your restaurant bill, so check before paying twice.
Finally, don’t eat out every meal. When staying in a vacation apartment, you can have breakfast in your own kitchen and easy snacks from your own refrigerator. Save your food money to indulge in a night at the theatre or a treasured keepsake.
Visiting attractions during peak hours might be a mistake
Yes, there are some favorite spots that will always be busy, such as the Natural History Museum and the Tower of London. However, you can plan ahead to visit the Natural History Museum on days other than school holidays. The smallest crowds are usually Tuesday – Thursday when they open at 10am, or from 3-6pm. Saturday and Sunday are their busiest days, as you can see from the graph shown above. You can check online for most sites and look for “popular times” to know the when the best time to visit will be during your London stay.
Don’t book every moment of every day
Sometimes we are so excited about all there is to see that we push ourselves day after day, and our vacation isn’t any fun. Don’t fall into that trap! As you plan your London itinerary, leave some open spaces and even open days. You will want some hours just to wander and discover the British culture. Enjoy the architecture and look for Blue Plaques on the sides of buildings to learn about the history of that home.
Also, be flexible. Of course there will be some items you have purchased tickets in advance that must be used on a certain day. But if you have a rainy day, head to an indoor museum. Most of them are free and you can stay there until the rain stops. On a sunny day, head to the park for a bike ride. When you leave some gaps in your agenda, you can be spontaneous.
This might be your first opportunity to travel to London. Experts advise not to stand out as one of “those” tourists. Be prepared, and plan to absorb more along the way. That is the beauty of experiencing another culture — you see and learn new things!
As you pack your suitcase, be sure to take along your sense of adventure. London awaits your visit, and you will return home with a positive experience you will never forget. Just be sure to check the flat as you leave so you don’t leave your phone cord plugged into the wall, or other valuables in a drawer. ENJOY.