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If you’re packing your bags and planning a trip to London, we are here to help you prepare. These 17 tips will save you serious time and money, and help you unwrap the layers of Britain’s beautiful but often befuddling capital.
The London Underground is a place where anyone can get lost; trust us, because we have. With over 10 different lines travelling in every direction, the best way to make sure you’re going the right way is to use the Citymapper app, providing you with transport options including bus, tube, taxi or on foot with costs and times included. If you would rather not use technology, you can pick up a small tube map (available at all stations).
There is something going on in London, almost anywhere, all the time. Choose from pop-up restaurants, markets, supper clubs, live music and so much more. What’s more, the Natural History, Science and British museums and the Tate galleries are just a few of the abundant venues that offer free entry to exhibitions, showcasing some of the most incredible visuals from all around the world.
London has a reputation for being one of the busiest cities in the world, packed with tourists and locals. However, there are many hidden spots that offer peace. If you can manage to get up and out by 6AM, you are in for a surprise. Take a walk next to the River Thames while other people are still asleep and watch a beautiful sunrise. Another secret tranquil spot is the Phoenix Gardens, where traffic does not exist and you can sit among the wildflowers.
London is known as one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, you can save yourself money by researching and downloading voucher codes and promo offers that are often up for grabs. These vouchers range from money off at restaurants to shopping discounts. Groupon is a great place to download vouchers.
When you visit London, you will find public toilets that can charge up to 30p per use. It is important to ensure that you carry some change during your travels in the city. Otherwise, there are plenty of restaurants and cafés you can stop in, and enjoy a meal or drink as well.
For a good night out, there’s something for everyone. There are plenty of cool clubs for the ‘student on a budget’, such as Piccadilly Institute or Zoo Bar. Looking for that all-night-long Ibiza feel? Check out hipster clubs such as XOYO, but be aware of the immense buildings and occasional drug scene. For luxury, there are a variety of so-called ‘Mayfair’ clubs visited by London’s most elite, such as Cirque du Soir or Boujis. Check in on a guestlist beforehand, wear smart clothes, and arrive before 11PM.
Remember not to stand too close to others, don’t make eye contact with anyone and, whatever you do, don’t initiate any form of verbal interaction. During rush hour you will easily find yourself squashed up next to a stranger and that’s as far as it goes. Travelling on the Underground will show you just how much Londoners avoid social contact on public transport.
Do not be surprised when you are pushed up against several other commuters, as more passengers push to fit on the same train. There is always someone who rushes onto the carriage, barging their way into space that does not exist. The only upside is when the door bangs their head as it closes.
The glorious weather of London is, in fact, completely unpredictable. The best way to prepare for this weather is to layer up and remember to bring your umbrella. In winter you’ll be warm once you get inside, because everywhere you go the heating system is on full blast; once safely inside you will feel like abandoning any and all thick, warm coats.
It is no secret that tea is a huge part of British culture, and in London this tradition is celebrated every day, at cafés, restaurants and eateries. However, coffee is just as popular. You will find almost everyone grabbing their morning coffee on their way into work, and after lunch to keep themselves awake throughout the day.
When walking around London it is necessary to wear comfortable shoes. You do not want to regret your footwear on a day out. It is recommended that you pack your trainers and some rubber-soled shoes for the days you plan to do lots of walking.
Aside from the Underground, there are plenty of ways to get around the city even at night or after a few drinks. Night buses can take you home after the last tube, the taxi service Uber is popular, and Santander bikes, commonly known as Boris bikes, are a fantastic way to get around the city ethically and healthily – though not after drinking. Boris bikes are also free for the first half hour, and then from £2 for use within 24 hours.
We have some great news for spontaneous travellers: if you’re not sure which West End show to see during your visit, then buy your tickets on the day. You can find a variety of ticket shops around Piccadilly Circus and Soho that offer discounted tickets on top shows, often at 50 per cent off. You will also be able to see exactly where you will be seated.
London is a noisy place, with plenty of buskers in the Underground, not to mention the hustle and bustle while you’re making your way through town. Why not listen to some music to block it all out?
For any shopaholics, let’s take a look at some of the best places for shopping. Oxford Street is always busy and it can be absolute hell at the weekend. There are many other amazing shopping streets in London offering you the same outlets, minus the crazy crowds. Make your way over to Covent Garden, The Kings Road, Regent Street or even one of the Westfield Shopping Centres.
In London, when using the escalators, there is one rule. Stand on the right. This allows people who are in a hurry to pass by on the left-hand side. You will find numerous signs that state this; this city is fast paced and people are always on the go.
Most restaurants in London add on a 12.5 per cent service charge to your final bill. This is usual at the touristy and upmarket spots; even some bars add this charge to your drinks bill. This charge is optional, but it is expected to be paid unless you have a really unpleasant experience. If you’re on a tight budget, save yourself the embarrassment and take the 12.5 per cent into account before ordering.