London is a truly special place. A giant megalopolis where a lot of different peoples and histories intertwine, where history collides with modernity and where peoples of all cultures live together in harmony. London tourism has a multitude of things to offer to a visitor – from foods to activities.
However, it is not that simple. When going into the city, there are a lot of things that should be considered beforehand and during your stay. I am here to help – not a native Londoner but rather someone who moved here, and who felt like a tourist for the longest time. Buckle in.
1. DO: check the expenses in advance.
Yes, that includes public transport expenses.
London is not a cheap city – things might cost you more than in your hometown, and, funnily enough, they will even cost you more in the central areas (where you will, most likely, spend a lot of your time) than closer to the edges of the city.
The public transport gobbles your money like crazy; all cocktails are more expensive central, regardless if you’re in a run-down pub or a posh bar; museum tickets cost money; there is food and shops on every corner. Keep your budget in check.
2. DO NOT: buy cigarettes in London.
Bring some with you instead.
This ties into the previous point, but if you’re coming over from somewhere in Switzerland or France you might be used to this – but people visiting from many other countries might not expect just how expensive cigarettes are.
Loose tobacco is cheaper for sure, but even then, the cheapest option is bringing your own.
3. SAVE YOURSELVES: public transport in summer.
Taking a train or a bus to anywhere, regardless of the distance, in summer London is a request to be killed, really.
The ventilation on trains is horrid and the amount of people – especially in rush hour – is overbearing; you will end up sweaty, dizzy and overall displeased.
Rent a bike or walk if you can; it’ll provide for a better London tourism experience anyway. Uber and Gett are also options, but pricier ones.
4. DO: check for the service charge.
In some places, it is included. In some – it is not. It is customary to tip, but you don’t want to tip twice (or, maybe, not at all if your waiter was horrid to you, for some reason), so always be careful.
5. DO NOT: go clubbing or to nighttime bars in sneakers/trainers.
A lot of places will just not let you in; regardless if your shoes are from Adidas or Balenciaga, because it’s the dress code.
6. SAVE YOURSELVES: the black cabs.
Yes, it is the ultimate London tourism taxi experience. No, it is not worth it. An Uber will probably cost you almost two times less while doing the same job.
7. DO: download Citymapper or Google Maps.
Absolutely crucial in navigating the city and its public transport, both of these apps will not only show you the way to go, but also give you a timetable of when the next trains/buses are, what section of the train is the busiest, what alternative routes you can take, how busy the establishment you want to visit is (Google Maps)… the list goes on.
8. DO NOT: go to fancy places without reservation.
Best case scenario you will end up at some crappy table in the corner of the room; in the worst case, you will be turned away, or made to wait for an hour.
The more posh and more central the place, the more likely it is that they just simply won’t let you in. In addition, a lot of them have a dress code, too, so always check. One of the popular places like that for London tourism – the Sky Garden at The Shard – does, for instance.
9. SAVE YOURSELVES: exchange offices in touristy areas.
This seems like simple, straightforward advice – but it is especially important to follow in London. Not only will the exchange rate be abysmal, but a lot of those places will also add a handling fee on; the larger the sum, the more money you will lose.
As such, someone I know went to the exchange office on Bond Street to exchange €1000 cash that she had brought with her for her whole trip. She was told she’d get £583 in return.
Surprisingly, the best rates, according to her, were in Harrods and Selfridges. Just a tip. London tourism does ensue tips and tricks.
10. DO: get the London Pass.
While the London Pass will not gain you access to all museums, it sure will get you into some important ones, like Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert, British Museum, etcetera and so forth.
It can seem pricey, but, in reality, getting tickets into all of these museums separately will end up much more expensive for you. You do not want that.
11. DO NOT: miss out on the numerous parks and markets.
It might seem redundant to go to parks and markets when you come to a completely new city – after all, what could they offer here in London which they couldn’t back home?
Do not be mistaken. London parks – especially Hyde Park, for its vastness and variety of activities to indulge in, and St. James’s Park, for its gorgeousness and historical British surroundings – are essential to anyone’s experience of this city.
The food and vintage markets here are not just an important part of London tourism, they are generally a big part of local culture.
Food markets are bustling with foods from all over the world – be it Colombian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and many other numerous cuisines; vintage and art markets represent the artistic nature of London that attracts so many people to it. Just remember to always have some cash on you.
12. SAVE YOURSELVES: the birds.
London pigeons are scary. Absolutely unbothered by humans, they can fly super low and even smack you in the face with a wing. And you don’t want that to be the highlight of your London tourism experience.