London is my favorite city (that I’ve visited). Aside from New York, which is home, London has my heart. I spent this past New Year’s Eve there, the second time I’d visited since studying abroad in college, and I didn’t want to leave. I decided to share some travel tips in case you’re also planning a visit to the city!
Frequent your local pubs. //
Wherever you’re staying will have probably a dozen good local pubs within walking distance. Get to know them, as they will each probably have a great history, story, and special brews on tap. Seat yourself anywhere, and order both food and drinks at the bar. Pro tip: always drench your chips in vinegar. It’s the only way.
When pub food gets old, check out the diverse multinational cuisine in London, especially Brick Lane if you love curry (I do)!
The tube is super easy, but the buses will give you the view of the city. //
Get an Oyster card your first day, and use the pay as you go/top-up option. Remember that you have to tap out of the turnstile as well as tapping in when you enter the station! Keep that card handy so you’re not fumbling for it and holding up the queue. To keep track of tube stations and stops, download a tube app. I liked the “London Tube” one. It’s easy, quick, and it works when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi.
Tip for the tube: it shuts down at midnight, making your transport options the night bus or black cabs. General wisdom is that black cabs are expensive/rip you off, but I think this is relative, because as a New Yorker, it didn’t seem that unreasonable (even considering the currency change).
Tipping isn’t always necessary, but we did it anyway. //
As an American and a server, I will never get out of the habit of tipping, even when the service charge is included. I always tipped the bartenders a pound for pouring my drink and ordering my food, and even if their looks are quizzical, I keep doing it. I feel like it’s so much more appreciated. The same goes for cab drivers. Speaking of…
Talk to your cabbies! //
Whenever we took a black cab, or even an Uber, we started conversations with our cabbies, and their stories were always excellent. They’re often friendly and interested in where you’re from and what you think of the city. They can provide some answers to questions provided you’re not taking guided tours (we didn’t) and they’re some of the most cheerful, friendly people.
Get the Fast Track option at the London Eye. //
It’s more than worth the extra few pounds for the fast lane onto this attraction. Our queue was ten minutes long at most, while the regular option had wait times upward of 45 minutes.
Check kitchen closing times before going to eat. //
I’m used to NYC hours, i.e. things never closing, so adjusting to the hours of London was a little tricky. Plan ahead to make sure the place you’re eating/drinking will be open when you arrive.
Read your history. //
One of the biggest draws for me in London was the history of the city, obsessed as I am with British history. If you’re not paying for guided tours, buy a few books and make sure you know what you’re seeing, especially in places like Westminster Abbey, where there’s so much history it can get overwhelming. Last time I went, I completely missed the tomb of Elizabeth I, and never forgave myself for it.
Also, take time to explore the city, stopping one Tube stop short of your destination to take a look at the many and varied neighborhoods sitting right next to each other. London is so extremely mishmash, and it’s beautiful.
One more thing: Pack a compact umbrella and treat it like your child. I happen to love the sudden showers, but getting caught in them sans umbrella is somewhat less than pleasant.