London: Surviving the Big Smoke

London is fast, busy and full of impatient people. It’s also a fun, exciting and vibrant city. I should know – I live there. Here’s a few practical pointers to get you started:

  • Travel light. It’s not a city to lug heavy bags around. Take only what you need for the day. Camera, money, waterproof, map, guidebook. If you’re checking out from your hotel and leaving later on in the day; or checking in later on and have arrived early then try and find out in advance if you can leave bags at the hotel and organise hand luggage so that you can remove a small day sack from it and leave your clothes with the hotel to avoid dragging them around.
  • Good footwear. You can tell London ladies – they generally wear flat shoes unless they are doing something special. Getting off tubes and buses, negotiating escalators and uneven paving stones is no time to be wearing high heels. Make sure that your footwear is flat, comfortable and broken in.
  • Put your camera and any other gadgets away when they aren’t in use. It’s a relatively safe city but muggings do happen and tourists who don’t know where they are and are waving a camera about are easy targets.
  • London is a fast paced city. It’s also one that’s been around for a few hundred years. Many of the buildings are very old and dictate where the streets fall. Pavements are sometimes narrow, or too narrow for the volume of people and there is a lot of traffic. If you do need to stop to look at the map or to take in a site, stand to one side of the pavement.
  • Remember – we’re British, we queue. We queue for most things from shops to restaurants, in museums to look at something, on the tube, on the train, for toilets. It’s a very British thing. We like our queues! In London if you jump the queue and are lucky you might get a few stern looks, it’s also likely that someone will challenge you (in a very British way of course).
  • You generally can’t use Euros and you definitely can’t use dollars. We have our own currency which we are very attached to and it is the only legal tender in the UK – British pounds (£) are all part of the experience.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, we do tip. We tip though as a recognition of good service rather than an expected requirement.  10-12.5% is very usual.
  • London taxis can be pricey. If you want the full London experience then try the public transport system. It’s not as cheap as some countries but it’s very frequent and reasonably reliable.
  • Remember: It’s not a good idea to stop immediately at the bottom or immediately at the top of an escalator – it’s dangerous in any country. In London it’s likely to cause much tutting as angry commuters swerve to avoid you as you consult the tube map.
  • We’re also quite reserved as a nation. We don’t talk on the tube. We don’t even make eye contact if we can help it. Staring is rude. Talking too loudly will cause raised eyebrows. Talking to strangers is likely to send us into shock, particularly at rush hour.
  • Avoid travelling at rush hour if you can – the tube and buses get extremely crowded and try most people’s patience.
  • Stand on the right / walk on the left – this rule will make sense once you’ve used the London Underground.
  • Unless you arrive in the middle of a heat wave do carry an umbrella or waterproof. At some times of year the weather can be very changeable and what starts out as a nice day can become a rain storm by the end of the day.
  • And yes, we do talk about the weather. It’s always changing and therefore is the subject of much small talk!
  • And we do have a sense of humour – see if you can spot one of these.
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