London is one of the greatest (and most iconic) cities in the world. There are so many reasons to experience this sprawling city and everyone should experience the bustle of London in their life.
However, London is huge and has lots of unique features that are very handy to know before you step foot on British soil.
Before you take your first trip to London, it is really helpful to know a few useful things about how everything works. This will help you save time, money and a whole lot of hassle.
In this post, we cover essential details on public transport and getting around, the internet, paying for things, safety and etiquette and many more random tips that you will be so grateful to know.
1. You can’t pay with cash on public transport - Use contactless instead
You can’t buy tickets on the Underground, the Overground or buses with cash. The best option for visitors is to use a contactless payment card or Apple Pay on your phone.
It literally couldn’t be easier and doesn’t cost any more than an oyster card.
2. When possible (time permitting) take the bus
It’s cheaper and you’ll see so much of London - try and get a seat up front on the top deck.
Catching an iconic red double-decker bus is a must in London! Skip the expensive hop on hop off tourist traps and just jump on a public bus.
By doing this you will save some coins (buses are cheap) and you will get to see the sights of London from the top deck. Try to snag a seat up the front for the best views.
If you need to get someone at a certain time or are in a rush, catch the tube as it is much faster and not subject to traffic - otherwise the bus is a fantastic option.
3. You can catch unlimited buses within 60 minutes for £1.75
Leading on from the previous point, you can hop on different buses to get to where you need to go for one fare of £1.75 within 60 minutes. You don’t pay separately for each bus you catch - which is great and just makes sense (like so many things in London). Just be sure to pay with the same card.
4. Public transport has a daily cap per day
Another fantastic feature of the London public transport system is that there are daily caps on how much you spend. The tube in London is surprisingly expensive, especially if you are catching multiple tubes per day across different zones. It is incredibly efficient and fast and you won’t often be waiting for more than a few minutes, making it a great option to cram in a lot of things in one day.
So this is great if you have a busy day of seeing sights across the city (especially if you are travelling by tube).
Once you’ve reached the daily limit, the rest of your transport will be free for the day!
Check out the most up-to-date fares and caps for all public transport here.
5. Use CityMapper to get around
Do not visit London without having CityMapperon your phone! It will be your bible to help you get from A to B in London. The app gives you many smart transport options, and tells you how long it’ll take and how long it’ll cost. However the best part is that it will tell you exactly where you are on your journey and give you clear instructions on exactly when to get off which way to turn etc. This is a real lifesaver, even for seasoned London explorers!
Don’t just rely on Google Maps.
6. Trains to the airports are pricey (except for Heathrow)
The rail network (not the Tube or Overground) is excellent for getting to airports and to places outside of London. However, they are surprisingly expensive. It’s not uncommon for a train ticket to the airport to be more expensive than the flight (except Heathrow which you can get to on the tube).
Try to book ahead of time to get cheaper tickets or if you are on a budget coaches (such as National Express) are a much more affordable option.
7. Grab discounted rail and tube fares
The good news is that if you are under 30, a student, over 60, or travelling as a family or couple you are eligible for a Railcard. A Railcard will give you 1/3 of the trains on the rail network. They cost £30 but if you are staying in the UK for a while or are planning to catch a lot of trains (for example you are staying out of London, flying out of an airport other than Heathrow or plan to visit other places in the UK), it is worth it!
8. You will be walking a lot
London is massive and there is so much to see and explore. You will be walking huge distances without even realising it! Exploring by foot is definitely the best way to see London and even if you are catching a lot of public transport you will still find you are walking a lot.
Come prepared by getting walking fit before you come and pack very comfortable shoes.
9. Allow 1 hour to get to most places
This applies to places that are outside the borough where you are staying. As above, London is huge and there are places you will want to go in all corners of the city.
Public transport is amazing - BUT it still takes time to get around! Public transport will take you directly to where you need to go, however, you may need to catch several tubes & buses to get there. Just bear this in mind when you are planning your day and be safe by allowing for an hour (maybe more if it is on the other side of London, during rush hour or you are catching a bus).
10. Pretty much all places will accept contactless card
Having lots of cash on you isn’t necessary. Maybe in some local markets and small shops, they will only accept cash, but pretty much all places these days accept (and prefer) contactless payment. Pay with your phone or card. An exception to this is public toilets which you need to pay for in coins.
11. Many checkouts are self-service (even in clothing stores)
One recent feature of London is the abundance of self-service checkouts. This applies to pretty much all supermarkets but also High Street clothing stores.
12. Get a Three SIM card (especially if you are travelling to other countries in Europe/the world)
While there is an abundance of free wifi in many places in London, the best option is to get a local SIM card. The UK has very generous prepay data packages, so you can stay connected no matter where you are. This is essential for finding where to go!
We recommend getting a Three pay as you go Sim card. They have great data packages (which is all we need these days), they have free wifi in Tube stations that connects automatically AND you can get 12GB of roaming data in 71 countries around the world (including most of Europe) so is excellent if you are travelling to other countries after London.
13. Don’t walk around with your phone out & headphones in
A massive issue in London is thieves on bikes or scooters snatching phones from your hands on the street. It happens all the time and is a real issue.
So have your wits about you, especially if you are walking at night or early in the morning.
Do NOT just text on your phone while walking and do not do this if you have headphones or earbuds in (as you won’t hear anyone coming up behind you).
If you need to use your phone try to stop in a place where you can see your surroundings and hold on tight. Losing an expensive phone is one way to ruin a holiday!
14. There are no rubbish bins in central London
Rather annoyingly it can be tricky to find rubbish bins in central London, especially in the City (where the skyscrapers are). This is for safety reasons, however, can be a pain if you have an apple core you want to part with. If you hop into a Pret or Costa you should be able to find bins in there.
15. Finding public toilets can be hard
It can also be a bit tricky to find a public toilet when you are out and about in the city. Some Tube stations have them, but they aren’t exactly nice and when you are out and about all day, it can become a problem!
Always empty your bladder each time you are grabbing a bite to eat or use this map to find a public toilet nearby. Also, it’s worth noting, you need to pay for public toilets so in this instance you need to have coins!
16. Touristy areas get insanely crowded
When you go to London, you are going to want to see iconic places like Camden and Oxford Street. However, be warned that these places get INSANELY busy, mostly with tourists. We’re talking footpaths full in both directions with pedestrians spilling over onto the road. Try and avoid going to the most touristy spots on the weekends and if you want to hit the shops, consider doing it somewhere else as the queues to fitting rooms and checkouts are crazy.
Try Stratford Mall or shops in more local boroughs - there are excellent shops everywhere in London.
17. Entrance to the most iconic museums is free
One of the greatest things about London is that many of the most iconic museums are free. Check out a list of free museums in London here. Don’t worry about spending a hefty amount on museums in London and save your pennies for the pub.
18. Respect the queue & respect personal space
British people adore an orderly queue. They are also very polite. If you break this rule by pushing in or invading personal space, you will be met with sniggers and glares (but it’s unlikely you will be confronted, just silently hated). So respect English queue etiquette (even if the queue feels inefficient), be patient and wait your turn.
19. Always stand to the right on an escalator
While Londoners can be pretty unconfrontational when it comes to someone pushing in line, the same is not true if you stand on the left on an escalator in the Underground. Always keep to the right unless you feel like being yelled at by a Lononder in a hurry. Try to stick to the right when walking on pathways as well to avoid bumping into people and to allow fast walkers to get past.
20. Order beer and cider by the pint
When ordering a beer or cider from the pub, say the type you want and order a pint or a half pint. If you are American, a British pint is bigger than an American pint.
21. If you order a gin & tonic, they will ask if you want a single or a double
This can be a confusing question if you aren’t from the UK. A double just means a double shot, but it is also double the price (which is expensive in the UK) so keep that in mind when ordering spirits.
22. Alcohol laws are pretty relaxed
There aren’t many alcohol band areas in the UK and you can buy all sorts of beer, wine and spirits in every supermarket. You can drink openly in public, such as in parks, legally. You will even see people drinking in the middle of the footpath outside pubs in summer.
If you are from a country with stricter liquor laws like Australia, New Zealand or the States this may seem a bit loose!
23. Save money on food by grabbing ready cheap made meals from the supermarket
eating out in restaurants and cafes in London is very expensive. However, the supermarkets (such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S Food, Co-Op etc) are actually very affordable. Convenience in the UK is KING and so all supermarkets have an excellent range of ready-made meals at great prices. Take advantage of the convenience factor and save a bunch of money.
24. Make reservations for popular places in advance
London is very popular all year round and famous places are booked up in advance. So avoid disappointment and be proactive about booking such things before you get there.
For the top attractions, consider getting a London pass. And for famous restaurants in London, book potentially weeks in advance to get a table.
The Sky Garden in the walky-talky building is also free to visit, however, you need to book your ticket up to 3 weeks in advance. Try to go here at sunset to get one of the most spectacular views in the city for NOTHING.
25. In summer the days are VERY long and in winter VERY short
If you are travelling in the months when daylight saving is on, the nights are unsettlingly short. It doesn’t get dark til after 10 and gets light around 3 am when the days are the shortest. While it’s’ great for extended days of sightseeing, it can be disturbing for your sleep. Bring an eye mask!
If you are visiting in winter, it gets light as late as 8 am and the sunset happens as early as 3 pm.
26. Use your class pass membership to attend yoga and gym classes
If you already have a ClassPass membership in your home city, anywhere in the world, you can use your credits at the studios and gyms in London. There are SO many places on ClassPass in London! It is a great way to keep up your fitness routine or yoga practice while in London and to also experience some of the top-notch studios and teachers in the world.
If you don't have ClassPass consider signing up for a free 14-day trial for your time in London!