Visiting London soon for the first time? Here are 10 London hacks to help you wade through the vastly diverse and eclectic city, where like anywhere, there is too much to do in often too little time.
1. Travel. Forget the Oyster card. Carrying pounds is useless to you. Be sure you have a contactless credit or debit card. That way you are already good to go on ANY London transport – buses, tubes, the overground, even trains. You are all set.
2. Carry a small umbrella or shawl/scarf around with you at all times – you never quite know when you’ll be caught in a polite British downpour.
3. Shoes. It can be a nightmare when it comes to packing footwear for a trip with a limited suitcase weight allowance. My tip? Bring boots and trainers only. If you’re optimistic and in the capital in the months of June – August bring flip-flops.
4. The Central Line is nicknamed the Central Heating Line for a reason. It gets unimaginably hot. I was recently in New York. Your subway air conditioning? Heavenly. I felt like royalty. Our underground system is much older, much smaller, much more cramped and assists over 8 MILLION Londonders on their commutes, (plus tourist figures). It gets hot, it gets sweaty, you will find your nose in a strangers armpit, or vice-versa. I just think you should be prepared for that.
5. Parks. Unlike New York (which feels like every single park opportunity has been condensed into one ginormous park), in London you are spoilt for choice. My personal favourite is Greenwich Park. The views, the space and the nearby Martime Museum is every bit as Jane Austin as you can imagine.
6. Cycling around London on Boris bikes. Sure, but I recommend parks only. The roads are not really built for cyclists; London drivers have no patience, and we have more public buses than any other city I have visited in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for our vivid red fleet of TFL buses – the amount of times they have rescued me as I’ve found myself in a torrential downpour wearing only flip flops – but the fumes that power-fart out the exhausts will transfer directly down your throat, into your lungs. It’s grim.
7. Go see Big Ben, Westminster, Oxford Circus, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Tower of London, you have to do these things once. These buildings and sites are incredible, I hate to say it but it’s as good as the guidebooks tell you.
Tip: If you struggle with busy crowds, nip down an alleyway and take a parallel street. You’ll find yourself removed from the London bustle almost instantaneously.
8. Best free things to do? Walk along the length of Southbank (in the evening, and especially at Christmas!), take a trip to gorgeous Greenwich Park (we are spoilt for parks), get a cocktail high up the Shard or the top floor of the Walkie Talkie Building in the Sky Garden. From there, take a deep breath and drink in London’s mesmerising skyline.
9. Keen to experience a British cup of tea in the country’s capital? Well there’s nothing to it and don’t be caught out. Literally pick any cafe anywhere and they will provide you with the goods.
10. Unfortunately the stereotypes are true; expect taxis to be impatient, expect commuters to look on blankly and forlorn (after all, we don’t have much sunshine *ahem* unlike you Spain, Asia, Australia! Nor do we have a beach nearby to escape to, or scenery that transports us to a happy place we didn’t know existed *New Zealand!* Nor do we have the super high buildings and epically cool immensity of New York or LA).
We are London, we are practical, we are busy and we will apologise even if you accidentally bop into us.
Ok & an 11th for fun. I don’t know how to tell you this (and trust me when I say breaking this news to my American friend was actually traumatic); No matter what you think ‘visiting/living in London’ means, and no matter however many times you visit Buckingham Palace, you just are not going to meet the Queen.