From quintessential red phone booths and double-decker buses to Afternoon Tea and Buckingham Palace—there is something for everyone to enjoy in this city. London is an eclectic mix of old and new, full of history and tradition as well as modern art and contemporary restaurants. Although we share a language with England, there are quite a few differences to be aware of when visiting. I’ve pulled together my top 15 things to know before you go for those of you lucky enough to be visiting London soon!
1. Currency: London uses the Pound Sterling (“£” or “GBP”) for their currency. Notes come in 5,10, 20, & 50; coins are known as pence (similar to the penny). There are also £1 and £2 coins. You may hear Londoners say 50p (“pee”) for 50 pence, quid instead of pound, or fiver and tenner in place of five and 10 pound notes.
2. Electronics: Standard voltage is 220V (U.S. uses 120V). Check your electronics to see if you need a converter. Don’t forget an adapter so your electronics will fit into the outlets.
3. Packing: London weather is notoriously unpredictable, so pack a raincoat or umbrella.
4. Crossing the Street: Londoners drive on the left side of the road, so look both ways before crossing the street. There are “Look Left” and “Look Right” indicators written on the street as a reminder.
5. Reputation: Londoners have a bad rap for being cold and unfriendly, but I think you’ll find that they have a great sense of humor and can be some of the nicest people you’ll ever come across! They love their city and are usually happy to share their knowledge.
6. VAT: (value added tax) is a 20% tax on most goods and services in the UK. If you live outside the UK, you are eligible for a VAT refund. When shopping, ask the retailer for a VAT Refund Form (they may ask to see your passport). You’ll need to show your purchases, the form, and your receipts at customs on your way home.
7. Tipping: It is customary to leave a 10-15% tip when eating out, but no need to leave a tip if there is already a service charge applied to the bill. It is also common to tip 10-15% of your taxi fare, £1 per bag to the bellhop, and £1 a day for maid service.
Getting Around Town
8. Citymapper App: Download the Citymapper app which will quickly become your best friend as you navigate throughout the city (this app provides directions as well as how long it will take you to arrive by tube, bus, or walking).
Riding the Tube
9. Oyster Card: Purchase a visitor card prior to arriving in London and pre-load it with money or buy it at the station once you arrive. Have your oyster card out and ready when entering and exiting the tube station.
10. Be kind: Offer your seat to pregnant passengers wearing “baby on board” buttons and elderly passengers. Don’t put your bag on the seat next to you. Let passengers off the train before you board. When riding the escalator, stand on the right as the left lane is used for passing.
11. Be safe: “Mind the gap” between the train and the platform when getting on and off the train.
12. Theater Tickets: If there is a show you want to see, we recommend buying your tickets in advance to make sure you get seats. If you are looking for a last minute deal, go to a TKTS booth in Leicester Square the day of the show to see what tickets are available at a discounted price. Traveling Chic Tip: When you arrive at the theater you can go to the bar and pre-order a cocktail. It will be waiting in the bar for you during intermission.
13. Reservations: Make reservations for restaurants, hotels, and tours in advance as this is one of the busiest cities in the world.
Eating and Drinking
14. Afternoon Tea: The British tea tradition dates back to the 1700s. High tea was offered to the working class as an afternoon meal taken standing up or on high stools (hence the name “high tea”). The upper class had a more fashionable affair known as afternoon tea. Today, afternoon tea which ranges from £20–50 is a special outing and not an every day affair.
15. Pubs: Most pubs don’t have wait staff, so go directly to the bar to ask for a menu to order drinks or food. You will also have to go to the bar to pay. Draft beer is sold in pints and half pints. The British pint is larger than the American (20 oz. vs. 16 oz.)Traditionally pubs are open from 11-11 and are the perfect spot for lunch, dinner, or a pint before bed.
Last but not least: Don’t feel like you need to do EVERYTHING. There is so much to see and do that it can’t all be done in one trip to London. Plus, it’s a good excuse to go back for a second visit!
Need more London travel advice? Check out Traveling Chic’s Perfect Itinerary for First-Timers!
What other tips do you have for a visit to London? I’d love to hear in the comments below!