There exist various essential things to know before visiting London.
And this is why the lessons I learnt from my first trip to England’s capital will help you make the most of your visit.
49 Useful Things to Know Before Visiting London
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Mull over carefully, you are about to enter not 1 but 4 countries !
Apply for your UK visa at least three weeks in advance. Fill correct information in the Visa Application form. Submit the right documents as per the embassy’s checklist.
Just be polite, honest and confident during your interview. After biometrics, you are ready to explore UK territories.
Don’t even think to visit the City of Big Ben without a thick Insurance den
Get yourself a good Travel insurance covering emergency medical expenses and loss of baggage or passport.
In case of any healthcare expenditure, you can claim the money later. Also, in case of theft or loss of belongings, you get immediate assistance.
Don’t overload your wallet, plastic money will be fine
All major credit cards like Visa, Master card, Tesco Bank Foundation Credit card, etc are accepted at almost all places. So, spare yourself the trouble of currency exchange.
But carrying some cash will help you hire a taxi on arrival and later in street shopping.
Choose the red bus for local commute
Starting with a single fare of £1.50 and running 24×7, the Red bus is a cheap and easy option to commute within the city.
But remember buses have no cash policy. So, get yourself an Oyster Card for multiple and hassle-free rides.
One Pass is all you need to access 90+ London Attractions
With one digital London Pass, you can skip ticket queues and relish the historical landmarks, museums and even Thames Cruise, etc without haste.
London Pass is available in flexible packages of £84 for 1 day up to £184 for 10 days. Choose as per your travel plan and save 50% money on entry tickets.
Scoot your way around London streets on e scooters
But remember, driving on pavements is an offense.
Discover London on Two wheels only @ £2
Rental bikes in London are popularly called Santander or Boris bikes.
Locate the nearest docking station using the city mapper or Santander app. Pay an access fee of £2. The first 30 minutes are free, thereafter, charges are £2 for each 30 minutes.
The trick is, if you return in 29 minutes, the same access fee remains valid for 4 rides the same day.
Cruise through the panoramic view of London
Boats are available from Westminster, London Eye, Tower and Greenwich every 40 minutes from 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 4 pm on weekends.
The return trip between Westminster & Greenwich is the longest (180 minutes) and costs £19.50 per adult and £12.75 per child (age 5 – 15). With a ticket validity of 24 hours, you can get down, explore and join back.
Match your Watch! It’s GMT
Greenwich Royal Observatory is at walking distance from both, the tube station and the pier. Feel the unparalleled excitement of standing on zero Longitude: The Prime Meridian line of the world.
On the way back you can see the National Maritime Museum and Garden for free. And finally don’t forget to admire the 19th-century restored ship- “Cutty Sark”.
Treat yourself to a ‘Black Cab’ ride for the ultimate British vibe
Who can forget the chase scene from ‘MI-Fallout’ or ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ on London roads in a Black Cab.
These cabs are costlier than Uber or any other road transport means, but don’t we deserve at least one ultimate British experience!
Crane Your Neck to Spot London’s Smallest Two Mice Statue at Eastcheap
Located on the corner building of Philpot Lane Eastcheap, London’s smallest statue of two mice fighting over cheese is admirable.
Standing tall or perhaps, low since 1892 A.D., this beautiful yet easily overlooked piece of art is not to be missed.
Map your way across London with easy to use apps
Map all the interesting places around and plan your day to cover the maximum places. You can mark places to shop, eat or even locate the nearest tube station with real time information and save time.
Check the season before you choose your traveling reason
London is a city of all seasons, but between March and May, the temperatures are soothing with blooms and divine fragrances.
Late spring along with summer is a time to witness photogenic foliage. With the sun setting around 10 PM, long days mean more time to absorb London vibes.
But escaping crowds in London is never a possibility.
Sunshine, shower, breezy or bold, London’s weather is never controlled
London weather can be unpredictable and a bit notorious year round. With sudden mist or showers, carrying a foldable umbrella is a must.
It is good to check the weather forecast for your travel dates and pack accordingly. Prefer wearing thin layers so you can comfortably adjust. Keep a cold cream handy to moisten your skin.
Know what to buy and gift back home
Starting from £1, London streets are full of amazing souvenirs.
Big Ben cufflinks, Fridge magnets and coasters or mugs with imprints of famous monuments like the London Eye, Westminster, Buckingham Palace and so on, Salt and Pepper spray in the shapes of telephone booths or double decker Red Bus. Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes or Union jack caps, T-shirts, tote bags, mugs and more.
Pick any and bring back smiles for family and friends.
London is expensive but tap water is clean and free
Tap water in London is one of the best quality waters in the world and is safe for drinking. More than 100 drinking water fountains are installed across the city. All pubs, bars, nightclubs and restaurants serve water for free.
So, carry a reusable bottle and keep refilling to save money and reduce carbon footprints
Enjoy your cuppa coffee with free Wi-Fi
Coffee shops, especially Starbucks, offer comfortable seating with free Wi-Fi and charging points.
So, you can excuse your backpack with an extra power bank while leaving for the day.
Show your gratitude and admiration by tipping
As a traveler it is polite to tip and show your appreciation for the services given at local cafes, restaurants or street food vendors.
Bars, pubs and clubs have tipping jars, but there it’s totally your call.
Display mannerisms with the three golden words – ‘Thanks’ ‘Please’ and ‘Sorry’
While in London, always follow basic courtesy rules. Yelling, waving or giving a loud call to the waiters will be impolite. Be patient and maintain a respectable distance while in a queue. ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Sorry’ should be used at the first given chance.
Eye contact in the King’s City is not Cool
Avoid direct eye contact or staring at any passer-by or person standing near you in a crowded place. This doesn’t mean that you cannot share eye gaze, just try not to be over friendly.
But in the countryside and suburbs, people are more helpful and friendly.
Pull your socks, it’s time to walk
Exploring London city means walking a lot. So, you should be ready with your comfortable but sturdy walking shoes. Wear cotton socks to avoid rashes or blisters due to excessive walking.
Capture your London memories by posing in a ‘Red Telephone Booth’
You will easily hit upon the iconic ‘Red Telephone Booth On London streets, especially on Parliament Street near Big Ben, Victoria embankment opposite the London Eye, Covent Garden market, St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Just be careful, the doors are really heavy and most of them are non-functional.
Skip the much overrated Oxford Street
You can skip the much talked about ‘Oxford Street’ shopping if you are not a ‘brand enthusiast’. It is an overrated luxury brand’s place, which you can easily find back home.
But around Christmas, the place is embellished with fancy decorations and becomes worth trying to enrich your Insta collection.
Local brands in London offer some unique and high-quality products
Try exploring local and British brands of stores for your shopping.
Cath Kidston for bags, Tea and biscuits from Fortnum & Mason and Mountain warehouse for outdoor clothing at reasonable prices are some good options.
There can be Luxury in Simplicity but not at ‘Harrods’
Harrods is another overrated luxury store you will find in London. But being a Limited Department Store it becomes worth visiting. The huge British architecture style building and amazing interiors make it exclusive and one of a kind.
You can buy some souvenirs like tea, biscuits, chocolates etc, instead of expensive merchandise.
‘Sipping’ and ‘chilling’ at 18 is permissible in London
The legal age for drinking in London is 18+. Also, children aged 16 – 17 are allowed to drink beer and cider with food, if they are accompanied by an adult.
So, don’t feel awkward or offended if you see people drinking openly in the gardens or on the roadside. It is an accepted practice.
Rise up early to dodge the crowd at Trafalgar
Trafalgar Square is a very busy place around midday, unlike what you must have seen in pictures.
Try to reach the place early in the morning or pre-lunch. Since it is a place for demonstrations, political rallies, etc , check the daily news to steer clear of crowds and click some gleeful pictures.
Walk pass ‘The Marble Arch’ to the astounding ‘Still Water’
Missing ‘The Marble Arch’, a 19th century amazing gateway located in the north- east corner of Hyde Park will be a mistake.
Walking through it you will be mesmerized by a giant 33 feet majestic bronze sculpture of a disembodied horse head in a drinking pose. It goes by the name of ‘Still Water’
Look out for some amazing combo deals at British supermarkets
Visiting famous British supermarkets like Sainsbury’s or Tesco for everyday shopping of fruits, packed food, bread, cheese, butter, biscuits, chocolate, water, beer etc is economical and fun at the same time.
You may be lucky and find some amazing combo deals.
Be a witness to the grandeur and glory of British Royalty at Buckingham Palace for free
Must-accommodate in your list is the ‘Changing the Guards’ ceremony at Buckingham Palace. It speaks of the pomp and extravagance of the British Royal Family.
This Free event takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 10:45 am onwards for around 45 minutes. So, be on time to secure a nice spot.
Enjoy the buzz, the whispers and the bustle of Camden Town
If you love a vibrant atmosphere, art, creativity, live music, food and vintage shopping, then Camden Town is the place for you. The buzz can be felt both during the day and night.
It is a multicultural area and home to celebrities like John Keats, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, J B Priestley and more.
Update your telephone directory with emergency numbers before visiting London
Dial 999 to contact police, fire services and ambulance services during emergencies.
Use 111 for non-emergency police services like stolen cars, witnessed something suspicious, minor traffic problems or injuries.
Know Useful Terminology Before Visiting London
Pence in London is “pee”, a pound becomes a “quid”. A five-pound note is a “fiver” & a ten-pound note is a “tenner.”
‘Cuppa’ for the British is a cup of tea, ‘knackered’ is tiered, ‘chips’ are French fries, ‘crisps’ are chips and the most important ‘loo’ is a bathroom.
So, try to learn some and download a translator to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Walk, Trot and Gallop in the Horse tunnel market of Camden Town
Built in 1925 to stable around 400 horses, this place is now the famous Horse tunnel market in Camden Town. You can still feel the vibes while passing across some majestic horse statues.
Besides multi cuisine food and vintage shopping, a bronze statue of ‘Amy Winehouse’ and 8 feet tall metal robotic statues guarding the clothing store ‘Cyberdog’ will certainly make it to your photo album.
Don’t miss a chance to indulge in savouring healthy and tasty local fruits
London markets are full of fruits like apples, plums, strawberries, cherries, etc. In fact, you can see lots of plum trees in the suburban areas.
Many local farmers sell their produce in small stalls or kiosks. Don’t hesitate to buy some fruits and juices from them. You might be amazed by the freshness.
Relish the taste of some exquisite ‘English spirit’ and beer
If you are not a teetotaller then try English spirit drinks ‘Gin’ and ‘Tonic’ offered in some unique flavours. But ‘beer’ is the most popular drink in London. You can enjoy some classic British beers like Newcastle Brown Ale, Harp Lager or Smithwick’s.
Remember to order in Pints. British pints are 20 fl oz. (568.26 ml)
Trim the fat: Stay in zone 5
Central London can be costly for staying. So, try Zone 5 of London, especially ‘Bexley’ for comfortable yet economical accommodation options.
This area is well connected through central London by buses and trains. You will have no problem commuting.
Be cautious while on London roads as vehicles have left hand drive
History says that the British wanted to keep their right hands free from swords, so they chose to hold the reins on the left.
The tradition continues and they drive left.
So, be careful while walking or crossing the roads. The wrong side can invite trouble.
Take a bird eye view from the London Cable Car
Installed in 2012, the London Cable car is fun with the breathtaking view of London while crossing the River Thames.
The IFS Cloud Cable Car runs between IFS Greenwich Peninsula and IFS Royal Docks. Tickets for round trip costs £12 per adult and £6 per child (5-15 yrs.). They even offer a family ticket of £30 for 2 adults and 3 children.
Walk left and stand on the right side of an elevator
You will have to use elevators in shopping malls, tube stations, etc.
Remember the basic rule of walking on the left and standing on the right side. Follow it all the time to avoid staring eyes.
You can’t be late in London! They have Big Ben right in the middle of the city!
Big Ben is a masterpiece of engineering and a working Clock. It chimes every hour with quarter bells ringing at an interval of 15 minutes.
Make sure that you are present around this magnificent Clock Tower and enjoy the glorious sound while it strikes.
You might encounter different electric sockets, so check before plugging in!
The electrical points in London are 220 to 240 Volts.
So, be careful while charging your gadgets to avoid any damage. It’s better to carry a universal adaptor with you all the time.
Keep your guard up!
London is a cosmopolitan city, always busy and generally safe for travelers. But like any other place in the world, you should try to be aware of your surroundings and take due precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
Save your cigarette: Brits prefer clean air!
Smoking at closed public places like restaurants, theaters, shopping areas, corridors, trains, buses, etc is a banned and punishable offence in London.
So, if you are a smoker, look out for a designated place.
Surprisingly, it is legal to smoke while driving.
Be punctual to enjoy the Timeless icon of London – ‘Tower Bridge’
Inaugurated in 1894 the Tower Bridge is open from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm seven days a week, except on 24,25,26 Dec and 1 Jan.
During summers (March 1 to October 30) the timings change to 9:00 am – 5:30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and 10:00 am – 5:30 pm for Monday and Sunday.
Check the Tower Bridge official site for the time of lift. You may be lucky and spot a beautiful ship.
Catch up on the timeline of the city at ‘The London Transport Museum’
London Transport Museum at Covent Garden has an amazing collection of 200 years of the city’s transit innovations. A journey from a 19th-century horse-drawn bus to the underground rail is beautifully displayed.
Children under 17 years of age go free and can explore some interactive vehicles, too.
Adventure awaits beyond the city boundaries
Explore under £100 day coach tours to the 5,000 years old world-famous Stonehenge, the historic city of Bath or the King’s royal residence of Windsor Castle.
Easily available online, they are a gateway to fun, adventure, breathtaking scenery and some iconic sights.
Soak yourself in History, Royalty and Theology at Westminster Abbey
Open for visitors, Mondays to Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Westminster Abbey combines history, royalty and theology in one magnificent triad
A site that is more than a thousand years old and witness to coronations, royal weddings and world famous burials, is not to be missed.
Tickle Your Tastebuds with a Lip smacking English Breakfast, Served Over Newspaper
At an average cost between £5-£20, a traditional English breakfast in England’s capital city will leave your taste buds gruntled.
Served formerly over a newspaper, this intrinsic Britain’s cultural fabric comprises fried eggs and bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, pudding and tea.
I hope my exhaustive yet interesting things to know before visiting London list helps you plan for your trip. Do let me know in the comments section how my tips and tricks worked out for you in England’s capital.