- Buy an Oyster card for each person in your group. An Oyster card gets you on the underground and busses. It’s a plastic card that can be topped up at any underground station and most news agents. Beware, the tube is quite expensive, but thanks to the tube map very easy to navigate. Buses can be a bit more of a challenge but are far cheaper. To figure out bus rides click here for the very handy Transport for London route planner. You may have already done this but download the City Mapper app on your phone, it’ll drain the battery but will help get you around. Tube etiquette: stand on the right when riding the escalators and let people out of the carriages first. If you don’t you will be subjected to a drive-by of tutting. London is a great walking city, but it is very spread out and there are places you will likely want to visit that are not in the centre.
- The City of London is not the city of London. The City of London or Square Mile as it’s sometime known is home to the financial sector and not the city centre. The tourist centre of London radiates out from Piccadilly Circus.
- Ask a Londoner. If you know someone who lives in London, ask them where they would take someone on their first visit and be clear you don’t mean Madame Tussauds or Buckingham Palace. Now you may want to go to those two places but there are a lot of hidden gems out there that are not always in the tourist guides. My suggestions? The Courtauld Gallery and the Brick Lane Bagel Bake.
- London can seem very expensive, but there’s lots of free stuff. Most of the major museums and art galleries are free and just ask for donations, which if you are poverty struck backpacker you may eschew. But of course, you’ll make up for that in later life when you have a job, right? Tate Galleries, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, National Gallery and many more – all free.
- West End theatres are very expensive so check out local theatres such as The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. If you want to see a West End show, then try the Tix app where with persistence you can see shows for a little as £15. Top tip: At the Old Vic you can often get standing tickets for less than £10. An usher will usually allow you to take a seat as inevitably someone won’t show up or the place is not sold out.
- Despite what some people think, Londoners are friendly. Ask for directions and advice and you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people are. Just check to see whether they’re wearing earphones. Having said that don’t be dumb as pickpocketing and other scams do exist and there’s been an epidemic of kids riding mopeds, snatching phones from people’s hands. Use your common sense, watch your valuables and you should be fine.
- Go to the parks, they are free, provide us with air we breathe and are beautiful. My particular favourite, which most tourists don’t visit is Battersea Park, but right in the centre you have Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Green Park and St James’s, plus a host of smaller green spaces. As much as I love the place this is where we beat New York hands down as they only have Central Park.
- Time Out, once the great listings magazine, is a shadow of its former self but still a handy resource. It’s now a free publication (available in print on a Tuesday) go here for the online version.
- Don’t eat at chain restaurants, though I have to admit I’m quite often found inside Pret a Manger at lunchtime. There are thousands of small eateries waiting for your custom. Seek them out in the neighbourhood you are staying in. And at least once, eat a Full English Breakfast.
10. Speak English! Here’s a quick guide.
- Loo means toilet or bathroom/washroom
- Ta means thank you as does cheers
- Chips are french fries and crisps are potato chips
- Petrol is gas
- The Boot of a car is the trunk
- Fag is a cigarette
- A biscuit is a cookie
- A hole in the wall is a cash machine or ATM
- The underground or tube is the subway or metro
- Queuing up means standing in line
Readers very kindly sent in some of their own tourist suggestions
Dawn: I would check the walking distance in between tube stops as sometimes it is far quicker to walk between stops than catch a busy tube! Here’s a handy map.
Jester: Visit some of the smaller art galleries and museums such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the Geffrye Museum in Hackney. For something different there is Hackney city farm about two streets from that museum. Another good city farm is at Mudchute on the DLR. If all else fails, go to Manze’s Pie ‘n’ Mash on Tower Bridge Road.
Dawn: Visit Box Park in Shoreditch and have a drink upstairs in the fresh air! It’s a shopping arcade built out of shipping containers with an open top bar that sells lovely Caribbean food.
Tony: I’d suggest St Paul’s Cathedral – the inside is incredible and you can climb up to a small platform at the top of the dome with fantastic views over London. It’s just over 500 steps up so it’s a tough climb. They do guided tours which are well worth going on. You get to see places like the stairs used in the Harry Potter films and hear lots of stories about the history of the cathedral. If you keep your ticket you can go back for free up to a year later.