12 things that you should know before going to London

London is easily one of the most visited cities in the world. With millions of travellers and locals mixing, London is vibrant, noisy, busy and so very exciting. There is so much on offer that it will take a lifetime to completely explore this gem of a city.

Today, I thought that I would pen down some of my top tips for you.  Things that you should know to better prepare yourself for the experience that is London.

Big Ben, London

1. London is Expensive

This should not be a surprise and you may think you are prepared for it, but you are not. London is majorly expensive.

But before I go any further, I am going to retract slightly and mention that if you are Australian, then the cost of goods is actually quite similar to places like Melbourne and Sydney. A nice dinner (think Dishoom) will cost around 60 pounds (approx. 100 dollars) for two people (no drinks), which is equivalent to how much you would spend in Australia.

The Orange Sunday Roast Menu Prices

The most expensive element in London is the accommodation. If you want to stay a decent distance from central London, then you are going to pay for it.

This brings me to my next point, which is Location.

 

2. Where you decide to stay, will make or break your trip

London is massive. Absolutely gigantic.  So you need to choose your accommodation strategically.

The first time we visited London, we stayed in the business district area (near the Tower of London), and that is actually not a bad location. Except that the things we wanted to do were in central London, and we were having to commute 30 plus minute to get into town.

Due to the huge price difference between weekend and during the week, we decided that it was a good idea to switch hotel for our last night and thus wasted 3 hours (of prime sightseeing time).

Gah.. the things you learn.

My point here is that while accommodation is very expensive and that is quite tempting to stay further out of central London, you will be wasting valuable time having to commute to and from your hotel (even if you just need to go change for dinner).

Tip: Bite the bullet and book an accommodation closer to your area of interest. Just make sure to book early to get the best deals.

3. Plan your Journey

If I have not already said it enough, LONDON IS GINOURMOUS (this is definitely a word in my dictionary☺).

Given the sheer size of this place, planning your journey is key and knowing how to get around is primordial. I have also written a post of the apps you need to have in your arsenal to navigate the transport system in London.

Just make sure to get your bearings (by using Google Maps), before you get there.

4. Pick and choose your activities.

There is so much to do in London that you simply cannot do it all in one visit. My advice is to mix some of the must do sightseeing and some more off-the-beaten track activities.

Make sure to group your activities so that you don’t waste time travelling between sights.

5. Thursday is one of the best days to be in London

Why? Because Londoners tend to socialise more on Thursday nights, especially in Spring and Summer. Pubs and rooftop bars are filled with locals as opposed to fellow tourists.

Furthermore, shops are opened until 10pm, so more time for shopping.  Also you can shop when sights are closed for the day (a very efficient use of time).

6. Shopping

Talking about shopping, if you want to escape the mad rush of Oxford Street, you could head to nearby Carnaby Street for a more enjoyable experience. The other places that are worth shopping at is Covent Garden (aka one of my favourite spots in London), Kings Road or Regent Street.

Markets are also a great place to shop at. I would highly recommend Borough market for food and Camden market.

Borough Market, London

7. No need to Tip

There is absolutely no need to tip at restaurants in London. Restaurants and bars will add a 12.5% service charge to your bill. This charge is “optional”, so you can ask for it to be removed, but they make it hard enough that is totally embarrassing to.

Make sure to account for the service charge when you order, especially if you are on a budget.

8. Sunday Roast

If you happen to be in London on a Sunday, then you must go for a Sunday roast. This is one of the most revered British traditions and most restaurants will have their own version.

I would highly recommend going to The Orange and Blacklock Soho. It is a good idea to make a reservation as the good places are always booked out.

Sunday roast in London

9. Museums are free

You read that right, museums are free in London. My favourite museum is definitely the British Museum as it has a good selection of historical artifacts. Other ones worth checking out are the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and the Saatchi Gallery.

10. Have a quick lunch to maximise on your sightseeing time

Ok, this tip is not London specific. In general when I travel, I tend to have quick lunches and breakfast to maximise on sightseeing time. I would have more leisurely dinners once everything is shut for the day.

The London part to this tip are recommendations for where you can have said quick lunches. I would highly recommend Homeslice pizzas in Covent Garden. You can have pizzas by the slice or a giant pizza for two. If you are not around Covent Garden, then Tesco and Mark and Spencer do amazing quick and cheap lunches.

11. It will rain

There is no getting around it, it will probably (definitely) rain if you are in London for a couple of days. Londoners seems to be always prepared for it to rain (especially in winter) and pop out an umbrella at the first sight of rain. If it does rain while you are there, then do yourself a favour and avoid the cheap £2 umbrellas from the tourist shops. Buy a decent one and keep it as a souvenir. We bought one from Oliver Bonas for £15 and it is still going strong a year later whereas the cheap one we bought died two minutes after we walked out of the shop.

12. The Heathrow Express is not always worth it.

If you are flying into London, then you will be wondering how to get to town and by now you might have heard about the Heathrow Express. What you might not have heard about is the Piccadilly Line servicing Heathrow airport. The Heathrow express costs 25 pounds (one way) as opposed to 2.5 pounds for the tube.

I have written a post comparing the two services including the cost breakdown and pros and cons for each service.
Know before you go, London

I hope that you found these tips useful. If there anything that I have missed? Do you have any tips for people going to London? Let me know in the comments below.

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