Are you visiting the UK for the first time? Or maybe just want to learn a few more tips before traveling to London? London quickly became one of our favorite cities with the seemingly endless attractions, great restaurants and pubs, and abundant shopping The hustle and bustle of the city is contagious, but there are a few things to know before visiting London for the first time.
Things to Know Before Visiting London
1. The UK uses the British Pound (£) which has recently lost a lot of ground against the US Dollar, making it a fabulous time for Americans to visit. While the value does fluctuate, the exchange rate at the time of writing this post is $1.25 to 1£!! That’s crazy! We visited 2 months ago and it was around $1.34 to 1£ and that was low. Seeing the rate drop even further, I’m seriously having a hard time writing and not looking at airfare instead!
2. Since we’re on the topic of money, lets talk about tipping. In restaurants, the average tip is 10-15%, although you need to confirm it hasn’t automatically been added to your bill. You can add the tip to your credit card, but cash is preferred. Not all establishments pass on the tips paid on a card to the servers. You’ll even see on some menus that all tips are given to the servers. Personally, I found this rather curious. I would have assumed the servers always got the tips, but apparently that is not the case.
You can tip the same 10-15% rate for taxis, but most people just round up or leave £1. Tip more if its a long ride or the driver helped with luggage.
You don’t tip at the pub if you’ve ordered drinks from the bar. However, if you are getting table serve you’ll want to tip.
3. Public transportation is great. The prices are fairly reasonable for buses and the tube. Just remember that there is NO cash on buses! An Oyster Card is your best bet and could save you up to 50% when compared to a single ticket. The daily cost maximum is £4.40 per day if you’re only using buses and trams AND use the same card for payment each time. If you were using single tickets or multiple forms of payment, you wouldn’t benefit from this daily maximum. You could also use a contactless card, but read the guidelines for this option first to ensure your credit card qualifies.
Not only are there peak times of the year to travel to London, there are also peak times of the day to travel within London on public transport . Peak times are Monday to Friday from 6:30am to 9:30am and from 4pm to 7pm. If you use public transport to travel outside of these times, you’ll save as the off-peak rate is much cheaper.
4. Traveling with kids? Kids under 11 are FREE and don’t need a Oyster photo card if traveling with an adult. When jumping on the tube, Lucy (9) just walked through the barricade with Derrick or myself. We preferred to use the larger barricades as the single close quickly – usually slamming into my arm.
Kids 11 – 15 get a reduced rate – just have a staff member at the tube or rail station set their Oyster card for the young visitor discount. This is a BIG savings, so take a few minutes to get their card set for the discounted rate.
5. Cars drive on the left so make sure to look the appropriate way when crossing the street! I also don’t suggest trying to drive in London. Driving outside of the city is fine, just avoid London if possible. I recently shared our road trip in England itinerary if you’re looking to get out of the city and explore more of the countryside.
6. Know the lingo – yes the Brits speak English, but all countries have their own slang and unique terms.
Money – You will usually hear the British say “pee” rather than pence, as in 25p (25 pee). You might also hear a pound referred to as a “quid”, a five pound note as a “fiver” & a ten pound note as a “tenner”.
A few more terms that you have likely heard but are worth noting:
Loo = bathroom (toilet is also acceptable)
Cheers = thanks
Lift = elevator
Queue = line
Bin = trash
Boot = trunk (used in the context of a car)
Fag = cigarette
Cashpoint = ATM
Trainers = tennis shoes
Zebra Crossing = Pedestrian Crossing
Chemist = Drug Store
Biscuit = cookie
Chips = french fries
Crisps = chips
Ground floor = first floor
Petrol = Gas
7. Come prepared to charge your devices – Bring an adaptor for the 3-pin UK outlets. The voltage is around 230V in the UK.
8. Another unique feature to the UK is the possible need to flip the switch on for an outlet to work. This isn’t like a light switch on the wall, the switch is literally on the electrical outlet.
9. For emergency, dial 999. I’ve learned it’s also important to know where the hospitals are located.
10. London can be expensive, so take advantage of the FREE London museums. Just leave a donation to help with the upkeep. You could easily spend days wandering the museums of London, but two must see’s are the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.
11. Inexpensive lunches can be purchased at Sainsbury, Boots, Co-op & Tesco supermarkets. These meal deals cost around £3 and consist of a sandwich, a snack (such as chips (crisps), fruit or chocolate) and a drink. However, I’ve heard Tesco isn’t as good.
12. Another great spot to eat for only a few pounds, is the Camden Market. Here you’ll find food from around the world at great prices in addition to stalls selling a variety of goods.
13. Other good markets in London include Portobello Road Market for antiques, fashion and fruits and veggies. Also, there is Brick Lane Market, for antiques, fashion, arts & crafts and street food.
14. Eat an English Breakfast – the traditional English breakfast consists of two eggs, bacon, toast, baked beans and a baked tomato. Derrick was a happy man with this breakfast every morning! My mom tells us horror stories of how she lost 5 lbs on her trip to England 20+ years ago. While the mediocracy of English food may have been true years ago – that is not that case today! I think I gained 5 lbs during our recent trip!
15. Some of the top city attractions include The London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Tate Museum. You’ll also want to save time to explore the South Bank of the Thames River. There is so much to see on this side of the water!
Don’t miss our reading our top Family Attractions in London – most of these ideas will be perfect for teens and adults as well.
16. Get out of the tourist areas and explore some of London’s neighborhoods. Chelsea, Notting Hill, Brixton, Hampstead and Battersea just to name a few. Each neighborhood has unique architecture, shopping and dining options.
17. Take advantage of your smartphone and download the London App. The app provides directions, recommendations, history and more.
18. Try to plan time during your trip to get outside of London and see more of the UK. Visit Windsor, Bath, Brighton, Wales, Oxford and the Cotswolds. The UK is so much more than it’s capital city, so take time to see some of the beautiful country. You’ll thank me later.
19. While you’re getting out of the city, why not be a prince or princess for a night and stay in a castle in England. It was one of our favorite experiences during our recent trip. I now have the castle bug and want to see how many more castle hotels we can stay in.
20. Get a comprehensive guide to London such as the Lonely Planet London guide book to help with more trip planning such as what to see and what to skip. The book also includes insider tips to save time and money, allowing you to get around like a local!
21. A bonus tip to save money and get fast entry access into attractions is to purchase the The London Pass. It’s an all-inclusive sightseeing card, that grants pass holders free entry to the top London attractions. There are 5 durations to choose from (1, 2, 3, 6 & 10 days) and pass holders can enter as many of the tourist attractions included on the pass that they wish to, without paying.
The key benefits of The London Pass are:
- Free entry to 60+ attractions (including Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey…)
- Fast track entry to popular attractions
- Free hop on hop off bus tour
- Added Oyster Travelcard option
- Free 160+ page guidebook
- Money back guarantee
- Additional special offers
London is a vibrant and exciting city that is high on most travelers bucket list. Now is the perfect time to visit with the pound being at it’s lowest point in 30 years. Let your money stretch further and visit the British capital now. Just tuck these London travel tips into your pocket to make the most of of your trip.
For my crafty readers, I found this awesome London City Memories Scrapbook Kit while browsing around. Lucy is getting ready to work on her UK photo album.
What other ideas can you recommend for things to know before visiting London?