Visiting London for the first time? These are 10 important things you should know before you get here.
You can watch the video above for all of this information, but this post also has some updates made September 2022.
1. They drive on the left
Drivers and cars are on the left side of the road here, which is the opposite of most countries around the world. It can be a little confusing sometimes, so to be safe, make sure you check both ways before crossing the street, or look for the “Look Left” or “Look Right” indicators written on the crosswalks so you know where to look.
2. Some words are pronounced differently
As you can imagine, even if you’re a native English speaker, there are quite a few words and phrases that are pronounced differently than you would expect. Here are some examples:
- Greenwich = Gren-ITCH
- Leicester Square = LESS-ter Square
- Westminster = Wes-min-ster NOT West-mini-ster
- River Thames = River temz
3. Order beer and cider by the pint
When you go up to the bar at a pub and want to order yourself a beer or a cider from the tap, you’d usually say “I’d like a pint of [brand]” or “a half-pint of [brand]”. The British pint, at 20 fluid oz, is bigger than the American, which is 16 oz. If you’re ordering something in a bottle, just say “a bottle of [brand]”.
Not only are pints bigger here, British beers tend to have more alcohol in them than in the US, so if you’re used to cheap American beer, keep that in mind before you down a few!
4. Tipping in London restaurants
If you’re in a restaurant in London and the bill comes with a service charge, you don’t need to tip on top of that. If it doesn’t, 10% tip is just fine if the service was ok. If you had terrible service, the service charge already added to the bill is optional (no matter what they try to say) so just pay the amount on the check before the service charge was added. If you’re American, remember that service in the UK is not to the standard that we’re used to in the US, so try to be patient. Even though I’ve had many times in restaurants where I’ve been frustrated with service, I’ve only not paid service/tip a handful of times.
Read next: When Do You Tip In London? A London Tipping Guide
5. Figure out public transportation with CityMapper
CityMapper is a great app that will tell you all of your options for getting from point A to point B on London’s public transportation, including taxis and bike. Google Maps is also a good alternative, but the one thing that CityMapper does better than Maps is that it tells you how much each journey option will cost, so if you’re pinching pounds, it’s pretty helpful. It also has a “rain safe” option for when you’re trying to avoid getting soaked.
6. The UK uses £££
In London and the rest of the UK, the currency is the pound (£). 100 pence = 1 pound. Pence are also sometimes called “p”, as in, the total is 5 pounds and 50 p (said “pee”). If you hear someone say “quid”, it’s slang for pound. A “fiver” is a five pound note/bill (or just, 5 pounds in general), and a “tenner” is 10 pounds.
The smallest paper note is five pounds, and there are £2 and £1 coins, plus coins for £.50, £.20, £.05, £.02, and £.01.
7. Use an Oyster Card on public transporation
Cash tickets are expensive in London, so you’ll need a card to use public transportation.
Many Londoners and visitors to London use an Oyster Card, which you add credit to in order to pay for your transportation rides. You can also use a debit or credit card with the contactless payment feature, or Apple Pay/Google Pay. Learn more about Oyster Cards in London.
When using the public transportation system, there’s a daily cap, which means, depending on how many zones you’ve traveled through, you will only pay a certain amount per day, and once you’ve reached that amount, the rest of your travel for the day is free. Learn more about London’s zones.
If you’re in London for 7 days, it might make more sense for you to get a 7-day travel card. Find out if that’s the best option for you to save some money.
8. Take a double-decker bus when you can
If CityMapper is telling you that taking a bus is an option that won’t slow you down too much to get to your destination, then do it! Hop on and grab a seat at the top of the bus, at the front if you can. You might see some major London landmarks.
When you get on a bus, get on at the front and tap your Oyster card on the card reader next to the driver. You don’t need to tap again when you get off.
Read next: 10 Things to Know Before Taking a London Bus
9. Get GBP before you arrive
I have a whole video about what to do about getting and spending pounds when in London, and in it I tell you that I encourage you to not have too much cash on you, and to bring cash in pounds and not your native currency. Otherwise you’ll have to exchange it here which is quite annoying.
10. Use Uber/Free Now/ Black Cabs when you need a car
London’s black taxis are an institution and an icon for the city. They used to be very behind the times when it comes to cost, environmental impact, safety and convenience, but this all has changed in the past few years. The cost is now very similar to the other platforms, we have tons of electric cabs, and they are easily available through some apps.
Obviously, the price you will pay for a taxi or Uber will vary significantly depending on how far you need to travel, if there’s a fare surge due to high demand, the size of the car you need, and more. But if you’ve got a specific route that you want to get a roundabout price for, you can use Google Maps. Just enter your route, adjust for travel time (to account for traffic etc.) and click the little icon of the person with their hand up and holding a bag, and that will give you some price estimates for services like Gett and FreeNow.
Three apps I use for calling taxis are Gett (best for black taxis and generally cheap during Uber surges), Uber and FreeNow.
Discount codes you can use for new users:
- Gett: GTILQJQ
- FreeNow: mnk4lv5c5
More London tips:
- 8 Great Areas to Stay in While Visiting London
- 9 Cool Things to Do in Shoreditch, London
- 7 Things to Do in London’s Covent Garden
great tips Jess, totally agree about using the bus as much as possible – an afternoon spent on the top deck of a bus is an afternoon well spent 🙂 BUT enough of this wet London already! Did you know that it is only the 33rd wettest capital city in Europe!!! Only if you are measuring square tourist rain inches ie the numer of tourists experiencing the rain over the widest area of roads does it make the top of any list… and yes “square tourist rain inches” exist – I created them! 🙂
HAHAH! I love love LOVE your enthusiasm. Ok so maybe I’m a bit dramatic, but it definitely rains more than any place I’ve ever lived… although Antwerp, Belgium comes close.
I guess that is why it has so many free museums to dash into mid shower.
Hello! My sister and I are traveling not to London this weekend. I have a couple questions:
Best (party) hostel to stay to visit sites and go out?
Is it better to get an Oyster card to pay for a hop on hop off tour bus for a 3 day trip?
Any fun sites we wouldn’t think of going?
Hi Evelyne, thanks for commenting! So, to be honest I don’t know much about the hostels here. I stayed at Generator once but I don’t know if I’d call it a party hostel, although it has a great bar. It’s also a little out of the way, in Kings Cross (although great transport links). So, you can’t use an Oyster Card for a Hop on Hop off tour, you can only use it on public transportation buses, but I would still recommend getting it if you want to use public transport and the Underground. In terms of sites– depends on what you’re looking for/what you like!
Hi! This video was really helpful, thanks! We will be visiting London in May for 5 days! We will be traveling with our 18 month old son. We would like to stay somewhere close the the tourist areas so that we don’t have to travel 30 + minutes every night and morning. What is a good neighborhood to stay in? Also, how often do you need cash on hand? Can you use a credit card for most everything?
Hi there, so glad you found it helpful! So the hotels in this post are in good areas, however travel time will differ depending on what you’re hoping to do and see– it’s a big ole city here! http://loveandlondon.com/8-stylish-hotels-in-london-that-cost-less-than-150-per-night/ Personally, I think staying in West London is probably better than East London if you have a child, but it really depends– if you’re looking for quirky, unique spots, East London might be better for you. You can use a card for almost everything, except some black taxis don’t take them (so annoying– that’s why I use Uber, as I mentioned in my video!) I hope this helps 🙂
This is awesome. My husband just surprised me with a trip to London this summer. I’m so excited but I’ve never been before, so this is super helpful.
What a GREAT husband! You will love it here in the summer. I’m so glad you found this helpful, do look at my other London videos and blog posts for more tips and tricks 🙂
Hi Jess, I’ll be visiting London for 3 days this Oct. 29-Nov. 1 so these tips will surely come in handy. Anything special that happens Halloween season? How cold will it be then? Will be sure to read all your guides and tips. 🙂
Hi Kat! Halloween isn’t MASSIVE here like I’ve experienced in the states but there’s still lots to do, check Timeout London before you come and see what you might want to do! It will be fairly chilly so I’d bring warm clothes — sweaters, heavy jacket… although sometimes we get freakishly nice weather, so do check a couple of days before you come. Thanks for taking the time to comment Kat, let me know if you have any more questions!
Hi Jess. Thanks for your video. My husband and I will be spending two weeks in August in London. We will be going to Bath and also taking a ferry to France. The front and end of the trip will be in London. Any places (not touristy) you would recommend? Also, any advice on driving in England? We will use public transportation while in London.
Hi Anna Marie, thanks so much for watching my video! You should have some nice weather when you visit in August, hopefully! It’s hard to give suggestions since there’s so much to do and see, and everyone’s travel style is different, but if you head to my Youtube channel, take a look at the London tips and advice playlist. Watch my videos with AWOL which will give you some great suggestions to start with. I hope that helps, and be sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel because I’ll be creating new London videos over the next few weeks/months. Youtube.com/loveandlondon
Loved the video! My husband and I will be visiting London (our first ever overseas, period!) for the first time this fall! We are flying into Gatwick but plan on staying in central London near the Charing Cross station. How should we get from the airport to that area? I plan on getting the visitor Oyster card or the 7 day travel card (still a bit confused about those!) Also, we will be there 10 days, and would love to see as much as possible but I am concerned about lagging our luggage all around. Should we stay put (hotel wise) in London and do day trips (Bath and Cambridge for sure, other suggestions?) or should we use train/rental/other and spend nights elsewhere? As you can see, I’m totally clueless about all of this! 🙂 Thanks!!!
Hi Megan, thanks for watching my video 🙂 You’ll want to take the Gatwick Express to Victoria (http://www.gatwickexpress.com/) then take the tube to Charing Cross station (won’t take long at all!) There’s TONS to do in London so it depends on what kind of trip you want to do. There are lots of places nearby that you might want to spend more than a day at (Bath and Cambridge could be on that list!) so it just depends on if you want to always head back to London. You could also try staying a few days in West London, then a few days in East London, to switch it up (I have a post suggestion stylish hotels on the blog, just have a look for it!) For other places you can go, Brighton is lovely but only when the weather is nice (not sure when in the fall you’re visiting). Phew, I hope that helps just a bit…?
Thanks so much for the awesome video, Jess! We’re going to London this September (1st timers)! What should we expect the weather to be like that time of year? Pretty rainy?
Also, do you have any restaurant or pub suggestions that are a must?
Thanks again so much for your advise! –Maddie
Thanks for watching! The weather will be a bit chillier but you never really know about rain/temp until a few days before but I’d definitely expect to be wearing trousers and light jackets. Some of my favourite food spots are in this post: http://loveandlondon.com/7-food-spots-in-london-worth-visiting/ Have a lovely trip and be sure to check out the rest of my London posts/ Youtube videos for more London tips 🙂
YAY! Thanks so much Jess!
Thank you so much for these tips. They’re super helpful.
I’m going to be studying abroad in London for the Fall semester and I wanted to know more about accessing money abroad and using a phone in another country. I’m considering setting up an account with Citibank so I can access my money there, and I was going to talk to my phone provider about using my phone abroad. It will be my first time living in another country so if you have any advice on that please let me know 🙂
Hi Lyra, thanks for your comment! You’ll love studying abroad here. I wouldn’t bother with using your phone on an international plan because it will cost you an arm and a leg. Will your school be providing you with a pay-as-you-go phone? There’s wifi all over the place here so you’d be find without paying the hefty international feed. In my experience the best way to get money here is to get a debit card for your bank account that allows you to withdraw cash internationally without flat ATM fees or international fees. There are a couple of options here: http://theabroadguide.com/how-to-calculate-the-cost-of-your-study-abroad-semester/ Hope that helps!
Hi Jess! I am so happy I found your videos.. they are helpful and make me so excited for my first trip to London! I am from the U.S. but will be studying abroad at the London School of Economics for 6 weeks this summer. I will be living within walking distance from campus but want to use transportation on the weekends. Do you think I should purchase an Oyster card or what’s my best option for weekend travels? (Also planning to go to Paris one weekend!)
Any advice is appreciated- thanks!!
Hi Sarah, congrats on your study abroad trip, you’ll have such a great time! I would definitely get an Oyster card, the regular ones only cost a £5 refundable deposit (although your program might supply you with one). If you want to go to Paris, I’d look into booking the Eurostar ASAP, as the prices will get quite high for the summertime! Hope that helps.
Hey Jess! Your blog is a life saver! My roomie and I are coming to visit May 26-June 9th. I want to fit in as much as we can while we are there. We’re going to rent Airbnbs to stay – what neighborhoods should we look into? I want to take the bus and tube, so the longer lasting Oyster card will be the way we go.
We were looking for a couple of days on a beach somewhere and also a trip to Shakespeare land (Stratford upon Avon?). Do you have an suggestions?
Also, I have an amazon fire phone. When I was in Taiwan, I bought a sim card with a data plan and used it as a wifi-hotspot so I could access the internet and maps and converters at all times. What store should I pop in to get one of these?
Hi Morgan! Oh I’m so glad I can help 🙂 I’ve got a couple new videos about London going live this week on my Youtube channel so be sure to be subscribed, I know you’ll find them useful. There are LOTS of great neighborhoods to stay in in London, I wouldn’t worry TOO much about where you’re staying as long as it has good transportation options– mainly, near a tube stop, preferably that has more than one line. This post: http://loveandlondon.com/8-stylish-hotels-in-london-that-cost-less-than-150-per-night/ is hotels not Airbnbs but all of the hotels listed are in decent areas to stay in, or are just really connected! Beach-wise– are you looking to stay in England? The beaches here aren’t terribly nice (they’re ok but I have high standards for beaches!), but you can take the train from London to Brighton, which is a seaside city, and it also has some nice shops and restaurants. And finally, you can get SIM cards from most grocery and convenience stores– you can probably grab one at the airport too!
Hi Jess, thanks for this information, it is very helpful! I’m traveling to London (1st time) in June. What is the weather like? Is it easy to get to the different sites if we are driving? We rented a car.
Hi Cate, thanks so much for watching! The weather can vary between cool and quite warm, so you’ll need to check the forecast before you come so you can pack accordingly. Will you be driving the rental car to places other than London? I highly recommend NOT having a rental car in London. It’s terribly expensive to park, there are congestion charges to drive around Monday-Friday (I think it’s £11/day), and you’ll hit tons of traffic and won’t find anywhere to park if you’re trying to drive between sites– is that what you were planning? Just go with public transportation– way easier! Hope that helps.
Hi Jess ~ your thoughts please ~ adults visiting London for 2 days before British Isles Cruise ~ list of musts: parliament, war rooms, Westminster (day 1). St. Paul’s, Tower of London & Buckingham palace tour (day 2), this is on a Sunday. Question 1 – is Sunday a good day for this grouping? Question 2 – should we pay for these individually before we come or try something like the London Pass 2 day? We are staying outside of London & coming in on the train ~ thanks for your ideas
Hi Cindy! So I’m not a huge “tourist attraction” person so I don’t have a ton of knowledge in this, but I’ll try to help. I’m sure seeing those places on any day is fine, just keep in mind that Sundays will be very crowded in the summer. As for the London Pass, you’ll need to compare the price of each attraction with what the cost of the pass is– if many of the things you want to see is on the pass then it’s probably worth getting it, plus it comes with lots of other discounts too.
We are traveling to London over the Christmas Holiday this year with a friend who is native to the UK. Is it cheaper for us to purchase an oyster card, or would it be cheaper for her to purchase it with her UK resident account?
Hi Lainie! This week’s video will actually answer that exact question for you— look out for it on Thursday! youtube.com/loveandlondon
Love this video and want to subscribe but where?
Hi Carla! You can click the red Subscribe button on my channel: Youtube.com/loveandlondon
The Uber code doesn’t work.
Hi Carolina, just checked the code and that’s the right one and should work if you’ve never used Uber before. If it’s still not working, just contact customer service and they’ll be able to help! They have very good customer service.
We are experiencing a very warm winter here in the Midwest. How about you all? We are coming to London at the end of this month so we were wondering what we should pack.
Hi April, I hope you were able to watch my videos about weather in London and packing in London? I hope they helped!
Retired Grandma planning Solo trip to London
Planning a trip to London in 2018, I have two questions:
1 – how much cash would you suggest for a 15 – 20 day trip – planning on using credit cards for large purchases £10 or more ( or do I need to increase this to £20)
2 – I have noticed that sightseeing places that charge offer discounts if purchased online’ I plan on staying at an airbnb and will have my laptop but no printer, will send receipts sent to my phone but will this be an accept receipt; or is there any places to print email receipts?
Thanks in advance for your help
Love your you tube videos and blogs
Hi Donna! Don’t worry too much about the cash. Have maybe £40 on you every day for random bits. Then you can take out more cash as needed. You’ll have to check with each site on the printed thing, as they’ll differ. On your phone should be fine for most.
Boy am I glad I found you! I’m taking my daughter to London next week for her 16th birthday. I plan on spending lots of time watching your videos before we leave. I’m thinking of doing a day trip to Paris. Do you have any expert advise on that?
Thanks so much.
Hi Debbie! 🙂 I don’t recommend a day trip to Paris. It’s too far and Paris is very big so you’ll be exhausted if you only spend a few hours there before catching your train back. Make it at least a couple of days or leave it for another trip.
Hi Jess! I liked your video! I´m visiting London for the first time this December (I want to see the Christmas decorations 🙂 I´m a little confused about the oyster card, I´m going to stay 11 days, so, what do you recommend me? also, what do you think about the weather? is it really too cold?
Thank you Berenice! I have a couple of videos to help you with all of this in this Youtube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6u96nZN-L_ao52yOCcYXgaV-JalLZag1 Have a watch!
Hi Jess. Wow. This is the best information I’ve come across so far, so helpful! Thank you! We are planning our first trip to London for Christmas this year and I’m going to watch and re-watch all the videos you have to offer!!
So happy to help Ruthi!! 🙂