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.
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.
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