England’s capital: It’s one of the most visited and multicultural cities in the world. London is full of history, culture and, of course, plenty of pubs. Unfortunately it’s somewhat difficult, not to mention expensive, to travel there from the States, requiring a lot of planning and saving. But once there it is so worth the jet-lag and eight-hour flight. So, if you’re lucky enough to be visiting in the near future or even in the distant one, here are some tips and places we recommend that you check out while in The Smoke.
When to Visit
The stereotype is very much true. It always rains in London, whether it’s summer or winter. That being said, London does often experience a short, but sweet week or two of sunshine in the summer months. Most of the time it’s warm enough to enjoy the outdoors, although it can still turn chilly when visiting in the summertime. Just remember to pack a few jeans and jumpers (a.k.a sweaters). Another time to go is during the buildup to Christmas. Londoners love Christmas which will become evident through all the lights and decorations adorned around the city, like in the main shopping area Oxford Street.
Where to Stay
London is full of gorgeous hotels and when visiting a city it’s best to be closest to the main part of it and not have to travel an hour for each outing! Covent Garden, known for its cobbled streets and centuries old pubs has plenty of affordable hotels and Air B&B’s, but if you’re wanting something more comfortable, visit the boutique Radisson Blue Hotel on Mercer Street. This location is close to the Tube station, West End theatre shows and a walk away from Oxford Street. For a less hectic area, with classic white Georgian houses and architecture, stay at The Laslett hotel in Chelsea. Near Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, The British Museum and a five minute walk to Notting Hill High Street where that famous bookshop sadly closed down, but the Portobello Market opens most days.
What to Eat
Britain isn’t internationally renowned for its traditional food like other neighbouring European countries. Yet, there is more to British cuisine than Fish N Chips. Try savoury pies, filled with meats and gravy and other staples that are most likely also covered in gravy. Thankfully, there are other options and since the influx of Indian immigrants decades ago, Indian restaurants are ubiquitous in the London area, and have made the curry the most eaten dish in England. There is a strong belief that the Chicken Tikka Masala was actually originated in either Glasgow or Birmingham. Similarly, Jamaican food was made popular after the Windrush generation and is a must try for those visiting the city. Side note: a lot of these restaurant will offer BYO alcohol!
Other than restaurants, London’s street food has seemingly boomed in recent years with the rise of trucks and a preference for low-key dining experiences. However, some markets such as Borough Market that has been running most days since 1851, are long-standing food hubs. The market is full of fresh produce and an array of various food and drink options, from fresh oysters to Paella to a champagne bar. If you go, make sure to try Kappacasein, a French cheese stand offering raclette.
Museums to Visit
The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament and other sights are great to see for first timers, but once the Instagram photo has been taken and a suitable amount of time admiring them has passed, you might be left with a, “Now what?” feeling. Of course, seeing Big Ben IRL is an experience every visiting Londoner should do, even if most people have seen it many times already in films and photos. Still, museums are a must do. London holds some of the world’s most unique items, like Cleopatra and an Easter Island head! And although there are many debates around Britain rightfully returning certain stolen items to their countries, they are pretty impressive to see. Most museums have free entry, not including certain exhibitions. Visit the Natural History Museum, The V&A, The Tate Modern along the Thames, National Gallery and as previously mentioned, the British Museum.
Where to Shop
For a more familiar shopping trip, try Oxford Street, Covent Garden or the Westfield shopping centres, where there are globally recognised brands, such as Urban Outfitters, Zara, H&M and others akin to those like the well-known, inexpensive clothing store Primark. However, if making the most of being in a foreign place with a different variety of clothing sounds more appealing try vintage shopping. London is famous for it! There are multiple areas with rows upon rows of musty-smelling, one of a kind finds all over the city. Camden, although swamped with tourists on busy days, has plenty of vintage shops and street food to enjoy. One of London’s favourite store there is Rokit, which has been open since the 80’s. Rokit even recycles certain second-hand products into new garments! Try Brick Lane, that’s the perfect mix of Indian restaurants, bars and thrift shops.
For a completely unusual and distinct shopping trip, take a small side street off Reagent Street to Liberty, where they have every high-end designer brand and vintage items from the turn of the 20th century! Walk a few more steps and find yourself in the 60’s hangout Carnaby Street, full of quirky restaurants and boutiques.
City Etiquette and Tips
All cities abide by certain unofficial rules. One that is almost universal is the no eye contact rule on public transportation. Londoners have an unfair reputation of being unfriendly and although they might not say Hello to every passing stranger. This isn’t entirely true, they’re just awkward. Most locals are willing to help out visitors with directions. But, don’t expect to strike up a conversation on the Tube.
Make sure to stand on the right of escalators, to let busy people pass on the left. Londoners are especially passionate about that rule and will probably tut and anyone oblivious to it.
Expect to hear the word Sorry a lot and if said by a stranger, the courteous reply is Sorry. Even if there’s nothing to be sorry about. Even if nothing is anyone’s fault, say it.
Buy an Oyster card if using the Tube. They are cheaper and they won’t slow down queues behind you when inserting Day Passes. Additionally, respect queues.
Restaurant workers and staff are paid hourly, and unlike in the U.S can survive on this and don’t require tips. Some may appreciate an extra 5 pounds but it isn’t necessary. Last but not least: Tourists, please watch where you are going! Do not stop in a middle of a street at rush hour to check directions on your phone. You will be bumped into if the crowds can’t stop in time. Oh, and don’t walk at a leisurely pace and block the pavement either if people are wanting to get past.