1. Pack an Umbrella
Unless you are visiting during the few gloriously sunny days of the year, you are going to see rain while you’re in London. Luckily, rain showers tend to be light and sporadic, so don’t worry about a steady downpour. Pack an umbrella (a brolly, if you will) small enough to fit in your purse, so you can continue sightseeing uninterrupted in the event of a surprise shower.
2. Don’t pack rain boots
While you should definitely pack an umbrella, rain boots are unnecessary. Rain isn’t usually going to be heavy enough to cause large puddles or mud, so boots will be cumbersome and waste much needed suitcase space. To protect your shoes, try a water repellent spray like this one.
3. Download City Maps 2 Go
London is sprawling and, frankly, has quite a nonsensical layout. You’ll think your headed in the right direction on a grid, just to find yourself stumbling down a dead end street designed in the Middle Ages. I didn’t purchase a short term phone plan while visiting, so I felt lost without access to data and Google Maps. City Maps 2 Go came to the rescue! Download this app before you go, save locations, and you’ll be able to access and search a map of London even without cell phone service.
4. Drive (and walk) on the right (correct) side the road!
Cars drive on the other side of the road than America (so the left hand side), and most people walk on the other side as well. Luckily, when crossing the street, there are handy signs telling you which way to look, so you aren’t hit square on by a double decker bus. Similarly, if you’re taking the Tube, walk on the left hand side of the escalator and stand on the right. Don’t be that annoying tourist and stand in the way of rushed commuters
5. Get out of London
You could easily spend a whole week or two exploring London and still not see all the highlights, but I also recommend getting out of the city one day during your stay. There are many classic British towns within an hour or two’s train ride, so why not explore the English countryside when it’s within reach? I visited Bath (read more about my visit here), and the enchanting storybook town stole my heart and was one of my favorite days in England. Either book a train ticket on your own, rent a car, or join a guided tour through a company like London Walks. Bath, the Cotswolds, York, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton are all perfect for a day trip.
6. Take an open bus tour the first day
In some cities like Rome (read about that negative experience here), these open bus tours can be a waste of time and money. In London, however, we found the tour to be great for getting out bearings and the lay of the land. We used London Sightseeing and had a clean bus, great choice of seating and informative in-person guide. Do it on your first day when you’re jet lagged and would prefer relaxing in a breezy open bus to walking everywhere. You’ll also be able to get around much easier during the rest of your trip and know the basics of the top sights.
7. Museums, parks and markets are FREE
London is an amazing city, but boy is it expensive. Lodging, flights and food can set you back massive amounts of cash, so save some money by visiting its FREE attractions. Most of its famous museums (the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, the Tate, etc), are free as are its picturesque parks. Check out a list of the best parks here and its free museums here. You should also explore its many markets including Borough Market on the south bank, Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill and Camden Market in Camden Town. They’re free to browse and have many inexpensive wares and food for sale.
8. Get used to sparkling water
You may not care, but I’m a diva and love my still water. The Europeans, including the English, on the other hand are fans of sparkling water. If you have a preference, just check the labels before buying bottled water – I made this mistake a few times and my peasant taste buds couldn’t get accustomed to the elegant carbonated option. Alas, I prefer my simple American beverages.
9. They use pounds, not Euros
This seems like another no-brainer, but my mom and I managed to make this mistake during our last trip. We assumed because England is in the EU that they accepted Euros, but we found out the hard way when trying to pay for snacks outside of Westminster Abbey and being promptly corrected. Oops! If you’re doing a multi-city tour of Europe, be sure to trade your Euros for pounds before making it to the UK and avoid being left cash-less.
10. Must-know pronunciations
To avoid looking too much like a tourist, learn the correct pronunciation of major landmarks and locations.
Thames River = The Tems
Leicester Square = Lester Square
Warwick = War-ick
Greenwich = Gren – itch
Buckingham Palace = Bucking-em Palace (not like ham as in pig!)
See you’re already on your way to being a proper Brit!
11. Emergency dial is 999!
Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but always good to know how to call for help, should you need it.
Happy travels, my friends! Let me know if you have any other great insider info for London. I love collecting useful tips and tidbits for my next trips there. Thanks for stopping by!
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