Even for travelers from other areas of the UK London can be hugely daunting in terms of its size and the seemingly faster pace of life, everyone is in a hurry and you better not get in their way.
At the same time though London loves tourists and does its best to cater for them; the city can be surprisingly easy to get around and enjoy without even spending too much.
A few tips here though will make sure you have a trouble free trip and get the most out of it.
Safety Tips – London at Night
I night out in London is like no other, the choice of venues and the different styles of music, and fashion, mean there is something for everyone and a good chance to experience something new but as with any major city your safety is important. You don’t need to drink a lot to have a good time in London as it is far from boring so try to keep alert enough so you can keep an eye out for dangers.
Never accept drinks from strangers, even if you have met people and chatted to them for a while be very careful. Be careful with your own drinks as well, even if you are holding a drink in your hand keep an eye on it and never leave your drinks unattended.
Of course don’t leave your belongings unattended either, keep handbags and purses under your arm where they can’t be opened as they could if left hanging from your shoulder.
Safety Tips – Road and Pedestrian Traffic
London is a busy city but there are usually plenty of crossings so use them, at a zebra crossing drivers are legally obliged to stop and let you cross but wait and make sure they have seen you and are slowing down before crossing and look out for cyclists too.
Pedestrian traffic can be as bad as road traffic and on busy shopping streets like Oxford Street you need to watch out for pickpockets in busy crowds as well as being careful you don’t get pushed off pavements into the road. At underground stations as well crowds can make platforms dangerous so don’t go too near the platform edge until the train has arrived.
Tips for Backpackers – Hostels and staying outside central London
If you are on a budget you may choose a hostel and turn up expecting a cheap price but during busy times you may be surprised as to how much a hostel will charge last minute. London hostels and budget hotels are masters of using cheap online deals and last minute sites to fill capacity and so book ahead if you can. Also consider booking hostels in areas outside of the main tourist areas, London has one of the three largest metro networks in the world along with New York and Shanghai so take advantage and stay somewhere like Finsbury Park at the Traveller’s rest that is great value and close to Finsbury Park station and major bus routes too.
Solo travel tips – Plan your route
Wherever you are going don’t risk getting lost, late night especially, consider when the Underground closes, at about midnight, and remember that night buses run different routes to day time buses.
If you are going to be walking at night plan to keep to busy areas with plenty of people, an area such as Convent Garden is busy until late with theatre-goers so is safe while most parks will be deserted after dusk.
Solo Travel Tips – Meeting people
Getting to meet people is an important part of travelling alone and while Londoners may seems aloof and unfriendly at first once they finish work and let their hair down they are much more friendly and with this being some a cosmopolitan city most people will be happy to talk to you with no prejudice based on where you are from, or strange stereotypes you may get elsewhere.
You can meet other travellers and backpackers too and hostels with a bar such as the Traveller’s Friend, already mentioned, are especially good for meeting people before heading out.
Getting around – The London Underground
The London Underground isn’t all underground and there is also the London Overground that is too all intents and purposes part of the same network but without the separate line names that make the underground so easy to navigate.
Most Underground lines have trains every few minutes, but check the destination as lines like the district have different branches at each end. Most of London and its main tourist sites can be reached by the Underground or The Tube as it is known locally.
Getting around – Get an Oyster Card
Whether you are going to be using the Underground, Overground, Buses, Trams or the new cable car across the Thames having an Oyster card will mean you always pay the least possible, buying day travelcards means if you travel less than you expect you will waste money but with an Oyster card it will charge you the equivalent if it is the cheapest option for you based on your travel that day.
What to see and do – London doesn’t have a city centre as such
Many tourist miss out on much of London by only seeing one area of it, for example if you go to Westminster to see the Houses of Parliament and wonder where St Paul’s Cathedral is it is several miles away in the City of London; you may also want to take the tube to get to areas such as Kensington with its museums or Southwark on the South Bank of The Thames.
What to see and do – Great Attractions for kids
If you are travelling with kids in tow London has a lot to offer, the Science Museum and Natural History Museum are neighbours in South Kensington and both are great for adults and kids with plenty of interactive exhibits.
London Zoo in Regent’s Park has a great range of rare species such as Gorillas, Pygmy Hippo, Giraffes and Tigers.
The planetarium at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich has regular talks to introduce children to the wonders of the universe using the latest technology.
The London Dungeon may not be suitable for very young children but for children who delight in the gruesome seeing the dungeons where criminals of yesteryear were held and often tortured is a great way to fill an afternoon.
HMS Belfast is a British Word War two cruiser that can be explored to see how the seamen would have lived and fought.
What to see and do – Don’t dismiss Free Attractions
London has a lot you can do for free and so needn’t be the expensive city many say it is. Several museums are government funded including the British Museum, previously mentioned Science and Natural history museums and museum of London.
There are many free art galleries as well, some publicly funded some funded by business and the Photographer’s Gallery, Tate Modern and National Portrait Gallery and worth visiting even if briefly.
Borough Market is a 13th century market teaming with sellers of fresh produce and other goods that should be walked just to take in the noises and atmosphere. Camden Lock is a massive area with stalls and shops selling antiques and fashion from all over the world, many of the latest styles are here before they take off: see if you can spot them though if you do you may end up having to spend something to get your hands on them.
Wherever you do choose to visit planning makes perfect and visiting certain places together can make your visit much more efficient and make sure you don’t waste half of your trip travelling around this giant metropolis.