London visitors guide

Visiting London for the first time, on a tour or as in independent traveller, can be quite overwhelming. It’s big and busy; the street systems are old, so they are all over the place.  The street name can change with every block. They probably drive ‘on the wrong side of the road’ from what you are used to, and even though they are speaking English, you may not understand a single word they say.

Some people are surprised by the sheer volume of multi-culturalism there is, and to hear the English accent when they don’t expect it.  You can find the best of the best in London, as well as the worst of the worst.

England has been over run  by corporate chains and worldwide brands. You can’t walk without tripping over a coffee shop or a Tesco shop. Everyone is on their cell phone at all times, and selfie sticks are the new annoyance.

The people are friendly and polite, often apologising to you, when you bump into them.  You must queue and wait your turn patiently.  If you need help, just ask someone and they will do what they can for you. It’s a very pleasant place, although the rudeness and pushiness of some tourists can be frustrating.

Tourist sites are very busy in the summer, and visits late in the day, or around lunch in-between tour groups, can save you time. If you definitely want to see something, pre-buy tickets from hotel desks or online.

Food has improved a lot over the years. Pub lunches are normally a good bet.  There are lots of small eateries and cafes around, of varying quality.  Just look at the clientele and maybe avoid places with loads of tourists.  If you want something quick or something to eat in your hotel room, grocery chains like Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Tesco or Sainsbury offer nice salads and sandwiches.  Keep some cutlery and napkins in your day pack just in case.

England is not traditionally a tipping society, but now with the corporate chains, it has come to the UK. There are no set rules to tipping. If it was good, leave a little extra.  The best service comes from the huge Eastern European work force.  Don’t be surprised if you experience bad service in cheaper restaurants.

England will stay with you as one of those places you must go back to.


Tips from my friends who have visited London

Here are a few tid bits to whet your appetite:

Erin: I recommend the Tower of London and Crown Jewels, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Hyde Park picnic, Thames river cruse, Borough markets and the Lion King show!

Jenny: Buy an Oyster card and stay somewhere close to an underground station. The Hop On Hop Off bus is great on your first visit. Walk as much as you can – you see so much more. Get cheap, last minute tickets and go to a show.

For a London village experience take the train to Hampstead. Street markets, village atmosphere and the expansive Heath is often referred to as the ‘lungs of London’ great for walking, running or just relaxing and people watching. Panoramic views of central London.

Paul: The Cabinet War Rooms are worth a visit. Wasn’t crowded when we went, either.

Jac: I loved Camden markets.

Melissa: I did a Jack the Ripper tour! That was cool and took me through parts of London I would have otherwise never seen. Small group too. I also went to the Portabello Road markets. They were busy, but very cosmopolitan. I enjoyed my walk through, and I walked everywhere, even when I could have caught the tube. It’s just so easy and you see so much more. I also wandered down to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park on Sunday morning. That was interesting!!

Pam: We have only done the tourist things in London but also did Jack the Ripper walking tour. Loved walking through Hyde Park and the Imperial War Museum is worth a look.