Fit in when Visiting London

London is one of the most, if not the most, exciting and diverse cities on the planet. Plus, London is one of the most visited cities in the world. Use this guide to experience The Big Smoke like a local.


  1. Have the Right Attitude.
    • Remember that you're a guest in their city. Don't come across as the clamorous tourist. Try to keep your voice at a reasonable volume and refrain from drawing attention to yourself by making arrogant demands or complaining about how things are different from what you're used to.
    • Appreciate your situation. You're in a unique country with a vital and rich heritage that's quite different from your own. Don't expect things to be like they are in your own country. You'll find you'll be thrown a curveball fairly often, possibly when ordering from a menu or when you attempt to "walk in" for a pedicure. Take these things in stride and enjoy the cultural differences.
    • Good manners are part and parcel of British culture. "Please" and "Thank you" will go a long way. If you bump into someone on the street, do apologise. And for goodness sake, don't cut in front of anyone in line (also known as a queue)!
  2. Get to Know The People of London.
    • Be prepared for diversity. As the heart of the British Empire, London saw huge immigration from the Caribbean, India and parts of the Middle East at the turn of the 20th Century, continuing right up to the modern day. Such was the scale of the influx that many people managed to retain their language and accents over the generations: two ostensibly Indian people talking in their own language in a corner shop could be born and bred in England of parents themselves born and bred in England. In London, more so than any other part of England, stereotypes of what constitutes "English-ness" break down, so be careful not to make simple assumptions about where someone is from. For example, over 350 languages are spoken around London (100 more than in New York) and Black and Asian children outnumber White children in London by 2 to 1. Similarly, there is a huge range of religions, from the typical to the odd, the agnostic to the devout and even fundamentalist. A single carriage on the tube, containing only English citizens, can often contain within it a dizzying number of cultures. In recent times new immigrants have begun to arrive from Eastern Europe and China (not to mention tourists!). London truly is a world capital
    • Don't be intimidated by Londoners' reserved nature. Like the denizens of any other fast-paced city, Londoners have fast-paced lives and are pretty focused on what they're doing and where they're going. They can be quite reserved. You may find a Londoner looking askance at you if you offer up too much personal information at first meeting. It may be difficult for emotionally expressive visitors to read a Londoner. They can be extremely helpful--just don't expect one to strike up conversation on the Tube with complete strangers. Take your time and don't delve into your life story and personal problems for oh, say, at least 15 minutes after meeting. Once a good level of familiarity has been established, British restraint becomes less formidable.
    • If possible, make some social contacts before arriving in the city (the Internet is a wonderful way to do this). This way you'll make some new friends before even leaving and with your new friends you'll be able to experience London from an actual Londoner's vantage point. And while Londoners are busy as they go about their daily lives, many are extremely social and great about meeting up for dinner or drinks or even showing visitors their London.
    • Cosy up to many Londoners' wonderfully dry and self deprecating sense of humour. They've elevated understatement to an art form. Caught in the rain and soaked to the skin? You're a bit damp, bless.
  3. Dress Like a Londoner.
    • Women: London women in general dress in casual clothes, jeans are very common. Of course they may need to dress up for work but off duty casual is the rule.
    • Men: London, men, too are casual in dress. Jeans, sweaters and the like. Like women they may need to dress up for the office - suits are the norm in many such. Even when going to such "posh" places as the Royal Opera House you will fit in in casual wear. The only exception being on gala nights (when the prices are sky high).
  4. Learn the Language.
    • If you're crossing the pond from America to England, you will encounter lots of words used for items for which Americans associate completely different meanings. You don't take the "elevator"; You take the "lift". It's your "mobile"; not your "cell phone." You ask the location of "the toilets", "loos", "ladies'" or "gents'", not "the restroom". The "tube" or the "underground", not the "subway". "Subway" is what Londoners call a walkway under the street to get from one side to the other, or a fast food chain. Wikipedia has a large list of British terms that are largely uncommon in American English which can be found here.
    • Give unfamiliar phrases the benefit of the doubt. Take into account cockney rhyming slang. Not that many people use cockney slang, but occasionally someone will. Ask them to explain and have a sense of humour when they do.
    • Brace yourself for a variety of accents. With the advent of the European Union, London is now home to people from all over Europe, not just the UK. The sheer number and variety of accents will blow your mind! If you have trouble understanding someone, you could always smile and nod but usually it's better to ask someone to repeat something. And this is done by saying "Pardon me?" not, "What?" which can be construed as impolite. However, as Nancy Mitford has pointed out, saying "Pardon" instead of "What?" may mark one as working class. Try saying "Sorry?" and engaging the conversation more with your head. Cultures are complicated.
    • Whatever you do, do not fake an English accent. It is very discourteous, and the natives can spot it instantly.
  5. Get Around.
    • Maps While there are many tourist maps on sale, the best thing to buy is the the small (or "mini") London A-Z (pronounced A to Zed) which is a pocket sized atlas with maps of London extending roughly {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} out from the city centre in every direction. Crucially, it also has an index of every single road, street, lane and square in the city, so you can always find where you are on the map. As if this was not enough, it also has maps of the London Underground and other useful information. There is a large version available as well, which extends {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} out, but this is of little use unless you plan on visiting the suburbs. Maps are also displayed at all stations, and on most bus shelters and bus stops (the red letter on top of a bus stop sign shows you where you are on the map).
    • When asking for directions, don't truncate street or place names. It may be normal in the US to refer to Madison Street as Madison, but that's not the norm in the UK. And it can get confusing, as many streets and places share their names with other English towns and cities. For example, if your hotel is near Liverpool Street (a major railway station in the City of London) and you ask for directions to Liverpool, you may be directed to the City of Liverpool, home of the Beatles (and remember many tourists do want to visit Liverpool). The same is true of Gloucester (Road), Leicester (Square), Oxford (Street/Circus), Lancaster (Gate) and even Buckingham (Palace).
    • Neighbourhoods. London is broken up into dozens of areas called boroughs. Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge offer great shopping and lovely cafés, wine bars and pubs. Soho, Shoreditch, Camden and Clerkenwell offer amazing night-life. St. John's Wood, Maida Vale and Primrose Hill are quiet, residential areas. Covent Garden, the South Bank and the West End offer loads of street performers, theatres, bars and restaurants.
    • Public Transport. London has one of the most extensive (and expensive) public transportation (public transport, as it is termed in the UK) systems in the world.
      • The London Underground (also referred to as the Tube) in particular is easy to understand if you speak English. Buy an Oyster card at any Tube station. Seven day's unlimited travel on the Tube and/or buses within zones 1 and 2 will cost you a reasonable flat rate. If you'd like to find out if any lines are not running or if a station has been temporarily shut down, visit the London Underground website for up-to-the minute information. When in the stations, be aware that the left-hand side of the escalators is for people walking only: if you don't plan on walking up or down the escalators, stay on the right-hand side.
      • Always check the current system failures and line closures when entering a station - those are frequent and could force a reroute. Be aware that in the summer there is no air conditioning on the Underground except on the Metropolitan line and on the newer trains on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines.
      • The DLR (an acronym for Docklands Light Railway) is another metro system in London which serves the Docklands, the East End and the City of London. Its trains, which are lighter than Underground trains, are driverless - their movement from station to station is controlled by a computer. Unlike the Underground, the system is mostly above ground, with only 4 stations being underground.
      • There are two types of taxis - Black Cabs and minicabs. Black Cabs are the traditional, familiar looking London taxis, though not all Black Cabs are actually black these days. Black Cabs tend to be the more expensive option and this is because London Black Cab drivers' fares are regulated. A Black Cab, known legally as a "Hackney Carriage", can pick up passengers from a taxi rank or when flagged down anywhere on the street. After hailing a Black Cab, tell the driver through the passenger-side window where you'd like to go, then get into the back of the cab. After you reach your destination, get out of the cab and pay the driver through the passengers' window. A modest tip is appreciated, typically by rounding up the fare to make cash payment convenient and fast.
      • The alternative, the minicab, must always be booked in advance, and will almost always cost less than a Black Cab for longer journeys. The saving achieved by using a pre-booked cab can be substantial, particularly for a long journey such as a transfer to or from the airport. Minicabs can be identified by a prominent TfL (Transport for London) "Private Hire" sticker on the rear windscreen and an identification license from the Public Carriage Office inside. Minicab companies typically operate 24-7, and their telephone numbers can be found in the Yellow Pages. An increasing number of minicab companies accept web-based bookings (either through their own websites or the increasing number of online cab booking portals now available), making it particularly convenient for the overseas traveller to book a trip before even arriving in London.
      • Like many major cities, London has a ferociously-busy rush hour, running from about 8am to 9.30am and then again at about 4.30pm to 6pm. Avoid travelling during these times if you can, and if you must travel during rush hour, it's best to be travelling against the flow of traffic - out of London during the morning rush hour, or into it during the evening rush hour. The trains, tube and buses are usually extremely cramped, slow and unpleasant during rush hour.
  6. Dine Out.
    • Restaurants in London are diverse, and rival those of some great American cities like New York and San Francisco. If you stick to British restaurants you're sure to find English ingredients like lamb shank on most menus. Restaurants of this calibre are a relatively new phenomenon and their standards have yet to trickle down to most mid-ranged eateries.
    • If you like ethnic food, London is the place to be. The choices are incredible - everything from street-corner kebab take-away to some of the finest Indian restaurants. Queensway is a great street to check out for everything from Moroccan to Afghan cuisine. Edgware Road is famous for its middle eastern cuisine. For Chinese food look no further than Chinatown in Soho.
    • Weekend brunch is very popular in London and provides a great opportunity to check out different areas. It will also save you some cash as brunch is always cheaper than dinner. There are some great blogs that give you insider tips on where to brunch such as and
    • It's not uncommon to wait several minutes for a member of staff to acknowledge you. Only at the best restaurants will the staff conscientiously check on you to find out if you need anything. More than likely you'll place your order, get your food and then have to flag someone down to get your bill or anything else you might like. If you request water with your meal, bear in mind that you'll most likely be paying for a bottle of water unless you ask specifically for tap water.
    • A 10% tip for good service - and only for good service - is the general rule. Be sure to check your bill because a gratuity might already be included, typically itemized as a Service Charge. If you'll be eating regularly at a particular restaurant or café, be generous. They'll remember you for it and treat you accordingly.
    • It's a good rule of thumb to check your dining bill, as you should in any restaurant. Waiting staff are not beyond making mistakes.
    • Free refills are uncommon. To Americans every restaurant has free soda refills and it's considered unusual for refills to not be free. However in London it's exactly the opposite. The majority of restaurants will bring you a bottle/can of soda which isn't refillable. Some restaurants such as Pizza Hut or Harvesters do have free refills but the majority don't.
    • The term "Soda" is not used for soft drinks (there is baking soda and soda crystals which are used for cleaning). You need to name the drink you want, such as "Pepsi" or "7-Up" or cola.
  7. Carbonated drinks are better known as fizzy drinks, the can, carton or bottle container will normally indicate ‘sparkling or still’
    • There is normally a good selection of soft drinks available from newsagents and convenience stores.
  8. Fizzy/sparkling soft drinks to look out for and try are: Rubicon, Fanta, Ribena, Lucozade, Sanpellegrino, Old Jamaica Ginger Beer, Tango, Rio, Irn Bru, Vimto, Lilt, Cloudy Lemonade, Orangina, in addition most of these will have different flavour options too.
    • Still/ soft drinks to try include Ribena, J20, Oasis and various fruit and coconut drinks.
  9. There is also a good selection of sports and energy drinks.
  10. Plan Your Itinerary.
    • The London Eye can provide an excellent view of Central London. It's particularly attractive at sunset.
    • The Thames: London is built on the Thames. On both sides of the river you're bombarded by attractions of historical, artistic, architectural and political significance - Big Ben, the houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Tate Modern, Tower Bridge and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - to name a few.
    • The museums in London are some of the best in the world and, with the exception of special exhibitions, are free to the public. The Victoria and Albert Museum in Knightsbridge is packed full of articles used in everyday life in England going back thousands of years.
    • Seeing a show in London is an absolute must! Everything is concentrated in the West End, Theatreland runs neck-and-neck with the Great White Way. And while the large shows attract most of the tourists, locals know to look for productions by long established theatre companies like The Old Vic. For cheap theatre tickets be sure to check out the TKTS booth (the most known one is situated in Leicester Square).
    • Take advantage of the amazing music scene in London. It's a wonderful opportunity to see up-and-coming Brit bands before they explode in the US. Camden and London's trendy East End are great places to start.
    • In need of a workout? London parks and green spaces are some of the best in the world. Join other Londoners for an evening run or a bit of exercise at Regent's Park, Primrose Hill, Kensington Park or Hyde Park. Each provides excellent paths and beautiful scenery.
    • London has some of the finest shops in Europe. Considered among many as the fashion capital of Europe. Make sure you take the opportunity to browse some of the high end boutiques. Many can be found in Bond Street, Regent's Street and Knightsbridge. Dover Street market in Mayfair is particularly famous in the London fashion circles.
  11. Take Safety Into Account.
    • When travelling on the Tube or walking around busy places, be alert. Keep your handbag and other possessions securely with you. You will be warned by signage about pickpockets in the tourist-heavy areas. You can have your backpack taken or rifled and the pickpocket can be out of sight before you even notice, so be very aware. However, there is no need to be scared -- it is generally safe to use public transport and walk around at night.
    • Never leave your handbag on the seat next you on the tube or in a restaurant or outdoor café. Also, if you hang your coat on a coat rack in a restaurant, be sure you didn't leave anything valuable in your coat pockets, like your mobile phone.
    • Always be aware of your surroundings and act accordingly. Don't rummage through your handbag or count the money in your wallet when you're riding the Tube or standing in the street.
    • If you stray off the beaten track chances are you will stray into a more rough and deprived area than the more tourist-friendly parts. Keep your wits about you.


  • When taking the tube, you do not have to press the buttons to open the doors - the driver opens them for you. Pressing the door open buttons will mark you out as a foreigner. Note that on the DLR you DO have to press the buttons to open the doors, so this is an important thing to remember when travelling.
  • If you need directions, cabbies are a great source of information as are the guys who you find handing out newspapers on the street. On busier shopping streets, policemen will also be willing to give advice.
  • Black Cab drivers own or rent their taxis and are essentially small businessmen. Never leave garbage (rubbish) or gum in their cab. They take pride in their vehicles so behave accordingly. Your cab driver can be a great source of information provided they are inclined to be social. Don't smoke in their cab without asking first. It's not uncommon for Black Cab drivers to refuse to pick up extremely inebriated passengers as they're not too keen on cleaning up after passengers who get sick in their cabs.
  • If you want to listen to a radio while you are there some good radio stations are 95.8 Capital FM, The Hits, Radio 1, Absolute and Chill (for relaxation).
  • Some shops in London do have dress codes, so always check!
  • Be sure that if you're visiting London in the summertime, you select a hotel with good air conditioning, as many hotel rooms do not have sufficient cross-ventilation and without air conditioning you might find your room too stuffy and warm. Remember: no matter what time of year it is, the Tube can be anything up to 10 degrees warmer than outside, so wear layers and prepare to shed them!
  • if you are going to the theatre instead of using the ticket booths try going to matinees. These are on Saturdays and either Wednesday or Thursday. Just get to the theatre about 30 minutes before curtain up and you can usually get a really good seat at a great price. Sometimes they are sold out!
  • Don't maintain eye contact with strangers on public transport, it's considered rude. Loud conversations are also irritating to other passengers, as are mobile phone conversations. Carrying your backpack on your back is also rude on trains -- carry it by hand, put it by your feet, or wear it on the front. This may also be advisable to keep your bag safe from pick-pockets.
  • Get to know your local Tesco, Asda-Walmart, M&S Foods and Sainsbury's supermarkets where you can pick up inexpensive lunches and snacks for back in your hotel room.
  • From July 1st, 2007, smoking was banned (£200 fine if you light up) inside bars, restaurants and other enclosed places where people visit or work so you should come out smelling fresh and to reduce the likelihood of causing a fire. Don't worry if you are a smoker, however, as most venues make provisions for those who wish to do so.
  • If you want to take a break from the busyness of London then you can visit some of the Home Counties (the counties surrounding London). They are Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire (pronounced hart-fud-sheer), Berkshire (pronounced bark-sheer),Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex.
  • Stop at a newsagent (that's a news-stand) and pick up some British magazines. They're great for getting a taste of what's current in London and British popular culture in general. "What's On" and "Time Out" will give you a plethora of current entertainment possibilities.
  • You must be 18 to buy alcohol by law.
  • If travelling from North America check if your cell phone will work with GSM networks as we do not have CDMA, also be careful of high data charges, maybe rent a cell phone from companies such as Mobal or SIMsmart prepaid.
  • When buying a drink in a bar or pub, you are not expected to tip the bartender as you are in the States and some other countries.
  • Dress casual. However, not Midwest casual. Think jeans, a fashionable jacket and boots. Not sloppy, oversize or skintight sweats and old tennis shoes.


  • London police are usually happy to help with directions, questions, and even the odd photograph, providing they're not busy. However, if they're directing traffic, or otherwise involved, they may be abrupt if asked anything. Be aware that police, traffic wardens and Police Community Support Officers have similar uniforms. British police don't usually carry firearms.
  • If the worse comes to worst, and you need medical assistance urgently, the UK has a good National Health Service, which will provide life-saving treatment for free. Note, this does NOT mean you can forgo travel insurance. However, if you're in an accident, or need to attend hospital as an emergency, call 999 - or have someone do it for you - and ask for the Ambulance service.
  • Do not attempt to keep up with your average Londoner when it comes to alcohol consumption. This is the land of the Public House, or Pub, also known as one's Local. Drinking is a huge part of the social culture in the UK. Be sure to pace yourself. It is worth noting that London pubs serve Imperial Pints (20 oz) while most American bars serve Standard Pints (16 oz) or bottles of beer (12oz), although English beers are lower in Alcohol than most US Craft beers. Still, those extra ounces can add up quickly (3 British pints = 5 bottles/cans).
  • If you see something suspicious, such as an unattended bag or parcel, report it. "999" (or 112) is the emergency help line if you do need to report something or you need help.
  • Be careful crossing the street. Most Londoners cross the street very quickly and wherever possible - DO NOT DO THIS. As a tourist, you have not grown up on streets like these. Not only is the left sided driving confusing to those accustomed to the right side, but London van drivers tend to drive quite rapidly down small side streets. Cross the street with others, not by yourself. Often the words 'Look Left' or 'Look Right' will be printed on the ground at the crosswalk. Use this good advice. Drivers in London may drive more precariously than you are used too.
  • When signalling the number "two" with your fingers (index and middle), like when ordering two pints, be sure your palm faces the other person. The other way around, with the back of your hand facing the other person, is equivalent to giving someone the middle finger.
  • The Emergency 999 system is also used to reach the Police for emergency reasons (i.e. not to report a burglary, mugging, etc), and the Fire and Rescue Service. Additionally, you can also obtain Lifeguard assistance in this way. 999 can be called from all payphones in the street at no charge, from any fixed line phone, and from UK mobile phones. Access to the 999 network may not work from non-UK phones.
    • Note: the UK also has a 112 service, which is exactly the same as the 999 service, but uses 112 to ensure harmony with European areas who use that number. 112 should work on all phones, including foreign mobile phones. 911 will work on 99% of mobile phones as it just redirects to the 999 number. 911" will NOT work on payphones.

Things You'll Need

  • A bottle of water in the summer and in warmer weather, especially if travelling on the Tube. You will dehydrate very quickly. This is good advice considering that temperatures in the summer in London can reach {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} and above!
  • Comfortable shoes - you will be doing a LOT of walking.
  • A sturdy compact umbrella.
  • A good map (Find something known as an "A to Z")
  • Band aids (or "plasters" as they're known in Britain.) "Boots" stores (a pharmacist - not a footwear seller) are everywhere.
  • Adapters and voltage transformers for your electrical appliances.
  • If you use the Tube (metro/underground) buy yourself an Oyster card from any underground station (£5 deposit which is refunded when you return the card, at the end of your stay) and top it up with pay-as-you-go credit. You save some 60% on the fares. Be very aware though that if you are using an Oyster card, you have to be careful about passing the card over the scanner as you exit the station. In some cases, the cards may not read properly, which will charge you for a full journey from one end of the line to the other.

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Sources and Citations

  • There's a great online British Slang dictionary at
  • You'll find an ultra convenient, laminated number (which includes a map of the Tube) at
  • To learn more about the various boroughs visit
  • The London Eye
  • One great resource on all of London's goings on is TimeOut London magazine. You can pick one of these up at any newsagent. In them you'll find a weeks worth of events, places and happenings throughout LondonTown. Or find an abbreviated version online
  • Another great online source to shopping and restaurants is Here you can actually see the store fronts of all of the high street shops and restaurants in most areas of London!
  • Londoners love their street markets - some of the best are the Portobello Road Market, Borough Market, Camden Market and Spitalfields Market.
  • If you are looking for the personal touch. Glamour Guides service is ideal. They have bilingual stylists to help tourists of all nationalities.
  • There's a street skate (Inline Skating) two times a week. It free to join in or fun just to see
  • Walk the streets with your iPod and see the sights with an audio tour of London.
  • London coach hire service that you might need on the go

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