Of course, London offers the visitor an extraordinary array of beguiling attractions and an irresistible blend of old-fashioned pomp and dynamic modern-day colour and vibrancy; but, because of all that, such a cosmopolitan and complex city demands a bit of preparation for those travelling to it for the first time. Here then are some of the things to know ahead of your trip to the UK capital…
Pack for all weathers
Yes, it’s true; British weather can change at the drop of a hat, so before you travel you’re highly advised to make sure you pack a good selection of clothes for whatever the weather’s doing outside. The best idea is, instead of packing very specific outfits, bring clothes that go together well and can be layered for when it turns chilly – and then obviously remove when the sun pokes its head out. And, of course, don’t forget an umbrella; in London they’re utterly indispensable – you simply don’t know when they’ll be an impromptu downpour!
The world’s your Oyster – almost
Getting out and about in London’s fairly easy, so long as you do your homework and be sure to purchase an Oyster card. The latter’s a credit card-like electronic, top-up and tap-in-and-out payment system for the city’s interconnected public transport network. It covers the subterranean London Underground (Tube) railway, the Docklands Light Railways (DLR), the Overground local rail service, buses, river transport and trams. You can load an Oyster card with however much credit you want – ‘pay-as-you-go’ – or you can top it up with, say, unlimited travel for a full week. Be aware, though, that only limited lines on the Tube are open 24-hours-a-day – and only on Friday and Saturdays, at that.
Everyone wants to be connected and stay in touch with their nearest and dearest and, thanks to the fact complimentary Wi-Fi’s offered by a great number of hotels, attractions, cafés and other eateries in the London (as well as 250 Tube stations for a small charge), you’ll have no problems on that front. More of an issue, though, could be getting non-cordless electrical devices working if you’re travelling from overseas. In the UK, appliances are required to operate at 50Hz/ 230V, which is significantly more than in both North America and Japan. And, while the likes of laptops may be able to smartly adjust to this automatically, other devices may need a plug adaptor to adjust to the local electricity supply.
Sure, London has a reputation for being an expensive place to visit, but is it deserved? To an extent, yes; that said, you don’t have to throw out reams of notes to see and do some top things while you’re here. For instance, many of the fantastic museums and galleries – such as the British, Natural History and Science Museums and the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery – are all entirely free to enter. Which is especially great if you choose to stay in the centre of town (like at the Park Grand Paddington Court London hotel) because they’ll be very easy to reach on public transport. Talk about one of the top tips for visiting London!
Save a bundle at the theatre
As an addendum to the above point, it also doesn’t cost the Earth to do fulfil that (potentially) once in a lifetime visit to a West End theatre for a spectacular musical or acclaimed play. One way to come across discounted tickets is to identify which show you’d like to see and trot along to the theatre it’s playing at in the morning; it’s possible you may be able to pick up a returned or unsold ticket or two – at a dramatically reduced price – for that evening’s performance. Another option is to visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, which vends last-minute tickets for up to half-price. And don’t forget that around 700 of the tickets available for every performance at the fabulous Shakespeare’s Globe theatre go for just £5 each; you’ll have to stand, of course, but, hey, it’s an authentic experience – so did the punters in Tudor times!
Tips on tipping
Unlike in – again – North America, the tipping culture in the UK isn’t, well, enormously generous, but it does exist. Although, nowadays many restaurants include a tip in the bill (perhaps around 12%); but many don’t, so if the urge takes you, add a tip of 10-15%. If you’re unsure whether a tip’s to be expected or not; just ask. Conversely, when it comes to frequenting a pub, tips aren’t usually allowed, unless you espy a container of some kind labelled for the purpose. Black cabbies often accept a tip – especially if they help you with your luggage in and out of the taxi.