London is an incredible city to visit. It is full of excitement and beauty and attracts millions of people every year from all over the world. It has a remarkable history and is filled with all sorts of attractions, activities, and locations that can satisfy all ages and kinds of people. The only problem with this fantastic city is that all of the hustle and bustle can be quite intimidating for first-time visitors, which can mean that people don’t get the opportunity to enjoy their time there fully. And that is just a terrible loss. However, if you note how ‘relaxed’ and confident a lot of people look when they move through the city, you’ll soon see that, with a few tips and things to remember, London is actually not so intimidating and is pretty easy to navigate without causing you too much stress. Now, I may not be a local in London, but I have had the privilege of travelling there quite often, and over time, I have learnt these tricks through a variety of experiences and talking to people more familiar with the city than me. You don’t need to be intimidated by London, as long as you have an open mind and keep these few tips in your thoughts. So if you are planning a trip to London and the idea of this international melting pot is intimidating you, then read these tips and soon you will be walking around and managing your day as confidently as the locals, maybe even more so.
Use public transport
Some countries don’t always have excellent public transport systems, so you end up being dependent on cars or your own mode of transportation. That is not the case in London, where the public transport system is often more efficient (and cheaper) than using a car. With this in mind, I’d highly recommend doing some research about how you can get around the city using public transport (like buses and the tube) because you will soon realise that it is a lot easier, and a lot cheaper, than renting a car. Not only that, but using the public transport means you don’t have any huge responsibilities when it comes to getting around, all you have to know is where the stations are that you need, and where you need to get off (all of which is easy to figure out). It’s easy enough to get the hang of, you just need to be willing to try it.
Take advantage of free activities
Okay, we all know that as much as going to big, international cities like London is great, it can sometimes be incredibly expensive to spend lots of time there. No worries – because as much as certain things in London can be costly, there are other perfectly enjoyable activities that are open to the public. Basically, that means that they are entirely free for you to take advantage of. The numerous parks are mostly free entry and are filled with loads of things to see and enjoy; there are the National Galleries in Trafalgar Square that are free to get into; Portobello Market is free to explore with all of its live music and hundreds of stalls; historic sights like Tower Bridge Road and Big Ben are free to enjoy (from the outside in Big Ben’s case), and there are a number of museums that allow for free entry (such as the Natural History Museum, the Science museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum). There is even platform 9¾ in King’s Cross station, for those who are Harry Potter fans and don’t want to spend loads of money. There are so many amazing, free things to do in London, so while you’re there, it would be silly not to take advantage of it. Go and enjoy yourself, for free too!
Pack and dress appropriately
For those of you who have spent time in England, I’m sure you know that it is a place where you can experience all four seasons, and every type of weather in between, all in one day. That’s why you need to pack and dress smart for each day. As much as you don’t want to be carrying around an outfit for every variety of weather, you still don’t want to be caught in a downpour with nothing but a t-shirt. For this, I’d recommend packing a mini-umbrella, and a weather-proof jacket in your bag for the day, and maybe your sunglasses, just so that you are prepared for whatever comes your way, be it rain, shine or just cold. Another recommendation for dressing smart would be to wear comfortable walking shoes because you don’t want to get blisters or ruin a nice pair of shoes in the rain while you are enjoying your holiday. Just something to think about.
Don’t be scared of the tube
The tube is such a useful way to get around the city in a relatively short amount of time, so if something as complex as the tube scares you, it’s time to face your fear because you’ll definitely want to comfortable using it on your trip. The way to handle the tube without letting it overwhelm you is to know where you are going before you head underground, and double check on the signs that you are getting on the right lines in the right direction. That way, all of the people and the busyness will not freak you out and get you lost. Another quick tip, just for surviving the tube stations more than the actual tube and to avoid having angry locals shout at you, remember to stand on the one side of the escalator. It is meant to be on the left, but just see where most people are standing. People can get quite annoyed when they are rushing down the escalator, and you ruin their momentum by standing in the way. So, just so that you don’t have to deal with grumpy people, don’t forget this little detail.
Plan your days in advance
London is not exactly a small city – there is lots to do and sometimes, depending on the time of year, there are lots of places that can have very long queues to stand in. This is why you should plan your days. If you are planning to go and see specific sites that require tickets, then book them online and in advance, because they are often cheaper. If there are several things that you want to do, then plan ahead of time where they are, and how many things you can do in one day so that you get through everything you want without stretching yourself too thin. A rule of thumb though is that most activities (like going to the zoo or an attraction) take a little longer than you’d expect so keep that in mind. You usually plan when you want to go out to a restaurant, and book before the actual date, so just do the same thing with your trip (and restaurant-bookings on your trip too for that matter).
London may be an incredible, international city that seems like the safest place in the world, with people walking everywhere and there being waist-height walls in front of all the houses. However, no city is entirely safe or free from crime, even places like London, so don’t let the place be the reason you let your guard down. As you would in any area (new or familiar), don’t forget to keep your wits about you. Keep your bag zipped up so that people can’t fish your belongings out of it, and try not to keep things like phones or wallets in your back pockets. Safety always comes first, so don’t forget about this even when you are in a wonderfully modern city like London. You always regret being relaxed after something terrible happened – so that doesn’t mean you have to be nervous and wary all of the time, but just be careful with your belongings and stay vigilant, no matter what.
When in doubt, walk
If the bus system seems a bit too complicated, or the tube seems a bit too intimidating, then the next best option is to walk. London is one of the best cities for walking around, as everything is relatively close together, and there is always something magnificent or beautiful to see. The city is quite easy to navigate, and you can usually get more done when you walk because something might catch your eye that you want to do, but hadn’t planned for. It’s also great exercise, and you can cover a surprisingly large distance without it feeling like miles and miles, because of how much there is to see. It’s also free, which is another bonus, so if you are in doubt about getting around and would rather spend money on a nice dinner than a bus ticket, then walking is the perfect solution for you.
Fancy restaurants aren’t always the best
This is the perfect demonstration of the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Just because a restaurant looks fancy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to get your money’s worth of good-quality food. To solve this problem, I’d highly recommend researching the kind of restaurants you like and seeing the online ratings, as this is usually a good indicator. If you’re more along the lines of just winging it, why not just pop into a small restaurant or pub that seems to have people in it. If there are people in it – that is a pretty good clue that the food is, at the very least, edible. Speaking from experience, some of my all-time favourite restaurants in London have small, misleading front entrances or are hidden away in small streets. If you are a big foodie, then don’t let the look or location of a restaurant put you off going in and eating the food – you could be missing out on a new favourite restaurant.
Obey traffic lights
This may seem like an obvious one, but remember to obey the traffic lights. In a lot of cities, you can get away with dashing across the road when it isn’t at a pedestrian crossing or when the light is red for you because it is safe and okay. I wouldn’t recommend doing this in London. This is just from a safety point of view, and that the cars and buses (and they are big, double-decker buses, please don’t forget) drive quite fast and, as much as you hope they will, they won’t always stop. I know this seems like something a concerned parent would say, but why take the risk of getting hit by a car and ending up in the hospital, when you could just wait thirty seconds for the light to change? You don’t have to listen to this one because you are, after all, free to make your own choices, but I would recommend you do (because I’d rather everyone be safe than potentially flattened by a big red bus).
Remember, free wifi!
For my last tip on surviving London as a first-timer, you need to remember this one little detail: there is free wifi almost everywhere! International calling/data expenses can quite quickly end up being a vicious punch through your wallet, so why do that to yourself when most restaurants, cafes and shops offer free wifi? In a world where everything exists on the internet, London has certainly taken note of this so you would find, if you need to communicate with people, that more places have wifi than don’t. Why spend all the extra money on international roaming rates when you can just stand outside a cafe and take advantage of the free wifi? I certainly do, and so do many others, so there is no reason why you can’t either.
Now that you know all of these things, and have an idea on how to manage London if it is your first time, I hope that the city seems a little less intimidating and you are more excited to visit it. It truly is a beautiful place to visit and is very friendly and easy to get around when you know what to do, so I hope that I have at least helped you with the latter. For my questions today:
- Do you have any tips for first-timers in London (or any big city for that matter)?
- If you have been to London, what is your favourite spot/attraction/activity?
- Is there any content you would like to see on this blog?
I hope that you all enjoyed this blog post and could extract something useful out of it – I really enjoyed writing this one (as I do with most of them, but this one was particularly fun). If you have any questions about surviving London, please feel free to ask them in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them with my non-local knowledge. Have an awesome day everyone and thanks so much for taking the time to read this blog post!
Lots of Love
Blondey on a Mission xxx