6 things every tourist should know about London

Whether you have already booked your flight or you are simply considering the idea of a trip to one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities, there are some things which you could benefit from knowing about London ahead of time.  Every savvy traveller knows that customs change with each city and it’s important to understand London before you arrive, not only to avoid sticking out as a tourist like a sore thumb but also to save you time and potentially money as well:-

Download a map
Although there are plenty of places in the city to pick up tube and bus maps, if you are a first time visitor to London then one look at the intricate criss-crossed lines might have you running for the hills.  With the development of so many smart phone apps it makes sense that there are a number based around the city of London.  Get one of these on your phone and make sure that you can use it offline (to save on data costs).  You want one which ideally uses GPS to plot your location and get you from A to B.  There are a number which also offer you different methods of transport from walking to the tube.  Some will even tell you how long it will take and how much it will cost which can be of great benefit if you are visiting on a tight budget.  You might be surprised to learn that many local Londoners have such apps on their phones to help them easily get around the city.  Although London has a very comprehensive public transport network it is also a vast and sprawling city and if you aren’t familiar with the layout then it can be all to easy to end up going in the wrong direction or being swept along with the crowds and missing the very attractions you came to see.

Buy theatre tickets on the day
This is a real money saving tip for anyone who isn’t particularly fussed about which West End theatre show they see; buying tickets on the day can save you as much as 50% on the original ticket price.  There are lots of registered ticket sellers and shops dotted around Soho and Piccadilly Circus, just a short distance from the Marble Arch Hotel London Oxford Street and there is also a TKTS Booth in Leicester Square which is well known for offering decent discount prices on tickets for same day shows.  Alternatively, if there is a specific show that you want to see you could try your luck at the theatre’s box office; they often have unsold tickets or returned tickets available for a reduced cost.

Watch out for the service charge
All across Europe, tipping around 10% of your final bill is widely accepted as the norm but somehow the rules all seem to change once you get to the UK and it is something which catches a lot of tourists out.  Firstly, there is no expectation that you have to tip, although waiting staff are often on minimum wage and any tips given helps to bump up their take home pay.  However, you will find that in a number of restaurants a 12.5% service charge is added to your receipt and this is, in essence, a pre-added tip.  You will find this is more commonplace in tourist hotspots and upmarket restaurants, even some bars add the service charge to your drinks bill.  The charge is optional and you can ask for it to be removed from your bill although this is really only acceptable if you have experienced extremely poor service.  It’s better to just take into account that there may be a 12.5% charge when costing up the meal ahead of time.

Don’t just do Oxford Street
Oxford Street is undoubtedly one of the most famous shopping streets in London and is home to many excellent high street brands and flagship stores.  However, for this reason it is also one of the busiest stretches in the city, particularly at weekends and if you don’t like crowds of people then you might want to seek out one of the alternative shopping districts in the city instead.  East London has a mass of quality vintage shops, independent boutiques, fantastic markets and an extremely trendy vibe, not to mention being home to a number of luxury hotel rooms if you wanted to make a weekend out of your trip.  There is also Regent Street, Covent Garden and the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford which would be good options as well.

Get travel insurance
This is especially key if you are a European visitor and think that it will be ‘okay’ if you don’t bother with insurance.  There are many reasons why people opt not to take out travel insurance but it’s really not worth the risk of something going wrong and you ending up being out of pocket because of it.  Perhaps the reason is that many of us think of needing travel insurance only in terms of injuring ourselves or becoming unwell but it is actually so much more than that.  The vast majority of policies (although make sure you read the small print!) will cover you in case you need to cancel the holiday last minute, you find yourself the victim of theft when you are abroad, you miss your flight due to circumstances outside of your control and so much more.  It makes senses to budget in the extra costs to avoid a potentially large and unnecessary outlay.

Ask locals
Londoners are really a friendly bunch, despite the stereotype, and if you want a real insider tip on a great place to go for the day, a good restaurant or bar then you can’t go wrong with asking a local person for advice.  You could do this online in advance, perhaps in a travel forum or ask a member of staff at the hotel you are staying in, or simply stop someone and ask.  Most people will be only too happy to help.

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