‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’. So wrote Samuel Johnson, the eminent 18th-century writer most famous for writing an influential dictionary. His words are no less true now, but London’s sheer size, energy and diversity can make it difficult to get to grips with. With that in mind, here are a few tips to make the best of the British capital.
REMEMBER the etiquette
Londoners are a complex bunch. There are so many unspoken rules regarding how to behave in the city, whether on the tube or in the street. For instance, the typically unsociable citizens will not take kindly to being spoken to on public transport, and anything more than asking a stranger for directions will be sure to raise eyebrows. Constant apology is also a necessity: Londoners will often say ‘sorry’ to you for no apparent reason – the correct response is usually a ‘sorry’ in return. You’ll learn not to question it – we don’t get it either. Queuing is also sacred to Londoners, as is standing on the right on escalators. You’ll be met with a barrage of angry tutting if you even attempt to cut in line – luckily, that’s just about as confrontational as a Londoner will get.
LEARN public transport
Britain’s public transport is rarely celebrated. Nonetheless, the London Underground is incredibly convenient and will get you just about anywhere you need to go. If you’re in the city for an extended period, getting your hands on an Oyster card is essential. These pre-paid travel cards also work on London buses and overground railways, making them an indispensable tool. You are, however, better off avoiding the tube from 7-9 am and 5-7 pm – particularly the Victoria and Piccadilly lines and the westbound Metropolitan and Circle lines – as rush hour makes taking the underground a near-impossible task.
MAKE the most of free stuff
London has a reputation for being prohibitively expensive, and it’s not entirely unearned. But did you know that some of London’s best cultural attractions are entirely free to enter? That’s right – fantastic places like the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Modern art gallery can be enjoyed at zero cost. These superb museums contain some of the world’s finest art and most fascinating exhibitions, so if you’re pinching the pennies, London’s got you covered. Temporary exhibitions might require purchasing tickets, but make no mistake: these museums are simply world-class.
LOOK for hidden gems
We’ve all already seen Big Ben, ridden on an iconic red bus and read the Harry Potter books. To get a truly authentic image of the city, therefore, you need to get under its skin and go in search of its hidden gems. Head away from the main tourist sights and you might stumble across something like Wilton’s, the oldest surviving music hall in the world, dating from 1850 and now lovingly restored. Today it plays host to live music and theatre performances, as well as the evocative old Mahogany Bar. Places like this, hidden down side streets in less fashionable parts of town, are part of the rich fabric of London life, and are not to be missed – even if they’re not in the guidebooks!
EMBRACE the culture
Something many visitors are unprepared for is London’s incredible diversity. The city has a cosmopolitan culture, influenced by the countless ethnic and religious communities that have made London their home. It’s something Londoners are rightly proud of. As a result, you could take a wander round Chinatown, have a curry on the world famous Brick Lane, watch a football match at one of the city’s numerous clubs (try a non-league club rather than one of the big boys), and go for lunch and a pint at a traditional old English pub without ever feeling like you’re not doing something authentic.
If you’re looking for a fantastic place to stay in London, take a look at our range of unique and independent hotels in the capital.
Queue by a Wall – image by Gary Knight via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
London Underground – image by tseyin via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Natural History Museum – image by Kathryn Yengel via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Jazz – image by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pub in Soho, London – image by Davide D’Amico via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)