Tips for Tourists

If you’re planning to visit London for the first time, read our advice for seeing London at its best.

If you’re planning to visit London for the first time, negotiating some of the more labyrinthine streets in the constant drizzle and battling through the drunken teenage masses of the West End on a Friday evening might seem daunting, even terrifying to some, but armed with the basic knowledge described below you’ll be able to enjoy our gracious capital at its best, weather conditions and befuddled youths aside.

Humble, hipster or high life?

Whether you appreciate the finer things in life such as the initialled bathrobes at the Dorchester, or whether your idea of a holiday is to divide it between walking very slowly in front of other people while carrying a backpack, and guzzling beer at a sticky-floored watering hole, there is something to suit every palate. Where you choose to stay will depend on your budget and your choice of sightseeing adventure. If you have a passion for fashion then book a stay at 40 Winks in Stepney Green way in advance, as there are only two bedrooms, however rates are cheap and the hotel is mostly used for fashion shoots, so not only will you be minutes away from the East End’s hipster territory but you will be able return home boasting that you’ve hobnobbed with Lily Cole. At the very least, with someone who looked like her.

The underground and other maladies

The tube is the Londoner’s favourite bone of contention, therefore if you want to make conversation with the handsome stranger sitting next to you start off by saying how rubbish you think the Jubilee line is. If you really want to go in for the kill throw in a line about the increasing number of tube strikes affecting the capital – something which is likely to arouse strong emotion whether you’re talking to a disgruntled pro-anarchy student or a commuter belt dweller who works in accounts. Choose your words wisely.

Don’t be put off asking a passer-by for directions just because everyone you saw on the tube seemed to look constipated. This does not mean Londoners are rude, it’s just the natural facial expression of someone who pays through the nose to travel in cramped conditions to an underpaid job as a pensions administrator in an open-plan, stuffy office with no natural sunlight, or something along those lines. In any case, the British are far too polite to refuse helping you.
If you’re visiting London between the months of August and May, bear in mind that the city will grind to a halt if it snows. Just half an hour of light snowfall will result in train cancellations, road accidents, shows being postponed and busy A&E departments. If you’re unaccustomed to snow you might think it’s terribly amusing how commuters tear their hair out at the prospect of facing triple the usual time to get home, however if you hail from Germany, Canada, or any other country that seems able to withstand a few snowflakes you will likely scratch your head with incomprehension at such incompetence.

If you’re brave enough to cycle through London’s traffic-congested roads, our very own ragged-haired mayor introduced his ‘Boris bikes’ in 2010, and it’s as easy as paying at the docking station and riding off into the smoky night.


Avoid Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, unless the purpose of your trip is to see other anorak-clad tourists hopping in and out of pizzerias taking pictures of the bright delights of the Trocadero Centre. You are unlikely to see a single Londoner in passing, and the pizza is rubbish. There is far more to London than the Queen, the Big Ben and all the other postcard pictures. By all means indulge in the architectural splendour of St. Paul’s and the Houses of Parliament, and get a bird’s eye view aboard the London Eye, but remember Madame Tussaud’s is about as synonymous with London as…well, soggy pizza. Nosh

Whatever reputation British cuisine may have among our foreign neighbours, the recent resurgence of traditional English food has seen gastropubs abandoning curry in favour of slow cooked pork belly. Having said that, despite billing themselves as good old fashioned English boozers many pubs inexplicably opt for serving Pad Thai and spring rolls. Perhaps noodles can soak up pints of ale better than a chicken and mushroom pie. But there is far more to London’s eateries than sub-par Thai food, there is also some very good Thai food, along with the cuisine of pretty much any country you can think of. Afghan? There is a small yet delectable variety of dishes on offer at Afghan Kitchen in Islington. Cambodian? Head to the candle-lit Lemongrass in Camden. Greasy chips and questionable meat? There’s a McDonalds on most high streets, buddy, but you need to ask yourself why you’re sticking to eating this junk when you’re experiencing a megalopolis like London.


If you haven’t had the fortune to step over the puddles of pavement pizza that abound in Camden Town on a weekend night, you might not have noticed a very important fact about British culture: Brits like to drink. That’s why you will find a pub pretty much every way you turn. The pub is as British as meat and two veg, however it was the Romans who gave us the first incarnation of the drinking hole by introducing ‘tabernae’, i.e. locales that served food and wine, and that were easily identifiable thanks to the vine leaves on display outside. The Romans left but the tradition of meeting up to get sozzled and ranting over current affairs and sex did not, leading to the advent of alehouses, coaching inns and public houses, all the way up to the modern day Wetherspoon. Of course, as befitting of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan capitals there is also a plethora of intimate wine bars, swanky hotel lounges, cocktail bars and… Walkabouts. This Australian chain is spreading like a snail trail around London, thanks to its winning combo of apple sour shots and appalling music. Popular with Antipodeans obviously, guys who think “Nice legs, what time do they open?” is an acceptable way to start a conversation, girls sporting fairy wings and people who think Soho is too gay.


Author: Leila Hawkins