This post most likely contains affiliate links to things such as tours, accommodation, Amazon associates and products. This means when you use the link I may receive a small commission at no additional charge to you, this helps to keep this blog going.
Maybe it is because I am a Londoner, but London well and truly has my heart. Yes, it is busy and at times bit dirty, but it is my home and I love it. Whenever someone asks me what they should know when visiting London for the first time, I do not know where to start as there are so many things to do in London.
So I have decided to take a different approach, and share my tips of things I think you should know before visiting London, tips about London from a local that will hopefully guide you along the way as well as mistakes to avoid.
Nine insider tips for visiting London
Do not fear the underground
London has one of the best-connected Underground (subway/ tube/metro, etc) systems in the world. At first glance, it can be terrifying, 11 different colour lines serving 270 stations, I get that it can be intimidating but do not avoid using it, as the London Underground will save both your legs and your time.
Take some time before your trip to work out the areas of main tube stations, the line they are on and they attractions that are around them and if all else fails ask at the tube stations, one of the main jobs of the workers standing near the ticket barriers is guiding people in the right direction.
Also, ask them how to use the ticket barrier if you are unsure if there is one thing I have learnt about my people it is that they do not like waiting at the ticket barrier.
–> Wonderful quotes about London to inspire your next trip
You cannot ‘do’ London in one visit
Just as you cannot ‘do’ New York in one visit, you cannot do London, it is fricking huge. People have the misconception that if they have seen Big Ben, Hyde Park, Leicester Square and the other tourist attractions that they have seen London, those people are wrong, London is so much more than zone one.
Head out to Crystal Palace to see the dinosaurs which have stood there since 1854 before soaking up the atmosphere at Pop Brixton.
Admire a different view of London from the greenery of Hampstead Heath and visit the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.
I have lived in London for 30 years and I still have not ‘done’ London.
Which leads me on to…
Leicester Square is not a big deal
Leicester Square seems to make everyone’s London bucket list, I urge you to take it off unless mediocre street performers and overpriced (also mediocre) food is your thing.
By all means, visit the square but use it as your cut through too much better places such as China Town, Soho and Covent Garden.
Other overrated places include Oxford Street, the London Eye (choose the Sky Garden) and Harrods.
A cheap visit to London is possible
London has a reputation for being expensive and I agree with this, but it can also be done on the cheap if you plan in advance.
Make use of the many free attractions in London such as the Natural History Museum, the Sky Garden, changing of the Guard. If you are looking to do some of the bigger attractions, shop around for the best deals, sites like My Voucher Codes often advertise codes to attractions at a heavily discounted rate.
Avoid staying in Zone one, opt for a hotel just outside of Zone one and two for a cheaper stay, areas such as Wimbledon (not during Tennis season) will be lower in price but still, have a quick train and underground connection into London Waterloo.
Eating out does not have to expensive as well, we have incredible street food markets located all over the city, and I recommend downloading the Karma app – The Karma app works to ‘rescue unsold food’, at the end of the day you can buy delicious unsold food from restaurants, cafes and grocery stores at a lower price, simply to stop the food going to waste.
Not all Londoners are rude
Us Londoners get a bad rap as being rude, rightly so we may not be as welcoming as the people towards the north of the country but the majority of us are good people.
It is important to remember most of the times you are travelling around central London you will be coming across people who are commuting to and from work, how cheery are you on your way to work?
Most Londoners will not be the first people to say hello, but if you stop someone to ask for help or directions, I can assure you the majority of us would happily help.
I can also guarantee if you even end up in London on a sunny day when England have just won the football we will be some of the happiest, nicest people you have ever met.
We are a city of many wonderful cultures
Many people I speak to when abroad seem to be under the illusion that everyone from London is either well spoken or cockney and of course, knows the Royal family – spoiler – we don’t.
However, there are over 300 languages spoken in London, which is more than any other city in the world, pretty incredible right?
My absolute favourite thing about London is our diverse mix of cultures, ever hear the phrase London is open? This is why and it makes London special.
Want to try authentic Korean food? Visit the UK’s largest community of Korean people in New Malden.
Looking for beautifully made Indian saris that would not look out of place in the streets of Delhi? The shops in Tooting have you covered.
Don’t spend money on the view
I mentioned previously that I don’t think the London Eye is worth the price tag, well I do not think the Shard is either but I do think you need to take the view of our skyline from up high, but the places I suggest are at least half the price tag.
See us Londoner’s do like a drink and we like a drink ever better from a rooftop bar in the summer, I recommend Frank’s cafe in Peckham (currently only open during the summer months) or the Culpeper in Whitechapel for a botanical garden bar which boasts the Gherkin in its skyline.
If heading to a bar is not your thing, then the Sky Garden and Hampstead Heath are also brilliant spots to take in the view as well.
Our weather is unpredictable, therefore there is not a ‘best time’ to visit
I would not book a trip to London based on the hope for a certain type of weather, because you cannot call it, I mean this year we had snow in April after not having snow for nearly three years.
Luckily London appeals differently at all points of the year, in the summer, you can spend time outside in the parks and at outdoor festivals and events but winter is a great time to visit too, with Christmas markets in Hyde Park and along South Bank, and outdoor ice rinks in the Tower of London and Somerset House.
Top tip: The Underground / Tube is horrendous during the warm weather, there is no air conditioning and it is busy. Avoid taking the tube during one of London’s rare heatwaves.
It will keep you coming back for more
What I love about this city, if it has not been evident before, is the variety, no two visits will be the same and each trip to London can be planned completely different from the first. London is a city which is constantly evolving, constantly adapting to the latest trends while still maintaining the roots of the people who lived there thousands of years beforehand.
Give London a chance and it will get your under skin, yes it can feel dirty, rushed and pretty damn expensive at times, but it will always be there with open arms to welcome you back again.