10 Things Every Tourist Should Know About London Before Visiting

If you’re planning a trip to London and you’re reading this, Congratulations. You’re already well on your way to being a savvier tourist when you get here. As a travel blogger living in one of the most popular city-break destinations in the world, I thought I may as well impart some local knowledge to travellers visiting this great city.

Here are 10 tips written from the perspective of a local, to a tourist. To Londoners, these tips will be no brainers, but this post is to get travellers London street-savvy. Now listen and up and listen good, these tips could save you serious time, money and dignity! Here are 10 things to know before visiting London…

london-skyline-city

1. Download the City Mapper App

To a tourist, getting your head around the London Transport system can be a downright terrifying prospect. If the tube wasn’t enough to handle, there are buses too. This nifty little app uses GPS to get you from A to B with ease, offering you bus, tube, taxi and by foot routes. It also tells you how much each one will cost and how long it takes. I use this app almost every day, and most Londoners swear by it.

2. Thursdays are the new Fridays

It’s true, we Londoners work bloody hard. So it’s not surprise that by Thursday we are ready to let off some serious steam. Thursday nights are one of the best nights of the week to go out, with most bars, restaurants and pubs filled with locals and an awesome atmosphere.

3. Buy your Theatre tickets on the day

Great news for those with a spontaneous streak. If you want to see a West End show but don’t know which one, buy your tickets on the day. There are endless registered and trust-worthy ticket shops around Soho and Piccadilly Circus that offer highly discounted tickets on all the top shows. They show you exactly where you’ll be sitting and print the tickets then and there, often at 50% off. That will leave you feeling rather smug in your top-price velvety stall seat.

4. Watch out for the pesky 12.5% Service Charge

Most London restaurants add on a 12.5% service charge to your final bill, especially the more upmarket or touristy spots. Some bars even add it on to your drinks bill, cheeky buggers! The charge is, of course, optional, but it’s expected to be paid unless you have really appalling service. If you’re on a tight budget, save yourself the embarrassment and take the 12.5% into account when ordering your food. It can really make a difference to the final bill, especially if you’re splashing out.

5. Know the Shopping Alternatives to Oxford Street

Shopaholics , this one will help you no end. So I’ll say it, shopping on Oxford Street is hell, especially on a Saturday. It’s famed for its shops, but there are so many other amazing shopping streets in London offering you the exact same shops without the crazy crowds. Head to Covent Garden, The Kings Road, Regent Street or Westfield Shopping Centre for an equally amazing but less crowded London shopping experience.

6. Avoid Leicester Square Cinemas

Yes ok, these cinemas have been famous by A-List film premieres, and there’s a 0.2% chance you may be sitting in the same seat Angelina Jolie once sat in. But let’s face it, a cinema is a cinema wherever you are. So by all means go, soak it all up, visit M&M world (if you must!) but a tourist going to the cinema in London is a pretty pointless waste of your time in the great capital. Save that for Tuesday night at home.

7. Take The Bus

I am a huge advocate of the London buses. Daylight, phone signal and (quite often) a seat comes as standard, which is a pretty good bargain when you compare it to the tube. Wherever you are in London, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a 5 minute walk from a bus that will take you where you want to go. It’s also a lot cheaper than getting the tube and many run 24 hours a day. Use the City Mapper App and you’re laughing.

8. Ask locals for Restaurant Recommendations

Good news for tourists, plenty of incredible restaurants can be found in London’s West End, but so can many a tourist trap looking to make a fast buck. Play it safe and get a recommendation from either the internet, your hotel reception, a local friend or me! Also be sure to try the top notch international food that London is known to perfect, such as Sushi or Lebanese food. London kicks ass with Lebanese and Sushi, and you’ll find it readily available pretty much everywhere. For some tried and tested Lebanese recommendations, read my Top Lebanese Restaurants in London post.

9. Plan Your Routes

If you didn’t already know, London is MASSIVE. So when it comes to a day (or night) out, make sure you get your bearings and pick out the most logical route. With a little forward planning, you can hop around the city with ease. Most of the main sights are pretty central, but don’t assume everything is a couple of tube-stops away. Your time in London is precious so don’t waste any of it unnecessarily stuck on transport.

10. Beware of Soho Nights Out

When non-Londoners think night out, they think Soho. That’s because you can have an awesome night out in Soho, but be warned, 95% of the people you’ll be mingling with will be tourists too. The drinks will also be extremely expensive too. To party with the locals, head a little further out of central to the likes of Camden (North London), Shoreditch (East London) or Brixton (South London).

What did you think of my 10 things to know before visiting London? If you enjoyed it or have any more questions about London, please leave a comment in the box below! I reply to each and every one. Thanks x

Want to read more London top tips? Find out the 25 best things to do in London

Follow me! @thetravelista

the-travelista-jess-gibson-london

Share:

26 Comments

  1. 14th September 2016 / 6:20 pm

    Great article. You’re so right about the movies and Oxford Street. Yes, they’re famous, but if you’re looking for a nice day out these places are way over crowded. What I’ve also learned about traveling to London multiple times is that where you stay makes all the difference. I use to stay in hotels and they where overpriced and sometimes not close to the great areas. A friend recommended A Place Like Home and I’ve never looked back again, they offer great rentals in great areas.

  2. Riannon Methner
    29th June 2016 / 4:30 pm

    The City Mapper App is AMAZING. I didn’t know about it until I read this. This app will be extremely helpful for my journeys across Europe. Thanks!

  3. Naina
    30th March 2016 / 9:48 pm

    I would be relocating to london soon from India…Its a huge transformation for me. Help me get some tips on how to settle there without making big chaos in my life…pleaaseeee 🙁

  4. Margretta walker
    16th December 2015 / 12:23 am

    Hello, my friend and I are traveling to London in 2 months. This was very helpful thank you for sharing this. We wanted to know where are some great museums to see and parks? Also do you recommend any good hotels? Than you

  5. 25th September 2015 / 9:01 am

    Hello, I will be travelling to London for the next six months as an internship at the Westminster University. Just wanted to know some advice from you and also these tips are great I believe they will help very much.

  6. Arshie
    22nd July 2015 / 12:17 am

    Hello !

    I am traveling to London for the first time next week and your list was super helpful. May I please ask you for restaurant and bar/nightlife recommendations for a group of 4 Los Angeles travelers in their early 20’s?

    Thank you !

  7. Robert
    14th May 2015 / 12:28 am

    Well done. My daughter will be in London for fashion internship this summer, and I’ll try to make her read this.

    Any special tips for fun for her? She’s 21 and dangerously beautiful.

    Regards,

    Robert

    • 20th October 2014 / 7:41 pm

      Thanks so much for checking out my blog lovely, and so glad you enjoyed the posts! Such a shame you didn’t get to see it before you came but at least you’ll know for next time 🙂 Would love to meet up if you’re planning on a return trip soon! X

      • 20th October 2014 / 7:43 pm

        I do plan on returning but I’m not quite sure when, seeing how I’m still in university. I will definitely let you know, though! 🙂 Would love to actually speak to ya haha

        • 20th October 2014 / 7:44 pm

          I know it’s such a shame we never got to meet at the Cosmo Awards! I definitely saw you too. Well if I ever come to NY (and I hope next year!) I will let you know 🙂 xx

          • 20th October 2014 / 7:45 pm

            Omgggg please do! It would be super super fun. Blogger meetup, yay!

  8. 6th September 2014 / 10:21 am

    Reblogged this on The Sweet World of Travel and commented:
    Every year I try and spend a few days in London. The rush, the vibe, the chaos of the place makes your heart quicken and your eyes widen. It is a special city, with so much to offer.
    These 10 tips on visiting London – written by another one of my favourite travel bloggers – will help you squeeze even more pleasure from this sweet city.
    Enjoy.

  9. 31st August 2014 / 6:10 am

    Great list! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  10. Sarah@Travelcake
    22nd August 2014 / 4:05 pm

    These are some really good tips! I love London and can’t wait to go again!

  11. 18th July 2014 / 12:07 pm

    Thanks for a lovely post! I was on a trip to London a couple of weeks ago and now I’m working on a series of blogposts about it. Or is it a novel? I cannot quite decide… 😀 Anyway, interesting thing about the theatre tickets. I would expect everything to be sold out on the day.

  12. HannahontheMap
    3rd July 2014 / 2:41 pm

    I wish I had known this before I went to London! I didn’t do any of these when I was there, but I also just stayed one week. Next time I go, I’ll make sure to use these tips!

    • 4th July 2014 / 3:25 pm

      Hi Hannah, thanks for your comment. So glad you enjoyed the post, and the tips are always there for next time you come and visit 🙂 x

  13. 27th June 2014 / 8:00 am

    Brilliant ideas here! I LOVED Thursday nights in the city in London. It’s very easy to forget that you have work the next day though, resulting in some very memorable Fridays… Completely agree with taking the bus too, it’s such a good way to see the city and it makes you realise how close everything is to each other. I didn’t know about the buying tickets on the day trick. I’ll use that one when I go back for visits! x

    • 4th July 2014 / 3:28 pm

      Hey Anna, thanks for your comment! Glad you agree with my tips, especially as an ex Londoner yourself! x

  14. Ime
    10th June 2014 / 12:45 am

    We enjoyed the Lobster Roll from Burger and Lobster inside Harvey Nichols. I saw your blog which covered that restaurant and it immediately brought back memories of how good that brioche was. I can’t wait to go back to London.

  15. 28th May 2014 / 6:28 am

    London is one of the European destinations i would like to visit one day. Thanks for the heads up..

  16. 26th May 2014 / 6:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I’m thinking of moving to London (or Brighton,Hove) 😀

    • 27th May 2014 / 3:00 pm

      You’re welcome! I hope you found it useful. These tips will get you well equipped for if you ever move to London 🙂

      • Ryan
        8th January 2015 / 9:19 pm

        i was looking to purchase the london travel pass https://www.londonpass.com/

        It provides unlimited travel, plus discount on local eateries… but the first purpose is it gets you into all the attractions in london (well many of the bigger stops).

        Could you give me your opinion on if this is a good purchase or would it be easier to pay for attractions as we see them?