Top 10 things to know before going to London

London is one of the most popular cities to visit in the world. Travelista Editor, Jessica Ruth Gibson, shares her top things to know before going to London, as someone who has lived in the city. These are tried and tested tips from a travel blogger who has lived in London, and will help you have a brilliant time visiting London.

This post was last updated in April 2024

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 largest cities in the world, I thought I may as well impart some local knowledge to travellers visiting this great city. This post is written from the perspective of a Londoner, giving advice to a tourist. Now listen and up and listen good, these tips could save you time and money. Here are 10 important things to know before visiting London…

things to know before visiting London - Covent Garden

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 a 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 and one of the best things to know before visiting London. 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.

things to know before visiting London - champagne at Min Jiang

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 and Restaurants

Yes ok, these cinemas have been made 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 going to the cinema is probably not the best use of your time. The restaurants are also incredibly saturated around Leicester Square. Instead, seek out the independent foodie scene in Soho or get an authentic experience in China Town which is just around the corner from Leicester Square.

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. There are also official London Bus Tours if you want to see all the sights.

things to know before visiting London - Waterloo bridge

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.

You can read all about one of my favourite London restuarants here

9. Plan Your Routes

It sounds simple but one of the key things to know before visiting London is that this city 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 West End Clubs

When non-Londoners think night out, they think West End. That’s because you can have an awesome night out in Soho and The West End, 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).

3 unique experiences when traveling to London

A city river cruise of London

One of the very best ways to explore London, and to piece all of the sights together, is from the River Thames. From Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, all the way to Canary Wharf, a river cruise allows you to soak up all of London’s most iconic sights from the comfort of a relaxing cruise.

Read my full review here

See London from a VIP Helicopter Ride

London is a city filled with iconic landmarks, and if you’re wanting to see if from a completely new perspective, and have a luxury experience, then you might want to try The London Helicopter!

Read all about it here

Learn to cook at La Cucina Caldesi Cookery School

If you’re looking for a foodie experience whilst you’re visiting London, then there are plenty of cooking school’s around the city. However, I have to tell you about London’s only Italian cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, which is incredible.

Read all about the best cookery school in London here

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.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

33 Comments

  • Lovelly blog you have here

  • A lot of these tips would also be really relevant for someone moving to London to live for the first time. Co-living in London, is a great way to make the transition from tourist to resident.

  • These tips are so usefull.Thank you for sharing it, I really want to visit London! 🙂

  • These tips are so helpful.Thanks for sharing it. please find time to check out my blogs for the most attractive tourist destination in LONDON,http://london-tourist-spot.blogspot.ae/

  • Thanks for your great tips, i will remember whenever i will go London.
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  • 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.

  • Riannon Methner

    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!

  • 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 🙁

  • Margretta walker

    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

  • 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.

  • 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 !

  • 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

  • UGH, wish I had read this before travelling from New York to London for the Cosmo Blog Awards! Great tips.
    http://adornedinarmor.com

    • 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

      • 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

  • 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.

  • Great list! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Sarah@Travelcake

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

  • 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.

  • HannahontheMap

    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!

    • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

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

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

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

      • 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?

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