You’ve printed your boarding pass, your theatre tickets are booked and dinner reservations for that fancy meal are good to go. Your trip to London is all set, right? While the UK capital is one of those cities where you can rock up and have a fantastic time with no plans or prior knowledge, after living here for six years I’ve picked up a few things to do that may help you experience London like a local—especially if it’s your first time:
1. While on the Tube, stand on the right and walk on the left
This is the cardinal rule for public transportation in London. While on the London Underground, or “Tube,” as we call it, it is imperative that those who plan to stand on the escalators stay to the right. This keeps the left side clear for those who are in a hurry. Whether they’re late for work, excited for a date, desperate to get to the pub, or using the escalators as a free StairMaster, do not get in the way of commuters walking on the left. While you won’t cause a brawl to break out—this is England, most of the time they’re too polite to call you out—you will elicit many “tuts” murmured under frustrated breaths and a sure branding of “tourist.” Avoid standing on the left at all costs, but especially during rush hour. That’s enough to push even mild-mannered Brits to actually say “sorry” and wait expectantly as you move to the right.
2. If you need to pee, find “the toilets”
While it may seem a crude term for those used to euphemisms for the “bathroom,” “restroom” and “washroom,” in the UK they call the space where you relieve yourself by its most dominant feature: the toilet. Hence if you’re out in public, simply ask for “the toilets.” In restaurants and pubs, as well, you’ll see signs for the “toilets.” True, most people will still understand if you use one of the other names but by embracing “the toilets,” you’ll get to your desired location much faster.
3. Embrace the silent letters aka it’s not “Bucking-Ham”
One easy way to separate yourself from other tourists is to pronounce the residence of the Queen as the English do: “Bucking-em” Palace, with the “h” magically disappearing. It’s not the only London place name you might encounter with a silent letter. The London neighborhood that is home to the Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian, for example, is written as “Greenwich” but pronounced “Gren-ich.”
4. Nab a meal at 50% off
Many visitors to London balk at the price of food here. If you’re looking for something cheap and cheery, one secret is to wait until just before some of the “fast casual” restaurants close. Sushi chain itsu, with multiple locations across the city, offers 50% off fresh items one hour before closing. Similarly, healthy eating specialists Pod—with a large selection of salads and wraps catering for vegan and gluten-free diets—also sell items at half-off at select locations 30 minutes before closing. Many food chains shut at 8 or 9pm, so if you find you haven’t eaten yet and you get to that witching hour, have a wander to unearth a deal.
5. Use local buses for the best tours of London
Double-decker buses are one of the most iconic symbols of London, so why not get a true “London” experience and a tour of the streets for a fraction of the price of an “official” tour bus? If you nab the front row on the top deck, you’ll be in for a panoramic treat. My favourite routes are particularly stunning at night: the 7 or 23, running east/west between Liverpool Street Station and Notting Hill, perfect for taking in the city lights of Oxford Street, Oxford Circus and Regent Street—especially at Christmastime; and the number 15, which passes Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s and the Tower of London.