A couple of days ago I just happened to interview my friend and London travel expert, Julie from aladyinlondon.com. Julie was kind enough to share her best London travel tips which you can either read about, listen to on my podcast or watch the interview on YouTube (below).
Johnny Jet: Today we have a very special guest all the way from London, England. A Lady in London. Her name is Julie. Her blog is aladyinlondon.com. Julie quit her job and moved to England and created a blog and became very popular and has been all over the world.
A Lady in London: That’s true, yeah. I quit my job in 2007, moved to London, and I’ve been running the A Lady in London blog ever since. Just celebrated 15 years.
Johnny Jet: And how many countries have you been to? I know you’ve been to a ton.
A Lady in London: I’ve been to 112.
Johnny Jet: 112, that’s insane! You’ve been living in London since 2007 so how was it to move there? I mean, was it a big culture shock? Is it a lot different than the US?
A Lady in London: Yeah, it is a big culture shock, and I think the main reason why is because you kind of assume that it’s going to be really similar. They speak English. We used to be colonies, or at least part of our country did. But you get there and you realize there are actually pretty big cultural differences. And some of them are more subtle than others, but some of them take a bit of time to get used to.
Johnny Jet: Like what? Besides their accent and pubs closing early.
A Lady in London: Yeah, those are definitely big ones. I think in London specifically, you’re not really supposed to talk to strangers. It’s not the done thing. So coming from California, where you just strike up conversations with anyone anywhere, it was a learning curve, not making eye contact with people on the tube. It’s kind of more of a respect and privacy thing, as opposed to where we have a sort of positive politeness where you go out of your way to be friendly to people.
Johnny Jet: Did I ever tell you about the time I was in London and I was with a hotel GM who received a text he had to go greet Prince Charles. And I asked if could go and he said let me ask his security team and they said yes. It’s a long story which you can either listen to on the podcast or read about here.
Johnny Jet: With the pound and everything is everything more expensive?
A Lady in London: It is, but nowadays not as much as the pound has taken a hit. It’s at a long-time low against the dollar, so it’s actually a really good time for Americans to visit the UK. But some things are more expensive depending where you’re coming from. Being from San Francisco, things are not that much more expensive because San Francisco is very expensive, too. But if you’re coming from other parts of the USA you might experience a little bit of a shock.
Johnny Jet: So what are 12 things first timers should know about going to London?
A Lady in London: I think one of the things is that London is enormous, it is an absolutely vast city, and that’s great. It’s one of its biggest benefits because there’s so much to see and do there, but I think the number one thing I tell people is don’t try to do everything in the first visit, and don’t think that you’re going to cover every single inch of the city in a few days or even in a week. I’ve been there 15 years and I’m still discovering new parts of London, so I think that’s a big one.
A Lady in London: Kind of an addition to that is use the public transport network. London’s got great public transit with the tube and the buses and the trains. We’ve got the new Elizabeth line that goes to Heathrow. Those are all great ways to get around, and it’s usually faster actually even than taking taxis because traffic can be bad in central London.
Johnny Jet: Do you use an Oyster card?
A Lady in London: You don’t need to anymore. You can actually just use your debit card now, so it’s not as much of a hassle as getting an Oyster card and loading money on it and all of that. You can just tap in with your debit card, and at the end of the day, if you’ve used enough rides that it converts to a day pass, it’ll automatically do that and charge you the fare difference.
Johnny Jet: That’s awesome. I didn’t know that. I personally would use a credit card that has a tap feature so you’re better protected and get a better currency exchange.
Johnny Jet: I know London is a great walking city. so make sure you have really comfortable walking shoes.
A Lady in London: Definitely. That’s one of my favorite things to do. There’s a lot of free self-guided walks on my blog, so that’s something to check out if you’re interested. But even if you don’t, walking around London is a great way to see it, because it’s one of the best things about London, for me anyway. You really miss the small details if you’re taking the tube everywhere.
Johnny Jet: When I saw you last week in Los Angeles I showed you a map app I first used in London. It’s great because it doesn’t give you turn by turn directions. It’s just points your destination on a compass like arrow and tells you the distance and estimated time of arrival. Here’s more details.
A Lady in London: This summer has been oddly hot, but normally even in the summer you always want to have an umbrella with you. I always carry sort of a mini travel size one in my bag wherever I go, and it comes in handy quite often.
Johnny Jet: Yeah, I carry one in my back pocket, but can you buy them on every corner?
A Lady in London: Yeah, and most souvenir shops have them, as well as Boots (they’re sort of the pharmacy equivalent of CVS or Walgreens in the US.) Boots always have umbrellas. Supermarkets have umbrellas. You can find them pretty much everywhere.
Johnny Jet: You know, the last time I was in London I actually saw you on a street similar to the one that’s behind you. We rented a place through London Perfect, which was awesome, and that was my first trip to London where I don’t think I paid cash once. I used mostly Apple Pay or my credit card for every purchase, even buying a bottle of water at a convenience store. It was just tap and presto.
A Lady in London: Yes, and it got even more so during the pandemic, and to be honest, I don’t even remember the last time I carried around my wallet. I just use Apple Pay for everything. And it’s funny, even now, the buskers who are the street performers out on the street, they have that tap to pay, you know, £2.00 to tip them. So everything is pretty much cashless there now.
Johnny Jet: Do the buskers use Venmo?
A Lady in London: We don’t have Venmo in the UK, so people usually pay each other via bank transfer. But Apple Pay is pretty much everywhere.
A Lady in London: I would say get into the food scene, a lot of people still think, oh Britain, the food isn’t good. But that was years and years ago, and London has amazing food now. I personally recommend Indian food because that is a big thing in Britain, so go to a curry house. And the pubs. They’re sort of like the neighborhood living room, and they’re great places not only to get good traditional food like fish and chips or bangers and mash, but also to get into the culture there and to meet the locals and to really see what London life is about.
Johnny Jet: London is definitely my favorite place to get Indian food outside of India. Actually, I think I even prefer it over India because I trust the water way more in England than I do in India. So do you have any favorite Indian restaurants by the way of districts?
A Lady in London: I like to go to a place in East London called Tayyabs. Actually, speaking of cash, it is one of the few places that is still cash-only. And it is in Whitechapel, which is in East London and it’s on a little side street kind of tucked away, but the food is amazing and it’s a huge restaurant and it’s always packed. I went there last time, I think at like 10:00 o’clock at night on a Tuesday and it was jammed. So it’s really, really good food and it’s a great local experience.
Johnny Jet: Actually, the first time I met you in England, I believe we went to an Indian restaurant, correct?
A Lady in London: Yes! We went to Veeraswamy, which is the other end of the spectrum. It’s a really nice restaurant, right off Regent Street. Also delicious, but a very different experience.
Johnny Jet: What else are we missing or where should first timers know when they go to London?
A Lady in London: One of the things is to plan your itinerary based on locations. As I said before, London is so big it makes no sense to go to the V&A Museum and try to do the Tower of London in the same day because they’re way on the other side of the city center from each other. So get out a map, figure out what you want to do, and then group things together by day based on their locations. It’ll be a lot easier on you. You won’t be running around the city or taking the tube way back and forth.
Johnny Jet: Smart and speaking of museums. Are they still free?
A Lady in London: Yes! All the big museums in London are free, and it’s amazing. I pop in all the time for 10-20 minutes and then go on my way. It’s really nice.
Johnny Jet: Are there certain days they’re closed?
A Lady in London: Not many of them, to be honest. It’s more that they’re open late. A lot of them, like the National Gallery, are open late on Fridays, so if you want to go before or after dinner, you can go in and see whatever there is to see. The V&A and some of the others have monthly late nights for adults only where they have a bar and a DJ and you can get drinks. And so it’s sort of like half museum, half party. Really fun.
Johnny Jet: I mean, no wonder why you live in England. That’s amazing. There was an area I went to a couple times, I can’t remember the name but there were canals.
A Lady in London: Yes! In Little Venice and Maida Vale the canals run all the way through to Camden and Kings Cross, and you can go through Hackney and the east. It’s a really nice local experience, because a lot of visitors know about the Thames and do the walk along the South Bank, but locals love doing the walk along Regent’s Canal.
Johnny Jet: Do Americans still love to go to Portobello Market?
A Lady in London: Yes! Portobello Market with the antiques on Saturdays. Lots of other markets too. Borough Market is amazing. If you love food, it’s London’s big food market and it’s uniquely set under these railway bridges south of the river. I love Maltby Street Market, which is near Borough Market, and its food. It’s under railway arches, but it’s very local and not that many people know about it, so that’s a fun one.
Then there’s obviously Camden Market, which is one of the most famous, and you can pretty much get anything there. It used to be associated more with kind of goth and alternative things, but now it’s a bit of everything.
Johnny Jet: I love going into the different grocery stores like Marks and Spencer’s and get different kinds of potato chips or chocolate bars because they’re unique and delicious.
A Lady in London: Yes, exactly. There’s a lot of good local British sweets and snacks. You get Twiglets, which almost look like braided pretzels, but they taste different there. I think they might even have Marmite on them. You can get chocolates, like all the Cadbury’s flavors. There’s a lot of good ones.
Johnny Jet: You told me last week that you use Google Voice when you travel. But for those going to London for a longer stay or even a month do you recommend getting a local sim card?
A Lady in London: Yeah, you can get a local SIM. There are these prepaid Sims that basically cost 10 to 15 pounds. You can get them all over London. The high streets are full of mobile phone shops. You can just walk in, buy a £10 prepaid SIM, pop it in your phone, and then you can basically have data in the UK for £10 for while you’re there. I was just looking on one of the websites right now and some of them have, yeah, 30 gigs. 16 gigs for £10, thirty gigs for £15.00. So yeah, there’s a lot of value in it.
Johnny Jet: That’s awesome. Any other tips?
A Lady in London: I would say get out of Zone 1. Zone 1 is the heart of central London, where you have Covent Garden and Buckingham Palace and all the kind of obvious places. But as a local, one of the things I love most about London is getting into the more local neighborhoods. And one of the ones I love is Hampstead, which is in north London. It’s on the tube on the Northern line, and the station is Hampstead. It just feels like this country village right in London, and there’s a huge park with great views of the city. So places like that are worth going to if you have a little bit of extra time.
Johnny Jet: I remember going to parks with huge rose gardens, I think there’s one with tens of thousands types of roses.
A Lady in London: Regent’s Park
Johnny Jet: One of my favorite thing to do in London is go see a play. Do you have a certain place that you go to find cheap tickets?
A Lady in London: You know you can go, the TKTS Booth in the middle of Leicester Square. That’s always historically kind of been the place. You can get cheap last-minute tickets, but you can get deals online as well, booking either early or late. Some people sometimes even show up to the theater itself and get last minute tickets on the day of. But yeah, it’s absolutely worth going to see a show.
Johnny Jet: Do you have a favorite place for tea?
A Lady in London: Absolutely. I’ve been to afternoon tea many times. It’s a great tradition and it’s a fun experience, especially if you love carbs, because it’s sandwiches, scones and pastries. I don’t even know if I could choose a favorite, but the most recent one I went to was Fortnum & Mason, and that was a great.
Johnny Jet: So what’s the difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea?
A Lady in London: Afternoon tea is the tradition that you think of when you think of the tiered trays with sandwiches on the bottom and scones in the middle and pastries on the top. High Tea is more of a meal, so it’s usually just kind of an early dinner, and it can be sort of a pie or it can be something more. You can probably even have bangers and mash, something traditional, but it’s more just early dinner as opposed to the kind of pastries and sweets and things.
Johnny Jet: How about any scams that people need to be aware of. Like pick pocketers. I assume they’re on the Tube when it’s really crowded.
A Lady in London: Yeah, I was gonna say there’s not that much in the way that’s unique to London. There are definitely pick pocketers, but not that often. A lot of places in Central London have signs saying “don’t leave your phone lying around on the table because people might stop by and swipe it”, or “don’t hang your bag over the back of your chair because somebody might come by and just grab it and go”.
Johnny Jet: Any apps people should download?
A Lady in London: Lots of people use an app called City Mapper that is good for walking and public transport. So if you want to know how to get from right exactly where you are to the British Museum, you can type that into City Mapper and it’ll tell you the best transport to use, whether that’s buses or the tube or a combination of the two or just walking. So that’s a really helpful one.
Johnny Jet: What’s your favorite time of year to visit London? I assume it’s the summertime.
A Lady in London: I would say late spring going into summer because you start getting all the flowers coming out. The weather is nice. Everybody is so excited that it’s getting warmer, so everyone is in a really good mood. The city is absolutely beautiful. The wisteria is in bloom and it’s just a really nice time.
Johnny Jet: It’s my favorite time of the year to be in Connecticut, where I grew up, for the same reasons everyone in a great mood because they made it through winter and summer’s finally here. I really appreciate all these tips, and I know everyone else does. So how can people follow you and sign up to your newsletter?
A Lady in London: The blog is aladyinlondon.com and I am on all social media: Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tick Tock, everything else. I’m on as @aladyinlondon and you can subscribe to my blog and newsletter on the blog.
Julie runs an award-winning travel and lifestyle blog, A Lady in London, for which she has traveled to 112 countries and developed a strong social media presence. She is also a public speaker and lectures about blogging and social media all over the world. Originally from San Francisco, Julie attended Brown University and came to the UK in 2007 after leaving a career in finance, during which she worked for Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund.