Traveling to London for the First Time? 15 tips for first timers
1.Travelling taste buds
I thought I’d start with some of the more practical tips. London is a very big city, and for non-locals it can be quite overwhelming. But don’t worry; the tube is your friend! As long as you’re able to read and/or see colors, you’ll be able to master the art of changing lines; although, even if you’re unable to do either of those things, London Underground does offer assistance facilities where staff can help you on your way.
Signposted as well as it is, and with easily accessible maps and guidebooks there genuinely is no excuse to get lost, even during long walks between interchanges. I mean, sometimes it genuinely feels as though you could have walked to your actual destination faster. There are also buses running twenty four hours, seven days a week to and from the centre of London.
You can use your contactless bankcards and other contactless methods for travel. However, if you wish to take a little souveneer away with you then I could recommend purchasing an Oyster card. Sometimes they have cute London-related pictures on them too to add to the experience. Additionally regarding travel, there is Uber, traditional black cabs and rent-a-bikes. You can even rent bikes that you quite literally pick up and put down all around the city. They’re called Santander bikes and are available for as little as £2.
Downloading the Transport for London (TFL) app or visiting their website will help you to plan your journeys and keep you up to speed on any disruptions or closures, which is very helpful on weekends and bank holidays where typically engineering works take place.
Having said that, I believe that sometimes there’s something beautiful about getting lost.
2.The Way to Pay
EVERYWHERE takes credit and debit cards! That is genuinely not an exaggeration. By cards, I should specify that in fact I refer to all forms of electronic payments – phones, watches, any sort of high-tech, new-age, dangerously easy way to spend money you have and wish to utilize. Just when you arrive somewhere you think may not take card payments there they are with their little machines, whether it be a market stall or a kiosk, or an independent café. Card is cool.
3.Tips about tips
The general consensus is that you leave them. I don’t mean leave them out and don’t give them. I mean leave a tip. Often a 12% surcharge will be placed on a bill but they are completely discretionary. I would suggest, as with anywhere that if your service and or food and or general experience is terrible then of course don’t leave a tip. Ironically, given tip number two about electronic payments, I believe it’s always nice to have a little bit of change to give should the surcharge not be there, or you believe someone specific has done an exceptional job and deserves the tip, or at least a separate one personally. A few quid per person (great British pounds) on top of 10-12% is a nice gesture of appreciation. Although unlike some other countries, our waiters and waitresses aren’t solely relying on your gratitude to earn a living, so the pressure is off.
As helpful as I expect my tips about the eateries themselves to be, I would always advise you to read reviews too. I appreciate that a lot of it is a matter of opinion and often needs to be sprinkled with a pinch of salt, but having a wider scope will help you to choose what’s best for you. There are a vast amount of ways and websites to do so. Take a few minutes to skim through ratings, pros and cons, and ‘need to knows’ before potentially traipsing half way across the city to find that a restaurant isn’t child-friendly, or has a live saxophone player when in fact you find the saxophone to be the most annoying musical instrument in the world.
A great way to have a gander at what people think is social media. There are people ‘doing it for the gram’, pinpointing their locations and sharing pictures accompanied by captions that are giving other potential customers an insight into what the food looks and tastes like, and how much #fun they’re having.
5. Timing is Everything
I guess the time you choose really will depend on your personal preference and of course your availability. But there are certainly times public transport, the streets, and of course eateries get particularly busy. If you love the hustle and bustle and are dead set on getting in with the local work-scene, then lunch between 12-2 and dinner between 5-8 will be your thing. But prepare yourself for sardine-like tube rides, weaving in and out of human traffic, and spending more time in the queue than you do at your table. They aren’t called peak-times for no reason.
6.Make the Most of Happy Hour(s)
Catering to such a vast amount of people, London not only has places that strategically co-exist with one another, maneuvering their happy hours to share customers, but to gain more clientele, often places extend their happy hours. There are literally happy hours that go from 4pm-9pm, or even sometimes all day on specific days. Although typically for drinks, they sometimes include food deals too, so keep your eyes peels for the happiest times to visit restaurants of your choosing.
7.The Most Important Meal of the Day
Yes, you guessed it: breakfast. If you’re anything like me, as soon as you open your eyes you’re already thinking about food as far away as supper. The idea of an English breakfast probably gives you the impression that we all eat in greasy cafes, with red and white checked table cloths and drink black filtered coffee. Well, we do…
There’s nothing better than the gut wrenching smell of a fry-up on a hung-over Sunday morning. The more authentic experiences tend to be in the cafes that don’t provide alternative milks, or even know what chai seeds are; they stick to the basics, full English, the novelty vegetarian, and omlettes, with chips. Because who wouldn’t want chips with their breakfast? (Chips =fries).
On the other hand, If chai seeds and alternative milks are your thing and you’re looking for something a little more fancy, there are plenty of quaint places to enjoy poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, or oatmeal alongside a caffe macchiato. Next to an exceptionally posh barbershop in Holborn, The Black Penny is a great choice for this.
However my favorite café is simultaneously more and less than the aforementioned. OZ Café in King’s Cross has underwhelming décor and doesn’t omit any sort of cozy feeling. However, it doesn’t need anything other than its delicious high-quality food and friendly and efficient staff to keep myself, and even the odd local B-list celebrity going back for more. The hash browns are perfectly crisp and the sausage selection is sublime. Reasonably priced for the area, it’s my go-to breakfast café choice.
8.The Best Brunch
Brunch is a pretty big thing in England, and London specializes in popular spots to roll out of bed long after the sun has risen (and by long after I mean they do all day brunch on weekends), and still indulge in your favorite breakfast foods. It really has become somewhat of a culture in London, with women toasting their mimosas on social media, proudly professing to be “women who brunch”, and even groups of men indulging in the trend over their poached eggs.
Table Café, an Independent British restaurant just a stone’s throw away from Shakespeare’s The Globe theatre is a perfect example. They cater for the typical full English, but slightly more posh than the greasy café type, eggs how you want them, but also offer irresistible sweet and savory pancakes and waffles that you’ll immediately regret not ordering once you get a glimpse of a stack being delivered to the next table.
Brunch is most definitely an experience than I would recommend that you partake in whilst in London. You’ll feel like such a local!
9.Did Someone Say “Bottomless”?
Do you know what else a thing is? Bottomless brunch! Often requiring pre-bookings because of their popularity, bottomless brunches are a brilliant excuse to drink at what usually constitutes as an unreasonable time. Mostly on weekends offering prosecco and bloody Marys, you know breakfast-y drinks in a usually two hour time slot.
However, Jones and Sons located in the quirky area of Dalston offers both bottomless drink AND bottomless food. The thing I like most about Jones and Sons is that their service and quality don’t suffer for the mass amounts of orders and both their air fried frozen fries and drink menus are pretty extensive for the offer. So if you’re going to brunch, and you fancy a tipple to go with it, bottomless brunch is the experience for you.
10. Love the Lunch Hour Rush
You can usually tell that it’s lunch time without looking at your watch in London. This is because the streets tend to become filled with ravenous worker-bees on a strictly timed lunch break, mostly spent dodging the other worker-bees and standing in queues for food. It’s not ideal, but there is something that I love about the lunch rush. There are cons to rush-hour eating that I touched on a little earlier but, the buzz can be exciting.
Lunch time is a lot calmer on weekends, and there are a few corners of the city it can best be enjoyed. There are parks and squares and canals. Admittedly, great for all meals, but atmospherically perfect for a spot of lunch, Barge House is my top pick. Situated along the canal in Hackney, Barge House has an unbeatable laid back atmosphere and puts real heart into their food. Their consistently colorful menu changes seasonally, keeping locals on their toes. And their freshly squeezed juices are not to be missed.
11. Afternoon Tea is Totally a British Thing to do
What a delightfully British experience! So delightful that it’s common to receive the experience as a gift. There are many themes to choose from around London, rising in popularity: hovering not too far behind the brunch fad. The ultimate experience in my opinion and that of many others I’m sure, has to be Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea. Of course inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Sanderson hotel in Fitzrovia invites you to take a trip down the rabbit hole to indulge in flavorsome cakes, posh filled sandwiches and biscuits (cookies to some). Also scones, exotic fruit juices, and of course tea, all delivered to you in Alice in Wonderland decorated crockery. It’s quite pricey, but well worth it for the whimsical experience.
12.Bottomless Afternoon Tea Too
Someone was going to pitch the idea eventually, right? It is exactly what you’re thinking; an unlimited amount of alcohol – usually prosecco or champagne within a time slot, along with traditional treats. Generally these days, the option to add bottomless drinks is slowly but surely creeping onto afternoon tea menus all around the city.
My favorite, by far has to be Afternoon Tea at the Palm Court in Sheraton Grand Hotel. Their luxurious sandwiches are accompanied by freshly-baked scones, and hand crafted sweets that are shaped to adhere to whatever theme or partnership is currently in place; it could be jazz musical instruments, or even tiny hats to replicate those of their Mayfair neighbors Lock & Co Hatters. All of this is enjoyed with free-flowing bubbles in beautiful decorated dinging area, often accompanied by some sort of subtle live musician.
But be careful, sandwiches and scones might be filled with carbohydrates, but the portions of a quaint afternoon tea may not necessarily be enough to soak up two hours worth of unlimited alcohol.
13. Soak in a Supper Time Vibes
London is vibrant around the clock. It isn’t abnormal for people to eat later in the evenings, or to grab a bite to eat once their night of entertainment has ended. In addition to street-side stalls and your standard kebab shop, many restaurants remain open until late. Bob Bob Ricard is the best supper spot. It is chic and elegant but doesn’t give off a snobbish vibe. It has Russian, French, and British cuisines and comes with a “press for champagne” button; be careful of this should you visit post-cocktails. It remains open until midnight on weekends, and until 1am on weekends.
14. Indulge Until Sunrise
It is popular in British culture to eat, drunkenly after a night on the town. Now that I’m highlighting this, I’m wondering how any of us stay healthy!
Typically that involves kebabs, pizzas and cheesy chips (hot French fries topped with cheese that becomes melted and delicious); for me however, I prefer it to end a little differently. Anyone familiar with Brick Lane (an area I’ll touch on later on), a famous street in Shoreditch knows that the best thing to eat after a night out is a Bagel from Beigel Bake. Their straightforward menu offers traditional bagel fillings such as salted beef and salmon and cream cheese. However, it never quite tastes the same as any bagel you’ve ever eaten before. It is no wonder that the place is never quiet, despite being open twenty four hours a day.
We’ll talk more about dinners and cuisines later on, but for now I thought we would focus on sort of life choices and dietary requirements.
15. Eat the Meat
There are a plethora of excellent steak houses in London; along with all you can eat Brazilian joints, and other meaty restaurants in-between.
Steak is relatively expensive wherever you go in London. You can expect it to be the most expensive thing on any mixed-menus. You can pay big bucks for a fancier restaurant where you’re looking at up to £100. But I would say for a decent cut of steak at a specialist restaurant, you’re looking at around £30, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.
For something a little more up market, try the Gaucho chain, consistent across all of their restaurants, and ever-growing in popularity. Gaucho is the sort of fancier than average restaurant but not too fancy that you can’t afford to go there as a birthday treat.