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London is a city of two tales. One is filled with grand palaces, a royal family, and rigid traditions, while the other packs cutting-edge technology, city skyscrapers, and an avant-garde attitude. For every opulent Georgian townhouse, a hip pop-up restaurant opens, and, while London’s elite continue to play the age-old game of polo, the city’s underground grime music is going strong. So, spend time exploring the city’s historic landmarks, such as Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London to really understand the city’s origins, before hitting Brixton, Shoreditch, and Camden for a dive into London’s 21st century culture of street art, wacky fashion trends, and street-food eats. It’s this striking duality that makes London a city that never runs out of fun. 

Contents

introduction

London is a city of two tales. One is filled with grand palaces, a royal family, and rigid traditions, while the other packs cutting-edge technology, city skyscrapers, and an avant-garde attitude. For every opulent Georgian townhouse, a hip pop-up restaurant opens, and, while London’s elite continue to play the age-old game of polo, the city’s underground grime music is going strong. So, spend time exploring the city’s historic landmarks, such as Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London to really understand the city’s origins, before hitting Brixton, Shoreditch, and Camden for a dive into London’s 21st century culture of street art, wacky fashion trends, and street-food eats. It’s this striking duality that makes London a city that never runs out of fun. 

MATADOR GUIDES

General Tips

When to visit

Despite the country’s unreliable weather, London is a year-round destination. Late April to early June is the best time to visit for those seeking warmer weather — just don’t expect sunshine every day. The British school holidays break out at the end of July until early September so be prepared for longer queues at most attractions during this busy period. In December the Christmas lights, festive markets, and ice skating rinks are in full swing for those who seek a Love Actually vibe. January to March, and September to November are the quietest times to visit, with cheaper deals across the city.

Currency and tipping

As with the rest of the United Kingdom, London uses the British pound sterling. The conversion rate is around £0.77 per 1 USD. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at airports, train stations, post offices, and some Bureau Exchange counters at supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer.

When it comes to tipping, most restaurants will usually add a service charge to the bill. Where there is no service charge, a tip between 10-15 percent of the bill is expected but not required. For other services including taxis, bars, and tours, tipping is not expected but highly appreciated.

Language

London is a multicultural city, so you will hear many different languages during your stay — the British Council estimates that there are about 300 languages spoken in London total. That said, English is the official language of the UK and it is spoken everywhere in the city including all shops, train stations, bars, markets, restaurants, and public attractions.

As you wander through the city, you may encounter a variety of British accents, including the working-class London inflection known as Cockney, the middle-class Estuary accent, and just about every one of Britain’s regional pronunciations, such as Brummie (from Birmingham), Geordie (from Newcastle), and Scouse (from Liverpool).

Visitors to London will inevitably encounter some city- and country-specific slang, from traditional sayings to trendier street language like: 

  • “Cuppa” meaning "a cup of tea"
  • “Chuffed” meaning “pleased” or “happy”
  • “Jokes” meaning “funny”
  • “Innit?” meaning “isn’t it?”
  • “Loo” meaning  “washroom”
  • “Bloke” meaning “man”
  • “Chips” meaning “French fries”
  • “Fresh” meaning “looking good”
  • “Bruv” meaning “mate”
  • “Knackered” meaning “tired”
  • “Fam” meaning “friends and family”
  • “Quid” meaning “pound”

Transportation

London has four main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and London City. Most international flights arrive and depart from Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted, while London City Airport offers internal and European flights. The quickest and easiest way to travel to and from the airport is to take the train. Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted all have their own rail networks offering the shortest travel times. 

  • The Stansted Express departs from Liverpool Street train station and takes approximately 47 minutes.
  • The Gatwick Express departs from London Victoria and takes approximately 30 minutes.
  • The Heathrow Express leaves from Paddington and takes approximately 15 minutes. 

There are up to four trains per hour for each service but it is always best to book in advance at the train station. 

London City Airport has its own stop on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) which can be accessed from Canning Town station. 

Other options include taxis (ideally pre-booked) and National Express coaches.

London’s transportation system is extensive and very dependable — there’s an incredible network of trains, tubes, buses, and boats to suit all needs. Consequently, travel times around the city are short; the quickest mode of transportation is the London Underground, also known as “the tube.”

London’s underground network is easy to navigate. There are 11 tube lines in total, each one interconnecting to enable travelers to reach their destination smoothly. The system is divided into nine zones with a different price for each zone you travel to. An Oyster card or a contactless bank card are the cheapest and easiest modes of payments when traveling through London. For example, to travel in zone one with cash would cost around £4.90 compared to £2.40 with an Oyster card or contactless payment. Oyster cards and daily travelcards can be purchased at most train and underground stations throughout the city. Be sure to pick up a London Underground tube map when you arrive at the airport.

London’s iconic red double decker buses are also a great way to get around the city. Costing only £1.50 per journey or £4.50 for a day pass, this is by far the cheapest means of transportation and a good way to tour the city. Bus stops are located frequently throughout the city and can also be found outside most train and tube stations. Be warned, though, as London has a lot of traffic and journey times can be unpredictable. The buses are cashless and only accept Oyster and contactless bank cards so make sure you have enough money on your card before heading to the bus stop.

If you are in need of a taxi, look out for the large black vehicles with a “TAXI” sign on the top. All taxis in the city charge by meter. Uber is also widely used.

If you wish to cycle around London, Santander Cycles offers affordable bike hire. The bikes are located all around the city with 750 docking stations that are easy to spot. Just head up to the docking station and follow the instructions on the screen. Cash is not accepted as payment so be sure to bring your bank card. Alternatively, download the app to manage your payments and journeys. It costs £2 to access a bike and the first 30 minutes of every journey are free.  After the first 30 minutes, it will cost £2 for every further 30 minutes.

Safety

London is a safe city but it is certainly not immune to petty crime and theft. Do not leave any valuables in back pockets and always keep handbags closed. Only use licensed taxis with meters, or, if in doubt, use car service like Uber. Walking alone is fine but try to avoid walking in alleyways and unlit areas at night. The metro is safe to use but keep your belongings with you at all times. The emergency services number is 999, which is the same number throughout the UK. 

There are a number of scams in central London that visitors need to be aware of. Steer clear of anyone inviting you to take part in a card game or magic trick. When renting a bicycle, always lock it up, preferably at a designated bike rack. If you are purchasing theater or music tickets be sure to buy them from a reputable ticket company such as TKTS London, or from the venue directly.

itineraries

Essential London: Day One

Check all the Brit hits off your list.

Essential London: Day Two

London’s trendy side is waiting.

Essential London: Day Three

Have a very British day out.

The ultimate rainy day tour of London’s museums

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The best LGBTQ pubs and bars in London

Visiting London for the second time: Everything you need to see that tourists miss the first time around

The best black-owned restaurants in London

Smithfield’s dark, grizzly past makes it the most fascinating district in London

All the British royal family’s residences that you need to check out

The ultimate day trip to Brighton from London

The 5 most beautiful places to go punting — the quintessential English pastime

10 awesome things to do in London for free

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7 incredible British itineraries — London and beyond

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