Top 10 Tips for First Time Travelers to London


Many people on their first visit to London are a tad put off their game. Everything feels backward with cars on the other side of the road and even though you speak the same language their phrases and words seem foreign. So it’s with this that I decided to put together some London tips to help you understand what’s going on, what these British chaps are chattering about and how to maneuver around this amazing city with more confidence and leave your mind free to take in the sights, sounds and enjoy your time in London.

Top 10 Tips for First Time Travelers to London

1. Look before you step

The first of these London tips is for your safety. Be mindful that traffic will be coming from the other side of the road. Thankfully London has put in place many signs on the pavement, at street crossings, to remind you which way to look.

Look left sign

2. Pound vs. Dollar

What may seem like a good deal at 5 pounds might not be when you take into account converting the pound into your dollar. I always reference my XE Currency App to quickly convert into my currency wherever I travel.

Related Post: Confessions of a Tourist in London

3. Stay on Budget with Free Attractions

London is a costly city to visit and explore. But there are a ton of things to do and see that are free and will help ease your budget woes. Many of London’s top museums and galleries are free like; the British Museum, National History Museum, and National Gallery. London’s parks and green spaces, of which there are many, are free to roam and full of treasures. And don’t forget to wander London’s fun neighbourhoods like; Camden Town, Notting Hill, and Westminster for awesome sights and interesting shops and architecture.

Notting Hill

Notting Hill neighbourhood

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4. It’s all in how you say it

You’ll notice Brits, while speaking English, use different words for things from food to everyday objects. and many other words used differently or altogether new ones. British lines are called queues, the toilet is the loo, chips are fries while crisps are what they call chips, and elevators are referred to as lifts.

5. Best time to use transit

When travelling via bus or tube (London’s subway system) it is easier and cheaper to travel during non-peak times. So try and plan your days to travel between 9:30 am and either before 4pm or after 7pm. This way you won’t be stuck standing amongst the masses at rush hours and you’ll save yourself a few pounds.

6. The 12 vs. 24 hour

One thing to be mindful of is the time. In North America, we mainly run off the 12-hourr clock – where 7 is either 7pm or 7am. Overseas most bus companies, trains and of course airports use the 24-hour schedule – where 7pm is referred to as 19:00. So try and prepare yourself and get accustomed to this schedule before you go as you don’t want to say 7 or even write 7pm and not be picked up as someone read it as 7am, or you miss your bus.

7. Take a side street to save

Now this tip is rule of thumb for no matter where you travel to. Expect to pay more for food, drink, souvenirs and more when you’re close to attractions.  But if you take the time to head away and down side streets, sometimes not even that far, you’ll save yourself some money, sometimes even a lot! For instance, in Covent Garden the postcards are over a pound each, but if you take a little stroll through Bloomsbury you can find them as cheap as 30 pence each.

8. Raise an arm for the bus

There are a ton of buses running the streets of London. And many bus stops share multiple buses. But not all buses will necessarily stop at each of its stops unless a passenger pushes the button on board to stop, or if a person awaiting the bus wishes it to stop by raising his arm out. Simply raising your arm out signals the bus driver that you wish to board.

Oyster card

9. Get an Oyster Card

You can not pay cash aboard buses in London now. You must have a ticket or an Oyster Card. If you will be using transit a lot while visiting London it is best that you purchase an Oyster card. The card is £5 (as of summer 2015) and you can load it at shops that advertise Oyster Card top-ups or at the Tube station.

London tube map

10. Grab a Tube Map

London is a great city to see on foot, but there’s so much more. So don’t be afraid to jump on the tube. The tube is very easy to use and there are signs directing you to which platform with more signs showing where that train will stop. But be mindful that the map showing the network of tube lines, from Piccadilly to Bakerloo, is a charicature, an artists rendering, so don’t rely on it for distance or proximity. Check a proper map that shows the tube stations as well as the layout of the city for a more accurate idea of where the stations are in reference to one another and your destination. Or check out this handy tube map that tells you the time it will take you to walk from one station to another!

Do you have any other London tips for first time visitors?


London Tips


I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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9 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    Download the citymapper app to help with planning bus journeys. The bus is cheaper than the tube and you get to see a lot more. Plus you start to realise how close it is to walk between different attractions

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks, great tips Anne! I totally agree, you can walk between many attractions. As I always say the best way to see a city is on foot!

  2. Allie says:

    Once you are finished with your oyster card you can refund it at a machine and it will give you back the £5 and any money you have left on it. Didn’t know that!

  3. Beatty says:

    A couple of minor corrections 🙂 Escalators aren’t called lifts. Elevators are called lifts, if you call an escalator a lift British people will be very confused!
    Also I disagree on the 12 /24 hour clock issue. We use both in the UK and is usually the 24 hour clock for timetables but most people use 12 hour clock in conversation and everyone will know the difference between 7pm and 7am.
    Definitely walk around the city, avoid the rush hour queues and see more of what you came to see!

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks Beatty! When referring to the 12/24 hour clock I meant it as more so concerning travel – with buses, trains and such. But definitely walk the city, it’s easy to navigate and many attractions are in walking distance.

  4. Sheen says:

    Definitely agree with your Number 7. Not only will you save money taking the side streets, but you’ll also discover cool out-of-the-way pubs and restaurants that you wouldn’t otherwise. I’m slightly obsessed with London’s alleyways, was thinking vaguely of running a tour of the best ones when I lived there.

    Also agree with Beatty that walking is the best way to see London – many of the big sights are within walking distance from eachother.

    Number one tip for me though is work out what time the tubes close. There’s nothing worse than having to shell out an extortionate amount for a cab, or navigating your way through the public buses, when it’s rainy cold out and you’re a just a tad half-cut.

    Would love if you have a second to check out my blog! I’m a newcomer 🙂

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks so much for your tip Sheen! I agree checking out the hidden passageways and alleyways is a great way to stumble upon great finds! That’s how I first found Temple Church. I also whole-heartedly agree on trying to avoid shelling out the large sums for a cab.

  5. Joanna says:

    Traffic coming from the left is really exotic 😉 I’d been living in London for over a year and never got used to it. And so true about the pound – prices seem so low but when you get your first salary you realize the painful meaning of exchange rate 🙂

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