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I created this book to give you all the basics you need to

know before your first visit to London.

Read it now, save it to your phone, and read it again a few days before your trip so that you’re fully prepared.

For environmental reasons, please don’t print this guide. It’s meant to be digital, and works best as such!

If you have more questions about London beyond what you’re about to read, here are a few more resources:

what you’re about to read, here are a few more resources: Where to Stay in London

Where to Stay in London — a free guide that will help you choose which area and hotel or Airbnb to book. Get the free guide.

The Local Guide to London — every single London recommendation that I personally think

you’ll love. Includes restaurant recommendations for all budgets, top markets that locals love, unique hidden gems for what to do and see, cool drinking spots, and much more. It’s a 70 page e-book, but you can also get a digital map for your phone, and membership to my exclusive Facebook community. Learn more.

3-Day London Itinerary — To save you hours of research and planning, I’ve put together a comprehensive, flexible itinerary for your first three days in London, which includes a digital map. Learn more.

London Trip Planning Consultations — for those feeling overwhelmed and stressed with trip

planning. Schedule a time to hop on a Skype call with me, and we’ll talk through all of your questions and concerns. I can also create a customised itinerary for you. Learn more here.

London Photo Sessions — if you need help getting beautiful photos of you on your trip, check out my London Photo Sessions. Learn more.

*Some of the links in this guide are affiliated, which means that I will earn a small commission if you purchase something after clicking. This is how I support myself while still being able to offer free information like this guide. This in no way affects the price you pay, or what I recommend to you, and purchasing through these links is a great (free) way to support Love and London. Thank you!

CURRENCY IN THE UK

In England, the currency is the pound (£) which is sometimes shown as GBP (Great British Pound). There are 100 pence in one pound, and they’re sometimes called “p”, as in, “the total is 1 pound and 30 p”.

If you hear someone say “quid”, this is slang for pound— just like how Americans say “buck”. A “fiver” is £5 pounds, and a “tenner” is £10.

The value of the pound, as with any currency, fluctuates daily, so make sure you have a currency converter app like XE on your phone so that you know what the current rate is—

although “approximately” is just fine when doing quick calculations in your head.

HOW TO GET MONEY BEFORE YOU’RE IN LONDON

You should have some pounds, in cash, on you when you step off the plane, just in case you

need it for a taxi, food or something of the sort.

Before purchasing currency, it’s always wise to shop around a bit for the best rate. Never purchase from a shop that will take a commission, but just because they advertise “no commission” doesn’t mean they are getting you a good deal. They might hide the commission

in the exchange rate.

Look on Google or a currency exchange app for the correct, up-to-date conversion to pounds from your local currency, then shop around to find a conversion number that’s close to that.

Typically, your bank is going to be a good place to get a fair rate on buying currency. Order your cash in advance, at least a couple of weeks ahead. How much cash to get depends on many factors, but at minimum, have £50 per person on you when you arrive.

If you’re American and are traveling to multiple countries or just don’t feel like carrying a ton

of cash on you, Travelex has a money card that you can load up with multiple currencies before you leave. It also has the contactless feature, which means you can use it on London’s public transportation instead of an Oyster card, however it only can be used for one person. Other advantages of having a card like this is that it’s not linked to your bank account, so if it’s

stolen, you won’t have to worry about your account being drained, and it also doesn’t have

ATM fees when you withdraw cash abroad.

HOW TO GET MONEY WHILE IN LONDON

If you need more cash once you arrive, you have two options:

Find a currency exchange

Foreign currency exchanges are located in banks, travel agencies, and Post Offices, as well as at the airport and some train stations. Here you can exchange your own currency or just buy

pounds via credit or debit card. Have your passport with you when you buy money.

Always ask about commission, and use a currency converter app to make sure you’re getting

a fair rate. I usually recommend finding a local Post Office location, as you’ll get a decent deal there— just look for one of the red and white Post Office signs, or use the branch locator.

Withdraw cash from a cash machine

Your bank will usually give you a good exchange rate via your debit card, but before you head to London you need to check what the fees associated with using your card will be. Often,

you’ll have to pay an international transaction fee that will vary depending on how much you withdraw or spend, and sometimes also a flat fee per withdrawal, so you’ll want to withdraw more money, less times. Just call your bank ahead of time and ask what extra charges you should be aware of.

Some banks have branches over here in the UK, like HSBC and Barclays, or they have partner banks, and often if you use their cash machines you won’t get charged the withdrawal fee, so again, ask your bank about that.

GETTING TO LONDON’S CITY CENTRE

Getting to and from London’s airports

There are six airports that international arrivals arrive at. Here’s how to get yourself to central London from your arrival airport.

Taxis

In every airport, you’ll see signs pointing you to taxi stands. Here, you can grab a black taxi

easily.

but you can probably expect it to be at least £30 (metered pricing). You can check prices on Minicabit.

The price varies significantly depending on where you’re going and if you hit traffic,

You can also call an Uber (what I usually do) if your phone works upon arrival, although if you have no way of getting in touch with the driver to confirm the pick up point, I wouldn’t recommend this— just stick with a black taxi.

If you’ve never used Uber before, I have a discount code for your first ride free, up to £10.

Just enter “jessd418” under the Promotions section of the app (download it before you arrive.)

If you don’t have a lot of bags and are traveling alone or as a couple, you can do UberPool to save money and help the environment a bit. You’ll be riding with someone else who’s going to

the same area as you.

Public transportation

Use Google Maps or Citymapper app to figure out your route options to get from the airport

to your hotel via public bus, train or tube. Make sure you enter the specific date and time of day that you’ll be traveling so that you can get as accurate results as possible, including traffic. There’s no way for me to say which option is “best” for you because it’s different for every situation.

If traveling from Heathrow airport, a quick and easy way to get to Central London (Paddington to be exact) is the Heathrow Express. If you’re not trying to get somewhere

that’s near Paddington though, it’s not worth taking the express. Use Google Maps to

determine your best route.

There’s also the Gatwick Express for Gatwick airport, however I don’t recommend it over the normal National rail services for a few reasons, so just get your train ticket when you get to the train station, which is right in the airport. I feel the same about the Stansted Express

when leaving from Liverpool Street Station. Taking the normal train is just fine. Again, check Google Maps for timetables and prices.

Just to warn you, taking big bags on London’s tube system is tough, to be honest. There’s a lot of up and down stairs and escalators, and lifts/elevators aren’t in every station. If you’ll have a

lot of bags or would struggle carrying them up and down stairs, consider a taxi or one of the other options talked about in this chapter.

Buses, coaches and public transfers

National Express offers coach services from all London airports to select parts of London, and Megabus has routes from Heathrow and Gatwick. Book ahead for the best prices.

Getting to London by train or bus

Whether traveling from other parts of the UK or from nearby European cities, taking the train or bus is can be a great alternative to flying.

Train

Trains can get you pretty far in the UK and also provide beautiful scenery and a comfortable ride. Before booking a flight, use The Train Line to see what your options are for traveling by train. You’ll arrive into and leave out of central London easily and quickly.

Arriving from outside the UK? The Eurostar can get you to London quickly from Paris, Lille, Marseille, Avignon, Brussels and soon Amsterdam. Again, book early for better prices.

Bus/coach

National Express and Megabus have routes all over the UK, and you can get pretty cheap tickets if you book in advance and travel at off-peak times.

Eurolines and Flixbus can get you between London and other parts of Europe pretty cheaply

too.

Getting to London by car

If you don’t normally drive on the left side of the road and can’t operate a manual car confidently, then getting to London by car isn’t a good idea.

You also shouldn’t plan to have a car while in London. It’s a waste of money and time, and will be more hassle than convenience.

PLUGS IN BRITAIN

Your electronics from home won’t plug into the sockets here in the UK, so you’ll need to get yourself a couple of adapters for your dual-voltage electronics, like phone chargers, hair

dryers, etc.

To determine if your appliance is dual voltage, take look at the plug or on the device for some technical writing. Determine if the device contains any language about dual voltage. If not, look for the word “input". When you find that line, determine the voltage the device will

accept. If the input is 110V to 240V, your device is dual voltage. If it says 110V but does not mention 240V, then it’s single voltage, and instead of using just an adapter, you’ll need a converter, however I’ve never had good experiences with converters (I ruined a couple of good hair irons!) so I’d just stick with electronics and appliances that are dual voltage.

UK sockets are different than European ones so you’ll need to get two different sets of adapters if you’re traveling around Europe.

This set converts almost any plug around the world to a UK plug (make sure the UK/Hong Kong option is selected.)

Also, many plugs in the UK have little switches next to them—if you plug your things in but they don’t seem to be working, try flipping the switch.

PLANNING FOR LONDON WEATHER

London’s weather is quite unpredictable. It could be unseasonably hot one day, and very cold and rainy the next. It’s hard to generalise as to what it will be like when you’re here.

I recommend this— a couple of months before your trip, use Google to find out what the

average weather is like for when you’ll be visiting, so you can start to plan your packing.

Then, when you’re packing the day before you leave, check the weather forecast to see what’s being predicted, and pack according to that. Take an extra piece of clothing or two to account for if it’s colder or warmer than was originally predicted.

Luckily, if you really misjudged while packing, we have tons of shops here where you can buy anything you need!

HOW TO TIP IN LONDON

When eating at a restaurant or pub with wait staff who’ve taken your order at your table, it’s customary to tip about 10% for decent service.

When you get the bill, double check to see if a service charge has been added, and if it has,

then there’s no need to tip any more than that. Know that in most cases it will say “optional service charge”, and already be included in the total, but if you’ve had bad service that you think doesn’t warrant a tip, you only need to pay the subtotal without the service charge or a tip. Don’t let anyone tell you that service is mandatory, it’s not if you had a very bad experience.

That being said, keep in mind that if you’re American, you probably won’t get as good service in London as you would in the states— it’s just not the same here.

In pubs and bars, there’s no need to tip bartenders, even if they’ve taken your food order at

the bar.

It’s polite to tip taxi drivers around 10%, or to just round up to the nearest pound.

USING LONDON TRANSPORTATION

Use the app CityMapper to figure out how to get from place to place via public transport, whether by train, the tube, bus, taxi, bike or any other option. Get the route you need while connected to wifi and then the app will save it for offline use.

You can also ask TFL staff for help if you get confused about anything—you can usually find them around the major stations.

To pay for public transportation in London, you’ll need an Oyster Card or a contactless credit or debit card. To hire Boris Bikes, you’ll need a debit or credit card.

Getting and using an Oyster Card

There are two types of Oyster Cards that visitors can use for London transportation— the

regular Oyster Card, which many Londoners use, and the Visitor Oyster Card. Only one person can use an Oyster Card at a time, so everyone you’re traveling with will need their own.

Which card should I get?

The Visitor Oyster Card can be bought online and sent to you before you even get to the UK. It costs £5 + shipping. Only get this if you’re arriving very late at night to London, as you might struggle to find a shop open that sells Oyster cards, or if you’re a nervous traveler and just would rather have card in hand when you touch down in London.

“Normal" Oyster cards can be purchased at many shops, train stations, and all airports and visitor information spots for £5, which is refundable if you turn it back in at the end of your

visit. You can also buy them online if you live in the UK.

If you have a debit or credit card that has the contactless feature, that can be used instead of

an Oyster Card. Apple Pay also works!

Kids under 18 get discounts or free travel. Learn more about that here.

At the time of publishing, the “daily cap” is £6.60 if you stay in zones 1-2, which means that after you’ve taken £6.60 worth of rides on public transportation, then the rest of your travel is free for that day. The cap increases the more zones you travel through.

If you only take buses throughout a day, the cap is only £4.50.

The cap works when you pay with an always use the same card.

Staying in London for 7 days?

Oyster card or a contactless card, but make sure you

Then a 7-day travel card might make more sense for you. If you plan to travel in only the central London area (like zones 1 to 2 or zones 1 to 4) and to make four or more journeys per day on a daily basis, then a 7 Day Travelcard may be the most cost-effective option.

CONFUSED?! It’s ok! For simplicity’s sake, just go with one of the Oyster cards and top it up (AKA—add more credit) as you go.

How to Use an Oyster Card

On the underground and trains

One ride on the underground, which they call a “journey”, will cost more the more zones you

travel through. Zone 1 is the centre of the city, and they change as you travel farther outside the centre, kind of like a bullseye… see the map at the end of this guide to see what I mean. Generally speaking, the farther you go, the more the ride will cost you.

Also, peak fares apply during rush hour.

To be able to figure out how much to charge you, when you’re entering the underground system, you have to “touch in” your Oyster card on the yellow reader at the station you depart from (look for the

logo to the right) and then also “touch out” when you leave the station you've arrived at. You’ll see everyone else doing it, so just follow them!

out” when you leave the station you've arrived at. You’ll see everyone else doing it, so

You’ll also be able to see how much credit you have left on your card when you touch out, so you’ll know when you need to top up again, which you can do by machine in just about any station.

Again, for simplicity’s sake, don’t worry about trying to figure out how much each ride will

cost— the system calculates everything for you, so just go where you want to go, touch in and touch out, and just make sure to top up when you’re out of credit.

If you accidentally travel too far and spend more than the credit you have left, don’t worry, I do it all the time. It will still let you out of the barriers, just go top up your card once you find a

ticket machine.

On buses

No matter how far you go on the bus, the fare for your journey will always be £1.50. When

getting on the bus, get on at the front, and tap your card on the yellow reader that’s next to

the driver.

You don’t have to tap again when you get off the bus. If you take two buses in 60

minutes, you’ll only be charged for one ride.

When in doubt, the TFL (Transport for London) staff are really helpful, so find one of them

and ask for help when you need it.

Have a great visit! Keep scrolling for tube and bus maps.