If it’s your first time visiting a new country, you’ve probably done extensive research on tips and tricks from the locals: what to eat, what to wear, what attractions to visit — the list goes on. I did all of that study abroad preparation and research to find tips for living in London, so you can probably imagine my shock when I got there and felt like I knew absolutely nothing. I learned so many things about the London and the United Kingdom through my own experiences, rather than the Pinterest articles and blog posts that I had read up on, in the short 3 weeks that I have been here.
So, as my gift to you, here’s an extensive list of the tips for living in London that they don’t tell you.
First, the food.
- Bring a reusable water bottle to refill at cafes and coffee shops. It’s pretty normal to do, so I promise that the workers won’t think it’s weird. Plus, water fountains are extremely few and far between in London.
- Bring a reusable coffee cup and grocery bags — they charge extra for plastic, disposable items.
- Choose takeout over dining in. Most dining establishments charge extra for meals when you dine in. This is a great excuse to eat or enjoy your coffee at one of the nice outdoor seating areas that London provides. (Unless it’s raining, in which case you should definitely stay inside.)
- London does Indian food really well. Try it while you’re here.
- If you’re ever feeling peckish, go to Pret-a-Manger, Costa, Pod, LEON, or EAT. All have quick, cheap, and healthy options.
- There are certain British food items that you MUST have before you leave, including: fish and chips, a full English breakfast, cream tea, and Shepherd’s pie.
- Know the difference between chips and crisps — chips are fries and crisps are chips.
Next up, getting around town.
- Get an oyster card and register it online.
- Become familiar with the basic tube lines and stops. You will tube everywhere.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. You will also walk everywhere.
- Walk on the left side of the sidewalk.
- Check the opposite side of the road for traffic then you normally would. Or, just look down at the instructions on the street itself — normally it will tell you which way traffic is coming from. (Either way, be careful.)
- Biking is super inexpensive and everyone does it in London, especially on the way to work. That said, don’t bike unless you are extremely comfortable with the backwards traffic patterns.
- If you don’t know your way around the city, use the app City Mapper. It can even help navigate the tube!
Let’s talk money!
- The exchange rate from pounds to dollars is currently $1 to £1.20 (be sure to check it before you go and while you’re there), meaning that you probably think you’re spending less than you really are. Make sure you know this, because that extra 20 or so cents adds up quickly.
- Students, keep your ID on you at all times. Most establishments have student discounts.
- Boots has all the best, cheap travel essentials that you could ever need on your trip.
What, wear, why?
- Wear (or bring in your bag) layers everywhere you go. Weather in London is extremely temperamental. Even if your weather app says it’ll be hot and sunny all day, I can guarantee it will be chilly in the morning and night. It might even rain because, you know, London.
- Dress up. You will feel underdressed in anything too casual. London is one of the major fashion capitals of the world and you will feel underdressed in leggings and a sweatshirt. I promise.
- Wear rain gear that doesn’t necessarily look like rain gear. It could rain at any given moment, even if it’s not on the forecast. Plus, no one really wears rain jackets and wellies here.
- Keep an umbrella with you at all times. I promise, it’s worth it.
My final tips for living in London during your study abroad experience are:
Make the most of your time here, take lots of pictures, and have a wonderful time!