Handy tips for Americans visiting London

One of the most popular destinations for most Americans visiting Europe for the first time is generally London. While we certainly do share certain cultural similarities with our British cousins apart from the language (to a large extent) there are a lot of other differences, some subtle and other not too subtle! For first time visitors to London from America it can be quite an overwhelming experience and certainly disorienting for novice travellers.

The first thing is to fine suitable accommodation. Thankfully London has a wide variety of places to choose from ranging from luxury hotels like the M by Montcalm Shoreditch London Tech City Hotel to B&Bs. Some of the things to keep a watchful eye out for when new to London are:

Travel Light

It is always a good idea to pack lightly and more so if you plan a trip to London! As a rule, most hotels in the city are small and there certainly is not much space for large luggage. So carry only what is really essential when planning your trip and try to keep it limited to one suitcase and one carry on. The city mostly has mild weather all year around so you can pack accordingly. And do not forget to carry a waterproof jacket or an umbrella s you never really known when it could begin to rain!

Travel from the airports

Whichever airport you arrive at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stanstead you will have to figure out how to travel to the city. While it seems like a good idea to get into a black cab and travel to the city, it is definitely not recommended especially, if you are on a budget and if you are travelling during rush hour traffic. Generally, most American visitors travel to London via Heathrow and the best option to travel to the city is the Heathrow Express train. The benefit is that it is a direct train that have you reach Paddington station in quarter of an hour. And it definitely is much cheaper than hiring a taxi. Once at Paddington you could opt to use the tube or a cab to get you to your hotel. Another cheaper option of travel from the airport is the Piccadilly Tube line that takes you directly to the city. Of course this is only viable if you travelling with limited luggage during peak hour traffic. Stanstead and Gatwick also have direct train access to the city but are not connected via the London Underground.

Attractions that could be avoided

Not all the London attractions are as enjoyable to visit especially, if you running short of time. Some of them which can be overlooked are Madame Tussaud’s because of the long queues, London Dungeon just too cheesy, Piccadilly Circus extremely crowded and busy, the Changing of the Guard also very crowded, HMS Belfast just an old rusty ship on the Thames and Portobello Market that is again jam packed with tourists.

Not to miss attractions

And in contrast some of the top attractions not to be missed on a visit to London are – Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Tower of London, Camden Lock Market, Covent Garden, London Transport Museum, The British Museum, Hyde Park and Kensington Palace and Gardens to name just a few.

Travel on the Tube

In case you have not travelled on public transport ever, travelling for the first time on the London Tube could be a bit intimidating. The first thing is to study and memorise the route along with the destination station you plan to get off at. Planning your journey in advance will make it simpler to navigate when using the Tube. And stay on the right on escalators (plenty of signs to remind you). Also to save on Tube fares get yourself an Oyster card which makes it considerably cheaper to travel on the Underground. Buying tickets with cash are much more expensive. The Oyster card is also generally more cost-effective than buying tourist travel cards. Also do not rely solely on the Tube map as it tends to distort reality. Check your guidebook if actually need to take the Tube to arrive at your destination as plenty of places are within walking distance.

Getting the time right

Remember time in Britain is measured using both the 12 and 24-hour clock, with the latter being used for trains. While it is simple enough to understand many Americans seem to get mixed up. The simplest way to decode the 24-hour clock is to subtract 12 from the mentioned time.

Customer service

While in the US it may be okay to grumble or complain about poor customer service, the concept of customer service is rather different in the UK. If you do experience shoddy customer service (rarely) it is best not to grumble as it will get you nowhere!

Guest author:  Mark Leach    Image credit: Stock-Asso

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