What are some things to know before visiting London?

Helen Ochyra

London can be the greatest city in the world; but it can also be the most frustrating. Here are a few points to bear in mind for your visit to make it as pleasant as possible:

Getting around
Once you are in the city centre, walking is by far the best way to get around. Bear in mind though that distances between attractions can be huge and so comfortable, practical shoes are a must if you plan to get around on two legs - as are plenty of pitstops! The tube is an excellent way to travel but avoid rush hours (before 9.30am and between 5pm and 7pm) if at all possible. Use the online Journey Planner to plan your journey (there's also an app). Keep to the right on escalators and move along the platform away from the entrances to avoid incurring the wrath of busy locals!

The weather
It rains in London all the time, right? Actually, no. London gets less rain than Rome or Paris, not to mention the rest of the UK, and short, sharp showers are far more common than prolonged drizzle. Pack an umbrella and then forget about it - the weather is unlikely to do any harm to your trip.

Eating
Food in London is varied, plentiful and not as expensive as you might imagine. However, costs can rack up if you aren't careful. A good tip is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Many of the top restaurants offer cut-price fixed menus for lunch and you are more likely to be able to get a table as a walk-in.
Pubs make a great choice for a simple dinner, though try to pick one where locals are eating to avoid tourist traps, particularly in the West End where mediocre pubs are - in my opinion - largely to blame for the poor reputation of London's food abroad! Reservations are recommended in well-known or popular restaurants and on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Drinking
Londoners like a drink and pubs and bars will be very busy most evenings, especially on Friday nights when the weekend gets started for most people with a few after-work drinks. If you don't like crowded bars, spending a little more per drink will often buy you a quieter environment and hotel bars can be a good choice. But pubs are an integral part of our culture and no visit to London is complete without joining the locals at the bar one evening.

Tipping
Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food - just add 10% or so to the bill.

  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in London?

    For a quick solution to a hair meltdown, there's no better bet than a blow dry. London has enthusiastically hopped on the blow dry bar bandwagon and there are salons across town offering affordable - and not so affordable - blow outs. Try these for the best results:

    Hersheson's
    Located in Topshop in the heart of Oxford Street and offering walk-in service, you can't beat this for convenience. Choose from 12 "fashion-forward" looks and in just 30 minutes the professional team will have you looking a million dollars. For the cost of just £25.

    The Blow Bar
    Located in Islington and Wandsworth, this friendly funky salon offers a 30-minute blow dry (allow extra time for thick hair) plus a menu of extra options, including a full cut and blow-dry, a head massage or even a protein shot. Prices start from £25.

    Radio
    If your style is more unfussy beach babe than glossy Kate Middleton perfection, head to the UK's Bumble and Bumble HQ . Employing their famous Sea Salt Spray to maximum effect, the stylists here will have you tousled to perfection in under an hour.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best outdoor activities in London?

    As the weather hots up in London, get outside and get active. Here is my pick of the best outdoor activities the city has to offer this summer:

    Open-air theatre
    Throughout the summer there are numerous outdoor shows and concerts around town. The pick of the bunch is the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, for everything from classical music to stand-up comedy, while at Somerset House you'll find a series of pop concerts and a season of film screenings.
    For more information on summer concerts in London see our blog post on this topic.

    Horse riding
    Take a trot along Rotten Row with Hyde Park Stables. Rides take you past the Serpentine, the Albert Memorial and Marble Arch, making this a great way to explore the park. Group lessons start from £69 an hour, private tuition from £95.

    Skating
    Every Friday night and every Sunday afternoon, a mass of skaters meet for an informal skate through the heart of the city. Join the Friday Night Skate for a 10- to 15-mile marshalled run through the city (routes change each week) from Wellington Arch or roll along to the Sunday Stroll in Hyde Park for a relaxed slow-paced skate.

    Outdoor swimming
    Cool off in the heat at the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds, the only life-guarded open-water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year. There are separate ladies, mens and mixed ponds as well as the 60-metre Parliament Hill lido. Alternatively head to the gorgeous Tooting Bec Lido, a 91.5-metre outdoor swimming pool seen in many a film.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best outdoor activities in London?

    London is one of the greenest cities in the world, with everything from small courtyard gardens to vast urban parks found across town. Consequently, there are plenty of activities taking place outside. Here's my pick of the best:

    Open-air theatre
    Throughout the summer there are numerous outdoor shows and concerts around town. The pick of the bunch is the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, for everything from classical music to stand-up comedy, while at Somerset House you'll find a series of pop concerts and a season of film screenings.
    For more information on summer concerts in London see our blog post on this topic.

    Horse riding
    Take a trot along Rotten Row with Hyde Park Stables. Rides take you past the Serpentine, the Albert Memorial and Marble Arch, making this a great way to explore the park. Group lessons start from £69 an hour, private tuition from £95.

    Skating
    Every Friday night and every Sunday afternoon, a mass of skaters meet for an informal skate through the heart of the city. Join the Friday Night Skate for a 10- to 15-mile marshalled run through the city (routes change each week) from Wellington Arch or roll along to the Sunday Stroll in Hyde Park for a relaxed slow-paced skate.

    Outdoor swimming
    Cool off in the heat at the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds, the only life-guarded open-water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year. There are separate ladies, mens and mixed ponds as well as the 60-metre Parliament Hill lido. Alternatively head to the gorgeous Tooting Bec Lido, a 91.5-metre outdoor swimming pool seen in many a film.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What should I pack for a trip to London?

    A city break can be tricky to pack for. There is so much to think about, from clothing to camera equipment, guidebooks to cellphones, that it is all too easy to forget something important. Here are my tips for what to bring - and what not to - on your trip to London:

    Clothing
    The weather in London is never guaranteed so the first rule of packing for a visit here is: bring lots of layers. In the summer you can get away with far less than you can in the winter, but even at the height of summer you should still expect chilly nights and early mornings so bring a few jumpers/sweaters that you can carry around with you easily and throw on when it gets cold.
    Rain is fairly common so a jacket that is at least partially waterproof and an umbrella are a good idea. Even in winter it rarely gets cold enough for thermals but pack a heavy duty coat if you don't want to spend all your time cooped up indoors.
    You are sure to do a lot of walking while in London so bring comfortable shoes for exploring. If you plan to go out on the town at night though bring dress shoes or heels, and if you want to visit some of London's luxury hotels and restaurants, a smart dress or jacket will mean you don't feel out of place.

    Technology
    Whatever you do, don't forget to pack your camera. There is so much to see in London and you'll want to capture as much of it as possible. Bring at least one spare memory card and a spare battery to carry around with you, plus the charger.
    If you have a smartphone, don't forget the charger for this too, and consider downloading some useful apps for your time in the city. Try London Tube Deluxe for up-to-the-minute travel info, Time Out London for a general city guide and Quirky London if you want to explore off the beaten track.
    Finally, don't forget your travel adaptor. The UK uses the three-pinned plug socket, which is different from the rest of Europe and the US.

    Money
    Bring your credit or debit card but don't worry about carrying cash - there are ATMs everywhere and very few places don't accept Visa and Mastercard. American Express is less widely accepted in the UK than it is in the US so bring a backup card if your primary credit card is an Amex.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best business hotels in London?

    Doing business in London and don't want to waste any time? Nothing is more important than location. Choose your hotel according to where you need to spend the most time and save yourself the tube journeys and cab rides that can suck hours of your productivity:

    The City
    If you need to be in the Square Mile, chose Hotel Indigo, Tower Hill for an unbeatable central location. Rooms are stylish with four-poster beds, iPod docking stations and designer bathrooms and there's free wifi to keep you connected. You also get complimentary membership at a nearby gym and Aldgate tube station is just a two-minute walk away.

    The West End
    Just because you're here on business needn't mean staying in a soulless "business hotel". Check in instead to the lovely Dean Street Townhouse where you'll find individually designed bedrooms equipped with rainforest showers, flatscreen TV with Sky Plus and free wireless internet. You're also located in the heart of Soho - ideal for entertaining business contacts with its numerous high quality bars and restaurants. You could eat in the restaurant here, or head over the road to one of London's most sought-after dining experiences - the lobster platter at Burger and Lobster.

    Canary Wharf
    If you really have to stay out at Canary Wharf, console yourself with the Four Seasons. This is about as luxurious as it gets, with river views from the large windows, homely furnishings and complimentary access to the adjacent Virgin Active with its swimming pool and floodlit tennis court. There's complimentary internet access, and printing, translation and secretarial services are available.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best technology hotels in London?

    When it comes to technology some hotels are leading the field with in-room entertainment systems, communications hubs and hi-tech beds, while others lag behind, barely deigning to offer free wifi. Here's my pick of London's most plugged-in hotels:

    Eccleston Square
    Nobody ever disagrees with this one. Lauded as London's most switched on hotel this luxury boutique hotel offers a veritable playground in every room - from beds with a built-in massage system to room service ordered by iPad. The bathroom features a SmartGlass wall which flicks from Reveal to Conceal in a second, and there are VoIP phones with free calls to all London numbers.

    The Lanesborough
    This hotel may be all old-school design and traditional service but that doesn't stop it from keeping up with the times where technology is concerned. Open the unassuming looking drawer beside the bed and you'll find your own personal control panel. Dim the lights, alter the air conditioning and even call your own personal butler. There are also two flatscreen TVs hidden away in that antique-looking furniture to be revealed at the touch of a button and a Sony Vaio laptop computer and printer are provided in every room.

    Citizen M
    From the moment you check in, this higholy modern hotel is all about technology. There is no front desk, with guests registering at the kiosks on arrival instead and creating their own room key. Rooms are simple and stocked with Vitra furniture, plus free wifi, free in-room movies and electronic window blinds. Calls from the phone are charged at VoIP rates and there's a global plug system – so no dramas if you forgot to bring your adaptor.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the one must do activity when visiting London?

    In a city as large and diverse as London picking just one must-do activity is almost impossible. But sometimes needs must, and if you're really pushed for time the best thing to do if you want to take in as much as possible is to take a walk along the river Thames.

    Travel by tube to Westminster station (Jubilee, Circle and District lines) and start in Parliament Square, from which you can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben towering above you. Get snap-happy with your camera before crossing the river on Westminster Bridge. At the other side, turn left along the river path. You'll pass the new London Dungeon and then the London Eye - if time (and the queue) allows, the Eye is worth a quick ride for views over the city from on high.

    Continue along the river's south bank, London's arts quarter. You will pass the Southbank Centre with its fantastic outdoor book market and the National Theatre, where you'll find the Propstore - a great place to stop for a coffee and enjoy the view. Next you will reach the Oxo Tower, where you can travel up to the top floor to take in the view (and a drink if there's time).

    From here it's a short walk along to Tate Modern art gallery, home to the UK's leading collection of modern and contemporary art (and free to enter). The Founders Arms pub on the riverside here does great pub food and real ales and has a cracking view across to St Paul's Cathedral.

    Complete your walk by crossing the river on the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls. Look out to your right here for a view of Tower Bridge - London's most iconic river crossing. On reaching the river's north bank you can pop into St Paul's Cathedral to see the famous whispering gallery, or simply get back on the tube at St Paul's station (Central line).
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the weather like right now in London?

    This summer is proving to be a corker! London has been basking in temperatures topping 30 degrees celsius (86 degrees fahrenheit) for the past few weeks and even overnight temperatures have barely dropped. A few storms have passed through more recently but any rain is drying up within a much shorter space of time than normal and sunbathing has become a daily possibility.

    At this time of year London experiences very long evenings and so Londoners are currently enjoying plenty of al fresco dining and drinking. We had an exceptionally long winter and a cold spring this year so the sudden burst of warmth has brought everyone out with a smile on their face. The city is currently beaming!

    Throughout August and into September however you should still expect some colder days and some rain – although not nearly as much as you probably think you should expect. It's always worth carrying an umbrella though! On cooler days Londoners are tenacious and you're sure to see us all shivering slightly in skirts and sandals and filling the pavements outside every available pub trying to soak any available sunshine in. And on hot days we'll all be filling the parks and guzzling ice creams like it's the last day of summer. Which, in this changable climate, always feels like a possibility.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    Where is the best outlet shopping in London?

    London isn't exactly a mecca for outlet shopping, with most of the best outlet stores located outside of the capital itself.
    That said, there are a few outlet stores for specific brands that are well worth a visit - and the best are on Chatham Place in Hackney. Try the Aquascutum Factory Shop at number 7-8 for tailoured suits, classics macs and cosy knits at up to 30% off, or head to the warehouse-like Burberry Factory Shop at number 29 for seconds and excess stock at up to 50% off. Just around the corner at 86 Morning Lane you'll find Pringle, home to Scottish knitwear and leather goods.
    If you don't mind a trip out of town the best place to go outlet shopping in the UK is Bicester Village in Oxfordshire, just an hour's train journey from Marylebone station. Here you'll find more than 130 boutiques from every top brand from Mulberry to Ralph Lauren, all offering up to 60% off.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best fine jewelry stores in London?

    Although there are jewellery shops located throughout London, there is one street where you can visit literally dozens of stores in one fell swoop. Hatton Garden is located between Farringdon and Chancery Lane stations and is home to more than 50 businesses selling jewellery.
    It has a particularly good reputation for diamonds and many a Londoners engagement ring has been excitedly purchased here.
    The street has the weight of history behind it too. The old City of London had certain streets - or quarters - dedicated to specific types of business and Hatton Garden area has been the epicentre of London's jewellery trade since medieval times.
    If you are looking for an engagement ring try John Lawrence at number 87b or Arlington & Co at number 11. Antique pieces can be bought from Hatton Jewels at number 100 while more contemporary designs are on sale at Ivan Dvorak at number 63-66.
    Once you're done shopping head to Ye Olde Mitre pub to celebrate. This tiny pub was reputedly visited by Elizabeth I and is located down the astoundingly narrow Ely Court.
  • On July 26, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    Where are the best Vietnamese restaurants in London?

    If you're looking for Vietnamese food in the capital, your best bet is the East London borough of Hackney, home to a considerable proportion of the city's Vietnamese community. Vietnamese people first settled here in any significant numbers following the reunification of Vietnam in 1975. It is thought that there are around 33,000 Vietnamese in London today.

    Kingsland Road is home to dozens of Vietnamese eateries catering mainly to revellers on their way to the bars and clubs of nearby Shoreditch. The most popular among them have queues out the door on Friday and Saturday nights, but turnover is so fast that you rarely need to wait very long for a table. Many of them are bring-your-own-bottle affairs, though most are also licensed to serve alcohol too.

    Three to try are Sông Quê (134 Kingsland Road, E2 8DY; 020 7613 3222), famous for its grumpy staff and enormous menu; Viet Grill, a classy option offering more innovative meat, salad and fish dishes; and Huong-Viet (An Viet House, 12-14 Englefield Road, N1 4LS; 020 7249 0877), a cheap and cheerful restaurant in a community centre a few minutes north of the main Shoreditch drag.
Next