London may look big and scary, but once you get past the crowded tubes and single-minded stares of its commuters, you’ll discover one of the most creative, liberal and generous cities in the world. Oh, and it’s busy for a reason – because it’s awesome.
Here’s our guide to blending in as a Brit and loving London as a local. Toodle pip!
Buy an Oyster Travel Card
For travel on London’s trains, tubes, buses and bizarrely, some boats, this should be the first thing you do. Yes, even before showering away the smell of long-haul armpit and airline gin.
There’s nothing more amateurish than desperately trying to feed a flimsy paper ticket through a turnstile in front of an angry mob of commuters. Oyster will save you money, but more importantly, you can’t pay with cash on night buses. No, not even if it is 1am, -2°C and you’re really drunk.
Read Time Out every Tuesday
Londoners may act like the self-appointed oracles of cool, nonchalantly wandering around the city pretending they ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon a Banksy or pop-up farmers’ market, but it’s all a carefully crafted subterfuge. They learnt it all in their free copy of Time Out. Read it – it’s your bible towards social acceptance.
Get online at Londonist.com
Another social suicide-saving guide to what’s on, the accepted protocol is to make optimistic plans to fill your entire weekend with free bunting-making classes, craft beer festivals and gigs… and then spend the whole weekend miserably hungover, disappointing your friends, and only making it out of bed to order a Domino’s.
Always stand on the right
Nothing will unleash the collective wrath of Londoners like being blithely unaware of Underground etiquette. When it comes to tube escalators, right is for standing, and left is for people who can march up escalators without collapsing into an exhausted heap or floods of tears.
Snigger at Cockfosters
Okay, to explain. Cockfosters is an unfortunately named area of North London in Zone 5 of the Underground (so practically Scotland). However used Londoners may be to hearing Cockfosters announced on the tube, they’ll always snigger quietly to themselves. You’d be silly not to.
Talk about getting the night tube home
This is an obligatory part of every London night out. Like remembering to wear shoes. The rules are thus: you must always talk in a high-mannered fashion about getting the tube home, while knowing full well that come 3am, you’ll be bozz-eyed in a £30 taxi with someone from your IT department.
Something quite disturbing happened in London recently. It discovered exercise! Not long ago, cynical Londoners would stand outside their after-work pubs, smelling of office wine and staring in pity at passing joggers and cyclists. Now, you can’t move for sweaty Londoners, proudly sporting their neon athleisure wear and loudly discussing the number of steps they’ve done that day.
Complain about gentrification
Even as a tourist, it’s expected to complain loudly about hipsters and the ‘avocadoisation’ of your neighbourhood. All while hypocritically enjoying smashed avo on sourdough at the new organic café on your road, and secretly shortening all your trousers on a vintage Singer sewing machine.
Blend in at weekend markets
Brick Lane, Colombia Road, Portobello, Borough… Londoners love nothing more than idly perusing a weekend market with a crushing hangover, pretending it’s completely normal to spend £12 on a bergamot-smoked ostrich burger and buying flower bulbs that they’ll never plant (on account of not owning gardens).
It’s a balmy 17°c, did someone shout ‘Parklife‘?
This may sound chilly by your native standards, but Londoners know something you don’t – this could be your only chance of summer! Get your shorts out, pick up some warm ciders and head for any of London’s parks. Hyde, Holland, Regent, St James’, Richmond… they’re the best urban parks in the world.
Pick a side of the river
This local London rivalry is all very English and civilized (jousting, croquet death matches etc) but as a temporary Londoner, you must still pledge your allegiance to the north or south of the river. Once committed, be prepared to argue your case in public and stubbornly insist that everyone else lives in some kind of hostile badland on the other side of the Thames – even if it is Chelsea.
Download CityMapper or risk being lost forever
This free app has literally changed Londoners’ lives. It allows them to look largely like they know where they’re going, while only being vaguely lost – rather than completely lost like they were before. You know, pre Apple?
Be brutal, but honest
Londoners may shoulder charge you out of the way to get on the 17.31 from Victoria, but they’ll also give your wallet to lost property if you drop it. In fact, if you’re unexpectedly kind to a Londoner, they’ll probably cry out of shock and then send a thank you note into the free Metro newspaper in gratitude.
Don’t pay for anything
Good news! Most things that will ‘better-you’ in London, are free. As it’s rare to have to pay for a museum or gallery, London’s cultural sites aren’t just tourist attractions. They’re frequented by actual locals – who’ll briefly marvel at a masterpiece, moan about the crowds, and then end up in the pub anyway.