5 Tips to Being A Successful London First-Timer

Now that I've spent a week and a half in London, I have a rudimentary grasp on surviving in the vast, layered city. Here are my 5 tips to surviving and enjoying your first time in the British capitol.

Chilly brick and side streets became our bread and butter in London. 

Chilly brick and side streets became our bread and butter in London. 

1. Don't Ride The Tube

This is probably the most controversial, but I stand by it. Every Londoner I spoke to railed against The Tube as obnoxious, dirty, and only slightly more convenient than driving in a city that charges you for the privilege. The Tube is overcrowded with tourists and commuters alike, and you'll get far more out of London if you just wander aimlessly. While I realize that The Tube is as synonymous with London as Big Ben or Parliament, it's far less of a necessity for tourists, and other nearby nations have trains if you desperately need to ride the rails. 

None of these cars are being used because everyone is on The Tube. Think of the crowds!

None of these cars are being used because everyone is on The Tube. Think of the crowds!

2. Walk Everywhere/Get Lost

This suggestion comes with a couple of caveats. I am a stocky, decently built heterosexual white guy, so I realize my privilege in advocating walking around and getting lost. That being said, London feels fairly safe, especially in comparison to most American cities. There are the typical offences against tourists like pick-pocketing and other scams, but those can usually be avoided with common sense. I'm also not advocating exploring the edgier areas of London alone/at night. With those out of the way, you should absolutely allow yourself to get lost and wander aimlessly through London. It is far and away the best way to get to discover new things, and it'll allow you to become intimately acquainted with The Big Smoke without battling throngs of tourists. Wandering allowed me to discover hidden sculptures, cozy brick cottages, and sides of London that aren't associated with tourism or finance.

A dead-end begot a dead-end that led to this cozy little area.

A dead-end begot a dead-end that led to this cozy little area.

3. Don't Trust Anything That Claims To Be The Oldest/Historical

In any given three block radius, you'll find five different pubs all claiming association with King George III, the Black Plague, Charles Dickens, or some other historical gem. They're probably all lying or, more confusingly, telling the truth. Don't believe what you read, and certainly don't pick a lunch spot based on the sign out front claiming association with Dickens' girlfriend's late dog, coincidentally named King George III. If you're looking for food recommendations, check out the earlier post on our favorite London eats

The third second oldest license in the West End by my estimation.

The third second oldest license in the West End by my estimation.

4. Hotel Hop

Surprise: London is big. If you expect to get the most out of it, especially if you're embracing my "walk everywhere" plan, you'll need to hotel and borough hop. The best advice I got before venturing across the pond was to devote one day to a neighborhood. I didn't explicitly follow that advice, but I did embraced the sentiment and only made hotel plans a day or two in advance. If I liked the neighborhood I was in and wanted to see more, I'd extend my reservation or search for another hotel in the same neighborhood. If not, I'd venture somewhere else, using Hotel Tonight to scout area hotels and then comparing its prices to the hotel's website to find the better deal.

Before you ask, yes, I did pretend to renegotiate the Treaty of Versailles.

Before you ask, yes, I did pretend to renegotiate the Treaty of Versailles.

5. Embrace The Weird

For its reputation as one of the world's financial capitols (what's Brexit?) and former center of one of history's largest empires, London has an almost institutionalized culture of weird. From secret bars buried beneath secret bars to a Blitz themed saloon and secret society trapped in the 20s, London has it all. If you happen to meander down a back alley and enter a pub with dark stained glass, only to be greeted by an assortment of wedding-bound locals and old Royal Army mates reminiscing, embrace the awkward, order a pint, and kick back at the bar. You never know what stories you'll come home with.

Not seen: Me being extremely awkward, accidentally trying to steal someone's beer, and spilling everywhere. Yay, Americans!

Not seen: Me being extremely awkward, accidentally trying to steal someone's beer, and spilling everywhere. Yay, Americans!