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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.