First Time in London? Helpful Hints

World Traveller? 20th trip to the UK? This section is likely to be of little interest, so feel free to skip it. I just thought I'd toss in a page of little helpful things that might be of use to a first time visitor. Most of these will be links to other sites that have info we've though could be of use.

I'm sure some things I put here will cause someone to email and disagree. That's fine. It's our personal opinions. And there's more than one way to ...(i.e. pronunciation)


So let's go ahead and mention airlines. We prefer to fly European carriers. They're usually similarly priced, or less. And I think the trip is just a little nicer than on US flagged airlines. We're huge fans of Virgin Atlantic, but have also flown on British Air several times. Not huge fans of Air France for long haul. We've heard good things about many other airlines as well, and about New Zealand Air as well. Be aware the super budget carriers can add up to being about the same price by the time to factor in costs for checked bags and meals. So consider those as well.

Let me also plug a service we LOVE for our bags - Airportr. (Note - if you use my link you get 25% off your first order and I get a discount on my next order) It isn't available for all airlines or airports, but its great when you can use it. Coming in from SFO we meet the Airportr rep and a pickup location outside security and they collect our bag(s). They will then deliver them to our front door. (Alas this is temporarily suspended).

Better yet is the trip home - they will collect our bags from the flat, check our boarding pass, and then check the bags in for us. So you hand over your packed bags the night before and you needn't worry about lugging them again until you pull them off the baggage carousel at SFO. You can follow them via mobile updates. They have a limited number of airline partners, but British, Virgin, American, Finnair and Cathay Pacific are partners. It doesn't include codeshare, so you wont be able to do Delta.
Shameless Plug -
(This currently is only available if flying British Air or a codeshare of BA)

Another service we've used, with mixed results, is They will pick up a bag (or box) at your US address and ship it via DHL to your door in the UK. The first time our bag made it in about 3-4 days after it was collected. The second time it wasn't collected by the time we had to leave for our flight, so we had to scramble to get it dropped off somewhere, and then it was delayed in UK Customs, and it didn't arrive for over a week. YMMV. It's cheaper than sending it via DHL directly ($150-$200 and up, based on size and weight)

You might be able to fly out with a carry on (we usually only pack for a week and then use the flat's washer/dryer). But can you fly home that way? Len has had to pay for more extra bags for my shopping than he likes to rememeber. I also like to urge everyone to sleep as much as possible on the flight. It helps reset your internal clock and can make a big difference in the jetlag. (oh yeah, Jet lag - if you're lucky it's just a night or two. You'll wake up at 2 am. I find if I just get up, have a drink of water, read a few pages of my book and then go back to bed in about 45 mins I sleep fine.) NEW: We highly recommend an app called Timeshifter!! Both of us had little to no jetlag this trip, in either direction. We're fans now!

Let me also plug the Visitor Oyster card. You can use it on Buses, the Tube (Underground), the Thames Clippers (That river? It's pronounced "Temz"), the Overground and some inner city rail hops.Plus it offers discounts for certain attractions, check the website for details. You MUST purchase this before you leave home, which is good, as you can then use it on TfLRail or The Tube to get to London from Heathrow Airport. It also makes a great souvenir


Try a Full English Breakfast at least once. And yes, eat the beans. Eat the grilled tomato and mushrooms. You will finally reach understanding of the wonders of a Full English. You can get beer / ciders in half pints, if you can't manage a full one. Yorkshire pudding is NOT a dessert. It is lovely, so be sure to try it sometime. Spotted Dick *IS* a dessert, try not to giggle too hard.

Eating without breaking the bank! London is very expensive, but if you're careful you can afford to eat well. Restaurants are frequently expensive, and smaller places and pubs are frequently more affordable. One of the places that always comes up high on the list of good affordable food in Notting Hill / Ladbroke Grove is Fez Mangal, just a few feet from our doorstep. The Tabernacle has reasonable food, and is also a venue with exhibits and other happenings. Pizza East also gets rave reviews.(If it is still open, it may have closed) Here's some dining ideas.

Drinking Laws

England has different laws regarding minimum age and drinking alcohol, depending on where and what you buy, where you drink it and who buys it:


Now, about those place names - as mentioned eariler that big river running thru London is pronounced "Temz", (not thames), and the street we live on (as well as the famous marbles) has a hard "G", and sounds a lot like "El-Gun". You can also search Youtube for some pointers, just try to make sure its done by someone local to the area to get the correct way of saying it. (I've seen many that can't pronounce Elgin correctly)


While everyone knows that temps are in Celsius, distance in Kms (mostly),and that they write the date as DD/MM/YY, not everyone twigs to the fact they count building floors differently. They start with the GROUND floor, and the floor above that is the FIRST floor. So if you're booking a hotel without a Lift (elevator), keep in mind the U.K. second floor is a U.S. third floor. Light switches tend to be reversed from what we're used to, and as the power is 220v, the bathroom switches are almost always OUTSIDE of the bathroom. Theres also sometimes a high threshold between the bathroom and the main hall. I learned that painfully at 2am. Don't ask for the restrooms, you just get a confused look. There are several things you can say (Loo, Lavatories, Ladies or Gents..), but I find "Where are the Toilets?" will always work in a pinch. More comparisons of the differing facilities? See 5 Ways British and American Bathrooms Are Very Different. These all pretty well apply to our bathroom (well, shower room for us, we have no tub).


Official Tipping info from an Expat : See A Guide to Tipping in the United Kingdom.


Self Guided Walks - Up your Instagram feed!