London is a big city, so whether you are a visitor or a local, hacks that make your life easier or your visit run more smoothly are always a good thing. Look no further. Here are 23 London life hacks every visitor needs to know.
HACKS AT THE AIRPORT
1. Avoid the Express Trains to and from the airport
Both Gatwick and Heathrow airports offer express train connections, but they are more expensive than normal trains. If you are not in a hurry, take the normal train instead. It will take longer, but it will cost you quite a lot less. Read more about arriving in London here.
2. Avoid the biggest airport – Heathrow
The bigger the airport, the longer the wait, the further you have to walk, the more complex the terminals, the bigger the chance you’ll get caught in queues, get lost or miss your flight. If you want a simple life, choose a smaller airport. This is definitely the case for the monster that is Heathrow Airport.
3. Bring a foldable hand-luggage bag to check-in
Sounds very obvious, we know, but while in other countries you get away with having one or two extra kilos in your bags, in the UK you don’t. Airports here are ruthless when it comes to baggage allowance and you will have to pay for every kilo you go over your booked limit. With fees hitting over £10 per kilo, a foldable hand-luggage bag will be the best thing you ever bought.
HACKS FOR TRAVELLING IN LONDON
4. Get a Visitor Oyster card
Oyster Cards are prepaid cards that you use to pay for public transport in London. They are cheaper than a paper ticket and have daily caps, so you will never spend more than a certain amount no matter how much you travel. Visitor card holders also benefit from discounts in restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. And when you are done, if you didn’t use all the credits you loaded to your Visitor Oyster, you can request a refund.
Please note you need to order the Visitor Oyster online to be posted to you or collected from certain places in the city before travelling to London. You won’t be able to order one once you’ve already landed. Find out more about the Visitor Oyster here.
5. Keep your Oyster inside somewhere easy to swipe
Once you have your Oyster Card, to speed things along, keep it in a secure outside pocket, wallet or bag that you can just touch the barrier pads with. This means you won’t have to look for the card before hitting the barrier, but just touch the pad with your bag/wallet instead. Please also read the hack below for more info.
6. Keep Oyster cards away from contactless bank cards
When swiping your Oyster card, make sure it’s in a different pocket, bag or wallet to your contactless bank card, as you can also pay for public transport with contactless cards. If you touch both to the machine at the same time credit might be taken from your bank card rather than your Oyster.
7. Get familiar with London’s zones
London is divided into zones which go out from Central London (zone 1) in a water ripple type effect. Travelling from zone 1 to 2 costs £6.60 a day, but travelling from zone 1 to 3 costs £7.70 a day. The same applies if you are staying outside of zone 1 and travelling in. The price goes up, the further out you travel from zone 1, so bundle your activities together by zone. That way you will only be paying more for a longer trip once, rather than zigzagging in and out of the zones every day. There are landmarks scattered all over the city depending on what you want to see and where you are staying, but a large number are in zone 1.
8. Avoid travelling at rush-hour
Two million commuters use the London Underground every day. From 8am to 9am, 414,000 people will go through its stations. From 5 to 6.30pm, a staggering 778,000 Londoners will try to get home. So unless you enjoy feeling like a canned sardine, avoid rush hour like the plague. If it can’t be avoided, steer clear of the busiest stations – Waterloo, Victoria, King’s Cross St Pancras, Oxford Circus, Paddington and Bank.
9. Stand on the right inside at escalators
Our escalators’ left lanes are made for walking, so unless you want to walk up the whole escalator (we warn you – some of them are really tall!) stand on the right. There is nothing that will infuriate a local running late more than a tourist standing on the walk-up left lane.
10. Try the river buses instead of the tour boats
River trips offer an amazing view of London as they navigate past quite a few of the capital’s landmarks, but if you don’t mind not having the running commentary, take the Thames Clippers River Buses and save yourself a few pounds. They use more or less the same routes and you will see everything you need to see. You can even use your Oyster to pay for the tickets! Read more about it below.
Bonus hack: We highly recommend boarding the route from Westminster to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich at twilight hour, when the city lights up for the night but it’s still light enough for you to see all the details. Once you get to the Millennium Dome, there are also plenty of restaurants and entertainment venues to choose from.
11. Use the river buses when you have an Oyster Card or a paper Travelcard
Not only can you use the credit on your Oyster to pay for your boat trip, but having the Oyster or a paper Travelcard will also give you preferential rates.
Please note: River Buses fares are not included in the daily capping for Oyster Cards, so credit will always be taken from your card. Make sure you have enough credit before boarding the Clippers. You can also top up your Oyster at some of the boat piers.
12. Take public buses rather than tour buses
Like the boats, many of London’s public bus routes will ride past attractions and landmarks, so if you don’t mind not having the commentary, the public buses will do just fine and cost as little as £1.50 per day. Read more about the bus routes in point 3 here.
13. Go for a walk
London locals give directions based on Tube stations, so it’s easy to think that hopping on the Tube is faster. But the truth is that, on a nice day, it’s probably fine to walk. There are some amazing walking routes in London and the capital hides a lot of photo opportunities and little treasures in its streets. So if you have time, why not take a stroll? It will help you keep fit and save money on transport fares. Read more about sightseeing walking routes here.
HACKS FOR SIGHTSEEING AND ATTRACTIONS
14. Visit a Free Attraction
There are a lot of attractions, galleries and museums in London that are free. So before parting with your hard-earned cash, why not check what you could see at no extra cost? You might just find something interesting. Read more about free things to do in London here.
15. Admire the panoramic views
While The Shard is the viewing platform of choice for tourists, Tate Modern’s Switch House and The Sky Garden both have amazing panoramic views of the city and don’t cost a penny to enter. Alternatively, if you still fancy visiting The Shard, book at table for lunch or afternoon tea. You will pay for the food, but the view will be free.
16. Book a table at awkward times to get into exclusive restaurants
Think very early dinners or very late lunches and places you would not be able to get into might just have a table available. Having later meals also means you can do more sightseeing as the waiting times for the food are shorter.
17. Have a free drink
Download the Drinki app and you will have access to free drinks and exclusive offers in some of the capital’s best bars!
18. Go street art spotting
London has some amazing street art in areas like Waterloo, Shoreditch, Camden and Hackney. If you go for a wander, you will not only spot some amazing art but also come across some very interesting bars, cafes and restaurants. The best way to do this is to download the Street Art App. Read more about the best apps to use in London here.
19. Discover Hidden London
If you are visiting London for the second time or fancy something different from the usual touristic hotspots, Hidden London is just for you. Focusing on less known attractions by region, you will most certainly find something you want to visit.
20. Need Wi-Fi?
Quite a few London attractions, coffee shops and restaurants offer free wi-fi, so if you need to catch up on emails, upload photos on the go or find your next sightseeing attraction, try The Barbican, the National British Library or the Southbank Centre. Otherwise, McDonald’s, Costa Coffee and Café Nero not only offer free wi-fi but have good coffee too.
21. Want to carry on with your hobby while away?
If you are travelling solo or would like to meet new like-minded people, check out the Meet Up phone app or website. It connects people based on shared interests. Find a group you would like to join and get busy with your favourite hobby in London.
22. Where to eat and drink?
On the food front, London on a Plate comes on web and app form and will point you in the direction of some delicious treats. If it’s a decent watering hole you are after, The Good Pub Guide will give you directions to all the best pubs near you.
23. Where to party in style?
If you fancy shaking the old bones, London Night Guide has the best clubs in a neat little list for you. You can even book a table and have your name added to the guest list through them if you want to go VIP.
So there you have it, little tips and tricks to make your life easier when visiting our beautiful capital. Happy travelling!