London is a world-class city, one which many aim to visit at least once in their lifetime.
Whether you're interested in the arts, fashion or the folks of Buckingham Palace, you will never run short on things to do in this brimming beauty of a town.
With a population of 8.8 million divided amidst 32 Burroughs, you will find most all neighbourhoods are rich with cultural and historical charm. That being said, the division of North London and South London (made evident by the River Thames) are two different sides to the same coin and you will be prompted to choose (and stay loyal to) the side you choose to visit for the entirety of your stay as few cross over.
North London is more action-packed with nightlife and considered to be more cosmopolitan with 49 Michelin rated restaurants. The Northernly part of London has better tube access which makes it easier to get around whereas you may be on a train ride for 2+ hours when commuting South. South London however, has a lot more outdoorsy type of fun, numerous markets and is statistically a safer part of the city.
If you're still unsure you can always see where the wind blows you upon landing down in Heathrow but one thing is for sure, you're not going to want to stand out as one of the 40 million tourists that Londoners see almost yearly. Since Londoners have become quite good at sniffing out a tourist, we've come up with a few ways to throw them off the scent with our list below!
But first let's start with the things you should AVOID doing if you want to blend in like a London local:
Tipping isn't really a custom in London unless you have experienced outstanding service. If you are coming from North America it can feel really odd not to throw down an obligatory 15% for a beer you went to get yourself at the bar. If you do, it's a dead giveaway that you're not from around town.
If you have received impeccable table service or taken a taxi, be sure to leave minimum 10% on your tab but if you're at the pub or even a bar or club, don't bother. Always check your bill beforehand as well because sometimes a service charge is automatically included.
There is no surer way to boil the blood of a Londoner than to imitate their accent. It doesn't matter if it's your claim to fame back home and all your friends think it's impressive because in London (or the whole of the UK for that matter) it surely is not. They have heard it all before from 'g'day mate' to 'cheerio guvna' and they don't think it's cute or even remotely authentic.
If you should think you can outsmart a local by impersonating their accent, prepare to be called on it and likely heavily ridiculed (in their signature dry and biting humour). If you ask us, it's really not worth the risk (or the embarrassment!).
London has (arguably) been called the fashion capital of the world so do you really think that you would catch a local sporting an I heart London hoodie or something as equally as trite? The answer is 'goodness no!' Not even ironically! Forms of 'I heart' anything, as a rule, should be banned from your wardrobe unless you are supporting a charity of some kind.
If you want to show your support for London, buy some Union Jack wellie boots because at least they will be practical as you slush around in the ever-present rain.
Speaking of rain, yes it rains in London. A lot. A lot, a lot. It's all part of its charm! We all know when visiting London that the weather is a common hazard for visitors and locals alike so please for the love of fish and chips, please stop talking about it, referencing it, making jabs to locals about it - it's all been done.
If anything, it's best to avoid the topic altogether. Even if you're saying how much you love the rainy weather it is guaranteed to garner an eye roll (or 10) from the local Londoners.
This seems to be a unanimous annoyance with pretty much any order-respecting country and the United Kingdom is no exception. Londoners will not be shy about tutting you if you are taking up too much breathing space in general so you can imagine the passive aggressive sighs, clock glances and glares you will receive if you just so happen to be in holiday mode and forget your whereabouts.
Always stand right and allow others to walk left up the side of the escalator to avoid the hurtful (and inevitable) scoldings from strangers. The reality is that everyone in London is in a rush and there are a lot of people, so there needs to be efficiency tactics in place to ensure they don't have to unnecessarily interact with one another (and slow everything down).
London folk are known for being quite prim and proper for the most part. They are rarely seen stopped in the street or on the tube having a loud gregarious chat and this is the way that they like it. Think of them as the opposite of people from Italy. So if you happen to be from Italy (or let's be honest, from North America) the courteous thing to do when visiting London is to make a conscious effort to lower your voice a few octaves when you're in a public place. This will ensure you are keeping a low profile, but also respecting the culture of these Brits.
The majority of Museums in London are FREE so this is quite literally an insult to the arts and culture that is handed to you on a silver platter when visiting. Aside from the fact that you might take in a few strange 'fun facts' amidst the hoards of tourists (whom you will be categorized as also) for a 20-pound entry fee, you are also missing out massively.
You can see an original Warhol at the Tate Museum, seaswept artifacts at the National Maritime Museum, or DINOSAURS at the Natural History Museum. All this is available for free - the choice should be obvious.
These giant umbrellas are not just visibility nightmare but they also impede on the efficiency of Londoners and are therefore not very well appreciated by the locals. To thrive in such a climate, you will need an umbrella that is small enough to fit in a knapsack or purse so that it is always on you. Umbrellas are permanent accessories because rain could essentially strike at any moment.
So in order to avoid flagging yourself down as a not-so-in-the-know tourist, pick up some pocket size rain protection and leave the golf umbrellas on the green where they belong.
Or with... anything?
Selfie sticks are a dead giveaway no matter where you are travelling and usually unnecessary unless you're with a massive group of people or on the peak of a mountain trying to get a panoramic shot. Otherwise, you can hold out your hand like the rest of us if a selfie is really required.
In London, the selfie impulse will be strong but seeing as selfies have been officially banned Her Majesty herself, it is highly un-English to go in for the selfiest of all selfies and use the stick. Not to mention double-decker busses are pretty widely available in most cities now thanks to those red bus tours, so if you can let this one go, it may be worth it simply for the fact of blending in a bit more.
Generally speaking, there's a lot of judgement being thrown around on etiquette by Londoners. Assume this from the moment you touch down on UK soil and if it helps, you can pretend you're on the set of Downton Abbey (but maybe leave the corset at home).
For example, it's considered rude to answer with 'what' instead of 'excuse me' or 'pardon me.' If you ask someone for something, be sure to say please and thank you! Politics, religion and/or talk of money are strictly off the table so don't even go there.
Also remember that in an effort to be polite, locals may extend an offer to you out of courtesy but not really mean it, so don't accept every kind gesture that comes your way. Of course, if you really need a hand then accepting (and saying thank you!) is still absolutely kosher.
And here's how you can fit in like the lot of 'em...
This is a surefire way to at least trick the locals into thinking that you've lived in London for a while. Almost everyone uses this slang word, mostly at the end of their sentence as an affirmation to what they've said. It can mean isn't it, isn't he/she, isn't there and is basically a way of saying 'don't you agree' all in one. For USA folk, it could be considered the UK way of 'ain't it' except it rolls off the tongue a bit more easily.
It will take getting used to but once you get in the habit, you'll probably say it more than you'd like.
It can be really hard not to smile as a default when in a foreign place on holiday but trust us, you will be one of few.
Londoners don't smile or make eye contact so you'd be best to think of something sad like a kitten in a tree or dropping your sandwich in a London puddle the next time your tempted to flash a grin at a stranger.
Most of them will think that you are bonkers. The reason that Londoners keep their smile cards close to their chest could be due to the sheer population as there are higher odds of an unusual (in a bad way) interaction so they'd rather play it safe and be ultra antisocial with strangers.
To queue according to dictionary.com is to form in a line while waiting. If there's one thing that the people of London are famous for it's for forming an orderly queue. This is deeply rooted in their culture so if you want to blend in you better learn how to line up and abide by the rules of the queue.
Most Brits are quite powerless to the queue in that they often don't even know what they have lined up for but if other people have begun a queue, it must be good right?!
As a foreigner it can be tempting to do the more efficient thing and skip ahead but don't you dare cut in the queue or push past others while waiting - this in itself is an insult to the whole of Great Britain. If you really want to fit in with the locals, feel free to mutter or tutt passive aggressively at those who dare cut the line, but remember never any direct eye contact.
Brunch may be considered the ultimate meal (next to a roast supper of course) in London. The good news is that means there are heaps of amazing brunch places both North and South of the Thames that will make you happy to be on holiday time.
Brunch classics which will make you appear seamlessly from Britain include eggs Benedict or buttermilk pancakes. Maybe locals love brunch because it's the one time that they allow themselves to slow down and be social. Or maybe it's the economics of it all? In any case, it is surely the most popular meal of the weekend and one you should participate in if you'd like to live like a Londoner.
It can be tempting to dust off your monocle and top hat and all that jazz but the truth is, London is incredibly fashionable and casual all at the same time. Jeans and casual tops with sensible shoes (as there is a lot of walking to be done) are the norm in London and how you personalize is up to you.
Black is a good solid London colour and it goes with a lot. If you really want to disguise yourself, pick up a football jersey or shirt that supports a local sports club. Be sure to layer because temperatures can be up and down throughout the day and there's nothing more touristy than being improperly dressed for the weather.
Since they refer to french fries as chips in the United Kingdom, a chippy is a place where one can acquire fish and chips and other fried delights. Usually a family-run establishment with not much more than a counter and waiting area, they are the greasiest, most satisfying takeout meals you can have in the UK.
They often come in at great value too, because you'll get 1-2 slabs of fish with a pile of fries for about 5 pounds. Most popular fish types include Cod and Haddock and are often accompanied by tartar sauce, ketchup and brown sauce. If you want fish and chips, ask for the fish supper.
Do you hate sports? That's fine, to each their own!
Just don't let it show too much while you're hanging about London. The whole of the UK is quite football obsessed so if you really want to blend in, it would do you well to follow along with a team! If you decide to rock a jersey however, make sure you're in the right supporter pub as spectators do get quite riled up. For a default safe bet, you can say that you're a fan of Arsenal or Chelsea as they have between 55-65 million supporters nationwide.
No one (in London) likes a diddle daddler. In fact, it is the chief complaint by London locals of the tourists. In order to banish yourself from the category of aimless wanderers who are awestruck by the stunning buildings and mayhem-filled markets, choose to walk with purpose. That's right, even if you have no idea where you're going!
As long as you're walking like you're determined to get there, the Londoners will love it. For bonus points, check your watch and really sell it like you're in a hurry. That's all there is to it really, you're a Londoner already.
Since the Tube (or Underground) is a big part of London life, you really need to be aware of the ways that you could oust yourself while using this mode of transportation. To avoid looking like a bumbling foreigner, make sure you have your Oyster card (or method of payment) ready before approaching the gate. If you're caught fumbling through your bag it's a giveaway that you're not local.
Also, mind the passengers disembarking and allow them space to exit before entering the car. This is the golden rule of the tube and one that Londoners hold in high regard.
The 'loo' is what Brits call the washroom, bathroom, lavatory, etc. If you ask for the bathroom you may get a puzzled look but if you ask for the loo or the ladies, the Londoners will know exactly which direction to point you.
While there are free 'loos' available throughout the city, be aware that you may have to have some coin handy for others. While it's not often very expensive, you will notice that the washrooms that you pay to use are often really well maintained! Many bigger shops will also allow you to use their lavatories like Asda, Marks and Spencers, Tesco and Sainsbury's.
On your travels you will see some amazing loos, including those of the Victorian era that have been restored and converted into modern day cafes. If you're curious to see more quirky spots, you can always join the London loo walking tour too!
The final and most obvious way you can blend into the London local scene is to be streetwise as you explore. While it can be quite breathtaking to see monuments, glamorous shop windows and the fashion to match be aware that you are in a major metropolis full of good and not so good people. Take off the rose-coloured Burberry glasses for a moment and behave as you would in a big city back home.
Keep your bag towards the front of your body or if you carry a backpack, make sure valuables are secured. Don't flash cash, cameras or other tech around either - in other words, keep a low profile.
If taking the tube at night, make sure you know your route and/or plan for a taxi. It can be easy to feel a bit complacent, if it weren't for the fact that you're a savvy Londoner by now.
References: world population review, The Guardian, Wikipedia