For Americans traveling into or across Europe, London is often the highlights of the whole trip. It might not be as beautiful as Paris, or as hot as Madrid, but London is the capital city of England, and England still feels like ‘the old country’ for many Americans. It’s a city where everyone speaks our language, and it’s an exciting blend of modernity and ancient history. Nearly twenty million people visit London every year, and all of them will have their own unique, subjective experience of it.
London is also enormous; it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to go or what to do! If you take a trip up the Shard (which we highly recommend), you’ll get a stunning view of London from above. You’ll see that it seems to go on forever, far beyond the horizon even from that height. You could spend a whole week there and still not set food in eighty percent of the different towns and districts which make up the city.
There are a thousand guides online which will tell you what to see and where to go in London, but if you spend your whole trip checking out nothing more than the tourist destinations, you’ll feel like an outsider. The best way to enjoy London is to throw yourself into the city’s culture, and experience it the same way the locals do. Here’s how to enjoy London as a Londoner!
Drink In A Small Pub
There’s a difference between a ‘pub’ and a ‘bar.’ The bars in London (and the rest of England) are the same as they are everywhere else in the world and across America. They sell bar snacks, they show sports on the big screen, and they offer broadly similar menus. The pubs are a whole different matter.
Look for older, less glamorous pubs if you want a real taste of London culture. Going ‘down the pub’ has been the staple social activity of Londoners for centuries. It’s so entrenched in the culture that you’ll even find a mobile slots game called ‘Down The Pub’ on Vegas Slots websites. Bars and mobile slots might have replaced pubs and slots machines in many areas of the capital, but there are still plenty of charming old ‘boozers’ (as the locals call them) to be found. Don’t be surprised if the beer is served a little warmer than you’re used to, and don’t make the mistake of asking for a wine list, either.
Go To A Soccer Match
We’d suggest doing this even if you don’t like soccer; going to a soccer match in England’s capital city is an experience that everybody should have at least once. There are thirteen different professional soccer teams in London alone, and the debate over which of them is the best rages fiercely without ever being settled.
When you go to a game, you’ll realize that the sport being played on the field is only half of the entertainment. The songs the crowd sings are often as hilarious as they are offensive, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie in the stands. Soccer is a religion in England, and you’ll feel the emotional importance of the game as soon as you set foot in a stadium. Big teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham usually sell out their stadiums for home games, but you should be able to get tickets for West Ham, Watford, Queen Park Rangers, or several others.
Travel By Tube
Big, black taxicabs are part of the identity of London – as are large, red buses – but they’re not the most efficient way of getting around. Roads in the center of the city are notoriously busy, and if you get stuck in a queue, you might be there for a long time. It’s often quicker and more efficient to get on the London Underground service – or as the locals call it, ‘the tube’. It’s the oldest metro service in the world, and many of the stations are designed according to Victorian architectural fashion. They’re a little dark and dingy in places, but they’re also beautiful in their own way. The tube is how many of London’s workers commute to their offices each day, and so you’ll get to see the residents in their most natural environment!
Get A Sunday Roast
If you’re only planning to spend a few days in London, make sure those days fall on or over a weekend. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on the greatest culinary tradition that England has to offer – the Sunday roast. The rest of the world often turns its nose up at English cuisine, but the English have the last laugh. You know that huge meal we all have every Thanksgiving? May English families do it every Sunday.
The best part of this tip is that you can usually tag it on to your visit to a traditional pub. Even pubs that don’t serve food during the week will often offer a Sunday lunch. Don’t worry about what a ‘Yorkshire pudding’ is, or what you’re supposed to do with all that gravy. Just order a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, and cancel any plans to do anything that involves expending any energy later on.
Take In The Arts Scene
When you’re in London, you’re in one of the most culture-rich cities in the world. It would be a waste of your visit if you didn’t immerse yourself in at least one or two of the high-brow activities London has to offer – and so you absolutely should. The museums are a fine place to start, and the really good news is that the majority of the museums are free to enter! The Natural History Museum (and its enormous dinosaur skeleton) is a great choice if you want to know about the distant past. If you’re more of a fan of paintings and sculptures, the Tate Modern is the place to go. It has installations and exhibits from every prominent artist you’ve ever heard of.
London is also where you’ll find the English answer to Broadway; the West End. There’s always something to see on the stage, and the bigger productions will contain some of the biggest names in entertainment. Don’t forget to catch the tube down to the show, so you’re not sitting in all that traffic!
We’ll include one ‘don’t’ to go with all these ‘do’s – and that’s a warning not to attempt to copy the local accent. Hollywood has lied to you. Nobody in London actually talks about ‘apples and pears’ instead of stairs, and nor do they answer the ‘dog and bone’ as opposed to the phone. Cockney rhyming slang has been almost dead and buried as a concept for around fifty years. London is always full of tourists, and so the locals are used to hearing American accents. Just use your own voice, and you’ll be fine!