I have one good friend who recently moved to London, and another who will move there soon. When asked for recommendations, here’s what I sent. I didn’t bother with links. Google is your friend.
The London Eye is really, really worth it. Go on a sunny day, obvs.
Go to The Old Red Cow for Sunday lunch.
The Cabinet War Rooms are super cool. You can see Winston Churchill’s chamber pot.
The London Transport Museum is great, and sells cool posters from throughout the history of Tube ads.
There’s a pub called The King’s Head and Eight Bells on the Thames that is a beautiful, classic pub.
I worked at The Hand and Flower at 617 King’s Road, SW6, if you’re doing the David B. Thomas Tour.
If you like jazz, Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street is the king of jazz clubs.
Black cab drivers (drivers of black cabs) know everything about London and tell great stories. Google “The Knowledge.” That’s the test they have to take. They love to talk about it.
Before you get in a cab, you tell the driver where you want to go through the open window and wait for him to agree (which he will). It’s an odd little piece of etiquette.
Time Out London is the best guide to what’s going on in the city. It’s a weekly magazine.
Buy a “London A-Z” street guide. Everyone has one. Don’t forget to call it “A to Zed.”
Google “best pub lunches” and have a sausage roll and a ploughman’s lunch, but only in a place that gets good reviews. Bad ploughman’s are bad. Fun fact: the ploughman’s lunch was invented by an ad agency in the 1970s when sandwich bars were draining off lunchtime clientele. Real ploughmen couldn’t afford that much cheese.
All of the markets are cool and have different characters. Camden Market is eclectic and artsy, Brixton Market is multicultural and has a lot of interesting food and vegetable stands.
Borough Market is one of the greatest places on Earth. Fast for two days before you go. Go for breakfast and stay through lunch. Amazing place to see the renaissance of English real food. What a friend we have in cheeses.
The Notting Hill neighborhood is a lot of fun to wander around in. I think they have a market, or maybe it’s just like a market all the time. The Notting Hill Carnival is a big deal every year but it’s a giant mess (crowds, traffic, etc.), like all big city festivals. People who live in Notting Hill generally go out of town that week.
Covent Garden is a fun area to wander and the market is pretty good (antiques mostly, as I recall) but also much more touristy than the others.
Take a canal boat tour. There was probably only one when I did it and now there are a bunch, so Google it.
Pub etiquette: Unless things have changed, you don’t tip. But if you buy a large round (six or more drinks or so), or if you are there for a while and/or buy a lot of rounds or are generally difficult, you buy a drink for the barman (I don’t know the gender neutral version). The way you do it (at least when I was there) is you say, “And have one for yourself.” The barman will generally take money out for a half pint or a single whisky. Anything more is considered greedy. You probably won’t see the barman pour it and drink it. They might save it for the end of their shift. It used to be considered rude not to drink it at the time, but that’s changed.
Apparently I have a lot to say about London.
You probably know this, but English people are generally more reticent in conversation at first. They aren’t nearly as comfortable talking about themselves as Americans, and they generally think we’re loud and oafish. It’s not hard to disabuse them of that notion. I’ve heard many times, “You’re the nicest American I’ve ever met.” But I was working in a pub and serving people who only ever saw American tourists. You’ll likely be around more sophisticated folk.
- The Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux
- Among the Thugs, Bill Buford
- White Teeth, Zadie Smith
- London Fields, Martin Amis
- Capital, John Lanchester