I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to get to Leadenhall Market. I was meeting a friend for lunch right by the office we used to work at together and I couldn’t remember how to get there. It was an unsettling feeling. The city I had called home for 12 years felt unfamiliar. I no longer had an Oyster Card to get around; couldn’t remember what end of the carriages to board for easy access to the exits. And yet as soon as I entered the Underground system I began walking like I knew where I was going. I was lost but my stride gave nothing away. I smiled to myself at this typical London behaviour – there is still a little Londoner inside me afterall!
I’ve spent the last 2 weeks back home in the UK after moving to Sydney a year ago. It was wonderful to hang out with friends and family, reminiscing over years of shared history, and already I am wishing my trip was longer. No sooner had I settled into the rhythm of UK life, when it was time to head back to Australia again.
The long journey from Sydney to London was an incredibly comfortable experience though. I had ample leg space and Haagen-Dazs ice-cream on the first leg of the journey in Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy. Then, following a surprise upgrade at Hong Kong Airport, I travelled the second leg in a Business Class flat bed. Although there was a generous amount of wine and champagne was on the menu, I contently cheers-ed my return to the UK with warm mug after mug of English Breakfast tea. It was at once comforting and appropriate.
It took a while for me to find my feet on British soil again though. The accents (although the same as mine) seemed oddly unfamiliar. Transport was confusing and wildy expensive. I was even flummoxed by the introduction of a nifty thing we call Paypass or Paywave in Oz but is known as Contactless in the UK. I had to relearn how to be a local in my own home town. So for anyone who is visiting or returning to London in the near future, these are some of the key things I discovered or was reminded of during this trip.
Travel The Underground Using Contactless Payment. If you have the funny wifi-looking symbol on your debit or credit card you can now use this to travel on London Underground instead of an Oyster Card. There is no need to set up an account (as I mistakenly thought) you simply swipe and journeys are charged to your card, same as they would be on Oyster.
Travel Offpeak. For anyone living or staying outside of London, train fares into the city are reduced by up to 50% if you arrive in the city after 9.30am (may vary for each region but this was the case for South West trains.) It cost me almost £50 for a travelcard on the day I needed to be London for an early meeting –I’ll plan events for the afternoon in future!
Walk With Purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going (this is how we do it in London!) And walk at every opportunity you can. Many journeys around the centre of town are much faster on foot.
Shop The High Street. O, how I missed the UK high street. I honestly feel it can’t be beaten for price and quality. It took me less than 24 hours to restock my entire wardrobe from the likes of Topshop, River Island, M&S and Primarck (hello, £4 ballet flats!)
Eat Cake. London does afternoon tea and cake so well. On this trip I revisited one of my favourites for sweet treats, Drink, Shop, Do in Kings Cross, as well as tried out a new place called Bea’s Of Bloomsbury at their swanky One New Change address. For just £25 per head my girlfriends and I indulged in chunky ciabatta sandwiches, fresh scones with clotted cream, cupcakes, brownies and meringues. When we inevitably couldn’t eat it all, the kind staff boxed up the rest and my family and I enjoyed tucking into the leftovers later.
Do you have any London local tips that will help me fit in better on my next visit?
24 thoughts on “How To Do London Like A Local”
Love this. Though you missed off a few…
– get angry at people standing still on the left side of the escalators on the tube
– you feel at home to the sound of sirens
– enjoy a drink on the street outside a pub at 5pm
Hope you enjoyed your little visit home x
O my goodness this is so true. I totally forgot to mention the escalator confusion. They stand on the left in Australia and I had only just got my head around it before coming back and being in the wrong place again! The siren thing is also so true, after living in Kilburn I found it so weird to wake up to birds in Sydney rather than brawls or police raids lol. I did indeed enjoy a drink on the street after work though and loved the excitement with which we Brits embrace the sunny weather. It’s so regular here that the novelty wears off! x
Always letting people off the tube before boarding. Coming from NYC, that was a foreign concept, but now that I am used to London, I get trampled waiting for passengers to off load when I visit NYC.
Of course, for younger people, skipping dinner to save money so you can drink more on a Friday night is a unique to London. Someone told me once eating dinner was an “amateur” move when going out.
Haha this bit about skipping dinner is hilarious because it’s true. It was a standard tactic throughout my twenties in London.
Also agree it is good London etiquette to let people off the train before boarding. You are also well within your rights to tut at anyone who does not do so!
Back in my days working in London we used to say “eating’s cheating”. Nothing a cuppa and a bacon sarnie wouldn’t sort out the next day.
I would also add:
– Download CityMapper (because why get two buses when you could get four buses, an Overground and a tram and get there 3 minutes quicker?)
– Don’t sit on the Tube eating a huge bag of M&Ms from M&Ms World (no Londoner has ever been to M&Ms World)
– Fish your Oyster/debit card out of the depths of your bag *before* you get to the ticket barriers at Piccadilly Circus in rush hour
Hahahahah such great points. Agree that not having your Oyster card in hand before reaching the gate is such a rookie mistake – a sure way to get yourself labelled as an out of towner!
I moved to Sydney from the UK last year as well! When I popped back last month to visit the family it also took me a few days to settle back in. I couldnt believe how expensive the transport is back home – I almost refused to pay for my travelcard!
Hope you had a lovely visit back home (from the sounds of the upgrade you did! I had to stick it out in Economy both ways…)
It was a wonderful trip – thank you. Flying seems such good value in comparison to UK train lines!!
Great blog, I am not liking the debit card on trains as I am forever in and out of my purse which makes me uneasy. Whereas the Oyster card stayed in my pocket for the journey so am reverting back to Oyster. My sister is over here in UK from Sydney next week so will see what she notices after 10 years of being in Australia. She has been back in meantime but not always to London!
I know what you mean. I did feel nervous walking around with my only UK bank card in my hand the whole time I was on the tube. My grip was tight, that’s for sure.
Hope you have a lovely time catching up with your sister. I had a great time with mine xx
I spent the day in London today seing the Alexander McQueen exhibition and I love all the busy busy and commotion of it all – great tips for a country girl like me! 😉
Ah how was it? Wish we had time to go. Always so much to do!
Ha, these points really make me smile. I live back in London now after 2 years in Costa Rica and EVERYTHING was a shock when I came back! But I got so nostalgic each time I came that I had to.
I always walk as if I know where I’m going (when I sometimes haven’t got a clue).
Real Londoners also feel the need to cuss and tut at tourists – always.
This is true. I have been known to tut at people who stop unexpectedly, even though I’m pretty lost myself!
Being back in London does take some getting used to! I’d add these tips:
– Be super-aware if you’re travelling on the Underground with a huge backpack, as many tourists unintentionally whack the people behind them with these, and remain totally oblivious. It’s polite to take off the backpack in your Tube carriage during rush hour unless you want to confront an irate person!
– Don’t stop at the top of the escalators and dither. Loads of people do this and it just creates a huge traffic jam (v annoying if you’re running late for something).
– Avoid wearing any ‘I [Heart] London’ clothing, bumbags and baseball caps if you don’t want to look like a tourist… (obviously this one’s for newbies only!)
– Try to pick an alternative to coffee shop chains, as there are some brilliant coffee shops all over London (and I loved your Bea’s of Bloomsbury tip – you’re the third person to have recommended it to me!)
O my goodness, the stopping at the top of escalators thing is so true. I get that the Underground is confusing but there must be less hazardous places to stop and check the map!
Ah this made me miss the UK! I definitely agree that you can’t beat the British high street. I’ve heard rumours recently that Primark is opening up in Boston so that may have to be my next travel stop! Sounds like you had a great time at home 🙂
Oo that would be great. Please let them come to Sydney next!! It was a lovely trip 🙂
I didn’t do any of these when i visited london 🙁 Maybe next time!
Perfect timing. Just got our tickets to London for September.
Love the Contactless Payment tip for the underground. And eat cake. 🙂
O great, hope you have a wonderful trip. Hold onto your debit card tight and enjoy all the tea and cake 🙂