The English writer Samuel Johnson famously said, "You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." More than two centuries have passed since Johnson's era, but his words still ring true. Life in London is nothing short of invigorating, and travelers find that one visit isn't enough to experience everything this two-millennia-old city has to offer.
Here, the antiquated clasps hands with the contemporary. You'll find the historic Tower of London and the avant-garde Tate Modern both considered big must-sees. Shakespeare's sonnets are still being uttered by actors who don modern garb. Londoners most certainly still respect the royals, but they also jam to the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Adele. And while they still praise the power of tea, they now make room for some Starbucks here and there, and pressed juice too. A current leader in everything from politics and banking to fashion and music, London's culture compass is always attuned to what's next.
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The British aren't being rude when they ask to bum a fag in the queue for the loo, but they might be if they ask to snog. To avoid common misunderstandings, here is some British slang to add to your repertoire: To snog is to kiss; a fag is a cigarette; the loo is the restroom; queuing means to form a line, and quid is slang for pounds, or money. Pants actually mean underwear, chips are french fries and biscuits are cookies. Also, first floors don't exist here, they call it the ground floor and cheers is a way of saying thank you. There are many different British equivalents, so going the extra mile to learn the lingo will prevent you from not being able to understand someone in your native tongue. Despite a difference in dialect, Americans find the city accessible because of London's official English language.
British people are very polite and quite friendly to tourists, so don't be afraid to ask for directions if you're lost. More often than not Londoners are more than happy to point you in the right direction, or even give a recommendation about their city. But keep in mind that the British like order. There is no better example than how you are expected to behave on the Tube (London's subway). Make sure to stand to the right when going up or down escalators. Eating on public transportation is very uncommon and some consider it rude to stare at people on the train. Don't make a fuss about long wait times (or anything really) and be patient for everything.
The other side to the Brits, especially among the young adults, is their penchant for drinking. Unlike coffee shops in the U.S., pubs are the prime watering hole for the Brits. They aren't just places to grab a drink or two, but rather havens to gather with loved ones to sit and socialize for hours. Most pubs serve meals and are open the majority of the day, so don't be alarmed if you see people walking in with young children. Once 5 o'clock rolls around, the hunger for a post-work pick me up is rampant in London, and pubs, as well as bars, tend to fill up throughout the week. Expect to see hordes of people congregating outside pubs in the warmer months and some stumbling out nightly at around 9 p.m. Also, expect to see a lot of stylish people. London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, hosting fashion week attended by the highest of the higher-ups in the fashion world. You'll see people dressed to the nines throughout the city but especially around Oxford Street, where many fashion houses and publications are located. If you ever wanted to go the extra mile with your style game, London is the place to do it.
London's official currency is the British pound. Since the pound to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. As for tipping, some restaurants and cafes may add a service charge to the bill, upward of 12 percent. If a service charge is not allotted, it's customary to tip between 10 and 15 percent, especially if you're in a restaurant. If you're drinking at a pub or wine bar, tipping is discretionary. And in a taxicab, tip the driver to the nearest pound or about 10 percent of the cost. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops. It's important to note that London is very expensive, and considered by some to be one of the priciest cities in the world. Even though there are definitely ways to cut costs during your trip, make sure you have sufficient funds before you book.
London used to be highly criticized for its heavy and uninspired menu items. Fish and chips (fried cod and french fries). Bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes). Mince meat pies. You get the picture. Now, London is hailed as one of the world's best foodie cities. And with its melting pot of cultures, it's not difficult to see why. London offers everything from modern British to Malaysian cuisine.
To get the best of the various cuisines London serves up, you need to know where to go. For Indian food, visit the curry houses on Brick Lane. If you want an authentic high tea experience, book reservations at the Ritz, the Savoy, or at the Dorchester – but be sure to dress the part. If you're all about fine dining, check out the Michelin Star heavy Clerkenwell neighborhood. There you'll find St. John, the restaurant that garnered fame for utilizing the full body of meat in its dishes, coined as "nose-to-tail" dining.
If you're one for celebrity chefs, Gordon Ramsay has a number of restaurants in the city, including the Michelin-rated three-star restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Jamie Oliver also has five restaurants spread throughout the city. If you're looking for something a little quirky, try the two-star Michelin-rated brasserie-style Sketch, whose bathrooms are egg pods you step inside instead of traditional stalls. There's also The Attendant Cafe, which is housed in what used to be a Victorian restroom. Don't worry, it's immaculate in more ways than one. London also features great rooftop restaurants as well. For a meal with a side of vistas, head up to Sushi Samba or 24-hour Duck & Waffle, which is billed as the highest restaurant in the U.K.
Pub culture is huge in the U.K. If you're interested in getting a taste of British life that doesn't include visiting London's top attractions, it's best to grab a drink. Pubs serve much of the same drinks found in bars, but you must try a cider. There are a variety of flavors and brands available from traditional Magners or Strongbow ciders to those that are pear and strawberry flavored. Many pubs also serve meals throughout the day. You're likely to find traditional British dishes for a fraction of the price in pubs than you would in sit-down restaurants. Along with the traditional bangers and mash and fish and chips (which some argue taste better in pubs), you should make time for a traditional English breakfast and Sunday roast. Both are very hearty and a beloved culinary tradition among the Brits. If you're on the go and don't want to buy a sandwich from Pret A Manger, seek out pasty stands. Pasties are savory pastries typically packed with meat, potatoes or some vegetables. Pasties are filling and affordable and conveniently located in the larger train stations in London, such as Waterloo, King's Cross and Victoria train stations.
The best way to get around London is the rapid-transit London Underground, or what locals call "the Tube." You can even take the Tube from Heathrow Airport (LHR) – one of the world's busiest airports – into the city center. This widespread and efficient system stretches throughout London and beyond, and it is relatively easy to navigate. Buying an Oyster card will further simplify your travel since it can be used on the Underground system, as well as on city buses and other forms of transportation. Visitors should also bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes since meandering is the most atmospheric way to traverse the city.See details for Getting Around
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A valid travel document is required for United States citizens traveling outside the mainland by air or sea, as well as for U.S. citizens trying to re-enter the country. A United States passport is the preferred form of documentation, and children must have them, too.