Questions and answers about London. Tips for visitors and freshers

London underground
Underground sign in Piccadilly Circus at night (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

London is an amazing city and bloggers like us can spend their whole life trying to get some attention from posts about it. This is a selection of questions that we think can be useful for a lot of people, even those already living in the city.

How on earth does the Oyster/Travel Card work? Why do they not have a single ticket valid for a single journey? ^

This is more difficult than all the countries I’ve been so far. Let’s try to make it as simple as possible.

  • London’s underground cost is based on both distance and time. There are 9 zones, and a journey from zone 1 to zone 2 is cheaper than from 1 to 9. That’s why you also need to tap your Oyster when you get out, so they can calculate the distance and the price.
  • On peak time, which is from 06:30 to 09:29 and from 16:00 to 18:59 Monday to Friday, is also more expensive. (This item and the previous one answer the second question).
  • The Oyster Card can be used on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, Tfl Rail and most National Rail services in London. Basically, all the lines you see in the map can be taken, and all combinations in a joined station are possible. You can forget about the name (DLR, Overground, etc), just follow the line and stops and use them.
  • Buses do not accept money anymore. And they don’t charge by distance. Additionally, you can now get off and take another bus (within 60 minutes of the first tap) and pay only one journey. This allows you to combine two buses for a single journey price.
  • Night tube runs only Fridays and Saturdays on the Victoria, Jubilee, and most of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines. Click here for more information.
  • From January 2016 you can use the Oyster card on train services to/from Gatwick Airport, including Gatwick Express.
  • Contactless cards can also be used. However; for an overseas visitor, exchange charges as fares are converted from GBP (Pounds Sterling) to their local currency, so better to buy a card.
  • For any given day there is a fare cap (the maximum you can pay in a single day on public transport) and this is always less than the alternative 1 day Travelcard.
  • There are two types of Oyster Card. If you buy it in London you get the standard Oyster Card (£5 deposit, refundable on return), and if you buy it outside London or online you get a Visitors Oyster Card (£3 activation fee, non-refundable). 7 and 30 days passes can only be loaded in the former.

So which London travel pass is right for me?

Pay as you go Oyster Card is normally the best option. You can get any of them (Standard or Visitors) and top up as you need. If you leave London and you are not planning to return anytime soon, you can cancel the card and reclaim your deposit and any cash balance left up to £10. You can do this using any ticket machine (not at Gatwick Airport, please double check). If you forget to do it while in London you can also do it by post.

If you are in London for 6 or 7 days, you can then load a 7 day Travelcard and you can save significant cash. The sixth and seventh days are effectively free for a 7 day Travelcard compared to the Oyster total price.

For detailed information, prices, and to buy online visit the official TFL website. For more FAQs about this topic check this article by visitlondon.com and this one by londontoolkit.com.

I am going to move (or just moved) to London. Which area shall I choose to live in? ^

This is a very complicated question because there are so many factors to take into account. Some of them are:

  1. Distance from work/university.
  2. Budget.
  3. Taste.

Londoners normally like “The West” or “The East”. The former is normally described as “posh, green, residential”, and includes well-known areas such as Putney, Parsons Green, Fulham, Wimbledon, Richmond (the last two are outside zone 2, thus very far). The latter is pictured as “hipster, cool, young, noisy” and includes Shoreditch, Hackney, Dalston, Stoke Newington. Of course, there are also good places in the South such as Clapham (Clapham Junction is the busiest train station in the UK and very well connected), Vauxhall and Brixton. And places in the North such as Camden, Islington and Hampstead.

Personally, I think Angel/Islington (N1 postcode) is one of the best places to live in London. It is extremely well located because you are very close to the city (Bank/Liverpool, the so-called “financial area”), to the centre (Oxford St.), and also to the trendiest/coolest areas to hang out, such as Shoreditch, Hackney, Dalston, Stoke. But it is not cheap.

It is Monday evening but I am a tourist and I want to party. Where can I go? ^

Because mostly (or only) tourists go out on Mondays, the best area to find good night spots is the city centre, where most of the tourist hang out. This area includes Picadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Soho.

Zoo Bar, Tiger Tiger, O’Neill’s (the one next to Chinatown), Bar Rumba and Foundation are places where tourists go on a Monday night.

How do the public bikes work? ^

The main thing to know about the bikes is that a 24 hours pass costs only £2, but you need to return the bike every 30 minutes, otherwise you will need to pay extra £2 per 30 minutes. So you get a bike, you ride 29 minutes, your return it, you get another one, and so on. You will need to wait five minutes before hiring another bike.

Extra Tip: If the docking station is full, choose ‘No docking point free’ at the terminal and follow the on-screen directions to get an extra 15 minutes free.

For more information visit the official Tfl website. There is also a mobile app available, which includes docking station information, live bike and space availability, an interactive map and your recent journeys and charges.

Which supermarket is the cheapest? And which one is the best? ^

Lidl, Aldi and Asda are the cheapest, followed by Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsburys.

Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are the best ones for the majority of the Londoners.

Tip: Supermarkets have meal deals (for lunch) that are cheap and good. Sandwich or salad plus snack and drink for £3.

What are those places with strange people, funny carpets, no music and cheap booze? ^

JD Wetherspoon! It is a pub chain (they also have a few hotels) in the UK and Ireland, with just under 1,000 outlets. They offer cask ale, hot food, low prices, long opening hours, and no music. They are also known for converting “unconventional premises” into pubs, including churches, swimming pools, banks, post offices, theatres and cinemas.

People love them or hate them. They are often described as “homeless shelters” and other derogatory terms. The truth is that they offer really affordable prices, an excellent range of beers, and people go there to enjoy themselves and their booze, but there is no showing off at all.

They also offer a cool mobile app. You can use it to find the nearest pub, and once inside one of them, to order food and drink to your table, without leaving your seat.

You can find plenty of articles online, such as this one with 11 Of The Best Wetherspoons In London, or this one describing its fabulous carpets, or this one about one woman’s 21-year odyssey to visit every Wetherspoon’s.

What is the difference between “real/cask” ale and standard draft/tap beer? ^

“Cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised beer which is conditioned (including secondary fermentation) and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure.” [Wikiedia] The absence of that extra pressure is the reason for those different drafts and the need of pulling a few times when serving.

It is also referred to as real ale in the UK, mainly because of the Campaign for Real Ale, and independent organisation/movement which promotes traditional cask ales and British pubs.

This is something very special/traditional in the UK, I haven’t seen those drafts in any other country.

Which are the best clubs in London? ^

Fabric and Ministry of Sound are the most famous and iconic clubs in the city. The former has been close for a while and has reopened after a long dispute with the council, getting great support from clubbers, DJ’s and artists around the World. Both of them are open until early morning, and the music is mostly techno (electronic).

The newest club is Printworks, a huge 5,000-capacity music and cultural space. It normally opens during the day, but it worth a visit if you like clubbing.

Other very good and smaller clubs are Corsica Studios, Studio 338, Egg, Cargo, The Nest, Oval Space, Dalston Superstore, Bloc, The Pickle Factory, Oslo Hackney, Bussey Building/Rye Wax, XOYO, Village Underground, Electric Brixton.

For a different type of music, pop/charts/salsa/various style, some good ones are Floripa, Infernos, Proud Camden, The Old Queen’s Head, KOKO, Jazz Cafe, Guanabara.

Finally, on the exclusive/VIP/posh side you have Boujis, Blagclub, The Roof Gardens, Cirque Le Soir, Cafe de Paris, Eclipse, Jealous, Maddox, Loulou’s.

There are plenty of information and articles online about London clubs, some of them by Timeout, VisitLondon and The Guardian.

Which are the best music venues in London? ^

The biggest one is Wembley, which is actually a football stadium (it also has the largest roof-covered seating capacity in the World). Other well-known venues are The O2 Arena, Brixton Academy, Roundhouse, Barfly, Koko, Scala, Barbican Centre, Bush Hall, The Troxy, The Forum, Alexander Palace.

The most iconic place is The Royal Albert Hall.

And for a more intimate experience, we recommend Union Chapel, St Pancras Old Church, St John at Hackney, Islington Assembly Hall, Wilton’s, Cafe Oto.

You can find the complete list here, and a good selection grouped by genre here.

Which are the tube stations I should avoid at peak times? ^

The busiest tube stations are (in order) Waterloo, King’s Cross St. Pancras, Victoria, Oxford Circus, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Stratford, Bank/Monument, Canary Wharf, Paddington [Wikipedia].

It is an excellent idea to avoid these stations at peak times, which are from 06:30 to 09:29 and from 16:00 to 18:59 Monday to Friday. At these times the fares are higher as well (Peak or Off-Peak fare).

At what time is Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace? ^

It is every day at 11:00 am. This can change if the Guards are required for operational or other ceremonial duties, or it can be cancelled under bad weather conditions.

You can check for specific dates on this website. Their calendar is up to date according to the British Army schedule.

Who is Banksy? Where can I find the nearest Banksy? ^

“Banksy is an anonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director of unverified identity” [Wikipedia]. He has become an iconic figure in the UK and has transgressed all geographical boundaries. His anonymous, satirical and provocative art makes him the most controversial street artist in the World.

You can find more information and a detailed map with his artworks here.

How to get a tax license in London?

To get a London taxi license, you have to prove that you know every single street and landmark in the city. It’s called The Knowledge and takes 2-4 years to memorise. There are around 60,000 streets and 100,000 places of interest in a 6-mile radius.

“The Knowledge requires candidates to learn a total of 320 routes that criss-cross London and are specifically designed to leave no gaps. Taxi drivers have to also remember all places of interest or note en route: embassies, colleges, buildings, municipal offices and all other public buildings, hotels, theatres, stations, hospitals, museums, restaurants – and the list goes on” [the-london-taxi.com].

It is the hardest taxi license to get in the World.

Where can I find that famous street from The Beatles’ album? ^

Its name is Abbey Road, and you can easily get there by bus or tube. The closest underground station is St. John’s Wood (Jubilee line). Bear in mind that it is a “normal street” in a “normal neighbourhood”, so there will be traffic and drivers can get furious with tourists.

The following map shows how to walk there from St. John’s Wood Station.

Don’t you find the people are really unfriendly? ^

Some people are, and some people aren’t. For sure Londoners are not as friendly as people in other cities, but hey are also very respectful.

There is a very good and funny paragraph I found on Quora to summarise this: “One of the most distinctive things to happen in London is a collective refusal to acknowledge the existence of any other human being.”.

Why do British people drive on the “wrong/other/left” side of the road? ^

I also found a good explanation about this on Quora:

“The reason for driving on the left (supposedly) was so that a right handed person (~90% of the population), could, whilst riding, draw your sword and hit someone who was coming to the other direction.

The apocryphal story goes that Napoleon was left-handed, so ordered his armies to march on the other side of the road — thus places with significant French influences (or those wishing to escape the UKs influence) drive on the right — as American influence grew, many countries adopted this style — though most Commonwealth nations mimic the UK, and drive on the left — as well as a few other nations (i.e. Japan)”

Where does The Queen live? ^

The Queen has plenty of residences, being Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle the main ones. See a good selection here, and the official list here.

Where to find free Wifi/Internet in London? ^

WiFi is now available at over 250 Tube and 79 London Overground stations across the network [Tfl]. However, you need to have one of the following providers: Three, O2, Vodafone, EE, or Virgin Media. But do not worry, there are other alternatives:

  1. Buy a Virgin Media WiFi Pass. You can do it online.
  2. Sign up to O2 Wi-Fi. Download their app and you can find the nearest hotspots. You don’t need to be an O2 customer and it is free. McDonald’s and Costa provide this service.
  3. Sign up to the Cloud. You only need to create an account and use the login details when you find a hotspot. It’s available at Pizza Express, Caffe Nero, Pret-a-Manger, Wagamama and shopping centres.
  4.  Find more chains/shops with free wifi here.

Extra: Some curious clarifications (based on questions asked to the tourist board) ^

  • The University of Oxford is not on Oxford Street.
  • There is no circus in Picadilly.
  • Beatles are not from Liverpool Street Station.
  • You cannot have tea with the Queen.
  • Chelsea and Arsenal are from London. Manchester United and Manchester City are from Manchester (there is a clue on the names), which is a different city.
  • Nobody knows how to find celebrities.

 

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