London is one of the world’s most-visited cities. It’s a 21st-century city whose history stretches all the way back to Roman times. This sprawling metropolis has so much to offer; including theater, food, history, art, literature, and fashion. It is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world encompassing more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages.
If you’re planning a trip to the UK, here are a few practical things to know before you go:
PASSPORTS & VISAS – While some countries impose minimum passport validity for arriving passengers, the UK has no such requirement. If you’re an American or Canadian tourist, you’ll be able to travel visa-free throughout the UK, as long as you have a valid passport and your reason meets the immigration rules. For more details, visit these websites: ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk and gov.uk.
CLIMATE – The weather in Britain overall is temperate. In spring, from March to June, the climate is rainy and the average temperature is between 59 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. From mid-June to August, the climate is hot and humid with temperatures averaging 79 degrees Fahrenheit. In October the temperatures fall between 59-68 degrees and in December temperatures range from 35-48 degrees Fahrenheit.
MEDICAL TREATMENT – No inoculations are required to visit the UK. It is important to find out if your medical insurance covers you internationally. If not, it is wise to get adequate coverage before you go. If you’re taking prescribed drugs, carry a copy of your prescription, described by the generic name, along with a cover letter from your doctor, in case you need additional supplies.
MOBILE PHONES – The UK network uses the 900 or 1800 GSM system, so visitors from North America (where the system is 800 or 1900 MHz band) will need to get a tri-or quad-band set. Check with your service provider for details. It’s easier and cheaper to purchase a SIM card locally and top it up with credit.
INTERNET – Most cities in the UK offer some form of public access to the Internet. Some hotels include free WI-FI with reservations. Free WI-FI can also be found at libraries, pubs, cafes and museums.
TIME ZONE – There is only one time zone in Britain. In March the clocks change for Daylight Saving and revert back in October.
COMMUNICATION – The international dialing code is +44.
CURRENCY – Britain does not use the Euro, the British currency is the pound sterling (GBP). We prefer to exchange currency before we leave the U.S., but you can also do so at banks when you arrive. Many branches have 24-hour ATM facilities. ATM machines can also be found in some supermarkets, post offices, gas stations, train stations and London Underground stations. If you plan to use credit cards, be sure to notify your bank/credit card company that you will be traveling internationally. This will keep them from placing a temporary block on your credit card if fraud is suspected due to the change in location.
DINING – Along with the ethnic diversity, London offers a variety of dining experiences. There is much more than roast beef and Yorkshire puddings or fish and chips. Chicken tikka masala is also listed as a national dish. There are LOTS of restaurant choices – from Michelin Star restaurants to street eats.
My favorite dish was a bowl of Japanese noodles. Visiting the Food Halls at Harrods is a unique culinary experience – offering delicacies from around the globe. I was literally able to eat my way around the world.
Supermarkets are also a good option. We stayed in the Kensington district near a Waitrose market that sold really delicious hot and cold items.
ELECTRIC EQUIPMENT – The standard voltage is 230 AC, 50Hz. North Americans will need a square, three-pronged plug adapter/converter to use their appliances.
EMERGENCY – If you need police, ambulance or fire service, find a telephone and dial 999, and indicate which service you need.
TIPPING & SERVICE CHARGES – Tipping is not always appropriate. If you get exceptional service and want to show appreciation here’s a guide to customary practice:
Hotels: Most hotel bills include a service charge, usually 12.5%. When a service charge is not included in a hotel restaurant’s bill, it’s customary to tip 10%-15%.
Restaurants: Service charges are often included. If it is not, it is customary to leave a tip of 10%-15%. Some restaurants now include a suggested tip in the bill total.
Pubs and Bars: Tips are not expected, but are always appreciated.
Taxis: 10%-15% of the fare is customary, but it is acceptable to round up to the nearest pound.
Getting the most out of London definitely requires more than one visit. During our visit we did many of the top “touristy” activities; London Eye, Thames River cruise, Tower of London, watching the Changing of the Guard, shopping at Harrods; but felt like we barely experienced on all that there was to see and do. For example, Harrods is the largest department store in Europe occupies 5 acres, has 330 departments and covers 1.1 million square feet. We spent several hours there and didn’t nearly see enough. We look forward to going back to experience more of the diversity and excitement of that vibrant city.