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 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 must-sees. Shakespeare’s sonnets are still being uttered by actors who don modern garb. Londoners most certainly still revere the royals, but they also rock out to Coldplay and Lily Allen. And while they still sip tea, they now drink Starbucks, 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.
London Culture & Customs
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 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; bollocks means “that’s wrong,” queuing means to form a line, and quid is slang for pounds, or money. However, for the most part, Americans find the city accessible because of London’s official English language.
Although the language is the same, the exchange rate most definitely isn’t. London’s official currency is the British pound (sterling). Since the pound to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.
London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and its residents tend to reflect that, donning if not trendy, classy attire, even for a trip to the local grocery store. If you don’t want to stick out as American tourists, leave the fanny packs and visors at home. Practically, pack an umbrella for the rainy days and a scarf or some layers for the chilly ones.
As for tipping, restaurants and cafes will usually add a 10 to 15 percent service charge to the bill. If a service charge is not allotted, it’s customary to tip the same (between 10 and 15 percent). 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.
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 more gourmet cities in the world. And with its melting pot of cultures, it’s not difficult to see why. London offers everything from Modern British to Malaysian.
Reviewers recommend checking out Chinatown for dozens of Chinese restaurants. For Indian food, we suggest visiting the curry houses on Brick Lane. If you want a real high-tea experience, book reservations at the Ritz, at Fortnum & Mason, or at the Dorchester—but be sure to dress the part. Chef Gordon Ramsay is a celebrity in London, and a handful of his restaurants Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, and Murano, are well loved by foodies and critics alike. Each offers a fine-dining experience and serves up Modern British meals. Pub culture is still alive and well, so if you’ve a hankering for fried fish and salty chips (or French fries), you’ll still find them here. And for a quick bite, exchange a few pounds for a kebab, a quick sandwich or some to-go sushi, which can be found in eateries throughout the city.