With the 2012 Olympic Summer Games kicking off today, the streets of London are changing by the hour, with tourists from far and wide making the journey to experience a piece of the action. If you plan on spending time in the city for this year’s festivities, we’ve prepared a short guide to help you along your way. London is a special place, complete with codes and cultural nuances that can take some getting used to, so for those coming from foreign lands, let this Parlour guide give you a leg up on the clueless tourists roaming about London town over the next few weeks.
Londoners love a line and, despite the big city attitude that some of the people in our fair capital may embrace, we sure as hell know how to form an orderly queue. But if you stand on the left of the escalator, get acquainted with some British swear words. Stand on the right of escalators and let that guy who is late for his meeting walk on the left. This is especially true on the tube (subway). If you want the trains and stations to run smoothly during the Olympics, let , the crazies in a hurry for the Greco wrestling semi-finals run down the left and don’t get in their way.
Directions? Use Yours Not Theirs
London Black Cab drivers don’t spend three years studying our city streets for nothing. This town’s not got a grid-like layout, and even seasoned locals will need directions. It isn’t uncommon to be invited to an event with directions that read, “That second left after Top Shop but before that bar we went to that one time when you lost your shoe outside the men’s room.” To fight folly, get a map but for the love of all that is holy do not open said map in all its giant glory at the top of a tube escalator. That guy from the etiquette paragraph is still late for his meeting and he will not thank you for the delay you’re causing him. To help you navigate the London Tube and overground trains, download the TFL app for clear directions and if you’re walking, check out walkit.com.
Jaywalk at Your Own Risk
Car drivers in our fair city have no mercy, so take caution when crossing the street. Unlike the US, where pedestrians have the right-of-way, they do not in London so think twice before dashing from one side to another because they will not slow down – chances are you will get hit.
The London Tube map is not to scale — meaning two stations that are an inch apart on paper could be a blister-inducing 30-minute walk or a stone’s throw away. If there are signs in the station suggesting it’s a short walk (such as Leicester Square to Covent Garden) then us Brits actually mean it. It’s a treasured local prank to give tourists long-route directions, so learn to rely on Google Maps or whatever mapping application is on your phone. Besides, most people from London are not sure of exact directions anyway, with the exception of Black Cab drivers (see the Directions paragraph) and even then a very select few.
To Rain or to Rain Later
As the centerpiece of British conversation, we are obsessed with the weather because its so changeable. Oh, how we laugh when a friend plans their wedding for July “because the weather will be nice.” Amateur. The reality is our usually gray city is as fickle as a Kim Kardashian marriage, so when you gaze out of your hotel or Airbnb window and see blue skies, remember to pack an umbrella (brolly) and a jacket because chances are, the sunshine won’t last.
So far, summer has been damper than ticket sales for the handball finals (what the hell is that anyway?), but lucky for us we have been visited by sun and heat this week. If this bright streak continues, do not be surprised if every conceivable inch of green space in London is draped with sun-starved city workers inhaling Vitamin D like their lives depended on it.
This city isn’t great for tanning or affordable property but we know how to eat, and reliable and inexpensive does not just mean the golden arches. For major choice on minor coin, go to Borough Market at the London Bridge Tube station on the weekend, where you can practically feed a family on free samples. Check out the Soho neighborhood too, off Oxford Street, for foods from Lebanon to Liberia. And if you plan on hitting trying out traditional British cuisine, try bringing your own salt and pepper … and maybe some hot sauce.
The line for Madame Tussauds wax museum is longer than our patience for unpredictable weather so skip this, unless you really yearn for a glance at Victoira Beckham in “real life.” Instead, grab Time Out magazine or visit the Londonist for a weekly update of what’s on around the city. The Cultural Expose is another great option for a nice mix of event options.
You love Top Shop, we love Top Shop, but locals nor tourists enjoy being mowed down by 13-year-old girls on a Usain Bolt-type rush to the changing rooms in the flagship store on Oxford Street. For a more manageable shopping experience, visit Westfield in Shepherds Bush. The shopping center was a revelation to those of us devoted to treading Oxford Street like a pew in church. It was only a religious experience because you prayed you could find that thing you were looking for and get the hell out quickly. But make sure that you head West to Westfield in Shepherds Bush, not East to Westfields in Stratford next to the Olympic Park. Forever 21 is the biggest store in the latter location with a sartorial selection is scarce, so unless you’re in search for a pair of hot pink pumps with a glass heels, you won’t find much.
Now pack up and enjoy your trip! We’ll see you on this side of the pond!
– Jaime and Sherry