Stand on the right

The other day, chatting with Russell and Ben and Paul and Tom, the idea emerged of creating a little guide for visitors to London. It would be very brief, a series of bullet points, a single sheet of paper, and would probably begin with “On escalators, stand on the right and walk on the left”.

We came up with a few more and a couple of days on I still like the idea. So here are our first suggestions, although you can probably think of better:

  • On escalators, stand on the right and walk on the left.

  • Don’t take the tube between Covent Garden and Leicester Square: it’s a very short walk.

  • Don’t arrange to meet anyone at Covent Garden or Leicester Square tube stations; they’re too busy.

  • The London Eye is a tourist trap but it’s also well worth a spin.

  • All the free museums are good and, given your limited time, it’s not worth paying for their special exhibitions unless you’re super keen on the subject.

  • We recommend avoiding Oxford Street, but if you must go, don’t bother with any of it east of Oxford Circus.

  • Don’t leave your cellphone on the table when in a cafe or pub; it will get stolen.

Then I thought up a couple more ideas:

  • Avoid expensive tourist bus tours and get standard buses round the sites. For example, try the 453 or the RV1.

  • [What’s the best way to pay for public transport while here for only a week or so?]

  • [Something about how best to get a cheap pay-as-you-go cellphone for the trip. Any idea?]

And I thought it would also be handy to include the kind of cultural and consumer knowledge you only pick up through living in a place for a while. For example:

  • The main British supermarkets in rough order of quality and price (expensive first):
    1. Marks & Spencer, Waitrose
    2. Sainsbury, Tesco
    3. Asda, Morrison’s, Somerfield
    4. Aldi, Lidl

I’m sure you can come up with some more ideas. Is there anything people should be encouraged to do, or warned away from? What do you always tell visiting friends? Is there anything you always see tourists doing and know they shouldn’t?

UPDATE: Another one thought of since this was written, mainly for Americans: Don’t omit the “Road”, “Street” etc from the names of roads. Not only does it sound very wrong to British ears, but it’s also confusing: You say “I’m staying on Pembridge” and you could mean Pembridge Villas, Pembridge Road, Pembridge Gardens, Pembridge Place, Pembridge Crescent, etc. (3 October 2014)


  • The distinction between licensed cabs and minicabs. A few simple walking distances -- it's Xm from Buckingham Palace to Traf Sq. / Big Ben. Or possibly a little matrix of easiest ways to get between the big tourist / visitor sites: "walk / bus / tube / cab / boat".

  • Tourist attractions not worth the time/money: Madame Tussauds; Piccadilly Circus... er...

  • Speaking of tourist destinations, this is in Victoria somewhere (presumably the District line ticket hall, which would explain why I've never seen it):…

    There are others like it in some places on the Tube, but a few more might not go amiss.

    There's more Tube etiquette (mainly summarised as "don't stop and stand somewhere if you're blocking people", like the bottom of stairs or the entrance to platforms) that I'd add. As to tickets, if you're in London for a week (or are ever likely to return), buy a Travelcard on Oyster. For a shorter period, check to see if you can get multiple day Travelcards as you arrive (there used to be something strange you could do, but I don't know the details. Anyone?)

  • An addendum to the "stand on the right" thing would be: "let people out first". BART could use a bit of that lesson here in SF as well.

  • [What’s the best way to pay for public transport while here for only a week or so?] <-- "Get an Oyster card" would be my bullet point summary.… has a special visitor card you can get elsewhere, or a normal one would do fine, it'll work out cheaper than not getting one with c. one journey :)

  • Half of my comment appears to have disappeared, I probably shouldn't have used a rogue less than symbol as an arrow. :) I think I said that my bullet point summary would be "Get an Oyster card".

  • There is no air conditioning on the train. It stinks in the summer. Be kind to your fellow passengers and wear deodorant.

    Free evening concerts at the National Theatre.
    Check out the Royal Academy of Music for their free music events.
    Free lunch-time concerts at St. Martin in the Fields (church) in Trafalgar Square on certain days.

    Free London Walking Tour for the main sights:…

    London Walks has great walking tours for £7. If you plan to do 3 or more of these, buy the discount card for £2, and each tour will just be £5.

    Check for tube delays, changes, especially on weekends when lots of track works take place.

  • Maybe it's a matter of opinion, but I'd merge tiers 2 and 3 of your supermarket hierarchy, but promote Sainsbury to the top tier. Add Netto to the bottom tier.

    On the tube front, I'd say something along the lines of "if there's another way, it's almost always better not to travel for long distances on the Circle Line, though by all means use it to hop along a few stops." Though having said that, there are probably a thousand other bits of specific line-related advice if you're getting that detailed. I have noticed that international visitors are wont to ride round the line simply because there start and end stations share the line.

    And buses -- it can be daunting getting on a bus in a new city, let alone a new country. The procedure always seems to be different. Extra-confusing here that some buses let you buy tickets on board and others don't. Even with an Oyster travel card factored in, there's probably useful advice to be given on the conventions of queuing, how to acknowledge the driver, best places to sit/stand etc.

  • * Avoid the Aberdeen Angus steak house, and Garfunkel's. They're only there for tourists and are not good value. At all.

    * Contrary to the common perception, London has a ton of great places to eat. A bit of research before you come can help a lot. Try London Eating, Yelp or Time Out.

    * A London A-Z is something every Londoner owns (well, they used to, pre-smart-phones) and helps a lot with getting around London. They're cheap, and you can get them anywhere.

    * If you get caught without an umbrella, the souvenir shops sell the cheapest ones

    * Don't wear your backpack on your tummy. Might as well put a neon sign above your head saying 'pick my pockets'

    * For a quick, on the run lunch, EAT and Pret A Manger are ok, and they're everywhere.

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13 Sep 2009 at Twitter

  • 7:14pm: Thanks to @antimega's tip, thankfully giving up on 'O' (it's no '10 Things I Hate About You') to watch BBC4 about tweed. Better already.
  • 10:25am: Blimey, a queue of people waiting to get into the Breakfast Club. Weird. Diverted to The Diner instead. Looks just right.
  • 9:57am: Off for brunch with @maryloosemore, maybe at the Breakfast Club, Shoreditch.