London is a harsh mistress, and it didn’t take me long to realise that everything I grew to love would eventually be snatched away for no other reason than to hurt me. New and amazing concepts are always popping up and disappearing again in London – gin bars with alcoholic atmospheres, a mini Tokyo, crème egg cafés, supper clubs and everything in between.
Londoners are just too easily bored for permanency; either that, or the concepts of these pop-ups are often too ridiculous to be a real long-term thing (I’m looking at you, FryHard. You can’t just plunge everything you get your hands on into a deep-fat fryer and expect to make a living). It works, though: events with a time limit become must-visits. Their exclusivity and weekly TimeOut endorsements ensure these temporary sites are packed to the rafters and have queues winding down the street.
Imagine the mortifying experience of catching someone’s eye on the tube. Imagine looking away, only to catch their eye again in your opposite reflections in the window. It’s so horrifying that it’s not worth thinking about. Thank fuck for that guy who gives out that free copy of NME before I take out my Oyster in the morning. I’ve read the same paragraph about 50 Cent beefing with some guy on Twitter four times just to avoid acknowledging there are other people around me.
It’s often hard to remember during the long, long British winter, but London is bloody amazing in the summertime. Londoners flock to Hampstead Heath with picnic baskets full of sausage rolls and bottles of plonk from Tesco, restaurants cram all their guests into tiny al-fresco dining areas on rooftops and pavements, and there are frozen cocktail bars and boutique ice cream stalls popping up left, right and centre. By far the best thing about a London summer, though, is that the city’s streets are taken over by festivals. The biggest street party in Europe, Notting Hill Carnival, is the pièce de résistance, attracting hundreds and thousands of revellers across the Bank Holiday weekend ready for two days of Red Stripe-flavoured debauchery.
From Fuckoffee to Kaffeine, London isn’t short of trendy coffee shops with ridiculous names. What is it about these establishments that draw us in time and time again? It has to be that little chalkboard with its witty little message and cartoon mascot, right? It’s the same story every morning: you’re on your way to work, a place that probably has a perfectly functioning coffee machine, and you see a sign. It’s like a message from God scrawled across a chalk board: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy coffee, and that’s pretty close.”
Two minutes later you’re forking a fiver over to a girl with a lopsided fringe for a cappuccino so tiny you’ve downed the lot before you’re out the door. You swear you won’t get suckered in again, until you walk another two blocks and see the next sign that says, “Today’s Special: no it’s not, have another coffee,” and you roll your eyes and pull out your wallet.
The allure of boutique coffee applies equally to food, clothing, homeware and more or less anything you choose to spend your money on in London. Oxford Street is a no-go for shopping (So. Many. People.), and don’t even think about suggesting Wetherspoons for a cheap drink when there are bars where you can sit on a bookcase and drink mojitos out of flowerpots. As for food, yeah, you probably have bread and stuff at home; you technically don’t really need to leave the house this weekend, but there’s something so enticing about paying £4 for a bowl of Cornflakes at a café that literally sells nothing except cereal, isn’t there?
If you’re not in a hipster coffee shop, chances are you’re in Pret. Particularly if you work a 9-5 job anywhere in Central London, because literally every two buildings is a Pret. Resistance is futile.
Gone are the days of being a keyboard activist—you live down the road from 10 Downing Street now, so you can join a bunch of other pissed off people and go tell David Cameron he’s a wanker right to his face. Well, not quite, but you can at least write it on a sign and put it on Instagram.
If there’s one thing London does well, it’s a market. There’s something to suit all needs, whether you want to stock up on bric-a-brac on Brick Lane or stuff your face with free samples at Borough Market. Head to the East End to hear some proper cockney rhyming slang from market traders and pay only a Lady Godiva for a week’s worth of fruit’n’veg. The capital’s best markets are big, maze-like and noisy, full of unexpected treasures and mouth-watering street food. Spend one Sunday strolling Columbia Road Flower Market, or a Friday evening at Brixton Village Market’s late night sessions and you’ll be back every weekend.
In a city heaving with tourists, being pissed off about something is a unifying force for Londoners. It’s mainly tube-related: waiting for over three minutes, strikes, congestion, red signals, people that don’t move to the centre of the carriage, someone standing on the left, someone talking during rush hour, someone with a huge suitcase, someone listening to music, someone eating food, someone breathing the wrong way.
Either that or it’s about money: the rates of rent, Oyster card costs, the price of a pint, the low living wage, the fact you don’t even meet the London living wage at your current job. There is nothing more therapeutic than going to the pub and venting over a £5 pint about the two thirds of your income that goes straight to your landlord’s pocket. Being broke and annoyed are the staples of a London lifestyle, the mood that forges some kind of community in an otherwise isolating city.
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The importance of packing light cannot be overemphasized, but, for your good, I'll try. You'll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: "Every year I pack heavier." You can't travel heavy, happy, and cheap. Pick two.
My self-imposed limit is 20 pounds in a 9" × 21" × 14" carry-on-size bag (it'll fit in your airplane's overhead bin, at least on your transatlantic flight — though many European airlines restrict hand luggage to even smaller weights and dimensions). At my company, we've taken tens of thousands of people of all ages and styles on tours through Europe. We allow only one carry-on bag. For many, this is a radical concept: 9" × 21" × 14"? That's my cosmetics kit! But they manage, and they're glad they did. After you enjoy that sweet mobility and freedom, you'll never go any other way.
You'll walk with your luggage more than you think you will. Before flying to Europe, give yourself a test. Pack up completely and walk around your house or block. Or practice being a tourist in your hometown for an hour. Fully loaded, you should enjoy window-shopping. If you can't, stagger home and thin things out.
When you carry your own luggage, it's less likely to get lost, broken, or stolen. Quick, last-minute flight changes become simpler. A small bag sits on your lap on the bus or taxi and stashes easily overhead on an airplane. You don't have to worry about it, and, when you arrive, you can hit the ground running. It's a good feeling. When I land in London, I'm on my way downtown while everyone else stares anxiously at the luggage carousel. When I fly home, I'm the first guy the dog sniffs.
These days, you can also save money by bringing less. While it's still free to check one bag on most overseas trips, you'd likely pay a fee to check a second bag. If you're taking a separate flight within Europe, expect to be charged to check even just one bag.
It can be a drag, dragging your bag through airports, and even I sometimes wonder why I followed my own advice to bring only a carry-on. But then I'm reminded of the joy of having everything with you — like the time I avoided a long layover by hopping on an earlier flight from Copenhagen to Bergen. (After getting to my hotel two hours before planned, I enjoyed a jumpstart on my Norway time with a lovely evening in a salty port town, where summer's "magic hour" lasts until 11 p.m.)
Packing light isn't just about saving time or money — it's about your traveling lifestyle. Too much luggage marks you as a typical tourist. It slams the Back Door shut. Serendipity suffers. Changing locations becomes a major operation. Con artists figure you're helpless. Porters are a problem only to those who need them. With only one bag, you're mobile and in control. Take this advice seriously.
How do you fit a whole trip's worth of luggage into a small backpack or suitcase? The answer is simple: Bring very little.
Spread out everything you think you might need on the living-room floor. Scrutinize each item. Ask yourself, "Will I really use my snorkel and fins enough to justify carrying them around all summer?" Not "Will I use them?" but "Will I use them enough to feel good about hauling them over the Swiss Alps?" Frugal as I may be, I'd buy a set in Greece and give them away before I'd carry that extra weight over the Alps.
Don't pack for the worst-case scenario. Pack for the best-case scenario and simply buy yourself out of any jams. Bring layers rather than a heavy coat. Think in terms of what you can do without — not what will be handy on your trip. When in doubt, leave it out. I've seen people pack a whole summer's supply of deodorant or razors, thinking they can't get them in Europe. The world is small: You can buy Dial soap, Colgate toothpaste, Nivea cream, and Gillette razors in Sicily and Slovakia. Tourist shops in major international hotels are a sure bet whenever you have difficulty finding a personal item. If you can't find one of your essentials, ask yourself how half a billion Europeans can live without it. Rather than carry a whole trip's supply of toiletries, take enough to get started and look forward to running out of toothpaste in Bulgaria. Then you have the perfect excuse to go into a Bulgarian department store, shop around, and pick up something you think might be toothpaste.
Whether you're traveling for three weeks or three months, pack exactly the same. To keep your clothes tightly packed and well organized, zip them up in packing cubes. To really maximize bag space, consider airless baggies or a clothes compressor (look for heavy-duty ones made to withstand everyday use). I also like specially designed folding boards (such as Eagle Creek's Pack-It Folder) to fold and carry clothes with minimal wrinkling. Mesh bags also come in handy. I use one for underwear and socks, another for miscellaneous stuff such as a first-aid kit, earplugs, clothesline, sewing kit, and gadgets.
Pack your bag only two-thirds full to leave room for souvenirs, or bring along an empty featherweight nylon bag to use as a carry-on for your return flight, then check your main bag through (this is when expandable compartments really come in handy).
Go casual, simple, and very light. Remember, in your travels you'll meet two kinds of tourists — those who pack light and those who wish they had. Say it out loud: "PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT."
London's iconic double-decker buses are a convenient and cheap way to travel around the city, with plenty of sightseeing opportunities along the way.
The London Underground rail network, also called "the Tube", is a great way to travel to, from and around central London. Read advice on how to navigate it easily and master the London Underground public transport.
London's innovative, driverless Docklands Light Railway (DLR) serves parts of East and South East London.
Travelling by river is a great way to get around London. You'll beat the traffic and enjoy fantastic views of London along the way.
Use London's Overground train network to travel across the city and beyond the Tube.
Trams run in parts of south London between Wimbledon, Croydon, Beckenham and New Addington. The services are frequent and accessible.
Find your way around the capital with our helpful guide to accessible and wheelchair-friendly travel.
London's public bicycle scheme is a great way to travel around the city – and the first half hour is free! Grab yourself a bike and get riding today.
From iconic London black cabs to local minicabs, find all the information you need to help you travel around London by taxi.
Take a ride on London's cable car, for views over Greenwich and East London, including The O2, Cutty Sark and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Get around London safely with the TfL Go app, which helps you plan the best routes and travel outside of peak times to aid social distancing due to coronavirus.