Useful London Travel Tips for Americans
From how to get around the city to navigating British food, take a look at our top tips on how to make the most of your trip
Most Americans who visit London will fall in love with the culture and the history. And there’s a lot of it to see. But what to choose for one trip? Well, here are Plum Guide’s tips on how to get the best out of a visit to London – from how to get around the city to navigating British food and living like a local. You will love our accents, but here’s the truth: while Brits and Americans both speak English, there’s still a slight language barrier. Don’t throw a wobbly: get back out onto those lovely London pavements and immerse yourself in the city’s spiffing culture. You’ll be chuffed to bits you did. And now try these London travel tips for Americans.
1. In London cultural institutions, free doesn’t mean boring
You might be forgiven for thinking the free parts of London’s top museums and galleries aren’t worth your valuable time. However, London’s best museums – from the National Gallery to both the Tates, the V&A and The British Museum – are incredibly generous with their art. So you can see everything from the Rosetta Stone (British Museum) to sculptures by Henry Moore (Tate Britain) and a whole lot more besides for sweet nothing.
2. And the museums are also open at night
Smart visitors to London make sure they get after-hours access to the museums and galleries (note: you sometimes have to pay for these, but it’s worth it). The V&A and Tate Lates offer art exhibitions with a bar, workshops and DJs. Royal Academy (RA) Lates are all about the festival atmosphere, with life drawing sessions, performance art and disco balls. Otherwise explore Somerset House’s events programme of summer live music and winter festivities, held in the courtyard.
3. The food will be better than you think
While England’s long-held reputation for miserably bland, stodgy food was once a fair one – it’s no longer the case. Of course London’s cosmopolitan dining scene has pretty much everything you could want when it comes to inventive global cuisine. Definitely try the Indian canteen Dishoom and grungy Thai at Smoking Goat – both of which are quintessentially London too. But also don’t skip the British dining establishments: try Brat, which showcases seasonal British produce and classic regional ingredients with a little Northern Spanish influence. Try Core in Notting Hill for a trussed-up, fine-dining take on classic British fare or one of the many great places for a Sunday roast. And don’t be scandalised if someone asks you to 'go down the chippy' – they’re most likely talking about fish and chips.
4. London’s also greener than you think
It may be the very last place you’d imagine to get this accolade, but London is the world’s first National Park City, thanks to a group of committed eco warriors. So if you like your cultural activities interspersed with breaks for green space, London is your place thanks to its great parks. The obviously named Green Park is a short hop from cultural institutions such as the Royal Academy of Arts and top restaurants like Gymkhana; Holland Park, with its resident peacocks, is overlooked by the Design Museum, with hidden gem Leighton House just nearby; and there’s also leafy Hampstead, with the Heath’s swimming ponds, Parliament Hill views and the boujis boutiques and boho cafés.
5. No one makes tea in a microwave
Despite what one recent viral TikTok video might have you believe, no one should make tea in a microwave. For proper British tea, served in a lovely china teapot – with all the trimmings including cakes, scones and dignified little sandwiches – head to respected institutions such as Fortnum & Mason, Claridge’s or The Ritz. For a traditional tea with colonial indoor palm tree vibes, go to The Landmark; art and design lovers should take their tea on the pink velvet banquettes at Sketch.
6. Book ahead for Buckingham Palace
We know you know all Londoners don’t personally know the Queen. But you are still very likely to pay a visit to her home: in fact, it’s the most popular place for Americans in London to go. So one of the most important London travel tips for Americans is to book ahead: palace tickets tend to sell out a few days in advance at popular times. And do arrive early for the changing of the guard. You’re unlikely to catch a glimpse of the royals when you visit (for that, you may be better off watching Suits) but it is, nonetheless, a lovely day out.
7. Head east for markets
Borough Market truly is lovely, but unless you visit early on a weekday, it can get a little crammed. And while it does showcase some fantastic British food producers, if you want a more authentic experience (and are adventurous enough), venture to east London for Broadway Market – a recently-ish gentrified swathe of Hackney where the food offering is just as high quality. But if it’s flowers you’re in the market for, go to Columbia Road, where locals go on Sunday mornings to pick up bloomin’ brilliant bunches (it’s worth it alone to hear some truly east London accents).
8. Forget the tourist bus, get an Oyster card
The public transport is part of London’s charm. Catch a double decker bus to see the city from a slightly different angle, even if it’s just to travel past Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall and across the river Thames via Westminster Bridge (crossing the river gets you the best views). Also, one of our top London travel tips for Americans – taxis are a waste of time and money in London traffic (the tube is much quicker). But be warned: the charm of the world’s oldest underground transport system is also its downfall, and it’s not really built for today’s rush-hour crowds. So unless you’re comfortable with extreme heat and relinquishing your personal space (didn’t think so), you may want to just avoid all of it at rush hour if you can.
9. Live like a Londoner in a Plum Guide apartment
Plum Guide’s hard-to-please home critics have cherry-picked the top 3% of holiday apartments in London's best locations – so booking one of our homes is a surefire way to experience local life in some of the city's best neighbourhoods, from Kensington to Notting Hill and Hampstead. Plus, you’ll have the kitchen space to practise making proper cups of British tea.
Please note: Due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), London is still under strict lockdown measures meaning that many of our suggestions above are not for now, but rather for when the time is safe to do so again. We can't wait for you to enjoy this remarkable city with us again soo.