This is where frequently asked questions are stored. These will be questions either relevant to London, or relating to the site. Hopefully site use should be self-explanatory as user interface conventions have been followed where possible, but do contact the Inside Guide if you need anything clarifying (unless it's butter). Please send your enquiries via the link. If it's a general type of question, which others will benefit from knowing, then it'll be added to this list. Thank you.
Q. What is the unit of currency in the UK?
A: The pound sterling (£). One pound is equal to 100 pence. (Quid is colloquial slang for a pound.) You can check the currency converter on this site for a general exchange rate, but the actual changing of money is usually via a Bureau De Change, Bank or Post Office. Your hotel will be able to tell you where the nearest one is, but it's recommended to shop around. Rates vary according to vendor. If you plan to use your credit card, enquire about 'Chip and Pin' - it's standard in the UK and much of Europe, but not in North America. Check before you leave what the options are, if you don't have one. If you have Visa or Mastercard - most ATMs will supply you with money, though there's usually a charge. Banknotes are £50 (rarely used) £20, £10, £5. Coins are £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p 1p. Pence is usually pronounced 'pee' - 50p is 'fifty-pee'.
Q. What are the blue plaques on buildings for?
A: Erected in London since 1867, they mark where noteworthy figures from the past were either born, lived or died
Q. I find the text difficult to read as it's too small?
A: Text size can be increased or decreased by pressing the CTRL key and scrolling your mousewheel up and down, which zooms you in and out of the page. As well as text, everything else increases in size too. This keystroke is standardised in all browsers, but be wary of Safari, where the background stays the same size, so things get squashed at high zoom. Alternatively - use 'CTRL and +' (plus) keys to zoom in, 'CTRL and -' (minus) keys to zoom out, and 'CTRL and 0' (zero) keys to return to the default zoom.
Q. Oyster or travelcard?
A: The evergreen visitor's question, which is better? There are two types of pass for the London transport system: Oyster, which is a pay-as-you-go style or flat-fee card which entitles you to single fares at a reduced rate, with an all-important fare cap. If you travel a number of journeys in one day, you don't get charged more than the equivalent for a one day travelcard. So if you live in London and use the Tube and buses regularly, it's the best option. You need a card, so a form has to be filled in and you 'tap in' and 'tap out' of stations (you pass your card over the yellow disk and a 'beep' lets you know the journey has been logged). Visitors can get an Oyster too for £12, with £10 of credit.
A travelcard costs more, but is less effort and more appropriate if you're sightseeing and making multiple journeys over short periods. You can purchase them in 1, 3 & 7 day varieties and you buy the number of zones you need to travel (1 & 2: the central zones are the most common). Travelcards give you unlimited travel in those zones for the time period, outside rush hour. If you want to travel during rush hour, it's more expensive (unless you like rubbing up against strangers, then don't do it). You can buy travelcards straight from the ticket machines in Tube and train stations.
Q. Should I hire a car in London?
A: You can, but it's not advisable unless you plan to drive out of town. Congestion charge applies in the central zone of London (see the congestion charge map) - so if you pass through it, you have to pay a fee (£10), cameras are watching and you have until midnight to pay (most newsagents sell tickets, pay online or by phone). If you pay the next day, it costs 20% more. On top of the CC, parking charges in London are on a par with accommodation (well over £10 per hour in some central parking meters). If you do decide to drive, London, like most big cities has its own driving style and people don't warm to indecisiveness. Get SatNav, as the London road layout is hard to navigate (i.e. no grid system), roads twist and wind erratically. Your hotel will be able to put you in touch with car hire firm, or surf the net for a better deal.
Q. So I'm not driving, what about some other options - rail services and coach travel.
A: If you're not driving, then visiting nearby towns is best accomplished by train or coach. Train termini in London circle the centre of the city - a different one depending on which segment of the country you want to visit (e.g. King's Cross, Euston, Marylebone, London Bridge, etc.) Rail is faster, more spacious and comfortable and as a consequence: more expensive. Coach can be very cheap (check 'National Express' on Google) which can take you to a far flung town for less than a London travelcard. It's 'no frills' though and not the best option if you get motion sickness. The 'Trainline' is an Internet site which allows you to book train fares in advance for a reduced cost. Coach, you need to book, trains you just turn up and buy a ticket. Try to avoid travelling on trains during weekday rush hour, as you won't get a seat and fares are higher.
Q. Where do I get Internet access?
A: There are Internet Cafes dotted around London, some featured on this site - but they have a weak economic model and frequently close down. If you have a smartphone then beware of 'roaming charges' or tariffs. Although there are plans to eliminate them, they're still a very expensive way to obtain information (hundreds of pounds over a short holiday, is not uncommon). Your hotel may have Wifi if you have a laptop, netbook or smartphone, various coffee shops and pubs do and if you're thrifty you can try public libraries. Almost all will allow you to surf in 30 or 60 minute segments for free. During the weekdays they're not busy.
Q. How much do museums and galleries cost?
A: Most of the major museums and art galleries are free in London. They receive some money from the state, but make up the shortfall themselves, so have glass boxes for donations. If you've enjoyed your visit, then by all means show your gratitude - but you're placed under no obligation. Go as often as you like too. There are restrictions on baggage size in most museums and all conduct a bag search on the way in. So keep bags small, and pack them with stuff you don't mind being pulled out for everyone to see.
Q. How much should I tip?
A: It's normal to tip about 10% in the UK - usually for food, haircuts and taxis. There are other infrequent exceptions to that rule (such as 'buying a barman a drink', or tipping a guide) but they're rare.
Q. Where do I buy a drink?
A: You have to be 18 to drink in the UK. If you look under 25, the vendor has the right to ask for identification. Pubs, bars & hotels sell drink on licensed premises and off-licenses and supermarkets sell it to take-away. Mini-marts in central London charge a premium for alcohol and wine - better to get it from a national chain like Tesco or Sainsbury's.
Q. Where's the best place to stay?
A: There are a few basic rules: nearer the centre, more expensive, but less journey time to sights. Out of the centre, cheaper but more time and money spent on transport. Use the hotel booking application on this site (Late Rooms) to check prices, as it tells you how far away the hotel is which is useful when comparing price. Heathrow hotels can be cheap, but it's a 20-stop Tube ride which will cost two hours travelling in-and-out per day.
Bloomsbury, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Maida Vale are several places which are near to the centre, but cheaper and quieter than the tourist heavy concentration around the Royal Parks. The City is the working area of London, which is quieter than the West End in the evenings and at weekends.
Q: What should I be aware of when crossing the road?
A: Traffic drives on the left in the UK, which will take getting used to, especially at junctions and roundabouts. Don't run across junctions, follow the pelican crossings which have a red figure for 'stop' and a green figure for 'cross'. Zebra crossings mean that the traffic has to stop for you. It does in every part of the UK, except London where the driver may stop (or may not). Never walk straight out.
There are also Bus Lanes to navigate and sometimes these are 'contraflow' - meaning they travel in the opposite direction (there's one down Piccadilly and another near the British Museum). All the traffic is travelling in one direction - except the buses, which are going the other way. Take care to look both ways when you do cross, the bus may well be coming from the opposite direction. If someone stops for you at a zebra crossing it's customary to raise your hand briefly in thanks.
Q. How do I call the Emergency Services?
A: You raise the emergency services in London by dialling 999 and stating the help you need (Ambulance, Police, Fire Service - no coastguard in London, which is the fourth). There is no charge for a 999 call, and they can be made from mobiles even when conventional calls can't get a signal. You'll see policemen 'on the beat' in central London and they're trained to help visitors and be aware of where most things are. If you're driving a vehicle and an emergency vehicle with flashing lights and sirens runs up behind you, you're expected to slow down and pull over to the kerb. Be decisive, as accidents occur frequently.
Q. How do I find out what's on and where to go?
A: If you want to know where to go - do some homework before you leave. Get an AtoZ map and a copy of Time Out magazine when you get to London. Time Out will tell you where everything is happening and the AtoZ will tell you how to get there. Get a pocket version, as pulling out a map tells thieves and pickpockets that you don't know where you are.
If you're more electronically inclined use this site and Google maps on your phone to find most places. There's also a useful app which will overlay where the nearest Tube Station is to you when you hold up your smartphone - get it here.
Q. I want to read a Newspaper, which one?
A: The UK has many papers and London newsagents stock titles from all over the world (270 languages are spoken in the city). Metro is one of the free papers that are distributed at stations - useful for up to the minute information and a good way to pass a Tube journey. Broadsheets: The Times, Telegraph, Guardian & Independent also have award winning websites so you can check them before you leave home. The Times has a curious notion to charge you to read their content on the Internet. Everyone else's is free. The strategy might work if it downloaded to a Kindle or iPhone, but it won't fly on the standard Internet. I predict a painful learning process. Rupert Murdoch owns the Times, so you have your answer.
Q. How do I go sightseeing cheaply?
A: Sightseeing bus tours are expensive, especially if you have a sizable family. For a budget option just take a normal bus that takes an interesting route and it's free when you have a travelcard. Find out more about which bus routes in this article.
Q. How do I pay less to see a show?
A: It is expensive and if you have your heart set on a particular show, then I'm sure it will be worth it. Another option is the 'tkts' booth in Leicester Square. If you call in person you can get significant reductions (sometimes 70-80% off the cover price) on shows and plays (you have to show up in person). It may not be what you originally planned, but this way you can go several times. There's also a chance that you'll see something better than expected. The most popular shows are by no means necessarily the best. Often the reverse.
Q. How do I pronounce some of these strange place names?
A: Some places in London are pronounced in an unexpected way. Here are a few tips to impress the natives.
- - Leicester Square - (Lester Square)
- - Holborn - (Ho-B'n - no vowel sound in the 'born')
- - Marylebone - (Marlee-B'n - no vowel sound in the 'bone')
- - Clerkenwell - (Clarkenwell)
- - Euston - (You-st'n - no vowel sound in the 'ston')
- - Chiswick - (Chiz-ick)
- - Plaistow - (Plar-stoh) - though you probably won't need to go there.
- - Ruislip - (Rye-slip)
- - Southwark (Su-thuck)
- - Thames (Temz)
Q. What's the best way of visiting Europe, while I'm in London?
A: You can go via rail using the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel), which runs from St. Pancras station. It's swish, fast and somewhat pricey. Most people in the UK use budget airlines, but book in advance, the fare goes up the nearer the flight is to departure. Popular carriers to Google include: Ryanair, Easyjet, flybe, bmibaby, Wizz Air & Monarch - which should give you an even spread. Or use a price comparison site like Skyscanner or Flightchecker.