Things To Do If You're New To London

Hannah Foulds
By Hannah Foulds Last edited 56 months ago
Things To Do If You're New To London

London can be a big old baffling place, even for those of us who've been here for years. For newcomers, the prospect of getting to grips with the capital can be daunting. Heck, it's even daunting for Londoners.  Here's some advice on how to fit in and feel at home in the capital.

The Walkie-Talkie's Sky Garden makes a great free alternative to The Shard. Photo by Francesco Camardo in the Londonist Flickr pool

Use your feet

To orientate yourself in London, use your feet. Whenever your soles get sore, you're never far from a bus stop or tube station. The tube map is very misleading, as the space between stations aren't at all geographically accurate; use Transport for London's walking tube map to discover how near or far they really are to each other.

Walk the north bank

Where to begin walking? While a stroll along the South Bank can be fun, it's also the hackneyed, tourist thing to do. Instead, try a jaunt along the north bank, to orient yourself with many a central London landmark. The route isn't quite as pretty, nor bejewelled with quite so many cultural institutions as its southern counterpart, but there's still plenty to see. Start at Westminster and take in the great plane trees of Embankment Gardens. The sights come thick and fast, with good views of the London Eye, Oxo Tower, Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern. Pop on one of the floating pubs to refresh, then take a wander round Somerset House. Thread in and out of the historic passageways on the edge of the City, and finish up by the Tower of London.

The cheapest tourist bus in town

Catch London's cheapest tourist bus

Really don't feel like walking? How about a tour of London's major sites for £1.50? Catching the number 11 bus is a thrifty way to get an eye-full of our most-loved landmarks, while avoiding the cheesy tour guide narration.  The number 11 route travels from Liverpool Street to Fulham Town Hall taking you via the Bank of England, St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. It's essentially a grand tour of London for the price of a single bus journey. Read more about it on London blogger Tom Jones' piece.

Get a feel for the shape of the city with this incredible model

Now you've seen some of the most famous bits of the city it's time to take in the bigger picture. You'll find the vast model of the city (pictured below) just off Tottenham Court Road, on Store Street. New London Architecture is a gallery all about the buildings and streets of the capital. The 3D model is interactive, and frequently updated with new buildings (and model dinosaurs — we suspect thanks to students from UCL). It's totally free, and open Mon-Sat.

Learn a bit of capital history

London's vast history is as daunting as its geography. The Museum of London is the best place to get a primer on everything from Boudica to the Blitz. Key exhibits include the Lord Mayor's coach, a recreated Victorian street, a model of the Great Fire, London's oldest map and the cauldron from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Make some friends

One of the perks of living in a city of over 8m people is that there are social clubs for literally everything; from knitting to medieval warfare. Check out to meet like-minded people from London and beyond, explore our list of London's most unusual get-togethers. Or why not learn something new and meet people at the same time? City Lit, School of Life and many of the universities run short courses you can attend in your free time. (There's even a group for antisocial people, which boasts 2,500 members who never meet.)

The Museum of London is a great place to get acquainted with the city's history. Photo by surreyblonde in the Londonist Flickr pool

Find a big view

Maps, models and museums are one thing, but there's no better way to get on top of the city than, well, getting on top of the city. London has many hills. You can't go wrong with the 'big three' tourist hills of Primrose Hill, Parliament Hill and Greenwich Park, but there are many others dotted around. Combine a survey of the city with a restoring drink in one of London's numerous rooftop bars. Here's the best list you'll find.

Don't go up The Shard (or at least use a couple of Shard cheats)

Everyone knows where the highest views of London are from. But at around £30 to just stand at the top of The Shard, many Londoners see this as, frankly, a bit of a rip-off. A great alternative is to ascend the Walkie-Talkie building instead and spend that £30 on drinks or food in one of its three Sky Garden restaurants. See our tips for getting in here. OK, it’s not as tall as the shard, but still presents you with a fantastic view over the city, that includes The Shard! Win, win!

Or you can use one of The Shard cheats: either go to one of the bars about midway (drinks aren't cheap, but views are decent) or head to Gong on the 52nd floor, which has a minimum spend of £30 per head, but allows you stunning views.

The view from Greenwich Park

Get lost

Back on the ground again, try getting off the tube at a station you're unfamiliar with, then wandering around for an hour or so, wherever the whim takes you. Don't look at your smartphone, or the street maps, but get yourself totally lost. London holds wonders around every corner, and you'll remember them all the better if you stumble across them by accident. Once you've done this at two or three tube stations, you're ready to try the advanced level: a visit to the Barbican complex. Every Londoner remembers their first visit to this labyrinth — assuming, that is, they manage to find their way out.

Accept that you'll never know it all

London is so big that no person can possibly grasp it all. Even cab drivers, steeped in The Knowledge, won't know large parts of outer London. Hands up if you've ever visited Arkley, Downe and Malden Rushett. All are in Greater London. Don't worry if it takes you three years to make your first visit to Chelsea, or you never quite get round to riding the cable car. We know people who've lived here for years, and didn't even realise there was a cable car.

Getting lost in London is one of its joys. Embrace it. Photo by Tomasz Kulbowski in the Londonist Flickr pool

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By Hannah Foulds and Matt Brown.

Last Updated 05 May 2017