While reading up and talking to friends before my recent visit to London, I came across a whole bunch of clichés about the British. Of course, when I did actually end up there, I realized not all of them were true. Like how they say the British are rude. I mean, what's that about? I think they're the sweetest, liveliest people ever!
Anyhoo, here's a list of the absolute must-do things in London that are very, very English. Because when in London, you gotta do as the Londoners do!
1. Eat Fish and Chips
A fried fish filet soused in salt and vinegar, with potato fries and mushy peas on the side - It doesn't get more British than this!
Originally served by small family businesses in the 18th century, Fish and Chips soon became a staple food choice in England. You'll find tons of places whipping up this delicacy in every corner of every street in London, from modest shops to lavish restaurants.
Ironically, however, not everyone does Fish and Chips well, so make sure you check out reviews before picking a place to eat at.
2. Form a Queue
If there's one thing the British know how to do really well, it is to form a polite and orderly queue. Queues are ubiquitous - be it to top up their Oyster Cards, or wait patiently for a table at a popular restaurant - Londoners have a reputation the world over for being excellent at standing in a single file, without needing to be asked. And we could take a lesson perhaps.
If you're trying to get somewhere and you see a queue, avoid the urge to jump the line, or be prepared to be meted out with blatant stares of disapproval. Someone might even mildly reprimand you for being a few sandwiches short of a picnic, if you know what I mean. *wink wink*
3. Have a Nice Cup of Tea
While the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China, it is the afternoon cuppa that gained popularity in England much later.
Drinking tea in the afternoon has since become not only an elaborate social event for the upper classes (think High Tea), but also a tradition in the average British suburban home where tea is usually served with a biscuit or a small piece of cake.
So get your caffeine fix! Stick out your pinky, sip on a delish English tea with scones and crumpets on the side, and talk about the ever-changing weather in London.
Where to have tea in London:
4. Hail a Black Cab
You've probably spotted one in a movie. The Hackney Carriage, commonly called the Black Cab, is an Austin TX4 make, and you'll see these elegant taxis swerving through the streets of London all through the day.
Compact one-horse carriages started being used as cabs for hire in London in the 1600s, and the first line of motorized taxis was produced in black by default. These days London taxis come in many other colors, yet they are all still referred to as black cabs.
Taxi drivers in London have to pass a mandatory test called "The Knowledge" which includes memorizing 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks, and usually takes up to four years to prepare for. Super cool, innit?
5. Watch a Play
Theatre has been an integral part of the British culture for centuries. William Shakespeare, who is known as the Father of Modern English, lived in London for the most part of his life. Some of the legendary names in English Literature such as Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were products of the United Kingdom.
The love for theatre runs deep, and the best way to experience London in true English spirit is by watching a musical. And pray, they're bloody good!
There are tons of plays happening through the day, and a huge number of theatres to cater to the spectator in you. Catch a show in London's West End Theater District, and you can find tickets and last minute deals at the official discount booth ( TKTS) in Leicester Square next door. You can also buy tickets online.
So when in London, watch theatre! Oh, and proper etiquette applies while you're there. Check out this article for more!
6. Have an English Breakfast
I bet you've done this already, and a number of times at that. Even if you travel to a place geographically and habitually miles apart from England, you can still find this quintessentially British item on the breakfast menu.
A full English breakfast includes bacon, eggs (fried, poached or scrambled), tomatoes, mushrooms, sausages and toast. Black pudding and baked beans are often included.
Breakfast is traditionally considered the most important meal in the day, and so the British way is to eat it lavishly and leisurely. Your trip to London will be incomplete without a proper breakfast, and some tea to go with it, of course!
7. Drink at an English Pub
Did you know: The word "Pub" is an abbreviation for "Public House". In older times, it signified someone's house in the neighborhood that was open to the public. People would then get together to chat and catch up over drinks.
English pubs are a whole big deal, you guys! There are about 3,800 pubs in London alone: that's one for every 2,350 Londoners. That's a bumper number!
As with other things, there's pub etiquette to adhere to. For starters, there is no table service at English pubs. Feel free to grab a table, but you order and pay at the bar. Also avoid grouping up and heading to the bar, lest you might hear mutters of displeasure for crowding the place. It is generally considered appropriate for one or two people to get drinks to the table from the bar.
What to Order:
Ales, stouts, pale ales, IPAs, porters: you catch my drift, mate? The options are aplenty, and the British sure love their ales. A pint is the general serve size, but you can order a half pint as well. Pubs don't serve cocktails but wines, spirits, coffee and juices are readily available.
8. Carry an Umbrella wherever you go
"Blimey, the weather is bollocks today!"
One conversation opener you can always swear by. Seriously y'all, London weather is crazy. It changes by the hour and by the day. While there are four distinct seasons, there's a good chance you'll get a sunny day in January and bone-numbing rain in June.
All hell breaks loose when it rains and snows at the same time! Not to mention the mad wind to make things worse. Londoners always have an umbrella with them, no matter what day of the year it is. Checking the forecast before stepping out is also a great help and a definite must.
9. Watch a Cricket or Football Match
The hysteria around these sports isn't unfounded. Both cricket and football were born in England, and the native love for both runs strong.
Originally written off as a game for English shepherds, cricket emerged as a more recognized and viable sport when the working class began playing. It piqued the interest of the spectators as they could bet on winners, but soon they took a liking to the framework of the game itself.
While cricket was always considered a gentleman's sport, the reputation of football being a violent game appears repeatedly in documented accounts. But the rage around football is at its highest in England today.
So see if there's a match happening in a stadium near you, else head to a pub to watch the game over a pint or two. The energy is contagious, and I can tell you that this is going to be the highlight of your London visit.
10. See the Change Of Guard at Buckingham Palace
The British truly love and respect the Royal Family, and when in London, you can't help but notice that.
The closest you can get to witnessing the pageantry and pomp of the royal lineage is by attending the ceremony of changing of the Queen's Guard. The soldiers on active duty, dressed in red tunics and bearskin caps, pass on the Guard to the new set, amidst upbeat music and precision drills.
Best part: The ceremony is free to watch! It takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 11 am. It is advisable, though, to get to the venue latest by 10:15 am to get a good spot.
Bookmark this article if you're visiting London soon. If you've been there already, how many items did you cross off the list? Let me know in the comments!
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