Here is a list of some of the things I wish I would have known before coming to London. I hope this makes your first few days a little less daunting!
The Flat/Extra Info
The first thing I suggest you do here is to get a UK sim card if you don’t already have an international plan. There are tons of places to get them from, which was a little daunting to me. It took me a few days to find a good place and I ended up getting mine from Carphone Warehouse (basically Best Buy) for £15 each month for 5 GB of data and text/talk from the provider EE (I think they’re connected to T-Mobile). This has been perfect for me and I have easily been able to renew it online. Since London is pretty complex, I definitely would make this your first priority because it’ll be really helpful to be able to get around from the get-go. The first and most expensive cost that you are going to incur when it comes to the flat is that you have to pay for laundry. A wash is a minimum of £3 and a dry is £1.50. This is definitely something to keep in mind, especially if the exchange rate isn’t great. Also keep in mind that if you live in Manson Place or Metrogate, you’ll have to get your laundry up and down the stairs. If you live in Hyde Park Gate, be prepared to bring your laundry to Metrogate (closer option) or Manson Place. When you first get here, be prepared to have a towel or plans to buy a towel (stores here don’t always stay open late so if you’re getting here late I’d suggest packing your own). I suggest going to Primark straight away to get things for your apartment (Sainsbury’s is also an alternative if you’re in a particular rush but it’s more expensive and has fewer options). The beds here only come with a duvet, flat sheet, and one pillow/pillowcase. If you want a fitted sheet or extra blanket, that’s another thing to add to the list. My roommates and I each split up and bought a certain item for the flat like mats for the bathrooms, extra hand towels, hand soap, etc.
The Tube is really easy to understand once you get a hang of the different lines and directions. For example, the Piccadilly line (it’s the blue one) runs both East and West—one takes you towards your destination and then you take the opposite when you want to get back. I highly suggest using City Mapper and Google Maps to get around because it’ll tell you exactly which line, stops, and station to go to. The Tube is definitely my first option, but the busses here are also a lifesaver because sometimes Tube delays (definitely keep in mind that rush hour happens without fail) or having to switch lines can make it a lot slower on the Tube. The busses can seem a little daunting at first but each stop has a letter combo and has certain busses that leave from it. A major thing to remember is that you have to flag down the driver when the bus is approaching the stop and then press the stop button when you need to get off. Again, City Mapper and Google Maps are so helpful for telling you exactly which stop to go to as well as the number of the busses that you can take. Another massive mode of transportation here is trains. If you want to travel out of London (especially for longer trips) I highly recommend looking into a BritRail pass. They are so helpful and you will end up saving loads of money. Trainline is a good place to check times and find tickets. If you’re ever lost or in a rush, Black Cabs are always your best option. They’re super reliable and know the city perfectly. I highly suggest that you stay away from Mini Cabs because they’re pretty dodgy.
I highly suggest looking into Apple Pay and/or contactless credit cards. The UK is really up to date with their card readers, even in some of the most remote areas. It can also be used if you need to pay for the Tube if you’re out of Zones 1 and 2 or busses if you are out of London. Also keep in mind that if you have a debit card that is from a local bank, it may not always be accepted. I have a debit card from a local bank I use for my food money and I’ve had some times when it has not been accepted (Café Nero is a big one). But it has worked without fail at all the ATMs so that is something to keep in mind. There are tons of free withdrawal ATMs here and they’re clearly marked so make sure to go to one of them if you want to save a couple of pounds.