Transatlantic crossing: how Americans can avoid a London culture-shock

London Airport

A major reason why London’s such a popular location for Americans is because it seems like something of a gateway to Europe. A way to ease yourself into discovering a new continent because the place is going to be familiar and safe when it comes to customs and language.

The truth, though, for visitors from the States is that the UK capital – one of the world’s most multicultural, diverse, vivid and ever-moving cities – can be a bit of a culture-shock. Britain is a different country to the US, for sure; the two of them share many similarities, but there are marked differences too. In which case, it’s wise to prepare yourself for this – but what sort of questions should you ask yourself before crossing the pond…?

How much should I bring with me?

It’s always a good idea to keep your packing down – thus minimising what luggage you’ll need to lug around with you – and with London being the super hectic city it is, you may feel it’s a godsend you followed this mantra when you get here. Plus, generally speaking, the weather’s pretty mild (even in the depths of winter), so you won’t need lashings of heavy winter clothes. But don’t forget that umbrella – it could rain at any time, any time of year!

How do I get to the city from the airport?

When flying to London, a good number of Americans find themselves landing at the world-renowned monster of an airport that’s Heathrow. From here, your best bet to get into the capital proper (about 20-odd miles away) and to your accommodation – possibly one of the 5 star hotels in London – is to hop on the direct Heathrow Express train service. Only taking around 15 minutes; it’s fast, efficient and not too expensive. Alternatively, if your plane lands at either of the other two major London-serving airports, Gatwick or Stansted, you should aim to catch similar ‘express’ train services from them into the city.

What attractions shouldn’t I miss?

Presumably, one of the reasons why you might be considering visiting London is because there’s simply so much to see and do. Top of your list ought to be the spectacular St. Paul’s Cathedral (climb to its domed roof), the illustrious Westminster Abbey (check out its who’s who of historical tombs and dedications), the fascinating Tower of London (spilling over with a millennium of history) and the Camden Markets (top shopping and intriguing ‘alt-London’ at its best and most accessible).

Is it easy to use the Tube?

If you’ve travelled on an underground/ subway service in any major city before, you’ll no doubt be aware it takes some getting used to. To the uninitiated the Tube can be a little intimidating (all the coloured lines on the map, the clever payment system and the rules like standing on the right on escalators – don’t break this one!), so it’s advisable to check out the official London Underground website before your trip to arm yourself with a bit of knowledge. Also, try to plan your journeys via the – actually – very efficient Tube map before you embark on them and definitely get hold of an Oyster card (the credit card-like tap in, tap out electronic payment system), again ideally over the Internet before you leave home.