London – The Yes/No Guide

Attempting to look good, and have fun in an expensive metropolis.

Heading to London is a bit like buying your first, real nice suit.  It’s a worthy investment for most, but it takes some planning to get it done right.  It’s an enormous city that you can easily lose your bank account to, so plan and budget carefully.  Like, very carefully.  A few suggestions on what to wear, do, eat and drink in London for the guy on a Dappered-Style budget follow.  

Style
  • Layers – Yes.  Between the clouds, rain, sun, and hot/stuffy Underground, wear layers.
  • Bringing your most comfortable pair of dress shoes – Yes.  London is a town people walk in.
  • Wearing your most expensive shoes – No.  Old & uneven roads = lots of toe dings.
  • Jeans & Cotton Blazer – 100% Yes.
  • Feeling out of place because “smart casual” is rare – No.  Londoners are either business ready or all hipster.  Your inbetween look will stand out in a good way.
  • A dual or world time watch – Yes.
  • Looking at what time it is at home – Not for the first two days.  You’ll kick jet lag if the time in London is the only time on your mind.
  • Cutaway / extreme spread collars – Yes.
  • Button down collars – No.
  • Solid or micro pattern ties – Yes.
  • Tieless – Yes.  Lots of it over there.
  • Pocket squares – No.  Not as much.
  • Cotton Chinos – No.  Suit or jeans.  As already stated, not much inbetween.
  • Bright colored chinos – Double no.  Keep that stateside.
  • Close cropped hair on the sides, long on top – Yes.  It’s a good look that Londoners pull off well.
  • Wallet – No.
  • Card Case – Yes.  Lots of sitting on the tube.
  • Carrying your passport everywhere – No.  Not necessary for the vast majority.  Keep it under lock and key.  And make copies of it before you leave and hand those over to someone you trust that you can get ahold of in case it’s lost or stolen.

Comfortable lace ups on the Prime Meridian.  Notice the toe dings on the right & left..

Travel and Accommodations
  • Virgin Atlantic – Yes, if you can swing it.
  • Expecting a quick entry into the UK at Heathrow – No.  Plan for an hour line.  At least.
  • Browsing Duty Free Shops – Yes.
  • Buying something from Duty Free Shops – No.  You really want to lug your purchase around?
  • Hotel for a longer stay – No
  • Rental for a longer stay – Yes
  • House sitting for a friend with a place in London for a longer stay – Oh hell yes.
  • Cabs – No. Only when neccessary.
  • The Underground / Tube – Yes.  Buy an Oyster Card and top it up as you go.  If you’ve got a crap sense of direction, it might take some getting used to.  But after you get the hang of it you really can get around without much trouble.
  • Downloading the Google Map of London to your phone – Yes.  Your GPS should still work. (hat tip to Paul for that suggestion)
  • Carrying a few 50 pence pieces with you for public toilets – Yep. Not free there.
  • Calling your bank/credit card companies and telling them you’re heading overseas – Yes.
  • Paying with cash – Yes.
  • Paying with a credit card – Yes.
  • Paying with a debit card – No.  You’ll get dinged on international charges.  Check your card agreements.

Lots of hotel rooms, all of them expensive.  Try to get a rental and cook a few times to save money.
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Food/Drink
  • Neighborhood Pubs – 100% yes. Places like The Fox, The Prince Arthur, etc…
  • Checking to make sure they haven’t added items to your bill – Yes.  Sneaky bastards.
  • Drinking strong, heavy beers – No.  They’re few and far between over there.
  • Drinking a beer (or two) with lunch – Yes.  A “strong” ale in London is anything north of 5%.  Most are around 4%.
  • “Real Ales.” – Yes.  Look for this.  That means they serve cask.
  • Bishops Finger – Yes.
  • Brick Lane for Curry – Yes.
  • BYOB to Brick Lane for Curry – Yes (most places don’t sell alcohol but encourage you to bring your own).
  • Having a destination restaurant picked out – Yes.  And have a backup too.  There are guys in other restaurant’s doorways trying to get you to go to their place instead, carnie style.  Not all of them are good.  Nazrul is though.
  • Liquor – No.  It’s expensive and they skimp on pours.  Stick to beer.
  • Ordering tap water with your meal – Yes.  It doesn’t just show up.  You have to ask for it.
  • Tipping – Yes, but go easy.  Service is usually included.  So stupid Americans over-tipping is a real thing.
  • Fish and Chips – Yeah, you gotta do it once.  BUT JUST ONCE.
  • Traditional English Breakfast – Hell no.

For the most part, the Pubs aren’t dingy.  The beer, the food, and the atmosphere can be top notch.
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Other Activities / The Sights
  • Taking a Thames Clipper up the river – Yes
  • And grabbing a Whiskey and Ginger from Marks & Spencer before hopping on the ferry – Double Yes.
  • The London Eye – Yes, if your friends are buying (it’s expensive, but you do get a hell of a view).
  • The Tower of London – Yes.  Clever ravens.  The audio tour is a good investment at 4 extra pounds.
  • Picadilly Circus – Mneh.  You good with crowds? It’s the Times Square of London.  Lots of people.
  • The Tate Modern – No.  It’s free though.
  • The Royal Observatory – Yes.  Pay the pounds to see the clocks that helped the expand the world’s understanding of itself.  Especially cool for watch fans.
  • Buckingham Palace From the street – Yes.  Look at it, then move on.
  • Buckingham Palace Tour – No.  The lines are crazy.  Can’t imagine they show you much.
  • Taking the 1 hour train to Brighton – Yes.
  • The borough of Hackney – Yes.
  • The West End – No.
  • Shopping – Leaning heavily towards no.  There’s hardly any inbetween.  It’s either Gucci, Burberry, or paying respects on Savile Row, or random store fronts that look like they were pulled out of Tijuanna.  UPDATE:  Check out apm’s comment below.  He’s a London Dappered reader, and has basically put together a shopping guide to the city.  Nice work and many thanks to him!
  • People watching – Yes.  Hard to do though since no one makes eye contact.  London is a city of individuals.
  • Car watching – Good Grief Yes.  There are two types of cars in London.  Micro compacts and high end luxury cars. Ferraris, Aston Martins, saw a Benz SLS, a Shelby in a deep forrest green…

The pods of the London Eye.  It ain’t cheap, but it’s something you’ll remember.

Been to London and have some input?  Live there now and as a UK Dappered reader want to add something?  Leave it in the comments.  Meanwhile, lots more to do in London over here courtesy of DrivingInertia.com