Currency: Pounds Sterling - issued by the bank of Scotland or England only (Irish Pounds not valid) they are different sizes and colors to help the partially sighted. (Picture)Notes: £100, £50, £20, £10, £5 (Picture), Coins: £2, £1, £0.50p, £0.20p £0.10p, £0.5p, £0.2p, £0.1p (Picture)Cash points (ATMs) are widely available and provide the best rate for cash withdrawals - better than bureaux de change. You can ask for 'Cashback' when making purchases at supermarkets, and there's usually a cashpoint in a tube station. Visa and Access (Mastercard) widely accepted, other cards often accepted. Banking hours officially 09:30-15:30, but most banks open usually til about 17:00. For cash withdrawals on a visa card, you will need to produce your passport. Cheques accepted everywhere - though a valid cheque card must be produced. Foreign cheques can be paid into British banks, but will be subject to a fee.
Traffic: apart from one road only (Savoy Court, off the Strand) we drive on the left, which means you should look right when crossing a road. This still catches many tourists out every year. Cars won't usually stop automatically (though many will) if you wander into the road, motorbikes certainly won't. At a crossing, they all have to stop if you set foot on the road. The main danger comes from, cycle & motorbike couriers, who ride aggressively and fast, often on the nearside of slow-moving traffic - you can't hear the cycles coming.You will need your licence and a credit card if you want to hire a car (see our A-Z section).
Safety: London is a very safe city, and you are able to go anywhere in the centre at any time - in some districts a little more caution is advised - at the North End of Notting Hill, in Brixton and anywhere South of Elephant and Castle you'd be better not to produce a large billfold in a narrow sidestreet - but it's completely safe otherwise. The ownership of guns and knives is virtually non-existent, lone women are generally completely safe to walk alone. The atmosphere on the late tubes and in the centre on Friday and Saturday nights can be a bit rowdy, due to drunkenness, but it's never dangerous.
Languages: English English everywhere. Welsh spoken only in Wales. Cockney Rhyming slang is NOT common. Beware, American English differs from English English in several key points. This can cause amusement when, for example, someone asks you if they can borrow your rubber, promising to return it when they have finished. They are talking about an eraser. Our shortlist of oft-confused words is here.
Weather: England's weather remains the most frequent topic of conversation - it's not as bad as it's painted (in fact it rains less in London than it does in Paris), it's just so unpredictable. We don't have clearly defined seasons - like in central Europe - at any moment trouble can brew up in the Atlantic and lead to cold or wet weather. Never buy tickets for an outdoor event in advance. However don't take our word for it, here's what the Meterological office have to say about The British Climate. For a five day forcast click go to the BBC weather site - bear in mind no weather prediction is 100% accurate.
Manners: The ideal of the English gentleman is long dead, though common courtesy is well...common, but Londoners are definitely not as friendly as New Yorkers (though much more so than Parisians). It is assumed that unless you ask or make the first gesture, that you
are OK and do not need any help - the English guard their privacy closely, and only really engage when it is quite clear on both sides that this is acceptable. This goes for generosity - it is assumed that one is too proud to accept it, so it won't be proffered so as to spare your feelings. They also have a marked aversion to complaining.
The English sense of humour is very black and surrealistic and the nation's b point, and consists of hyperbole delivered deadpan. As one analyst said, the fat man doesn't just slip on the banana skin, he explodes. The English are really stoics who can laugh at anything, and there are no taboo topics for general conversation - class rules are suspended for foreigners. Good natured banter, as long as it isn't wounding, is the most common form of social exchange, apart from talking about the weather, a perennial conversation-opener. The worst thing about the English in general is their total inability to hold their liquor, and their frequent occasion to prove it.
Communications: The post and telephone services in the UK are superb, and a call from a coinbox is cheap and easy - not all are the famous red phone boxes, though they are making a comeback. You can also use a credit card or a phonecard (available in most newsagents or grocers) in most phone boxes. Hotels make the usual surcharges. There are many shops offering cheap international calls (eg in Queensway) and it's worth exploring these as they offer good rates.
Postal services are also quick and reliable - a first class letter posted by 18:00, should arrive the next morning within the UK - check the 'last posting times' on the red postboxes. Some of the postboxes are over 100 years old and may look quite tatty - they're protected as monuments and are as good as shiny new ones. Stamps can be bought individually at post offices or in books of four or ten at newsagents, off-licences and groceries.
There are more public access internet terminals in London than anywhere we've been: look out for the EasyEverything shops across London (Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross, Kensington High Street) these huge rooms offer fast quick access, and you can stay on all night for £1 after a certain hour. They tend to get crowded and there's often a small, but fast moving queue to get in. There are also many cybercafes, though the competition from EasyEverything is causing problems.
Feeding times: Breakfast is usually at about 08:00 and is either continental (bread, cereal, coffee, juice) or Full British, which in addition to the continental selection brings a coronary-inducing mixture of bacon, fried or scrambled eggs, fried bread, sausages (which are mostly bread, and under EU law can't be called sausages, so the euphemism 'banger' is often used), toast, marmalade (sour orange jam/jelly), with b, white tea. Sometimes black pudding (effectively blood sausage) or porridge (oatmeal, traditionally with salt and water, though more likely with milk, cream and sugar) or kippers (smoked herrings, Scottish style - delicious) are added.
If you still have room, coffee is served at about 11:00, possibly with a snack, and lunch is 13:00 - most workers eat sandwiches, unless someone else is paying, when a long boozy lunch may stretch on til 15:00.
Tea (southern England) is at 16:00-17:00 and consists of fine sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and cakes, with a pot of weak tea. In the North of England tea is usually the main evening meal, served at 17:00-18:00.
Dinner is usually at about 20:00 - though it may be much later, in which case it's called supper, except on Sundays when dinner is the main lunchtime meal. Lively Londoners can eat quite late, though it's often difficult to find a restaurant that serves past 22:00 - 23:00.
If they've been out drinking most Londoners will go for a curry after the pubs shut at 23:00 - Indian restaurants stay open til late, but check for drunks before you settle down.
Opening Hours Most shops open at about 09:30 and stay open throughout the day until 19:00, though more traditional shops will still close at 17:30. Thursday night is usually later opening, and shops will stay open til 21:00 or later. On Saturdays shops often close a little earlier, and many open again on Sunday from about 11:00-17:00 in the major shopping areas.
Offices run 09:30 to 17:30 and the large number of commuters creates an unholy rush hour between 17:30 and 19:00, and 08:00 to 09:30. Government offices often shut at 16:00, and banks at 16:30, to deal with paperwork.
Pubs open traditionally 11:00 to 15:00 and 17:00 to 23:00 and after that you can't buy alcohol except in a club or restaurant. Alcohol can be brought in an 'off-licence' (liquor store) at those times too. It is illegal to sell fish and chips on a Sunday.
However in the 'City' everything closes at 17:30, and even pubs and restaurants close at around 21:00 - it's a ghost town at weekends.