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The best of London life hacks

London is one of the greatest cities on Earth, but it can also be a right pain in the arse. From making sense of the confusing public transport system to trying to keep your personal finances afloat and avoid the craziness of tourist hot spots, London can make your life pretty damn difficult, especially if you’re not familiar with it.

Thankfully, there are plenty of shortcuts and ways to get around the city’s numerous flaws. Here are a few Londoner’s life hacks to help you survive and make the most of the capital without (too much) hassle:

1) Master the Underground

If you’re doing the same tube journey to get to work every day, chances are you’ll get to know the strategic spots to stand to get a seat, what times to avoid a station like plague, etc. And if you’re a Londoner, you’re probably already familiar with those to avoid all times (Covent Garden, we’re looking at you).

On the other hand, you’re most likely not knowledgeable about every area. Thanks to the Station Master app, you can avoid bad surprises for a mere £1.99. A good investment.

station finder

2) Free drinks!

Drinking in London can be stupidly expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Download the Drinki app and check in on Facebook to receive a free cocktail from a number of venues. The deal? You basically exchange a quick promotional Facebook post to give the bar a little publicity, while letting all your friends know how much of a social animal you are. In return, you get free booze. Not bad.

If you’re more of a beer person, the Match Pint App allows you to claim a free pint at a number of local pubs in return for a review.

3) The pregnant badge thing

Traveling in an overcrowded train at rush hour is painful enough as it is without having another human being roll around inside your stomach. Pregnant women can now get a free ‘Baby on Board’ badge by emailing Transport for London.

This will help other commuters figure you’d really quite like to sit, and avoid the awkward exchange which comes with asking for someone’s spot.

4) Free Wi-Fi

Out of mobile data? London is a great place to pick up free Wi-Fi. Food places such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, EAT and stupidly overpriced (and not French) sandwich shop Pret a Manger all offer free internet if you register with The Cloud.

You can also access free Wi-Fi at 130 tube stations if you’re with Three Mobile.

5) The infamous Waitrose card!

They say you can’t put a price on looking like a pretentious wanker. And yet, forking out 663 quid a year at Starbucks is quite a lot just for your morning fix. Why not get a free cup of coffee from Waitrose instead? Sign up for a myWaitrose loyalty card, and enjoy a free drink without having to work extra hours to finance your addiction.

Bonus: you can still look like a pretentious wanker by pretending to be a Waitrose customer.

20150904_1240216) Find North

Did you know the flat side of the Walkie-Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street points to the North? It’s a pretty outstanding building if you’re in the area, and will help you find direction if for some reason your phone is down/you can’t read signs/don’t want to ask someone for direction/need to get to North London.

7) Oyster card and railcard link

You can use your young person’s 16-25 railcard to get 1/3 off London Zones 1-6 Day Travelcards as well as single off-peak tickets. Take your cards to a ticket office to make the most of this. Great trick, especially if you’re a student with little money and no obligation to travel in rush hour.

Warning: you’ll have to actually talk to somebody to connect the cards.

8) Overlook the city

The Shard is well-known as the highest point of the city, and one which offers a stunning view of the whole of London. However, this will cost you no less than £20. To get just as great a view for free, visit the Walkie Talkie’s Sky Garden. All you have to do is book in advance!

9) Ultimate toilet hack

We’ve all been there, that tricky situation where you’re in central London and suddenly realise you’re actually going to burst unless you find a toilet in the next right now. Well guess what? There is an app for that, too!

Thanks to the fantastic Great British Public Toilet Map , you’ll be able to find the nearest free toilets and relieve yourself without having to degrade anyone’s back garden wall.

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10) The Metro vouchers!

The Metro newspaper is so much more than just another way to keep up with Justin Bieber’s latest mistakes while avoiding eye-contact with fellow commuters.

London’s best free tabloid offers DAILY McDonald’s vouchers, so you can enjoy a good Big Mac and chips at the low price of a couple of quid and your good health. Bargain!

11) Watch the world’s best TV

Like many people, you might really love London but truly love American series that little bit more. You no longer have to compromise.

By installing a Chrome plugin such as Unlimited Free VPN – Hola on your laptop, you can fool your web browser into thinking your IP location is based in the US, or indeed any country whose exclusively local content you might want to watch. This will allow you to watch all the best series you can’t usually access, and take your Netflix and chill game to the next level.

12) Dodge the black cabs

While the iconic London black cabs look great on a post card, they don’t come cheap. But that was before Uber and co. Over the past few years, taxi apps have flourished in London, not without sparking controversy over unfair competition from traditional cabbies who spent years learning ‘The Knowledge’ before getting undercut and outwitted by GPS systems.

Apps such as Uber and Kabbee offer you free credits when you sign up, let you choose your pick up and drop off points and even what kind of car you get a lift from. Payment is delivered directly via the app, meaning you’ll avoid that awkward moment of wondering whether you can scrap up enough cash between your friends.

13) Guaranteed seat

I shouldn’t even share that one with you really, please keep it on the low. Upon getting to an empty London Underground platform, it’s often tricky to work out where to stand to be the first person at the train door, and subsequently get a guaranteed seat.

Or is it? Walk along the platform and find the spots where the yellow security line is most erased. It indicates where people have been getting on and off, and hence where the doors are. Simple and super effective. You’re welcome.

14) Just walk!

Some tube stations are so close you’ll be better off walking than wrestle your way around to get on. See the map below:

o-MAP-WALK-LONDON-facebook

(source: Huffington Post)

15) Golden Ticket

TFL has a one-time travel permit, which can be an absolute life saver if you’re having a bad day. If you suddenly find yourself out of money, you can get help from the ticket office by filling up a form to get a one-way ticket home.

You can pay the bill later upon receiving a letter, secure in the knowledge you’re still alive. A great lifeline if you’re lost, got mugged or had a few too many drinks. And let’s be honest, most people qualify for at least one of those on a Friday night.

16) Museums

Hardly a hidden gem, yet a great luxury overlooked by most Londoners. The capital is home to some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries from the British Museum to the Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Science Museum.

Unlike in many countries, most are free to enter. What are you waiting for?

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17) Event apps

You might be familiar with the famous Samuel Johnson quote: tired of London, tired of life. One thing’s for sure, you should never be bored here and there are plenty of ways to keep up with all the latest events.

Thanks to a number of handy event apps such as YPlan, the Londonist and Time Out, you can keep up with all the temporary exhibitions, comedy shows, dinner parties and other fancy excuses to get pissed near you.

If you’d like to meet people of similar interests, you might also want to try Meet Up. There’s a group for just about everything.

18) Boris Bikes

Credit where it’s due, the Boris bikes are a pretty cool concept. A very cheap way to get around while keeping healthy, they only cost £2 for 24 hours. Even better, the first 30 mins of each journey are free. Trick: swap bikes every half hour for unlimited free transport.

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19) That glorious King’s Cross toilet

I hate that you get charged to use public toilets in central London. 30p for a piss, really?? Thankfully, the 1st class lounge at King’s Cross has a free toilet right outside (but crucially, not inside). There is no ticket checking, either. For now, anyway. Desperate times, desperate measures.

20) Find other foreigners

If you’re a non-Brit trying to make sense of this crazy old city, there are plenty of online communities where you can meet people and get tips to settle down and make friends. As a French person, the Cercles des Francais de Londres Facebook group is a good example and a great place to drop seemingly stupid questions (and get ripped into because French people are dicks) while finding good places to explore.

These groups are also a great places to find homeland specialties you might miss and struggle to find in mainstream shops. I’m thinking rare commodities, such as good food and breathable air.

21) Old fashion box office

The West End is known all over the world as a great spot for theatre shows and musicals. But it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and leg. There are plenty of ways to get discounted tickets, some of which via the apps discussed in this post.

However, the best way to get top discounts on London shows is to buy your ticket on the day. Turn up at the box office before 10 am on a weekday, and you’ll be able to get a good deal.

22) The Crown Court’s Got Talent

Still can’t get a West End show ticket? Not to worry, you can attend high-profile criminal court hearings for absolutely nothing at the Crown Court. Alright that one’s a little creepy, but it’s been 21 tips and I’m beginning to run out of ideas.

23) Start a London blog

Finally, why not start a London blog of your own? Blogging is a great way to document your adventures and allow friends and family to keep up with you.

Much more importantly, you might also get a few freebies and exclusive invites from brands in return for a feature on your site!

2 Comments

  1. Great tips! I don’t bother with an Oyster Card anymore now that you can also use your Contactless bank card on the underground – that’s a great way for visitors to save cash too! Would also recommend the view from Tate Modern as well for another freebie!

    • Valentin Valentin

      Good point! I’ve been using contactless for ages as well – just easier. And thanks for the tip, Tate Modern’s one of few museums here I still haven’t visited so I’ll definitely have to check it out 🙂

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