A collage of dos and don'ts
Image: Time Out / Noah Boon

Students, listen up: these are our essential London dos and don’ts

Newbie to the capital? Your London fairy godmother is on hand with some essential advice.

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So you are moving to London for university. Welcome! It’s great here. You can get amazing bagels and basil flavoured soft serve ice cream (it’s good), and you’ll find that it’s both absolutely huge and really actually quite tiny all at once. 

Now you’ve finally got your exam results and every single person in your extended family has said ‘oooh the Big Smoke’ when you told them where you’ll be studying, it’s probably about time you brushed up on some local customs. And no, we’re not just talking about escalator etiquette (you should know that by now).  

RECOMMENDED: 23 things you should know before moving to London

Luckily for you, your London fairy godmother (like a normal one, they just always have a Lost Mary and plate of pie and mash on the go) is on call, with some handy dos and don’ts for your big move. Listen up, take note – and don’t forget to enjoy yourself. 

DO

Rush, everywhere you go

Slow walkers are at the very bottom of the London food chain. Even if you have all the time in the world to get to your next lecture, act like you don’t. You should pretend like you’re late to your own wedding, just to fit in.

DON’T 

Queue single-file in the pub

It’s not polite or ‘British’. This orderly trend is an attack on our traditional culture.

A woman serving a pint
Photograph: Ben RoweThe Coach and Horses

DO

Book absolutely everything

It’s sad but true, I’m afraid. London is full of wonders but it is admittedly slightly harder to be spontaneous in than a lot of other UK cities (the reservation culture here is a bit of a hangover from lockdown that never really went away). If you know you’re absolutely desperate to go to a particular club or eat a particular hypey TikTok dish for your dinner, you’re better off booking ahead.

DON’T 

Go to Covent Garden Piazza or Leicester Square at the weekend

Unless you really, really love massive crowds of American tourists and those floating street entertainers (in fairness I don’t actually know how they do it). And avoid Old Street while you're at it. And Upper Street on match days. And Mayfair always.

DO 

Explore the city’s different nightlife – and find your tribe

For all the talk about London’s nightlife dying, the huge diversity of events, promoters and music genres out there says quite the opposite. Technomate is for and by members of the FLINTA* community, Eastern Margins is all about all about platforming talent from east Asia and the diaspora, while Torture Garden throws kink parties. There are even raves specifically for Shrek loversBe aware of the communities these spaces serve and by that we mean: don’t be a dick. 

A crowded dancefloor
Photograph: Shutterstock / Steve Beech

DON’T 

Bring chewing gum into clubs – or if you do, hide it 

You’ll most likely get it taken off you at the door. (I still don’t know why they do this.) 

DO

Take the bus over one of the bridges at night

Yes, it’ll take longer than getting the Tube but it’s also the most main character thing you can possibly do for yourself. When you’re zooming over the water, the lights reflecting on the Thames either side of you, causing you to involuntarily sigh, you’ll know why. 

The Thames at night
Photograph: Shutterstock

DON’T 

Get on the Tube before people have got off

The London Underground is an absolute Wild West, with the worst of the capital’s rudeness on display at all times – but this is just one line we don’t really cross. It would be like putting milk in tea before the water. 

DO 

Keep an eye on your belongings

Pickpockets are everywhere, especially where you least expect it. You’ll be kicking yourself if you can’t film your friend doing some sort of bizzare drinking task at the sports soc initiation just because your phone was nicked from your backpocket in the queue at Gail’s.

DON’T

Do a double-take when (not if) you’re charged more than £7 for a pint

Accept it, move on. This is the life you signed up for.

A pint of beer
Photograph: Shutterstock

DO

Always give yourself an hour to get anywhere

This is my absolute golden rule and it has always served me well. Obviously this doesn’t apply to trips to the pub up the road, but if you’re crossing the city this is a useful marker: you will rarely be late and as a result everyone will love you and invite you to everything. 

DON’T 

Pass up the opportunity to walk 

I’ve lived in London for almost ten years and I still regularly find places I’ve never been to before. One of the coolest things about this place is that there’s weird, cool stuff everywhere, and I usually come across a new square or food stall or little park when I’ve decided to walk somewhere instead of taking public transport. Get your steps in and, like, enrich yourself at the same time.

Rowans bowling alley
Photograph: Andy Parsons

DO 

Go to Rowans

An absolute London rite of passage. I don’t think you can really call yourself a Londoner until you have mished it to Finsbury Park to drink seven frozen cocktails while you lose humiliatingly at bowling and crowdsurf in a karaoke booth, in a nightclub that is basically the birthday party you always dreamed of having as a kid.  

DON’T

Miss what’s right in front of you

Obviously we all love a Maccies and a Starbucks but easily the best thing about London is the fact that it’s home to so many different communities, so make sure you embrace that. Try out the Italian café or the jerk spot or the Cantonese restaurant on your doorstep, because chances are it’ll be banging, especially if there’s always a steady trickle of local residents coming in and out.

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