Ask the Expert: London Etiquette for Newcomers

London Planner’s Chris Johnson outlines his essential guide to social etiquette – if you’re visiting London for the first time (or anywhere else in England, actually) then read his tips on understanding the social rules that Londoners follow every day.

You are walking down a busy street when you hear somebody tutting loudly behind you. Congratulations! You have just broken London’s notorious code of social etiquette. 
Don’t panic, though: by adhering to a few simple rules, we will have you blending in like a local in no time.

Going Underground
London Underground carries 1.37 billion passengers every year and the only way this operation can run as smoothly as it does is by ensuring we observe some basic rules of etiquette:

  • Do not try and board a rush hour train with a whole set of luggage. Just don’t. If you must get on with a bulging rucksack, take it off and put it on the floor between your feet. Otherwise, you risk knocking out half of the people in the carriage with every swing of your shoulders.
  • Allow passengers to disembark from the train before trying to board it. During rush hour, it’s a battle you won’t win!
  • Finally, the left side of the escalator is for walking. Those who wish to stand should move over to the right.

If you have received a service you are happy with, feel free to tip. In restaurants, it is customary to leave a tip of 10%-12.5% of the bill to your waiter. Check to see if a service charge has not already been added to your bill, though.

A whole lot of shaking going on
Londoners are not great at public displays of affection; hugs and kisses are not that usual, especially if you are meeting somebody for the first time. However, we do love to shake hands with absolutely everyone we meet. Then, when we part ways we shake hands all over again.

Londoners love to say sorry. So, if you walk into somebody whilst taking a selfie, do say sorry. And don’t be surprised if we say sorry back. We can’t help it. Sorry.


We don’t do it. Ever. So, get in line like the rest of us.

Do not try to haggle in shops. Haggling is best kept for when you are at a market, of which London has many!

And finally: do not try walking down Oxford Street while simultaneously reading your smart phone. London is happening all around you!

Chris Johnson is London Planner’s content director
London Underground image © iStock

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