We just returned from spending 10 days in London and all in all we had a great time. We visited several tourist sites but by no means all. We used the tube, buses, and our feet but no cabs. We found places to eat but never came in contact with fish and chips. We saw 2 delightful shows, one of which was Jersey Boys. We walked up to the tkts booth in Leicester Square, bought 2 tickets and found ourselves in great seats. We bumped into the National Portrait Gallery quite by accident and found ourselves in front of the official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. We had very fine weather but again quite by accident we happened upon James Smith & Sons (umbrellas and walking sticks) wherein I bought a travel umbrella and the most beautiful ladies umbrella in the shop. This - in spite of the fact that Los Angeles is having a drought. The umbrella is a work of art: take my word for it.
In truth I over-researched London having spent a lot of time on TA asking questions, seeking clarifications. But it paid off. We had little if any trouble and wasted very little time (the bane of the tourist). The only glitch we encountered was with London Walks at the Tower of London. We had tickets to a show in the afternoon so we expected the walk to begin at 11am and when the guide was still fooling around at 11:15 with collecting money, etc., we left. We hopped back on the tube and headed for Leicester Square. In the process we tripped over the National Portrait Gallery. We thought it a darn good exchange, but it also soured us on London Walks. Had we not had tickets for an afternoon show things might have been different, but as it was we were pressed for time.
I remember an entry out here on TA saying that no matter what we do, we'll be recognized as tourists. What a hoot! Every other person we saw either had a map or a schematic of the tube! Brits coming into London from the outskirts have no more idea about how to get around in London than we did!! The only tube trip where we felt a bit skittish was the trip out of LHR! To someone from Los Angeles the tube is simply an underground freeway with connections and transfers. The confusing thing about the tube is getting your bearings once you're out on the street. For that I had a compass and it proved to be one of the most important items I packed. I can't remember a single entry on TA that even mentioned taking a compass. How else to get your bearings? No point asking anyone for directions: we quickly learned to rely on our own resources.
So, what did we learn that is worth passing on? First, take a compass. It will prove to be indispensable. Second, use London AZ or some other detailed map book to get around. Do not even bother bringing a map because none of them has enough detail to keep you from getting lost. Third, study the tube map before coming to London and at least learn which tube lines go where and how they interconnect. It struck us as totally crazy but standing outside of Buckingham Palace we were giving directions to tourists who were so discombobulated that they didn't know which way was north. My little compass got them on their way again.