London is an incredible city with a rich history, however like any city it can also be a tourist trap that can lead you badly astray if you let it. So we’ve compiled a list of how to avoid the worst tourist mistakes with 10 things to avoid when travelling in London (and of course, what to do instead)!
1. DON’T just show up
London hotels are busy, and often full well ahead of time, especially in tourist season. Showing up at a hotel and expecting to find an open room is likely to end with you footsore and annoyed, six or seven places later, taking the haunted attic room with the murderous reputation because it was literally the last open hotel room in the city.
DO plan ahead
Planning ahead is the life hack most people know about, but one that many don’t apply to their own lives. Whilst it is easy to travel freely without plans in most places, it is essential to plan ahead when travelling to London as is the most vital skill you could possibly have to ensure you enjoy your stay! Book your hotel rooms well ahead of time to make sure that you end up in a beautiful 4-star hotel in Kensington that is ideally located and convenient for what you want to do with your time. Otherwise you risk spending an hour every morning on the tube before you can even start your day.
2. DON’T use taxis
Taxis in London are expensive and usually not the quickest way to get where you are going! Plus, you miss a lot, zipping from one spot to another.
DO ride on public transport (i.e. the tube or buses)
London’s transportation system should be classed as one of the Wonders of the Modern World and is certainly one of the best in the world. Trains are constantly moving, and it’s usually a matter of minutes to get from one place to another. If you accidently get off at the wrong stop, don’t worry as another train will be along in a minute to take you up. While the buses are not as regular as the trains, they do have the benefit of having a view, so you can sight see on the move. Remember to get an Oyster Card! You can get an Oyster card that is valid for a week which allows you to travel as much as you like and works out very well if you’re going to be moving around a lot. Oyster cards are valid for the tube and most buses and are without a doubt the best way to get around London!
3. DON’T be afraid of getting lost
London is an enormously tourist-friendly city. There’s almost always a map nearby where you can figure out where you are and how to get home. If there isn’t a map, ask a random stranger or a police officer – most people will be more than happy to help a friendly stranger find their way.
DO stroll around
Walking around London is a brilliant experience. The city is so full of historic sites that it’s not uncommon to turn a corner and come upon something that you’ve seen in a magazine or on the TV which is a pretty cool experience! There’s no better way to truly feel like a Londoner than by strolling the city on foot.
4. DON’T fall into the tourist traps
Unless they are on your bucket list then some sights are a very expensive waste of time. The view might be impressive but it is very pricey and not always good enough to justify the price tag!
DO walk the walk
The Queen’s Walk runs along the Thames between the Golden Jubilee bridge and Westminster Bridge. It runs past the Eye and through what, on most days, seems like an open-air carnival/theatre. Here you will find jugglers, tumblers, contortionists, mimes and living statues, all plying their trade in the open air. A good route here is to get off the tube at Embankment Station, cross the Thames on the Golden Jubilee bridge, walk along the river while smiling smugly at the mile-long queue of people waiting to go on the Eye, and cross the Thames again on Westminster, which will take you over to Big Ben. Strolling over the Westminster bridge will give you a great view of both the Eye and Big Ben and from there it is just a short stroll to Parliament Square garden, where you can have your picture taken with the statue of the Great Leader of your choice.
5. DON’T go anywhere without an umbrella
You will regret it. Seriously, we’re not even kidding a little. London’s weather is a fickle mistress, and a sunny day can turn soggy without any warning. Most of the tourist stalls will be able to sell you an umbrella, but they’re expensive and really low quality and it’s better to have one on you anyway whenever you are in the UK.
DO pack sensibly for the climate
You’ll probably need at least a light jacket for all but the hottest summer days and during winter you’ll need plenty of layers as well as a great coat! If you’re coming over from Australia or a similar country then our winter clothes probably won’t cut it but luckily there are plenty of excellent shops in the UK where you can purchase appropriate winter gear for a very reasonable price!
6. DON’T skip the Tower or Westminster Abbey
If you’re interested in history at all, you’ll always regret it if you don’t see the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. Both sites offer excellent historical tours which, while pricey, are absolutely worth it. In the Abbey, you can pay your respects to many famous graves and whilst at the Tower you can have a peek at the beautiful Crown Jewels!
DO visit the graveyards
London is an old city, and full of famous icons throughout history. Leave a pen for Douglas Adams at his grave in East Cemetery at Highgate Cemetery and take a guided tour of the West Cemetery to see the Chapel, Egyptian Avenue, and the Catacombs.
7. DON’T only confine yourself to the hottest restaurants
While there are some really fantastic restaurants catering to the elite and top foodies in London, there are some seriously underappreciated hidden gems around as well. Don’t confine yourself to the five-stars, but give places like Le Mercury, Ganapati, and the House of Wolf a go as well.
DO try the street fare
London’s street food scene is huge. From night markets like Dinerama and Dalston Yard’s Street Feast, to Camden Lock markets and Borough Market to Anna Mae’s mobile mac n’cheese and Mama Wang’s, the variety is vast and the quality impressive. You won’t want to miss them!
8. DON’T just see something in the West End
London has a great theatre scene, but it would be a mistake to think that all the best shows will be there. Have a look around, you might find something really amazing being done in a poky little theatre which you’ve randomly stumbled across!
DO catch a show
London really does have a great theatre scene. Like, really, really great. And London is simply covered in great, tiny theatres doing really interesting work. Try the Ovalhouse or the New London Theatre. Or if you’re going for the classics, see a Shakespeare play performed at the Globe Theatre.
9. DON’T try to do everything
London as a city is over a thousand years old. That iss a lot of time to accumulate history, interesting things to do, and culture. If you try to see everything London in a week, you will end up poor, footsore, and disappointed. To put it in perspective… I lived in the UK for two years and still haven’t seen and done everything in London!
Decide beforehand what the most important things are that you want to do. Budget enough time to do those things, and fill in any time left over with the less important things. London is filled with surprising sites around every corner and so make sure you leave some flexibility in your schedule as you are guaranteed to stumble across something awesome! On one weekend in London in December last year we stumbled across a pop up Rekorderlig Cider Lounge with real live fire pits on South Bank and it was amazing – we had a drink, enjoyed the music and relaxed by the fire! I love finding exciting things like this that you didn’t even know existed and trust me London is full of things like this!
10. DON’T follow the guidebooks
Guidebooks have their place when you’re planning your trip. They are useful to find places to see and things to do. But leave the book behind when you get on the plane, and experience the city through your own eyes. You’d be amazed at what London could show you if you just let it.
DO talk to the locals
Londoners are enormously proud of their city. Strike up a conversation with a shop keeper, waiter or other friendly Londoner and they will be able to tell you ten things no guidebook author ever knew. Joining a walking tour or hiring one of the ‘Boris Bikes’ are also fantastic ways to see parts of London you didn’t even know existed and learn things about the city hardly anyone would know!
Have you been to London? What other tips would you add to our list?
Or is London on your bucket list? What sites are at the top of that list? x