6 mistakes tourists make in London

Aug 23, 2020

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London is one of the greatest cities in the world. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first time or your twelfth time visiting, whether you’re there for business or pleasure, there’s always something new to see. But in order to make the most of your next trip to the capital, avoid making these common mistakes.

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1. Getting the Tube everywhere

The Tube is the glue of London. Without it, the city effectively grinds to a halt. Getting between the main tourist attractions in central London is not only doable on foot, but it is actually sometimes quicker and more scenic. For example, a common journey fail is from Leicester Square to Covent Garden, which is only 300 metres apart on foot!

So, instead of spending your time in stuffy tunnels, walking means you can see London above the ground, get fresh air and save money.

Related: Guide to the best family-friendly restaurants in London

A tube train standing at the station with the door open, London, UK.
(Photo by Tim Grist Photography/Getty Images)

Other ways to get around include:

  • Santander Cycles: You can hire them for £2 for 24 hours and the first 30 minutes is free. London is extremely cycle-friendly too with lots of cycle lanes and clear signage.
  • Walking: It’s a great way to get in some steps to work off the fish and chips you’ve probably eaten.
  • Thames Clipper/Uber Boat: It’s a little more expensive than the Tube and other forms of public transport, but it’s a fun way to get from one end of the city to the other via boat on the Thames.

Related: Ride on: The ultimate guide to London’s best cycle routes

(Photo courtesy of TfL)

2. Not “Tubing” correctly

Whether you’re a tourist or a local, navigating the London Underground must be done by following a strict set of unwritten rules. Failure to adhere to the rules may result in evil glares, tutting or even passive-aggressive and sarcastic comments from disgruntled fellow passengers.

In this case, ignorance is definitely not bliss, so make sure you’re Tube-savvy.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Let fellow passengers off the Tube before you board;
  • When using the escalators, stand on the right and walk up the left;
  • Don’t block the ticket barriers. If you’re having issues getting through the ticket barrier, speak to a member of TfL staff to assist you rather than blocking others from passing through;
  • Make space. Instead of standing in the middle of the carriages around the doors, move inside the carriage to make it easier for yourself and others to get on and off;
  • Be mindful of others. Give a helping hand to someone who might need it or offer your seat anyone who is pregnant, elderly or could benefit from a sit down more than you could;
  • Take off your backpack. Carrying your backpack in your hand prevents you knocking people flying when turning around;
  • If at all possible, try not to head to or from the airport with your cases during rush hour. While not always possible, this will probably make for an unnecessarily unpleasant first or last memory of London; and
  • Don’t buy tickets. Use your phone and the various contactless payment methods available for a more streamlined Tube experience. You will be charged a maximum of £7 per day for travel on all trains, busses and Tubes within zones 1 and 2.

3. Drinking chain coffee

I get it, you need coffee when you’re jet-lagged or just exhausted from all the walking you’re doing. But you should aim to avoid, where possible, the big chains like Starbucks, Costa and Pret, despite there being one on nearly every street corner. If you explore a bit more, you’ll find an independent spot where the coffee will blow your mind. So, to get started, try some of my personal favourites for size:

  • Fork Deli Patisserie — King’s Cross St. Pancras.
  • Monmouth — London Bridge (Borough Market) and Covent Garden (near Seven Dials).
  • Café de Nata — Soho and Hammersmith.
  • Drury 188-189 — Covent Garden.
  • Caravan — King’s Cross, Exmouth Market and Bankside.

Related: 6 of the best independent coffee shops in London

(Photo courtesy of James Harper/Fork Deli Patisserie)

4. Eating in the wrong places

Contrary to popular belief, food in the U.K. is not terrible. We have earned ourselves this unfortunate reputation because of the many average chain restaurants that litter central London and clog up top tourist attractions.

In an attempt to improve your culinary experience in London and hopefully change attitudes towards British cuisine, venture a little farther out of the centre to areas such as Angel/Islington (Upper Street in particular), Bermondsey, Broadway Market, Shoreditch, Clapham/Battersea and Mercato Metropolitano in Elephant & Castle.

With a little bit of prior research, you’ll find amazing restaurants.

If you do want to stay central, check out some of these favourite chains:

  • Flat Iron — steak to die for that doesn’t break the bank. No reservations, unfortunately, so get there early to avoid queues.
  • El Ganso — a relaxed, authentic Spanish tapas restaurant with pavement seating. The only option better than this is several hundred miles away in Barcelona. No really, it’s that good.
  • Temper Soho — one for the carnivores. You will be served up a whole host of meaty delights fresh out of the open kitchen.
  • Hakkasan (Fitzrovia and Mayfair) — if you eat here, you’ll never forget it. Bring a healthy appetite and a credit card with a high limit.
  • Duck & Waffle — serving you British and European cuisine around the clock. Be sure to make a reservation for whatever time you want to eat, as it gets booked up very quickly.
  • Hutong at the Shard — a contemporary Chinese restaurant located high above the city in the Shard with strong sunset game.

Related: How to spend a Sunday in London

(Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

5. Paying for great views

If you’re travelling to London on a budget or would just rather save your hard-earned cash for other things, then fear not. You can still get to the top of great buildings and see amazing views for free. Forget paying about £30 to go up the Shard or £25 or more for the London Eye, try some of these gems for size.

Related: London from above: Cheap and free alternatives to the London Eye

Sky Garden

This offers some of the best views of London, from the top of 20 Fenchurch Street in the City. Booking is usually available between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and slightly later on a weekend between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. for free.

There are also times when booking is available at 7 a.m. or even earlier when there are early morning yoga classes.

(Photo by Jean Arnas/The Points Guy)

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern boasts panoramic views of London from the south side of the Thames. Opening times are Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s free but it is advised to book a slot in advance.

There are also some great bars and restaurants that offer incredible views of London, including Duck & Waffle at the Heron Tower in the City, Madison at One New Change and Coq d’Argent, also in the City.

If you’re willing to do a bit of adventuring, consider climbing Primrose Hill in north London, which offers impressive views of the city and is nestled in a lovely neighbourhood with coffee shops, pubs and boutiques galore.

My favourite view is from Greenwich Observatory, south east London. A short walk from the main centre of Greenwich Village you are greeted with views of almost the entire capital from Canary Wharf right to into the City in all its skyscraper glory.

(photo by benmm/Getty Images)
(Photo by benmm/Getty Images)

6. Queue jumping

Brits love to think of ourselves as a well-mannered, considerate nation, and we have adapted many a habit displaying such attributes. One such habit is that we queue for everything. If you are doing any of the following, you’ll want to join in: waiting for a bus, going to a tourist attraction or visiting a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations.

Jumping the queue is never an option.

Related: 8 posh family-friendly London hotels

Bottom line

London is generally a fairly easy city to navigate. Everyone speaks English, all signage is in English and there are plenty of transport options, too. Do step out of your comfort zone to experience the best of this amazing city, but don’t make these common tourist mistakes.

Featured photo by mi.london via Twenty20

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