Last year I went on holiday to Amsterdam and before my trip I read SO many articles about how much cycling is part of the culture and how fun it is, etc. However, what they failed to tell you was that cyclists basically rule the road in Amsterdam and how pedestrians are a second thought – Something I wish I knew! I can’t tell you how many times I was shouted at and how many times I nearly got knocked over!
Yes, it is a little funny but the moral on this story is while it’s nice to know what you should do in London, I think it’s also very important to list out the mistakes people make so you don’t make them as well. Hopefully, by reading this blog it means you’ll have the best trip possible!
Here are 20 mistakes tourists make in London that you should definitely avoid.
20. Paying for a view of London
There are lots of great places in London you can pay to view the city from the sky. However, what a lot of people don’t know is there are plenty of free places you can go too. The ones I’d recommend would be The Sky Garden, Alexandra Palace, Parliament Hill and the Tate Modern. I’ve rounded up a bunch of places where to see FREE views of London. Check it out here.
19. Scheduling a whole day for Piccadilly Circus
In reality, Piccadilly Circus is a very small part of London with a big reputation. There is not a huge amount going on except for a lot of tourists, the famous billboards and the statue of eros. You certainly won’t need to schedule in a day or even half a day to see it. I’d suggest taking a snap or two when you’re on your way to surrounding areas like Soho, Covent Garden and Regent Street.
18. Hiring a taxi from the airport
Yes, it’s super convenient but it can also be super expensive! Getting a taxi from the airport into central London can cost anything from £50+ for a single journey. Not to mention the hefty traffic that could see you sitting in a jam for hours. Public transport is actually really good in London, so instead check out my comprehensive transport guide for all of the different options of how to get to and from the airport from as little as £7!
17. Thinking you have to have a hotel in the centre of town
When you go on holiday It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking you have to stay right in the centre of town (Zone 1). If you have a huge budget that’s fine, but as I mentioned above, public transport is really convenient so you don’t need to and staying in the surrounding areas (Zones 2 & 3) means it’ll probably be cheaper and you will also experience a bit more individual personality of London. If you’re unsure what zones mean check out my area guide here.
16. Not booking in advance for the best rates.
You don’t want to be wasting your holiday stuck in queues. Whether it’s restaurants or attractions, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS book in advance. A lot of the time if you book online first, you’ll get a few pounds off.
15. Not planning your day
Being spontaneous is great but if you don’t plan, even a little, you might end up hopping from one area of London to the next and not using your time (or money!) as effectively as you could. Check out my blog on How To Efficiently Plan Your Trip in 4 Easy Steps.
14. Pronouncing things wrong
I love sitting on the tube listening to people’s pronunciation of different places in London. My favourite is Leicester Square usually pronounced ‘Li-chester Square’. This video tells you the most common ones you can study to avoid embarrassment before you arrive.
13. Not taking advantage of free stuff
The great thing about London is you don’t have to have the biggest budget to enjoy it. There is SO much free stuff to do here but remember, you do have to do a bit of research beforehand. I have a list of 100 (Yes, 100!) totally FREE things to do in London. You can download it right here.
12. Staying in Central London too much
Whatever you do please don’t stay in Central London for your whole trip. Expand your days out to zone 2/3 at least (see explanation of zones here) and you’ll have a lot less ‘touristy’ experience and get to hang out with the people who really live in those areas. For example, Hackney has some really cool things to see and do. Also, Hampstead has a lovely, local ‘villagey’ feel to spend an afternoon.
11. Not bringing a decent camera
Imagine paying a lot of money for your trip to London only to get home, look at your photos and realise they don’t do it justice. Investing in a decent camera for this trip and future trips is a must. I’ve put some suggestions here of some of the top cameras you can buy ranging from high-end pieces to more affordable ones.
10. Visiting Big Ben to take a picture
Big Ben is undergoing a multi-million-pound refurbishment at the moment so if you’re reading this before August 2021 he will be covered in scaffolding I’m afraid. He’s also stopped chiming on the hour (except for very special occasions) So whatever you do, don’t make plans to get a photograph in front of it until after 2021.
9. Buying inflated theatre tickets
If you’re looking for tickets to the theatre you’ll want to buy from someone part of the STAR scheme. STAR stands for Secure Tickets from Authorised Retailers and they have a list here of all the reputable companies you can buy from on their website which you can find here. For last-minute theatre deals I’d recommend TodayTix who have a great app you can download. Plus, they don’t sell any restricted view seats. Lots of theatres in London also run a lottery you can enter every day to win tickets as well as a great day seat scheme where you can buy tickets on the day at selected theatres for a LOT cheaper than they usually are. I have a whole guide on how to get cheap London theatre tickets right here.
8. Not checking the weather
￼The weather in London is really fickle. It can be raining and cold one day then gloriously warm the next. Check the weather every day before you leave the house – don’t chance it!
7. Getting to famous ‘Instagram spots’ too late
The world has gone Instagram crazy and there are some very famous spots in London that people LOVE having their picture taken outside to upload to the social media site. If you do want that signature Instagram snap, my top tip would be to go as early (and I mean as early) as you possibly can – preferably sunrise or get there just as it opens. Otherwise, if you don’t get there early you will either be stuck in a queue or your photo will be full of crowds of people. I found this great article that lists all the top Instagram spots to visit in London.
6. Standing on the left side of the escalator
If there is anything that Londoners hate it’s tourists standing on the left of the escalator. Remember – the right is for standing and the left is for those who want to walk down. Don’t mix the two.
5. Getting the tube places when you can walk quicker
When I first moved to London I took the tube from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square which if you know London you’ll know it’s about a 1-minute walk between them. TFL has created this very helpful walking map which tells you walking times between stations so you can use your time (& money) more efficiently.
4. Doing Expensive Sight-Seeing Tours
One great thing about London is it is totally walkable. Especially for the key sights, you’ll want to see. Don’t pay for an expensive sightseeing tour, do my FREE self guided tour instead that takes you past 20+ top London landmarks.
3. Not buying an oyster card or using contactless
Do not and I repeat DO NOT buy single journey tickets in London. Instead, make sure you get a Visitor Oyster card which is an electronic card you ‘charge’ to use as credit on your journey. It works out a LOT cheaper and requires a lot less fussing around. Plus you can order it and have it delivered to you even before you arrive in London. Alternatively, if your debit card has the contactless function you can use this the same as an Oyster Card. The only difference is you can’t top it up, it just debits from your account. For lots, more information about what tickets to buy for your trip read my transport guide click here.
2. Not experiencing the independent foodie gems & going to too many tourist traps.
One thing that really annoys me is when people go on holiday and eat and drink at ‘chain’ places they could easily eat at home. What’s the point of travelling if you’re not going to experience the culture of the city you’re in. right? For example, you could go to Starbucks for a coffee or instead you could try Monmouth Coffee, a cute, independent London based coffee house. Another example would be rather than going to Pizza Hut try somewhere like Franco Manca who are an artisan pizza joint that is not just tasty by really affordable too.
1. Not using the buses as your personal (& free tour guide)
You could do an expensive ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus tour or you could ride a regular London bus that will take you around the major sights in London and costs just £1.50 a ride or £4.50 for the whole day of unlimited travel. Here are some suggestions of routes to take to experience the iconic sights on London.
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