Known for centuries as The Big Smoke, London has been a favored tourist destination for many years. Visitors come from every corner of the planet to revel in the delights it has to offer. From world-class museums, incredible culinary experiences, and top-rated theaters to charming pubs, bustling streets, and out-of-this-world nightlife.
As cliche as it sounds, this large metropolis has something for everyone. Whether you’re here on business, for a family vacation, for a romantic getaway, or simply just want to experience what everyone is talking about, London will give you it and so much more. If it’s your first time you’ll want to experience all the usual tourist attractions, however, there are some very common mistakes every tourist makes.
While most of these mistakes are harmless, some could cost you both money and time. Our list of things to avoid in London will help you make the most out of your trip. You’ll be able to fit in like a local and experience the otherwise unseen parts of London while still seeing some of London’s major tourist hotspots. So take notes and make the most out of our capital.
Table of Contents
1. Not Utilizing Public Transport
London has an incredible network of public transport. From the infamous underground to the buses, river buses, and the black cab, you’re never too far away from a stop. For someone not used to London transport, some of these services may take a bit of time to research and understand but the time will be worth it once you realize how cheaply you can get from one end of the city to the other with relative ease.
Getting an oyster card will be your best friend for now and for years to come when traveling in London. These pay-as-you-go cards automatically process payments across all types of transport options and have a daily price cap so no matter how many times you tap it will cost you far less than a one-day travel card or several one-way tickets. It also means no more long queues so you’ll have more time to explore and enjoy your vacation.
Another great thing about public transport is that you can even get from London to Bangkok without flying.
2. Only Seeing The Most Popular Sights
Another thing to avoid in London is only visiting the most popular sights. Every tourist makes this one mistake. While this is good, don’t spend all your time at them, London is filled to the brim with something amazing around every corner. There is so much more to the city than The Shard, Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Tower of London. While these are good bucket list items to tick off, spend some time exploring the many green spaces around London, walking the streets, and visiting the local cafes.
London also has a wealth of things to do that cost absolutely nothing. For history buffs visiting the Mithraeum is a must as you’ll discover a Roman temple dedicated to the mysterious figure of Mithras. For garden lovers, take a walk around the Barbican Conservatory, the Sky Garden, and Hampstead Heath. For those looking for something truly unique, take a look at Walthamstow’s neon gem at God’s Own Junkyard.
3. Leaving Without Sampling a British Pint
Pubs in the UK are at the center of everyone’s social life. They are a great place to meet friends, family, work colleagues, go out for dinner, or as a place to start drinking before hitting the nightclubs. So it’s worth remembering that the capital has one on almost every street corner, so it would be rude to leave London without sampling a pint. For a quintessentially English experience join the ‘after-work-crowds’ and order a pint from the bar.
You’ll need to specify the lager or ale you want instead of just asking for ‘a beer’ and tipping is not expected. Depending on where you are in the world, some pubs offer table service, English pubs don’t work like that. You’ll actually have to go to the bar and order your drink, or if you’re visiting a Wetherspoons, download the app and order on there, the drink will then be brought to your table.
4. Not Planning Ahead
As with many tourist hotspots, planning ahead is essential to avoid disappointment. If you want to see a show at the West End, then you’ll want to make sure you book tickets beforehand as certain shows sell out pretty quickly, the same can be said for the London Eye. They have limited capacity, so to avoid long queues and running the risk of not getting on at all, bookings are a must.
If you plan ahead you’ll be able to make sure you can get from one place to the next with relative ease and as an added bonus booking in advance can equate to considerable savings. You’ll also be able to make sure you stay in the safest areas around London. Planning ahead also means you can work out your itinerary and not overload, which brings us nicely to our next point.
5. Overloading Your Itinerary
A lot of tourists underestimate just how big London really is. They cram their itinerary full of all the things they want to see and do and expect to be able to see it all in one trip. Sadly, you won’t be able to. To really enjoy all that London has to offer will involve multiple return trips. So don’t feel disheartened if you aren’t able to visit everything.
There’s a common saying in London that’s eerily accurate, ‘no matter where you go in the city, everything in London is 40 minutes away from the other’. So expect to spend at least 40 minutes in transit going to any given place, which is why overloading your itinerary is never a good idea. Make sure you plan to do things that are all in similar areas or along the same train line, this will stop you from jumping all over the map.
Leave a bit of breathing room too so that you aren’t super stressed out and always in a rush, sometimes it’s nice to be able to choose to walk somewhere instead of hopping on the underground or a bus. After all, you’re on vacation, you’re here to enjoy yourselves not wear yourselves out.
6. Underestimating The Size Of Museums
Some museums that you visit are often small and may not have a lot in them, however, that’s not the case in London. The city has some of the biggest and best museums in the world; the British Museum, in particular, has a staggering 8 million item collection of artifacts.
Many tourists will spend hours exploring the first couple of galleries in a museum, reading all the information boards and before they know it, half the day has gone and you still have four more galleries to look around. They’ll then rush around the rest before it closes.
You’ll be happy to know that most of the museums in London are free, so plan to visit a few over a couple of days so you can make the most of them. If you don’t get around one in a day, come back to where you left off the next day. The museums will be there for the foreseeable so you can always plan to make a return trip if you run out of time on your vacation.
7. Underestimating The Weather
The weather in the UK is notoriously changeable. It’s not unheard of to experience every season over the course of a couple of hours or even a day. A lot of tourists underestimate just how cold it can get in winter and how hot it can get in summer.
While you probably won’t need a bathing suit or Arctic apparel, you will want to pack clothes you can layer up. Just make sure the top layer is waterproof, as there can be a fair bit of rain and it is the reason the stereotypical view of London exists.
8. Going Shopping On The Weekend
Everyone loves a good shopping spree, but if there is one thing you should avoid in London, it’s shopping over the weekend. Now, if you love big crowds and are a real people person, then you can skip this point. However, if you don’t then you’ll want to read on.
Just like New York, London has some truly incredible shops. From the infamous shopping scene down Oxford Street to the opulence of Harrods, it’s these famous shopping streets and stores that make London so popular, especially on weekends. Not only is everyone not at work, but everyone is looking for things to do to keep themselves busy.
The crowds aren’t the only reason to avoid shopping on the weekends, some shops may not even be open. You also have reduced shopping hours on a Sunday, so you’ll be hard pushed to explore and find bargains as you’ll only have till 4 pm in most places. Aim to go shopping during the week for a more laid-back experience.
9. Not Sampling All The Culinary Delights London Has To Offer
Many people may not realize this but London is one of the best hubs for culinary delights. From independent coffee shops, cake shops, and cafes to chain restaurants, epic street food, and Michelin star dining. It’s a multicultural city that’s bursting at the seams with delightful food from around the world.
The list of places to go for some of the best foods is endless.
For swanky upmarket fare head to Mayfair, for low-cost local bites head to Spitalfields Market, for contemporary Asian-influenced cuisine head to Soho, and for vegan delights head to Tower Hamlets. Be sure to check out some of the best restaurants in London before you head off home.