Mistakes tourists make in London and how to avoid them

Tourists in London

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While there are a lot of articles out there telling you what you should be doing when visiting London for the first time, it’s also good to know what you shouldn’t.

In this article, I’ve outlined the common London tourist mistakes, from breaking tube etiquette to unnecessarily overpaying, and how you can avoid them…


Here are 13 big mistakes tourists make in London…

…and what you should be doing instead:


1. Getting a taxi from the airport

London black cabs

While in many cities, jumping in a taxi from the airport is certainly the quickest and most convenient way to get to the city centre, this is not the case in London.

If you’re flying into Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or Luton, a taxi can cost you £50+, with the heavy traffic going into the city meaning that your journey will probably take longer than public transport anyway.

How to do it instead:

London’s airports are all well connected to the city centre by train, underground and bus, so be sure to check out your public transport options before jumping in a taxi and wasting money you could be spending on the rest of your trip instead.

Check out my other posts for more information:



2. Not planning in advance

Not only is London a huge city but it’s also pretty spread out, meaning if you don’t plan at least a rough itinerary in advance you’ll probably spend the majority of your trip on public transport jumping between different areas and attractions instead of exploring in a more organised fashion.

How to do it instead:

Have an idea of what area of the city the attractions you want to visit are in and make sure you plan your days around this, spending each day ticking off places which are close to one another.

If you need help planning, check out some of my pre-planned itineraries…



3. Not bringing an umbrella

People with umbrellas in London England

No matter what time of year you’re visiting London, you’re going to want to pack an umbrella just to be on the safe side. Even in the middle summer, rainy days aren’t uncommon and if you’re not prepared then you’ll probably end up forking out for a tacky overpriced one in a tourist shop instead.

How to do it instead:

Pack an umbrella or light raincoat and make sure to have them handy.

Don’t forget to check out my full post on the best things to do in London when it rains.



4. Standing on the wrong side of the escalator

London tube stand on right

Stand on the wrong side of the escalator or block the whole thing and not only will you point yourself out as a tourist immediately but you’ll also p**s off a lot of angry Londoners.

How to do it instead:

Stand on the right, walk on the left! 



5. Buying paper tickets for public transport

While paper tickets were the way to go in London many years ago, transport technology has advanced greatly since then. Instead, you’ll find most Londoners using their contactless bank card or an Oyster Card to tap on and off of public transport.

How to do it instead:

If you’re visiting London and have a contactless payment card then that should be your first option for using on the tube and buses, however, if you don’t then you can invest in an Oyster Card instead of buying lots of individual paper tickets.

An Oyster Card can be purchased from any ticket machine at train and tube stations around London for just £5 (which you can get back if you return the card at the end of your trip). You can then top the card as you go or go online and connect it to your bank account so the card is topped up automatically.



6. Travelling during rush hour

London Underground Busy

Something anyone who has lived in or visited London will tell you, rush hour on the London underground can get pretty manic! Trains are full, platforms are full, stations are full… If you’re a fan of personal space then it’s not the place you want to be.

How to do it instead:

If you can, try to avoid travelling on the tube between roughly 7:30 and 09:30 in the morning and between 17:00 and 19:00 in the evening on weekdays.



7. Getting public transport when you can walk

Walking tube map LondonWhile you will probably need to use public transport quite a bit during your time in London, don’t make the common mistake of overusing it. Just because two places are connected by the tube, doesn’t mean that you have to take it. Some places are so close to each other that it’s actually quicker to travel by foot.

How to do it instead:

Check out this list of London tube journeys that are quicker by foot or the map above showing all of the walking times between stations on the same line.



8. Not making the most of discounts for major attractions

Many of London’s most popular tourist attractions, such as the London Eye, Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace etc. come with a pretty hefty price tag and can certainly add up if you want to visit them all.

However, there are also plenty of different combination tickets, discount cards and special offers that could save you money by booking your tickets and deals in advance. Don’t panic buy all of your attraction tickets for the full price without doing your research in advance.

How to do it instead:

Search around for discounts, special offers and combo deals before you book.

If you do want to visit a lot of the major paid tourist attractions, see whether a city card such as the London Pass might be able to save you money on the places you want to visit.



9. Not taking advantage of the free attractions

Natural History Museum in South Kensington London

London’s Natural History Museum

London has long held a reputation as being one of the most expensive cities in the world, and while I can’t deny that there are some attractions in London which are pretty expensive (see above), it’s actually surprisingly easy to enjoy London on a budget by visiting the city’s many free attractions.

How to do it instead:

London has numerous free attractions which anyone can visit, from exploring the bustling markets such as Camden and Borough, searching for street art in Shoreditch, enjoying the capitals beautiful parks or spending an afternoon wandering around one of the many free museums and galleries.

For even more inspiration, check out these 50 free things to do in London.



10. Paying for a view

Living in London for Cheap

The Sky Garden

Leading on from my previous point, most first-time visitors to London will head straight to the capitals tallest building The Shard and pay £25+ per person to visit it’s viewing platform and admire it’s undoubtedly stunning views out over the city below.

But did you know that there are several other places in the City of London where you can enjoy similar views without spending a penny?

How to do it instead:

Head to the Sky Garden, London’s highest green space, on the 43rd floor of the Walkie Talkie building. Visiting the Sky Garden and taking in its amazing panoramic views across the city is completely free, you just need to pre-book your date and time slot (bookings open 3 weeks in advance).

Another option which you don’t have to book in advance is the cafe and viewing level of the Tate Modern art gallery on the south bank of the River Thames.



11. Buying full-price theatre tickets

If there is one particular show you’re desperate to see, and especially if that show is one of the most popular, buying full-price tickets far in advance might be your best option.

But for those who are looking for the London theatre experience rather than a specific show, there are plenty of ways to find cheap and discounted last-minute tickets!

How to do it instead:

Head to the TXTs booth in Leicester Square the day you want to see a show and see what last-minute tickets they have on sale.



12. Wasting time looking for ‘British’ food

Meatballs and potatoes, Spanish tapas brunch at Las Banderas in Soho

Spanish tapas brunch at Las Banderas in Soho

One of the top mistakes tourists make in London is spending their entire trip looking for and eating stereotypical ‘British food’ such as fish and chips or roast dinners.

I can tell you now that not even us Londoners do that. It’s pretty common knowledge that fish and chips are better outside of the capital (head to the seaside towns instead), while roast dinners are almost always better homemade – but if you’re desperate to try one check out my guide on where to find the best Sunday roast in London.

England isn’t exactly a country which is known for its world-class ‘local cuisine’.

How to do it instead:

Being such a diverse and multicultural city, London is far better known for its amazing selection of international restaurants and street food stalls… and that’s where you’ll be sure to find all of the locals eating too!

Try Brick Lane for the best curry houses in the city, Knightsbridge for delicious Middle Eastern food and Mercato Metropolitano for a whole array of Italian market vendors.

Plus pretty every other nationality of food you could possibly imagine.



13. Not venturing away from the main tourist attractions

Regents Canal London

Yes, there are several big attractions in London which every visitor wants to visit, such as Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, London Eye and Tower Bridge (and I do definitely recommend visiting them), however, London is so much more than it’s iconic landmarks.

How to do it instead:

There are loads of beautiful hidden gems all across London which tourists definitely don’t make the most of. To see the real London, try taking a stroll from Regents Park to Camden Market down the charming Regents Canal, explore the WWII ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East, head for brunch at a local cafe in Fulham or go for drinks at a quirky bar in Shoreditch.




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Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the southwest. She has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works full-time running this blog and as a freelance travel writer, splitting her life between London and travelling the world as a digital nomad.

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