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6 mistakes tourists make in London

May 31, 2020
8 min read
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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials' guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

London is one of the greatest cities in the world. It doesn't matter whether it's your first time visiting or your 12th time visiting, whether you're visiting 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 city, avoid making these make mistakes.

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 made is from Leicester Square to Covent Garden, which are only a mere 1,000 feet apart. So, instead of spending your time in dirty tunnels, walking means you see London above the ground and perhaps discover things that you wouldn’t have had you got the tube.

Other ways to get around include:

  • Santander Cycles: You can hire them for $2.50 for 24 hours for journeys of up to 30 minutes. The city has recently invested in cycle lanes and the safety of cyclists.
  • Walking: It's a great way to get in some steps to work off the fish and chips you've probably eaten.
  • River Bus: It's a little more expensive than the Tube and other forms of public transport, but it's a scenic way to get from one of the city to the other via boat on the Thames.
(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 said 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:

  1. Let fellow passengers off the Tube before you board.
  2. When using the escalators, stand on the right and walk up the left.
  3. 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.
  4. Make space. Instead of standing in the middle of the carriages around the doors, move inside the car to make it easier for yourself and others to get on and off the Tube.
  5. Be mindful of others. Give a helping hand to someone who might need it by offering them your seat should you notice they are pregnant, elderly or could benefit from a sit down more than you could.
  6. Take off your backpack. Carrying your backpack in your hand prevents you knocking people flying when turning around.
  7. 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.
  8. Don’t buy tickets. Using your phone and the various contactless payment methods available for a more streamlined Tube experience. You will be charged a maximum of $8.60 per day for travel on all trains, busses and Tube within zones 1-2.

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 coffee shop where the coffee will blow your mind. So, to get started, try some of my personal favorites for size:

Fork Deli Patisserie — 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

Photo by James Harper/Fork Deli Patisserie

4. Eating in the Wrong Places

Contrary to popular belief, food in the UK is not crap. We have earned ourselves this unfortunate reputation because of the many average chain restaurants that litter Central London and swarm top tourist attractions.

In attempt to improve your culinary experience in London and hopefully change the attitude toward British cuisine, venture a little farther out of the center 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.

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If you did want to stay central, check out some of these favorites:

  • Flat Iron — Steak to die for that doesn't break the bank. No reservations unfortunately, so get there early to avoid lines.
  • El Ganso — A relaxed, authentic Spanish tapas restaurant with pavement seating. The only option better than this is a few 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.
  • Duck and 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.
Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy

5. Paying for Great Views

If you’re traveling 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 $40 to go up The Shard or $30+ for the London Eye, try some of these gems for size.

Sky Garden

This offers some of the best views of London. Booking is usually available between the hours of 10am-6pm during the week and slightly later on a weekend between 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 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

Tate Modern boasts 360° views of London from the south side of the Thames. Opening times are Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

There are also some great bars and restaurants that offer incredible views of the city, including Duck and Waffle, Madisons One New Change and Coq d'Argent.

If you're willing to do a bit of adventuring, consider Primrose Hill in North London, which gives impressive views of the city and is nestled in a lovely neighborhood with coffee shops, pubs and boutiques galore.

My favorite view of them all is from Greenwich Observatory. A short walk from the main center of Greenwich Village, just east of London, you are greeted with views of almost the entire city from Canary Wharf right to The City and all of the skyscrapers in their glory.

View from Greenwich Observatory.

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, going to a popular restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. Jumping the line is never an option.