People always fall over themselves to tell you what you should be doing in London, but what about things to avoid? This list has been compiled by a pair of Londoners to help any visitor avoid the worst of our great city!
1 Don’t forget to get an Oyster. This isn’t advice to eat shellfish – I’m telling you to get an Oyster card, which will save you lots of money on public transport. And don’t forget to touch out as well as in.
2 Don’t spend less than a whole morning or afternoon in the British Museum. If you’re interested in antiquities then make that a whole day. There’s so much in the museum: from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt to superb sculptures from India and China and a whole Korean house reconstructed. You’ll rush around seeing nothing if you try to do it faster.
3 Don’t go to an ‘Irish’ pub. They are not traditional English pubs and many are branches of multinational businesses designed to promote an atmosphere of ersatz Irishness. Find a proper English pub instead – the Seven Stars, Old Mitre or Princess Louise of Holborn are all great pubs, as are any featured in our historic pub series covering the City and south London. Or look for a Fuller’s or Young’s pub for a decent pint. If you really want to experience an authentic Irish pub, go to Ireland!
4 Don’t spend money on guides! The British Museum, V&A, and National Gallery all provide free ones – even better, they hold regular free talks which you can learn about at the information desk. These are usually given by an expert curator and focus on particular exhibits. Recently at the British Museum I tagged along on a guide to South American cultures, learning more about the Incas than I ever got from books.
5 Don’t bother with London Bridge. Yes, there is still a London Bridge, but it’s not the one that’s “falling down” – the marvellous medieval bridge with turrets and houses was demolished in the 1750s. And the lovely 19th century bridge by Rennie was sold off – it’s now in Arizona! What you see today is just pre-stressed concrete and not all that impressive in my view.
6 Don’t get a bus tour – use your feet instead! I know bus tours seem attractive, particularly the ‘hop on hop off’ variety. But the downsides are many: they can’t go down side streets, they get blocked by traffic and you won’t see the most interesting parts of London from them. If you just want to use a ‘red bus’, the Routemaster is still in use on ‘heritage routes’ e.g. the no. 9 (from Aldwych along the Strand and Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner) and the no. 15 (Trafalgar Square, along the Strand and Fleet Street to Tower Hill) – for the price of a standard fare with your Oyster Card.
7 Don’t be a prisoner of the Circle Line! A lot of tourists seem to never leave the middle of London. They miss some lovely, vibrant neighbourhoods – Hoxton with its art scene and Vietnamese cafes, Broadway market in the East End, Southall with its Asian shops and restaurants (buy a sari, eat carrot halwa, etc.), or Greenwich with its fabulous views of London across the Thames.
8 Don’t forget that London has a river! Strolling along the riverside can be a relaxing way to spend an afternoon – or you could take one of the riverboats to Greenwich or Hampton Court.
9 Don’t miss the back streets. Some of the best things in London are down the back streets – like the Jamaica Wine House (in the City), the Texan Embassy (in an alleyway off St James’s), Ben Franklin’s House (in a little street near Charing Cross). Poke your nose down the back streets and alleyways to see a more intimate and interesting side of London.
10 Don’t bother with “chain” restaurants. There is for example a group of steakhouses (with bright red signs) which have been around for years and still look the same. They appear to depend on the tourist trade rather than repeat business from Londoners. There are also ubiquitous fast food chains with unmemorable, unhealthy food. Instead, discover a world of culinary diversity in London by being adventurous.
If you agree with this list of “no-nos”, you may also enjoy our suggested London hotel crawl, an intimate tour of the city’s secret churches, our guide to London nightlife or our perfect London cultural itinerary.