Having grown up in America, I know first hand the type of coverage that makes it onto local and national news about places around the world. If you’re asking, “Is London safe,” it might be because you, too, have seen the news stories and the articles over the years about “no go zones” and knife crime and terrorist attacks and whatever else.
I’ve also lived in or near London as an American for roughly the past 7 years, and I’ve experienced walking through the city as a solo woman late at night, commuting on the tube every day, and just generally going about my life in this amazing city that so many people call home.
The first thing I want to tell you before we get into safety tips for London (especially if you’re a parent of a London study abroad student because you’re probably freaking out the most) is that, in my experience, London not only feels safe, but is safe.
Of course, everywhere has their problems. It’s a big city, and you have to take big city precautions as you go around town, but did you know that in 2018, the murder rate in London went to an all-time high and New York City’s murder rate hit a low? Now you’re like, wait, what?! I am even more terrified!
Maybe, until I tell you that that means that there were 289 murders in New York City last year and 134 in London. A “high crime” period in London has nothing on many major US cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and others. And maybe you’re now thinking, “Okay, but I am scared of this cities as well!”
Seriously, don’t worry. London is an incredibly safe city and there are no such thing as “no go zones,” nowhere you could find yourself as a tourist in London that would be too terrifying to deal with, no reason that you shouldn’t feel safe and happy traveling here.
To put it in perspective, my British husband is terrified to go to America because he worries about guns, as guns are very hard to get access to in the UK and he did not grow up in a culture of shooting drills or gun crime.
But this article isn’t to teach you about London gun crime and murders because that’s not the sort of thing you need to worry about. Instead, you’re wondering, “Is London safe?” because you want to know about your bag being stolen or walking in the dark by yourself. So here are 23 London safety tips to keep in mind.
London Safety Tips
1. Keep Your Phone in Your Pocket
One of the most prevalent crimes that happens in London are people riding up alongside pedestrians on their mopeds, snatching their phones out of their hands, and then continuing on their journey so you never see your phone again. They aren’t out to injure you, but they also aren’t going to be gentle either.
The best way to combat this? Simply don’t have your phone waving about as you walk along on the sidewalk. If you do need to look at directions, go off to the side or closer to the building. I carry my phone with me in London every day, but I just try to be aware of my surroundings and keep it closer to my body.
2. Mind the Gap
For your physical safety in London, you should take note of the “mind the gap” announcements in tube stations and when stepping on and off the tube. At some stations, there are major gaps in between the platform and the train and your foot (or your entire body in a few cases) could easily fall in there if you’re not careful.
3. Don’t Bring or Carry Valuables if Not Necessary
The first way to not lose valuables or get them stolen from you in London is to leave them at home. As someone who walks around London every day, I have never had anything stolen from me or pickpocketed. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but just that there is not more of a risk than any other big city.
But still – really weigh up what you need to take with you to London and don’t take anything valuable that you don’t absolutely need. Your finest jewelry can stay home, for instance.
4. Leave Your Passport in Your Hotel Room or Accommodation
I know that it can feel scary to leave your passport behind when you’re out touring, but I truly think this is the best option. You should be staying somewhere where you trust that your belongings will be safe there, anyway, and the chances of you either losing your belongings while out or getting them stolen are much higher than someone breaking into your accommodation and stealing your passport. Both chances are very small, of course, but I just think taking your passport out with you is asking for trouble when you don’t need it.
5. Forget the Money Belts
Hey, look, a London safety tip telling you to not be safe?! What?! I feel like there is a thing where all Americans feel like they need “money belts” to travel anywhere in Europe to keep your money tucked away safely. If this really floats your boat, you’re welcome to do it, but London just isn’t the place where you need something like this.
I carry my wallet around everyday in my backpack and purse and have had no issues or even the slightest instance where something could have been taken from me. I’m probably tempting fate here, and I don’t recommend you keep valuables in outer pockets of backpacks, but there is a balance being sensible and feeling like you need to strap everything with duct tape to your skin while having 18 layers of protection over you.
6. Be Aware of Where Your Belongings Are
Obviously the caveat that comes with Tip 5 is to make sure that you know where your belonging are at all times. Particularly when on public transportation, carry your bag or backpack in your front so you can see it, and if you’re in a busy or crowded area, pay extra attention. I wouldn’t leave wads of cash sticking out of your back pocket, you know?
7. Take Note of Serial Codes
If something does get stolen, the police will have a much easier time tracking it down if you can provide them with pictures and serial codes of the items (say laptops or phones or tablets) that were taken. Without that, they may never be able to recover your item because this is a big city where lots of things get misplaced or go missing, not some rural town in Kentucky where there is only one theft a month.
The more information you can provide about your items, the better.
8. Plan Your Transportation Ahead of Time
London runs on public transportation, and when people want to get places faster than that, they take a cab or an Uber. The best way to make sure you’re not stranded somewhere or unsure how to get home after a night out is to make sure that you have written down your plan to get home ahead of time.
Take a look at the maps, do some searching on CityMapper and Google Maps, and really figure out the best way to get home so you’re not left at 3am wondering which bus to take and then you end up on a bus that takes you to the opposite side of the city.
9. Don’t Leave Your Phone on an Outside Café Table
This is more prevalent in countries in mainland Europe because London isn’t often nice enough to actually sit outside at tables, but let’s say that the sun is shining and you’re enjoying a pint at the pub or a coffee at the coffee shop outdoors while browsing Instagram.
Make sure that you have your phone in your hands while on the table (if outside) at all times, or be aware of your surroundings. Sometimes moped thieves will spot a phone lying on a table, drive up on the sidewalk to the table, swipe the phone, and then go on their way.
10. Put The Straps of Your Bag through the Chair at Pubs and Restaurants
I’ve never had a problem with things being taken or feeling like I was in danger of getting my belongings stolen in London, but I always like to be extra sure by putting one of the straps of my backpack through my chair legs when I’m sitting down at pubs or restaurants. That way, if somewhere were to come up and attempt to take it, they’d be foiled by the extra security!Perhaps a bit overkill, especially if you’re in a brightly lit Pizza Express or something, but it’s not harming anything.
11. Don’t Run for Trains or Tubes
The number of times I have seen people absolutely wipe out while running to catch a closing train or tube is insane. On the regularly, people are just slamming up against doors, getting their belongings and LIMBS caught in the doors, and it’s just not safe and not a good look.
Honestly the biggest threat to London being safe for tourists is the danger of THEMSELVES. So plan your route ahead of time to give you enough time to not have to rush like that. I’ve seen a woman really hurt herself wiping out on a slippery floor while running for a train and it’s not a great way to spend your vacation.
12. Carry Water with You in the Summer
London wasn’t built for extreme heat, or really heat at all. The tubes can get very hot, there isn’t air conditioning in 95% of buildings, and the sidewalks and roads just seem to radiate heat. It can be easy to get dehydrated quickly, particularly when you have a long tube journey, so carry a bottle of water with you in the summer – a reusable one like this is best, if it’s going to be hot outside.
13. Take Note of Touristy-Heavy Areas and Be More Careful
In every city, there are certain areas that are more touristy-heavy that are frequented more often by people who are up to no good. That’s because they know the vast majority of people in that area aren’t going to be on their guard watching their belongings, and it can be quite confused and manic.
Some areas like this for London include Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and the area around Westminster and Trafalgar Square. These are coincidentally some of the must-do places in London, so I’m by no means advocating for avoiding them, just be aware when you might be in a busier area.
14. Write Down the Emergency Number
Did you know that the emergency number in the UK is not 911, but 999? I say to write it down because it can be easy to forget if you’re in the midst of an emergency and keep dialing the US emergency number.
15. Carry a Tube Map with You
The tube is the best way to get around London in many cases (check out the guide to transportation in London for more information), but many people rely on tube maps on their phone. This is fine, until your phone dies and you want to check the tube route without actually being in a tube station to check!
There are paper tube maps available in all tube stations and train stations that have a tube station, so pick a few up and carry them with you.
16. Carry a Portable Phone Charge with You
To make sure that the aforementioned phone dying doesn’t happen, carry a portable phone charger like this with you to ensure that you’re always ready to go. Looking up directions and other touristy-things can really drain a battery, and these portable phone chargers are so small that you can fit them into a tiny clutch or purse if that’s all you’re carrying.
17. Make Sure You Have a Phone that Works in the UK
For your own personal safety in being able to call emergency services and for the ability to look up directions, make sure that your phone actually works in the UK before you come. You can get an international plan, or you can get a UK sim card when you get here (pay as you go) to put into your phone for your trip, which will only cost about 10 pounds. I recommend the sim card provider called Three.
18. Try to Walk in Pairs in the Middle of the Night
I first started this tip with “walk in pairs after dark,” which is absolutely absurd because it gets dark so early in London for much of the fall and winter that it isn’t accurate. To be honest, I feel much safer walking as a solo woman in London at night, up until about midnight, than I do walking in my local neighborhood.
If you’re not purposefully taking back alleys and are sticking to actual streets, London is very safe to walk around. Especially in busy districts where the theater shows and restaurants let out late, you’re going to be around other people and not aimlessly wandering the empty streets.
When the streets are empty, however, in the middle of the night – you shouldn’t really have a reason to be out anyway, but if you are, bring a buddy with you.
19. Avoid Dimly Lit Parks or Squares at Night
One place I would avoid after dark is dimly lit parks. It’s not that they’re a breeding ground for crime or anything – many are locked up anyway so you can’t access them, it’s just that it’s never really a great idea to be in a dimly lit area by yourself when it’s dark and there aren’t other people around, is it?
20. Put Copies of Your Passport in Multiple Places in your Luggage
If something does happen to your passport while in London, whether you lose it or you’re carrying it around and your bag gets stolen, having full picture copies of your passport will help you get a new one from the US embassy.
21. Don’t Wear Earphones All the Time
We live in a culture that seems to have us always plugged in, and I fully walk to and from work with my earphones all the way in, but if you’re a visitor to London, I would try to at least keep one out so you are aware of what’s going on around you, particularly traffic.
22. Look Both Ways
One of the most dangerous things for visitors to London is that they’re not used to cars driving on the left side of the road! Seriously, you need to look both ways before crossing since you’re not used to knowing where the traffic is coming from. There are helpful signs on the roads that will tell you which way to look, but you can never be too safe.
23. Only Get in Prebooked Ubers, Black Cabs or Preorganized Taxis
When deciding which kind of transport to take, make sure you’re not getting in just any unmarked black car that offers to take you home. You should either prebook an Uber or a transfer with a company like Addison Lee, or you should get in a “Marked” black cab which is a London cab that looks very distinct, has a light on the top and will have licenses displayed.
Terrorism in London
One of the key points I want to talk about when discussing London safety tips is terrorism in London, because I think that’s what many Americans fear. Yes, London has had terrorist attacks, notably the incident on the tube in July of 2007 and in recent years there were incidences of van-led terrorist attacks on bridges/populated areas in Europe.
I will not downplay these incidences. They happened, and there is no denying that. But what I do want to address is that, first and foremost, London has gone to incredible lengths to react to these threats and keep its residents and visitors safe.
For instance, you may notice that there is hardly anywhere to throw anything away on the tube or in tube or train stations. This isn’t to be annoying, this is because it makes it much easier for police to patrol unattended baggage in the area and deal with any threats straight away.
You also may notice bollards along the roads in heavily populated areas and bridges. This is not for aesthetic, this is to prevent vehicles from coming onto the sidewalks.
Sure, something could happen while you’re in London and I can’t guarantee it won’t, just like I can’t guarantee that you’re not going to get hit by a bus when walking across the street tomorrow. That is the nature of traveling, but I can absolutely assure you that facing any fears you have and coming to London is so worth it.
I also want to reiterate that the “London is in panic!” media coverage on some American networks after these events that reaches American media outlets is just not accurate. When the Westminster bridge attack happened, the whole city did NOT shut down. I was at work, and despite some of my coworkers taking a way home that avoided that area, we all went about our days and our lives. Clearly Londoners thoughts were with the victims of the attack, but after living in the UK for 7 years, I’ve learned that Americans tend to sensationalize things that are happening overseas when really “on the ground” it feels a lot different (and less intense!)
London Safety Overall
Now that I’ve just gone through a bunch of ways to protect yourself in London, I want to reiterate again that the biggest dangers to most tourists will be the traffic patterns and their phones dying while they’re trying to figure out directions to the next attraction.
I spend every day in central London, not just in one part of the city where I work but all across it. I will say, with no hesitation, that all of central London (Zones 1-2), I would walk around by myself during the day and not think twice. The vast majority of that I would also walk around by myself well into the late night.
Do be aware of your surroundings, and do take caution, and do have a plan, but do not worry about traveling to London in terms of your personal safety. This is a thriving, wonderful, safe city and its residents pride themselves on that.