London Eye, Big Ben, Underground Sign

17+ Terrible Travel Mistakes Visitors Make in London

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It’s bound to happen when you’re exploring a new city – you get a little lost, you eat at a restaurant that isn’t all that great, you don’t leave yourself enough time to get from place to place.

Making mistakes in London as a visitor can be part of the experience, but there are some things that visitors do time and time again that I feel the need to point out so that you can avoid these same mistakes and make your own!

Click here for a full London packing list so you don’t make any mistakes before you even get here.

Here are 17 travel mistakes visitors to London make, and how you can avoid them!

People milling around a food stand at Borough Market London

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Wait, stop!

Before you keep reading, I just wanted to make sure you know about my expert 7-day London itinerary that includes all of the iconic attractions plus off-the-beaten path activities and restaurants, as well as step-by-step walking and public transportation directions!

It can be stressful spending so much money on a London trip and not knowing if you’re fitting everything in or making the most of your time.

To help you out, I’ve taken my 10 years of London experience (starting as a visitor and then as a resident) to make sure that you have the ultimate step-by-step itinerary that will make sure you see the real London.

And, hey, if you’re not coming for exactly 7 days or already have some plans, don’t worry, as it’s editable so you can mix around the days, incorporate your own ideas, or pick and choose which days to follow.

My expert London recommendations for saving money, at a glance:

1. Buying Individual Tickets for the Tube

The tube is one of the most expensive public transportation systems in the world, so why spend more than you have to?

When you use the London tube, you have the option to buy “single” (one-way) or “return” (both ways) paper tickets, but don’t do either of those things!

Instead, get an Oyster card (more information on Oyster cards in London here) or use a Contactless payment card to pay almost half the price per journey.

A close shot of a London Undergound sign with ominous clouds behind

2. Trying to Get on a London Bus with Cash

PSA!

You cannot get onto a London bus with cash and purchase a ticket from the driver.

This was a change made a few years ago to keep the buses moving, so you’ll need to make sure you purchase your means of transportation on the bus (either an Oyster card, travelcard, or contactless payment card) ahead of time.

Provided by Richmond

3. Thinking You Can Mess with the Guards at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is an amazing London landmark, but one of the biggest mistakes people make when visiting London is assuming they can do the tried and true movie tradition of getting up close to a guard and trying to make them laugh.

Not only can you not get up close to a guard because they are pretty far away from you, standing in front of the palace while you are standing much further away behind a barrier, but this is an official job and one that is taken very seriously.

Their job is to protect the palace and even though their marching and hats can be amusing to foreign visitors, listening to you tell them knock knock jokes is not on their schedule of royal duties.

Guard in red at Buckingham Palace

4. Always Taking the Tube

If you’re not familiar with London, it can be easy to think that taking the tube is always the best option – after all, you can pretty easily learn to navigate it, you know that you can always get back to where you want to go if you get a bit lost, etc.

However, did you know that sometimes it’s much faster to walk in between tube stations rather than take the tube?

Particular when the tube stations are on different lines, but in “reality” are just a short walk from each other – the time it would take you to switch lines and wait for two tubes would be much longer than just taking a stroll.

Check out this TFL tube walking map to give you an idea of some walking times, as well as making sure you take advantage of apps like Citymapper to help you check your route before you travel.

People walking on a bridge with St Paul's cathedral in the background

5. Eating Out in Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus

Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus are some of the most touristy areas in all of London, and as a general rule, I suggest to avoid eating out in these areas because you’re going to be hit with higher prices and lower quality food than you can find in most of London.

In other words, this is where the Rainforest Cafe is.

Enough said.

6. Trying to Stay “Central”

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a “central London” (it’s Zone 1 on the tube map), and I suggest staying in it during your stay in London, but it is pretty vast and has a ton of neighborhood options like South Kensington and Bloomsbury.

Unlike some cities, London does not have one “downtown” or “central” neighborhood – the attractions are spread out, the city is spread out, and this is actually a good thing to give you even more choice of where to stay.

Don’t just automatically assume that staying in Westminster is the best, either.

Sure, it has the most notable attractions of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, but it’s not even in my top 5 recommended areas to stay in!

7. Getting Confused about “London Bridge”

You know the nursery rhyme where London Bridge falls down and the corresponding culture that makes all visitors think that London’s most beautiful bridge is, in fact, London Bridge?

Wrong!

London Bridge is just a nondescript bridge, though there are plenty of awesome things to do near London Bridge.

The bridge that really gives London its charm and acts as a landmark is called Tower Bridge, due to the proximity to the Tower of London.

The more you know!

Kalyn taking a picture of Tower Bridge at night
This is called Tower Bridge, not London Bridge!

8. Getting Fish and Chips in a Pub

One of the biggest mistakes visitors to London make is ordering fish and chips in a pub or in a restaurant.

I know, I know.

You’re supposed to go to London to eat fish and chips and eat in a pub, so why not do both at once?

Pubs are amazing, and you should definitely eat in them, but I’d recommend going with something like a meat pie or a burger or another pub classic.

Fish and chips are best left to “chippies,” which are sort of like take-out Fish and Chips places, or a dedicated fish and chips restaurant.

Now, I’m not saying that you couldn’t have had good fish and chips in a pub, but for the best and most authentic, you’ll want to go somewhere like the Fryer’s Delight in Holborn or the fish and chips stand in Borough Market.

If basically their entire menu is fish and chips, you can be assured that you’re doing it right.

9. Standing On the Left of the Escalator

Going back to transportation, you’ll quickly note that there are signs in the tube that say to “Stand on the Right, Pass on the Left.”

This isn’t just a suggestion, but a requirement – no, a demand, from Brits who would really just like for you to follow the rules so they can get on with their lives, thank you very much.

The method to this madness is that some people prefer to stand on tube escalators, while others like to walk up and down the to get to their destinations 30 seconds faster or catch a particular train or to get some exercise.

When everyone stands on the right, it means the left is clear for walkers, and this makes all of London happy.

10. Thinking that Londoners are Rude

I’m going to be the first to admit it – even I, as a now-Londoner who works in the city every day, can get the impression that Londoners are a bit cold, but most people find that’s not the case.

Sure, the best person to ask for directions isn’t someone in a business suit literally running through the station with a briefcase and a worried look on their face, but you’ll usually find that if you approach a Londoner to ask for help, you’ll get some kind and polite help and local recommendations.

People keep themselves to themselves in London because it’s such a big city and you need to create your own personal bubble within it, but that doesn’t mean that Londoners are rude.

11. Not Planning for Jet Lag

For many, a trip to London involves a long haul flight which includes everyone’s arch nemesis, jet lag.

If you’ve never experienced jet lag before, it can be truly a physical experience where you feel fatigued, nauseous, sick, etc, as a result of changing time zones and the long haul travel.

I would encourage you to plan for jet lag in the sense that make sure your first day isn’t too crowded with activities or goes on too late into the night.

Give yourself some room and time to adjust, if possible, and keep the schedule a bit less intense when you first land.

Things like going to a play, taking a walking tour in the daytime around London, wandering around a museum are all good ideas.

Planning to stay out all night clubbing is probably not.

If you’re coming to London, you’ll also appreciate some of our other London guides, including…

x The Ultimate London Packing List for All Seasons
x London’s Most Iconic Attractions to Add to Your Bucketlist
x A Dummy’s Guide to Getting Around London

12. Visiting Madame Tussaud’s, the London Aquarium, or Shrek 4D Adventure

You can read more about what to skip in London here, but please, if you value your trip at all, scratch Madame Tussaud’s, the London Aquarium, and Shrek 4D Adventure off your list.

Madame Tussauds, as you may know, is a worldwide phenomenon and wax museum, but unless wax museums are really your thing, this is a complete waste of time in a city so full of interesting things to see.

The London Aquarium and Shrek’s 4D adventure are located on the Southbank, one of the most prominent and visited parts of London, but don’t be fooled – they’re not worth your time!

The aquarium is not particularly good, and if you want to see Shrek, put the movie on at home or go to Universal Studios somewhere else in the world.

13. Not Realizing How Global London Is

If you’re coming for the quintessential “British” experience, you’re not going to find it in London.

For that, go to somewhere on a day trip like Oxford or Stratford-upon Avon or a tiny village somewhere.

No, London is decidedly global, metropolitan, and busting at the seams with people from all over the world.

Here, you can stroll through Chinatown, wander through Little Venice, check out the diverse foods in Borough Market or eat at a Thai restaurant.

The accents you’ll hear won’t just be the “Harry Potter” style accents you’ve heard, and you’ll be exposed to a ton of new cultures if you seek it out.

You have to remember – the British Empire reached far and wide, and the influences from other cultures and people who were once a part of it (as well as new immigrants and visitors) really make London a fascinating and diverse city to visit.

14. Paying for the View from the Shard

There’s a great view in London from the top of the Shard, but it costs £20+ per person to experience, when you could all have another great view for free from the top of the SkyGarden.

You do need to book it ahead of time, but there are also walk-up times where you don’t need to have booked.

I would highly recommend this both as a cost saving technique and just adding another unique thing to do in London to your list.

A glass building with The Shard in the background

15. Taking Black Cabs Everywhere

Black cabs are iconic in London, there’s no doubt about that.

And you should embrace the London experience and take one at least once while you’re there!

But if you’re expecting to just dart around the city in black cabs, I’ve got another suggestion for you: don’t.

Now, if you have mobility issues or have other issues with public transportation, then do what you need to do, but for most visitors, you’re going to be able to zip around the city faster on the tube than in cabs.

London traffic can be absolute gridlock and horrendous, and the cabs have to wait in that traffic just like everyone else.

Don’t get stuck going nowhere on London’s busiest roads – take the tube or walk!

16. Expecting Snow

Does it snow in London?

Yes, rarely.

Mostly, winters in London are grey and rainy with some days of sun.

And when it does snow, don’t count on it to last too long before the city heat melts it and it turns to slush.

If you want snow in London, you probably won’t get it – head further north into Yorkshire or even Scotland to try for a UK winter wonderland.

A London Palace with the London Eye in the background with snow on the ground and a grey sky
Image: London Snow Day – 097. Kyle Taylor. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

17. Wearing Rain Boots

It rains in London pretty frequently, but the one mistake many visitors in London make is planning on wearing rain boots.

I loved my rain boots when I lived in Pittsburgh and it was pouring, but in a big city, it’s just not practical.

They’re not meant for walking long distances, navigating different surfaces and climbing up and down wet tube stairs.

Your feet will get hot, stuffy, and miserable.

Instead, if you’re coming in the rainier months, plan on wearing waterproof shoes or some kind of waterproof boot like these, rather than dedicated rain boots.

What mistakes in London have you experienced?

Whether you’re a visitor or a Londoner, what mistakes have you made yourself in London or see other people doing? Let me know in the comments below!

What Else Should I Do in London?

Whether you’re in London for a day, two days, a week, or more, here are our other top picks for excellent London sightseeing activities to help you get to know the city in an engaging way!

Whether you’re in London for a day, two days, a week, or more, here are our other top picks for excellent London sightseeing activities to help you get to know the city in an engaging way!

8 thoughts on “17+ Terrible Travel Mistakes Visitors Make in London”

  1. Greetings! Moved here from Titusville, three years ago. I live in Ely and am in London at least twice a month.
    Thanks for the tips. While I have been clued in for years, so many that visit are not. Be well!

  2. The. Pavement. Is. Slippery. Always. Everywhere. Even sometimes when it’s not raining. Oh my goodness even in my grippy Minnetonka boots I was slipping around like I was positively drunken. Also umbrellas are obnoxious and it’s always better to have a jacket with a hood. Exchange rates have been varying WILDLY lately. 1:1.21 in late August, 1:1.26 when I left a few weeks later, and 1:1.36 earlier this week. Makes a HUGE difference when you’re doing conversions in your head. For an American, every purchase is essentially 15% more expensive today than it was this summer.

  3. Brian Artillery

    One more place to avoid: Camden Market. It’s full of overpriced stuff, and lots of pretentious ‘trendies’. I’ve lived in England all my life, and always give Camden Market a wide swerve.

  4. I would also add a couple of more ideas,
    1- don’t expect all London tubes to be push chair friendly

    2- the best fish and chips i have ever had in London was in shirland road, just behind paddington park.

  5. I’m a Londoner and your tourist tips are spot on. Hopefully once the COVID cloud has passed, everyone will be free to enjoy themselves again.

  6. You can stay in cheaper and more friendly hotels just outside London in Surrey. Stay in Richmond or on the river at Kingston on Thames, or Wimbledon and get the tube into central London. This will give you a more “villagey” experience and may save you quite a bit of money. If you love gardens and plants Kew Gardens in Surrey is a must! You could spend several days here, as so much to see. Hampton Court Palace is not far and this is an amazing palace and gardens to visit too. Windsor Castle is amazing if if are in London longer. Amazing to see how the Royals live and the history. If on a budget, just buy all your food at a Marks and Spencer’s store. Great quality and can buy organic too at reasonable prices. Enjoy!

  7. Tables “sharing” leftover food. B & B’s in London appear to be mini hotels which can be less personalized. Two of them used sharing on uneaten food. If you didn’t finish the toast on your toast rack, a couple of new pieces may be added and then given to another diner! Paid extra for a private bath which was just a tiny sink wedged in the corner of the room. It only ran cold water. In rural areas you usually receive more friendly accommodations as they are family run and smaller. We have used the same ones on repeated trips but rural areas may use local farm unpasteurized milk- safe but nasty tasting so skip any cereal. At one lovely place, in Scotland we requested one that had room for three. One room slept 2 and the other slept one but that room turned out to be the owner’s private room with all her personal items still in place. Informed us that front door locked at 8PM and her Toto dog growled and chased guests (not informed!). At a different one, 3rd person had to eat at their kitchen counter and we were told to clear our table and bring all the plates and silverware back to the kitchen. Felt like home! Another one did not have on-site parking so we had to rearrange needed clothes /toiletries into one small case and we were chased by ducks, on the walk back. Surprisingly at several fast food restaurants we were charged extra for each ketchup pack we requested. Next trip I packed some in our suitcases, probably saved a ton of money! One time we were even chastised for our American eating mannerisms. I can laugh now, but we were shocked at the time but being well informed now, we were able to adapt, for the most part, on subsequent trips! We never stopped using B &B’s, as it did provide extra income for the people/person running them (mostly elderly). PLUS an unexpected peek into real family life! Still don’t like ducks!

  8. My wife and I visited the UK 11 times. We almost always either started or ended our trips in London. I appreciate, understand and agree with all of your points. On our last trip my wife sprained her knee getting onto the plane to fly to Heathrow. It was necessary to use the cabs because there was no way she could use the tube. We actually loved it (although it was a lot more expensive) because of the wonderful drivers. It was almost like getting a mini tour with every journey. And I loved many of the less major places to visit in the city,. Our last trip spent 10 days just in London and didn’t even remotely find everything to see and do.

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