Want to visit London like a Londoner?
Here are the top handy hacks to help you have a fab time in London without getting ripped off by tourist traps or scowled at by the locals.
Don’t Go to a West End Show
Those actors are exhausted. They’ve been doing those old musicals and West End Shows every night since leaving drama school. Get yourself to a proper theater where you’ll catch some fresh new writing or a reinvention of a great old classic. The Royal Court prides itself on its new writing talent, The Barbican always offers something unusual, and The National Theatre or The Old Vic is where you’ll see a decent play with fresh blood and gumption. You might even spot the next Tom Hardy.
Don’t Shop at Harrods
If you want quality souvenirs, have a gander around Selfridges on Oxford Street; the Foodhall is to die for, with an array of exciting new flavors from around the world. You can even get free chocolate samples if you smile sweetly—or, just pretend to be rich and you’ll get free samples of everything. You simply must gaze longingly at the pretty things for sale in Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly (even The Queen herself shops there, and if it’s good enough for her majesty, it’s good enough for you). Then check out the latest designer wares in Harvey Nichols and then swan around all the designer stores on Sloane Street.
Don’t Make Eye Contact on the Tube
Or smile, for that matter. Londoners do not like to make eye contact with anyone; they’ll see you as either a violent threat or a sexual predator. Don’t scare them; instead, stare wistfully at the advertisements above their heads or glare at your own clammy hands. Yes, they will be clammy, as there is no air conditioning in London. Anywhere.
Don’t Pay for Touristy Boat Trips
The Thames Clipper is affiliated with Transport for London (TfL) and has fantastic routes along the River Thames. You can use your TfL Oyster card to get 30% off a standard ticket starting at £2.90. Some of the London river tours start at £12, so you’re already saving big. The Clipper takes in all the wondrous sites London has to offer, such as The Houses of Parliament, The Tate Modern, and Tower Bridge. You can hop on and off to explore great attractions like the London Eye on London’s famous South Bank.
Don’t Stand on the Left-Hand Side of an Escalator
The left-hand side of escalators is for walking only. Commuters and locals will literally scowl at you as they patiently form an orderly queue behind you. Don’t worry, no one will actually say anything, you’ll just feel the hot sighs on the back of your neck and hear the angry tuts for the duration of the slow descent/ascent.
Don’t Pay to See Art
Did you know that almost all art galleries in London are free? Most visitors don’t realize that it’s only the special exhibits that you have to pay for. Pop down to Trafalgar Square for The National Portrait Gallery and The National Gallery, then wander to Piccadilly for The Royal Academy. If you’re going to spend a whole day absorbing art, be sure to save the Tate Modern until last, where you can end the day enjoying the sunset and breathtaking top-floor views while nursing a lovely warm flat beer.
Don’t Take a Taxi
The Santander Cycles, commonly known as “Boris Bikes” after the ex-London mayor introduced the cycle-hire scheme, is London’s answer to a mini-Amsterdam. Traffic moves at a snail’s pace in London, but you can whizz through the roads quickly on a bike for as little as £2. There are even some great sightseeing opportunities to enjoy whilst you inhale that lovely clean London air.
Don’t Just Stay in the Center
London is massive, so try venturing off to the outskirts. Walthamstow in East London has the quintessentially English William Morris Gallery and an ancient village; but the major highlight is God’s Own Junkyard, an eclectic collection of amazing film props and neon signs. Highgate in North London is a handsome village, but is famously known for Highgate Cemetery, home to some of our greatest inspirations. Little Venice in West London is great for picturesque strolls and charming canal-side cafes.
Don’t Ask an English Person if They're Related to the Royal Family
We English people hear this a lot, but despite the alleged historic inbreeding, not everyone in the UK is related to each other.
Don’t go to a Waxwork Museum
Oh man, these things are so overpriced and never worth the two-hour peak time queues. In London, you’re always within 12 feet of a celebrity anyway. Just hang around the posh areas for a while and you’re bound to spot someone famous loitering about. So far, I’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch doing bench presses on Hampstead Heath, sat next to the lead singer of New Order on the Victoria Line, and was once reprimanded by James Nesbitt for stealing stuff out of a trash bin near Greenwich. Surely that’s better than standing next to a waxwork?
Don’t Hang out in Leicester Square. Ever.
Don’t be lured by the bright lights and buzz of Leicester Square; it’s a tacky gift shop made for the gullible tourist. It’s over-crowded and smells of fried onions. Instead, head for Soho–it’s seedy and that’s why we love it. Grab a latte in Bar Italia, eat the best Vietnamese you’ll ever have at Pho, party at Ronnie Scotts, and party harder at Club 49. You might even spot one of London’s mysterious noses, found in five Soho locations.
Don’t Go to London Zoo
Don’t pay to look at animals–London Zoo is inside Regent’s Park and you can see some of the enclosures for free from the park. You can go to the giant aviary and watch the parrots and wallabies. Regent’s Park is beautiful (especially in autumn), and it has an abundance of ducks and friendly squirrels. If you really want to gaze at animals, go to a city farm and pet some goats, or get up close to some impressive dead beasts at the Natural History Museum.