Tourist coming to London? Well if you’re looking to bypass all the mistakes tourists make in London, I’ve got all the tips for tourists in London coming your way. Read on.
Life is full of mistakes. But, visiting London doesn’t have to be! Here are all the bits and bobs of London life I got a little wrong when I first arrived. Use this quick tips for tourists in London to skip the learning curve and navigate your way across the pond like the savvy Londoner I know you are.
Without further ado here are 10 tips for tourists in London, every mistake every first-time Londoner is bound to make, and how to avoid them.
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1. Not Getting an Oyster Card When You First Arrive
One of my biggest tips for tourists in London is to get your Oyster card ASAP. The go-to card for public transit in London, it’s the absolute first thing you’ll want to get once you’re across the pond. Using things like single tickets or travel cards will inevitably be expensive and is a huge mistake I see tourists make in London.
To combat this, simply follow the signs to the Underground at the airport and purchase your Oyster at one at the machines (not available at London Stansted). You’ll be ready to use London transit like a pro.
Just remember you’ll need to make a £5 refundable deposit to purchase followed by “topping-up” i.e putting money on your card accordingly.
From there you’re good to go and can “tap-in” on all London transit using your Oyster. Alternatively, you can purchase a Visitor Oyster (£5 deposit, non-refundable) to get discounts on attractions, dining, and shopping during your stay.
As a side note London transport is extremely reliable, efficient and safe, so I would definitely recommend using it for your time in London over things like ride-sharing apps or cabs (especially black cabs).
2. And a SIM Card
A not so known mistake for London travel and quite frankly, travel in general is forgetting what to do with your data plan when you go abroad. If you’re coming from the EU, there’s usually an agreement that allows you to use your phone per normal in the UK. However, if you’re coming from anywhere else, you’ll want to buy a SIM before you get to London.
Currently (at least of the time of writing) the UK requires you to provide a phone number upon arrival for contact tracing purposes. Meaning if you use your home number and get an international call you’ll end up paying wild fees and no one likes a randomly massive phone bill.
Avoid this by ordering a UK sim card before your flight. Not only will you have a UK number on arrival, but data to roam the city without constantly searching for wifi.
I personally bought this SIM card while I was in the US and set it up before for my arrival in the UK. Simply pop it in, follow the instructions, “top-up” and you’re good to go! It felt amazing to land back in London with data and a working phone. And a very great mistake to avoid.
3. Staying Solely in Central
Now that you’re off exploring the city you may be desperate to see sights like Big Ben, the London Eye, and every other famed attraction you’ve dreamt of making your London itinerary.
Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with getting the tourist bits out the way. But this is the biggest mistake I see tourists make in London. The truth is, if you truly want to get a feel for London, you’ll have to get out of Central.
From leafy villages to hidden parks and scenic views, you’ll want to explore the local side of London to truly feel the magic of the city. But alas, a shameless plug, and I hope my blog can help you a bit with that 😉
4. Not Packing for the Weather
Admittedly London weather is as random as it gets, so avoid packing mishaps and be prepared before you go. For London (and for me) this means three words, layers, umbrellas, and hats.
Layers, because somehow all four seasons can find their way to London in the span of one day. Hats, because London has a knack for turning a perfectly good hair day into an absolute frizz fest. And an umbrella, because unfortunately, the stereotype exists for a reason.
By packing for the weather you’ll save the ultimate headache of having to pop into shops last minute and can simply focus on London exploring. Which, funny enough, probably includes popping into shops. But you get the message.
Tip: Avoid all packing mistakes tourists make in London with an Ultimate London Packing List: What to Pack for London in Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall
5. Thinking We Speak the Same Language
If you’re coming to the UK from an English speaking country, it’s easy to think British English is one and the same. An innocent and very small mistake to make, but if you’re coming to London it may be worth it to learn some basic UK slang before you arrive.
I offer this tip with hesitancy however as thinking “are you alright” meant something was wrong with me, “queuing” was a golf term, and “quid” was slang for fish made for some very funny interactions. So, out of all the tips for tourists in London, don’t worry about this one too much.
You can find a super helpful blog on UK terms here.
6. Expecting Table Service
Table service is a staple back in the states. But when I first moved to London and patiently waited a half hour before realizing no one was coming to my dining beck and call, I got the memo. Not all, but many UK restaurants, cafes, pubs are self-service.
You’ll need to remember your table number once you’re seated and order at the front. The rest is sorted from there, but if you’re anything like me, it’s a worthy mistake to avoid in London.
7. Taking the Tube at Rush Hour
There are a few London commandments I live by. But nothing is more important than, thou shall not take the tube during rush hour. Crammed elbows, sweat drip and the awkward jump you make to squeeze in before the doors close (if you’re lucky) have all taught me that it’s just not the worth the hassle
Luckily if you’re still keen on public transit, London TFL buses are a great alternative to the hustle and bustle of post 9-5 Londoners. Otherwise, see it as an opportunity to pop onto a Boris bike or have a lazy stroll.
Tip: I don’t usually recommend transport outside public transit (because it really is amazing) but if you’re coming from the airport during rush hour there’s little worse than lugging around your suitcase in a crowd of hundreds. In this case, it’s also best to take a cab from the airport if you’re coming during rush hour.
8. Not Following Queue Etiquette
You’d be hard-pressed to find anything in London not met with a queue. Brits take their
lines queues very seriously. Even the escalators hold a strict right side policy (right for standing, left for walking).
Whenever you see a mass of people, best believe there’s an orderly line. Pop over to the back and don’t be afraid to ask “Is this the back of the queue?” if you’re unsure. But by all means, never jump the queue.
9. Not Downloading These Apps
To get around London you’ll need a savvy app arsenal. These apps will help you navigate London like a pro and overall ease and simplify your London experience. I won’t go into too much detail as I’ve dedicated a whole blog to this. But in short, be sure to download…
- Santander Cycles
- TFL Oyster
- Open Table
- Visit London
…before your visit.
10. Mixing Up London Bridge & Tower Bridge
Thanks to the infamous Fergie song it’s very easy to mistake London Bridge for Tower Bridge when you first come to London.
But the iconic bridge you’ve come to know and love, is most likely, Tower Bridge. The famous bridge crossing the River Thames is often confused with it’s less aesthetically pleasing counterpart London Bridge, resting between the City of London and Southwark.
It can definitely get confusing when even googling “London Bridge” brings up a picture of Tower Bridge but as one of the biggest mistakes tourists make in London you’ll want to know the difference before you go.
Bonus: Not Looking Both Ways
Putting this as a bonus because luckily London has gone above and beyond to make sure this mistake doesn’t happen. But as you may know, Londoners drive on the left side of the road making it super important to look both ways when you’re out and about 🙂
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you! 10 tips for tourists in London, all the mistakes of first-time Londoners, and of course, how to avoid them.
But most of all, I hope you use this guide to simplify your travels a bit so you can focus on what matters. Finding the magic of the city and making an experience for your time in London you’ll never, ever, forget. Even if you take the tube at rush hour.
P.S If you’re looking for more London content to prep for your visit be sure to follow me on Instagram @candaceabroad for a daily dose of London life!