It’s not all easy being a first-time visitor to any foreign country, and in a city like London you’ll quickly realise there are a whole host of unsaid rules that every newcomer should know about. When you’re in the know, it could make quite a difference to your trip and help you feel far less daunted when you land, especially in a city as huge as London. Whether it’s transport faux pas, giving in to the tourist traps or splashing your cash unnecessarily, we’re here to fill you in on where a lot of tourists go wrong during their first time in the British capital, and how you can avoid their mistakes.
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If you’re coming from the States or Canada, you’re probably used to tipping here, there and everywhere. In the UK, this isn’t really how it’s done. Most restaurants in London add a 12.5% service charge to the bill, so you pay up and don’t even have to think about adding extra. If you’re in a sit-down restaurant that doesn’t add a tip onto the bill, tipping 10-12% is polite. But when it comes to food markets, coffee shops and bars, you really don’t need to feel obliged to tip as staff wouldn’t expect it.
Exploring only central London
Central London is visited by millions every year, and for good reason. It’s home to some of Europe’s most iconic buildings and some of the UK’s most fascinating history. However there’s way more to London than Westminster, Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. Hop on the tube and explore local Londoners’ favourite areas of their city. Go up the Northern line to Camden, head west over to Richmond, make your way south of the river to Battersea or venture east to explore the nooks and crannies of Shoreditch. The tourists that stick to the central areas of London are missing out on some of the best things about the city!
Taking the tube during rush hour
As a tourist in London, you’ll know you’ve made an error the second you step onto a tube platform in rush hour. It’s an experience that if you can avoid, you should at all costs! Between 7:30-9:30am and 5-7pm, do your best to keep from heading underground unless you don’t mind being crammed between a crowd of angry, sweaty commuters as you try to enjoy your trip.
Paying for each single tube journey. Get an Oyster card!
Save yourself a bunch of money and get yourself an Oyster card for your time in London. Being tourists, you’ll probably be hopping on and off the Underground multiple times every day. Instead of buying daily travel passes that you won’t make the most of, or single journey tickets that add up to way more than you needed to spend, an Oyster card can save you a lot of money. The card caps your fare each day, so you’ll never spend more than you needed to.
Standing on the left of the escalator
One that you will probably pick up on quite quickly is how everybody stands on the right of the escalator to allow people to walk on the left. This mainly applies to the London Underground, whenever you’re on an escalator and you don’t fancy walking, keep yourself and your baggage on the right.
Not leaving enough time to get from A to B
Yep, it’s another transport-related error, but funnily enough it’s a pretty easy thing to get wrong when you’re not a local. London is a lot bigger than most people think. Getting from one part of the city to the other can take over an hour! It all really depends on which tube line you use as some take a lot longer than others. Plus, you never know whether there will be problems on the tubes and so on. If you have a time slot for a museum, a reservation for a restaurant or especially if you have a train booked, give yourself plenty of time to get there.
Paying for a view of London
The View from the Shard in London Bridge can cost you over £20. And when there are so many great views of London’s skyline that you can get for free, you’re just throwing away money. Plus, from the view at the Shard, you don’t even get the iconic skyscraper in the view! Our favourite free view is from Sky Garden (be sure to book in advance), and from Primrose Hill and the top of Greenwich Park. If you do want to go inside the Shard, our top tip is either go up for a drink or for breakfast when a coffee, croissant and juice is £9. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly a whole lot cheaper than paying for the viewing platform!
Eating at the tourist traps
Some people believe that London’s food scene is terrible, but that’s clearly because they’ve gone to all the wrong places. The British capital is one of the best cities in the world for foodies! Whatever cuisine you crave or snack you fancy, you’ll be able to find it in London, and it’s not always very expensive. Avoid eating in the big chains or the terrible tourist traps around Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Oxford Street (although there are some great hidden gems around these areas). Do your research and discover London’s local haunts and tastiest eateries that a lot of tourists won’t even bother searching for.
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Missing the deals
Before you book museum entry or theatre tickets, go online and do a quick search to check there are no deals that could save you some cash. A lot of London’s tourist attractions do package deals or 2 for 1 on entry at certain times of the year - make use of them! If you’re keen to see a West End show, avoid paying inflated prices and look around for the best seats and deals. We recommend Today Tix which sells last minute theatre tickets across London at great prices.
Paying for overpriced hotels when some hostels are cheaper AND more central
To stay in a swanky hotel in the beating heart of London, you’ll probably be paying a small fortune. But did you know you can stay in central London, in a bright and airy private ensuite room (maybe even with a view of the Shard) for a seriously affordable price? St Christopher’s Inns flagship hostel is an incredible option for your budget accommodation that doesn’t feel budget at all and it’s right in the heart of London Bridge! Wake up to the hustle and bustle of Borough Market and walk up the road for a view of Tower Bridge. The location couldn’t be better. We also have hostels in Camden, Liverpool Street, Hammersmith, Greenwich and Shepherd’s Bush, so there really is no need to splash the cash on a super fancy room you’ll hardly see anyway!
Buying coffee from chains
London is packed with coffee chains, but the city’s best coffee comes from the independent cafes. People walk around London with their coffee-chain cups not realising what unbelievable coffee the city has to offer. If you’re big into your caffeine, you won’t be short of incredible local cafes that whip up a seriously tasty and fresh brew. Not only will you be helping the local community when you avoid Starbucks and go somewhere you’ve probably never heard of, but it’ll no doubt be a much more memorable cuppa!
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