You can’t go traveling to London for the first time without making a ton of ridiculous mistakes that you can laugh about later!
Am I right?
And by later, I mean a year later. Or maybe even a decade later, just to be safe.
Because trust me, I’ve been there:
You’re just standing there, rocking your 80’s style fanny pack like a total boss when all of a sudden…
You get pummeled by a rogue Londoner! Later, you find out that you were actually standing on the left side of the escalator, which is reserved for humans that are in a hurry and actively moving up and down the escalator.
And becauset of your aforementioned London faux pas, you inadvertently became a human speed bump.
I mean not that I’ve ever done that before (Nose grows five feet a la Pinocchio and slinks off the stage cowering in shame).
To avoid the horror of being a total London tourist who eats nothing but fish and chips and who has no idea what a queue and a lift actually are, take a gander at this mildly insightful post right here.
Fingers (and toes and eyes) crossed that you find some insightful London travel tips in this post that will help you begin planning a trip to London.
I’m a total mess have already sacrificed what little dignity I have on the altar of eternal London tourist shame so that you don’t have to.
Learn from me so that you don’t make all the same mistakes I did while traveling to London for the first time.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
***Looking for a great place to stay in London? Then check out the Generator Hostel London, Clink78 Hostel, The Z Hotel Victoria (mid-range), Hub by Premier Inn Covent Garden (mid-range), Ambassador’s Bloomsbury (luxury), and CitizenM London Bankside (luxury).***
1. Looking the Wrong Way
I feel like no matter how many times I visit London, a trip to London would just not be the same if I didn’t almost get run over, at least once.
I’ve visited the UK a few times.
I understand that before crossing the street, I should look right, and not left since cars in the UK drive on the left side of the road.
My muscle memory kicks in, I look the wrong way, attempt to cross the street, and commence a live action version of Frogger where I desperately try not to get pummeled by a super snazzy, red, double-decker bus.
So moral of the story?
Look right before you cross the street. Also, be sure to purchase a sizable travel insurance policy before you visit London.
Because travel insurance is always a good idea.
2. Taking a cab instead of the underground
Danger, danger Will Robison! Back away from the cab!
Okay, I get it.
This news is shocking to absolutely no one since cabs are always more expensive than public transportation because, well, gosh darn it, they’re just so much more convenient.
The cabs in London? Yeah, their fares are on steroids and will quite literally cost you a small fortune.
You could easily spend an entire day’s budget on a single cab ride.
Case in point:
I booked a flight from one of the 10,000 airports “in London”. Yeah, I use that term loosely since it took me an hour and a half to get there from central London.
But before I left for the airport:
I asked my hotel about the best and most economical way to get to Luton.
I knew there was a shuttle bus but I wanted to see if there was some super secret, voodoo, local magic trick that would get me there even faster.
And wouldn’t you know:
They said that I could use their cab company and get a significant discount on my fare.
How nice right?
Well, I’ve learned the hard way that you always ask how much a cab will cost before getting in.
And wait for it…
He told me that the cab ride would cost me a hefty £80!!!
Or about $103 for my American brethren.
Yeah, my blog is doing well but not well enough to blow $100 on a cab ride.
So I sucked it up, saved money, and took the £12 express bus from Victoria Station.
And besides a loud chewer and a chronic snorer that sounded like a buzz saw, I have no regrets.
3. Trying to pay with cash on a public bus
Talk about a major party foul. I thought the bus driver was gonna stab me in the aorta.
Okay overly dramatic but you know what I mean. Big no no.
In my defense though:
In Edinburgh, you pay for the buses with exact change.
That’s why I kind of inferred that the buses in London might operate under the same system.
Clearly though, I was wrong.
To pay for the £1.50, single bus fare in London, you must use either an Oyster card, a travelcard or a contactless payment card.
Do this and all the bus drivers in the greater London area will love you forvver…or hate you a little less. Either or.
4. Falling to appreciate the seriousness of queueing
First of all:
For any Americans who have no idea what queueing is, it basically means lining up for something.
Yeah, they love queueing for everything. Whether you’re at the bar, the toilet, the ticket machine, or the changing room, there will be a queue for basically eveything.
Just think of it as a national pastime of sorts; a pastime that is all fun and games, until someone cuts the queue.
So whatever you do, respect the queue. Cut in front and you may be taking your life into your hands.
Yup, you’ve been warned.
5. Assuming you’ll get a nice picture of Big Ben.
How did I miss out on this London memo?
Did my carrier pigeon get lost and fail to inform me of various London happenings?
Or maybe I really am living in the neverending Twilight Zone that is my blog and literally have no idea what is going on in the world.
But first, let me back it up and explain.
As you probably know, Big Ben is one of the most iconic piece of architecture in all of London.
That’s why when I visited:
I desperately wanted to photograph Big Ben since it had been a hot minute since I was in London.
Not gonna lie though:
I may have had visions of mild Instagram fame and glory swimming through my head since well yes, I can be basic AF too.
So I hop on the tube, do battle with hordes of personal space ignoring commuters, bound up the steps at Westminister as I narrowly dodge a rogue umbrella, and…
WOMP, WOMP, WOMP.
The entirety of Big Ben is not so gracefully adorned in hideous scaffolding that no Photoshop ninja could ever remove; scaffolding that will remain firmly in place until the structure is fully refurbished in 2021.
If you’re hoping to get your Instagram swerve on in London, just know that the immortal Big Ben is a total no go.
***And Big Ben? Yeah, it’s the name of the bell inside of the tower and not the clock itself. Yup, your whole life has been a lie.***
6. Assuming trains/tube will be running twenty-four hours a day.
Up in NYC (AKA the city that never sleeps):
Not shockingly, the NYC subway runs all day, every day, minus any service disruptions, which are annoying and all too frequent.
But that’s another story for another post.
And the London underground? Yeah, it doesn’t run 24 hours a day.
Lines typically operate between 5 am and 12 am Monday through Thursday, with limited service on Sundays.
And Friday and Saturday?
Well, 5 subway lines operate 24 hours a day during the weekend and they are the Victoria, Central, Jubilee, Northern, and Piccadilly.
And in case you were wondering:
The London overground also runs 24 hours a day, on Fridays and Saturdays, between New Cross Gate and Highbury & Islington (not including Whitechapel).
Insanely important information if you have a delayed night flight, like this chick right here.
Believe it or not (and you’ll believe it since my luck is notoriously awful:
I won the booby prize and both of my flights into and out of London were delayed by 3 hours.
So if you book a night flight, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make the last train.
No one wants to be stranded in the outer reaches of London, with no way to get to their hotel but with an insanely expensive taxi that will force you to blow your entire trip budget on a single cab ride.
Not really but it’s just fun to be overly dramatic about it.
7. Underestimating how long it will take to get to one of London’s not-so-central airports
First of all:
London has about 10 billion airports. Every time I thought I had been to them all, another one would magically appear and my mind would be blown.
Kind of like that crazy TLC couple with 19 kids and more just kept appearing. I mean I really thought she had gone through menopause and then BOOM, she’d be knocked up again.
But back to airports in London.
In actuality, London is serviced by five major airports: London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, and London Stansted.
I only flew into and out of two of them, London Luton and London Stansted.
Both of which are rediculously far from the London City center.
And by far, since I’m kind of being a whiny diva about it, I mean a solid hour and a half.
I traveled from Victoria Station to Luton and from Stansted to the Kensington area.
So do yourself a favor and give yourself plenty of time to get to and from the airport, especially at night when you’re bobbing and weaving through hordes of drunk college guys, just to snag a seat on the last train.’
The train I was on was the unofficial drunk train, fully equipped with stupid drunk men as far as the eye could see, and hear.
8. Not getting an Oyster card
Does anyone actually buy single ride tickets anymore?
I assume they do, but I’ve never seen it since most people use the Oyster Card, a cheaper and easier way to ride the London underground.
And no, this card has nothing to do with the filter feeding little sea creatures of delight.
An oyster card is a form of contactless card payment. Just touch the card on a giant round circle and the machine automatically deducts the cost of the fare from the amount on the card.
You can even get these bad boys of awesome at any tube station (you might want to make your life a smidge simpler and buy an oyster card online here). , refill them when your balance runs low, or return the card and get your £5 deposit back.
Behold the power of modern technology.
***Need to refill your card? Do this at a smaller station to avoid long queues. Also, try and pay with a credit card since the queue to pay with cash is usually longer.***
9. Taking the TUBE at rush hour
Dear God and all that is holy, no, just no.
I hate people and crowds in general, so the idea of shoving myself into a confined space with about a thousand other people is a living hell.
Is it as bad as Tokyo? No, but pretty damn close.
Just think of a three year old smooshing the crap out of an ant mound and that’s exactly how you’ll feel.
So unless you enjoy a lack of personal space and crushed appendages, steer clear of the underground at rush hour and hop on a city bike instead.
10. Standing on the left side of the escalator
Across the pond in the US:
We love to chill out and relax in the center of the escalator.
We swim in a sea of personal space and might think the world revolves around us, just a bit.
But in London?
Heck no! You MUST stand on the right side of the escalator if you’re not in a rush.
Do otherwise and you might insight a riot.
Kidding. Londoners are much too nice for that sort of thing.
As a courtesy to Londoner’s in a hurry, the unwritten rule in London is to stand on the right side and allow people to pass on the left.
To do anything else is just frankly, kind of rude. Especially if you’re a hardcore tourist like me, and you’re only pressing engagement for the day is afternoon tea at Cutter and Squidge.
11. Not purchasing tickets in advance for the Churchill War Rooms (and other more major attractions)
I thought I was safe.
I thought the Churchill War Rooms were a not so major attraction in London and perhaps a mildly unusual thing to do in London.
But I was dead wrong, per usual.
I mosied on up to the Churchill War Rooms, thinking I would just roll right in, but nope.
There was a line around the block. And being an eternal optimist, I thought I would get in before my afternoon tea reservation.
Instead, like a moron, I queued for over an hour, listening to this horrid girl moan and groan about everything to her poor boyfriend, just to leave 15 minutes before I would have entered the museum.
Epic Girl with the Passport fail.
So don’t be like me and book your tickets to the Churchill War Rooms in advance.
Because while Londoners consider queueing a national sport, I for one do not want to spend my entire time in London waiting in line.
You may also want to consider purchasing your tickets to Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Shard, Sky Garden, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in advance, especially if it’s your first time in London.
***Another great way to save money on some of London’s top attractions is to buy a London Pass and instantly download it on your phone. Choose between 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 10 day passes that include access to over 80 London attractions, with skip the line access at certain locations, and a free hop-on-hop-off bus tour.***
12. Visiting Madam Tussaud’s
For the life of me:
I will never understand why Madam Tussaud’s is always packed.
And not just in London.
Whether you’re in London, New York City, or Amsterdam, this place is always overflowing with people who are just dying to get it.
When literally, this place is just a series of high-quality, wax figures of famous people.
Actually never mind. I get why it’s packed.
This place is crowded for the same reason that people purchase 22 pound cups of boozy hot chocolate.
They do it all for the gram.
No judgment though. I too have done ridiculous things for Instagram, So if it makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt people, rock on dear reader.
But as someone who has been to Madam Tussaud’s, I found it crowded, over-priced, and devoid of anything culturally significant.
So I’d give it a hard pass.
But everyone’s different so if wax figures are your thing than go for it.
Some other London tourist traps that you might want to steer clear of include the Clink Museum, the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, M and M’s world (it’s lame in NYC too), Abbey Road, etc.
But I’m also insanely awkward and hate crowds and hordes of tourists so feel free to ignore me if any of this offends you.
13. Carrying too much cash
Exchanging all your cash into British pounds is SOO last century of you!! LoL.
In my former life, I used to head to the nearest ATM with no fees, insert my debit card, and withdraw as much local currency as humanly possible.
However, those days are long gone.
Today, most businesses, like taxis, accept cards, thereby rendering gobs of cash kind of useless, unless you’re a pickpocket.
So should you still take out cash?
Of course! Some local shops only accept cash, while other businesses have a purchase minimum or associated transaction fees.
But in general, cash isn’t as incredibly necessary as it once was.
You never know when Y2K mania is going to sweep across the globe, again, and annihilate all the world’s computer systems, rendering cash the only viable form of payment.
But seriously, you may also want to snag a bed in my underground bomb shelter because you never know when the apocalypse will strike (said with complete humor).
14. Not Watching Out for Pickpockets
Never once did I feel unsafe in London.
That being said, this doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen and that I’m immune to danger, especially if you’re traveling London solo.
Because London is still a major city. So yes, you do still need to be careful and watch out for pickpockets.
Many scammers actually prey upon the fact that you’re lulled into a false sense of security because you’re in London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
So stay safe:
Because trust me, nothing ruins a trip faster than getting scammed so it’s better to be safe than sorry (One of the worst mistakes I made in Barcelona, Spain).
15. Assuming public transportation will run during public holidays
Aww, you thought you were gonna use the underground or train to get around during a major bank holiday like Christmas?
That’s so cute but yeah, not gonna happen.
Bank holidays are when the government does repair work on most of the major lines of public transportation in the city.
So on Christmas?
Yeah, there’s no public transportation of any kind. Unless you wanna rock a city bike like a total boss.
And the trains?
Yeah, you probably won’t be able to get into or out of London between the 24th and 26th of December (I haven’t been to London during any other holidays so check online to see the schedule).
So if you’re visiting London during a major public holiday, check the public transportation schedule to make sure that everything is running normally.
You don’t want to be THAT girl who gets stuck up in Scotland, chillin’ with the Lochness Monster when your hotel is actually in London.
***FYI: The major bank holidays in London are New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Early May Bank Holiday (May 6), Spring Bank Holiday (May 27), Summer Bank Holiday (August 26th), Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.***
16. Not booking the Harry Potter London Tour WELL in advance and leaving yourself enough time to get there.
The good news?
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is amazing and is absolutely one of the top things to do in London.
So definitely go. I solemnly swear it’s amazing.
The bad news?
(SPOILER ALERT) Harry Potter mania did not die with Voldemort in the last movie.
Tickets sell out faster than dentures at a nursing home.
I mean, not only are there a ton of Harry Potter fans out there, but we are fiercely loyal and will defend the honor of Harry Potter with our last dying breathe (sorry but it’s way better than Twilight)…and casually visit places like this about 6 times.
I wish I was kidding about that last part but I’m not.
Harry Potter devotion is REAL, like Hogwarts and wizard level real.
Remember, swish and flick!
That’s why I HIGHLY suggest purchasing your tickets a few months in advance (maybe 3, depending on the time of year).
Not only are tickets easy to buy (just book them here), but the further in advance you purchase your tickets, the easier it is to get tickets for the exact date and time that your little heart desires.
But what time of day is the perfect time to visit?
Glad you asked! Personally, I would book a tour between 10:30 or 11:00 am.
Not only does this give you plenty of time to check out the studio, but you’ll also have time afterward to explore the gift shop and the remainder of the facility before everything closes for the day.
Another great thing about this time slot is that you can make it to your studio tour, but without waking up at the ass crack of dawn.
The studio is a bit outside of London since it’s huge and occupies an epic amount of space.
If you use public transportation, depending on where you’re staying, it can take a solid hour/hour and a half to get there.
***Just take the underground to West Brompton Station. Once there, you’ll transfer to the train and get off at Watford Junction. From here, you can either take the public bus, or the official Warner Brothers bus to the studio tour. ***
It’s not a difficult journey, it just takes awhile.
And since I’m an anti-morning person, anything that helps me sleep in is basically nirvana, hence the latish ticket time.
(If you love mornings, go early and it’ll be a lot less crowded)
But if you hate public transportation with the fury of a thousand suns, then make your life easier and book a bus transfer to the studio when you purchase your studio ticket.
17. Visiting only Central London
I get it:
You’re in London for the first time and you want to ogle the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, selfie it up and pretend you’re royal at Buckingham Palace, and even visit the London Eye for epic panoramic views of London since well, Big Ben is a lost cause anyway.
And I totally support that.
You have every right to be as touristy as humanly possible.
London is a huge city and has so much more to offer visitors than just a trip to Harrod’s and a pic of Westminister Abbey (even though I am obsessed with Westminister Abbey and the history there).
Because believe it or not:
Most locals don’t actually live next door to Buckingham Palace and endlessly contemplate what the queen is doing with every minute of every day.
Shocking I know but true.
That’s why you’ve got to get out of central London and go where the real people go.
So put on those big girl (or boy) pants:
And dare to venture beyond Covent Garden and see what London is really about, beyond the major tourist traps, I mean attractions.
Savor the street art of Shoreditch, marvel at the pastel hues of Notting Hill, and take in the picturesque Victorian houses of Fulham and Putney.
You won’t regret it and your Instagram account will love you forever.
18. Not carrying an umbrella with you at ALL times.
London is one of those super fun places, like most of the UK, where you can literally experience all four seasons in one day.
And if you’re super lucky, in one hour.
So while London is known for being rather damp and dreary, with an endless number of passing showers, the sun can also come out from time to time too.
At which point people generally come out, celebrate, get ice cream, sunbathe without sunscreen, and then complain about getting burnt and about how hot it is (Yup, me too. I wasn’t meant for the sun either).
But then in an hour:
The skies can literally open up and downpour all over you.
You just never know when it’s gonna happen!
That’s why it’s imperative that you always carry an umbrella with you, no matter where you go.
At any moment, a disgruntled, rogue raincloud could just randomly drizzle all over you and leave you standing there, cold and miserable.
Some women can pull off that whole sexy, windswept, wet hair look that makes them resemble a damn mermaid.
Yeah, I come out of a rainstorm looking, and probably smelling, more like a disgruntled wet dog than Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
That’s why I always play it safe and carry an umbrella.
19. Using the Hop on, Hop Off Bus
There are several different Hop On Hop Off bus companies, in London, that sell daily bus tickets for something like £25.00 a person!
And those are the cheaper tickets!
YIKES! Yeah, thanks but no thanks.
I was misguided in my youth and tried the Hop On Hop Off Bus in London.
But I thought it was a total rip off, especially since you can easily save a ton of money by using the Underground instead.
Why would you ever want to pay so much for a bus ride when public buses are affordable, easy to use, and can take you anywhere your little tourist heart desires?
Glad you see my point.
The only way I could see the Hop On Hop Off bus as possibly being useful is if you had 24 hours in the city and literally just wanted to sit on the bus and see the diverse assortment of attractions that London has to offer.
Otherwise, the price of this bus just isn’t worth it in any way, shape, or form.
20. Paying too much for West End Theater tickets
I want to pay an insane amount of money for tickets to theatrical performances in the West End.
And the more money I spend the better because I think it would a fun challenge to try and skip eating for the remainder of my vacation.
Yeah, I guarantee no one has ever said that.
But just like in NYC, going to the theater is a huge part of visiting London for the first time.
But man does it get expensive fast.
So how do you nab tickets for a performance in the West End, without paying the equivalent of a small nation’s gross national product?
Glad you asked because there are a ton of save big on London theatre.
You can always go the old-fashioned route and nab some same day tickets from the TKTS booth in London.
I hate waiting outside in the rain and being among hordes of people in general so I personally prefer the online route.
And websites like LastMinute.com, Compare Theatre Tickets (compares tickets deals from all major ticket vendors and shows you the best prices), Theatre Monkey (offers discounts on hundreds of shows. Just use the site’s theater seating guide to make sure the seats are good), and Get into London Theatre (you set the price you want to pay and they’ll match you with tickets based on how much you want to spend) will help you score great seats for less.
Wanna be cool like me (don’t answer that)?
Just do what I do and download the Todaytix app to purchase discount tickets in advance, on your phone.
Then, on the day of the show, just pick your tickets up from a kindly Todaytix employee who is standing outside the theatre in a bright red, Todaytix sweatshirt.
Yup, it’s that simple.
So pinkies up my friends as we score sweet deals and prepare to enter the high-class world of London theater.
It’s actually not that fancy. Pretty much anyone can go.
Shout to the cool kids who made it to the end of my hopefully helpful post.
Gold Stars for you all!
I know these really aren’t technically London insider tips since I’m from New York City.
So if you’re ready to start planning a trip to London then pin this London travel guide now and read it again later.