I know what it’s like to be excited and land in a new city for the first time, especially if it’s a great bucket list city like London.
You’ve been lucky enough to get some cheap flights to London, snagged some equally amazing accommodation and as soon as your feet hit the pavement, you want to do everything. You want to fill your days with visits to iconic sites and obtain some bragging rights following some rabbit holes down to unknown gems frequented by only this hippest Londoners.
But to maximise your time and your budget, you must cull your list and make a choice of what to do while you are there.
I have compiled a list of 10 things not to do and 10 things you should do instead when you are in this fair city on the River Thames. It will help you maximise your time and save yourself from frustration and disappointment.
Don’t wing it, London is a massive city with centuries of history to sort through. It is also one of the busiest, most visited cities on the planet so there is a good chance that travelling will involve navigating traffic and waiting in lines at places of interest. Investing some time in planning your sightseeing is imperative.
Do instead book a city tour. Because the list of things to see and do in London is impossibly long, it may be both efficient and economical to book a city tour or grab a self-guided one from the internet. Anything that will allow you to book tickets for attractions in advance or possibly skip the line and generally plan your visit may ensure a better overall experience.
Don’t confuse London Bridge with Tower Bridge. Close your eyes. Now picture London Bridge. There is a high chance you are envisioning Tower Bridge and not its less impressive cousin upstream. Tower Bridge gives amazing views of the city and often hosts exhibitions. The other is just a concrete bridge built in the 1970s.
Do instead visit Tower Bridge. Resist the temptation to be satisfied with a selfie with this iconic landmark in the background and go visit one of the exhibitions in the bridge’s twin towers.
Don’t visit chain restaurants. Look, I get it, sometimes you want something familiar when you are travelling, but don’t do that in London. It is one of the world’s greatest international cities. You can get authentic cuisine from all corners of the planet or amazing street food in places like Camden Market. You are in the city of the Sunday roast and high tea - stay away from the golden arches.
Do instead have high tea in Claridges. There are few things more English than high tea and you can have it in countless places in the city, but few, if any, surpass the Claridge's Hotel. Famed for hosting visiting royalty and Hollywood stars of yesteryear like Audrey Hepburn and modern legends like Brad Pitt, its afternoon tea is legendary. To my first point, it would be smart to book your visit in advance as it fills out fast.
Don’t get stuck in London. There is certainly more in London than you could ever see on one trip, but it is also a great springboard to visit so much of the UK. You can take a quick bus ride to the countryside or even a cheap flight to Scotland.
Do instead take a day trip to smaller cities. Take an opportunity to get out of the city for the day. An hour and a half bus ride could take you to smaller historic cities like Cambridge or Oxford. It can give you the opportunity to wander quieter cobblestone streets and the chance to visit iconic pubs like The Eagle and Child.
Don’t take a taxi. London’s black cabs are iconic but expensive and are subject to the oppression of London traffic like any other vehicle. If they are of interest to you, snap a picture or two, but they are hardly worth the cost in terms of money and lost time.
Do instead take the tube. An even more iconic mode of transport is the London Tube. It is by far the most economical way to get from “Point A” to “Point B”. Obtaining an Oyster Card during your stay is a very worthwhile investment.
Don’t stick to trendy bars. I won’t discourage you from visiting the trendy watering spots around the city, but I feel like they are a bit devoid of the character a proper London pub can give.
Do instead visit a pub. London has many historic pubs with funky names like The Dog and Duck, The Blackfriar and The Lamb and Flag. Have a drink and an authentic Sunday roast - it will give you a great story to tell when you get home.
Don’t spend too much on sightseeing when a selfie will do. There are many sights that are great picture worthy sites that are not worth the price of admission. The London Eye is more than just a big Ferris wheel and Big Ben is more than just a clock, but the ticket price of £25 each would be better saved and spent on other experiences.
Do free tourist trips instead. The British Museum is free and is one of the greatest museums in the Western world. The city is replete with free attractions like this so, again, plan and you can experience some great things as cheap as free.
Don’t visit Abbey Road crosswalk. Nothing speaks to the phenomenon that was Beatlemania more than the fact that they made a crosswalk famous. Unless you are already in the area, walking from one sidewalk to the next is hardly worth a trip to the UK.
Do instead walk Harry Potter’s London. London was used as a backdrop for many of the film franchise’s most iconic scenes. A little research and you can find everything from Diagon Alley (Leadenhall Market) to Platform 9 ¾ (Kings Cross Station).
These are another two of those wonderful free things you can do in the city.
Don’t visit Madame Tussauds. There is a Madame Tussauds in many cities around the world. The one in London is so popular that the line often snakes around the corner and entering can take a couple of hours.
Do instead take a walk in Hyde Park. It is one of the most historic and simply stunning locations in London. Stop and take a quick listen at a debate in Speaker’s Corner or go paddle boating.
Don’t do The Clink Museum. The Clink is built on the foundations of England’s oldest prison but that’s the most interesting thing about it. The rooms are poorly lit and while there is a decent display of medieval torture implements, the same can be seen in more interesting locations.
Do instead go to the Tower of London. If dungeons and torture implements are your thing, it would be better to visit the Tower of London, plus you have the bonus of viewing the Crown Jewels as well.
A little planning will go a long way when you visit London and the reward will be a lifetime of memories.