a group of red telephone booths

Cheers doesn’t just mean beers…

If there’s ever a city where people say “I could live here” – it’s London. Despite being one of the world’s largest metropolis, London is incredibly manageable, ridiculously charming and steeped in tradition, just like its famous afternoon teas. Yet with all the storied history, London constantly reinvents itself, like a great artist. Each year new boroughs, bars and trends emerge, bringing new light and inspiration to a city that defines multiculturalism. If you’re visiting London for the first time, or are just an oblivious traveler hoping to gain a bit of an edge, avoiding these tourist mistakes will keep you from making a fool of yourself, getting hit with a briefcase or at the very least, getting ripped off…

a double decker bus on the streetStand In The Middle

London is not your average commuter town and the underground is not your typical place. If you stand to the left, or in the middle of an escalator or moving walkway – you’re absolutely going to get a briefcase to the knee and you’ll very quickly learn about one of the UK’s lesser known gems, the disgruntled “tut”. Rush hour on the underground is no joke, and if you want to earn respect while keeping your legs in tact, stand to the right on any moving walkway or escalator and tuck in. You’ll see busy people flying by you on the left, and if you want to join them, you better wear your running shoes. With all that said, you’re even crazier if you avoid the Tube.

Cab From The Airport

You’ve already made your first mistake, and you haven’t even checked in! Before you rationalize how cabs are much nicer – you’re wrong. Heathrow and Gatwick offer incredibly sharp, fast and efficient high speed train service into central London via Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express. Heathrow also offers outstanding “tube” service into many popular London neighborhoods via the Piccadilly Line, which costs less than £5 ($7) one way. Heathrow Express takes 15 minutes from Terminal to Paddington Station, and if you happen to be a Star Alliance Gold member, you get a free upgrade to business class! Both services run frequently and advanced tickets can be as cheap as £5 one way, or £22 as a walk up.

a graffiti on a wallMiss The Galleries

At $20 a pop, gallery prices around the world can be off putting. But things are different in London. Firstly, most London museums and galleries are free, so it would be stupid not to visit. Yes, free – gratis – gratuit, that one. The ones you’ve heard of like Tate Modern, National Gallery, Tate Britain and V&A are wonderful, but it’s also definitely worth checking out lesser explored gems like The Courtauld Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Guildhall Art Gallery and more.

Pass On Oyster

If you spend time in London, and don’t bother getting an Oyster card, you’re wasting precious time. Oyster is your mass transit card which allows you to tap in and tap out at each station and on buses. It’s easy to set up, easier to figure out and can get you virtually anywhere. London isn’t known for having the most efficient roadways, but underground is an entirely different story. The tube system is surprisingly easy to figure out, especially if you use Google Maps while connected to wifi.

a tea set and drinks on a table

Miss Afternoon Tea

Look, it’s a tradition unlike any other, and even if you don’t think you’ll like it – you will. A proper afternoon tea in London is so much more than “tea”. It may or may not include champagne, and always – repeat always – includes towers of savory and sweet treats. The fun thing about social media, is that it’s created afternoon tea monsters. The B bakery tea bus tour is afternoon tea on and old school London bus which zips around the city, and then you have other megastars like the cocktail inspired version at the world’s former #1 bar, Dandelyan. Of course, you can always go traditional too with Langham, Ritz, Claridges and co. Here’s a guide to the tea scene

Hate On British Food

In the 80’s this was totally fair game, but the 80’s are over, even if Bruno Mars doesn’t know yet. Britain has become a gastronomic capital of the world, with an outrageous number of celebrated chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, Tom Kitchin and Heston Blumenthal dominating the international culinary scene. Michelin starred restaurants are door to door with high quality pubs, and in case you didn’t know Chicken Tikka Masala is the national dish – not fish and chips. No trip is complete without at least one gastropub experience for some thrice cooked chips (that’s fries) and some battered fish. Here are the cheapest Michelin starred restaurants in the UK, in case you’re into that sorta thing.

a group of red telephone boothsUse The Wrong Phrases

Double fisting in America is not double fisting in the UK. If you’re trying to tell London friends that you’re carrying two beers, do-not-say double fisting. Similarly: chips aren’t chips, a rubber is not condom, zucchini’s aren’t zucchinis, pants aren’t pants, fancy dress doesn’t mean tuxedos and there’s a whole long list of other phrases it’s best to master before you land. In the UK, being pissed isn’t always a bad thing.

Stay Central

Much like Times Square in New York, tourists are drawn to Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus like moth to flame. Once you’ve quite literally seen the light, move on. One of the most unique aspects of London life is the diversity of the neighborhoods. In mere minutes you can go from high rise buildings in the “city” to quaint townhouses, industrial areas, green parks and of course, the colorful buildings of Notting Hill. Hampstead, Mayfair, South Kensington, Shoreditch, Barons Court, Brixton, Islington and Camden should get you started…

a large building with a statue of a horseSit In The Wrong Section

An English Premier League football game is truly a must for any sports fan. The environment is nothing short of electrifying and the sounds and songs will last forever in your memory. Unlike many countries, tickets should be purchased directly from team fan clubs, by joining the team club online. If you’re a Chelsea fan, and are attending an Arsenal game, you’ll want to make sure you get a ticket in the away fans section, or remain neutral in outfit and demeanor. In reality you probably won’t get punched if you don’t, but if you feel something cold and wet slide down the back of your neck, it’s a pint. If it’s warm and looks like a pint, even worse…

Fall For The Covent Garden Pickpocket

You’re about to catch a nearby show, you’re enjoying the amusing, if not weird entertainment on display in Covent Garden, and then you realize, that while watching a man unshackle himself, with a key he himself has, that your wallet has gone missing. Covent Garden is worth a peek at least once, but when it’s jam packed and the action is on, so are pickpockets. Keep a copy of your passport in your room and keep your wallet somewhere you can feel it, see it or lock it.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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