Nobody wants to look like a noob tourist in London. I have legit anxiety about being labelled as that ‘Lost Canadian’, with my messy unfolded map, overflowing fanny pack, and sighs of desperation.
In London, there are cultural differences, unsaid rules, and etiquette faux pas I will give you the heads up on.
These tips will help you see London like a local and avoid the top tourist mistakes.
15. Hiring an Airport Taxi
The first time I landed at Gatwick I said “Oh, we’ll just hire a taxi from the airport, it can’t be that much.”
I was wrong.
I really CAN be ‘that much’. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I was quoted well over £100 (which is $170 Canadian) for a simple taxi sedan. I was also surprised to know that you don’t simply ‘hail’ or line up for them like you do in the USA, you go to a booth to order one from a representative.
Yeah, there was no way we were paying that, so it was a great time to download Uber and use it for the very first time. Our UberX was only £45, which was a fair price considering the alternative.
14. Standing on the Left Side of the Escalator
London is one of the biggest business hubs in the world. There is a lot of exec’s rushing through pubic transit to catch their next meeting. Unless you want to turn the escalator into a stair master, keep to the RIGHT side when you want to stand.
The left side of the escalator is reserved for people in a hurry, who need to plow past you. Don’t be THAT guy blocking the fast lane.
13. Walking on the Right Side of the Sidewalk
For walking in London, take the same logic as the escalator above and then throw it out. In many cultures, most people walk on the ‘right’ side of the street to keep some sense of organizational flow. Not London. It’s a free for all. Pick any place you want to march and enjoy the scattered pandemonium.
12. Tipping the Barman at a Pub
I walked up to the bar at a pub and ordered myself a drink. When the bartender handed me my change, I looked around for the tip jar.
It wasn’t there?
That seemed odd, because if you don’t tip at the bar in Canada it’s basically the end of times. There wasn’t even a flat enough spot to place change to walk away, so I kind of hung out and waited to get his attention again. I started to feel awkward. I grabbed his eye, held out the change and said “Here you go!”, which resulted in him looking at me a little strangely, but then smiling as if to say “Ah, yes… you are obviously very new here. Cheers”.
Apparently, locals don’t usually tip the barman. Especially not a large tip for each drink as they do in the US/Canada.
11. Not Bringing An Adapter (and dual voltage devices!)
Packing an adaptor for your visit to London isn’t enough. You have to make sure what you are going to plug INTO the adapter can handle dual voltage.
Case and point, my husbands electric razor. He thought that just because he had the handy little adaptor, everything would be peachy. Nope, his razor was only set to run on ONE voltage, resulting in sparks and flames when he turned it on.
Thank goodness my hair dryer and straightener were dual voltage devices!
10. Buying Only Bottled Water
Over the last 5 years, I’ve been travelling primarily to countries where it’s essentially a death wish to drink the water out of the tap. Coming into the UK for a few months it was very refreshing to be able to grab a glass of water from the sink. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to taste amazing, but it’s safe!
When visiting London, save your money and re-fill bottles out of fountains and taps instead of paying for bottled.
9. Mispronouncing River Thames
I learned this the hard way by repeating ‘THH-ames’ on my Instagram Stories while doing a night river cruise tour. About 50 DM’s later telling me I was pronouncing it completely wrong, showing my true Londoner noob status.
It’s pronounced as ‘Temz’.
Same thing goes for Leicester Square = ‘LESS-Ter’
8. Waiting for a waiter to take your order at a pub
I heard you can’t visit London without having some fish and chips with mushy peas. So, I went into a well rated pub and sat myself down at an open table. And waited. And waited.
And then realized that everyone else was heading up to the bar to order and even paying for it ahead of time. Backwards from what I was used to, but makes total sense! It made me look like a pro the next pub I went into.
7. Only Getting Yourself a Pint
If you are with a small group of local friends at a pub, offer to buy them all a round instead of just getting yourself a drink. Next turn, it’s up to someone else in the group to buy the drink. It’s seen a rude to just grab one for yourself and not offer for others. In the grand scheme of things, this should even out over time with everyone getting their fair share of free/paid drinks.
6. Not Having Change For Public Washrooms.
Another big difference between North America and Europe is pay-potties. If you have to use the loo while your out in public, get ready to pay for it! While it’s not much, you will still need exact change on hand to enter, so always bring some coins with you while you’re touring around.
5. Not Using An Oyster Visitor Card
If you plan on using the Underground at all, get an Oyster Visitor Card! It is WAY cheaper than buying your subway tickets each time as a one-way fare.
You can order them online ahead of time and have them delivered to your home, or you can get them at the Gatway Express ticket office.
If you are planning on using the Underground for 4 days, load it with 30 and enjoy the convenience!
Tip: ALWAYS have this card in hand. Nothing screams “I’ve never done this!” then holding up lines looking for your card. You need it to get IN and OUT of the subway, so just keep it out.
4. Not Downloading the Tube App
Instead of finding the big map on the wall that yells out “I’m a lost newbie!” I would covertly figure out how lost I was in secret, by using the Tube’s Map App. It was actually super useful in helping to plan routes, find out about delays, and to get my bearings on where the heck I actually was. All on the down-low. People just figured I was checking social media when I was really getting un-lost!
You can even download your route for offline when you might not have wifi.
3. Thinking You’ll Have Cell Service On The Tube
While visiting London, you should know you’ll frequently encounter cell outages while using the Tube. If you are from a big city that uses a subway system, you are completely familiar with this, but many tourists don’t know there are service blackouts.
Lots of areas are just too deep underground for cell service, so plan ahead and don’t rely on being connected 100% of the time.
2. Not Bringing a Personal Hotspot
We are Canadian, so turning on our cell phones while touring through London would have resulted in approximately $7 Million dollars in roaming charges (give or take). Instead, we brought our own personal wifi that we could both hotspot on, giving us unlimited data each day we needed it.
We could update social media, use maps, apps and everything in between… Without worrying about our cell phone bill exploding.
1. Staying Only In The Tourist Zones
The further you can get away from Camden, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and other tourist hotspots, the more you can blend in like a Londoner. If you want true brit culture, it would make sense to explore areas that are not 99% packed with other tourists.
Get yourself into that dingy pub or through that local Sunday flower market, you’ll have way more fun.
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