Last Updated on April 30, 2023 by Louise
Are you visiting London for the first time?
As a newbie in London, there a few easy mistakes to make that can also be costly. To help you avoid some faux pas, I have made a list of common tourist errors.
I have been guilty of a few myself – most definintely number 3, number 8 and number 10!
Avoiding these 17 easy to make mistakes can save valuable time and money.
Read on and find out what not to do on a visit to London.
1.) Tipping Too Much.
Tipping can be confusing to non Brits, especially if you come from the US where tipping a lot is expected.
Tipping is definitely a must and appreciated, just make sure it’s not too much (or too little).
Tipping is super easy if you know the rules. Here they are:
- It’s customary to tip if you’ve had good service at a restaurant. The normal amount to tip is between 10 and 12%. However, it’s not always necessary to tip. Sometimes, a restaurant will add a service charge onto the bill. Check the bill when you pay to see if this is the case. If this happens you are not expected to tip as it’s covered by this charge.
- If you leave a tip, you can hand it to the waiter or waitress but most people just leave the money on the table when they leave.
- Only tip if you have service to your table. If you eat at a pub and order food and drinks at the bar, you don’t need to tip. Likewise, you don’t need to tip at coffee houses.
- Taxi drivers – It’s very common to round up the taxi fare to give a bit extra and tell the driver to keep the change. Otherwise you can tip 10% especially if you’ve had good service (for example they’ve helped carry your bags). Tip Uber drivers on the app if you’ve had good service.
- Leave a tip on a free walking tour if you enjoyed it as this how the guides earn an income. Tipping a paid tour guide isn’t expected but you can if you want to.
- Tipping is customary in 5 star hotels. Tip your porter about £2 per bag and give room service a couple of pounds tip if you’re happy. Tipping is not expected or done in most mid range or budget hotels but staff will always be happy to receive a tip for good service.
2.) Not Knowing the London Lingo
Us Brits have our unique phrases and vocabulary that other English speaking countries don’t. Here are a few words and phrases to know when visiting London
You alright or alright? – This is often asked as a quick greeting and used a lot. It’s a way of saying hello rather than asking if something’s wrong. Normally, “yes, good, thanks” is the only reply that’s needed.
Bill instead of cheque
Bin instead of trashcan
Lift instead of elevator
Chips instead of fries
Biscuit instead of cookie
Ice lolly instead of popsicle
Pavement instead of sidewalk
Jumper instead of sweater
Loo or toilet instead of bathroom / restroom
Queue instead of line
Money is in pounds and pence. You may hear quid used as an alternative to pounds. So if you ask how much something is and they say 6 quid they mean 6 pounds.
Sorry – we say sorry a lot. It’s ingrained. Sorry.
Don’t worry too much if you use American English. Most Brits will know what you mean. We’ve watched a lot of American TV!
3.) Booking Tickets At the Last Minute
Want to visit the popular attractions or see a popular theatre show? Book tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment, especially in peak tourist times. Many popular attractions in London, such as the Tower of London and the London Eye, have long queues and can sell out quickly. It’s also likely your tickets will be cheaper if you book in advance.
4.) Queue Jumping!
We love queuing, so if there’s a queue join the end. It’s civilized and everybody gets to the front in good time.
There are a few exceptions. For example, if you’ve prebooked tickets you should be able to skip the main queue or join a shorter queue for people who’ve prebooked.
5.) Not Using the Tube
The first time I was in London on my own using the tube felt scary. Everybody else seemed to know what they were doing except for me. However I quickly learned, using the tube is super easy. Plus, it’s the best and cheapest way to get across London.
Top Tip – If you’re worried, practice looking at a tube map in advance. Have fun working out what lines to take to get between places.
6.) Using the Tube at Peak Time
The first time I used the Tube at rush hour, I was amazed how many people could squeeze onto one tube carriage. I watched 4 trains arrive and leave the station before I realised I would have to squeeze on too, otherwise I would be late for my new job!
Avoid this scenario but not using the Tube at peaktimes. Then you won’t have to squeeze yourself in like a sardine!
The best times to avoid are 7:30-9am and 5-7pm
7.) Using Paper Tickets (Use an Oyster Card Instead)
An oyster card is a must for getting around London. It’s the quickest and cheapest way to pay for journeys in the capital. Don’t buy individual card tickets. They will cost a lot more.
Use an Oyster card for travel on the Tube, buses, the DLR, the rail network in Greater London, river services, Heathrow Express and trains between Gatwick and London.
If you’re visiting from overseas, you can buy a visitor oyster card online before you go.
UK visitors can use their contactless card as an Oyster card or they can buy an oyster card online.
8.) Taking the Tube When You Can Walk
Although the tube is the best way to get across London, a mistake many visitors make is not realising how close together some of the tube stations are. Sometimes, it’s quicker to walk, rather than go on the tube.
Walking is a great way to discover the city. Check how long it takes to walk between destinations with the city app, a great app to have in London.
9.) Wearing Uncomfortable Shoes
No matter whether you walk or use the Tube, a trip to London means you will be on your feet a lot. Make sure you wear some flat, comfortable shoes.
10.) Standing on the Wrong Side of the Escalator
If you’re using the escalator in the Tube make sure you stand on the right hand side. This is so people can use the left hand side for walking past you quickly. If you stand on the left, you may be asked to move to the right so people can get by.
11.) Missing out on Free Attractions
Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on the paid attractions. You’ll miss out on many wonderful, free things to see and do.
London has a wealth of free museums, galleries, and parks that offer a great way to experience the city without breaking the bank. You can spend days and even weeks in London, visiting free attraction. Some highlights include the Natural History Museum and the British museum.
There’s also the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace which is free to watch and popular with tourists.
12.) Pronouncing Place Names Incorrectly
London (and the rest of the UK) have some weird and wonderful place names where the spelling doesn’t match the pronunciation.
Leicester (as in Leicester Square) is pronounced Less ter.
Greenwich is pronounced Grenich
Marylebone is pronounced Marlibun
Borough is pronounce Bura.
13.) Not Knowing the Tax is Included in the Price.
In the UK, the tax is included in the price of items, so you don’t need to add it on before you buy.
14.) Underestimating the Weather
Weather can change quickly in London. Check the forecast before you go out to make sure you have the right gear. Layers are great for wearing in London. Add a layer when you get chilly and take one off when you’re hot.
You may need an umbrella or sunscreen (and sometimes on the same day!).
15.) Expecting Waitress Service in a Pub
In most pubs you will need to go to a bar to order food and drink. The bartender will make your drink while you’re waiting. If you order food, They will take your table number and they will bring the food to your table when it’s ready.
Pubs are the only place in the UK where is no visible queue. It’s simple, just wait at the bar to be served and the bartender tries to serve customers in order.
16.) Not Looking Both Ways When You Cross the Street
UK drivers drive on the left. It’s easy to forget this, so make sure you look both ways when crossing the street to avoid getting run over.
17.) Bringing Only Cash
Since Covid many places are now card only, so you’ll need a card or Apple pay, even in some markets. However, there are still some places that only take cash, so make sure you have some pounds and pence too.
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