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How to Look Like a Tourist in London

London Eye

Only tourists ride the London Eye!! I’m just joking, it’s actually really cool and I recommend it to tourists and Londoners alike. 

I was walking around Notting Hill the other day and was really overcome with how many tourists were in the area, at least compared to my little corner in the east end of the city. There were many crowds of people taking photos of the colourful houses and local pubs, and it got me thinking about tourists in London in general – I still play tourist a lot in London, despite having lived here for a couple of years. I thought about writing a post about cultural norms in the city, but that seemed a bit dull. I mean, how much more fun would it be to write an article that explained how to look like a tourist in London instead?

So, following up on that thought, I have created a guide for you so that you can figure out exactly how to act when you visit the Big Smoke as a tourist.*

The Shard

The Thames, pronounced with a very prominent “TH” sound

1. Walk very, very slowly on the sidewalk, er, pavement. Londoners are never in any rush, especially around Liverpool Street, Bank, The Strand, or any other financial district. Bonus points if your group takes up the entire pavement, making it impossible to pass you without stepping into the busy street.

2. Speak very loudly on the subway, er, tube (or any other form of transportation). Why do Londoners all speak in a whisper on the tube?! So bizarre. Also, making conversation with the people next to you is both welcomed and expected.

3. Stand on the left side of the escalator. Hell, stand wherever you want! Just because everyone else is standing on the right, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s a free country, after all!

4. When entering or exiting the turnstiles of the tube, make sure to leave your ticket or Oyster card in your pocket or wallet until the very last minute. Stand there and fumble for a while. Don’t worry, everyone else behind you will be very, very patient and understanding. Similarly, stand directly in front of the entrance to the tube platform itself. Oh, and directly in front of the tube map, or in front of the ticket machines. These are all the best places to have a lengthy conversation with someone.

5. When you get to the exit of the tube, make sure to stop in the doorway and check your map or your phone, blocking the exit for anyone else. Again, Londoners and other tourists will completely understand. I mean, you’re lost, of course standing in the exit is the best place to consult your map.

6. Don’t worry about lining up, er, queuing. Seriously, don’t worry about it. If you see someone glaring at you silently for jumping the queue, don’t take it personally, they’re probably just upset about something else.

7. Make sure to only visit Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, and Portobello Market. Those are the best places in London, period. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, head to Camden Market, but THAT’S IT. If you go to Buckingham Palace, you WILL see a member of the royal family, so make sure to push your way to the front of the gates. Also, the only acceptable London souvenir is a t-shirt that reads “Mind the Gap”.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

8. Eat at only the finest chain restaurants, including Angus Steakhouse and T.G.I. Friday’s. They are tried and true. English food is horrible anyway, everybody knows that.

9. Make sure to carry a big backpack full of travel gear wherever you go. Be completely unaware of it when you walk, making sure to bump into as many people as possible. Canadians, if you don’t stitch a flag on your backpack then I WILL think you’re American, despite being a Canadian myself.

10. When you cross the street, look left, then right, then left again. Or just left. Ignore the signs at your feet telling you which way to look, they’re irrelevant.

11. Make sure to get a photo crossing Abbey Road. Bonus points if you hold up traffic for at least a solid minute. You have to get the perfect shot, after all!

12. Be sure to speak up when you hear people talking about football… go Winnipeg Blue Bombers, amirite? Oh yeah, and if you meet an Arsenal fan, tell her that you love the Spurs. LOVE them.

13. Do not leave without a photo of London Bridge. Obviously. It’s so pretty.

London

London Bridge. That’s totally London Bridge and NOT Tower Bridge.

14. Don’t worry about manners. British people don’t care about manners or being polite. If someone holds a door for you, don’t thank him, just walk right through like you’re the Queen of England herself. Don’t worry, the man who held the door isn’t silently fuming at you, he’s just got the hump (meaning he’s annoyed because he thinks you did something wrong, but you clearly didn’t).

15. Laugh really loudly whenever anyone says the following: he’s just got the hump, bangers and mash, spotted dick, Cockfosters, Shepherd’s Bush, Tooting Bec, or anything else that is even vaguely vulgar. Because come on, they do sound kinda funny.

16. Go up to a local and ask where Leicester Square is. It is pronounced Lye-sess-ter. I mean, Ley-ches-ter.

17. Whenever you can’t understand someone, say, very loudly, “What?” and then, “Speak English.” Everyone’s cool with this, don’t worry.

18. Tell your host that she doesn’t know how to make tea the proper way. It’s a very specific procedure, after all, and English people don’t know the first thing about it.

19. Also tell your host, loudly, that you love her pants. Trust me on this. When I first moved to the UK (the first time, in 2008) I declared to a roomful of people, “I always wear skirts, I never wear pants.” You could hear a pin drop, everyone was so taken with me.

20. Speak to everyone with a very loud Austin Powers accent. Every single British person thinks it’s hilarious when you go up to them and say, “Do I make you horny, baby?” Always mock and mimic the various British accents, it will really endear you to the people.

Red Phone Box

Another bloody tourist!!! I mean, look guys, I really do live in London. 

21. Get a photo of yourself in front of a red telephone box, or else nobody will believe you actually went to London. No, really. They won’t believe you. You’ll need multiple angles, too: beside the phone box, in the phone box, opening the door to the phone box, opening the door to the phone box and reaching for the phone, talking on the phone, talking on the phone and realising it doesn’t actually work, wondering why the phone is so sticky, wondering why the phone box smells so distinctly of urine, and so on.

 

In all seriousness… as long as you’re polite, almost all Londoners are very accepting and welcoming of tourists. I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a tourist so long as you respect the country you’re in, and that means ethically, environmentally, and culturally. We can all make mistakes when we go to a new place for the first time no matter how much research we’ve done (I’ve made at least half of these mistakes in London before) and I guarantee there are a quite a few born-and-bred Londoners who do a lot of the things on this list, too. The beauty of travelling somewhere new is learning all about that place’s customs and – so long as it’s not something you morally disagree with – trying to adapt to them.

London is one of the greatest cities in the world, so how could anyone fault the tourists who want to see it? It has some of the best galleries, landmarks, restaurants, and nightlife around, so strap on that fanny pack, er, I mean, bum bag, and come see what all the fuss is about. Oh, and try to do the exact opposite of most of what I’ve said here. Except laughing at Tooting Bec. C’mon!! That is funny.

London Baby

*Yes, this post is meant to be a parody of London/tourist stereotypes, just in case it went right over that top hat with the Union Jack on it you’re wearing.

If you’re not from/if you don’t live in London, have you ever been here? Were there any customs that surprised you? If you are a Londoner, what else would you add to this list?

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30 Responses to How to Look Like a Tourist in London

  1. Katrina Dalton August 12, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

    I love these kinds of posts. 🙂 The “pants” one makes me laugh most particularly as I’m sure that would be a faux pas I’d make if I were to spend any lengthy amount of time there!

    • Brenna Holeman August 13, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

      Thank you so much, Katrina! I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

  2. Katie August 12, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    Londoners also love it when you say you hate living there and that Australia is better 😉

    • Brenna Holeman August 13, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

      Ha ha – true! 😉

  3. Jacinta August 13, 2015 at 1:38 am #

    First time I was in the UK was in 2003. I was 18 years old and my first job was in a pub. I told the boss, loudly, that I had bought new pants for the job. The look on his face was priceless and I remained clueless for months. Oh the shame of it all. Thanks for reminding me hahaha.

    • Brenna Holeman August 13, 2015 at 10:04 pm #

      Ha ha!! Amazing. Thanks for the comment Jacinta, glad I wasn’t alone in that faux-pas!

  4. Paige August 13, 2015 at 4:27 am #

    This post was so fun! I’ve haven’t been to the UK yet but I’m hoping to go in the next year or so to visit a dear friend who’s from Brighton. I’m going to send her a link to this post : ) I do have dreams of a photograph of me standing next to a telephone booth with a double decker bus and Big Ben in the background…

    • Brenna Holeman August 13, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

      Aw, I hope you get here soon! It’s a fantastic place and there is so much to do. And you definitely need that photo – I was being just a wee bit sarcastic (just a wee bit) but as you can see, I want photos of myself in the same locations! The photo booth I’m pictured with here is just around the corner from Big Ben 😉

  5. Elina August 13, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    As an English major I always imagined I had a pretty good grasp of things. Then I got a London boyfriend and realized how wrong I was. One thing that still makes me laugh and wonder in equal measures is food, not only in London but Britain in general. I mean, jellied eels, seriously??

    Thanks for this post, it made me smile 😀 especially the queuing part. Queues seem to be near to holy in the UK.

    • Brenna Holeman August 13, 2015 at 10:04 pm #

      I tried the jellied eels once… and that was enough for me! I can’t say that I’m a fan…

      Thanks for the comment, glad you like the article Elina!

  6. Nikita August 13, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

    I don’t think I’d ever stop laughing about those vulgar words. And the pants thing… Definitely have done that as well!

    • Brenna Holeman August 13, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

      I won’t stop laughing either! Thanks for the comment, Nikita. 🙂

  7. LC August 14, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    I’ve found that if they are all out of “Mind the Gap” tees, you can always substitute with “my (sister/brother/daughter,etc) went to London and all she/he got me was this lousy t-shirt”, if you want to be especially original.

    • Brenna Holeman August 14, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

      Ha ha, oh yes, that one will work in a pinch! 😉

  8. veena August 14, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    I am still chuckling at this post. Great summary of all the hilarious things tourists do in London, and also a great reminder of why they do those things. London is one of my all-time favourite cities, and I would absolutely love to live and work there for a while…and when I do, I am definitely doing all of these things again!

    • Brenna Holeman August 14, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

      Ha ha thanks Veena! Glad you liked the post and hope you get to live here for a while. 🙂

  9. KRISTA @ THE WELLIST August 17, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    Haha. This is so funny I was laughing at each one – especially the “vulgar” words. Great post! Hopefully making my way to London soon…it’s been far too long since I’ve visited!

    • Brenna Holeman August 23, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

      I hope you get back, too! It’s such an amazing city.

  10. Ashley August 17, 2015 at 9:59 pm #

    I was laughing out loud at so many of these! After living in Edinburgh for three months, I’ll admit I still say pants when I should probably be saying trousers 😉

    • Brenna Holeman August 23, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

      I often still say it after two years!! I really need to learn… 😀

  11. Zalie August 22, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    Hahaha this is great! Ummmm what exactly is a Tooting Bec? 😉

    • Brenna Holeman August 23, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

      Hah – it’s an area/tube stop in London!

  12. Kelly August 29, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m English but not from London, but you are spot on with the one about people not saying thank you when you hold the door for them. I’m currently travelling and I will hold the door or wait for people to go first when the pavement’s too narrow all the time, and I get nothing, not even a look, a smile, absolutely nothing… Fuming. Also I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Americans and Canadians recently and had to get used to them talking about pants all the time, to start with I thought everyone was just really open, too open and then it clicked.

  13. Christina September 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    This post reminded me of a Europe tour I did with a group from my high school. We definitely made a few blunders in London (such as the telephone box photo opportunity)!

    However, we really made a mess of ourselves in Paris. I went through a phase where I loved all things French and was so determined to not look or act like an American tourist. Needless to say, nothing ruins your plans like a group of American high school travel companions. I still laugh about the girls who used their free afternoon along the Champs-Élysées to shop at the Gap and eat at McDonalds.

  14. Jamie L Cruise March 14, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    This resonates well with me, having only moved to London a few months ago. I had a friend come to visit and do a ‘tourist day’ – I think we ticked all of these boxes, short of a phonebox photo – we got loads of tacky selfies to make up for it everywhere else though!

    • Brenna Holeman March 14, 2016 at 12:35 am #

      I hope you’re enjoying London, Jamie! 🙂

  15. MaryPat May 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    I love it. Living in Germany for so many years, I totally understand. I would add….
    American? Make sure you wear your big white tennis shoes, bring your fanny pack and don’t forget your favorite US sports team apparel…the hat, the sweatshirt…the works, it’s a must Laugh loud and mimic the local accent. Everyone will love it.

  16. Marie Landry May 20, 2017 at 1:05 am #

    This made me giggle so hard. I’m the queen of research, so before my trip to London I spent a ton of time on Pinterest looking at various things to do, places to go, and some smaller details like where to stand on the tube escalators. Other things we picked up fairly quickly…like when we started riding the tube and realized how eerily quiet it was and that the only people ever chatting seemed to be tourists. One thing I wish I’d known was all the bikes in London…our first or second day there, I was standing on what I THOUGHT was the sidewalk and almost got hit by a bike…luckily the guy was nice and told me my error and I didn’t make that mistake again (and felt that odd touristy smugness of when you know something other people don’t every time I saw someone doing the same thing, haha). Also saw a guy almost go flying over his handlebars one time when a tourist stepped right out into the street because there were no cars coming but she clearly didn’t know about the bikes either.

  17. Jill at Reading the Book May 20, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Love this post Brenna!! As a Brit who grew up near London, this is the one time I’m confident I DON’T do pretty much anything on the list (although my British accent is pretty stellar). Now, if I were in Canada – different story. Being a tourist is fun!

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