Daniel is a copywriter who has well and truly been bitten alive by the 'travel bug'. After ticking off several North American National Parks and exploring Europe by train, his sights are now set on South East Asia. Usually with at least one camera locked and loaded, you'll find Daniel wherever there are mountains, lakes or beaches.
London was recently crowned by The New York Times as the number one destination on their 52 Places to Go in 2023. With a rich history, bustling culture, and iconic locations, it’s no wonder it made it to the top spot.
However, for every historic landmark, there are many lousy tourist traps waiting for you. So, let’s take a look at the 10 worst and where you can go instead for a more authentic and enjoyable London experience!
Changing of the Guard
Sold as an ancient ritual, handed down by each generation, the Changing of the Guard is really a slow, funny-looking marching band performance.
Starting at 11am, you’ll need to begin queueing around 2 hours beforehand to get even close to the gate, otherwise you’ll just see the tops of the guard’s Bearskins (the strange hats) bobbing around.
For a less crowded alternative, make your way over the Horse Guards Parade along Whitehall, where a Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place, too.
London is home to some of the World’s best museums and art galleries, yet some tourists feel it necessary to visit the sterile walls of Madame Tussauds.
With long lines, questionable wax lookalikes, and tickets of up to $78, this is a spot to skip on your London trip. The tour itself is usually very cramped, and no one is going to buy your ‘selfie’ with Prince William; his waxwork manages to look more tired and haggard than the man himself. Don’t be a dummy; steer well clear of this tourist trap.
Instead, you should visit the Natural History Museum, a London treasure that has free entry and covers everything from the dinosaurs (they have ‘wax’ models of those), to a recreated earthquake set.
Hamleys is the world’s oldest toy shop, originally founded in 1760, and has had the British royal family as customers, receiving a ‘royal warrant’ in 1938 from Queen Mary.
No amount of rich and interesting history can save it from the actual experience visitors have, however. Expect to be hit by a chorus of screaming children, stifling heat in the summer, and what can only be described as a tacky storefront.
If you want to experience a traditional London shop, head to Harrods. With seven floors, one of which contains a toy store, you’ll have space to actually breathe, and there’s far more on offer.
Phone Booth by Big Ben
Nothing makes Londoners chuckle more than seeing a vast line of vacationers awkwardly waiting around until they can get the iconic phone booth shot by Big Ben.
There are literally hundreds of these red phone booths across the city, many of which have no queues and are in as equally iconic locations for that perfect London photo. One beautiful spot is not far from Tate Britain. At the intersection of Shelton Street on Millbank, you’ll find a quiet street (think the Paddington movies) with a phone booth surrounded by overhanging trees and old-fashioned brick houses.
Located in the charming St. John’s Wood neighborhood of north London, Abbey Road has become a magnet for tourists eager to recreate that iconic album cover. But here’s the thing: it’s an actual road, with real cars being driven by very real, impatient Londoners.
For a true Beatles fan, you’re best off getting the train up to Liverpool and visiting The Beatles Story, a museum dedicated to the legendary foursome.
Unless it’s the holiday season, the Christmas lights are magical, Oxford Street is to be avoided at all costs.
With faceless, corporate shops like H&M and Urban Outfitters taking up most of the space, Oxford Street lacks any real London soul or feel. For a more authentic shopping experience, visit Mayfair or Chelsea for luxury or Shoreditch and Notting Hill for vintage.
Notting Hill’s ‘Book Shop’
On the topic of Notting Hill, it’s really not worth visiting the bookshop that was used for filming during the classic 1999 romantic comedy.
You won’t find a charming Hugh Grant bumbling awkwardly here; instead, you’ll be surrounded by cheap souvenirs and other very disappointed Notting Hill fans. Rather, head to 13 Blenheim Crescent to visit The Notting Hill BookShop, the inspiration behind the film’s iconic shop. You’ll find actual books on sale here and lovely employees.
The London Aquarium
Perplexing Londons since its opening in 1997, the Sea Life London Aquarium is the definition of a tourist trap.
Despite England’s capital being landlocked and far away from any coastline, someone, somewhere, thought an aquarium in the city center would be a good idea. You won’t find anything London-related here, just screaming kids and expensive entrance fees.
If you’re still keen to experience London’s South Bank, where the aquarium is located, make your way down to the Tate Modern and explore that area.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Located on Baker Street, the Sherlock Holmes Museum is an expensive rip-off that showcases the history of a man who isn’t actually real.
Of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character has provided us with hours of fun and entertainment, but this museum takes it all too far, with most of the place centering around its gift shop.
You’re better off saving your cash and taking one of the many walking tours that cover the history of Sherlock Holmes and the actual crimes that took place in the early 20th century.
A glorified Ferris wheel, the London Eye has swindled tourists out of their money for over 20 years, becoming the UK’s most popular paid tourist attraction.
Get ready to stand in the never-ending line to get a ticket, then wait again to board, before spending 30 minutes trapped in a glass capsule with strangers. The visibility at the top isn’t that impressive, and now there are several locations with better viewpoints on offer.
Book a ticket to London’s famous Sky Garden, with a 25-meter higher viewing station, or head to the lesser-known The Garden at 120 for a no-booking alternative.
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