“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson.
Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to avoid looking like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.
Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!
This local’s guide for how to not look like a tourist in London was written by Kristy from Tassie Devil Abroad. It’s been over 10 years since my very first visit to to England’s capital, so I am very excited to share her top 10 tips for how to best blend in with Londoners (plus a bonus) so you can make the most of your time and experience the city like a local, written by a local!
Here’s how to NOT Look Like a Tourist in London
London is an incredible city filled with people from all over the world both living and visiting. It was the second most visited city in the world as of 2017 (according to Business Insider) and it’s easy to see why. With the iconic landmarks, fascinating history, multicultural events and cuisine; London is a city that draws people from all walks of life.
And while it’s a city filled with people from many different backgrounds (you’d probably be surprised how few ‘Londoners’ were actually born there) it’s still definitely easy to spot the hordes of tourists. But never fear, for there are lots of ways to not look like a tourist in London.
Most of these tips will also save you a lot of money, which will also make you look more like a local since the often high prices of everything in London means most locals are always looking for a way to save!
TIP: If you’re looking to save money on accommodation, here’s a list of the best hostels in London.
Don’t get the Heathrow Express
First things first, if you arrive in London by air at Heathrow Airport do not bother getting the special Heathrow Express bus from the airport to the city centre. Not only will this tip save you money but it gives you a much better glimpse into real London life.
I mean, yes, the Heathrow Express is much quicker but it also costs upwards of £25 one-way whereas catching the tube (underground rail) only costs £5.30 for the same journey! Just put in some headphones, listen to some music or maybe read while you get to watch regular Londoners going to and from work.
Get your Oyster Card ready
Another way to make sure you fly under the radar, so to speak, is to make sure you use an Oyster Card while travelling in London. Again, this will save you money as it’s cheaper to top up your card either online or at a station than to purchase one-way or daily tickets in the city zones.
You can buy the Oyster Card at the airport to start using it straight away, and you can even hand it back as you leave London for a refund of the initial price. You can also buy your Oyster Card in advance online.
And in order to not scream “I’m a tourist” when travelling on the tube: ALWAYS have your Oyster Card ready in a pocket, or your hand, ready to swipe as you enter and leave the station.
Nothing makes British people ‘tut’ and sigh in exasperation like a tourist holding up the line to get into (or out of) the train station!
Use the Tube – but not too much!
While we’re speaking of the tube, it is actually a very handy and easy way to get around central London but remember that you won’t need to use it everywhere as the main tourist sites (and even the less well-known ones) are very walkable.
Don’t make the mistake I did on my first trip to London and take the tube one or two stops from Piccadilly to St. James’s Park when it only takes about five minutes to walk!
If it’s pouring with rain (which admittedly does happen fairly often at least during winter) then you might prefer to get the Tube a short distance, or better yet, take a bus!
The ubiquitous red double-decker London buses are actually cheaper than the Tube so they are perfect for shorter distances and you will actually get to see the city as you go. Speaking of which…
Don’t use the tourist bus – use these instead
Getting on a bus is a great way to get an overview of the city (you can see how close some things are for walking later) and see a lot of the sights. But instead of wasting money on the tourist hop-on/hop-off buses (and looking really obviously like a tourist!) you can simply catch one or more of the ‘regular’ bus routes.
Taking the bus is cheaper even than the tube (only costing £1.50 per journey and maxing out at £4.50 per day if you only take buses) and best of all, you’ll be doing what the locals do!
Feel free to sit in the front seats on the top deck (if they’re empty), even Londoners like to do this for the best view of the city.
The London bus system can seem pretty daunting at first but if you use an app like the Citymapper one you can easily figure out how to get where you want to go and also how much each different mode of transport will cost and how long it will take.
But for some of the best sights you might like to get the RV1 bus from Tower Hill to Covent Garden; crossing over Tower Bridge, going along the Southbank then crossing back over Waterloo Bridge and finishing in Covent Garden (or going the other way). This post on Londonist also has a great list of different bus lines to catch for sightseeing!
Use your phone
Since we’re speaking of phone apps, make sure you take advantage of the many good travel apps and downloadable maps there are out there. Nothing makes it more obvious that you are a tourist than walking around with a paper map or guidebook!
Instead, make Google Maps available offline if you are using a foreign sim, or get your phone unlocked very cheaply at the little tourist shops you will see all over the place.
This is actually the one time where it can be beneficial to go to a tourist shop! Don’t bother buying any of the cheesy souvenirs but once your phone is unlocked you can pop in a cheap local sim and use the internet to get around London like a local.
Make sure you also have headphones in so you can listen to music and avoid eye contact with everybody on the tube at the same time – just like the locals do!
Avoid Oxford Street
Now, apart from being a great place where you will be able to find a place to unlock your phone, Oxford Street is generally not a place to go if you want to blend in with the locals in London. It is always incredibly crowded and usually very expensive.
If you really want to see it then maybe hop off at the Oxford Street tube station, have a quick look around at the madness, then escape down the side streets to find much more interesting cafés, pubs and restaurants that will be filled with more locals than tourists.
If you are interested in shopping in London there are many more interesting and unique places than Oxford Street. Head to one of the many markets (Camden is great for clothing and loved by locals and tourists alike) or, if you want to see the posh part of London shopping; Harrods, Liberty or Fortnum and Mason.
Avoid Leicester Square
Another spot to avoid (unless you want to be surrounded by other tourists and pay ridiculous prices for sub-par food and entertainment) is Leicester Square. Have a quick look around on your way to somewhere else but the square is full of chain restaurants and cinemas which are packed with other tourists and don’t offer anything in the way of authentic, local London food.
Unless you are travelling to London specifically to spot a movie star at a film premiere (in which case feel free to queue here for hours) you should also avoid the movie theatres here.
For a much more fun (and less expensive) experience, that the locals also love, you could see a movie at Electric Cinema in their Portobello or Shoreditch locations. With comfy couches, footstools and even beds in the front row this is a movie location with a difference!
Visit the museums at night
London has some of the best and most interesting museums in the world, and best of all most of them are completely free to visit! While you should definitely visit the ones you are interested in at any time, in order to look very casual and not look like a tourist in London, why not see if you can go along to one of their special night-time events?
Not only will you get to explore the museum itself but there are usually drinks and nibbles provided, talks and/or tours to learn more about the museum and exhibits, and you will likely be rubbing shoulders with lots of Londoners. Have a look here to find out when each of the museums are open late and what’s on offer!
Don’t freak out over the foxes
Admittedly, this is a tip that I didn’t really follow myself on my first trip to London! As an Aussie, seeing urban foxes casually walking down the street in the middle of the day, or sleeping on top of the shed in my backyard (true story!) usually meant I was getting all excited and taking lots of photos.
But to most Londoners, foxes are a nuisance and they can actually be a bit dangerous. So if you really must get a photo then do so, but, you know, be cool. Don’t gush about them (unless it’s to other visitors) or you’re likely to hear about how they all have rabies and should be shot.
Similarly, in order to blend in in London, don’t get too excited about the squirrels (if they’re exciting for you). Londoners tend to take them for granted and the only people who try to feed them and get photos with them in Hyde Park (totally guilty) are the tourists!
Go for a picnic with a view
If you’re lucky enough to be in London during summer then make sure you take advantage of the MANY parks and green spaces in the city and get outside to enjoy a picnic in the sun! As soon as the sun shines Londoners flock to the parks with a view of the city such as Greenwich Park, Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath.
Take some food and drinks, chairs or blankets and relax in the sun while perhaps throwing a ball or a frisbee. Even in the more central city parks there are often bean bags and deck-chairs set out during summer, perfect for relaxing and escaping the hustle and bustle of tourists posing for selfies in Piccadilly Circus!
BONUS: Don’t annoy the Queen’s Guard (or the celebrities)
One last caveat to best enjoy your time in London like a local and not stand out as badly as a tourist with a Union Jack top hat on – don’t annoy the Queen’s Guard. That’s the official name for the guards in red coats and big furry black hats that guard Buckingham Palace and other royal residences in the city.
Nothing says tourist more than posing for a photo with them, and especially do not ever try to annoy them or make them react to you as they are allowed to both point their gun at you and either detain your or call someone else to do so.
Not only will it be obvious to everyone that you are a tourist but you will also be one of *those* obnoxious tourists; and let’s face it, nobody wants to get arrested on their travels.
Similarly, if you see a celebrity in London, be cool about it. Most Londoners don’t really bat an eye if they’re having dinner in the same restaurant as Benedict Cumberbatch and unless you’re actually at a movie premiere (like I mentioned above), or like, a superfan, then just let them get on with their lives, like a local Londoner would do!
So, there you have it for how to not look like a tourist in London! England’s capital is an exciting, historic and incredibly diverse city.
There is always so much to see and do that you will never be bored, and hopefully these tips will also show you how to not look like a tourist in London so you can be sure to enjoy everything it has to offer while blending in with locals.
Kristy followed the popular right-of-passage of living and working in London like many fellow Aussies! You can follow her devilish adventures over on her blog Tassie Devil Abroad, or find her on Facebook and Instagram.
Popular things to do in London to book in advance
Here are some experiences in London and beyond to book in advance, save time and enrich your trip:
Now you know how to not look like a tourist in London, are you ready to be invisible?
Now you’ve discovered the best secrets for how to avoid looking like a tourist in London, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not compare hotel prices here? If you need more inspiration, here’s all my guides to UK & Europe to get you started.
If you’d like to learn learn my strategies for how to not look like a tourist ANYWHERE, take a look at my book – it was a #1 Amazon New Release!
Do you have any extra tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of my Be Invisible series! If you found this helpful, please share it or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram for more!
Until next time,
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