What springs to mind when you think ‘tourist’? Maybe someone who runs around in sneakers and a loud t-shirt, seeing the most popular sights while getting snarled at by locals on public transport for their unnecessarily large bag and painfully slow walking pace. Or in other words, all of us when we visit a new city, no matter how hard we try to blend in.
Being a tourist in a new city is inevitable, and all part of the fun. London, however, is a different ball game to any city you’ll ever visit. The city is big, the footpaths have unwritten rules and the tube is a vibrant complicated maze. As an expat from Sydney Australia who has lived in London for over a year, I still find myself reverting to tourist mode over and over again. And you know what? I love it. Not only because I live here, but because I now know how to be the best London tourist, not just the annoying kind. How? Read on…
The tube is your lifeline
The tube station attendants with their comical British accents are no doubt the most helpful Londoners you’ll ever cross paths with. They have all the information you’ll ever need to get around so make sure you greet them with an enormous smile and a heartfelt thank you after they’ve answered your sixtieth question. Once you’re underground there is a system to getting out in one piece. Avoid peak hours at all cost, walk fast, don’t make too much chat on the tube as Londoners like to maintain a level of discreetness on their journeys and unlike the UK road traffic rules, you stand to the right of the escalators unless you’re wanting to overtake.
In London, anything goes
Glitter sneakers matched with a polka dot skirt and a red leather jacket – seriously you name it, you can wear it in London. You’d be wise to stay covered up and always wear flat shoes, but the more eccentric your outfit the better, especially if you’re hanging out at an East London café with all the hipsters. Find all your affordable and high end fashion labels at Oxford Street or Westfield shopping centre or if you’re looking for vintage buys head to the markets. Be prepared for your shopping and exploring days by bringing a raincoat and an umbrella because you never actually know when the threatening grey London skies will rain down on you.
Head to the markets for anything and everything
The markets in London are exciting and plenty, and undoubtedly the best places to shop for clothes, accessories and food. Pick up your vintage Levi jacket and custom leather satchel from Camden or Noting Hills’ Portobello markets. Try a rainbow bagel or the world famous salted beef bagel from Brick Lane. If you’re in the market for some baby cactus or antiques, head to Columbia Road Flower Markets, open every Sunday.
Postcard Views without the price tag
Londoners know secret locations for views that look a million dollars but only cost a glass of red. Like all other tourists you can head to Westminster and pay for a 30 minute ride on the London Eye because the view from the top is worth every penny, but if you’re wanting to pay a lot less for that perfect instagram shot and avoid an hour long queue, then head to some of London’s best free view spots. The Sky Garden, otherwise known as the “Walkie-Talkie’’ building, the Shard or the Tate Modern Museum are all free. Visit the restaurant/café at the top of each of these buildings and sit back, relax with coffee or glass of Champagne and enjoy the priceless views.
If you want to see tourist sites at lower altitude then ride the top seat of a big red double decker bus. Catch the 24 from Victoria which passes through Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar square and Camden Town, all for just £1.50 on your oyster card.
Potter fans assemble
If you’re not a Potter fanatic, you will be after your visit to London because the HP buzz is everywhere in the city. True fan boy and girls would be advised to splash some cash on the next chapter of the Harry Potter trilogy by catching the Cursed Child Parts One and Part Two at the Palace Theatre, or see first-hand the sets, costumes and props used in the films at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. If you want a sneak preview of the Harry Potter set for free, visit The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9¾ located on platform 4 & 5 at Kings Cross Station, or snap a shot of Tower Bridge which is where Harry flies along the Thames on his broomstick in The Order of the Phoenix.
Want to know how to explore London like a true Londoner? We challenged Disney singer and YouTuber Jon Cozart with doing just that. Want to see how he got on? Just head on over to www.contiki.com/thetravelproject…