London Tourist Trap Tips by planxty
London Tourist Traps: 423 reviews and 337 photos
"The Shard", London, UK.
I almost never write tips about things I have not experienced myself as I think it is totally contrary to what VT is about but I am going to make an exception here for reasons I will explain.
There is a brand spanking new "attraction" in London, literally open a few days as I prepare this tip. Even though there are details of where it is on it's website, they are really superfluous as you cannot miss it, you can see it from literally miles away. I am referring of course to "the Shard", designed by Renzo Piano which is the tallest building in Western Europe standing 1016ft (309.6m) which now completely dominates the London skyline.
The visitor will undoubtedly have their own view on the architectural merits of the building and opinion is very divided amongst Londoners. I find it to be a complete eyesore but I am no expert and that is not really what this tip is about. What the tip refers to is the viewing platform on Level 71 which, on a clear day (never a certainty in London) apparently affords superb views for miles around.
The first reason I will never go there is that I really do not like heights. I remember the London Eye scaring me witless some years ago. This was long before I joined VT and therefore I have no tip on it. More recently some VT members cajoled me into getting onto the Emirates Air Line cable car which also reduced me to a quivering wreck. No, you won't be getting me up the Shard voluntarily. This however is a personal phobia which will not be applicable to many VT readers.
The second reason I will never be up the Shard is the frankly obscene entry charges, which are being commented on very unfavourably in the British media at present. If you buy online it will cost £29:95 for an adult and £18:95 for a child aged 3 - 15. This is recommended as apparently it is expected to sell out quite a lot. If you decide to just walk up these prices rise to an eye-watering £29:96 and £23:95 respectively. Very graciously they have allowed infants under three to go free although they still need a ticket for some reason.
I saw a very interesting interview with the architect on television a couple of days ago (BBC News Hardtalk 04/02/2013). He made a couple of interesting points, the first of which was that he originally envisaged the building being 400 metres tall but was told he could not as it would be a hazard to aircraft! More relevant to this tip is that he stated he thought the admission fees were far too high and had approached the owners about it. Apparently he is much respected as an architect but not so much so as the overseer of a cash cow as they told him they were not lowering the prices. He then tried a bit of a wriggle by comparing it to the price of a West End show. Sorry Renzo, but the two things are not vaguely comparable. I strongly suspect this must be the most expensive lift (elevator) ride in the world.
Should you wish to part with your hard earned cash "The View", as it is known, is open from 0900 to 2200 daily except Christmas Day.
Unique Suggestions: You really don't have to do it.
Fun Alternatives: Whilst there is nothing directly comparable, the London Eye gives good views of London although it, too, is expensive and regularly features as a "tourist trap" here on VT. Other smaller alternatives with good views include the Monument, the Tower Bridge Experience and the lesser known Westminster Cathedral (not Westminster Abbey) where £5 will allow you up the Tower for good views. Here is another insiders tip for you. If you want to go to both the Monument and the nearby Tower Bridge exhibition you should buy a combined ticket as it attracts a discount.
Wonderground, London, UK.
As the title suggests, there is good news and bad news with this tip. The good news is that this "attraction" is only oging to be here until the end of this month (September 2012), the bad news is that it has undoubtedly fleeced many tourists and may well return next year. That is why I am including it here, in case it does.
I have lived in london for many years and I know there is certainly a premium for one of the world's most expensive cities but "London Wonderground" has to rank as one of the most blatant rip-offs Ihave ever seen in my city.
Sponsored by Mastercard, who can have done their corporate reputation no good at all, it is a mixture of a fairly sohddy funfair, some grossly overpriced food and drink outlets and some dramatic / musical presentations.
I visited on a pleasant Autumn day and was surprised that the place was fairly devoid of people even though the adjacent Thames path on the Southbank was absolutely packed with tourists. A quick look round revealed why. A ride of perhaps 90 seconds on a portable and not particularly exciting looking "roller-coaster" cost an eye-watering £10 per person (photo included). This is frankly ludicrous. A fairly basic looking hot dog was £4:50. Even by central london prices, this was obscene profiteering.
There was much advertising fanfare about various live performances, although nothing seemed to be going on when I visited and half the so-called attractions were closed. The alleged security guard was busy texting on his mobile 'phone, the staff all looked bored beyond belief and it really was a most depressing place. A look at the website suggests it is run by an organisation called Underbelly. If my experience was anything to go by, they really are the nasty underbelly of the hospitality business and I advise you to avoid anything they do, which apparently includes the Edinburgh Festival.
Unique Suggestions: You really don't have to go there.
Fun Alternatives: There are so many other wonderful things to see in that area it is not worth your time or large amounts of your money.
Prospect of Whitby, Wapping, london
I was very much in two minds as to whether to include this as a general tip or a tourist trap - it's the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping.
Certainly, it has a very long a interesting history, the interior is very "Olde Worlde" including a pewter bar top. It is said that Judge Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge much despised by the populace in the 17th century was a regular here, and was captured prior to bing taken to the nearby Tower of London and executed.
The bar has great views over the river and a small balcony to stand on (it has been known to collapse in the past!). Sounds great.
The reason I have included it as a tourist trap is that is, by definition, what it is. In the evenings, especially in the summer, you can't get near the bar for the busloads of tourists that have been deposited there for an hour or so. If you are happy trying to have a quiet drink with camera flashes going off everywhere, this may be the place for you, but it's not my thing. I live within ten minutes walk of the place and very rarely use it.
The food, expecially in the upstairs restaurant, is expensive.
Unique Suggestions: Go early in the day, early afternoon isn't too crowded.
Fun Alternatives: Either the Town of Ramsgate pub about 15 minutes walk away in Wapping High Street, or, for a real East End local, try Turners Old Star at 14 Watts Street, London, E1W 2QG.
Street sign, Southwark, London, UK.
The trap referred to here is the Clink museum in Clink Street, SE1 on the site of a medieval prison. Purely in the interests of VT research, I went there one day this week. Actually, I'd fancied a look round it for ages.
I paid my £5 entry and was very disappointed. There are a few rather uninspiring tableaux, it's small and much of the historical information is regurgitated in display after display. They haven't even bothered to check the grammar and spelling on the display descriptions. I spotted a number of errors.
There are very few exhibits directly connected to the site, most are of the "this is the type of X, Y or Z that may possibly have been used in this area" variety.
Whilst it's not particularly scary for any but very small or nervous children, parents should be advised that there are a couple of displays detailing the execution of a bishop for homosexuality and another detailing making illegal of "the vice of buggerie", There are also numerous references to prostitution and brothels.
Unique Suggestions: Just don't go.
Fun Alternatives: Any one of the (free) proper museums is better.
Punch and Judy pub, London, UK.
Readers of my VT pages will know that I am fond or a drink now and again, and London certainly has ample opportunity to indulge that particular pastime. There are truly some wonderful pubs and bars in the City. Unfortunately, there are also some appalling places, and unfortunately, many of them sem to be in places frequensted by tourists. I suppose they work on the principle that they are relying solely on passing trade so feel they don't have to try too hard.
The Punch and Judy pub, situated right in the old Market in Covent Garden is one such. I really would not touch it with a long pole. Apart from the fact that it gets unbearably crowded most nights, I have always found the service poor and the atmosphere unpleasant. Being full of tourists, it is also well-known amongst locals as being a pickpocket / bag thieves paradise. you have been warned.
Unique Suggestions: You do not have to go here, believe me.
Fun Alternatives: There are plenty of very good pubs within a few minutes walk of here. Just off the top of my head, I would suggest the Freemasons, the Lemon Tree, the Porterhouse, Nell Gwynne's and the Lamb and Flag. Google them for full details, just type the pub name and add the search term "Covent Garden" and you will find them. There are plenty more.
Dickens Inn, St. Katharine's Dock, London.
The term tourist trap could have been coined for this place, because that is all you ever seem to see in it. The Dickens Inn in St. Katherine's Dock is the most overpriced pub in a city that's fairly full of overpriced pubs. It tries to exude an atmosphere of being "Olde Worlde" when in fact it is only about 30 years old. Admittedly, the setting is nice, but I really don't like this place at all.
Should you decide to eat there, that will cost you a small fortune as well.
Unique Suggestions: If you have to go (and you really don't) take lots of money!
Fun Alternatives: There are a few good pubs nearby, including some that have genuine history behind them. About ten minutes walk away is the Town of Ramsgate pub which is hundreds of years old and absolutely reeking with riverside history.
Tour bus, London.
I suppose if you had extremely limited time in London (perhaps only one day) the tour buses which abound may offer a service. they follow set routes, and have a hop on / hop off policy so you can get off as and when you like. they do also offer either a live or recorded commentary.
At a typical priice of £20 per adult for a 24 hour ticket (Big Bus Company) it is certainly not a cheap option. A little research done before you come to London will net you the same experience for a fraction of the price on ordinary public transport.
Unique Suggestions: You don't have to do it. See my alternative suggestion.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is to buy a travelcard for London Transport, either bus and / or tube. This has the advantage that you can also visit the numerous less visited attractions that are not on the standard bus tour route, so you also get to see a bit more of the city that way.
Have a look at my London transportation tips (specifically the "Plan it" tip) for a link to a complete route planner.
Bureau de change, Kings Cross, London.
I happened to be walking past this bureau de change yesterday, and the exchange rates seemed very poor to me. It is the one directly opposite the ffront of Kings Cross Station.
Unique Suggestions: Only change a small amount if you have to and look round for better rates elsewhere.
O'Neill's pub, Houndsditch, London.
There are several chains of supposed Irish pubs in London (and indeed all over the UK) which really irritate me. They all have names like Molly Malone's or Finnegan's Wake, or the ubiqitous O'Neill's chain.
As pubs, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them, but the fake "Irishness" really annoys me. I lived in Northern Ireland for 28 years, and they are nothing like any pubs I knew. I certainly never saw a pub with a bicycle nailed to the roof!
Unique Suggestions: You don't have to drink in them. If you want to drink in an Irish bar, either go to Ireland or find out where the Irish people drink wherever you are. I guarantee you it won't be an O'Neills.
Petticoat Lane Market, London, UK.
Petticoat Lane market in London is the one I'm referring to. Early every Sunday morning, come rain or shine, tour busses disgorge hordes of tourists in search of bargains. Actually, what they are in search of generally is an idealised London market full of "colourful cockney characters" a la Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Sorry, it's not going to happen.
Very few of the stallholders now are Londoners, and the goods on offer are just shoddy tat. It used to be good years ago, but not now.
It is generally overcrowded and plagued by pickpockets and beggars most of the time.
I live near there and, believe me, I know what I'm talking about.
Unique Suggestions: Do not carry a handbag or shoulder bag - it's an invitation to thieves.
Do not set anything down by your feet to look at the stalls or whatever, it'll go walkabout.
If you are carrying a wallet or purse (pocketbook in the US?) keep it in a front or inside pocket.
Do not eat anything from the hot dog / burger stalls on the periphery of the market. they are unlicensed and a recipe for food poisoning.
Fun Alternatives: Portobello or Greenwich markets are probably better bets. Camden market is OK, but gets terribly crowded on Sundays.
Best of all, about five minutes walk away is the Spitalfields covered market, which is great. See my Off the beaten Path page for details.
At any market, all the above tips apply.
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