Why? Londoners don’t go to Harrods. They don’t. They went once, had a look around, laughed at the price of food in the food kitchen, found the displays rather lovely but a bit too posh for them, and then made their purchases in John Lewis. It’s a shop many tourists go to because they think that they are having a typically British experience, but they aren’t. Londoners shop by going to Sports Direct, then heading to Waitrose for a free coffee and to wait for the price of a ham sandwich to be reduced as it reaches its Use By date. This is the truth.
Go here instead: Liberty in Regent Street. It’s very British but a lot less rammed. If you fancy a bit of posh window-shopping go to the posh shops near Bond Street.
2. Piccadilly Circus
Why? Every tourist seems to head here first, and every Londoner wonders why they do so. It is essentially a busy junction permanently jammed with traffic, with several huge illuminated signs that look cool at first but are nothing compared to Times Square, a small pavement area so full of tourists that you feel that you have to breath in otherwise you won’t be able to squeeze past Boots, and hundreds of French exchange students who all decide to have lunch at the Eros statue at exactly the same time. It’s perplexing.
Go here instead: Get lost in the streets of Soho, then walk slowly over to the fancy pedestrian streets of Covent Garden.
3. 221b Baker Street
Why? There shouldn’t be a 221b Baker Street, as Sherlock Holmes’s home is fictional, just like the detective, but the address has been given to the Sherlock Holmes Museum (and a mighty museum it is too). But this causes a problem. The museum is located slightly further down the road, between 237 and 241. This is wrong because, well, the location just doesn’t look right. The number ordering of the road isn’t right, the position according to what you have seen in the BBC adaption isn’t right. It’s weird.
So this happens: you try to work out exactly where 221b Baker Street should have been. You pass the blue door of 231, you pass a huge office with a silver sign of 219, then you pass a café called Francesca and a Pret. You walk back and forth again, feeling slightly sad that you haven’t found it, even though you knew that you had a 100% chance of not finding it anyway.
Go here instead: The famous Abbey Road crossing, which actually exists, so you can pose like The Beatles. Just don’t hold up traffic for that long, alright?
4. Borough Market (on Saturdays)
Why? First, a clarification. Borough Market is actually good. It sells Parma ham! Artisan chocolates! Pâté! Liquorice brownies! Herrings! Everything is made from quality ingredients, many locally sourced, and sold by happy vendors offering free samples. So why should it be avoided on Saturday? Because every tourist knows it is there too.
Saturday is hell, especially at lunch. A friend might tell you that the earlier you go the better, but when you get there you think you should have come at 4am. Those free samples you wanted to try? It’s practically impossible to get any. Plus the concept of free tastings to a Londoner is a bit weird anyway. You go a stall, try a little bit of food, pretend that you are really liking the food, and then slowly back away because you don’t want to spend £19 but you don’t want to make it look like that you were there just to eat free food.
Go here instead: Head to Broadway Market or the Real Food Market (directly behind the Southbank Centre), or do Borough Market on a weekday.
5. Buckingham Palace
Why? Don’t get me wrong, you should visit Buckingham Palace at some point. The park is beautiful, the palace itself is spectacular, The Mall with its flags just screams “BRITISH”, and then there is that little bounce in your heart when you look at the top of the palace and see a huge flag, resulting in a discussion with your friends as to whether a Union Jack instead of a Royal Standard means that the Queen is in.
The problem is the fact that thousands of people hang round Buckingham Palace ALL DAY poking their noses through the iron bars, hoping that something exciting like a march, a balcony scene, or a flyover is going to happen. With the exception of newsworthy events like the Changing of the Guard or the Trooping the Colour, nothing does. Research when you should go, turn up at an event, see it, and leave.
6. Oxford Street
Why? The consensus by Londoners is that shopping on Oxford Street is terrible. It is terrible, and it’s a popular London custom to complain to others about how terrible it was when you were there last. Why is it so bad? Well, it’s got nothing to do with the shops themselves; it’s the fact that everything is shoved into such a small space that you have to fire yourself past people like a nuclear missile to get in and out of anything. Plus entering Oxford Circus underground is like trying to squeeze into a matchbox with 430 other people, and Christmas in this area seems to start in August.
Oh and whatever you do, never say “Fancy meeting up directly outside Oxford Circus later?”, because you will get lost within the great amount of people who are also planning to meet someone directly outside Oxford Street tube station but cannot find them because of all the other people trying to find other people outside Oxford Circus station.
Go here instead: Covent Garden, Carnaby Street… Oh god, anywhere.
7. The bit opposite Westminster on the South Bank
Why? The South Bank provides one of best walks in London. The skyline constantly changes as you follow the Thames as it winds its way from one side of the city centre to the other. You will see all kinds of culture, ranging from the highbrow (the National Theatre) to what some see as lowbrow (the skatepark).
So why do a great deal amount of tourists stick to one part of it, hanging around the London Eye and the Aquarium paying street entertainers before disappearing? The attractions there are fine. The photo opportunity in front of Big Ben is fine. But everything else along the South Bank is so, so much better than that 500m.
Go here instead: Keep walking down the South Bank! Go on to the roof garden at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Get soaked to the skin by running through the fountains at the Southbank Centre. Pose on the pier for photos with Tower Bridge in the background. Walk aimlessly along the South Bank until you start to think that you might be leaving London and your feet start to feel as if they might fall off at any moment, basically.
8. Leicester Square
Why? Oh god. There are restaurants around Leicester Square that Londoners are surprised still exist, such as Angus Steakhouses. The square is a destination for glitzy movie premieres, but you can’t get near them because the whole place is closed off when they’re on. The price to go to a cinema there is extortionate and on a Friday night you just want to run through it as fast as possible because everyone is drunk and wants a kebab. True, the square underwent under a £15 million renovation in 2012, but the only notable improvement seems to be a new fence and pavement.
Want another reason? M&M WORLD. That is all.
Go here instead: Absolutely anywhere else. Seriously.