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Not All London Travel Advice is Good Travel Advice

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

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On our recent trip, we decided to explore some areas that are more outside the center of London. Many people don't want to stay in Zone 1 as that is where the most expensive hotels are. Yet, Zone 2 (the tube system is divided into 6 zones and the higher the number, the farther out it is from central London) is easy enough to stay in for central London activities and is practically central London in some parts.

We took the advice of a London travel blogger to explore some of the High Streets (shopping streets) in other areas and get to know those areas. It led us to charming areas like Islington (very recommended by me), to more diverse areas like Shoreditch and Brick Lane (still okay by me) and to areas that tourists should probably stay out of (like Peckham). Peckham High Street was on her list of places to visit - why that was, I will never understand. We got off the bus (because some of those areas are best reached by bus and don't have super handy tube stations), looked around for about 2 minutes, immediately felt unsafe based on some pretty surly people walking around and then headed on foot out of the area to a local overground station and got out of there. Since that visit a couple of weeks ago, we had 2 taxi drivers tell us to stay out of Peckham. We also saw news stories that there was a threatening person at the train station we left from and then a murder on a street in Peckham. We got some bad advice from someone who didn't necessarily perceive Peckham like a tourist who maybe didn't spend a lot of time in grittier areas the same way a Londoner might.

I'm going to share some bad advice I've seen around the internet and give you the low-down on what it means or should really say. Some of the advice comes from people who live in the UK and don't know that not everything works the same way for tourists and some if it comes from people who don't really have awareness that everyone isn't just like them.

"Driving in London is fine": I know people who have done it but I would generally recommend STRONGLY against doing it for several reasons. First, the city is a just a huge maze of ancient streets. Two-way streets look like one-way streets more often than not. You're fighting buses and other cars. If you aren't from a country that does left-side driving and you aren't used to a manual transmission car, that's a whole other set of problems. Plus London traffic is often just gridlocked and parking is hard to find. You'll spend too much time sitting in traffic or searching for parking. It is not like any city in the US you might have driven in - no matter how big it is. Plus, the congestion charge every day is pricey. If you intend to drive somewhere outside of London eventually, I suggest you go back to the airport or take a train to another city to pick up your car.

"All the hotels I've stayed in have washcloths (or flannels)": Most of them don't provide those. They are considered a personal item which is odd to me since a towel is used to wipe down your body after a shower. It can be just as personal. But, no, not every hotel will have them so if you need one, bring one. I bring THESE with me. I take one for about every 3 days I'm there. I just use them to wash my face.

"The tube trains all have Wi-Fi": They do. But, it only works if you have a UK cellphone company. That one always gets me because it really puts tourists into a bad spot if they believe that they can just survive on tube Wi-Fi and don't think they need any other service. The same goes for the "Wi-Fi is everywhere" comment. It is - again, if you have a UK cellphone. Otherwise, you can't get onto the system.

London tube

"You can top up your Oyster card in the app": You must have a UK address to set up your Oyster card in the app. This might change at some point, but at the time of this post, it is not possible for non-UK residents to do so. Again, always a surprise to UK residents who think it works the same way for everyone that it does for them.

a London umbrella shop

"Bring a raincoat - nobody uses an umbrella": Um, one of the oldest (since 1830) continuously operating stores in London is an umbrella shop. People use umbrellas. Now, the wind that sometimes accompanies the rain might make it difficult, but you won't be shamed for using an umbrella in the rain.

"All areas of London are safe": Remember my opening paragraph about Peckham? London is generally safe in the tourist areas, but there are plenty of areas to stay out of. They are areas that tourists generally wouldn't be found in unless you follow someone's bad advice.

"You don't need air conditioning at your hotel": That is more of a personal decision. I would say that given the brutal heat waves London occasionally gets from about May to September and the fact that many hotels don't have windows that open, you probably DO want it from about April to October. Read my blog post about it HERE. Just because it's not common in the UK doesn't mean no one else has it. Americans, especially, are used to having cooler living spaces.

"You MUST spend a full day or X number of hours at..... (insert place or attraction): This one legitimately makes me angry. It's discouraging to tourists who have a set amount of time to see London. If you basically give them the impression that they should skip something if they can't devote X amount time to it, they may feel like they shouldn't go to it and you have robbed them of a good experience.

Everyone moves at a different pace. In order to give travel advice, you have to recognize that very basic fact. I met my cousin from another state in London last Fall. He just happened to be there when I was and I helped him plan his trip so we met up and had dinner at The Blackfriar Pub one night. He and his brother-in-law were exploring WWII things in France and England. They had just come from the Imperial War Museum where they had been for about 4 hours. They had seen half of it in that time and were planning to finish it the next day. My husband and went this Spring and were out in less than 2 hours. My cousin is like his Dad - very much a think-about-it reader of everything. I am a "look at it for a sec and move on" kind of person. I can do the Tower of London in about 2 hours where others will spend 4-5 there.

I have seen people literally say, "If you can't spend a full day in Windsor, don't bother going." What the heck? Why would you discourage people like that? I would say you need about half a day-ish to see Windsor Castle and the town itself. It's a little over an hour round trip travel (from Paddington) with a few hours left for the castle and town. But, you COULD spend a full day there if you wanted to.

That all being said, my mantra is "You see what you can see in the time you have to see it." If all you have is half an hour to see a museum, see what you can in half an hour. The British Museum has a "one hour" list in their on-site brochure. Go and see what you can.

My advice for people asking "how long do I need" is to tell them how long I need but then tell them my touring style which is to look at things more than I read about things. I'm aware that I am a "look from the aisles" kind of person. I'm also aware that not everyone else is.

I'm sure there are many other bits and bobs of bad advice floating around. But, these are the ones I keep seeing. We are all going to have our own unique experiences because we are unique humans. But, don't always listen to the loudest voices. Listen to what the majority are saying. That one person telling you all hotels have washcloths should probably be discounted when 75 others tell you their hotel didn't have them. You have to sift through the noise to get to the truth.

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Andrés Pimenta
Andrés Pimenta
Nov 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I stand with you, but believe it or not, many people will consider Peckham as a wonderful place to be. I live in London but unless I want to try a particular restaurant or do something, I wouldn't go there, I wouldn't tell tourists they must visit it either. Shoreditch, Brick Lane is a different story, if you know where to go, you might be surprised, but again, if you are expecting fancy buildings like the ones in the Royal area, you won't enjoy those parts of London.

Nice areas to explore outside the centre would be (according to me) Hampstead Heath and Muswell Hill.

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