Despite being among the world’s most visited cities, London also seems to be one of the more misunderstood tourist destinations on Earth. People have ideas about London, gathered through everything from history books to postcards, and while those ideas are grounded in reality, they often present the wrong picture. The best way to clarify that picture is to go to London and spend some time there – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. But to give you a head start, I wanted to write a few words about five things in particular you should now about London by now.
1. Londoners Are Perfectly Friendly
The idea that “everyone’s so unfriendly” was included in a list of misconceptions about London, and I have to say I agree it’s the wrong idea. You can go to just about any big city, particularly in a foreign country, and think that the population is by and large unfriendly. It happens when there are millions of people in a single place, and it’s also something you can feel more vulnerable about as a visitor or tourist; you’re more self-conscious about how the locals are looking at you or treating you.
Of course there are unfriendly Londoners. The first time I was ever in the city there happened to be a Champions League football match going on between two English clubs, and I had things thrown at me on the street because I was wearing a shirt supporting one of these clubs. But you know what? I kind of love the passion. Londoners are proud and passionate, and they can certainly eye visitors with suspicion, but they’re perfectly friendly by big city standards.
2. About Half The Sights Are In One Place
Okay, this one is a little bit presumptuous of me, because I’m professing to know what “the sights” are that the average tourist would want to see. Still, think about the iconic landmarks of London – the backdrops in movies, the images on postcards, the backgrounds in selfies your friends posted on Facebook…. I bet the list looks something like this: Big Ben, Parliament, the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and Trafalgar Square. Close, right?
Well, many who haven’t actually been to London don’t realize that you can cross about half of the popular sights off your list in an hour or two. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the Palace of Westminster are all located in what amounts to a single large city block. Not to mention, the beautiful Parliament Square Garden is there as well, and 10 Downing Street – the residence of the Prime Minster – is about two blocks up the road. Really, it’s all quite convenient and gives you more time to truly get to know the rest of the city.
3. The Food Is Sensational
The idea that British food is bad has kept many a traveler somewhat unenthusiastic about London and the rest of the country. It certainly used to be the case, at least in the wider reaches of the country. But in London it’s far from the truth. This city has become something of gold standard for international cuisine, with fine restaurants boasting influence from France, India, Mexico, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, and many other nations known for interesting and delicious cuisine.
It’s also home to some establishments that belong to world-famous chefs. For instance, Raymond Blanc has a brasserie in town and Judy Joo has a Korean fusion restaurant. London is also the de facto hometown of Gordon Ramsay, who’s probably a better chef than you realize. He’s now known for television and for attraction-like restaurants. Indeed just recently he was written up for putting a restaurant in the heart of the Las Vegas strip (and focusing on burgers, fries and milkshakes). But Ramsay has a trophy case full of Michelin stars and eating at one of his London venues is an unforgettable experience.
4. You Don’t Have To Shop At Oxford Street
I’m not a huge shopper, so this isn’t one that I’m writing about with a whole lot of personal experience, I’ll be honest. But I was doing some research for this piece to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything out and found a few different people talking about the different shopping options aside from the famous Oxford Street. One piece even wrote that shopping on Oxford Street is hell, thanks (as you’d likely guess) to massive crowds. Basically, all the other tourists have also heard of Oxford Street, so they’re on their way just as you are.
As it happens, London is home to a lot of other streets and neighborhoods known for awesome shopping opportunities. Regent Street might be the most famous aside from Oxford Street, but the Westfield Shopping Centre comes up quite a bit, as do Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road.
5. You Do Have To Go To The British Museum
Okay, I just steered you away from one iconic tourist destination in London. And if you’re reading an article like this, you’re probably ready for me to tell you that the museum is an unnecessary, touristy detour that’s no different from other museums you’ve been to a dozen times. Well, I just can’t do it. The British Museum is legitimately special, as one of the largest collections of art and artifacts in the world. Only a few other museums – perhaps the Louvre, the Met, and the Hermitage – are on par with this one.
You really ought to make the time to visit if you have a few days in London. Naturally, as with any major museum, there are exhibitions that pass through and give people a particular reason to go. But exhibitions aside, this museum will stun you with the breadth and quality of its artistic displays. You can legitimately spend an hour in the museum and leave with a new (and better) perspective on human history and creativity.