When visiting a new country or city, it can be challenging to know what’s worth your while.
Trekking through museums can be fun, but after a few hours, why not try switching up your mode of tourism. Maybe take a boat ride on the River Thames or visit Harry at Hogwarts? Read on to discover how to avoid tourist traps in London and where to go instead.
1. Madame Tussauds in Marylebone
Before you leave one of the hotels near Chiswell Street London, re-consider your day. This wax trap’s execution of doppelgangers is pretty amazing, but the wax museum has a strong buzz during peak tourist seasons, meaning there is little space to take pictures in this museum filled with lookalike wax dolls.
For those of you unacquainted with Madame Tussauds, it is a wax museum situated in London and a top-rated tourist attraction. The wax dolls are copies of celebrities all over the world, but most of them are British.
The history behind the wax museum is incredibly impressive. Unfortunately, the museum itself does not include as much historical documentation and storytelling of Madame Tussaud – as they focus on the celebrity wax figures.
What You Should Do Instead
If you want to experience British culture, replace a visit to Madame Tussauds with an afternoon tea session. It’s an experience that takes you beyond simply drinking tea. It’s the British version of going for a snack or coffee mid-day. Afternoon tea can include a glass of champagne, and it always boasts savoury and sweet treats. The baked goods come in the form of muffins, scones, cucumber sandwiches, macaroons, and other delicious products.
Keep in mind that you’ll have the option to take your tea with milk and sugar. Chances are also that you’ve got a vast myriad of flavours, so even the most reluctant tea drinker might find that it is indeed a pretty fun activity, especially if you’ve just visited Madame Tussauds in Marylebone.
2. Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Queuing up 90 minutes early to see the ritual of Changing the Guards might seem like a good idea at first. After all, it is advised to show up early to Changing the Guard if you want a chance to watch the ceremony properly.
While the event tends to be overcrowded, limiting most spectators’ views and their ability to take photos, if you do decide to go, remember to bring some bottled water with you as leaving your spot in the queue is not a good idea and could force you to wait even longer.
What to do instead
The Churchill War rooms are a (semi) well-kept tourism secret in London. Locals know about it, but the historical bunker surprisingly doesn’t get much attention, especially when compared to the above.
This is the place where Winston Churchill and his wartime cabinet directed World War II. Here, you can explore the winding corridors and historic rooms that are located underneath Westminster. You can also learn more about the Prime Minister’s life and listen to segments of his most famous speeches. There are also audio guides in the bunker, available in 8 languages, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, Portuguese and Mandarin.
There’s a way to skip the line – just book the Churchill War Rooms in advance, and you don’t need to worry about queues. The site opens at 9:30 and closes at 18:00. Two hours is a sufficient amount of time to spend in the bunker before rising back above the ground. In short, this attraction involves much less waiting around than watching Changing the Guard but still packs a punch in terms of historical relevance.
For your reference, the Churchill War Rooms are suited for wheelchairs and strollers, but service animals are not allowed into the location.
3. The Billboard Filled Piccadilly Circus
Here’s a fun fact about Piccadilly Circus: the roundabout is called a ‘Circus’ because it used to be a complete roundabout circle and ‘Piccadilly’ comes from a shopping street named after a type of collar called a piccadill.
It’s a famous spot for many UK-based films, as Piccadilly Circus seems to represent the rapid pace of London. And that it definitely delivers.
The roundabout without a doubt gives you the sense of what London is as a whole – it’s busy, full of tourists and full of traffic. It’s a pretty awesome thing to witness, but maybe you should go to visit Harry Potter instead, especially if you aren’t a fan of crowds.
What You Should Do Instead
Instead of the roundabout, why don’t you check out Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.
It’s a magical adventure of make-believe that you’re going to love if you’re acquainted with the story. Take the train from Victoria Station into central London to get to Hogwarts.
This activity requires the whole day – and it’s definitely worth it. Take a walking tour behind the scenes and marvel over the incredible sets, costumes and props that the studio has to offer. During this visit, you’ll also get to unravel well-kept secrets about the special effects and animatronics used to make the film.
If you’re a Harry Potter savant, you’ll be pleased o know that you get to enjoy the Great Hall, discover Dumbledore’s office, and step into Diagon Alley – exploring the shops on the street. It’s quite a magical experience, especially if you’re well-acquainted with the Harry Potter universe.
4, London Dungeon and Amusement Exhibition
The London Dungeons recreate gory historical events with the use of live actors, special effects, and horror rides. The purpose of the tourist attraction was to showcase the dark side of British history, with the two main themes being torture and sin.
It’s a macabre and quite a scary place and visiting the London Dungeon is like going to a haunted house. But, the horror show is not necessarily accurate in terms of its history. If you want a historic adrenaline rush, read on for what you should do instead.
What to do Instead
If you want some family fuelled fun, head over to Up at The O2.
It’s an activity in which you get to climb on the building, an incredible 53 meters above North Greenwich. All you need to do is get an AAA pass, and you will have access to the roof.
From there, you will be able to see the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard and Canary Warf. It’s a truly incredible experience that you shouldn’t miss out on if you get the chance.
Even though it might feel scary to get up on the roof, safety is everything, and they take it very seriously at the O2. First, you need to watch a couple of safety videos. Following this, you will have to jump into a pair of boots, suit and a harness. This is supplied by the O2. Top tip: make sure that you bring socks for your own comfort.
Finally, you can begin your ascent! The O2 guides will help lead you along the walkway all the way to the top of the building. Once up there, you can take a selfie and learn a fact or two about London’s landmarks before you begin heading back.
This activity is suitable for everyone who is over the age of 10, and at least 1.2 meters tall and this tour is also available for those with disabilities.
5. London Bridge Family Tourist Trap
London Bridge is not Tower Bridge, although many tourists get the two confused. For your reference, London Bridge is slightly subtler than Tower Bridge – lacking the ornate towers and grand arc.
Tourists visit London Bridge to go on a 2,000-year journey through British history. But, it’s less of an experience and more of a re-enactment. This is definitely fun in its own right, but don’t go into it thinking the ordeal is a detailed lesson in history.
Even still, the history lesson attracts plenty of tourists from all over the world looking to learn more about the history of London. But, you might be able to learn more about the city in Montcalm Hotels London by jumping on the Wi-Fi and doing your own research from the comfort of your bed.
Not interested in a history lesson? We have another idea: go for a boat ride on the River Thames.
What to Do Instead
Leave London Bridge for what’s beneath it for an adrenaline-fuelled ride.
Check out the Thames RIB experience – It’s a rigid inflatable boat that speeds down the Thames at 30 knots, which is roughly 35 miles per hour. It’s an exciting way to enjoy the city.
You can opt for a 20-minute journey up to an awesome 75-minute journey, both on the RIB boat.
The 20-minute ride can take you on two routes.
One is from Tower Millennium Pier past The Shard, Tower of London and HMS Belfast. The other takes you from The O2 Arena past the Thames Flood Barrier and Greenwich. The longer trips include a lot of sightseeing – the question isn’t what you do see, it’s what don’t you see!
Do note that they have six different types of experiences varying in the attractions you get to pass by, as well as the duration of the boat ride. Check out their website for more information.
Life jackets and waterproof clothing is provided on the RIB tours. Note that there is no age limit for this particular activity. There is, however, a minimum weight requirement of 15 kilograms or three stone.
In terms of safety, the RIB used for tourism are the same ones used by the Special Forces of the World and other Police Agencies. They are designed to endure extreme conditions – so there is no need to worry about the safety and stability of the boats.
Moreover, all of the boats are coded and have a certificate of compliance. All trips are also accompanied by commercial skippers and knowledgeable guides. The boats are designed to ensure safety and comfort, as the bench seating is padded. After this adrenaline-fuelled experience, head over to The Grill at The Montcalm because you’re sure to be have worked up an appetite.
6. Harrods Shopping Centre
You might find it surprising that Harrods is a tourist trap to avoid. Just as is the case with Piccadilly Circus, Harrods is challenging to avoid running into. It’s a posh building that definitely delivers and, while it is an expensive store, it’s a great place to get trinkets for friends and family, or luxury souvenirs to remember your trip by.
It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful buildings at night, as it is covered in thousands of lightbulbs, lighting up the building. That said, it’s definitely worth checking out in the dark – but leave it for night time.
In the day time, you should try out this next activity.
What to do Instead
Ditch the shopping experience for the London Zoo.
The London Zoo situated in Regent’s Park and has come a long way from back in the day. The Zoo is involved in world-class animal welfare projects and makes a point of designing settings that are beneficial for all creatures that reside in the London Zoo. They have creatures ranging from gorillas to lizards, penguins and tigers.
If you have kids, London Zoo has everything you might need on-site. There is an area dedicated to young ones featuring daily shows that tickle the mind and excite curiosity.
The Zoo takes special care to emphasise that they ensure animal welfare and conservation worldwide, which is why they have spent a considerable amount of resources to ensure that the 36-acre park is suited for its animals.
You can watch the lively penguins waddling about and diving from the benches or observe Tiger Territory, which hosts two critically endangered Sumatran tigers and their three cubs.
You can also visit the gorillas in their mini settlement named Gir Lion Lodge, and if you want an extra special experience, you can even stay the night near the Asiatic Lions. It’ll cost you £438 for two adults and includes a two-course dinner and English breakfast in the morning as well as free parking.
If a night at the zoo isn’t for you, you could always spend a relaxing or romantic evening at the Montcalm Spa, treating yourself after a day of exhausting sightseeing.