London is a massive metropolis and diverse home to over eight million people. While the multi-cultural population gives you the upper-hand of blending more smoothly than other countries, it’s still easy to spot the inexperienced tourists in a crowd of locals. This is your guide to ways you can avoid looking like a tourist in London altogether.
One of the best things about London is that you can sit down to dinner and find yourself among five different people from five different countries. It’s really common to hear multiple languages spoken throughout the day and you’re likely to meet people from a range of backgrounds.
Unfortunately, because of this, some classic British traits are dying out with the influence of other cultures, particularly American films and music. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things worth bearing in mind when you’re visiting the capital to keep you from sticking out like a sore thumb.
Disclaimer: Hi! this post may contain affiliate links which will take you to online retailers that sell products and services. If you click on one and buy something, I may earn a commission, see my Affiliate Disclosure for more details.
Obvious tourists run the risk of getting sucked into tourist traps and are easier targets for getting mugged. Although London is a fairly safe city, it’s definitely worth brushing up on some of these universal rules that will have you experiencing London in an authentically British way. Here’s how to avoid looking like a tourist, while getting the most out of your stay!
1. Dress Like a Local
Despite what you might read elsewhere, it doesn’t require too much effort to look like a local in London. You’ll find a wide range of clothing and it’s not always as posh as what London is actually known for.
Ever since I moved to London, I hung up my heels and fancy clothing. Whilst there are occasions to dress up, most of the time Londoners’ wardrobe style is casual. It’s even made its way into the West End theatre scene at times.
But let’s face it; Londoners have a way of making casual look not so casual, somehow. I do still feel they dress a little “smarter” than other places of the world, and you’ll still see people working in the City of London donning suits, but you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe for hanging out in London, other than a nice rain jacket (preferably black in colour).
People of all walks of life live in London, and the range of styles on show is rich and diverse; wear what you’re comfortable in, but if you really don’t want to look like a tourist, maybe forgo the fanny pack (bum bag) and baseball caps!
Plus, you’ll be doing heaps of walking, so make sure you have some sturdy and comfortable walking shoes. Nice trainers aren’t uncommon and neither are backpacks.
Yep, you’ll need all the essentials on a day out in London, so take a classy backpack (not a typical travel backpack), and you’ll fit right in. Even canvas bags are common for shopping and groceries.
2. Avoid Chain Restaurants
More than just a way to avoid looking like a tourist, this is a general life tip. London has some of the best restaurants in the world, and you can try food from a hundred different countries all in one city – why would you want to eat food you could have at home?
While Londoners may eat at a chain restaurant in a pinch, most would opt for the endless choice of local and independent restaurants right on their doorstep; the old stereotype of the Brits having poor food is more than outdated, so don’t be afraid to dabble in the local cuisine.
The classics like fish and chips and the full English breakfast are still standard, but the London food scene encompasses so much more these days. Confining yourself to just one type of food, or the unwillingness to explore, would for sure have you standing out in the crowd, where you want to blend.
3. Brush Up on British Expressions
Note some British expressions before you head to London, as this will save you a lot of embarrassment and confusion.
The one that always catches me out is ‘Are you alright?’. I took it as if I looked unwell or needed help, ha! It’s simply a greeting. To avoid awkwardness, just say – great thanks, you.
If you’re used to saying ‘candy,’ refer to it as ‘sweets.’ Also ‘French fries’ are ‘chips’ in England and ‘elevators’ are ‘lifts.’
There are heaps of other expressions that it wouldn’t hurt to learn ahead of time that will have you speaking like a local!
4. Learn Proper Pronunciation
Along the same line is pronunciation. It can take some time to learn how to properly pronounce all the street names, city and village names in England. If you think you know how something sounds, it’s probably not right.
When I first heard Southwark being announced on the tube, I had no idea where this place was and quickly learned it was pronounced suh·thuhk.
Check your phone for how to say these words properly, or you’ll for sure be spotted as a tourist!
5. Mind Your Manners
Modern Brits aren’t like the old-fashioned stereotypes portrayed in the movies anymore, but a degree of politeness is still a bit of a national character trait. Good manners are widespread in the UK, so a ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ or even ‘cheers,’ are appreciated in everyday interactions.
Queueing is also a very British thing to do and Londoners have a lot more tolerance for it than many other countries. So, practice your patience when you see the orderly queues forming for entry into the museums or buying goods in a shop.
‘Jumping queue’ in considered very impolite and a traditional sense of fair play is enforced among Londoners. If you’re unsure, just ask – we will quickly advise you if there is a queue to join.
Outside of pubs, being loud and boisterous is also frowned upon. Keeping your voice down in public is encouraged, particularly on public transport! Most people on the Tube are on their way to work or going about their day in peace, and don’t want to be disturbed.
Lastly, it’s impolite to stare and point your finger, which is a common tourist trait.
6. Mind Your Personal Space
Keeping in tune with etiquette is also minding your personal space. If you’re not accustomed to public transportation, there’s a lot of etiquette to familiarize yourself with. Be conscious of those around you, especially at peak times, as the buses and trains will get quite busy.
While you’re sitting down, don’t stretch out your legs or arms in a way that might get in someone else’s way. If you have to stand, make sure and hold onto a handrail so you don’t fall over onto anyone! If you want to look like a true local on transport, put your headphones on and avidly avoid eye contact with anyone at all.
7. Use Local Table Manners
If you’re not from Europe, you might not be accustomed to how Brits eat their food, and this is one sure fire way to make you stick out like a sore thumb. The proper way if you’re right-handed is to eat with your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right hand. Then cut each bite individually, not all at once, while you rest your arms midway between your wrist and elbow. Elbows should always stay off the table!
8. Steep Tea Like a Local
Tea is usually one of the first things one thinks of when it comes to England, and there’s never a wrong time for a “cuppa” in London. So learning how to make a proper cup of tea in any occasion will have you blending in with the locals.
Here’s a Quick Tea Tutorial
First, you’re going to boil the kettle and as soon as the water bubbles, pour it into a cup where a tea bag is waiting. You don’t want to let the water cool down too much as this will ruin the flavour, and the tea won’t steep as well. Wait a while to remove the bag. Keep in mind, you don’t want to over stew your tea, but it’s even worse to serve a weak tea. Practice makes perfect.
Now, a cup of tea without milk in England is just unheard of, and you’ll want to add the milk after it’s brewed. How much you add is a personal preference, so when in doubt add a dash; less is better than more! Lastly, if you like yours with sugar, add your desired amount.
And most importantly, when it comes to making the perfect cuppa, you simply cannot get away with making yourself one without asking every single other person within the vicinity if they would also fancy a cup. Don’t forget to ask if they take sugar and how much, and never ever use the same spoon for someone that isn’t taking sugar.
Follow these instructions and you’ll be serving afternoon tea in no time!
9. Get Off the Beaten Path
Sightseeing does not have to be limited to famous attractions! Although it’s fun to throw of a few of those in too, getting off the beaten path is the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture. For instance, Londoners would seldom be seen visiting places like Buckingham Palace or Tower Bridge.
Take a quick stroll through the popular tourist areas like Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, but for the ‘local experience’, you can spend the majority of your time wandering through some lesser-known areas of London. This is easier said than done, depending on the length of your stay, so a couple of trips to the city might be in order.
If you’re willing to forego the crowds and would rather venture into some of the more quiet and charming neighbourhoods, try Dulwich Village – if you don’t mind venturing further from the centre – or the elegant and affluent Kensington, just to name a few.
10. Know Which Bridge is Which
One of the most common mistakes tourists make in London is confusing the two bridges, Tower Bridge and London Bridge. You would think by the name that London Bridge is the big, attractive, exciting one that everyone photographs, but it’s not. That one is actually Tower Bridge; named for the Tower of London which sits close by. London Bridge is the one next to the iconic Tower Bridge that’s honestly not much to look at. Now you know!
11. Don’t Wear Your Camera Around Your Neck
I think we can all agree that the easiest way to spot a tourist is when you see someone with a camera hanging around their neck. Get yourself a camera bag that doubles as a stylish backpack or cross-body bag and pull out the camera as needed. I know it might be hard because you’re bound to want to take pictures of literally everything and get swept up in the charm of London, but take some time to feel like a local and enjoy the moment as well.
Also be respectful when taking photographs. The super cute houses you’re photographing are where people actually live. Don’t be rude or take too much time in one place, looking like a stalker. And don’t get in the way of others or act annoyed with people passing by. You’re in a busy city!
12. Don’t Take the Heathrow Express
If you’re flying into London Heathrow, there’s a 20-minute Heathrow Express train that will cost you a good £25 to get to central London. If you want to avoid looking like a tourist, don’t take this train; the price is extortionate! Take a ride on the Piccadilly tube line (46 minutes to Piccadilly Circus) and pay just £3.10 with an Oyster or contactless card.
13. Don’t Buy Paper Tickets for the Tube
Purchasing a physical paper ticket is a rookie mistake in London, and often the most expensive way to use public transport. In the past, the advice would always be to purchase an Oyster Card or use a contactless card (including Apple and Google Pay) for travelling around London.
This is still a great option, particularly if you’re staying long-term or will face extra fees for using your card abroad, but contactless payments are easier and don’t require paying an initial £7 fee. It works in the same way: simply tap your payment card as you enter and leave a station and you’re all set.
If you want to get an Oyster Card, you can pick one up at the airport on your way in and even return it and get any leftover funds back at the end of your trip. Oyster cards are easy to ‘top up’ at most stations and are cheaper than one-way or day tickets for the tube, and they also work on the buses.
If you want to avidly avoid looking like a tourist, make sure you have your card – Oyster or otherwise – handy so you can tap it as you enter and leave the stations. Nothing is worse than holding up the lines by having to fiddle around in your purse or wallet looking for it.
14. Don’t Overuse the Tube
While the tube is the quickest way to get around in London – and it’s definitely something you want to familiarise yourself with – it’s not actually necessary all the time. Studying the tube lines a bit before you arrive will have you seeing that it’s quite easy to walk between a majority of the main attractions in central London, and it’s a lot cheaper that way as well. You never need to take the tube just one stop away.
If you get tired of walking, you can also hop on an iconic double decker bus. This is a classic Londoner move. Just don’t use a tourist bus! That should go without saying.
Local Bus Routes for the Best Sightseeing
Bus Route 11 – Fulham Broadway to Liverpool Street will take you by King’s Road in Chelsea, Belgravia, then the famous sights like Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
Bus Route 24 – Pimlico to Hampstead Heath, like route 11 you will pass by Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street and Trafalgar Square.
Bus Route 453 – I suggest catching it from Marylebone stations and hopping off once you’ve seen the sights on your list. The bus passes by Westminster, Whitehall, Regent Street, Oxford Street and Regent Park.
15. Escalator Etiquette
Don’t ever stand on the left side of the escalator. The left side is for people walking up or down. Stick to the right side if you’re standing still, and keep your belongings and limbs at your sides.
Speaking of escalators, don’t get to the top and then stop! You’ll soon discover that people are seriously hustling through the tube stations to make their connections, and stopping at the top of the escalator will for sure get you some glares and possible comments. If you need to get your bearings, step aside and wait by the wall to read the signs or check your phone. It’s much safer for everyone.
So there you have it! These are some excellent ways to avoid looking like a tourist in London. Don’t get too hung up on looking like a local; if you want to see the famous sights, then do it! Londoners would do the same if they were visiting New York.
Yes, you’ll probably still have your moments, but overall, you’re now equipped with how to blend into the local city scene smoothly and have the best memories to take home with you!
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.