5 things to do as a British tourist in London
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
London has always been a mystery to me - but it's not a mystery why. London is vast, it's intimidating, it's a city and... well, it's a bit too close for home for those looking for big exotic travel adventures. Regardless, while travelling, the typical travel introductory conversation of name/journey/nationality for many Brits prompts excited cries of, ‘Ooohhh! Are you from London?’ Me included. This question always seems so absurd to me – not only because to anybody from the UK I am very obviously not from London, but because I am as much a tourist in London than any visitor from around the world.
Is that an acceptable excuse for not knowing London? Maybe not... The British capital is clearly a huge part of England, historically, socially, culturally… generally, overwhelmingly. And travellers flock from all over the world to walk the city's historic streets. But, for me at least, growing up 3.5 hours from the capital meant that when I dreamed of travelling and seeing exciting new places, I didn't dream of a 3.5 train journey, I dreamed of days-long train journeys, of multiple flights and ferries and coaches. London was too far to be familiar, but too close to be exotic. So, when I’m there, I am just as much of a tourist as anyone of the nearly 30 million people who visit London every year.
For my 21st birthday a couple of months ago one of my very good friends planned the ultimate London everything-in-a-day tourist trip for me. As a Londoner himself, most of the things we did probably weren’t even half as exciting as they were for me, whose reaction to pretty much every activity was socially unacceptable. So here are 5 of the best things we did on our British tourist trip on my first real discovery of London.
1) Madame Tussaud’s
Madame Tussaud's in London is one of the city's best-visited attractions. I don’t like excessive photographs being taken of myself. And I find the whole concept very strange... wax statues of famous people that you can pose with and touch and mock. It's weird, right? I did not, therefore, make the most of the typical 1305970296720 potential photos of me and “Brad Pitt” or “Taylor Lautner” or “The Queen”. However, my friend loves the camera. And my camera-awkwardness combined with his camera love equalled a very entertaining couple of hours. So worth a visit if you want to see the real tourist highlights of London and have some very light fun at the same time.
2) The London Eye
Obviously every tourist in London visits the world’s slowest moving Ferris wheel. And you know what, it's a fun ride. Not rollercoaster fun, of course, but it's nice. It's worth it, but I'd never go on it again. Once you've moved slowly around the London Eye once, there would be no real reason to ever do it again... (sorry, London tourism).
3) Dinner at the Oxo Tower Brasserie
If you're looking for a chic London restaurant and bar with insane views and an exclusive vibe, the Oxo Tower Brasserie is your place. This restaurant has insane views overlooking the River Thames and the rest of the beautiful city London and sells even more insane cocktails. At yet more insane prices. But splashing out (or at least, my friend splashing out...) was definitely worth it, especially if you’re only in London for a short period of time. Cheers to the city life!
4) World-class theatre show in the West End
This was the last leg of our little tourist extravaganza. We went to see The LION KINNNNNNGGGGGG – aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh. Honestly, I have wanted to see The Lion King in the theatre since I was a little girl. The Lion King is an absolutely incredible show, and definitely my highlight of London. Literally the best birthday present ever. No words. I cannot stress enough how much everybody should go see a show in the West End. It's an experience like no other.
TIP: Book way in advance or try and get cheap tickets on the day - the West End truly has a price range to suit every budget. Head to the official site for an overview of current shows playing in the West End.
5) London Underground
The London Underground (or the Tube) is as much as an adventure as any. I find it crazy and exhausting and a ltle bit scary... but it feels kinda cool. It feels like being in a movie, of living a city life. In Mansfield, no one travels like this. People watching is one of the best activities on the London Underground - especially when they complain if a train is 1 minute delayed... 1 minute! Is everyone in London perpetually on the brink of being late? Is 1 minute all they have to spare?
I have lived in Britain my entire life and have never done any of the above before my excessive birthday treat. I guess some of it is money – London is an expensive trip for a day or the weekend. More of it is not having the passion to explore my own country as much as I have the passion to explore others. But what makes me so sure that I have gained all I have to gain from the adventures offered on my doorstep?
Being such a London tourist for the day though made me realise that for the majority of visitors this is the only England they’ll ever see. It sparked a new love for Britain - London is absolutely different to the majority of the UK, and I realised that there was a lot that the ancient shores of Britain had to offer me and everyone else that visits the UK.