What NOT to do in London?

I am going on vacation to London later this month for 10 days and I know there are a ton of things to see and do. I thought I might get a better response if I asked about things that people wouldn’t recommend. The only thing that I’ve read so far is that Madame Toussand’s isn’t worth it and it’s not something I’d be interested in anyway.

Also, if anyone has any general advice regarding transportation, dining, and how to make the trip generally inexpensive, I’d appreciate it. I’m not traveling on a student budget but I want to keep costs down.

I’m a huge fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes… but the Holmes Museum at 221-B Baker Street was about the ONLY thing I saw in London that I didn’t care for.

Complete waste of time, even for aficionados. Skip it.

Personally, I’d give Tate Modern a miss, finding it to have an incomprehensible layout, very little in the way of additional information about any of the works and a general sense that a lot of the exhibits have been chosen to fill up some of the enormous cavernous space rather than artistic merit. It has some stunning paintings but they risk getting lost in the noise.

Still, opinions will vary on this so don’t just take my word for it.

There are too many great things to do to mention, so I think this is a good thread idea.

I hadn’t planned on this or anything, but after eating at Wagamama in Southwark I happened to wander by The Clink Prison. It looked interesting from the outside and I had an afternoon to kill alone, so I figured what the hell. Bad idea. The “museum” was so bad it was funny. I’m talking mannequins in chains and cheesy sound effects of whips and moaning. Plus, the whole thing is roughly the size of an apartment. So bad.

Other than that, I can’t think of a single thing I regretted doing in London.

When I was in London about 1996, there was an exhibit of the Queen’s diamonds at the Tower. Total waste of time: unset diamonds that could have been glass for all you can see of them, a moving walkway to make sure you didn’t spend more than 30 seconds being able to see them anyway.
In 2005, The London Guildhall is also dull, unless you have a deep fondness for historical watches.
The Garden Museum was also a near-total waste of time, and I *love *gardens.
I’ll also agree with astorian, 221 Baker Streetwasn’t worth it.

I wasn’t too fond of the London Dungeon. Cheesy, fake, and not creepy or scary at all.

And the Jack the Ripper walking tour was a mixed bag. The guide was excellent…he was an expert and knew all kinds of neat little bits of trivia. Seeing the actual sites was a letdown, though. “Here’s where they found the third victim…” but instead of some creepy back alleyway, you’re looking at a brightly lit modern parking garage.

Really depends on what sort of stuff you’re into/not into. I liked Madame Tuseauds, and the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B (which, really, is a minor pit stop near Madame Tuseauds anyway).

I also loved the British Museum, but it is huge, and involves many stairs. Not for the faint of foot.

Harrod’s has a reputation as a premier shopping destination, but I’ve been many times, and I’m really not too impressed. If you’re looking to shop, there’s more small, independant, and unique shops in little markets all over.

As for budgetary concerns, use the Underground as much as you can. Pick up at least a day pass, and reuse it. Buses and cabs usually aren’t bad either. If you’re just staying in London, avoid renting a car…if you’re traveling outside, wait to rent until you leave London or take trains.

If you rely on your cell phone, consider this trick: when you get there, look for a local mini mart and pick up a local, pre-paid phone or SIM card. If your phone uses SIM cards, you can swap them out with the local prepaid, and save some money on local calling. If you choose to carry your regular cell phone unaltered, then be sure to check with your company to see if you need to enable international roaming…and be prepared for fees that will kill you.

For food, don’t eat at hotels. Look for small eateries or pubs, they’re all over and usually serve much better (and cheaper) food. Plenty of hole-in-the-wall places that serve some excellent food.

I was kind of so-so on Madame Toussaud’s, but I ended up actually enjoying it quite a bit. In particular, it was really interesting to see how tall these celebrities and famous people are/were. But it does take a fair amount of time.

As to general advice:
Re: transportation. The “tube”/Underground is the best way to go. Inexpensive, stations are walking distance to most things you’re likely going to see/visit. My only complaint is that some of the stations (deeper ones, in particular) were uncomfortably hot. So while I was waiting for a train, it would get kind of uncomfortable. Not sure if the A/C was just on the fritz, or if that is a normal occurance.
If you’re going to visit Greenwich, we were recommended taking one of these Thames ferries. Also reasonably cheap, and I enjoyed the ride (you’re out in the open, and can see all these buildings and such from the river). It’s slower than taking the train, but enjoyable.

Re: shopping. I can’t recommend Camden Loch enough for shopping. It is a flea market/swap meet, and it may only run on weekends. There’s a tube station very convenient, too. It is huge, and there is all kinds of stuff and cool souvenirs (unless you really want that Big Ben statue ;-). Also much cheaper than the regular stores. I’ve recommended it to several friends, and they’ve all enjoyed it and wished they’d allotted more time to spend there.

Re: cheap dining. A friend recommended this for less expensive dining and it worked out well: pubs. Most pubs serve a basic menu, and the food is generally decent (YMMV) and relatively cheap. Maybe plan for lunch at a pub instead of a full-on restaurant.

London is pretty expensive for lodging. I paid a lot for a mediocre room with only a sink (shared toilet and shower down the hall). I don’t have any good advice except to expect to pay a lot for not so much room.

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. Every day thousands of tourists hang around for ages waiting to catch a glimpse of a few red coated guards marching down the street. Hardly any of them get a decent view of anything.

No Londoner would be seen dead doing such a thing.

Oh and Leicester Square. Just don’t. Ever. It’s a dump.

If you take a day/afternoon trip to Greenwich, eat before you go. I live here, ALL the restaurants are awful, pure tourist warmed up rubbish. And if you DO visit Greenwich (which is lovely) try not to do it on a sunny weekend, as the park attracts enough people to fill a rock festival.

No, there just isn’t any.

I’m so glad you mentioned this. I was going to give a warning about this horrible meat pie I had in Greenwich, but wasn’t sure if I just caught them on an off day. Worst food on my whole trip in england !

Apparently, some Brit women do not appreciate being called “Ma’am”. Being from the South, I’m pretty much not capable of addressing women without using that word.

The Changing of the Guards was very crowded at first, so I didn’t have a good view of the parade on the way in. Then the band set up inside the gates and played for about 20 minutes, during which time most of the crowd wandered off. It surprised me - who goes to all the trouble to show up for this and doesn’t wait 20 minutes to see the end? But I had an excellent view of the parade leaving.

We went to the Leicester Square TKTS booth several times to get bargain seats for the theatre. That was one of our great London experiences.

Speaking of which The Mousetrapis well worth missing.

Let’s see if I can help.

This is a reference to the Tower of London, which always contains an exhibition of what are called the Crown Jewels. There is a short moving walkway in front of one section of one display featuring the most impressive of the jewels, and yes, it is timed so that you will only get about 30 seconds there. This may seem unfair, but I would suggest you probably only need 30 seconds, and when I visited I wasn’t particularly upset that I couldn’t linger there for longer. The rest of the place, including the rest of the Crown Jewels exhibit, you can wander around at your own pace and take as long as you like.

The Tower has always been a victim of its own succes. The moving walkway was introduced to cope with the problem of there being lots and lots of tourists who want to see the Crown Jewels, and too many people taking so long that the numbers became unmanageable. Whether the jewels themselves are all that impressive is largely in the eye of the beholder. However, they are a unique set of some of the most impressive jewels in the world, associated with centuries of history, as you can read about here. And the Cullinan diamond is worth a look, surely?

Even if some impressive jewels aren’t your cup of tea, I think the Tower is worth visiting. There is lots to see and do. There are many, many different chambers and exhibitions there, to do with such things as historical costumes and clothing, heraldry, military history and armour (not to be confused with the separate and self-contained Royal Armoury that has been relocated outside of London). You can spend hours and hours there and still not see it all. Plus the Tower itself is a spectacular fortress, and it’s pleasant to wander around it and feel the centuries of history that it has witnessed.

Kids are well catered for with free ‘treasure hunt’ maps that help them to navigate around the place. The Tower has been a principal feature of British history for centuries, and it is incredibly well-preserved. They have actors in character, giving little talks about life as it was lived at different periods of the Tower’s history. The guides and wardens do a good job of answering questions, and the famous Beefeaters are a very popular photo opportunity for most tourists!

The only point I would stress is that if you want to go, get up early and get in line early. If you wait until later in the day, you’ll wait a very long time to get in.

Agreed, the London Dungeon is a fairly cheesy tourist trap. Inside all you see are some average waxworks recreating some fairly gory scenes such as famous executions. But some people like the atmosphere and feel it’s a bit ‘different’.

In general, the London Walks are excellent, and visitors would be well advised to choose one they like the sound of and go along. They are all inexpensive, and the guides themselves have to be really good guides - very knowledgeable but also very good at hosting a walk - to be employed by the company.

I’m sorry PeskiPiksi didn’t enjoy the Jack the Ripper walk. I’ve been on it twice, and I think it’s excellent (I once went with Teller, of P&T, and he enjoyed it too!). I’m also surprised that PP was disappointed that some of the key locations in the story are now just nondescript modern buildings. I think one of the strong points of the walk is that many of the key scenes and locations around Whitechapel are still there, more or less unchanged since the period when JTR was active. Many other friends who have been on the walk have said how much they liked it. Of course in the end it’s just a matter of opinion, and PP is perfectly entitled to his or hers. But the London Walks in general are well worth considering.

Sorry if I was unlcear. The rest of the Tower is quite interesting, but that one room of jewels (which required an extra charge, IIRC) was not worth it, IMHO.

London is full-to-bursting of amazingly cool stuff. So full you have cut something, or take a year’s vacation. If you don’t actually like museums, but feel obliged to view the highlights, I recommend Rick Steves’ Museum Strategies. If you’re an American, you have no holiday-time to waste.

I’d second not visiting Tussaud’s, the London Dungeon, Leicester Square or Harrods.

Tussaud’s is kinda fun, but really expensive in a city where most tourist attractions are free or way cheaper than Tussaud’s.

The Dungeon simply isn’t in the slightest bit scary and, if you’re there in high season, you’ll be in the queue longer than in the attraction (you’re guided around rather than wandering freely); if you like that kind of thing, the London Bridge Experience/London Tombs is much better and right next door.

Leicester Square simply doesn’t have much to offer. Trafalgar Square is good to go to these days, though - they have lots of events, usually free, lots of space to sit and chill out, and the National Portrait Gallery is right on its edge. The fourth plinth (the only one in the square not occupied by a statue) is currently host to actual people, and that can be entertaining sometimes.

Harrod’s does have some decent food in the food hall, but the rest of it is overcrowded and snobby - groups have to enter via sperate doors (even if that means sending non-English-speaking children out onto the busy street by themselves), you have to remove your rucksack, the security guards are all on a power trip, and the Dodidi memorial is hilariously tasteless.

Oh, I’m pretty certain most English women would melt at being called Ma’am in a rich Southern accent.

Don’t get the tube from Charing Cross to Embankment. Actually, don’t get the tube around the West End at all (though you might need to arrive there by it). Walking distances are miniscule and buses are clearly marked and hard to get lost on.

Don’t get a London Pass. You wouldn’t be able to visit enough of the attractions in the time limit without either losing money or seeing so little that it’s not worth it. They’re also cheeky bastards; they have a London Pass which incluces travel, but they charge more than normal Oystercards. They even charge for children, who travel free. (Children do have to pay on some suburban overground train lines, but the maximum fare is two quid per day).

An Oystercard is a must, btw - you can order them online before you come here, but they’re also easy to get at the first station you use.

Don’t leave tips on the table in a pub. I’ve only seen one tourist do this, a very nice American Doper, actually, but the money was more likely to be stolen by the next people to take the table than ever getting to the bar staff. If you want to tip the bar staff, say ‘one for yourself’ and they’ll add 3 or 4 quid to your order. However, some pubs (like the Wetherspoons chain) don’t permit bar staff to take tips.

When tipping in restaurants, give the tip by cash if you can be arsed, not by card. Many restaurants keep the tips rather than passing them on to the staff who earnt them.

And please don’t act like an inconsiderate tourist on the pavements or on tube platforms in Central London. You’re probably less likely to do this than the average tourist, since you are actually asking for advice, but most of the pavements are very narrow and it’s really bloody annoying to get stuck behind a group of people standing stock still looking around, while you’re trying to get to work. It’s easy enough to do your gazing after moving to the side of the pavement or somewhere else less obstructive.

I think this might be a city vs. country thing more than a tourist thing, though, since I’ve seen visitors from smaller places in the UK do the same thing; they just don’t realise how packed the streets can be, so don’t adjust their behaviour.

BTW, if you go to the Natural History Museum (which is excellent), the queues in high season are ridiculous. But that’s at the main entrance. There’s another entrance round the corner which leads to the Earth section of the NHM, and there are never any crowds there. That part’s worth seeing for itself, but it also leads to the main museum with the dinosaurs and so on. In high season, going that way could save you a good hour or two of queueing.

If you really do want to see more of the jewels at the Tower, you are allowed to go back onto the moving walkway without queueing again. I think it’s a bloody good idea, personally - it means you actually get to see the jewels rather than only seeing the backs of other people’s heads as they stand with their noses pressed against the case for hours.