Planning a trip to London? Cut out the overpriced, underwhelming bits with tips from a local.
Anyone who visits London for the first time usually comes with a lengthy checklist. Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, The Shard, and the London Eye are always high on it, but ask any local what they think, and they'll advise you otherwise. We're not telling you to skip on the sights (there are plenty of historical and iconic must-sees in London that any resident could bend your ear about); we're saying you can pass on the tourist traps. Below, a local's list to the most overrated attractions in town.
1. Leicester Square
I get the attraction of Piccadilly Circus (the lights!) and likewise that of Oxford Circus (the stores!), but Leicester Square? Essentially, you're lining up for 40 minutes to spend $25 on a cinema ticket. There's a park in the middle that's flooded with pigeons, while around the edges are overpriced, underwhelming restaurants. Plus, there are plenty of better cinemas nearby. Avoid.
2. Eating in Chinatown
I see the attraction, I do, but every city has a Chinatown, and London's isn't so special that it deserves a proper pilgrimage. If you're looking for good Chinese food, try Hakkasan or Hutong. If you're looking for dumplings, go to Yauatcha. But if you just want somewhere to eat in Soho, book a table at The Palomar. You'll spend the same (Chinatown is considerably overpriced), your food will be better, and you'll escape the tourists.
3. The O2 Arena
The Millennium Dome was a must-visit right through the year 2000, then it sort of became redundant. Now known as the O2 Arena, it's really only worth visiting for a concert. It takes a mission to get there, it's full of overly excited children and tipsy adults, and the dining options are largely overpriced fast food. If you want good fast food, a better vibe, and a cooler crowd, go to Street Feast.
4. View From The Shard
The Shard is quite the spectacle, dominant in the London skyline, so it's no surprise that going to the top is a popular box to tick on many a visitor's checklist. But paying $40 just to take the elevator to the crowded viewing platform? Don't do it. Instead, go to one of the bars at the top of the Shard and spend that money on cocktails. The panoramic views are just as good and the cocktails are great. Also see the earlier recommendation for dining at Hutong: you won't regret spending a bit more for that Peking duck and those views.
5. Riding the Bus down Oxford Street
London red buses are an international icon, and it makes sense that anyone would want to ride one. Just don't ride it down Oxford Street. What sounds like a fun idea is actually a painfully slow, frustrating experience. You'll hop on, squeeze together for about 20 minutes, during which time you'll move precisely seven feet before deciding it's faster and more enjoyable to walk. Take a bus down any other street in London—for the same experience, it will go much more smoothly.
6. The London Eye
I've lived in London for five years and not once been on the London Eye, because so many people have advised me not to. It's fun for a few minutes before the novelty wears off; then you're stuck in your pod, making your way round for the rest of the half hour. And don't be fooled by what you've seen in romantic movies: expect to share your bubble with 25 other people. As an alternative, admire this giant Ferris wheel from afar, during a stroll along Victoria Embankment, which offers even better photo opportunities.
7. Dinner Cruise on the Thames
I don't know anyone who's ever done this, but I know the concept exists. Be forewarned: It's unlikely the food will be good, and it's destined to be an overpriced experience. There are plenty of far nicer places to eat, and similarly, other ways to see the sights—a stroll across Blackfriars Bridge, for example. Eat at Butlers Wharf Chop House, and you'll get good food and unbeatable views of Tower Bridge.
8. Shaftesbury Avenue
Shaftesbury Avenue seems to feature in all the guidebooks, though it's still a mystery why. There's not much to see here; it's primarily a gateway to Soho. Instead, take a back route to the neighborhood, where there's far more interesting shops and cafes along the way.