London is a great tourist destination, a fantastic combination of art, culture, heritage and cutting-edge fashion, music and other attractions. There’s the pomp and ceremony of Buckingham Palace, and the scuzzy bustle of Camden Market. But as with many cities, there are areas that tourists should avoid, for various reasons.
1) Madame Tussaud’s.
This famous tourist attraction, wherein the great and the good are reproduced as uncanny plastic figurines, is a tourist trap of ridiculous proportions. If two of you turn up and pay standard admission prices, you’re looking at upwards of GBP50, and it really is a pretty soulless place. People go to Madame Tussaud’s because it’s famous, ticking it off a tourist checklist, the actual attraction itself is very ordinary, over-priced and overcrowded. If you have to go, get some sort of discount voucher.
2) Shakespeare’s Globe.
Shakespeare’s Globe is an outstanding achievement, a replica of an Elizabethan theatre on the South Bank of the Thames. However, it is not actually on the site of Shakespeare’s famous theatre, it’s not even particularly close to it. That’s a mere detail, the scale and ambition of the project is undeniable. The problem for tourists, however, is that the plays staged in the Globe are frequently pretty shoddy. It’s an intimate venue, particularly with the standing space for the groundlings (and if you’re up for standing up for three hours, this is the only way to go, the ‘seats’ are agonisingly uncomfortable), and has the potential to be an awesome theatre. But time and time again they trot out flimsy productions with third-rate actors and are more interested in giving tourists something to take photos of rather than providing a great Shakespeare performance.
If you’re looking for great Shakespeare, take a train to Stratford on Avon and the Royal Shakespeare Company, or possibly the National if they have anything running.
3) Leicester Square.
If you fancy waving at a few film stars during your stay in London, a quick trip to Leicester Square is compulsory to check out the latest red carpet film premiere. So, go, queue, wave, get things signed, have a great time. Then leave before you even think about buying a drink or a meal in the most over-priced and over-rated area of London. Covent Garden, Chinatown and Soho are mere streets away and offer much better value for money than the premium chain restaurants and bars that litter Leicester Square.
This piece has concentrated on tourist traps as places to avoid rather than the personal security side of things. The fact is that although London, like many cities, has areas of deprivation where tourists would be better advised to avoid, these tend to be away from Central London. If you are sticking to the major sights of Central London, you should be safe enough as long as you keep one eye out for pickpockets and keep to the main roads. It would be unfair to say out of hand ‘avoid areas like Peckham’ as even the most notorious areas of London have vibrant local communities and feature restaurants, galleries and other things to recommend them.