What Are The Longest Queues London's Ever Seen?

By James FitzGerald Last edited 43 months ago
What Are The Longest Queues London's Ever Seen?
We don't need to be told twice. Photo: Ruth Geach

This nation’s love-hate relationship with queuing is nowhere more evident than in its overpopulated capital.

This got us thinking about London’s longest queues, and how to avoid them. Everyone’s got a London queuing anecdote: perhaps it was knotting your legs together while waiting for the ladies’ in a West End theatre, or spending a whole evening harrumphing your way down Wembley Way to the tube station after an England match. You’re invited to share them in the comments section below. Provided, of course, that you include a ludicrously overblown and patently inaccurate estimate about the length of the line.

There's not a self-respecting Londoner out there without a transport queuing anecdote, so share them below. Photo: Andy Thornley

Driven to insanity

We checked with the Guinness World Records, and no, the world’s longest ever traffic jam wasn’t that time on Christmas Eve when you could get out of the car and play cricket on the M25 while waiting to get onto the Dartford Crossing. The actual, 109-mile record occurred in France in 1980.

But traffic analyst Inrix showed a ten-mile stretch of the A217 (from Sutton to Fulham) to be the most congested road in Britain for the second year running in 2016, causing each driver a total of 110 hours’ delay over a twelve month period. Given that car ownership just goes up and up, that’s one London road you'd do well to avoid.

Solution? If you live in Sutton, at one end of the A217, at least you can rely on Southern to whisk you into the city centre nice and quickly by rail link. Ah, hang on.

Worth the wait?

You'll have to go round and round before even getting on the London Eye. Photo: James Guppy

While the ill-fated Millennium Dome never got the attendance figures expected of it, it still achieved some magnificent queues. London’s historically been a victim of its own success as a tourist honeytrap; even visitors to the Great Exhibition of 1851 complained about delays getting in.

While it’s impossible to quantify the longest visitor queues of all time, one travel guide claims to have aggregated the average wait times for its present-day attractions, labelling the London Eye as the worst offender in the capital with an average 2.5-hour queue.

Solution? Take a relaxing day trip outside the city centre to Thorpe Park, where rides like Nemesis Inferno can allegedly command queues of up to 300 minutes.

Now and then, a long line might be worth it: remember the poppies at the Tower of London in 2014? Photo: Doug

Nine-and-three-quarter hours

Prepare to get spellbindingly Dumble-bored if you’re a Harry Potter fan living in London. Reports from non-exaggeratory sources claim that Pottermaniacs have, at times, been told that they are 130,000th in line for a ticket for the magical stage show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. OK, this one’s not a physical queue – but it’s still getting Londonist’s record for Most Theatrical Queue.

Solution? Buy the script and assemble a ragtag am-dram circle to perform it. Build a reputation in provincial theatres before touring globally. Revive it thirty years later. This could still prove a faster process than bargaining with Ticketmaster.

Pottermaniacs. Photo: shadowjumper

This afternoon’s attendance is…

Although the annual Camp Wimbledon is surely among the most dedicated queues in London, it’s not cutting in to get our Sports Queue prize. That dubious honour must go jointly to north London’s Premier League clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham — jointly because they like to keep tight-lipped over exact figures. Reports suggest that the Gunners’ season ticket waiting list runs to 40,000 people; an estimate which the club’s supporters’ trust reckon to be “conservative”. And for Spurs it’s claimed to be 47,000 – a figure which helps justify that new stadium of theirs.   

The Gooner: a patient species in so many ways. Photo: timd204

Solution? Get yourself a different north London club - one that actually has a chance of winning the Premier League one day. For precisely the cost of one replica Arsenal sock (£6), you can get an adult ticket at Haringey Borough FC, the pride of N17. Back of the net.


Is it merciful that so many of London’s longest queues are abstract computerised lists rather than agonising in-person waits — or does that just make the prospect of reaching what you want all the more depressingly minuscule? You don’t have to literally stand in line for a council house in Barking & Dagenham, which is just as well after a councillor in the borough claimed on camera that it’s a 50-year wait.

According to more official statistics, Camden had the longest social housing waiting list of any London borough in 2015, at 25,000 households — the highest since this dataset came into being in 1997.

Solution? If we had one, we’d be offering it at the despatch box in the House of Commons.


A West End pub on New Year's Eve. Not a Dishoom, but nonetheless a beneficiary of the Dishoom Effect, whereby any establishment looks instantly more appealing if loads of people are queuing to go in. Photo: World of Tim

Just saying. The grim and unassailable rise in no-bookings restaurants in the past five years has seen Londoners queuing for food en masse for the first time since rationing (which, incidentally, wins the accolade for Most Widespread and Socially Significant Example of Queuing in London’s History).

If this whole damn article is starting to sound a little bit depressing, take some solace in the fact that OpenTable research suggests that Brits spend a whopping 21 hours per year lining up for no-bookings restaurants, but that London is the region in which diners are the savviest — opting for venues which are able to operate both a telephone and a diary. You do have to adapt to survive in a city like this.

Solution? One step ahead of you: we’ve written a guide.

Last Updated 28 July 2017