What Do Travel Guides Tell Tourists About London?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 8 months ago
What Do Travel Guides Tell Tourists About London?

As a Londoner, you might not have looked at a guidebook about your own city for years. So what are travel guides telling would-be tourists about our beloved metropolis, and how to behave here? And what are they saying about Londoners? Good things, we hope...

You can't trust the weather

There was probably a drought about three seconds after this. Photo: starman 59

We begin with how any right-minded Londoner would begin a conversation. The weather.

"...it's impossible to say with any certainty what the weather will be like," warns Rough Guides to any reader fool enough to think they could come over here with a seasonal wardrobe.

StoryV concurs: "The weather in London can be very temperamental so always check the weather forecast before you pack." We'd dispute the second half of that; it's safer, surely, to shove everything from flip-flops to crampons into your suitcase.

Image: Lonely Planet

OK, so London blows hot and cold. But most tourist guides refrain from harping on about it being the rain-sodden puddle of a metropolis it's often dismissed as. "The city has an unfair reputation for being drizzly, grey and rainy," says WikiTravel, "This is mostly an unfounded belief." Hear, hear.

DK Eyewitness Travel is even magnanimous enough to poeticise London's climate, describing "the cheerful yellow of daffodils studding the parks." They're on our side! They know we can do sun if we want to! They... oh. They then go and rain on our parade with a chart of precipitation, concluding "London's average monthly rainfall remains much the same throughout the year." In other words: it is never summer.

It's gonna cost ya

You will need more than this if you're visiting London

"London is an expensive place," suggests WikiTravel, before using the 'e' word another 31 times. This sets the tone for eye-watering straight talk across the board, from most travel guides.

"London is an expensive city," agrees Insight Guides, "You'll be lucky to find a conveniently located double room for less than £100 a night," it continues (prompting the reader to cry a little bit), "and prices soar to well over £400," it continues (prompting them to reroute their flights to Vilnius).

Other guides go less with the softly-softly approach, more with the 'do-you-honestly-know-what-you're-letting-yourselves-in-for?' tack: "Travel in London is two-three times the price it is in other capital cities and is often dirty, unreliable and congested," says LondonTourist. Yikes.

It's not all doom and gloom though: The Savvy Backpacker reckons you can do London on £45 a day, which includes a single tube fare and making the most of the free attractions. That includes a 'sweet treat', although not a single beer.

Stand on the right

No excuses for standing on the left: guides say not to. Photo: Cris Rose

It's official. Tourists have been told. "Stand on the right hand side and use the left if you want to walk down," Lonely Planet tells its readers in no uncertain terms, "Failure to observe this can cause consternation among other users." And the rest.

"Keep out of their way," ('they' being Londoners) is what St Christopher's Inns advises backpackers — else, you face the wrath of "city dwellers who have absolutely no qualms about knocking you out of the way or abruptly vocalising: 'MOVE TO THE RIGHT'".

No one sounds like Dick Van Dyke

Londoners don't generally look like this

We know a bit about London now — but what of the people who inhabit it? What of the Londoner?

"The 'cheerful chappy' Cockney, born within the sound of the Bow Bells in East London is a media stereotype, as authentic as Dick Van Dyke’s accent in the musical Mary Poppins", bemoans Wikitravel, continuing, "Cockney rhyming slang may be rich and colourful, but it is very much in the minority in the multicultural landscape of London." What a Walter. (Walter Mitty). (Pity).

Insight Guides is more optimistic about the existence of cockneys: "News vendors and market traders are often cockneys," it informs, "they are shrewd, street-wise people, who prefer to work for themselves and who value freedom more than wealth."

Image: Insight Guides

Lonely Planet admits that few if any Londoners use full-blown cockney these days. "You are," they go on, "more likely to come across it in residual phrases such as...'ooh, me plates of meat.'" Which leads us to question whether this part of the guide has been updated since 1936.

But with such a diversity of Londoners, is there really any one way to characterize one? LondonTourist thinks so:

The average Brit likes to get drunk, and then roar up and down the street in an aggressive manner, before vomiting and going for a curry

And so does St Christopher's Inns:

It's a sad state of affairs but you must accept that no one on the London Underground makes eye contact and no one on the London Underground ever, ever smiles at another commuter.

You might argue with the first, but the second one's got a strong argument.

It's diverse

Photo: James Beard

OK. So no one can really put their finger on what a Londoner is. And as nearly every guide ever written about London recognises, there's a reason for that:

"London is a highly diverse mix of race and cultures." — WikiTravel

"London is Europe's most ethnically diverse city." — Rough Guides

"I still marvel at its energy and diversity." — Lonely Planet

"London boasts an astonishingly rich and diverse collection of museums." — DK Eyewitness Travel

The food's got better

Eat up. Photo: Steve Reed

How many times have you found your fists slowly clenching at your sides as someone from France/Italy/Spain/not London berates the London cuisine? Take solace that London tourist guides generally accept London's cuisine is on a par with with continent. They also like to remind us that this wasn't always the case. And that French people have helped change that reputation:

"London, once derided for mediocre cuisine, is today straining under a bombardment of Michelin stars," says Insight Guides. "Once the laughing stock of the cooking world, London has got its culinary act together in the last 20 years...There are plenty of top-notch, Michelin-starred restaurants," adds Lonely Planet.

Image: DK Eyewitness Travel

Elsewhere in their guide, Lonely Planet suggests we aren't quite making the most of the international cuisine on offer:

As a rule of thumb, Londoners will dine at their local fish and chip shop or enjoy Sunday roast at their local gastropub... You'll also find them piling on the peri-peri sauce at Nando's, enjoying a fry-up...at a 'greasy spoon' (a no-frills cafe) or grabbing a sandwich from Marks & Spencer...

All while humming Rule Britannia, we presume. At least everyone's agreed London cuisine is unequivocally decent. Isn't that right, LondonTourist? "Food in London can be dreadful, and can be fantastic." OK, thanks for that.

But it's all about the pub really

What it's all about really. Photo: Eric Huybrechts

"London is a great drinking city," says The Rough Guide (cheers, guys), and Lonely Planet chirps up with this:

London minus its pubs would be like Paris sans cafes or Beijing shorn of its charming hutong. Pub culture is an indispensable element of London DNA and the pub is the place to be if you want to see local people in their hop-scented element.

There we have it then; sack off St Paul's, and get thee to the nearest Red Lion.

But, as DK Eyewitness points out, there may be one problem: "Visitors to London have long been bemused by early pub closing times...". Yeah. Sorry about that,

Last Updated 09 June 2017

Jenny Draper

Working with tourists, I find they often get told to take the bus over the Tube, because they'll see more of the city. This sometimes results in them insisting on taking two or even three buses when a short Underground ride would get them around in half the time.

Matt

I hope every one of these guide books has a big red warning sign on page one about not getting into cycle Rickshaws. Every time I see grinning tourists being pedalled around in one i think to myself 'Yeah, you won't be smiling when he tells you how much this journey has cost you'. Can Londonist start a campaign to get these extortionate, unlicensed monstrosities off our streets? When we're done with them we can start on the Aberdeen Steak House.

Gregg

As a Londoner living mostly in Colorado & operating as a small group tour operator into Ireland & the UK what really annoys me about London comments is "London is expensive." Utter drivel unless you want to buy an apartment during your visit, stay in a 5 star hotel & go out 5 star Michelin dining every night. With the advent of Visitor Oyster Cards, Premier Inns, new Travelodges & old ones being upgraded, 'London+' Brit Rail Passes, cheap Wetherspoons & their ilk everywhere & a whole myriad of discount tourist passes London is now cheaper than Dublin in terms of budget accommodation & eating out. If you add in the staggering amount of Uni accommodation available in the summer even single travellers can get a great deal. All this is in Central London not out in the sticks. The 'Elizabeth Line' direct from Heathrow to Canary Wharf coupled with the Jubilee Line will open up a whole new area of budget accommodation. London is wonderful, great value & is leaving most other European Cities behind in the last Century.

Averyl

Can you please recommend a reliable travel guide? I live in the US. (I just discovered Londonist as a resource and am of course clicking on all of the great posts here!)