6 Ways to Beat the Crowds in London
By Viator, April 2012
1. Think ahead
London is definitely a city where planning your itinerary in advance will be an advantage, not only helping you to avoid the queues but helping save a few pounds too. Many popular spots like Madame Tussauds, the Tower of London and the London Zoo offer discounted rates for advance online bookings, as well as queue-hop incentives, and once you see the round-the-block queues you’ll be thankful you thought ahead. Think carefully about how you time your visit too; weekends are undoubtedly the busiest times and will be most popular for those with children, whereas early morning or evening slots often offer the least crowds.
Multi-sight passes can be a great money and time saving option too – the London Pass is the most thorough, offering free entry and queue hops to over 55 of the most popular attractions and providing the benefits of an advance ticket with increased flexibility over your visiting times – meaning you can leave your decision making until the last minute and dodge the crowds.
2. Put your walking shoes on
One look at the swarms of tourists squeezing onto the central London tubes is enough to leave the average commuter breathless, but thankfully locals know a much quicker way to get around the city center – on foot. The majority of London’s central locations are within walking distance and thanks to the tourist crowds disappearing underground, taking to the streets will often save you time too. The distances on the tube maps may look far, but from Covent Garden, Leicester Square is only a 5 minute walk and well signposted, Oxford street takes only about 15 minutes on foot and Embankment – home to the waterfront, London Eye and London Aquarium – is merely a short wander. Hardier walkers can cover almost all the tourist sights on foot, but even those who prefer the ease of public transport can avoid the inevitable crowds by researching the distances in advance and making those short hops by foot.
3. Be Tech-Savvy
For the technologically adept, there are plenty of websites and apps out there to help you plan your trip – click on When Should I Visit (http://whenshouldivisit.iamdanw.com/) for an idea of the busiest and quietest times at London’s biggest tourist traps – invaluable when pre-booking ticket times. There are plenty of useful apps too - London Travel Deluxe is invaluable for mastering the London public transport system – you can even see the most popular routes and plan your journey to avoid the crowds. Avid tubers can save time and sweat with Tube Exits a clever app that will tell which carriage to enter to arrive by the exit with the least traffic. If you’re hoping to avoid public transport, download the London Mini A-Z for a comprehensive, GPS-enabled street map that will help you navigate the city or the free London Cycle: Maps & Routes which details cycle routes and rental bike pickup spots around the city.
4. Get out of the tourist hubs
Ask any local how to beat the crowds and they’ll all say the same thing: get out of the tourist areas. Of course, you’re not going to skip gawking at Buckingham Palace or getting your photo taken with Will and Kate at Madame Tussauds, but there are plenty of other options away from the tourist hotspots. You could head to some of London’s lesser visited but equally interested museums, like the Imperial War Museum, the Transport Museum or the Fashion and Textile Museum, and skip the queues in Leicester Square in favor of an independent cinema, like the Electric Cinema in Portobello. For food, Brick Lane offers cheap and delicious Indian Cuisine with half the crowds of Soho, especially on weekdays, or head out of the centre for an array of eateries less frequented by tourists – Chiswick in west London has an excellent selection as does Hackney in the East. Alternatively, why not pack a picnic and check out some of London’s greenery – avoid the masses at Hyde Park and Primrose hill and check out the Chelsea Physic Gardens, Hampstead Heath, Battersea Park or Clapham Common instead.
5. Embrace the weather
Rainy days are part of the package in London, but rest assured that rain is typically of the drizzle variety rather than raging thunderstorms. That doesn’t stop most of the tourists heading indoors on a rainy day but smart travelers make the most of the rain and enjoy the outdoors whilst the crowds are sheltering inside. Outdoor attractions like London Zoo, Legoland Windsor and London Bridge are decidedly less crowded in rainy weather so grab your umbrella and get there before the sun comes out again. On the flip side, make sure you avoid the galleries, museums and other indoor events – they’ll be a slippery mass of tourists trying to shelter from the weather.
6. Take a nocturnal tour
Opting to scour the streets of London at night can be a great way to lose some of the crowds – just avoid places like Leicester Square and Soho, which will be teeming with clubbers and theatre-goers after hours. Several tours of the city run at night, a much safer option for those brand new to the city, including the infamous Jack the Ripper night tour and spooky ghost tours guaranteed to entertain the kids. If you simply want to see the sights, why not book on a night-tour bus, the nocturnal sister of the famous open topped red sightseeing buses that run throughout the day, and look out for late opening nights at the museums too – almost all of them offer at least one evening opening and they’ll be a good chance of avoiding the big tour groups.
Ok, so they’ll be a far few taking part, but it’s a great opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of sights like Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, London Eye and the Houses of Parliament unspoiled by the crowds.
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