What to Expect When Travelling to London: Expectations vs Reality

What to Expect When Travelling to London: Expectations vs Reality

Uncover the shrouded myths and do away with your erroneous notions of London. Here’s a list of common misconceptions you might not know about the city!

Given the increasing migration inflow to London every year, the defining features of London as a place of endless job opportunities, stunning architecture, and history, as well as the alluring British accent can easily ensnare foreigners in its charm. As one of the world’s most visited cities in the world with 19.2 million visitors in 2017, London is eminently romanticised.

Therefore, owing to the skewed media portrayal of London, you may have a few misconceptions of the city. Here are some things you might want to know before moving or travelling to London!

Expectation: Everyone speaks proper British English

Image credit: Chris JL

The British manner of speaking is stereotypically composed of a “good day, ‘ol chap” or “how do you do” and a visual depiction of polite suit-wearing British men. However…

Reality: The British slang is most commonly used. There are many foreign language speakers as well

Image credit: Canadian Pacific

British slangs are inherent in everyday conversation in London and their peculiarity might just leave you perplexed and completely lost. Also, they don’t wear suits all the time! Here are some expressions you might want to familiarise with:

  • ‘bollocks’: nonsense or rubbish; express contempt  
  • ‘blinding’: excellent or superb e.g. “Man, that performance was blinding!”
  • ‘chuffed’: extremely happy e.g. “Thanks for the gift, man! I’m absolutely chuffed!”
  • ‘eating irons’: culinary utensils

Absolutely eccentric, innit?

Image credit: Andy Roberts

Moreover, one should not essentialise London as principally an English-speaking city as it is a melting pot of varying cultures there are many spoken languages like Chinese, French or Urdu.

Expectation: What you think British towns look like…

Image credit: Tejvan Pettinger

The streets of London seen in travel pamphlets flaunt sophisticated, rustic and historically-infused architecture which offers a picturesque view for your Instagram shots.  

Reality: What most of them actually look like

Image credit: Alan Stanton

Not all streets of London encompass the brownstone baronial buildings we have always fantasised about. In fact, most streets typically comprise rows of Pound stores (a shop selling items for a pound each), bakeries and clothing outlets as you walk down the fractured concrete sidewalks.

Expectation: Public restrooms are easily available

Image credit: Dominick Volini

You’re holding your pee just because there’s always a public restroom somewhere but…

Reality: Even the Tube and public areas do not have restrooms (also, the British use the term “toilet”)

Image credit: Visit London

Toilets are certainly less accessible in London. While some of the larger Tube stations have public toilets, they’re not usually free. But fret not, popular tourist attractions have launched a text message service which allows you to find toilets near you – just text the word “toilet” to 80097 and you’ll find one in the vicinity.  

Expectation: I can get anywhere with the London Underground

The London Underground or the Tube is a public rapid transit service system in London that boasts an efficient service and a network of 11 train lines that can bring you almost anywhere in the city.

Reality: It is always packed during rush hour and services are terminated during Tube strikes  

Image credit: Susanturner70

Well…that’s only during the non-peak hours. If you plan to travel during peak hours, then get ready to trudge through the massive crowd to get into the train which is predictably rammed to the rafters.

Image credit: CGP Grey

Additionally, strikes by London Underground employees over pay, safety, pension and job security cause huge train disruptions.

Expectation: Let’s shop till we drop at Oxford Street!

Image credit: netpalantir

No one wants to miss the main artery of London shopping. With over 300 shops, you’ll be sure to shop ‘til you drop at Topshop, Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Zara, to name a few. Stores like Primark, Selfridges, Marks and Spencer are also popular among tourists. Oxford Street is a must-visit!

Reality: Well, look at the crowd…

Image credit: Megan Trace

Unfortunately, it is also the busiest shopping street in Europe with 13,560 pedestrians an hour on average so you’re likely to drown in the sea of people moving in all directions. Be sure to avoid festive seasons.  

Expectation: It’s not THAT expensive to live here… I can afford it!

You are enraptured by the beauty and lavishness of the London city life – already researching on the different tiers of visas and the jobs available in London. You are confident that your high qualifications will land you a high-paying job but…  

Reality: A significant portion of your wage goes to rent

For the third year running, London has been marked as the most expensive city for renting accommodation. Depending on several factors such as amenities, safety, and ease of commuting, the average price of a 3-bed flat rental is approximately £5,398 (~S$9,785). Hold up your migration plans! With a significant portion of your income going to rent, you might just have to settle with Kelloggs Cornflakes for dinner every day.

Expectation: People drink tea all day ‘err day

Image credit: Craig Morey

Tea is an indispensable part of British culture and the British are assumably the highest consumers of tea so you’re likely to see Londoners sipping their tea in every corner of the city…or is it?

Reality: Ain’t got time to brew some tea!

Image credit: Vilseskogen

A generation gap and an increasingly fast-paced living have rendered the loss of popularity of the tea drinking culture in the UK. With approximately 78% tea drinkers in the UK, the country is ranked not first, but fifteenth in the world for tea-drinking. Sure, it’s still a high percentage but Londoners are not all about their tea. They absolutely love roast dinners, fish and chips, and bacon sandwiches along with a few swigs of Fuller’s London Porter.

London is without a doubt a reputable city but surely our romanticisation of the place and media portrayal have blinded us from a few realities. This is not to say that one shouldn’t travel to London but debunking some myths and misconceptions helps manage some expectations to ensure a smooth and happy travel!  

About Author

Siti Nurfatin
Siti Nurfatin

Fatin is a Thai milk tea lover who yearns to try all the Thai milk teas she can get! With her wavy short hair and undercut, Fatin may look a tad bit unapproachable but she’s a big softie at heart. Greatly inspired by Ellen DeGeneres, “be kind to one another” is a motto she lives by. Fatin is also a proud mother of three endearing felines named Korra, Bubu and Mochi.


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