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Meet the Real London: Locals Debunk 10 Myths About London

January 16, 2024
London Myths

When it comes to myths about London, locals often say the same ones (no, it’s not always gray and rainy here), but there are a few in this list that might surprise you. We asked Londoners on our team, including some expats who relocated to London, to share preconceptions visitors always have that simply aren’t true. 

We think it’s time to put these myths to rest once and for all. It’s good for any traveler to know. Plus, we share travel tips based on — wait for it — the real London! So you learn not only what isn’t true but what is and what you should do to make your trip even better.

Planning a trip to the U.K. capital? Here are the top myths about London that we’re debunking before you visit.

Myth #1: Londoners only drink tea

London Tea

They don’t just drink it — they have a specific time set aside for it. A fancy sit-down tea with scones and cakes and cucumber sandwiches is the “Downton Abbey”-inspired fantasy many of us non-Londoners have of England. (“And now I’ll have a cup of tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me,” Lady Bracknell famously tells her nephew in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”)

Whether they’re sitting down to a cuppa in the afternoon or at 5 p.m. for a “tea” supper, as some northern English counties call their evening meal, surely all Londoners prefer tea to coffee? 

What’s real: While they do drink tea — and you can get some excellent traditional cream teas in the top hotels — Londoners are big coffee drinkers. In addition to Starbucks, you’ll find U.K. chains like Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, and Coffee Republic on every corner, as well as any number of independent coffee shops where you can order a flat white or, if you so desire, a cup of tea. 

Myth #2: Big Ben is a clock tower

Big Ben clock tower

The clock tower of Big Ben on the Palace of Westminster is one of the jewels of London’s skyline. Can you think of a film set in London that doesn’t include at least one shot of this iconic site? 

Big Ben even takes the world record for largest four-faced chiming clock and is the third largest clock tower. 

What’s real: Everything I said about the clock tower is true except for one thing: the name. Big Ben is actually the name of the largest of five bells inside of what is known as Elizabeth Tower. The bell weighs more than 13 tons, so you can understand why it took 18 hours to lift it into the 200-foot clock tower back in 1859. That’s when Big Ben first rang, and despite a crack that formed after two months in service, it’s been ringing ever since.

Myth #3: It’s always gray and rainy in London

London is certainly not known for its warm, sunny weather. Isn’t it true that most Londoners leave the house each day with an umbrella, and isn’t there usually rain in the forecast? Seriously, we don’t know why the English don’t say, “Keep calm and carry a big umbrella.” 

What’s real: The capital has lots of sunny days that can be spent taking a London walking tour or spending time in one of its beautiful green parks. If you do have a rainy day during your trip, there are plenty of museums or shows to see on the West End where you can have fun and stay dry. 

Myth #4: Londoners are unfriendly 

London flowers

Here’s how this myth goes. Compared to southern European cities like Rome and Barcelona, London just isn’t as friendly or welcoming. The people are always in a rush, and they don’t like to chat with strangers (especially if you’re a tourist). 

What’s real: Londoners are very polite, so it might seem like they’re being cold when you encounter them on the street or in the tube. But get them in a pub, and you’ll see a whole different side come out. And while you’re in that pub, be sure to try their Sunday roast! This British staple that includes meat with gravy, roasted potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding is a great way to warm up to locals over a pint.

Funny enough, New Yorkers often get the same reputation for being unfriendly, which simply isn’t true. Next time you’re in the Big Apple, take one of our NYC tours and you’ll see how warm and welcoming this city can be!    

Myth #5: All they eat in London is fish and chips 

Fish and chips

British food, on the whole, gets a lot of criticism for being bland and tasteless or fried and greasy. The dish most people associate with England is fish and chips. 

You traditionally eat the fried fish and french fries with salt and vinegar for an extra kick. It definitely isn’t health food. Is this all the locals eat? 

What’s real: British food has lots of great dishes, like savory pies, toad in the hole, and sticky toffee pudding, but London is a culinary capital on a global scale. You’ll find restaurants serving not only British food but also some of the very best food from around the world — from West African to Thai to French and more. It’s a melting pot of the finest flavors.

Myth #6: There are CC lampposts named for Coco Chanel

CC lamppost in London

While walking around the Westminster council district, you might notice lampposts with an interlocking CC design reminiscent of the famous Chanel logo. 

The story goes that the French fashion designer Coco Chanel had a decade-long affair with the second Duke of Westminster in the 1920s, and the lampposts were meant to be a declaration of his love. Each lamppost also has a large “W,” which many people assume was the Duke’s signature. 

What’s real: Not this love story, unfortunately. The “W” stands for the council of Westminster, and the “CC” simply stands for city council. These lampposts also weren’t even installed until the 1950s, long after Chanel’s affair with the Duke. 

Myth #7: A vampire roams Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery in North London is the final resting place of many well-known figures, including the writer George Eliot, Karl Marx of “The Communist Manifesto” fame, and, more recently, the actor Bob Hoskins.

But since 1969, the cemetery is also believed to be haunted by a vampire. At least that’s what some young people reported to a local newspaper, which sparked other people to share stories of their own spooky sightings. 

What’s real: Located in the borough of Camden, Highgate Cemetery has lots of museums, theaters, and parks to visit after your walk among the tombstones. While you’re not likely to see any vampires, the cemetery’s a great place to take some eerie photos.

Myth #8: An American accidentally bought London Bridge

London Bridge

Speaking of London urban legends, here’s another.

In the late 1960s, an American entrepreneur purchased London Bridge when he thought he was buying Tower Bridge, the more photogenic of the two — you can imagine his disappointment. 

What’s real: There have been many London Bridges over the years due to its propensity to fall down, and in 1967 the city was looking for someone to buy the latest iteration. An American entrepreneur named Robert Paxton McCulloch did buy it and had the dismantled bridge shipped to Arizona where it was rebuilt in Lake Havasu City. But McCulloch meant to buy London Bridge, not Tower Bridge as the legend suggests. 

Myth #9: The tube is the only way to get around London

London Subway

The tube — what Londoners call the subway — is a fast and easy way to get around London, and you don’t even need to buy a travel card. Now, you can just use your credit card or mobile payment option to tap in at the start and end of your journey. 

What’s real: In London, the underground isn’t the only or always the best way to get around London’s 32 boroughs. If you want to find the fastest way to get to your destination, a lot of locals rely on the app Citymapper that often suggests using a mix of the city’s transportation options, and parts of the city are walkable too. With a choice of rental bikes, buses, the overground train, and even a river bus, why limit yourself to taking the tube? 

Myth #10: Londoners love to queue

London Sherlock Holmes queue

Londoners, and British people in general, are very good at queuing. They seem to queue for everything, sometimes without knowing what they’re queuing for. In 2022, the world watched the marathon of queues when 250,000 British people waited to see the late Queen Elizabeth II lying in state. 

What’s real: While Londoners respect the orderliness of a queue, they don’t love doing it. One place they especially hate queueing is the tube station. Pro tip — don’t stand on the left side of the tube escalators unless you want to hear annoyed comments from people walking up them in a rush to get to work. Still, when visiting London, it’s important to respect the queue, so don’t jump ahead or ask someone to hold your place. And by all means, keep the line moving! 

Meet the real London

But none of that is the real London. Join us for a tour of the highlights of London, where you can see true traditions that live on, like the Changing of the Guard, or walk with us through the financial districts of London to learn how this global financial powerhouse started in local coffee shops.

Because the only way to tell the real London from the myth is to see it for yourself.