London's 8 Biggest Tourist Traps
In every city, you will invariably find a subset of visitors who seem to have no idea why they came there. For them, fortunately, London provides a variety of overpriced pursuits catering to people with an unaccountable aversion to its historic treasures. Parents of bored children might also discover these inauthentic sights are just the tonic to jolt them back into a compliant mood, but one thing is clear: These overhyped tourist traps are not the best the city has to offer. Get more to-the-point London guidance in Frommer's EasyGuide to London.
The Clink Museum, Southwark
Ostensibly themed to a long-gone prison, it exists mostly to exploit a touristy obsession with torture. Signs are poorly written and the museum lapses into amateurish, filthy displays of dummies being throttled by random devices. The TV show Most Haunted Live! spent the night here looking for ghosts. It didn’t find anything worthwhile, either.
Madame Tussauds, Marylebone
Have you ever heard of Shah Rukh Khan? Cheryl Cole? Jonny Wilkinson? If your answer is no, you’re not going to get much joy out of this wax trap. The execution of its doppelgangers, which you can usually touch (Harry is behind ropes, girls), is usually superb—although this unrecognizable James Dean likeness is no giant in the world of fidelity. But the focus of this world-famous waxworks is mostly on British celebrities, so you’re not going to be consistently engaged for the ferocious price. A 5-minute, Disney-esque ride, “The Spirit of London,” invokes every conceivable London stereotype, from the Artful Dodger to plague victims, and it makes you wonder if you’re the real dummy here.
Changing the Guard, Buckingham Palace
Tourists line up 90 minutes ahead in front of Buckingham Palace because they think they're going to see a ritual steeped in tradition and custom. Instead, they see a glorified marching band that plays the theme to Star Wars and the hits of ABBA. When the marching is done, the hordes are left looking at each other and wondering why they wasted prime touring time on it.
Ripley's Believe It or Not!, Piccadilly Circus
Like foot fungus, the worthless rip has spread wherever people keep low standards. Now it's London. Its halls of oddities (sample: a portrait of Diana made from lint) and grotesque figures are useless and not worthwhile even for the kitsch value. This is the definition of a tourist trap. And it costs more than Westminster Abbey!
The Sherlock Holmes Museum, Marylebone
Set up a house as if it were really the home of a fictional character, prop up some shabby mannequins, and then charge people to see it. That’s the scheme and it has worked for years, so much so there’s often a line. Tourists are not the most intuitive detectives: Do we really have to tell them that Sherlock Holmes didn’t actually exist and all of this is nonsense? And do they require reminding that Benedict Cumberbatch is nowhere near this joint?
The Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
The Prime Meridian, an imaginary line located at precisely 0 degrees longitude, crosses through the grounds of the Royal Observatory. Every day, interminable queues of coach tourists pay at least £7 to literally wait an hour in the Meridian Courtyard for their silly Instagram moment of straddling the line and setting a foot in two hemispheres at once. The dirty secret is they could save the time and cash because the line continues in a free area north of the terrace, and there’s never a line there.
The London Dungeon, South Bank
Avoid it like the plague. This sophomoric gross-out with locations in seven other cities sops up overflow from the London Eye. Costumed actors bray at visitors as they lead them through darkness from set to set, each representing another period of English history as a 13-year-old boy might define them. Plague-ridden rubber corpses “sneeze” on passersby, a whore exposes one of Jack the Ripper’s mutilated victims, and cutthroat barber Sweeney Todd gleefully commands you to sit in his chair. The climax is a pair of indoor carnival rides. If you dread being picked on by bad stand-up comics, you’re going to hate this place. Yet there's always a line.
London Bridge Experience and London Tombs, Southwark
Opened as a neighborhood competitor to London Dungeon before that moved to the richer tourist pickings by the London Eye, the London Bridge Experience churns out cheap thrills at exorbitant rates: Heads on spikes, bloodied mannequins, costumed actors playing the roles of Boudicca and William Wallace, clowns (clowns?), and so forth. Can this be something you call family fun? Scariest of all: Your regrets.