Photo Essay – Reviewing London as a Tourist-Friendly City – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
This summer, I took the opportunity to travel to London with a London Theatre and Literature group from St. Scholastica. Before I left, I was prepared to be floundering in a huge city, not knowing where to go or how to get there. I was ready to be incredibly reliant on the two professors that were going, prepared to follow them around like a sheep. However, once I got to London, I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate the city and how tourist-friendly everything was. London is a very large and historic city that could very easily have been impossible to find my way around, but it has made many efforts to help tourists figure out where they are and keep them safe. There was one way in particular that the history major in me adored, but for the most part, London figured out a simple and basic way to make the city tourist-friendly.
The streets of London are filled with these directions for people to look in the direction that the traffic will be coming from. London intersections can be a little difficult to navigate, as sometimes it’s necessary to make three crossings when the object is to simply get from one side of the street to the other, so these directions can be incredibly helpful for tourists – especially since most of the world drives on the right side and is used to the traffic coming from a different direction than it does in London. This is a great example of how tourist – friendly London is.
The Tube, or Underground, is an excellent way for tourist to get around the city. Although it can be a little confusing to navigate at first, there are maps and signs telling people which tunnel to go through to get to a certain line. Everything is very clearly marked, and the employees are also very friendly and helpful. Depending on the line, an automated voice will tell you what landmarks the stop is close to. The automated voice also will announce which stop is coming up and also to “Mind the Gap”. In the morning, around lunch hour, and evening are very busy times for the Underground, so I’d recommend not using the Tube during those hours until you know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re going. The cars come every few minutes, so there generally isn’t too much of a wait. Londoners also don’t really talk on the Tube and keep to themselves, so I would recommend following that social rule. Nothing screams “tourist” more than a group of obnoxious people talking loudly on the Tube. Although it’s very unlikely that anyone would say something about it, they’re all definitely thinking it. Overall, the Tube is a very convenient and simple way for tourists to explore the city.
Every block, there are posts like this with a map showing where you are and how long of a walk it takes to get to something in the vicinity. The map on the bottom with the larger circle shows everything within a 5 minute radius. The map on top with the smaller circle shows everything within a 15 minute radius. I came to rely strongly on these, as they were incredibly helpful and, as I mentioned before, were everywhere. These are much more easy to follow than a big map of London, or a map at a bus stop (don’t use those – you’ll get severely turned around). I was impressed that London put them up, making navigating much easier for tourists. These would be very helpful in the big cities in the United States. Although I can’t say they aren’t in any city in the U.S., I haven’t seen them in New York City, Chicago, or Minneapolis/St. Paul, but they would be very useful.
One thing I did find challenging about navigating London’s streets were the road signs. Often, they are placed on the sides of buildings, and sometimes they were nowhere to be seen. Not only that, but oftentimes the streets would turn into different streets a block down, but the map wouldn’t account for that, leaving tourists searching for a street to turn down, only to be blocks past it, not knowing they had to turn down an street with a different name (not on the map) to arrive at the street they were looking for. However, London is such a historic city and the streets have been named the way they were for years, so although it did cause some frustration, I’d hate to see them change it.
These were one of my favorite tourist-friendly markings. All over the city, small blue plaques can be found on buildings saying what the site used to be, or what great event happened there. The plaques are reminders of how old the city really is, and how different it used to be. As a tourist, I loved finding these because they’re a peek into London’s past and show what is important to London. I participated in a Shakespeare walking tour, and while there were some blue plaques, the guide explained that there should be many more plaques about him, but London isn’t too fond of Shakespeare (the guide was strongly biased towards the idea that Shakespeare was one of the most important people ever to live in London, however).
London had a thoughtful variety of ways to make the city tourist-friendly. I never expected it to be so easy to navigate and, because of that, I was able to more deeply immerse myself in the culture of London. Although there were a few things that caused difficulties, the city should be used as a model for cities with large numbers of tourists. I’m appreciative of the lengths that London has taken to make exploring the city simple to tourists, without creating inconveniences for the citizens. My trip to London was not what I expected it to be, but better because of the helpful markings and signs that are scattered all over the city. Out of all the cities I’ve been to, London was definitely the most tourist-friendly.
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