Safety in London - Overview

London is a remarkably safe city, and your chance of becoming a victim of any kind of crime while you're here is very low.

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The city is also, controversially, the world's 'CCTV capital', with trains, buses, stations, shops and almost every outdoor area covered by video surveillance cameras. Nevertheless, as in any big city, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings and who is around you, and to take the usual 'streetwise' precautions. Safety tips such as those from London's Metropolitan Police and Visit London (London's official visitor organization), are mostly common sense, but worth a read all the same.

Crime in central London is overwhelmingly opportunistic and of the 'petty theft' variety, so whereas your valuables are at risk from pickpockets and bag snatchers, physical attacks are very rare. By far the greatest cause of injury and death to overseas visitors is the traffic, which drives on the left (see Dangers for more on traffic issues and theft).

I have divided our information on Safety in London into six categories:

Public Transport

London's public transport system is safe and efficient, however the tube in particular is a hotspot for pickpockets. Most tube and rail stations have intercom 'Help Points' on the platforms, which can be used both to ask for travel advice and in emergencies. Mainline rail stations tend to be gathering places for beggars and 'undesirables', especially late in the evenings, but they rarely pose any danger and the stations are generally well policed at all hours. On double-decker night buses you may feel more comfortable sitting downstairs near the driver. Those who don't like noise and rowdy behaviour will find the same rule applies when the schools empty around 3-4pm!

The British Transport Police are responsible for policing rail, tube and DLR (Docklands Light Railway) services. Their website, and also the Metropolitan Police's website, both offer good advice for staying safe while travelling in and around London.

London on Foot

As noted above, overseas visitors unaccustomed to traffic driving on the left are particularly vulnerable to accidents, but otherwise pedestrians should have no problems walking around London by day or - with a little caution - by night (although potholes and cracked pavements can pose a minor danger!).

Obviously, it pays to stay alert and to avoid particularly dark or deserted areas. You'd be unwise to hang around London's parks after dark (with the exception of Regent's Park during the summer theatre season), but then there really is no reason to do so, and most of them are anyway promptly locked at closing time.

Hackney and Brixton are two somewhat 'edgier' areas that you might visit. Both are generally fine by day, but require a little more caution at night.

Crime... and the Tabloid Newspapers

Readers of London's tabloid newspapers may get the impression that London's 'knife crime' is 'out of control'. With gun ownership tightly controlled, knife crime does unfortunately exist. However, it is predominately gang and drug related and almost entirely confined to youths and criminals operating in the outskirts of London - areas that very few tourists would ever have even the slightest reason to visit. Don't pay attention to the sensationalist tabloid newspaper headlines you'll see pasted up outside newsagents. Vendors know that words such as 'mugging' 'shooting' and 'sex attack' sell papers! But read the article itself, and you'll rarely find it warrants the attention-grabbing headline.

And finally...

Having lived and worked in London and the surrounding area for over a decade I can say, hand on heart, that I have never feared for my personal safety. Both my children were born in London and I have never felt scared for them either (although they are still young, and I admit I may feel more cautious when they become teenagers). The only incidents I have ever encountered were a minor groping incident on a very crowded tube (I moved away) and an uncomfortable feeling one evening in Soho that 'something was going on' (we immediately left the area).

Of course you may be less 'lucky' than perhaps I have been, but the odds are heavily stacked in your favour. So read up on what to look out for, keep your wits about you, and most of all don't worry too much about safety. Enjoy London!

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