The Gross Reason You Shouldn't Go Inside Britain's Red Phone Booths

Chances are you haven't been inside a phone booth in years. However, you might be tempted to change that when you visit the United Kingdom. The country's red phone booths dotting the streets and sidewalks have reached icon status — literally. In 2019, the U.K. government announced the telephone boxes had been awarded "Grade II" iconic design status. The red kiosks were also ranked as the U.K.'s favorite British design of all time in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Great British Design Study.

Given that the phone booths are, arguably, almost as famous as the royal family, it might seem like a good idea to step inside one for a peek and a quick selfie. But since most people these days have smartphones, the booths are often used by full-bladdered, night partiers looking for a place to relieve themselves — not for making phone calls — which is why you should think twice before entering.

A MyLondon journalist confirmed this when they opened the door of a red phone booth in a busy London neighborhood, only to be shocked by the stench emanating from the box. So did The Guardian, noting broken glass, litter, and urine smell in most of the booths they encountered. Given that the iconic structures are rarely, if ever, cleaned, it might be a good idea to admire the charming booths from the outside only.

There are some exceptions

While you might want to avoid the inside of most phone booths in the U.K., there are some exceptions. BT, the telephone company responsible for the red boxes, notes that over 7,000 disused phone booths have been given a second life since 2008. These adopted kiosks are often cleaned, restored, and given a new purpose. For instance, a red phone booth in the English village of Compton is regularly updated with décor and artwork on its façade, while the inside was used to collect food donations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Other kiosks have been transformed into tiny libraries like the Lewisham Micro Library in London.

Another fresh take on the traditional structures involves converting them into life-saving defibrillator booths. Martin Fagan, national secretary of Community Heartbeat Trust, revealed to Country Living, "To date we have converted about 800 [phone boxes] ourselves, with another 200 in the pipeline. Placing the equipment in the heart of a community is important to save on time. Kiosks are historically at the centre of the community, and thus great locations for defibrillators."

Other selfie spots to commemorate your U.K. trip

Posing inside a red phone booth might sound perfect for your social media profile, but given how dirty the kiosks can be, we suggest thinking outside the box (literally). If you're in London, head to the pedestrian path on Tower Bridge (or the nearby Tower Wharf) for a stunning shot with the bridge as your backdrop. Big Ben and the top of the London Eye are other options for selfie shots and family photos. Also, don't forget to hop on one of the city's iconic double-decker buses. If you're lucky, you can grab a seat on the second floor near the front-facing window — a creative way to take pictures of the sights from an above-ground perspective.

Outside of London, you'll find historical castles just as iconic as the U.K.'s red phone boxes. In fact, it's said that over 4,000 castles are still standing across the U.K. No matter which region you visit, you'll likely stumble across at least one Instagrammable castle during your travels.

A teahouse is another British treasure and an ideal location for capturing some selfies, as long as your phone doesn't distract from the afternoon tea experience (once you're done taking photos, promptly put your phone away). If you need inspiration, check out Sweet Little Things in Bath, England; Oh Me Oh My in Liverpool, England; or the tea rooms at the Butterfly and the Pig in Glasgow, Scotland.