London never fails to impress with it’s rich history, neo-classical and Victorian architecture, fine museums, pub culture and one of the best food scenes in the world. I grew up in London, living there for a total of 25 years and never run out of things to do, see or places to eat. London is a city where locals and tourists intertwine and even in the most popular areas of central London you’ll see locals people go about their day. Having said this, it’s very easy to go off the tourist trail and experience London like a local. In this guide I’ll discuss all my favourite non-touristy things to do in London so you can experience this epic city like a local.
What I personally love most about London is its variety; the variety of people you can meet, the food, culture, shopping. It’s as though somebody went to every country in the world and bought back a piece to London. In some way, shape or form almost all cultures are represented here. That being said however, British history and culture seeps through every crevasse of the city and you could spend a week alone just learning about it. However long you have in London you’ll easily be able to fill up your time doing as much or as little as you’d like.
WHEN TO VISIT
London is the perfect all-year destination. Tourist numbers remain steady throughout the year and while the most popular attractions will always be busy it’s generally very easy to get away from packed squares and heaving revolving wheels. It is busier in the summer however, due to higher temperatures and fewer rainy days. Note that the weather changes dramatically in the UK and it’s always a subject of conversation for the British- whenever you visit bring clothes for all seasons and weather conditions. My favourite times to visit is in Spring, early Autumn or around Christmas for some serious Christmas cheer.
The easiest and fastest way to get around London is by public transportation which includes the tube (metro), bus and bicycle. Public transportation in London is extensive and generally quite efficient. I highly recommend you don’t rent a car and drive in London- it’s simply not worth it.
What you will need is an Oyster card- this is a must. An Oyster card is a pre-paid card that allows you onto the tube, trains, DRL, buses, trams, bicycles and river services. You simply put money on the card and it will start discounting your journeys as and when you use it. There is a daily cap of £12.80 (for use of Zones 1-6) so it will never charge you more than this per day. Also note that when taking the tube you have to swipe in AND out. In some stations there are no barriers but make sure you find the Oyster touch point as this will incur charges later on. There are actually two types of Oyster card, the Oyster card and the Visitor Oyster card. If you’d like to get special discounts of museum entry and sightseeing cruises the Visitor Oyster Card maybe worth your time. Click here for more details on discounts and offers.
NON-TOURISTY THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
There are many non-touristy things to do in London and luckily in a city like London, touristy and non-touristy activities are quite blurred and shared by both parties. The major museums are visited by both tourists and art-loving locals and so are parks, pubs and the main shopping areas. Her are my favourite things to do, as a local in London that involve few other tourists.
TAKE IN THE CITY FROM ABOVE
London has a truly iconic skyline that can’t be missed by any visitor and there are various places you can view it from. Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street, The Shard, and The London Eye are just some suggestions for an incredible view over the city, albeit a little touristy. I would recommend the Sky Garden as entrance is free, just reserve you ticket ahead of time on their website. There are also many non- touristy spots , rooftop bars for example such as Madison at One New Change, with extraordinary views of St. Pauls and 12th Knot on the South Bank.
GO VINTAGE SHOPPING ON BRICK LANE
Brick Lane is a mecca for vintage clothing and accessories fans among other things. Rummage through store after store of glamorous and great-quality vintage wares and accessories. Even if you’re not a fan of vintage clothing Brick Lane should definitely be on your London bucket list. It’s a great area to wander round in, check out some street-art, drink coffee and people watch.
VISIT KEW GARDENS
If your looking for some peace and quiet from the non-stop movement of London life head to Kew Gardens for a breath of fresh air. Wander round the vast gardens and make sure to visit the Japanese gardens, Great Pagoda and Rock Gardens as well as the famous Palm House- a stunning indoor rainforest. Entry cost is £16.50. I probably wouldn’t recommend a visit in the late autumn or winter.
SHOP FOR ANTIQUES AT PORTOBELLO ROAD MARKET
While open everyday of the week Saturday is the best time to visit this sprawling market in West London. Browse some of the most unique antiques and shop for something special in the numerous stalls that like the streets of Portabello Road. Antiques don’t tickle your fancy? Don’t worry there are plenty of other stalls in Portobello Road selling all kinds of bric-n-brac. When you’re done, take a walk around the neighbourhood to see all the now Insta-famous colourful houses.
PLAY AN ART HISTORIAN AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM
Yes, the British Museum is touristy, but it’s also loved by the locals too. Here you can learn about art from all over the world- the pieces here mainly come from what the British Empire managed to loot back in it’s glory days. The collection is extremely impressive and you won’t see so many pieces from all over the world under one room anywhere. To avoid the crowds arrive at 10 am when the galleries open or wait for the late opening on Friday night where you’ll find many more art-loving locals visiting after work.
HAVE A SUNDAY ROAST
Epically British, the Sunday Roast is the typical meal eaten by british people every Sunday for lunch. While some don’t bother, others make it a ritual but it’s something you have to try when in the UK. A Sunday roast consists of a protein, normally roast beef, chicken, pork or nut roast served with roast potatoes, boiled vegetables, a Yorkshire pudding (think circle shaped- baked pancake dough) and it’s all smothered in a rich gravy. There are many great places to enjoy a Sunday Roast but my favourites are The Gate in Islington, Cafe Van Gogh in Brixton and Manna in Primrose Hill for their spectacular plant-based Sunday Roasts.
HAVE A PINT IN A PUB
Pub culture is something really special and unique to the UK and Ireland and I’d say it’s one of the most non-touristy things you can do in London. The Brits spend so much of their free time in pubs socialising with friends that it’s without doubt something you have to do too. British ale is also fantastic (if you’re a beer fan) and personally it’s my favourite kind of ‘beer’ around. Visit a pub- go to the bar and grab a pint of ale (there is no table service in pubs) and relax taking in that quintessentially British atmosphere. My favourite pubs are The Churchill Arms in Kensington, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese in Aldwych and The Star & Garter, Soho
HAVE A PICNIC IN A PARK
Visitors are always surprised to discover how green London is. Central London is full of many parks from Primrose Hill and Regents Park in the North to Hyde Park and St. James Park further south. A picnic is a fabulous way to enjoy and see the parks and get a feel for London life, provided it isn’t raining. Head to any one of the sandwich/sushi chains such as Pret a Manger, Eat or Itsu or even a local supermarket, load up on ready-made picnic treats and head to the park.
EXPLORE THE CANALS OF LITTLE VENICE
Canals in London? You bet! Little Venice is such a lovely area of London and overlooked by many visitors. Located near the Warwick Avenue tube station in West London its a small area full of meandering canals, leafy gardens and cafes on canal boats. It’s a superb place to wander round for a couple of hours and get off the tourist trail. I’m not sure why it’s called Little Venice, it reminds me more of Amsterdam.
SEE A PLAY OR MUSICAL IN THEATRELAND
London’s theatreland is full of highly acclaimed musicals and plays from classics like Les Miserables to modern productions like Aladdin. London’s theatre scene is bursting with talent and a night at the theatre is a must-do.
GO SECOND HAND BOOK SHOPPING ON THE SOUTH BANK
The South Bank is extremely touristy but only at the London Eye end. Forget entering from Westminster (over Westminster Bridge) and come by the Waterloo side instead. Just under Waterloo bridge is a delightful little second hand book fair where you can browse all the titles until you’ve found the one you want. While you’re there it’s worth checking out the BFI (British Film Institute) for any classics that showing as well as the National Theatre for last minute tickets.
VISIT THE TATE MODERN
There are so many art museums to choose from in London and if you’re limited for time I’d do some research online to find the one that suits your art taste most. If you like modern art the Tate Modern is the place to go. It’s full of both locals and tourists strolling through the halls admiring avant-garde Picassos and colourful Warhols. Upon leaving don’t forget to check out Millennium Bridge, just by the main river entrance of the gallery.
VISIT CAMDEN MARKET
Camden Market is a bit of a punk/grunge institution and due to this attracts many visitors. Saying this I’d still consider it a non-touristy place to visit and you can really get away from the crowds. Explore the market, the street food stalls, and the locks- there’s plenty to do and honestly? there’s nowhere else like it in the world.
VISIT A LIDO
Of all the non-touristy things you can do in London this is it. If you’re in London during the summer and you happen to experience a hot summer’s day, grab a towel, small picnic and head to a lido- natural outdoor swimming pools dotted around London. No doubt they’ll be full as Londoners tend to be sun worshipers but you’ll have the opportunity to experience something really authentic. My favourite lido is London Fields Lido in Hackney.
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH BOROUGH MARKET
For all things food, head to Borough Market just on the south side of London Bridge. Eat your way through traditional British pies, pasties and fish and chips as well as the highest quality fresh fruit juices and smoothies, breads, cheeses, cakes, pastries and many more delicious, local products.
Have you got any questions or comments about these non-touristy things to do in London? Leave them below, I’d love to hear from you.
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