The Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in London by a Local
Uncover the best non touristy things to do in London and plan local during your visit to the British capital. Our non touristy London itinerary will tell you all the best things to see in London that aren’t (too) touristy.
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 25 years and never run out of things to do, see or places to eat. London is a city where locals and tourists intertwine. Even in the most popular areas of central London you’ll see local 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 one 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.
This non-touristy-things-to-do-in-London guide is perfect for those who have already visited all the main sights and want something more local to do. It’s for those who want to explore the non touristy London side to get a sense of what life in London is really like.
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The Best Time to Visit London
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. In the spring and early autumn, you’ll still be able to enjoy fairly warm temperatures while also avoiding the tourist crowds.
If you visit in winter, make sure to add a few days to your London itinerary to make up for the shorter days. Make sure to also pack layers and a very warm jacket because it can get really cold, especially in January and February.
Getting Around London
The easiest and fastest way to get around London is by public transportation which includes the tube or underground (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 to get around London is an Oyster card. An Oyster card is a pre-paid card that allows you onto all Transport for London services. This includes 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 won’t charge you more than this per day.
You can top-up your Oyster card at any tube station- at the machines or is some local newsagents.
Also, note that when taking the tube you have to swipe in AND out. At some stations, there are no barriers but make sure you find the Oyster touchpoint as if you don’t this will incur extra 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 on museum entry and sightseeing cruises the Visitor Oyster Card may be worth your time. Click here for more details on discounts and offers.
Nowadays you can also use your credit or debit card and even Apple Pay to touch in and out of the public transportation system. I’m not sure, however, if this works for foreign cards. If you try and find that it does, let me know!
*At the weekend many lines partly close or have delays due to weekend engineering works on the tube. This does tend to cause some disruption so make sure to plan ahead when moving around at the weekends.
For all tube updates make sure to download the TFL Go app on your phone to move around with ease.
Top Non-Touristy Things to Do in London
There are many not touristy things to do in London and in a city like London, touristy and non-touristy activities are quite blurred. In many cases, both locals and tourists share the same spots, especially at the weekend.
The major museums are visited by both tourists and art-loving locals and so are parks, pubs and shopping areas. Here is non touristy London guide and my favourite things to do, as a local in London that involve few other tourists.
Take in the London Views
London has a truly iconic skyline that can’t be missed by any visitor and there are various places you can view it from.
The best viewpoints in London are always going to be a little touristy because let’s be honest, everyone wants to get a view of London.
Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street, The Shard, and The London Eye are just some suggestions for an incredible view over the city. These can be a little touristy, however. I would personally recommend the Sky Garden as entrance is free and it’s a cool place. You’ll just need to reserve you ticket ahead of time on their website.
There are also many London non tourist attractions, 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. Exploring East London is also a great way to get off the beaten path in London.
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.
In recent years word has gotten out about about the uber-cool East London neighbourhoods of Hackney, Shoreditch and Dalston and more and more tourists are coming here but still, it’s much less than in central London. You can definitely find some hidden gems here and some cool London non tourist places.
Best Non Touristy Things to Do in London: 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, the Great Pagoda and Rock Gardens as well as the famous Palm House- a stunning indoor rainforest.
Skip the queues and book your Kew Gardens admission ticket online here.
I probably wouldn’t recommend a visit in the late autumn or winter just because the gardens can be quite grey. Kew gardens are one of the top non touristy things to do in London, especially in West London.
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 line 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 as well as fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods.
When you’re done, take a walk around the neighbourhood to see all the now Insta-famous colourful houses. While Notting Hill and Portobello Market can be touristy, it’s also definitely an area for locals. As soon as you start exploring past Portobello Road you’ll discover a new off the beaten track London.
Play Art Historian at the British Museum
Yes, the British Museum is touristy, but it’s also loved by the London 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 British Museum collection is extremely impressive and you won’t see so many pieces from all over the world under one room anywhere else. It’s one of the most unique places to visit in London.
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 to 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. If you’re after the ultimate non touristy things to do in England this is it.
Have a Picnic in a London 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.
The most non touristy parks in London are Battersea Park, Richmond Park and Victoria Park but even in a park like Hyde Park it’s easy to get away from the crowds.
Explore the Canals of Little Venice
Canals in London? You bet!
Little Venice is such a lovely area of London and often 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 around for a couple of hours and get off the tourist trail- make sure not to miss the beautiful church of St Magdalene. I’m not sure why it’s called Little Venice, it reminds me more of Amsterdam.
From Little Venice, you can follow the Regent’s Canal all the way to Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill and Camden town to make a day of this area.
See a Musical or Play 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.
Theatreland is always a little touristy, given its proximity to Central London but there are many other theatres you can visit that are frequented by locals more than tourists. Try the Barbican Center, The National Theatre, The Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells Theatre for more local productions.
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 classic films that are showing. You can also pop into the National Theatre for last minute theatre 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 as 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, it is one of the most alternative places to visit in London.
Visit a Lido
Of all the offbeat London things to do this is it.
If you’re in London during the summer and you happen to experience a hot summer’s day then a lido is where you need to go. Grab a towel, a 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. To do summer in London like a local, a visit to a lido is a must.
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, bread, cheeses, cakes, pastries and many more delicious, local products. You’ll find many locals here, especially at the weekend. It’s definately one of the places not to miss in London.
Visit God’s Own Junkyard
One of the most unique places in London, a visit to God’s Own Junkyard is a must. This quirky space, located in Walthamstow is an eclectic art gallery full of neon signs and old movie props.
The neon signs in the gallery are all from the collection of Chris Bracey, the ‘neon man’ who has been working with neon and creating iconic art pieces for 37 years. If you’re looking for unique places to visit in London it certainly is a gem.
Go for a Walk Around Hampstead
Hampstead is one of London’s prettiest and local neighbourhoods. Home to incredible houses, charming streets and the lovely Hampstead Heath, taking a walk around Hampstead is the ultimate non touristy thing to do in London.
You’ll be able to grab a coffee in a local cafe, perhaps pick up a bunch of flowers and potter around an independent bookstore or two. Hampstead is really one of those places not to miss in London.
Take a Day Trip Outside London
Probably the most non touristy thing you can do in London is to actually leave. Many travellers come to London and fail to ever explore other parts of England. Make sure to not make the same mistake.
There are so many day trips from London that’ll allow you to see some of the gorgeous English countryside, some picturesque villages and even the quaint English seaside.
How about a day trip to Brighton to check out England’s most iconic amusement pier? Or a day trip to the medieval city of Canterbury? There’s also Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and even York that make fantastic day trips from London. If you have more time you can also head to the Cotswolds for the perfect weekend out of the city.
Visit St. Dunstan’s in the East
St. Dunstan’s in the East is a hidden, historical church in the midst of the modern heart of the City of London. Destroyed during the Second World War and never rebuilt, St. Dunstan’s in the East still functions today as a church with a few outdoor services.
During the week it’s a really peaceful place to escape the hustle of the city. Take a seat on one of the benches with a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere.
Top Tip: Due to this the church’s recent Instagram fame it now receives quite a few visitors and photoshoots. If you’re after some peace make sure to come early if you’d like it to yourself.
Grab a Coffee in Belgravia
Kensington and particularly Belgravia is another really lovely neighbourhood to explore. Explore some of London’s most expensive real estate and grab a coffee at Cafe Kitsuné. Then wander the green, nature-filled squares and admire the architecture.
Non Touristy Things to Do in London: Visit Neasden Temple
Not featured in most tourist guides, Neasden Temple or BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a stunning hindu temple in North-west London. You won’t find any tourists here and while it can be one of the most crowded places in London, it’s almost always full of Hindu locals who come here to worship from all parts of London.
When visiting the Neasden Temple you can also learn more about Hinduism in the on-site exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism’ as well as uncover the beautiful, intricate architecture that’ll transport you right back to India.
Explore Hackney Wick
One of London’s newest and up-and-coming areas, Hackney Wick is full of vibes. It’s a really cool place to relax, and grab a drink, meet some new friends or even go for a walk, jog or bike ride along the canal.
There are so many cool urban spots to explore in Hackney Wick especially at the weekend when the area comes alive. When it comes to London special places, Hackney Wick is right up there.
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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Great piece of content! We have been living in London for 6 years and we miss it so much. Are the pictures all your own? They are great!
Aw that’s great guys- you’ll know all about what to do then! Thanks- yes they are all mine. 😉
I normally stay with friends in London. So my non-touristy activities involve finding reductions at the local Tesco or Morrisons, hehe.
haha. nice one!
Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes that will make the most significant changes. Many thanks for sharing!|