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London is so much more than its famous landmarks and you can have an incredible time experiencing London like a local.
If you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find the local side of the city filled with culture, history, art and incredible cuisine. To really understand London, you should see it through a local’s eyes.
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. And when in London, do the things that a Londoner would.
Escape the tourist crowds and attractions to get a first-hand view of how Londoners live. There are lots of things to do in London, from local markets to swimming in the park, you’ll never be bored!
What to do in London like a Local
All 19 handpicked items are all things I personally do in London as a local so you’re in good hands with these ideas!
1# Picnic on Primrose Hill
If you want to experience what a local does on a weekend, then a picnic on Primrose Hill is a good start.
There are tons of restaurants in the city that offer world-class dining with stunning views, but if you want something a little simpler and more budget-friendly, then this is a great alternative.
The top of the hill is approximately 63 metres above sea level and has uninterrupted views across the skyline. In fact, it is actually one of the six protected viewpoints in London.
The climb to the summit is short but steep, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing. A top tip for any photographers out there is to climb at sunrise or sunset for some beautiful landscape shots.
Primrose Hill also has a children’s playground, sports facilities and public toilets with disabled access. Visitors are welcome to set up a picnic anywhere in the park, so grab some food from a local market.
To get here, the nearest Tube stop is Chalk Farm.
2# Have a Traditional Sunday Roast at a Local Pub
The Brits love a good Sunday roast, especially if it’s in a local pub. While there are plenty of restaurants serving Sunday roast, you should head to a local pub at lunchtime for an authentic experience.
Sunday roast came to prominence in 1485 during the reign of King Henry VII. The Yeomen of the Guard are known as Beefeaters for their love of eating roast beef.
Sunday roast consists of roasted meat (beef, chicken, lamb or pork) or vegetarian/vegan alternatives, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, boiled or steamed vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, carrots, peas), Yorkshire puddings and stuffing.
Typical accompaniments include mint sauce, horseradish sauce, English mustard, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy.
Most pubs and restaurants these days serve vegetarian/vegan versions of Sunday roasts.
There are so many amazing local pubs hidden away from the tourist track. Some include The Carpenter’s Arms in Bethnal Green and the Hack & Hop located off Fleet Street.
That being said, a good way to find a good Sunday roast is to look on Google Maps for best pubs in the area you happen to be in on the day.
3# Explore London’s Hidden Stations and Building
London Transport Museum runs tours called ‘Hidden London’. The tours explore the hidden parts of London like Euston station’s lost tunnels, London’s first skyscraper on 55 Broadway, subterranean shelter at Clapham South station, wilderness walkabout and Churchill’s secret station.
Tip: They release about 17,000 tickets once a year and they sell out pretty quickly so sign up to their newsletter for release dates.
Read more my experience on the Euston station – The lost tunnels tour.
4# Watch a film at a unique cinema
London is a great place to visit if you’re a cinephile. The city is home to many independent cinemas that offer unique viewing experiences.
A good way of experiencing the London life is to head to the cinema one evening and brush shoulders with the after-work crowds. Here are just a few of the best cinemas in town:
Genesis Cinema on Mile End Road shows a variety of films over five screens. As well as showing the latest mainstream films, it also shows arthouse films, festivals, special events and poetry nights.
Electric Cinema on Portobello Road is one of the oldest working cinemas in the UK. Mostly showing new releases, the cinema is decked out with plush armchairs, double beds and cashmere blankets.
One of the oldest running cinemas in the country, The Phoenix on Finchley Road shows new releases, arthouse films, live streams from theatre, opera and old school films.
5# Explore London’s Best Craft Breweries
London’s craft beer scene is thriving in London. You will find breweries popping up all over the city.
For the beer lovers, it’s a must to check out Bermondsey Beer Mile. A bunch of brewers decided to cleverly to locate their microbreweries under the railway arches.
Craft Breweries don’t stop there, head to Hackney Wick fo Crate Brewery, Howling Hops and Beer Merchants Tap.
Peckham for Brick Brewery and Brew by Numbers (second branch). Plus they have some cool rooftops in the area.
Crystal Palace and Penge you will find two fantastic breweries, Gipsy Hill and Southey.
If drinking not your jam then here’s 18 Things To Do In London Without Alcohol.
6# Roam Around London Neighbourhoods
When exploring a new place, roaming around neighbourhoods is always fun. You get to take a peek at pretty houses and walk down tree-lined streets, imagining what it’s like to live there.
There are some gorgeous residential areas in London, like:
- Belgravia is one of the poshest parts of the city, and has streets full of grand buildings, many of them home to foreign ambassadors.
- Dulwich in south London is an affluent area and is almost like a small village with its indie boutiques and quaint cafes lining the high street.
- Hampstead is another lovely area to explore. This north London area has plenty of boutiques, pubs and upmarket restaurants, and is a favourite place for artists, academics and media figures.
7# Go to a Music Festival in the Summer
If you’re visiting in the summer, then heading to a music festival is one of the best ways to get a taster of what life is like as a local. Festivals are a fun way to make new friends, dress up in wacky costumes, and soak up the atmosphere.
With such a wide range of festivals featuring everything from hip hop to jazz, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Since a list of all the music festivals in London would be exhaustive, I’ve picked out some of the best ones.
Each summer, Wireless Festival comes to Finsbury Park in north London. The three-day festival sees up and coming artists share the stage with urban music legends. In the past, Wireless Festival has seen headliners like Rihanna, The Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake.
Field Day Festival
Field Day Festival is a yearly outdoor music festival showcasing a mix of independent and mainstream artists. With a massive outdoor space to dance in, plus an inside area of four interconnected warehouses, this festival is not one to miss.
In west London, you can find Lovebox Festival, a two day celebration of dance, hip hop and pop music. Founded by Groove Armada in 2002, the festival has seen big names such as Ed Sheeran and Snoop Dogg perform on its stage.
8# Jam to a Gig
Something that tourists don’t tend to do is as much is go to local gigs. London has an incredibly diverse and exciting music scene and there is an abundance of venues, bars and pubs that hold live music events. From jazz to folk, from rock to urban music, you’re bound to find something that you like.
Some of the best venues for live music are The Social in Fitzrovia for mixed genres, The Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell for acoustic folk, Nightjar in Shoreditch for jazz, and The Garage in Angel & Islington for rock and indie music. O2 Academy Brixton also frequently has gigs from contemporary artists and bands.
9# A Night Out in East London
Whether you’re a hardcore party animal, or you prefer an occasional night out, London has something for everyone.
A good way of experiencing the local life is to head on a night out in East London. It’s full of chic and trendy bars, underground clubs, popup events and warehouse parties. Some ideas:
- XOYO is one of east London’s most well-known clubs, with the best DJs and dance music.
- For chart anthems and throwback tunes, head to Cargo.
- If you fancy a bit of hip hop and karaoke, then make sure you visit the Queen of Hoxton for an open mic night.
10# Chill in Battersea Park
While most tourists head to Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens, Battersea Park rarely sees any tourist crowds. Located on the south bank of the River Thames, this park was built in the Victorian era and covers 200 acres of green space.
Prior to becoming a park, this area was actually a duelling field, and in 1829 the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea came face to face here.
There are many different things you can do in Battersea Park. Check out the Pump House Gallery, a former Victorian pump house which is now a contemporary visual arts space.
If you head down to the boating lake, you can hire rowing boats and pedalos for a much quieter experience than other lakes in the city. Admire the Peace Pergola, a shrine to peace gifted to London after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
You can also walk around the Old English Gardens and take garden inspiration from the floral arrangements.
Other activities in the park include mini-golf, tennis courts, Go-Ape climbing course and the Battersea Park Zoo.
11# Go for a Swim in Hampstead Heath
For another outdoor activity, head to Hampstead Heath for an outdoor swim. Yes, you heard right and no, I’m not joking. You’ll find locals swimming in the outdoor pools almost any time of the year.
The pools are divided into men only, ladies only, and mixed. The men and ladies ponds are open all year round, but in winter, the mixed pond is only open to the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club.
Don’t expect crystal clear water though – the pools are originally dammed off clay pits and so the water is quite murky brown.
The pools get crowded in the summer, especially at weekends, so it’s a good idea to come on a weekday or earlier during the day. There are also plenty of sunbathing spots in the grassy areas around the ponds.
If you don’t fancy outdoor swimming, you can head to Parliament Hill Lido, a public open air swimming pool also on Hampstead Heath.
12# Admire the City’s Street Art
While London is home to world-class art galleries and museums, some of the best art can be found on the city’s streets. London has one of the world’s most vibrant street art scenes and is constantly changing with new artists coming in from far and wide.
There are many different areas of the city where you can spot amazing street art, and here are some of the best.
Brick Lane is arguably where it all began. The best known piece here is Banksy’s 2008 French Maid. Look out for artwork around Hanbury Street, The Old Truman Brewery, Pedley Street, Cheshire Street and Scalter Street.
Shoreditch is another vibrant part of town filled with street art. Walk around Redchurch Street, Leonard Street, Old Street and Rivington Street. One of the best known artists in this area is Stik, known for his ‘stik people’.
With its large artist population, it makes sense that Hackney Wick is filled with art. The area has a trendy vibe, enhanced by the graffiti and murals. Head towards Fish Island, where you’ll see some of the best works on Bream Street and Old Ford Lock.
13# Take a Trip into Nature
Constantly being in the city can be tiring, which is why Londoners often take trips at the weekend to escape the big smoke. If you’re looking to do a day trip, there are many surrounding villages and seaside towns within a two-hour train journey of central London.
For something a little closer, there are a few areas in London that will still make you feel like you’re in the countryside.
London Wetland Centre
The London Wetland Centre is only four miles from central London, but it will feel like you’re much further away. This nature reserve set over 145 acres is home to a wide species of butterflies, dragonflies, bats, birds and otters. With quiet ponds and wildflower gardens, this place is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Another area worth the visit is Walthamstow Marshes, a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest which is an hour’s train ride from London Victoria. You can explore the area either by bike or on foot. Keep an eye out for grazing cattle, butterflies, water vole, kingfishers and kestrel.
14# Visit Regent’s Canal
Regent’s Canal is a relatively quiet area that is mostly frequented by locals. If you have a spare 1-2 hours, it’s the perfect place for a relaxing walk.
The 9-mile walk starts at Little Venice, a charming area filled with waterside bars, restaurants and shops. Part of the canal runs through London Zoo, and you’ll get a glimpse of the aviary filled with exotic birds.
You’ll also spot a floating Chinese restaurant, as well as London’s only floating bookshop. The route passes along beautiful gardens, markets, quaint footbridges, and is a great way of discovering the city without actually going through it.
You can end the walk at Camden Lock and explore the street food or find a bargain at the market.
Otherwise, you can choose to carry on the walk which ends at Limehouse Basin on the River Thames. There are some lovely eateries here, including The Narrow, one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.
Alternatively, you can also take a kayak or narrowboat tour of the canal and learn more about the history of the place.
15# Go to a Football Match
If you’re visiting between August and May, I highly recommend going to a football match in London. Even if you’re not a sports fan, the atmosphere itself is worth going for, as joining the local fans is a fun way to get a feel for the city’s culture.
Football is a universal language. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world – even if you can’t speak the common tongue – football can connect you to the locals.
The UK is where this sport was born and a lot of the teams have a history going back to the 1800s.
London is home to some of the UK’s top teams, including Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Crystal Palace. These teams are all in the Premier League, which is the top level of the English football league system. You can also head to a local sports bar to mingle with the crowds and experience the atmosphere and banter.
If you happen to catch a derby – where any of the above five teams play each other – then stakes are even higher because local bragging rights are on the line.
16# Visit a Bookshop
England has been home to some of the greatest writers in history – Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and Tolkien, to name a few.
If you’re a book lover, then London is just the place to get lost in a bookshop. There is a wealth of good bookshops in London that are worth visiting.
Here are some of the best bookstores in London:
Tucked away on a small side street in Covent Garden, Goldsboro Books specialises in signed first editions. If you also love rare and collectible books, then you’re bound to find something that takes your fancy here.
Daunt Books in Marylebone is a must-visit. With its stunning architecture, oak balconies and stained glass windows, it’s worth going just to admire its design. Daunt Books have a comprehensive travel section, and the books are arranged by countries no matter what the topic is.
Opened in 1797, Hatchards on Picadilly is the oldest bookshop in the UK, as well as the official book supplier to the Royal households. It stocks fiction and non-fiction books, and you can also find signed and special editions.
Southbank Centre Book Market
For something a little different, head to Southbank Centre Book Market underneath Waterloo Bridge. You can find a huge selection of second hand books, and it’s open daily.
17# Attend a Nighttime Event at a Museum
While going to a museum is kind of touristy, there’s a fun way of avoiding the tourist crowds – attending a night time event.
Many of London’s museums hold evening events with talks, performances, workshops, films, DJ sets and drinks.
Many venues such as the Bank of England Museum, British Library and the London Transport Museum only hold occasional events, so it’s best to look up the dates in advance.
However, there are many other museums and galleries that hold regular events each month, including:
- the British Museum,
- Design Museum,
- the National Gallery,
- National Portrait Gallery
- and the Natural History Museum.
In the beginning, many of these late nights consisted of string quartets and cheese and wine nights. But over time, they have transformed into more lively, contemporary events to reflect what’s going on in the city. Some galleries are even known to book drag acts and political activists. The majority of these events are free, and is a highly recommended way to enjoy the culture of the city.
18# Admire the Views Without Entrance Fees
A true Londoner doesn’t have to spend a penny to get a good view of the city. That’s because they know exactly where to go to avoid the entrance fees, reservations and tourist crowds.
Here are just a few of the best places for free panoramic views across London.
Tate Modern Switch House
This open viewing terrace is located on the top floor of the Blavatnik Building. You can enjoy 360-degree views of the city, and there is even a bar serving drinks and snacks.
Located in Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill is 98 metres high. From here you can spot Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the Shard and St Paul’s.
One New Change
This popular retail space has a free rooftop deck which offers fantastic views of the skyline, including St Paul’s and the London Eye.
19# Visit One of London’s Food Markets
On a typical list of food markets in London, you would normally see Borough Market. And while it is one of the leading food markets in the city, it’s also very touristy.
Some alternatives which are mostly frequented by locals are Leather Lane Market, Market Hall Fulham and Broadway Market.
Serving a wide variety of international cuisine, these markets are a fun place to enjoy good food, chill out, and watch the world go by.
Whilst visiting attractions like Big Ben and the London Eye are exciting if you’re visiting London for the first time, doing things that are off the tourist trail can be a great way of understanding the city a little better.
Doing things and going to places that the London locals would and see parts of London that you normally wouldn’t visit. There are tons of things that you can do, so pick an item from this list and dive right in.