There is a good reason most people flock to the iconic London tourist attractions, they are certainly worth seeing. But for the more adventurous, less touristy folks, there are even more treasures.
Here are 27 non-touristy things to do in London that will take you off the beaten path into the hotspots only the locals know. From street art in the south-east to the incredible microbreweries and local markets, these places are the reason so many of us truly love London.
1# Find Epic Views of London
In my opinion nothing beats a good skyline view of a city and watching it from above. With iconic shaped buildings such as the Walkie Talkie, Cheese Grater, Gherkin and Heron Tower what better way to see the city than panoramic views across the city. My top picks are:
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One New Change
If you want a perfect view of St Paul’s head to the roof of One New Change Building. Depending on the time you visit there may be security guards near the elevators. The bar at the top is quite fancy so there will be dress code restrictions so if you plan on visiting the bar check beforehand. Otherwise, just let them know that you are visiting the balcony and you will be let up (it’s a free balcony after all).
Ok, so the Shard is a touristy place, but you can make it less touristy by skipping the viewing deck and instead go to the Oblix Bar. It’s free to go up there and a lovely place to grab a drink whilst soaking up the views.
Bussey Building or Franks in Peckham
Peckham is an area in London, just in zone 2. It’s outside the tourist area and has lots of great bars to visit. Two that host skyline views of London is Bussey Building and Franks.
Skylight Tobacco Dock
Skylight is in Wapping which is nice and central. During the summer you can play croquet and petanque and in the winter they have rooftop ice rink, ice hockey slap shot and cosy igloos and mountain huts.
2# Search for Street Art in Penge East
Penge East has the biggest collection of street art outside of places like Shoreditch. It was a Community Project in Penge and Anerley (SE20) called the SprayExhibition20 and hosts over 120 artworks in the area. The best time to explore the pieces is on a Sunday as some of them are located on shop roller doors, however there are plenty in the area to see on other days.
For more information read this.
P.s If you like good craft beer, look out for Southey Brewery which is located near the Gorilla piece on Southey Street.
3# Crossness Pumping Station
I never thought I would be recommending a former sewage pumping station, but the Crossness Pumping Station is a beautiful piece of architecture. It was designed by the Metropolitan Board of Works’s chief engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver and finally given the green light to go ahead in 1858.
In 1958 the pumping station was decommissioned and left for 26 year before Crossness the Preservation group began making moves to restore the 1865 buildings and engines.
The staff at the pumping station are so passionate about repairing and preserving this piece of history. If you get a chance to chat with one of the staff members walking around.
4# See the Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace park has the world’s first attempt at making full scale replicas of Dinosaurs. They were commissioned to be built in 1853 and completed in 1855, making them a fantastic piece of history.
The dinosaurs are wildly inaccurate so don’t take them too seriously. The signs around the park will illustrate what modern-day scientists now believe them to look like.
5# Alternative Food Markets
Borough and Brick Lane markets are always on the list of things to do in London but there are some great alternatives to the usual. My favourites include:
I was introduced to Whitecross Markets by some co-workers of mine and have loved going ever since! It’s open Monday to Friday and is a hot spot for workers in the area to grab food. Depending on the weather I will either sit in The Two Brewers which allow you to bring your food in as long as you buy a drink or Fortune Street Park on a sunny day.
Leather Lane Market
Another great Monday to Friday market lined with food markets and accessory shops. I generally end up getting falafel or Pho whenever I visit here.
Mercato is another great marketplace style of the venue offering lots of food and drinks options plus they have a cinema. Open every day of the week but does get super popular during the evenings. It does have an indoor and outdoor area so perfect for all types of weather.
Maltby Street Market
The market is centred on a central alley known as the Ropewalk parade of street food stalls and restaurants. If you’re on the Bermondsey Beer Mile this is the perfect place to grab food to soak up the alcohol. The classic favourite is the Cheese truck.
6# Mayfield Lavender Fields
Who says you must go to France for lavender fields? Located in Banstead (just 15 miles outside of London) is Mayfield Lavender Fields.
This is a season activity as the farm only welcomes visitors during the Summer months (usually early June to mid-September). It does have a small entry cost of £1 and make sure you have some spending money to buy some of their lavender essential oils, soaps and syrup made from the organic lavender grown here.
The café sells lavender infused products such as tea, cakes and much more.
7# Enjoy Craft Beer on The Bermondsey Beer Mile
Located in southeast London is a stretch of elevated train tracks where a bunch of brewers decided to cleverly locate their microbreweries under the railway arches. Luckily for us, the public, the breweries open their doors to the public on the weekend!
Unlike a lot of breweries which are generally a shopfront, the breweries on the Bermondsey Beer Mile is actually where the magic happens. During the week they are busily brewing beer in their archways and on the weekend convert the workshop into a taproom.
If you want to know more about the Bermondsey Beer Mile I have a whole guide walking you through where to go and a handy map!
8# Discover London’s Secret Bars
Turn your next night out into a little adventure by heading to one of London’s secret bars.
Mayor of Scaredycat Town (Shoreditch)
Head to The Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane and announce “I’m here to see the Mayor”. You’ll then step into the Smeg fridge into a quirky, candlelit speakeasy with a great selection of cocktails.
King of Ladies Man (Clapham Junction)
The Breakfast Club’s venue in Clapham Junction also has a secret bar. Go through a laundry room at the back of the venue, and step inside the 70s themed decor bar serving disco inspired cocktails.
Evans & Peel Detective Agency (Earls Court)
Before you can even enter the bar, you need to make a booking to ‘discuss a case’. Once you’ve made a booking, enter the dim office where a detective will lead you through a hidden door behind a bookcase. Fill up on light dishes, wines and cocktails.
9# Enjoy a Drink at One of London’s Quirky Bars
Why opt for an average, run of the mill bar when London is filled with quirky and unique venues? Here are some of the best ones in town.
This is a 1940s themed bar set inside an abandoned train station. Serving up cocktails, tasty nibbles and live entertainment, Cahoots is a fab place to step back in time and enjoy a night out 1940s London!
Drink Shop Do (Kings Cross)
During the day, this cafe serves hot drinks, light lunches and delicious homemade cakes. But come nightfall, the venue transforms into a merry spot for dancing and drinking. It’s a great place to get creative too, and there is an events schedule filled with arts and crafts workshops.
10# Explore the Non-Touristy Pubs in London
If you don’t fancy rubbing shoulders with tourists in bars, head to a locals only pub. Dotted around London, here are some of the best ones.
Not far from Oxford Circus and Regent Street, the Wigmore is a modern pub with stylish, retro-inspired decor. With a carefully curated drinks list and quintessential British pub food, the Wigmore brings you elevated pub dining.
Situated on Old Street, the Old Fountain is a lovely pub with a vast beer selection, rotating choice of cask ales and classic pub food and contemporary dishes. You can even enjoy your meals on the stylish roof terrace up top.
Lamb and Flag
The Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden is definitely one of the most interesting pubs in the city. It dates back to the mid 17th century, and there is a plaque outside noting how the poet Dryden was mugged in the alley next door. You’ll find traditional pub food and a constantly changing range of lagers, ales and ciders.
In Holborn, the Viaduct Tavern is a beautiful pub with an interior of marbles, mirrors and paintings. The most notable feature of the pub is the basement, thought to contain cells from Newgate Prison or Giltspur Street Compter. The Viaduct Tavern has the usual range of beers, an impressive variety of gin and traditional pub food.
Cask Pub & Kitchen
At Cask in Pimlico, you’ll find world-class beers, spirits and wines alongside simple, home cooked food. Visit on a Sunday afternoon between 16.30 and 19.30 and you’ll be treated to live music from bluegrass and traditional Irish musicians.
The Marquis of Westminster
In this welcoming gastropub in Westminster, you’ll find top-end pub classics and crafty drinks. What makes it an elevated version of your local pub is the sleek wood paneling, a refined wine list, and chic cocktails.
A short walk from Waterloo Station and set up in a converted railway arch, this funky bar boasts 20 kegs and 6 casks on constant rotation. Although you won’t be able to order meals here, you’ll find a variety of artisan bar snacks like soft baked pretzels.
11# Grab Lunch Inside Gorgeous Leadenhall Market
With a 19th century painted roof and charming cobbled floors, Leadenhall Market is arguably one of the prettiest markets in London. It’s also one of the oldest markets in the city, dating back to the 14th century, although the current construction dates back to Victorian times.
Potterheads will probably recognise the market as it was the filming location for Diagon Alley. While you won’t be able to buy wands and spell books here, you can find a variety of produce including flowers, cheese, meat and other fresh goods.
Alternatively, you could also grab lunch at one of the cafes and restaurants. After lunch, browse through the array of shops, from stationery to fashion to perfumes.
12# Visit Highgate Cemetery
For those of you interested in something a little different, a visit to Highgate Cemetery is a unique and compelling way to spend a few hours. This place has seen vampire hunters, dueling magicians, and real corpses being dug up.
The cemetery is split into two sections. The East cemetery is home to some of the most distinguished figures of the 19th century including George Eliot and Karl Marx. You’re free to wander round by yourself, or you can also take tours with expert volunteer guides.
The West cemetery is only accessible via a guided tour. It has impressive architectural features, namely the Chapel, Colonnade, Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon, Terrace Catacombs and the mausoleum of Julius Beer.
13# Explore Pop Brixton, Market Row and Brixton Village
If you find yourself in Brixton, make the time to visit Brixton Village and Market Row. These two indoor markets are a lively and bustling hub for independent food and shopping. Brixton is one of the city’s most diverse and multicultural neighbourhoods, and this is reflected in the choice of stalls and traders.
Find street food from around the world, from Jamaican to Portugese to French. If you’d rather pick up some ingredients to cook, there are fresh produce stalls selling fruit, veg, fish and meat. Stroll through the arcades and you’ll also find shops selling clothes, jewellery, homeware, arts and crafts.
While you’re there, head to Pop Brixton, a creative space for local, independent businesses. The traders are housed in a jumble of shipping containers and include street food stalls, new and second hand vinyl, vintage fashion, Japanese kitchenware, tattoo parlour, design studios and much more. Enjoy communal dining in the large greenhouse space, or catch one of the music events.
14# Enjoy a Traditional Sunday Roast at a Local Pub
A Sunday roast is a true British tradition not to be missed out on. The main feature is roasted meat – lamb, chicken, beef or pork – served with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, roasted or blanched vegetables and a variety of sauces including cranberry sauce, horseradish, mint sauce, apple sauce and gravy.
When done right, it can be one of the world’s most loved national dishes. Many places in London will claim to have the best Sunday roast, but my advice is to head to a local pub for a proper, traditional meal.
Find the best Sunday roasts in the city at:
The Compton Arms
There has been a pub on the site of this local in Islington since the 16th century. Apart from being one of George Orwell’s favourite locals, The Compton Arms is also known for its fabulous Sunday roasts.
The Black Dog Beer House
This traditionally furnished neighbourhood pub in Brentford serves up a simple but delicious Sunday roast menu. It also boasts a range of 14 keg lines, 5 real ales, 5 real ciders and over 50 bottled drinks.
The Brown Dog
Tucked away in the streets of Barnes is The Brown Dog, a pub and dining room cooking up innovative dishes with the freshest ingredients. It’s known for its Sunday lunch menu, which has a range of other roast dishes as well as the classics.
15# Visit the Deer in Richmond Park
Richmond Park is both London’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve. It’s a great place to explore, with 2,500 acres of open grassland and woodland. The site is home to an abundance of wildlife, including over 600 Red and Fallow deer which roam freely around the park.
If you visit in autumn during the breeding season, you’ll likely see males roar, bark and clash with other males as they compete for females. The fawns are born between May and July, but they’re mostly hidden in the long grass by their mothers. If you’re visiting, remember to keep at least 50 metres away, and don’t attempt to touch or feed them.
16# See Cool Science Stuff In The Wellcome Collection
This free museum on Euston Road is a wonderful place to be curious about all things health related. Connecting science, medicine, life and art through immersive exhibitions and collections, the museum is the best place to learn and have fun doing so. In the museum’s permanent exhibitions – Medicine Man and Medicine Now – there is a vast collection of items collected by the 19th century pharmacist Henry Wellcome, such as used guillotine blades, Napoleon’s toothbrush and Florence Nightingale’s moccasins.
There are also over 100,000 prints, drawings, paintings and photographs dating as far back as the 14th century. If you’re looking for a relaxing break, check out the Reading Room where you can play games, read books, perform digital autopsies, send a postcard to a friend and lounge on sofas and beanbags.
17# Afternoon Tea at the Wallace Collection
Although not as common as Sunday lunch, afternoon tea is another quintessentially British tradition that you mustn’t skip. It started in the early 19th century as a private social event for upper class ladies to keep the hunger at bay until dinnertime.
It was only until Queen Victoria had a taste of afternoon tea that it became a more common tradition. Today, afternoon teas are usually held on special occasions or events. One of the best places to try afternoon tea in London is at the Wallace Restaurant, which is housed inside the Wallace Collection gallery.
Surrounded by trees and sculptures and basked in natural light, the restaurant serves freshly made sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, a selection of cakes as well as a bottle of bubbly. You may as well check out the Wallace Collection while you’re there – an exquisite collection of 18th century French furniture, paintings, porcelain, medieval armour and weaponry.
18# Have A Nice Long Boozy Lunch
Lunch is great, but an alcohol infused lunch is even better. If you have time to spend a few hours with good food and drink, then London is the perfect place for a long, boozy lunch. Here are some of the best places to enjoy a cocktail before 11am.
The Breakfast Club
It wouldn’t be a list of boozy lunch spots without mentioning The Breakfast Club. This relaxed place serves all day breakfast and a fab selection of wines, beers and cocktails. You don’t have to travel too far to find one either, as there are venues dotted all around the city.
Tank and Paddle
With two venues in Minster Court and Bishopsgate, Tank and Paddle is an ideal place to spend a few hours with good food and drink. Alongside freshly made stone-baked pizzas and other small dishes, you can also enjoy home brewed pints of craft beer and real ale. Feeling competitive? Challenge your mates to a round of shuffleboard or board games.
The Lillie Langtry
A short stroll from Earls Court station, this homely pub mixes traditional with contemporary. Relax in the Victorian cocktail lounge, and enjoy a selection of light dishes and meats from the grill menu.
Ask For Janice
Ask For Janice is the perfect place for a long, boozy lunch. At this laid back eatery in Farringdon you’ll find fresh lunch dishes, light bites and sharing platters. Pair your food with over 50 gins, over 60 draught and bottled beers, and a unique cocktail list.
19# Visit the World’s Largest Collection Of Neon Signs: God’s Own Junkyard
Who needs to go to Vegas for neon lights when you have God’s Own Junkyard in London? Located in an unassuming warehouse in Walthamstow, God’s Own Junkyard is a collection of the late artist Chris Bracey’s work, incorporating everything from signs used in strip clubs in Soho, to film props used in the likes of Captain America and Eyes Wide Shut.
You could spend ages there ogling the vast mish mash of signs and trinkets. If you’re willing to splash the cash you can even purchase something.
Alternatively, you can rent a sign. Once you’re all signed out, visit the Rolling Scones cafe for some home baked goodies, or grab a drink from the bar.
20# Visit the Barbican Conservatory
The second largest conservatory in London (after Kew Gardens) is a magnificent rainforest with over 1,500 species of plants. You can take a guided tour and wander amongst the palm trees and banana plants to learn more about the different species.
Stroll over the wooden bridges and watch the colourful koi carp dart around the fishponds. If you look hard enough you might spot the terrapins basking on the rocks. The conservatory is also home to a cactus house, from tiny cacti to giant spiky monsters, and dainty little succulents.
The conservatory has recently kept its doors open late on Saturdays, so you can grab a drink from the popup bar while you wander round the greenery. If you’re more of a daytime person, the Barbican does a lovely afternoon tea amongst the plants.
21# Go For A Swim At Hampstead Heath Swimming Pools
Ever wonder where the locals head to on a hot day in London? Well there’s a high chance you’ll find them at one of the swimming pools in Hampstead Heath. There are three pools here: men only, ladies only and mixed. The men and ladies pools are open throughout the year, but the mixed pond is closed in winter to the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club.
It’s best to go for a swim in the early morning or on weekdays, as they tend to get very busy. But if you can brave the cold, you’ll find that the pools are a lot less crowded once the summer months have passed. Not a fan of outdoor swimming but still want to be near the water? Hampstead Heath has plenty of grassy areas to relax and sunbathe on.
22# Find A Good Read At London’s Only Floating Bookshop
The suitably named Word On The Water is one of the most unique bookshops out there. Nicknamed ‘The London Bookbarge’, this 1920s Dutch barge has been floating on the Regent’s Canal since 2011, and is packed with a wonderful collection of new and second-hand books.
Whether you want to browse through shelves on the deck, or have a nosy at the collection indoors and warm up by the stove, you’re bound to find a good book to sink your teeth into. The bookshop also holds exciting events like book and poetry readings, open mic sessions and performances, and talks on topics like feminism, politics, art and technology.
23# Go Wildlife Watching At London Wetland Centre
If you feel like escaping the big smoke but don’t have a lot of time on your hands, the London Wetland Centre is the perfect place to spend a few hours. This oasis close to central London will make you feel like you’re miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Stretching over 105 acres, there is a network of walkways that meander around the pools and lakes. See how much wildlife you can spot – birds, amphibians, butterflies, bats, otters and water voles all call this place home.
There are numerous hides dotted around the wetland, as well as an Observatory to birdwatch. The centre isn’t short of things to keep the kids entertained, and features the Adventure Playground and Wild Walk.
24# Take A Trip To Dulwich Village
Dulwich is a great place to visit if you want to see more of what London has to offer. This village-like neighbourhood in South London is full of green spaces, white picket fences and independent shops.
Be captivated by the rural charm of the village as you admire chocolate box houses, have a coffee at a cute cafe and pick up some treats at North Cross Market.
A must-do is a stroll down Lordship Lane and splash the cash on some unique finds. Dulwich isn’t lacking in greenery either – make a stop at Dulwich Park or Belair Park.
25# Enjoy Live Music In Soho
A big fan of live music? Soho is the place to be. This trendy district hosts some of the best live music venues in London, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find jamming sessions on any given day of the week. Here are some of the leading venues to check out.
Ronie Scott’s is a legendary venue opened by the British saxophonist himself in 1959. It was the first venue in the UK to host jazz musicians from America, and it has seen some of the most famous names in the world of jazz, including Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald. With its cosy and plush decor, you’ll be transported back in time as you soak up some smooth sounds.
Starting out as a swing bar in 1942, the 100 Club is identical with punk. Bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols and Oasis have all performed here. These days however, the club leans towards blues, jazz, soul and classic R&B.
Those of you who are interested in a wide range of genres will love The Borderline. Hosting a mix of established and upcoming artists, the club is an intimate venue for rock, metal, indie, blues, country and folk music.
26# Bag Some Sweet Treats At A Bakery
London is a haven for anyone with a sweet tooth. There are countless bakeries all around the city cooking up fresh bread, cakes and pastries – here are some that you simply can’t miss.
Aux Pains de Papy
This rustic French bakery in Bloomsbury is the place to be if you’re looking for traditional, handmade pastries. From crusty baguettes and fresh croissants, to sweet treats like eclairs and bugnes, Aux Pains de Papy is all about old-school French classics.
This Swedish bakery and cafe brings you open sandwiches, meatballs and waffles during the day, and smörrebröd platters and cocktails during the evening. Don’t leave without trying the signature kardemummabullar (cardamom buns).
The Dusty Knuckle Bakery
You can get a wide range of baked goods at the Dusty Knuckle – sourdough and rye loaves, sweet treats, savoury bakes and innovative sandwiches. You can also get soups, toasties and homemade drinks to take on the go.
27# Byob Vietnamese Food On The “Pho Mile”
You may have heard of London’s curry mile located in Bricklane but east London also has another lesser-known mile (which serves some of my favourite food) – the “Pho Mile!”
The Pho Mile is located on Kingsland Road and stretches from Shoreditch High Street station to Hoxton. Here you will discover some of London’s best Vietnamese restaurants.
One of my favourite restaurants is Bunbunbun just near Hoxton station. They are also one of the rare places that allow you to bring BYO! There is a small cover charge for the glasses but still cheaper than buying booze at the venue.
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Nothing beats visuals of incredible places, in this video, I will show you some of the spots highlighted in this article!
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Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.
Tuesday 4th of August 2020
Fabulous Kat I look forward to my next London visit . Thank you
Tuesday 11th of August 2020
Thank you! Let me know if you need any tips!