Whoever said you need alcohol to have fun clearly hasn’t been to London. London is filled with things to see and do that you won’t even have time for a pint. To make it easier, I’ve put together a list of things you can do in the city if you want to stay teetotal.
What can you do in London without alcohol? London has a full calendar of exciting events and activities that don’t require alcohol. From cruises down the River Thames to finding vintage treasures at Portobello Road Market, there are plenty of things to keep you busy.
Read on to discover the best things to do in Britain’s capital.
- Take a Walking Tour of London
- Go for a Long Walk
- Watch a Film at an Independent Cinema
- Visit Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- Find Something to Read at Daunt Books
- Learn More About London at a Museum
- Visit a Classic British Tearoom
- Go on a Thames Cruise
- Hunt for Bargains at One of London’s Markets
- Have a Picnic in One of London’s Green Spaces
- Try Your Hand at Bowling or Table Tennis
- Travel Back In Time at the Tower of London
- Explore Chinatown
- Catch a Theatre Show in the West End
- Whip up Something Tasty at a Cookery Class
- Do a Sports Stadium Tour
- Do a London Food Tour
- Attend Festivals
Take a Walking Tour of London
As you probably already know, London is a city full of history and culture. From magnificent old buildings, to edgy, artsy areas, London offers plenty of things to see, and the best way to take it all in is by foot.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – walking around a city the size of London sounds daunting, especially if you’re not familiar with the different areas. Which is why a walking tour is a great idea.
Most companies offer different packages so you can choose which sights and areas you’re most interested in seeing. This way, you don’t have to spend time researching and putting together an itinerary. Plus, you’ll learn a lot of interesting facts about the city from the tour guides.
I’d recommend using Free Tours By Foot. They’re a pay-as-you-feel tour company, and they offer both guided and self-guided tours.
What’s great about them is that as well as offering tours of the main London landmarks like Big Ben and Tower Bridge, they also have tours that let you explore off the beaten track parts of town that you usually wouldn’t see. Some of their most popular options are the graffiti and street art tour, and the Harry Potter tour.
Go for a Long Walk
Continuing the walking theme and getting some more fresh air, look at taking one of London’s scenic walks. From exploring canals to seeing the deer in Richmond park, there is a walk for you.
The London Wall
There is something about soaking up the history and imagining what it was like 1000’s of years ago. The London Wall walk is perfect for this, you explore Roman ruins, Tower of London, Barbican and Museum of London.
It’s 2.5-mile walking around Roman ruins built around in AD200 and what was known as the City of London for 1700 years. During the Second World War most of the wall was torn down but you can find fragments of the wall hidden among the office blocks.
Richmond to Hampton Court Palace
Perfect for those who love nature, it’s an 8-mile walk that is surrounded by trees, water and some stately homes. The path will take you along Richmond riverside, past Petersham Nurseries, Ham House, Marble Hill, Eel Pie Island and end up in Hampton Court Palace.
Capital Ring Road
Challenge yourself with the 15 walks from the capital ring walk which is 78 miles (126KM) through London’s nature reserves and landmarks. Not only do you have something to do for quite a few weekends, but you also get your step count up!
Watch a Film at an Independent Cinema
Forget big name cinema franchises – independent cinemas are where it’s at. You can say goodbye to overcrowded theatres, uncomfortable seats and sticky floors. Independent cinemas are more intimate, have cosy decor, and don’t tend to exclusively show box office films.
London has a great independent cinema scene showing new and old films, classic British films and foreign flicks.
Regent Street Cinema is said to be the birthplace of British cinema. Built-in 1848, this ornate picture house only has 187 seats. It is one of the few cinemas in the UK where you can watch 16mm and 35mm film, as well as 4K film.
It also features exclusive premieres, documentaries and repertory screenings. If you can tear your eyes away from the screen, look up and admire the art deco features and domed ceiling.
Visit Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
If you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Kew Gardens is the perfect place to go. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the world’s most diverse collection of living plants, and you could pretty much spend the whole day getting lost in them.
Kew Gardens has an amazing range of displays, including the Princess of Wales Conservatory with its ten different climate zones; the Orchid Collection and its beautiful colours; and the Carnivorous Plant Collection with its cunning traps.
Kew Gardens is great for visitors of all ages. The Treetop Walkway is a favourite and offers a special view from 18m up into the tree canopy. For a moment of quiet reflection, visit the Japanese Landscape.
Combining a Garden of Peace, a Garden of Activity and a Garden of Harmony, it’s quite easy to forget you’re in London. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a chef, visit the Kitchen Garden to see what fruit and veg is growing, and learn about producing healthy and sustainable food. You can even taste some of the produce, as they are used in Kew’s restaurants.
Find Something to Read at Daunt Books
Daunt Books isn’t just any bookshop. It’s one of London’s prettiest independent bookshops. Opened in 1990 by James Daunt, the flagship store in Marylebone is located in an Edwardian building with a stunning galleried main room complete with oak balconies, a conservatory ceiling and stained glass windows. So as well as browsing for books, you might want to get your camera out.
Although it initially specialised in travel books, it now offers an expansive choice of genres. However, the bookshop has still kept its books arranged by country, no matter what the topic is.
Daunt Books also has branches in Cheapside, Chelsea, Hampstead and Holland Park, but I recommend popping into the Marylebone one for the best experience.
Learn More About London at a Museum
You can’t come to London and not visit at least one of the city’s world-class museums. With fantastic exhibitions, events and vast permanent collections, there are plenty of museums to choose from.
It’s pretty difficult to rank them in terms of top museums, as they each have something different on offer, but here are three that you should definitely visit:
Natural History Museum
With more than 80 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens, the Natural History Museum is one of the most exciting museums in London. Fun fact: some of the specimens on display were collected by Charles Darwin himself.
Get lost in the different zones and meet animatronic dinosaurs, or take an escalator ride down to the centre of the Earth.
The Tate Modern is all things modern and contemporary art from around the world. Right on the bank of the Thames, the former oil-fired power station is home to the works of Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Matisse and Pollock, to name a few.
The building itself is a magnificent piece of architecture, worth visiting in its own right.
Victoria and Albert Museum
This museum is arguably the world’s most glamorous collection of decorative art, design, textiles and fashion. The V&A museum is divided into different sections – fashion, theatre, furniture, architecture – and date back to several hundred years. One of the highlights is Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet.
Visit a Classic British Tearoom
Nothing is more quintessential British than afternoon tea. The tradition is thought to date back as far as 1840 when the Duchess of Bedford declared her love for tea and snacks a few hours before dinner.
Typical afternoon tea snacks include scones, finger sandwiches, crumpets, sausage rolls and copious cups of tea. This tradition quickly became a fashionable social event.
During the Victorian era of the 1880s, women from the upper class echelons of society would don their long gowns, gloves and hats, and head to afternoon tea which was served between four and five o’clock.
But don’t worry, these days you’re not required to wear your best gown, and there are plenty of places in London that you can indulge in afternoon tea. From the traditional classics to quirky twists, there’s something for everyone.
- The Mary Poppins afternoon tea at Aqua Shard,
- The science-themed afternoon at The Ampersand Hotel inspired by the Science Museum,
- Or for a super cliche British experience – the afternoon tea bus tour at B Bakery. Hop aboard a double-decker bus at Victoria, try out all the tea and snacks, and enjoy a guided voiceover tour of London.
Go on a Thames Cruise
I’ve started this list with walking tours of London, but a river cruise is also highly recommended. Some of the best views of the city are from the River Thames, and it’s also a great way to escape the tourist crowds.
There are many types of cruises on offer, from afternoon tea cruises, dinner cruises, sunset cruises, jazz cruises, a speed boat tour, or if you’re not looking for anything fancy – a simple hop-on, hop-off cruise.
For a convenient and affordable option, I recommend taking the Westminster to Greenwich Sightseeing Thames Cruise. This cruise leaves from Westminster Pier every 30 to 40 minutes. As you travel east, you’ll get to spot some of the city’s iconic landmarks, including:
- The Tower of London,
- Tower Bridge;
- and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
When you arrive in Greenwich, you can check out the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Observatory and the Greenwich Market. You can return back on the boat if you like, or catch a train back to central London.
Hunt for Bargains at One of London’s Markets
Markets have been an integral part of London life for hundreds of years. If you enjoy hunting for special finds at markets, then you’ll be spoilt for choice in London. There is such a huge range across the city, from vintage and antique markets to food and farmers markets, to fashion and jewellery markets.
While each one of them offers great bargains, here are the top three that I recommend:
Located near London Bridge, Borough Market is a gourmet’s paradise. The market specialises in top quality food, and you’re bound to find a huge range of delicacies to satisfy your hunger.
Meat, fish, veg, home-baked cakes and bread, oils and condiments – whatever you’re craving, you’ll find it. There’s also a street food section with a great selection of international cuisine. The market is open Monday to Saturday.
Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road Market is thought to be the world’s largest antiques market. It’s located in Notting Hill, known for its charming colourful houses and the set of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts’ Notting Hill.
While you can also buy groceries and household goods here, it’s best known for the selection of antiques with hundreds of stalls selling jewellery, books and collectables dating as far back as the 1600s. While the market is open Monday to Saturday, Saturdays are the best day to find antiques.
Brick Lane Market
Each Sunday, Brick Lane Market comes alive. This East London market is full of antiques, fabrics, arts and crafts, vintage fashion, vinyls, furniture and unique gifts. If you get hungry, there are over 30 street food stalls selling everything from curry, to ribs, to vegan choices.
Brick Lane Market is a fantastic place to come if you don’t quite know what you’re looking for – the sheer unpredictability of what you’ll find is an experience in itself.
Have a Picnic in One of London’s Green Spaces
London can get quite hectic, so sometimes it’s nice to find a quiet space to escape from the traffic and crowds. Luckily, London has plenty of parks and green spaces that you can unwind in.
Once you’ve bought some tasty treats at Borough Market, head to Hyde Park, one of London’s largest Royal Parks. At the bottom of Hyde Park is the Serpentine, the city’s oldest boating lake. Hire a rowing boat and see if you can spot any wildlife, including ducks, swans, coots and tufty-headed grebes.
For a more rural feel, head to Hampstead Heath. This sprawling space makes a contrast to the manicured parks found elsewhere in London. Covering over 790 acres, Hampstead Heath has swimming ponds, playing fields, tennis courts, and tall grass meadows to get lost in.
Head to the south-east part of the park and climb up Parliament Hill for breathtaking views over the city. The wooded areas are protected conservation spaces, and are great if you want to catch a glimpse of some wildlife.
Try Your Hand at Bowling or Table Tennis
A night out doesn’t always have to involve a bar or a club. Games venues are cropping up all over the city, and are really fun places to unleash your inner child.
If you’re visiting in the winter, they’re also a good excuse to spend time indoors. All Star Lanes are a favourite for bowling, and have several branches spread out across the city. Most of their venues are decked out in a retro 50s American style, and they also serve food if you fancy a bite.
Bounce is another popular destination if you want to play ping pong. With two venues in Shoreditch and Farringdon, it’s a fun place to get competitive with your friends.
Bounce has recently launched Wonderball, which is augmented reality, projection mapping, a giant game which takes gaming to the next level. If you get hungry, head to the restaurant for gourmet burgers, pizzas and tacos.
Travel Back In Time at the Tower of London
The Tower of London may have a reputation for blood and torture, but its history is undeniably fascinating and is one of the most visited attractions in the city.
It has served as a royal palace, an armoury, a medieval fortress, a prison and a zoo. The Tower is also home to the Crown Jewels which are still used in royal ceremonies today.
The Tower of London runs tours guided by Beefeaters, who are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower. Traditionally, they are responsible for guarding any prisoners in the Tower and looking after the Crown Jewels.
Today, they’ll guide you through the White Tower, Traitors’ Gate and Tower Green where Anne Boleyn was executed. If you’re there at the right time, you might just catch an event such as the 62-gun salutes and the Ceremony of the Keys.
Chinatown is one of the most colourful and lively pockets of London. Located near Leicester Square and Soho, Chinatown is part of London’s West End. The area started to form in the 1950s, starting with a few Chinese restaurants.
Over the next few decades, other businesses and services made their home here, gradually turning the area into a hub for Chinese and East Asian culture. Chinatown is pedestrianised, so it’s easy to get around on foot.
There is so much to look at in the neighbourhood itself, such as the stone lions, paper lanterns, buildings decorated with Chinese symbols, dragons and the grand, ornamental gate.
You should come here hungry, as the authentic Chinese food is not one to miss. There is a great selection of restaurants, all you can eat buffets, bakeries and supermarkets to choose from. If you fancy something different, you’ll also find other cuisines including Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Japanese.
Catch a Theatre Show in the West End
It would be a crime to come to London and not head to one of West End’s theatres. For hundreds of years, the culture and history of central London have been associated with West End shows.
The very first theatre opened in the West End in 1663 and is still in use today. Over time, more and more theatres opened, and today it is the world’s largest theatre district.
There are all kinds of plays and dramas to suit different tastes, from comedies to musicals to operas to dance productions. Some of the most famous, long-standing plays include:
- The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre,
- The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Wicked at the Apollo Victoria
- and Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre.
However, the theatres in the West End don’t just cater for big shows. There are many venues hosting smaller, more intimate productions and specialise in fringe and experimental theatre, such as the Canal Cafe Theatre and the Gate Theatre.
Whip up Something Tasty at a Cookery Class
It’s often said that the best way to discover a city is through its food. But what if you make that food yourself? When British food is mentioned, you probably think of fish and chips, pies, and Sunday Roast.
But it’s much more than that – British food takes inspiration from different cultures that have made their home in British society. So what’s a better way to learn more about British cuisine than through a cookery class? It doesn’t matter whether you’re a culinary artist or a ready meal type of person – there’s always room for improvement.
There are many cooking schools in London, ranging from budget to expensive, easy to advanced, and vegan to meaty.
A good place to start is at L’atelier des Chefs. With two locations in Oxford Circus and St Paul’s, this cookery school has classes ranging from 30 minutes to four hours. L’atelier des Chefs offer British cooking classes that focus on simple recipes made from quality ingredients. Some of the dishes include perfect roast potatoes, lamb leg steak, roast cod and sticky toffee pudding.
Do a Sports Stadium Tour
If you’re a sports fan, then you’ve come to the right place. London is home to world class sporting events, and football is a favourite. London has five major football teams which are in the English Premier League: Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Crystal Palace FC and West Ham United FC.
Tours are available at any of these stadiums, and they’re pretty comprehensive. Amongst other things, you’ll get to see the players entrance, home and away dressing rooms, head coach’s office, media rooms and the pitch itself. Most stadiums have a museum as well, with interactive games, memorabilia, trophies, kit etc.
If tennis is more your thing, then the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is not one to miss. Go on a 90 minute tour of the grounds and sit in the players’ seats at the Media Centre, come face to face with the Championships Trophies and catch a glimpse of Andy Murray’s outfit from the London 2012 Olympics. The museum’s latest VR technology lets you travel back in time to experience the history of the game.
Do a London Food Tour
Food tours are the perfect way to try some new delicious foods that you may have not discovered yet. Get your chocolate fix at Chocolate Ecstasy, try ethnic and international foods in East London or get some cheesy bits at Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Free London Food Tour
Who doesn’t love a free tour! Strawberry Tours offers a free London Food Tour which takes you around East London from London’s favourite chips to the salted beef bagel at Brick Lane Bagel Bake.
The details: The tour starts at 2pm on Tue, Thu, Sat & Sun and will take approximately 2 hours. More information here.
Love chocolate? Then this tour is for you! Jennifer Earle creates tours with the best chocolate shops, bakeries and gelaterias in London. Their popular tour is Mayfair Chocolate Tour, tasting the classic English fondants (favourite of our Queen 😉), a taste of treats from European countries (Belgium chocolate is incredible!) and maybe a sneaky dessert like Banoffee Pie.
Every tour takes about three hours and you will get to explore different areas of London too.
The details: The Mayfair Chocolate Tour runs from 10am–2pm on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. The cost is £44 per person.
Cheese Tasting at Neal’s Yard Dairy
Neal’s Yard is known as one of London’s prettiest areas and has one of the best-known cheese shop! There are also branches in Covent Garden and Borough Market. They host lots of tasty cheese tasting classes and workshops.
The Dry January tasting is designed to serve as a light meal with 6-8 kinds of cheese with a sample of 3-4 soft drinks. The idea is to give you an introduction to pairing cheese with non-alcoholic beverages plus all the accompaniments.
The details: All the events can be found on their website and generally around £40.
There are so many fantastic festivals that take place in London each year, attending one will be a great way to spend your time. You will get to meet new people (both local and tourist), what is more, you also get to experience the festival culture in London.
Some ideas to look into; London Restaurant Festival, London’s Coffee Festival, BBC Proms in the Park, Underbelly Festival in South Bank or British Summer Time Hyde Park.
Whether you don’t drink at all, or you’re just participating in Dry January, there is plenty to do in London that doesn’t involve alcohol. Even on a night out, there’s a huge range of activities where you don’t need to step foot in a bar. London is packed with history and culture, and it’s virtually impossible to run out of things to do. With that being said, pick an activity and get exploring!