Non-Touristy Things to Do in London
Looking to live like a local during your next visit to London? Do you want to get off the beaten track and meet real Londoners? It’s not hard once you know where to go! Here are some of what we think are the best non-touristy things to do in London to help you get off the beaten track and explore London like a local. (Speaking of locals…we’re always prepared for rain! So don’t forget to bring an umbrella! I like this windproof one from Repel.)
Visit the Sky Garden
Sky Garden is one of our favorite bird’s eye views in London, it’s FREE and it’s got amazing views of the city. What more could you ask for? Though it is gratis admission, you still have to get tickets online which aren’t released until a week in advance. This is why there are so many locals who still visit because the tickets are so difficult to score.
The 3-storey tall observation deck with a botanical garden is located on the top of 20 Fenchurch Street which is also known affectionately as the “Walkie-Talkie.” The building is 525ft (~160m) tall and you can get an amazing view of London from the top. The observation deck even has decals on the windows telling you which buildings are within view for easy finding. Because of its location, Sky Garden is popular with local office workers because it’s one of the best non-touristy things to do in London. Also, it’s just one of the best ways to get sky-high views at no-cost! (If you’re looking for a more traditional “view from the top” experience, definitely buy tickets to View from the Shard! That’s the tall triangular building you can see in the photo above.) By Constance, The Adventures of Panda Bear.
Check out Frank’s Cafe in Peckham
Frank’s Cafe is off the beaten track for London tourists, but it’s a summertime favourite for locals. This rooftop bar is slightly rough around the edges, and is based on the top of a multi-storey car park in Peckham. You have to climb a lot of stairs up through the car park to get there, but on the bright side the stairwell is painted bright pink and is something of an Instagram icon.
The views of London’s skyline are pretty spectacular, especially at sunset. The area isn’t somewhere travelers usually venture, because it’s a little outside of central London, but it’s actually a great place to visit to get a taste of local London life. Frank’s does great brunch food and bar snacks, with mains like brown sugar hot wings or roasted cauliflower with zhug. But they’re better known for sundowner beers and cocktails, especially Italian cocktails like negronis and Aperol spritzes. Apparently it used to be called Frank’s Campari Bar.
Frank’s closes during the winter (you wouldn’t want to hang out on a rooftop in London in January anyway) so check before you go. By Maire, Temples and Treehouses.
Visit the World’s Largest Collection of Neon Signs
I’m not joking. God’s Own Junkyard proudly proclaims itself to be the world’s largest collection of neon signs. It’s great for photo opportunities and there’s even a little cafe in the back with cakes and coffees. There’s also the Wild Card brewery bar if you fancy something stronger on the weekends. It’s a bit of a walk from Walthamstow Central tube but definitely worth a visit if you are looking for non-touristy things to do in London. Please check the store hours though as they seem to change a bit.
Hang Out on Primrose Hill
Head to Primrose Hill for some of the best views of London and a fun London neighbourhood to explore. It’s also one of the loveliest non-touristy things to do in London on a beautiful sunny day. One of six protected viewpoints in London, from the peak of Primrose Hill there are sweeping views of the city to the south. On a clear day you can see the London Eye, The Shard, and BT Tower in the distance.Take a picnic there on a sunny day and join Londoners enjoying one of their favourite neighbourhoods, famous for its colourful houses and resident celebrities. You’ll definitely feel like a local as you experience one of the most non-touristy things to do in London.
When you have finished admiring the views, wander down the hill until you reach the Regent’s Canal. From there, it is a short stroll to the markets and bars of Camden Town. The nearest tube stations to Primrose Hill are Chalk Farm and Swiss Cottage. If you’d like to explore Primrose Hill (and nearby Camden) with a local, you might be interested in this private walking tour of Primrose Hill and Camden with a local. By Katy, Untold Morsels.
BYOB Vietnamese Food on the “Pho Mile”
Kingsland Road, north of where Shoreditch High Street and Old Street meet, has a bunch of great Vietnamese restaurants that are popular with the after work city crowd. On the weekends, it’s the “before the clubs” crowd. Because Kingsland Road isn’t really convenient to most London visitors, it’s one of the more non-touristy things to do in London, You are more likely to see a lot of locals and city workers enjoying a night out. (That being said, one excellent nearby museum is The Geffrye if you want to squeeze in something touristy!) Many of the restaurants (but not all) are BYOB. Most don’t even charge corkage. I’ve tried a bunch and like Tay Do and Mien Tay a lot but follow the crowds and you will find a great place. (Song Que is probably my favorite and one of the busiest but it’s not BYOB.) There are a few small supermarkets on the street where you can pick up some wine or beer to go with your meal. Kingsland Road is also a great stop after visiting Columbia Road flower market on Sundays.
Visit Highgate Cemetery
If you’re into Gothic architecture and beautiful creepy stuff, take a trip up to Highgate Cemetery where you can visit the grave of Karl Marx. Highgate Cemetery’s philosophy is one of managed neglect, which gives it quite a spooky air. There are quite a few famous people besides Marx buried here…Douglas Adams, for instance, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. Check out the cemetery’s website for more on who is buried here. There are two sides to the cemetery: west and east. It is easier to get a tour of the west side but there are also limited tours of the east side. This is one of the more interesting and educational non-touristy things to do in London. You will not feel like you are in the city at all! Yes, it’s a tour but most tourists don’t know about it!
Take a London Walk
London is one of the best cities for walking in the entire world. The sidewalks are plentiful and there’s lots of green space and hidden pubs and shops everywhere you turn. Also, most corners have pedestrian signals or zebra crossings to help you get across the street. So in my mind, one of the best non-touristy things to do in London is to act like a local and TAKE A WALK. There are plenty of guidebooks to help you map out a great walk or just set off on your own with Google maps. You will find something wonderful, I promise.
Head to Whitecross Street Market for Lunch during the Week
Monday through Friday, Whitecross Street is bursting with all sorts of food stalls, catering to every food whim of the city worker. Whitecross Street is very convenient to Old Street tube station which is also known as the Silicon Roundabout given all the startups and internet companies in the ‘hood. The market gets going around 12 noon and is pretty much wrapped up by 2:30 or 3 pm so make sure you get there in time. Hoxton Beach serves up some great falafel wraps (usually on the west side of Whitecross Street) and Luardos with its distinct turquoise van turns out a mean burrito. Whitecross Street is one of those perfect non-touristy things to do in London because you’ll experience how real Londoners spend their lunch break. The area is also home to some great street art so keep a lookout as you walk around. Note if you’re thirsty, The Two Brewers pub will let you bring in food from the market as long as you buy beer but the pub gets pretty busy during peak hours so either get there early or late to reserve a table. There’s a small park on the same road as The Two Brewers, Fortune Street, if you want to make a picnic of things. Note the market is closed on weekends!
Take a Street Art Tour of Shoreditch or Camden
Speaking of street art, every week, new street art pops up around London. A street art tour is a great way to explore neighborhoods of London that you wouldn’t otherwise and learn about the artists working in the area. You’ll end up being able to identify street artists all over town — Shoreditch and Camden are hot spots for street art — which is why we have it on our list of the best non-touristy things to do in London. There are a few different options to choose from…
Bike around Richmond Park
When I lived in London, one of my favourite things to do was take my bike and ride around Richmond Park. It’s one of London’s eight Royal Parks and covers 2,500 acres of grassland and woodland. I think it’s the best place in London for feeling like you’re in the countryside: the wide open spaces and deer herds are a big part of that.
Throughout the week, but particularly at weekends, Richmond Park’s 6.7 mile (10.8 km) perimeter road is a mecca for road cyclists. It includes a couple of climbs, including one steep one. The speed limit is 20mph and traffic is generally low, so it’s a great place to ride. If you want to get a taste of how athletic Londoners spend their leisure time, this is the way to do it! By Clare Dewy, Epic Road Rides. Note if you are interested in bike tours of London, there are quite a few to choose from!
Explore Victoria Park and Enjoy Sunday Lunch
Victoria Park in Hackney is a magnificent award-winning park in London’s east end that was opened in 1845. It’s a very local part of town, and one of my favorite non-touristy things to do in London. There’s a lake, gardens, playgrounds and plenty of walks, you can even play cricket there in the summer. I remember going on family picnics there as a child, though these days I’m more inclined to seek out a great pub for a wicked Sunday lunch.
The Royal Inn on the park is an imposing Victorian-era building. Sunday lunch is great there, though booking is advised. There are lots of other good pubs in the area of the park but I like this pub in particular as it overlooks the park. So it’s just a short stroll to the park to walk off your Sunday roast! By Melanie Hayes from Passport Amigo.
Get to Know Clapham Common
Back in 2013 I lived in London for 4 months in what apparently was the most beautiful summer in 7 years. I put my time to excellent use and thoroughly explored London. But my favorite area wasn’t the busy city center, it was the lovely neighborhood I lived in: Clapham Common.
Located in Southwest London just 15 minutes from Waterloo, Clapham Common is a popular place to live. What I loved most about Clapham is how lively it is. There are lots of restaurants and bars, an independent art house cinema, the best ice-cream parlor of London, cute boutique stores and a large triangular park that’s always busy when the sun is out. During summer there are several festivals in Clapham — the biggest one is SW4 where international DJs know how to please the crowds during a 2-day party. In conclusion, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Clapham! Just hop on the Northern Line and disembark at Clapham Common station. Enjoy! By Lotte Eschbach, Phenomenal Globe.
Do It for the ‘Gram at Mayfield Farm Lavender Fields
The lavender fields at Mayfield look just like Provence, but are located just 15 miles from central London. Entry to the farm costs £1, and you can wander through the lavender fields and shop for lavender products at the farm shop. They sell lavender essential oils, soaps and syrup made from the organic lavender grown here. The attached cafe sells tea, cakes and more, and many of the products are infused with lavender. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. By Caitlin Galer-Unti, The Vegan Word.
Hang Out at Maltby Street Market
Everyone knows Borough Market, but it’s mostly Londoners that know about Maltby Street Market. This is a narrow pedestrian area chock full of restaurants and bars underneath the railway arches midway between London Bridge and Bermondsey tube stations. During the week, the railway arches store antique floorboards and similar material for building works. But on the weekends, pop-up restaurants and bars move in to these same spaces! Don’t get me wrong — while this is definitely one of the more non-touristy things to do in London, it will definitely be pretty crowded! Maltby Street is open on Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. By Krista, Passportdelicious.com.
Experience Live Music in Camden
London has always been at the forefront of all types of music from rock, to punk, to techno and grime and one of the best places to see live music in London is in Camden Town.
Camden is weird, whimsical and wonderful, the perfect concoction for a great music scene to thrive. For years it has been the local hangout for up and coming bands like the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Oasis and Amy Winehouse. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to catch some of your favourite acts at places like Koko’s or the Roundhouse. Otherwise take a walk down Parkway and pick a pub, chances are they’ll have some live music and you’ll have a great time. By Julian from Travatravel.com. Trava is a travel planning app.
Explore Battersea Park
Battersea Park is an unexpected oasis right on the banks of the Thames. When we travelled to London with our toddler, we had to balance visiting attractions with time to chill out and let him run around. Finding Battersea Park, just a few blocks from our Airbnb, was a huge relief.
There are cafes, a mini zoo, a boating lake, playgrounds and great wide open spaces for enjoying sunny London days. The park is huge, 200 acres to be exact. It’s so big that hiring a bike is the best way to see it all. If you do, make sure you visit the Peace Pagoda which sits on the walkway along the Thames. Constructed in 1985 by the nuns and monks of the Japanese Buddhist movement, Nipponzan Myohoji, the Peace Pagoda is maintained by a single monk who lives in a temple that was once a storeroom, inside the park. Battersea Park is one of the most lovely non-touristy things to do in London. By Emma Healy, Money Can Buy Me Happiness.
Visit London Gin Distillery Sipsmith
Head out to Chiswick for a tour of London gin distillery, Sipsmith. A very local gin, making it one of those very local non-touristy things to do in London. Tutored tastings are held on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 6.30pm – 8.00pm or selected Fridays from 4.30pm – 6.00pm. You’ll be greeted with a ginny tipple, and be taken through the chequered history of gin and learn how Sipsmith came into existence. (You’ll get to try a few different gins as well!) On Tuesday nights, they also host gin supper clubs at a local restaurant. You can read more on the Sipsmith website and sign up! By Krista
Drink Beer on The Bermondsey Beer Mile
The Bermondsey Beer Mile, a cluster of breweries just east of London Bridge where you can easily walk from one brewery to the next — 10 breweries in total at last count — making it one of the most , um, alcoholic non-touristy things to do in London! Saturday is the best day of the week to do this because that’s when most of the breweries are open. I personally recommend starting early around 11 am to avoid the crowds. And start as far east as possible, at Four Pure in Bermondsey (opens at 11 am on Saturdays), before walking back towards London Bridge Station and ending at Southwark Brewing Company. One idea is to combine this with Maltby Street Market so you can have some food too! Note if you are into beer and looking for non-touristy things to do in London, there are a couple of really great small group beer tours in London that you should check out.
Go for a Run in Regent’s Park
After all that beer drinking in Bermondsey, you’ll need to run it off. To me, there’s no more beautiful place to go running and feel like a local than Regent’s Park. Sure, Hyde Park is nice too by Regent’s Park feels prettier and more intimate. There are more flowers and birds and all different separate sections. So if you’re into running and looking for non-touristy things to do in London, strap on your running shoes and head to Baker Street tube (or Regent’s Park tube). Head north from the tube exits and get running! Afterwards, you can head to Marylebone for lunch with the posh crowd.
Take a Walk along London’s Canals
And finally, a great everyday, non-touristy thing to do in London is to walk or cycle the canals and waterways. Whether en route to work, school or activities, they are great connecting walkways which take you off the busy roads. The canals weave through the ever-changing landscape of London, from almost industrial to scenic peaceful patches. One of my favourite sections is the East London section of Regent’s Canal between Hackney to Mile End. You can join the canal near Hoxton, go past Broadway Market and walk towards leafy Victoria Park. Then either branch off on to the Hertford Union Canal which takes you towards the Olympic Park and arty Hackney Wick or stay on Regent’s Canal through Mile End Park. Along the way, you can see working locks, houseboats with curious names, and graffiti art. If you are lucky, you might also catch boats hosting book sales or coffee shops on weekends! By Angela from Reading Inspiration
Summary of Non-Touristy Things to Do in London
We hope this list of non-touristy things to do in London has really helped you plan your visit! Enjoy your time in this amazing city than many of us call home. If you have other suggestions for non-touristy things to do in London, please comment below!
Touristy Things to Do in London
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