Yes it is expensive, yes it is crowded and yes it is touristic, but don’t let these thoughts stop you from going on a city trip to the biggest city and capital of Great Britain: London! I will be the first to admit that a couple of areas in the city centre are definitely feeling like an unorganized ant nest, but London has a lot of hidden gems and nature to offer to get away from the crowds to enjoy more quiet and relaxed sceneries so we put together this list of unusual things to do in London for you.
How to get there
London has six! airports and there are multiple airlines with discounts on their flights to London throughout the year, so check Skyscanner every now and then to make sure you’ll get the best offer. Every penny discount on the flight is great, because visiting London will be expensive enough. If you are willing to stay in an affordable Airbnb then check our guide: 15 Cheap Charming Airbnb's in London City Center.
Keep in mind that all the airports are quite far from London city centre and that there is a big chance you’ll get stuck in traffic while getting there. The cheapest way of getting to Central London is going by bus, but there are also trains departing regularly and a taxi is of course always an (expensive) option. By bus it’ll take you around 90 minutes, by train around 30 minutes.
Where to start
Once arrived in Central London there is a lot to explore. Everyone has heard of the best things to do in London like visiting the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Tower Bridge and Piccadilly Circus. These are the biggest touristic attractions in London and the first recommendations you’ll find on the internet if you’re looking for the best places to visit in London.
Although these highlights are a must visit if you travel to London for the first time, they will not show the real beauty of the city in my opinion.
I still enjoy to walk along these famous highlights every time I visit the city, but in this travel blog I also want to tell you about the less touristic hidden gems and therefore I put together this guide of alternative things to do in London.
London City Trip Hotel suggestion
During my last visit I stayed in The Collective Canary Wharf for the nights. This is a hotel with apartments looking over the financial district of London. From here you can easily go anywhere by underground and, the main reason why I choose it, you are a walking distance away from my beloved Greenwich district and of course the amazing view, see the picture above. Other cool London hotel recommendation is the Hilton London Wembley.
Flying into London from overseas to the United Kingdom then don't get stuck with high roaming charges. Get yourself a prepaid sim card for the UK or click here to see where to buy a sim card in London airport.
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Unusual things to do in London
Let’s start with my favorite neighborhood in London: Greenwich. With a big park, the Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark, the Old Royal Naval College and one of the best serene views of London’s skyline, this is the place I’ll always come back to during my city trips to London.
It is a totally different world compared to the crowded city centre and for that the perfect place to escape the hustle and the bustle of the city. Get off the underground at Canary Wharf for a walk through the financial district with skyscrapers, through the old harbor in the Isle of Dogs to Island Gardens where you can cross the Thames by foot via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
This is the view of the London skyline from the Isle of Dogs.
Three completely different surroundings and tourist alternative tourist attractions within just a 40 minutes walk. If you don’t want to walk, you can also take the underground to Cutty Sark directly. You can easily enjoy yourself in Greenwich for hours with plenty of cute cafes and a lot to see by foot.
If you’re in a hurry, I can recommend to walk from Cutty Sark, which is a big old sailing ship through the Old Royal Naval College towards the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park.
The photo above is the view of London city center between the beautiful old buildings of the Old Royal Naval College.
2. Mercato Metropolitano
London is the perfect city trip for food lovers. There are multiple food markets spread over the city. My favorites are the Mercatos. Here you can find delicious fresh made street food from every part of the world. But when visiting the UK...
The Mercato I can recommend the most is Mercato Metropolitano. This one is the biggest with a lot of indoor and outdoor sitting area located in Elephant and Castle, which is also the name of the underground station close by. It has countless places to get food from and there is (live) music during the weekends to enjoy with a drink. You can find a lot of local people here, because it is quite far located from the touristic area of London.
The chic Mayfair district, where another Mercato is located, has beautiful mansions and boutiques to enjoy during a walk. So take your time to not only enjoy the food in the Mercato, but also to fall in love with this beautiful neighborhood.
It is one of the most expensive places to live in the world.
Mercato Mayfair is more beautiful than Metropolitano, but it has a completely different atmosphere, because of this high class neighborhood it’s located. This food market is built in an old church and has a small rooftop terrace. I loved the Asian street food here. Even if you’re not hungry, you have to go inside to see the beauty of the old church details, such as the stained glass.
4. Hyde Park
If you keep heading West during your walk in Mayfair, you’ll find the next unusual hotspot to visit in London. Next to Mayfair is a major park in Central London which you might know for its concerts with the biggest artists in the world: Hyde Park
There is a rose garden, lake Serpentine and enough space to lay in the grass without even noticing other people. Enjoy the sun, have a picnic and relax!
Like I said: the biggest artists in the world are performing here during the summer, such as Adele, Coldplay and Rolling Stones. So check out the events so you can make your city trip to London even more memorable.
The centre of London’s LGBT+ community is the lively area of Soho. This entertainment-centric neighborhood has good nightlife to offer, for example the 1940s-themed cocktail bar Cahoots. Soho is located next to Piccadilly Circus, which is the Time Square of London.
6. Maltby Street Market
Close to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge is the Ropewalk Maltby street market with food stands and breweries. This small street has a picturesque character because of the railway arches and decoration. Definitely a highlight on your city trip if you’re a food lover. Borough Market is also a recommendation I got from my friend who lives in London, but unfortunately this place was closed because of a national holiday during my stay.
7. Natural History Museum
Although this is a well-known museum in London and therefore not really a hidden gem, I have to tell you about the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Together with Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in France and National Museum of Natural history in Washington it has the biggest natural historic collection in the world. It has 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. It is one of the best museums I’ve ever been to where you can enjoy yourself for hours, but I have to admit that the ranking is not the most trustworthy, because I’m a biology teacher back in Holland 😉.
The famous highlights of London are also worth a visit like I mentioned before, especially when it’s your first time in London, but keep in mind that it will be a lot more crowded and focused on tourism than the recommendations I gave you before.
8. The landmarks of London
Walk from Buckingham Palace via St. James’s Park to Westminster Abby with the Big Ben and over the Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. If you’re lucky you’ll see some street artists performing on The Queen’s walk.
The beautiful and relaxing St. James's Park in London above.
The London Dungeon and London Aquarium are also located in this area. These are fun things to do when it’s raining during your visit. With 110 rainy days a year, it is a good thing to think about things to do in London when it rains, just to be prepared!
9. West End Musicals
Piccadilly Circus is the Time Square of London. It doesn’t matter what time you’ll visit: it is always crowded and there is always something going on. In a five minute walk you’ll be at the other famous square: Leicester square. You can find a lot of theaters in this neighborhood where the West End musicals are being performed. I went to the musical Wicked in the Apollo Victoria Theatre, but there is some musical for everyone. It will not be your cheapest night out, but give it a try: it’ll be worth it!
You can add these highlights to the walk I described from Buckingham Palace to the London Eye: Cross the Hungerford Bridge at the London Eye and make a left at Charing Cross Station to get to Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery. Here you can also find London’s smallest police station. From here it’s a one way (heading North) to Leicester square.
10. Tower Bridge Museum
Did you know you can also go inside the Tower Bridge? I didn’t know at first, but I found the entrance by surprise while crossing the bridge. There is a museum inside this bridge where you can discover the stories behind the engineering and the people that built London’s defining landmark. From above you’ll have an amazing view over the Thames and the city, but also of the road beneath your feet, because there is a glass floor you can walk on.
This London travel blog was written by Traveltomtom team member Margot.
I hope all the above tips are helpful for your visit to London! I’m sure there is way much more to explore during a city trip to this big capital of Great Britain, but at least you’ll know where to start now. Thank you so much for reading! May you have any questions please leave us a comment below.