10 Non-Touristy Things To Do In London

Explore London's hidden gems.
PHOTO: Instagram/inayulo

Do you already know that Big Ben is the name of the bell and not the actual clock near the Palace of Westminster? Does the thought of going round and round on the London Eye make you dizzy? Are you tired of fighting through the crowds at Portobello Road (don’t get us started on trying to find the famous blue door from the movie Notting Hill)?

If you can say yes to any of these, don’t worry. We’ve put together a list of places and things to do in good ‘ol Londontown that will take you off the beaten path and far away from Madame Tussauds.

The London Fire Walk

The Great Fire of London in 1666 was the most catastrophic single event which drastically changed the city’s infrastructure. Aside from destroying houses, churches, and the Royal Exchange, the blaze also rendered over 87% of London’s citizens homeless.

Join this walk where you’ll follow the Path of Fire to get an understanding of the city’s history and see some stellar pieces of architecture—like the Monument, which commemorates the devastating fire—along the way. Tickets cost P615 for adults and P430 for students.

Street Feast markets

While the Borough and Brick Lane markets may have been catalysts in securing London’s spot as one of the top food hubs in the world, it’s the new kids on the block who are really taking things to the next level.

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The team down at Street Feast has opened a number of successful night markets and street food arenas around the city, which host a variety of hip and unique food vendors like Yum Bun, White Men Can’t Jerk, and Rum Shack. Their markets are spread out across the city with Dinerama in Shoreditch, Hawker House in Canada Water, Model Market in Lewisham, and their newest opening, Giant Robot in Canary Wharf.

Step foot in a musical mecca

What do Adele, Ed Sheeran, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix have in common? Aside from being musical geniuses, they all performed at The Troubadour in West London. This wonderful little haunt still has nightly live shows hosting local talent as well as international stars who are passing through London. Book tickets for a show or just pop into the pub for a delicious meal. It even has its own beer garden at the back where, weather permitting, you can enjoy a glass of rosé in the sunshine.

Explore an artist’s paradise

Sitting right in the City of London, the Barbican Centre is a performing arts venue, which is also home to a conservatory, restaurants, a library, and a housing complex. Its Brutalist architecture got it voted “London’s ugliest building,” though the verdict is controversial as many Londoners love coming to the Barbican Centre to relax, read, or fuel their artistic juices.

During a visit to the center, you can expect to see people drawing, painting, or conducting photo shoots with the building’s unique aesthetic providing for an interesting backdrop.

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Go on a canal walk

While Venice and Amsterdam may be the first cities that come to mind when you think about canals, the UK’s Canal & River Trust is an organization that has worked hard to allow London’s visitors to explore the city via its riverside walkways. From easy strolls to more intense hikes, there’s definitely a canal walk for you.

One of the best ones is the Regent’s Canal walk, which takes you past Camden’s kitschy markets to the multi-colored houseboats stationed at Little Venice.

Join a pub quiz

In London with a group? Sign up for one of London’s many pub quizzes and see Brits and foreigners alike let loose and get competitive. Pub quizzes are not only a great way to have some lighthearted fun and get to know people, but it’s also a fantastic excuse to down a pint (or three) at a drinking spot local to the area.

You’ll be spoiled for choice with general knowledge quizzes like those at the Island Queen in Islington, or perhaps you’d like to test your singing skills at the monthly Sounds Familiar Music Quiz at Jerusalem Bar & Kitchen in Fitzrovia.

Make new furry friends 

Many Londoners don’t even know this exists, so stay one step ahead and enjoy a day out with some cuddly critters. The Stepney City Farm is a working farm, which has a café where you can sample their own produce, a regular farmer’s market where you can take some goodies home, and of course a menagerie of livestock for you to feed and play with.

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Frolic in the park 

While that other stretch of land that houses William, Kate, and Harry may get more attention, there is another park on our list that we’d recommend when there are just too many sunbathers and dog walkers in Hyde Park. Nestled near Notting Hill, Holland Park is a smaller and more intimate place where you can go for a stroll or have a picnic with friends. Along with the peaceful Kyoto and Fukushima Memorial gardens, you’ll also find a playground, giant chess set, and even peacocks, which regularly roam the grounds.

Get romantic

Started in 1890 by wine merchant Angus Gordon, Gordon’s has the privilege of holding the title as London’s oldest wine bar. Tucked away in a small section of the Embankment, its dark interiors and stonewalls give it a real romantic yet slightly spooky vibe. Go crazy with their extensive wine list and don’t forget to grab yourself a cheese board with a generous helping of freshly baked bread. If you’re feeling a little cramped inside, grab yourself a seat out on their terrace and take in the sights and sounds of the nearby river Thames.

See the city from new heights

It’s no secret that the London skyline is one of the most beautiful in the world. From the spherical Gherkin building to the majestic dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a panoramic view of the city is simply breathtaking. Many people opt to buy tickets to get to the top of The Shard to see this, but what good is that when you won’t be able to see the intricate spire-like building itself?

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Frank’s Café is a pop-up rooftop bar that opens in the summertime. Standing on top of a multi-story parking lot in Peckham, there’s nothing blocking you from getting a panoramic view of far-off Central London. Cocktails are expertly made and there’s often BBQ being served for those looking for something to munch on.

A favorite of the suited bankers who work in the City, Madison is a Manhattan-type bar and restaurant on the sixth floor of the One New Change mall. With its hand-blown glass chandeliers and sleek, modern design, it’s no wonder that people flock to Madison all year-round. Because of its proximity to St. Paul’s Cathedral, visitors can get a magnificent view of one of London’s most symbolic landmarks while sipping on champagne.

In the summer, the venue hosts viewings of the Wimbledon tournament on a big screen and busts out a bunch of lawn chairs where patrons can relax and have their lunch or a glass of Pimm’s.

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