Alright, here’s the problem.
I am getting pretttttty bored with “things to do in London” lists.
Not my own, obviously, no one’s ever bored with their own lists. Cards on the table, make no mistake: I am 10/10, 99.9% always up for hearing more of whatever it is I’ve got to say.
But jesus, it’s rough out there. It’s all reviews of comped meals, press trips, and entirely serious write ups of luxury hotels, something I tried very hard to do with a straight face and failed. I mean, who’s actually paying to do all this stuff? Who’s going to these pop-ups on their own terms? Time Out wants me to go basket weaving, someone else is bigging up breakfast at the Wolsey and afternoon tea at the Ritz.
Guys. Come on.
We’re in this beautiful, weird, stupid, expensive, ugly, graffitied, Victorian-terraced, high rise, opulent, ornate, Georgian, glass-fronted, gilded, domed, Roman-walled city.
Aside from some exceptions (big up the very few blogs I still read and comment on), I can’t find many people writing about actual every day life here, and the realistic stuff you’re actually likely to do.
But everyone always says you should write what you want to read: so here we go. Here are some completely normal, average, achievable, nothing special and mostly free things that I like doing in my spare time.
You do you. I’ll do me.
1. Park yourself and your mates in Granary Square
Everyone can get there because it’s bang near Kings Cross, there’s a lot of seating (and shade if it’s hot). They’ve just opened Coal Drops Yard if you want to wander about and try and spot where Bagleys nightclub used to be. Kids and dogs can faff about in the fountains, and if it starts raining, you can go to Caravan.
2. Make your way along Camden Passage up to the Camden Head
Come out of Angel Station, walk straight. Keep right instead of walking on Upper Street. Here be local independent shops, antique stalls, cafes, a slightly hidden pub (with a beer garden and comedy club) all in need of your support and cash.
3. See cool science stuff in the Wellcome Collection
I have never once been disappointed with this place. Once I saw actual real life brains. It’s always free, sometimes there’s a queue on Saturdays for the main exhibit, but in the week it’s usually quiet. Also, great cafe.
4. Look at whales and dinosaur bones in the Natural History Museum
Yep, I’m recommending the NHM even though it’s touristy because they’ve got whales. Follow this advice, and go to the Queens Gate entrance. Be there when it opens and not a moment later. Good for a day off work.
5. Go find the dead people in the British Museum
Literally: go into the British Museum. Find the Egyptian mummies. Photograph the main hall. Leave the British Museum (via the gift shop).
6. Walk, drive, bike or horse ride around Richmond Park
If you want to gallop around on horses, I recommend Stag Lodge stables. Otherwise just bring your adult scooter. Or feet. Whatever. It’s like going to Wales or some other part of the country with lots of grass. There will be deer.
7. Watch an extremely good documentary
The tiny Bertha Dochouse screening room at the Curzon in Bloomsbury only shows documentaries, and there aren’t many seats. Which means fewer people to annoy you with popcorn noises. Plus films are £5 before 5pm, Monday to Thursday.
8. Play ping pong or darts near Farringdon
You could go to Bounce, or you could go to Old China Hand where it’s £1 to hire a bat and balls (they also have board games). I’d go to the pub.
9. Hire a bike and take it for a ride around London
Old favourite Santandier bikes or pick up one of the dockless bike shares which seem to be hanging around everywhere at the moment. TFL’s got a list of suggested “leisure routes” to get you started. Pretty sure Old Street roundabout isn’t one of them.
10. Have a nice cup of tea somewhere that isn’t the pub
Yum Chaa in Soho is an excellent chill spot if you really like good tea. It’s open in the evenings. I can also recommend the cake. Here’s more places that aren’t pubs.
11. Book an indoor tennis court at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre
Indoor courts are gold dust around this city. It’ll cost about £25 for an hour. But if it’s not raining, book an outdoor one. They’ll supply the racket and balls, membership is free. All you need is a friend.
12. Walk from Victoria Park to Camden along the Regent’s Canal
Or any stretch of the Regent’s Canal, really. There are gazillions of places to just stop and eat along there. You’ll have to go up to street level for a bit at Angel though.
13. Have a nice long boozy lunch or daytime dinner at Dishoom
Oh god, Dishoom. Best place ever. The best time to avoid the queues is in the middle of the day, or turn up bang on 6pm. East India gimlets and Black Daal are GO.
14. Wander along the Barbican High Walk and see Roman ruins
Hi, this is your daily reminder that this city is OLD and most of it isn’t in a museum yet. It’s just there, on the street, waiting for your camera phone. Someone’s even put together a guided tour with maps and routes.
15. Harass dogs on Hampstead Heath
…then once you’ve done that, get a cuppa tea and eat cake at in the cafe at Kenwood House.
16. See the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace park
Yeah, you heard. Dinosaurs.
17. Have a chilled pint right on the Thames in Limehouse
The Grapes in Limehouse is probably one of my favourite pubs, this ^ is the view from the little wooden terrace. It’s mega old, proper local, and they do a good fish and chips. Go at sunset, Instagram the shit out of the Antony Gormley Sculpture.
18. Find yourself a good travel book in Daunt
Straight to the Marylebone High Street branch, folks. It’s this Edwardian wooden book cave that specialises in travel books. The staff are very good. Plus, if you don’t have a Daunt book bag yet, are you really a Londoner? And while you’re there…
19. Cafe-hop along Marylebone High Street
Shop ‘n’ walk along the quieter, posh alternative to Oxford Street. Then go find The Gunmakers and have a pint.
20. Watch a film in a big armchair (with wine) in the Electric Cinema, Portobello Road
There are probably lots of cinemas with sofas, but this is by far the best one I’ve been in. It’s not that cheap, but it’s worth it. Ask yourself: is a cinema really a cinema if it doesn’t have a bar at the back?
21. Befriend pigs and donkeys at a city farm
Lower your expectations because, you know, this isn’t Yorkshire. But there’s city farms in Mudchute, Stepney, Spitalfields, Hackney Road, Surrey Docks, and Kentish Town. And yeh, I suppose you could bring your kids.
22. Read your book in a massive greenhouse at the Barbican Centre
See if you can find the terrapins, I have one in my bag. The Barbican’s just generally a good spot if you’re bored: there’s free wifi, cafes, exhibitions, a library, a massive greenhouse (open on Sundays) and a cinema.
23. Have a quick peek and a drink in Wilton’s Music Hall
God, this is just an insanely beautiful restored building with theatre shows, and the added bonus of a very decent cocktail bar.
24. Demolish a steaming hot bowl of ramen in Soho
The original Bone Daddies in Peter Street is my weekend go-to. The food comes quickly, you won’t queue long if it’s outside of main dinner or lunch times, and communal tables are extra good if you’re rolling solo. They’ll supply the bibs.
25. Spend an hour looking at excellent photography
The Photographer’s Gallery was London’s first – and it’s got exhibitions across three floors. You’ll find it just off Oxford Street which is good if you were like “hey let’s go shopping” and instantly regretted it. There’s free entry before 12pm.
26. Read the slightly depressing plaques in Postman’s Park
Has anyone not been to this pretty well known but quiet and contemplative little corner of the City, where there’s a wall documenting people who died saving others? Probably not, but you could always go back.
27. Go bowling in Queensway or Finsbury Park
Sod All Star Lanes, it’s bloody extortionate. The cheapy bowling alleys are this one in Queensway, and Rowan’s in Finsbury Park. Although if you’re central, Bloomsbury Lanes is good if you’re a group of 6.
28. Get an excellent view of London from Ally Pally
That’s Alexandra Palace, for the non-believers. While we’re on the subject, Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill are also worth the climb.
29. See a beautiful Japanese garden in Holland Park
It’s basically like going to Kyoto but without the bullet train.
30. Go find something to do in the Olympic Park
Hey guys, guess what, we’ve got a park with a massive swimming pool, a mountain bike course, loads of walking tracks, white water rafting, and a velodrome where you can just go and sit and watch the cycling and have a coffee. Just FYI.
31. Look around the free exhibitions at the British Library
The BL always has some pretty interesting free exhibitions downstairs, there’s also space just to sit quietly and have a cuppa in the foyer. If you’re a member, try ordering up some crazy old books in the reading rooms.
32. Say hi to a giraffe without actually going into London Zoo
Walk around to the north end of Regent’s Park by the canal, and as well as multiple and many dogs, ye shall also be rewarded with long necked horses, peeking over the fence.
33. Saunter down Roupell Street in Waterloo
…aka the most London-looking street in London. It’s a beaut. Don’t even think about not sauntering. This road was made to saunter along, like a Victorian gent.
34. Drink in a maze-like pub in Finsbury Park
The garden at the Faltering Fullback has levels. Literally.
35. Stay in bed and watch Netflix
Mate, you work hard. You pay good money for that bed. Stay exactly where you are. You deserve it.
I’ll keep adding to this, but if you often find yourself doing something completely normal and having a nice time, and it’s something I could actually go to as well, then add it in the comments down there.
You can also sign up to my newsletter, where I’ll literally send you entirely achievable things to do every weekend, for free, because that’s the kind of good person I am.
Holy cow, this stuff is like a goldmine to me. I’m hoping to be back in London in a month or so, for the first time in a couple of years, and most of these are exactly the kind of things I love to do most. So many of the “enjoy a place like a local” pieces just don’t do it for me, and they certainly don’t have nearly this long a list.
After a few quick trips just to visit my other happy places, I’m thinking of maybe spending a full month in London. So I can just take my time and go down the list as I please. Thanks *so* very much for taking the time to put this together, because I know what kind of effort it takes, and though I’ve been to London many times, this is going to be a game changer for me. Seriously, much appreciated.
She Loves London says
Hi Rebecca, I’m so glad it’s useful! I also couldn’t find anything that seemed realistic (and you don’t have to book tickets / ahead for) and I live here, so I reckon it’s pretty impossible for newbies. I’m planning on doing some more area specific lists for the places I know because this one seemed quite well received so check back. And enjoy London and the list while you’re here 🙂
Yes, yes! Just had my second trip to London in two years, travelling from wintery Melbourne to almost-as-wintery England. Your list is fabulous and on-target for visitors wanting to have that ‘local’ experience rather than the touristy experience, as well as for regular Londoners. Granary Square (and Dishoom) was my new experience this trip – who knew there was life behind Kings Cross Station?
I also booked (free) tickets to the V&A’s behind the scenes tour of the conservation studios which sounded fantastic. But we never made it so I can’t tell you if it actually was. Instead we had the ‘other’ London experience: a bomb threat at St Pancras (just as we entered), followed by an expensive cab ride across London, arriving 20 minutes late due to road closures to accommodate the arrival of the King and Queen of Spain at Buckingham Palace! The kind folk at the V&A got us in to the Balenciaga exhibition to make up for it.
For the literary visitor or local, there is also fun to be had in just walking around the Bloomsbury area (Virginia Woolf, et al) and visiting local book shops such as Skoob and my favourite, Persephone Books.
Thanks for the list, and I love your blog (and writing!)
She Loves London says
Your trip (bomb scare, visiting royals and all) sounds very London – I had no idea the v&a did free tours either, thanks for the tip. Also thank you for reading the blog, I’m glad you like it! If you liked Bloomsbury, you might like this post: big fan of Persephone books 🙂 http://sheloveslondon.com/the-good-bits-of-london-bloomsbury/
Great post, loads of great stuff to do here! Electric Cinema is a good shout, there’s always something going on. Similarly, the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square has a lot of seasonal events and celebrations of film.
She Loves London says
Yeaaah! I love the Prince Charles. They do really good events, can recommend the Swear Alongs in particular.
Grace Mears says
Perfect for me. Thank you
Sally Hirst says
Oh thank you., thank you.
Just what I needed.
Please do your thing, it’s definitely my thing.
I am grateful.
Grace Mears says
Love what you do. Perfect for me as I am a useless planner. Thank you for putting the work in.
She Loves London says
You’re welcome, Grace! Glad it’s useful.