London is an epic city, one of the all-time greats. It’s a city where you could spend years exploring and never do the same activity twice. Yet, many of us as travellers rarely spend more than a few days at a time here. If you’re like most visitors to London you’ll probably only have a few short days to take in all you can.
Though our initial plan was to put together a nice packaged London itinerary for you, we decided against it. A simple google search will yield you hundreds of such posts. Instead, we’re going to give you a few alternative options to a London itinerary you may already have. Supplements if you will.
Maybe you’ve been to Londontown a few times, and are looking for something new. Perhaps you just don’t care to spend an entire day looking at old buildings – as marvellous as they may be. Some of the classic sights are definitely worth a visit. The V&A is an outstanding museum, Tower Bridge and Big Ben are iconic and unmissable. Some of the rest, however, you could skip.
Buckingham Palace? Not that impressive. The London Eye? It’s an overpriced ferris wheel. Piccadilly Circus? It’s literally an intersection.
If you’re looking for a few simple alternatives to to the classics, here you are. These are a few of the things we love to do while visiting London
Ok, so this one might already be part of your itinerary. It is a bit of a tourist spot these days, but an absolute must if you’re into food at all. As chefs, Borough Market is one of our absolute favourite spots and we stop in every time we’re in town.
The market itself, in one form or another, dates back almost 1000 years. It’s also one of the largest in all London. Inside the main building, you’ll find many shops and stalls selling food of all types. With a vast selection of superb seafood, cured meats and fresh truffles, it’s a food-lovers paradise. That said, most visitors – both tourists and locals alike – usually stop in here for a quick lunch.
Grab a snack from any one of the dozens of carts selling cuisines from around the globe. You’ll find everything from Spanish paella and Thai curries, to veggie specialties from Ethiopia.
May I suggest the meat pies from Pieminister, possibly the best pie company in the country!
- Where: A couple of blocks south of London bridge. his is an easy visit while you’re checking out Tower Bridge or the HMS Belfast.
- Closest Tube Station: London Bridge
- Cost: Free to enter, just bring some money for food!
Brick Lane Graffiti Tour
East London is well-known for its stellar street art scene. If you’re a fan of graffiti (and why wouldn’t you be?), you need to make your way to Brick Lane. Artists from across London and the globe have shared their talents in this popular spot. You’ll encounter all types of art, from colourful murals, cheeky posters and funky sculptures.
Now, it’s certainly possible to wander Brick Lane on your own, we recommend spending some time here. As far as street art is concerned, we highly recommend taking a tour like the one we did through Triple.co. As guides are often well-connected to the scene itself, the knowledge they bring makes the experience much more profound.
Street Art fan? We have a whole post on the Best Street Art cities of the world!
- Where: In Shoreditch, a 20-minute walk north of Tower Bridge.
- Closest Tube Station: Liverpool Street
- Cost: £20 per person
Even if you aren’t able to make the graffiti tour, Brick Lane should still be on your list. Brick Lane is the heart of London’s Bengali community, and the countless curry shops are a testament to that. However, the real star in this land of incredible food is Beigel Bake.
This straight to the point Jewish bakery is open 24 hours and is home to one of my favourite snacks in London. Although several toppings are available, including smoked salmon, and chopped herring; it’s the salt beef and mustard that stole my heart.
One important thing to note: there is another, almost identical place called Beigel Shop a few doors down. We’re told it’s almost as good, though we’ve never actually tried it.
- Where: Brick Lane, Shoreditch
- Closest Tube Station: Liverpool Street
- Cost: Around £4 for the salt beef
A short tube ride from London proper is one of our favourite districts of the city. Once a gritty neighbourhood that few would venture to without good reason, Brixton is much different these days. Though gentrification is changing the face of the area – for better or worse – the Caribbean culture that makes Brixton what it is still holds strong.
Incredible markets, restaurants, cafes, music stores and independent shops are just a sampling of what you’ll find here. Birthplace of David Bowie, Brixton is one of the cultural epicentres of London. Everyone should check it out at least once.
- Where: Brixton
- Closest Tube Station: Brixton (far South end of the Victoria line)
- Cost: Free, plus the cost of transportation
Heading back to Shoreditch for a moment, it’s time to do some shopping. Forget the double-deck bus toys and Big Ben pens, get your friends something truly unique from Boxpark. Built from repurposed shipping containers, Boxpark claims to be the worlds first “Popup Mall.”
Here you’ll find all kinds of small, independent shops selling everything from clothing and jewellery to home decor and art prints. If you happen to be in town a little longer, there are regular events like yoga and silent discos. Then again, you’ll have to pull yourself away from the ridiculous selection of street food carts long enough first.
Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
There are dozens of pubs around claiming the be the oldest in London. Yet, a true winner seems to be difficult to crown. Right in the heart of central London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese might not be the oldest, but it’s close.
Dating back to the early 1500’s it was rebuilt after being badly damaged in the great fire of 1666. The often cramped corridors and staircases into the cavernous interior add to the ancient vibe.
Be sure to venture all the way to the depths of the cellar-like basement bar. Kick back in one of the dimly lit nooks and down a few pints, picturing yourself alongside some of literature’s greatest authors. Some former regulars of the Cheese were Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, “Sherlock Holmes” author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- Where: 145 Fleet Street, Central London
- Closest Tube Station: Temple or St Pauls
- Cost: Typical pub prices, £4-5 for a pint
Pimms in the Park
Visiting in the summer? Take a rest from all that walking and relax in Hyde Park. A popular activity among many locals is to sit back and enjoy a sunny day with a few cool refreshments. A good friend introduced us to “Pimms o’clock;” basically an excuse to stop and enjoy a few drinks of the English classic.
Mix the sweet liqueur with crushed fruit and soda, and enjoy under one of the city’s brilliant green spaces. St James’s is a great option, so you can still catch a glimpse of Buckingham Palace without fighting the crowds. There are also so many parks in London to choose from.
Drinks not necessary of course, but hey, you’re on vacation!
- Where: Several parks near Buckingham Palace
- Closest Tube Station: St James’s Park
- Cost: Free, unless you’re indulging.
Unleash your inner child at the greatest toy store in the world. You’ll find the magnificent Hamley’s on Regent Street, one of London’s biggest shopping districts. Not only is it the largest toy store in the world, but dating back to its 1760 origin, it’s also the oldest!
Featuring seven(!) floors filled with toys of all types including giant teddy bears, rare Lego sets, and Harry Potter costumes. Pose with a life-sized Queen Elizabeth built from Lego or take drone flying lessons right inside the store.
- Where: Regent Street, 8 minutes from Piccadilly Circus
- Closest Tube Station: Oxford Circus
- Cost: Free, though you’ll be very tempted to buy everything.
Catch a Concert
London is one of the biggest concert destinations on the planet, everyone plays here. And while we’ve been to some incredible concerts over the years, two recent favourites were in London.
If you’re fortunate enough to get a chance, try to catch a show at Somerset House. This elegant Georgian building, once owned by the Duke of Somerset sits on the edge of the River Thames. During the summer months, the gorgeous courtyard hosts open-air concerts. The contrast of the old architecture with modern music and light shows makes for an extraordinary experience.
Can’t make it to a show at Somerset House? Another option would be to catch Tankus the Henge. These guys are a phenomenal six-piece act out of London that seem to be on a never-ending tour. I’m not saying this because the guitarist is a friend of ours – these guys put on one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen!
- Where: Somerset House (or any number of venues across London)
- Closest Tube Station: Temple
- Cost: Varies