The 34 Best Things to Do in London, According to a Local
Headed to London? Here's a list of the must-sees and must-dos for your visit to the British capital.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Top things to do in London
London ranks high among the best places to travel in the world, attracting millions of visitors from all corners of the globe every year. It may not be one of the cheap places to travel, but there are so many things to do in London that it’s definitely worth a visit. So, once you’ve figured out the best time to visit London and the best time to book a flight—and you’ve watched King Charles’s coronation to get in the mood—where to start?
If you’ve never been to London, you’ll want to make sure to see the most important sights, but also some hidden gems we locals enjoy. I have been living in London for more than five years. I planned to just stay for a few weeks, but I fell in love with the city at first sight—and I still schedule in regular time for exploring my adopted home. I love to share my favorite spots as a travel writer, and I am on speed dial for friends, family and friends of friends who are visiting. It’s impossible to fit everything London has to offer into one trip (or even one lifetime!), but it’s easy to make the most of your time if you just know how.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more travel, humor, cleaning, tech and fun facts all week long.
Big Ben is London’s most famous landmark, so it’s a must-see for all travelers. The name refers to the huge bell inside the clock tower, which first chimed on May 31, 1859, but the whole building at the north end of the Houses of Parliament goes by this nickname. Big Ben was renamed Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II‘s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, but most people don’t call it that.
The tower underwent extensive renovations from summer 2017, and there was much excitement when the bells first rang again in November 2022. It’s still not possible to climb up Big Ben quite yet, but the big reopening for visitors is scheduled for later in 2023. Your best bet for a picture-perfect view of the tower and the Houses of Parliament is from Westminster Bridge.
Pro tip: If you want to take a selfie with Big Ben, the best spot is just behind the landmark, on Great George Street. When coming from Westminster Bridge, walk past the tower and the tube station (Westminster) toward St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey to your left. While it might be a bit cliché to pose next to a red phone box, the photo will still look great on your Instagram—and many Londoners snap this shot too.
If you followed King Charles‘s coronation (or other festive royal events such as Prince William and Kate Middleton‘s wedding) you’re probably already familiar with Westminster Abbey. But London’s most iconic church is even more impressive when you step foot inside yourself. Westminster Abbey was founded in 960 AD and has been the coronation church since 1066. It is also the final resting place of no fewer than 17 monarchs (the late Queen Elizabeth is buried in Windsor Castle), scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton and world-famous writers including Charles Dickens.
Westminster Abbey is both one of London’s top tourist attractions and a working church with daily services—so be prepared for crowds and parts of the abbey closed. The church is busiest in the mornings, so visit after lunchtime if you can book a time slot.
Pro tip: While it’s perfectly possible to explore the abbey with an audio guide (included in the ticket price), their guided tours are worth a bit of extra money. You will get to see parts of Westminster Abbey that are normally closed to the public, including royal tombs, the Poets’ Corner and Lady Chapel—and you’ll get to hear lots of interesting facts and anecdotes.
The London Eye
The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the Thames River, and it’s been a London landmark of its own for over 20 years, so no list of the things to do in London would be complete without mentioning it. But is it really worth it? Let’s face it, the 30-minute-ride comes with a big price tag and potentially long queuing times on top. However, on a sunny day (or at night!) the views are truly stunning. If you’re lucky, you’ll not only see all the London sights including Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge but all the way up to Windsor Castle too. So if you are new to London and don’t mind spending some cash, go for it. Fun fact, the London Eye is also one of the top places in the U.K. for people on romantic getaways—and, in fact, to get engaged. They even offer special proposal packages with private pods and champagne.
Pro tip: Technically, you can just show up and buy your ticket on-site, but booking online saves you time and money. There are also discounted combination tickets including a river cruise or entry to Madame Tussaud’s.
The Tate Modern
Museums rank high among the most popular attractions in London—and not just because you can visit them regardless of the weather. If you only have time for one, make it the Tate Modern, which is one of the most popular museums in the world. The massive art space with its iconic tower is housed in the former Bankside Power Station and sits right near the Thames, across from St Paul’s Cathedral.
The exhibition spaces spread over seven floors and include original works by the likes of Picasso, Matisse and Warhol. Like most museums in London, the Tate Modern is free to visit, unless you want to see a special exhibition (book well in advance in that case). Should you be keen to see the Tate’s sister gallery Tate Britain as well, hop on the Tate Boat right in front of the building and travel door to door in style. Boats run every 20 to 30 minutes during museum open hours.
Pro tip: Fancy turning your Tate Modern visit into a fun night out? Keep an eye on the monthly Tate Lates, a mix of art workshops and talks, DJs, bars and live music.
Buckingham Palace has been the official residence of the British monarchs since 1837, and even though all the royal family currently live at other royal estates, it remains the place most associated with the crown. A highlight not to be missed is the Changing of the Guard, a traditional ceremony that sees one detachment of troops taking over from the other, marching along The Mall to Buckingham Palace with musical accompaniment (expect both traditional tunes and pop songs). It takes place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and daily during the summer, at 11 A.M. It’s one of the best free tourist attractions in London. For a prime spot, arrive at least one hour in advance, as the area gets packed year-round.
Pro tip: The State Rooms inside Buckingham Palace are open to visitors on selected dates during winter and spring, as well as for 10 weeks in summer. Tour tickets sell out quickly, so check dates and book as early as you can.
The Tower Bridge
Walking across the Tower Bridge is a must-do when in London. But nothing beats watching the landmark lift for tall vessels, including cruise ships, to pass through. River traffic has priority on this stretch of the Thames by law, meaning ships can request a lift any time of the day, bringing the traffic on the bridge to a complete halt. On average, the Tower Bridge opens twice a day. But what’s the secret behind being at the right place at the right time? Luckily, it’s pretty simple, as you can check online to see when the bridge next lifts. Then, make sure to arrive on time to watch the spectacle unfold.
Pro tip: For a full view of the lift (and great photo opportunities), position yourself on the river banks or a bridge opposite Tower Bridge. For a more close-up experience, stand on either end of the bridge.
Portobello Road Market
In the 1990s, the movie Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, made the West London neighborhood of the same name known around the world as a romantic travel destination. But even if you’re not a fan of rom-coms, Notting Hill and its famous Portobello Road Market—considered the largest antique market on the planet—have a lot to offer. The stalls, fold-out tables and shops are packed with vintage treasures, from lamps and chairs to paintings, jewelry and secondhand clothing, which makes it a great place for souvenir hunting. The market is open six days a week, but Saturday is the main day when all the sellers, antique hunters and street food vendors are out.
Pro tip: Notting Hill’s signature pastel houses are just as famous as the market, and selfies on the steps around the Hillgate Place and Lancaster Road area are high on many visitors’ bucket lists. Please keep in mind though that people actually live in these houses, so don’t stare into their windows or leave trash behind.
The West End
The West End is London’s equivalent to Broadway in New York City and the heart of commercial theater and musical productions in the U.K. More than 16 million people watched performances here in 2022, making tickets one of the hottest holiday gifts. Whether you’re into the classics such as Les Miserables (running since 1985) and The Phantom of the Opera (since 1986) or want to see a feel-good musical featuring songs by Tina Turner, ABBA or Queen, this is the place. The Disney musicals are among the most popular things to do in London with kids, but they’re just as fun to watch as an adult. For crime fans, Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap is a must-see.
Pro tip: If you haven’t set your mind on a specific show, you can score excellent last-minute deals on the day using the TodayTix app (look for “rush tickets” at 10 a.m. sharp). I’ve found myself sitting in some of the best seats in the house for around $30, especially on weeknights. Ticket booths around Leicester Square also sell discounted tickets.
The Tower of London
No list of the best things to do in London would be complete without the Tower of London: an iconic castle, former prison and execution location—as well as the home of the crown jewels. The royals’ precious accessories have been stored here since 1661 and only leave the Tower when used on official occasions. Want to see King Charles’s and Queen Camilla’s crowns? They are right here!
The Tower of London is more than 900 years old, and you can feel its history in every corner. Keep in mind that the complex is not only impressive but also huge, so plan at least a few hours to see everything. Besides its exhibitions, historic halls and the guards with their signature fur hats, the Tower is famous for its wild ravens. According to legend, the kingdom will fall if the six resident ravens ever decide to leave.
Pro tip: Tickets to the Tower of London come with audio guides. If you’d rather have a human companion, opt for a tour with a Beefeater, a working guard at the fortress.
Dating back to the 13th century, Borough Market, on the south side of the Thames, is London’s oldest food market and a great food travel destination with more than 100 stalls and plenty of small restaurants and wine bars where you can enjoy lunch or dinner. While the market originally focused on British produce, you can now get Indian curries, pad Thai, Ethiopian stews, falafel wraps, pasta dishes and, of course, the obligatory fish and chips. There are also plenty of stalls to stock up on bread, veggies, wines and sweets to take home or have later in the day. The market is open Tuesday to Sunday.
Pro tip: Borough Market is a lunch favorite with people working at the nearby offices, so expect long queues around noon. If you can’t find a quiet spot to eat, make yourself comfy at the riverbank a few minutes away by foot.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter
London is full of locations featured in the Harry Potter movies (think St. Paul’s Cathedral, Leadenhall Market, Borough Market or Tower Bridge), which you can explore on your own. But no place gets “muggles” (non-magic people) closer to Harry Potter’s world than the Warner Bros. Studio Tour just outside the city. Here you will walk through Diagon Alley, peek into Harry’s cupboard under the stairs and explore Hogwarts rooms such as the Great Hall or Dumbledore’s office. You can even sample butter beer! The studio decoration changes according to season. I have seen the summer and Christmas versions so far, and Halloween is next on my list.
Pro tip: Advance booking is essential, even during shoulder seasons. Since muggles are, unfortunately, unable to arrive by broom, a shuttle bus from London’s Watford Junction is included in the ticket price.
Columbia Road Market
Columbia Road Flower Market may be London’s most popular place for flower shopping, and it’s a weekend institution in East London. Rain or shine, the whole street gets packed from 8 a.m. every Sunday with dozens of stalls that sell tulips, roses, cacti, spider plants and banana trees. Judging by Instagram posts and people with cameras around their necks, the market might look like a bit of a tourist trap at first glance. But the majority of the visitors are locals who stock up on flowers after coffee or brunch at one of the little cafes in the neighborhood. The flowers are certainly the main selling point on a Sunday, but Columbia Road is dotted with little art shops and galleries too, so take your time to have a look around.
Pro tip: Columbia Road Market tends to be busy year-round, but if you want to avoid the largest crowds, it pays to show up right when it starts. For the best flower deals, come after lunchtime. The stalls close at around 3 p.m.
London’s highest public garden, Sky Garden, sits on the 35th floor of the “Walkie Talkie,” one of the city’s landmark skyscrapers, and it provides spectacular panoramic views. Sky Garden is an oasis of plants, with an observation deck, an open-air terrace and two restaurants. Entry is free, but advance booking is essential. However, once you’re in, you’re in, so you can technically spend a whole day among the plants.
If you can’t get into Sky Garden (or want to shoot more skyline pictures from a different angle), head to The Garden at 120, an open-air rooftop garden on the 15th floor about a five-minute walk away. It might not be as fancy as Sky Garden, but it’s usually a lot quieter. I have had the whole garden to myself on weekday mornings more than once.
Pro tip: Tickets for the Sky Garden are released every Monday, and you can book up to three weeks in advance. If you’re in the area but don’t have a ticket, it’s still worth trying your luck at the door, as they sometimes accept walk-ins.
Traditional afternoon tea
While Brits are the champions of tea drinking, afternoon tea is a lot more than just sipping on your favorite blend. The ritual dates back to the 19th century, when the ladies of the high society met for a light meal to shorten the time until dinner was served. Today, it’s mainly saved for special occasions, but it also makes one of the most fun things to do in London when on a city break. A traditional afternoon tea menu includes small sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and a selection of pastries and cakes. Earl Grey, Darjeeling and English Breakfast are the classic tea blends. If you really want to treat yourself, book a table at the glamorous salon at Cafe Royal. Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and David Bowie were regulars here. Live piano music and champagne are included too.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
While the Globe Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames isn’t the original one from Shakespeare’s time (that one burned down in 1613), it’s still considered the writer’s London home and the closest you could ever get to the original experience. The venue was rebuilt in the same shape and layout, using the original type of wood (green oak) and building techniques. Watch world-famous plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors and fully immerse yourself in the world of Shakespeare.
Pro tip: The cheapest way to see a play (or get into an otherwise sold-out show) is the “5£ Rush Tickets.” These are standing tickets right in front of the stage. While you might miss the comfort of a seat, you’ll be closer to the action than anyone else (and save a lot of money too!). Tickets are released every Friday at 11 a.m. for the following week.
London is an amazing city to explore on foot, and once you’ve ticked off all the major sights, it’s time to enjoy one of the locals’ favorite walks. When I moved to London, I was amazed at how many locals lived on houseboats—it reminded me of The Netherlands, where I spent my college semester abroad. Regent’s Canal is dotted with colorful narrowboats, and you can often watch their owners navigate them to and from their mooring spots. The most beautiful stretch is from King’s Cross to Little Venice, a beautiful water canal area full of cafés and pubs and framed by willow trees. You will pass Camden and Regent’s Park along the way.
Pro tip: Before you head on your two-hour walk, check out Coal Drop’s Yard right behind the King’s Cross station, with its restaurants, pubs and artsy shops, and Word on the Water, a floating bookstore.
East London’s Shoreditch is one of the hippest districts in the city, with little cafes, quirky shops and bars on every corner. It’s also the heart of London’s street-art scene. Living in Shoreditch, I’m continuously amazed by all the murals and graffiti popping up overnight (and, sadly, often disappearing just as quickly). If you are like me and love taking edgy pictures, you will feel right at home. I always recommend Shoreditch Street Art Tours to friends visiting, a fun and comprehensive introduction to the local street-art scene. If you head out on your own, save Brick Lane, Fashion Street, Hanbury Street, Princelet Street, New Inn Yard, Redchurch Street and Shoreditch Highstreet Station on Google Maps.
To kill two birds with one stone, visit Shoreditch on a weekend when Brick Lane market (lots of food and some art and clothes stalls) takes place. Truman Brewery on Brick Lane is also home to the biggest indoor vintage market in the U.K., which is open seven days a week.
Pro tip: For a quick and inexpensive snack to go, head to Beigel Bake. The 24-hour shop is the most famous bagel place in London. Attention: They only take cash!
Paddle on the Thames River
Even for people who live in London, the city can feel overwhelming at times. Luckily though, there are plenty of opportunities to escape the hustle and bustle. London might not be the most obvious choice for water sports, but that’s exactly how many locals like to spend their summer. Kayaking and canoeing are hugely popular in the city, with paddling clubs dotted along the Thames and the canals. Companies such as London Kayak Co. offer tours, including for beginners, that double as sightseeing trips, taking you past some of London’s most iconic landmarks. Personally, I have become a stand-up paddling (SUP) addict, and my current favorite place to go is Richmond Park. Nothing beats sunset paddling after work or on a weekend, then ending the day on the terrace of a riverside pub.
Pro tip: You don’t have to be a kayak or SUP pro to enjoy this activity. As long as you are reasonably fit (and not afraid to fall into the water, should you opt for paddleboarding) you are good to go.
One of London’s eight royal parks and formerly part of Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens is a popular recreational area where you can take a stroll, have a picnic, check out exhibitions at the Serpentine galleries, visit Kensington Palace or—if you’re traveling with kids—make the most of the Diana Memorial Playground (including a wooden pirate ship and sculptures inspired by Peter Pan).
Ring-necked parakeets have spread all over London, but this park is your best bet to see them up close. And while nobody seems to be quite sure how they originally ended up in London, thousands have called it home since the 1990s. Here, the parakeets are so used to people they will land on your outstretched hands (or your shoulders or your head!) when you bring snacks (apples or seeds)—and sometimes even if you don’t. Be aware, though, that the cute birds have surprisingly sharp claws, so your arms might end up looking like you’ve just been scratched by an angry cat.
Pro tip: The parakeets can be found near the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden. If you arrive by tube, get off at Lancaster Gate, walk past the lake and follow the squawking.
Summer music festivals
Glastonbury (the British equivalent to Coachella) is the No. 1 festival every music fan in the U.K. wants to attend. But London has a great number of other festivals, too, that are well worth checking out. Plus, there’s no camping, so you can leave your sleeping bags and rain boots at home.
The largest event every year is the British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park, commonly known as BST. It spreads over multiple dates throughout two weeks from the end of June. This year’s headliners include Bruce Springsteen, Guns N’Roses and Pink. Other festivals I’ve attended that I’d definitely recommend: All Points East (two weekends in August, offering rock, indie and alternative music), Wireless (in July, a mecca for hip-hop fans), Mighty Hoopla (early June, a celebration of cheesy pop and queer culture, with lots of attendees dressed up accordingly) and Hampton Court Palace Festival (multiple days in June, come for both the music and the location).
Pro tip: For environmental reasons and due to the fact that London’s summers get hotter by the year, many festivals now allow music fans to take refillable bottles inside, with water stations to be found all around the festival sites.
The Barbican Centre is London’s largest multi-arts venue. Movies, live gigs, plays, exhibitions, restaurants—you name it, the iconic complex has it all. One of the lesser known gems is their indoor garden on Level 3, which houses 2,000 species of plants and trees as well as three small ponds. It’s a great place if you need a break from sightseeing or want to spend a relaxing hour or two hiding from the rain. Plus, it’s quite romantic—a friend of mine got engaged amidst the plants! Unfortunately, the whole Barbican complex tends to feel like a labyrinth with tons of confusing walkways. Schedule in some extra time just in case you get lost, and don’t sweat it, because it regularly happens to pretty much every Londoner.
Pro tip: The Conservatory is only open on select days. Entry is free, but book a time slot in advance to make sure you’ll get in. Tickets are released one week in advance on Fridays at 10 a.m., with a limited number of additional ones available at 9:30 a.m. on the day.
Gods Own Junkyard
Gods Own Junkyard is a surreal exhibition place packed with blinking neon signs, old movie props, circus lighting and retro displays. It’s the private collection of the late owner Chris Bracey, who made signs for Soho’s strip clubs before he went on to work with some of Hollywood’s greatest directors, including Tim Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Christopher Nolan (Batman) and Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut).
The gallery-turned-warehouse isn’t exactly close to the city center, but it ranks high among the best things to do in London. Entry is free, however you might end up taking a neon sign home from their small shop. There’s also a cafe and fully licensed bar, if you want to linger for a bit.
Pro tip: It might be tempting, but Gods Own Junkyard is, unfortunately, not the place to try out your latest camera gear. You are allowed to take pictures with your phone (for personal use and social media) but not with any cameras or professional equipment.
If you like colorful cocktails and immersive experiences, make sure to check out some of London’s hidden bars. One of the coolest places I’ve been is the 1940s-inspired Cahoots Underground, located in a retired tube station around the corner from Soho’s Carnaby Street. The speakeasy bar is decorated with tube signs and maps, the cocktails (with names like “Winston Churchill” and “Judy Garland”) are listed in a newspaper instead of a regular menu, and the waiters are dressed up as ticket inspectors. What’s more, there’s a live piano player taking requests from guests (everything from Frank Sinatra to Miley Cyrus). Be prepared for spontaneous singalongs and people dancing between the tables.
Other hidden bars worth checking out include Nightjar Shoreditch (old-school glamour, candlelit tables and live jazz and swing), Discount Suit Company (in a former suit tailor’s storeroom), Opium in Chinatown (a 1920s Shanghai-themed bar tucked away behind red curtains), Purl (1920s theme, live music and cocktail mixing classes) and Ladies & Gents (in a former public washroom).
Pro tip: Better safe than sorry—all the above-mentioned bars are very popular, so book a table just in case.
Dennis Severs’ House
If you’ve ever wondered what everyday London life looked like in the 18th century, Dennis Severs’ House gives you a first-hand taste. The building was left exactly as when the original owners, a family of silk weavers, lived there. The rooms are lit by fire and candlelight, and visitors are encouraged to tour them in complete silence to “not disturb the family.” You will find yourself wandering around the living room full of faded photographs, old carpets, mugs and books. The kitchen has a fully laid table—bitten apples included! It almost feels like the family is about to return and go on with their daily routine any moment. To make the time-travel experience even more authentic, there are also added scents of food, woodsmoke and chatters of the occupants.
Pro tip: Walk-up tickets are available, but unless you don’t mind standing in line for up to an hour or two, I’d recommend booking a time slot.
Talk to any Londoner and they’ll probably tell you that Camden is just not what it used to be. And I’m not going to lie, the North London neighborhood has dramatically changed in recent years. Its edgy, alternative vibe is pretty much gone. Many of the charming parts of Camden Market were replaced by fancy stalls, food courts and colorful hanging umbrellas. However, Camden is still well worth a visit, you just need to do a bit more digging. Ignore the souvenir shops and look for the small creative sellers that have stood their ground. Then head to The Hawley Arms, my go-to Camden pub and a musician’s hangout. The late, great Amy Winehouse was a regular.
Camden’s music scene is legendary, and many pubs have live gigs and open-mic nights. Some of the most iconic venues to check out for gigs include KOKO (frequented by supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss in their heydays), Electric Ballroom, Spiritual Records, Dingwalls and Jazz Cafe.
Pro tip: The annual Camden Rocks Festival sees hundreds of gigs around Camden Town. Check out updates and ticket information here.
A pub for Sunday roast
Sunday roast is a British meal traditionally consisting of roasted meat of some sort (beef is the most common), mashed and roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, seasonal greens, gravy and apple or mint sauce. It’s a big, hearty meal typically enjoyed early or late Sunday afternoon. Classic drinks to go with the foodie feast include local beers and ciders.
Sunday roasts rank high among the top things to do in London, and luckily there are plenty of options all around the city. One of the most popular is Camberwell Arms, which features five options served for two people to share. Other good choices are the trendy Blacklock Shoreditch (located inside a former furniture factory) and Quality Chop House, which has fed hungry guests since 1869. If you’re a vegan, like me, or just curious about a meat-free option, head to The Spread Eagle, London’s first fully plant-based pub.
Pro tip: All the above pubs (and many others around the city) are packed on Sunday, so booking is essential.
Royal Albert Hall
Opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria (and dedicated to her husband Albert, hence the name), Royal Albert Hall is probably the world’s most famous concert hall. Its annual highlight is The Proms, an eight-week series of classical music organized by the BBC. But even if you’re not a fan of orchestra performances, the venue is worth a visit. It’s stunning inside and out and has the best acoustics you can find in the city.
What’s more, the program is a lot more varied than you might expect. They also feature regular pop and rock gigs, and Eric Clapton, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, David Bowie and the Beatles have played here. You can also catch circus performances, movie nights, yoga sessions with live music and the occasional sumo wrestling event. If you go to a live gig, be prepared for the band to leave the stage midconcert for a mandatory interval. When I saw Bryan Adams in 2022, he apologized for the break, then jokingly explained that even rock stars had to follow the Royal Albert Hall’s strict house rules.
Pro tip: Many of the events at Royal Albert Hall are instant sell-outs, but it’s always worth checking at the box office or their website for last-minute tickets on the day of the event. If you’re interested in a peek behind the scenes, book a backstage tour.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum in posh South Kensington is one of the best things to do in London with kids. It houses more than 80 million animals, plants and rocks spanning 4.5 billion years that are displayed in about 20 galleries. The main eye-catcher upon arrival is a 25.2-metre-long blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. The female animal died in Ireland more than 120 years ago and was given a name when moved to its new home: Hope. Other highlights include dinosaurs, a giant gorilla, a Moon rock sample from the 1972 Apollo 16 mission, meteorites and an earthquake simulator. The Natural History Museum is free to visit except for special exhibitions.
Pro tip: Watch out for museum events such as yoga and tai chi classes, silent disco nights or sleepovers for grown-ups.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
Gordon’s Wine Bar, conveniently located close to Covent Garden and the West End, is London’s oldest wine bar. It opened its doors in 1890, and not much has changed since. The moment you step into this cave-like spot you’ll be transported back in time, with most of the original decor still in place. Faded newspaper articles and photos hang on the walls, and there are wine-bottle candle holders and old-fashioned wooden chairs and tables. The low ceiling further adds to the atmosphere. As expected, the bar has an extensive choice of wines, which can be paired with cheese, meat, mezze and sharing boards.
Gordon’s is not only a great place for drinks and food but also for people-watching. The bar is one of the most popular spots for people to first meet their dating-app match.
Pro tip: Gordon’s Wine Bar is one of the few places in London that do not accept bookings. Arrive early, and be prepared to wait for a bit—it will be worth it.
Greenwich makes a fun day out of the city—without actually leaving the city. Located in the southeast of London, it’s home to an artsy market with lots of food stalls, a beautiful park perfect for taking London skyline pictures, the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, one of the oldest and best known tea clipper ships in the world. There’s also the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory, where you can stand with one foot in the western hemisphere and the other foot in the eastern. Greenwich can be reached by tube, bus and train, but the most fun way is to take a boat from central London. Hop on board at Westminster Pier and see famous landmarks such as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge from the water.
Pro tip: While it’s possible to buy tickets for the boats from the ticket booths and machines at the pier, the easiest way is to just use your bank or credit card and tap in and out like you would at the bus or tube.
London has about 200 museums, but Saatchi Gallery is the one place I keep coming back to again and again. A registered charity, the exhibition place is known for its fun and immersive displays of all kinds of subcultures and contemporary photo shows, and it’s a supporter of up-and-coming artists from the U.K. and beyond. Highlights I’ve seen here include a show on the heydays of the British rave scene, exhibitions on Bob Marley and French street artist JR, as well as American photographers documenting social change since the 1960s. Recently, they also had a three-floor display of the U.K.’s graffiti scene.
Pro tip: The gallery regularly hosts artists talks, and they also have “Saatchi Lates,” which feature extended exhibition hours, workshops and DJ sets.
While London’s big-chain movie theaters around Leicester Square all come with XXL screens and the latest technology, the independent ones are where the real magic happens. Just around the corner from Leicester Square toward China Town is Prince Charles Cinema, where both the latest blockbusters and classic movies are shown. They also have movie marathons—from Harry Potter to Terminator and Lord of the Rings—where fans gather for up to 24 hours to watch the whole series. They even encourage singalongs during music-movie marathons by projecting lyrics on the screen for a karaoke vibe.
I am a regular at Genesis Cinema in East London, which has been showing movies since 1912 and comes with bar events such as open-mic and comedy nights on top. They also charge only 5£ Monday to Thursday, which is less than a third of what you’d pay on Leicester Square. Other great places include Electric Cinema, which has leather armchairs and double beds in the front row; Lexi Cinema, a volunteer-run place supporting charities in South Africa); and Everyman Screen on the Green, where wine and pizza are served to your seat.
Pro tip: London hosts tons of small and large film festivals throughout the year, so watch out for premieres, Q&As and other special events.
Walking around graves might not seem the most obvious choice for a fun day out in London, but Highgate Cemetery is worth making an exception. The Victorian cemetery looks a bit cramped and chaotic, but the sunken headstones, faded engravings and missing names on the tombs make it beautiful and charming at the same time. Highgate is the final resting place of no less than 170,000 people, including many celebrities. The one resident most visitors are looking for is German philosopher Karl Marx. His grave can be found in the east part of the cemetery and is easily recognizable by a giant sculpture of his head.
Pro tip: To enter the cemetery, you need a ticket, which you can buy online or on site. If you want some background info (and to hear morbid anecdotes), you can also book a guided tour.
Hackney City Farm
Big cities and farms might not go together well at first glance, but London does have several working farms close to its busiest districts. One of the loveliest is Hackney City Farm in East London, which has pigs, donkeys, ponies, sheep, ducks, a vegetable garden, a small shop that sells homemade produce and a restaurant. The farm opened in 1984 and regularly welcomes local school kids. They also run workshops in animal handling and arts classes including pottery and woodworking.
Pro tip: Visits are free, but donations are welcome. Don’t leave without a drink in their cute backyard garden.