After you’ve seen all the tourist attractions in London (and there’s a lot of them!), there’s still more to see and do in London. Once you move past the touristy side of London, you can get to know the real London, the London that Londoners experience! I lived in London for six months, and I can say for certain that is not even enough time to get to know all of London. It’s endlessly interesting and you could never run out of things to do here! So if you’re ready to move past the tourist attractions, here are the 20 best non-touristy things to do in London.
Non-Touristy Things To Do in London
1 | Russell Square
Located near the British Library but far enough from the tourist path to be a local gem, Russell Square is a great little park to take a picnic or sit at the café for a coffee. When all the other parks are filled on a warm sunny day, it helps to know a secret little spot where you can enjoy a plot of grass without the crowds. This is a great spot for people-watching too!
2 | Borough Market
This is among the great things there are to do on the South Bank in London. I lived on the South Bank when I studied in London and this was my favorite weekly outing, to go shop for produce, artisan foods, and even a hot lunch, at the Borough Market. It’s London’s oldest market, it has been serving the community for over 1,000 years and it still keeps its modern edge. You can shop for a hot lunch, you can shop for groceries for home, you can have a taste of a local specialty, or you can attend a cooking class here.
3 | Lyceum Theatre
The Lyceum Theatre is one of London’s oldest and largest theaters, and it has been home to many great shows since its inception in 1765. Right now it’s showing the critically acclaimed Lion King, which has been running since 1999. Step inside the stately facade of Lyceum Theatre and step back in time, and into another world, if only for a night.
4 | Hyde Park
This park is huge, in fact it’s the largest of the royal parks in London, and that makes it a great place to go for a bike ride! Really it’s the only way to see it all. The entrances are all marked by a gorgeous stone archway, and once you get into the park there’s plenty of space to enjoy. And there’s over 4000 trees, prime adventure space for the horticulturalist in you!
5 | Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace is one of the royal residences, and interestingly it’s where Queen Anne carried 17 children! But more famously it is where Princess Diana lived This palace is located in Hyde Park and is one of just 15 palaces in London! But this is one of my favorite of the palaces because it’s where Will and Kate will live and I just loved touring it. If you don’t have time to see all the palaces, at least make sure to see this one!
6 | SoHo Square Garden
Join the cool kids and take your lunch to this garden for a little picnic with friends. The SoHo Square Garden was originally dubbed King Square when it opened in 1681. In fact the King for whom it was so named, Charles II, still has his space in the park. Check out his statue when you’re there! Because it’s located in the popular and posh SoHo neighborhood, this garden is a great space to people-watch and enjoy the London culture.
7 | Royal Courts of Justice
The Royal Courts of Justice houses the High Court and Court of Appeals for both England and Wales. And you can walk into the Royal Courts of Justice for free and watch the barristers argue their cases. You can experience what law is like in England, set in the imposing 1882 architecture of this massive building.
8 | St James Park
This is probably one of my favorite parks in London, and it sits alongside the road leading up to Buckingham Palace. It was once King James’ private zoo, but now is filled with a massive pond, lots of birds, plenty of greenspace and benches to sit, and some of the most beautiful floral gardens ever. Meander through the park on your way to the Queen’s palace and you’re in for a treat.
9 | Natural History Museum
Next door to the very popular Victoria & Albert Museum is the Natural History Museum. The building itself is stunning, and the dinosaur displays will have even the coolest visitor nerding out. They also offer ice skating in the winter. And as with most museums in London, admission is free!
10 | St Martin-in-the-Fields
This church sits unassumingly near the popular Trafalgar Square. St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a church but it’s so much more than that. They have had a thriving music scene for the past 250 years (which is longer than my country has been a country, by the way), and they offer an impressive lineup of free concerts. My favorite is the Wednesday Jazz Nights at the Cafe in the Crypt, it’s just too cool to pass up!
11 | Saatchi Gallery
The lesser-known contemporary art gallery in London, Saatchi Gallery complements rather than competes with the popular Tate Modern museum. Packed with topical and compelling installations, the Saatchi Gallery aims to feature artists that are unknown to the contemporary art world, thus providing them with a platform to display their work to a wider audience. Admission is free, so stop in to admire the modern art set in this classic Georgian architectural building. It’s definitely one of the non-touristy things to do in London, surely your friends from home won’t have seen it on their trip!
12 | Watch a Movie on a Rooftop
While in Boston I love to enjoy summer evenings watching an outdoor screening of a movie in different parks around the city, and London takes this concept to a whole new level. In London, it’s popular to go to an outdoor movie screening on top of one of the rooftops around the city. A movie under the stars, with a view of the city…count me in!
13 | Primrose Hill
At the top of Regents Park is Primrose Hill, a Royal Park with probably the best views of the city skyline. It’s near the Camden Market, and the London Zoo, so you can make a day of it by heading to that neighborhood and exploring around!
14 | Traditional Afternoon Tea
When you need to make your afternoon a little extra special, head over to the Ritz Carlton for a traditional afternoon tea. Depending on the occasion you may choose to enjoy a hot tea with scones and cream. Or on a special occasion you may choose a champagne tea time (after all, isn’t every day special when you’re at the Ritz?). If you fancy a spot of tea, you can rely on the expert tea sommelier to help you choose the perfect one, he’s the only one with that designation in the UK!
15 | Supreme Court
While all the tourists have their eyes glued to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, the popular attractions in Parliament Square, the discerning traveler will go a step further to The Supreme Court. Entry is free to the exhibit and court. While they’re in session, watch legislation in action, and while they’re not in session, you can take a seat in the judge’s chair. It’s a fun experience that most tourists overlook!
16 | Portobello Road
In a neighborhood full of colorful pastel homes, Portobello Road is the world’s largest antiques market. Understandably, it gets pretty crazy on the weekends, so if you want to see it in full-swing head over there on Saturday or Sunday. But personally I prefer the slower pace of the market on weekdays, makes it a bit more of one of the non-touristy things to do in London.
17 | Kyoto Garden
This beautiful Japanese garden is tucked away in the Kensington neighborhood. You wouldn’t expect to find the peace and quiet of a Japanese garden in this bustling city, but the winding walkways, koi pond, roaming peacocks, and perfectly manicured vegetation makes this a very inviting space to relax and reflect. It brings a space for tranquility in the midst of the city, it’s worth a visit, and admission is free.
18 | Brick Lane
With the greatest concentration of Indian restaurants outside of India, Brick Lane is the perfect spot to go for dinner in London. The English like their Indian food so much, in fact, that chicken tikka masala has been named the national dish of England (along with fish ‘n chips, of course!).
19 | Watch a Football Match
There’s nothing more British that go to cheer on your team at a football match. The home stadiums for Chelsea and Arsenal are right here in London, so put on your team’s colors and head out to watch the game!
20 | The British Library
Housing some of the most important documents in the UK, The British Library is actually the largest library in the world by items catalogued. It houses such items as the worlds earliest dated printed book from the year 868, the Magna Carta from 1215, and the world’s second-oldest manuscript of the Bible. If you feel like nerding out over really important historic documents, this is the place!