Red Telephone Boxes, Black Cabs, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Tower of London, London Eye, Big Ben, Art Galleries, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Fish & Chips, English Breakfast, Afternoon Tea, Sunday Roasts, and British Pubs, are probably a few of the things or places popping to mind when you think about London.
But London is so much more than famous tourist attractions and stereotypes! Keep reading this post to see our top 10 less-touristy picks for London – a city we once (happily) called home.
But first, a little background. If you have followed us for a while, you would know that Kia got her first job after school in London. We lived there for a year, expecting to stay for much longer. However, quite suddenly, we had to move on to a new opportunity in Abu Dhabi, so ultimately, a year was all we got. We LOVED the city, though, and we wouldn’t hesitate to live there again (if the housing prices weren’t so outrageously expensive). This also means that it’s very easy for us to write this post!
In general, moving abroad completely changed our lives and is one of the single most important decisions we ever took. If you are interested in reading more about that, check out this post about taking the leap. It also talks about how it really feels to live as an expat in London.
Having lived for a year in London, we still feel that there is so much more to see and do. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and oh, how we miss just walking around the city for hours on end. We would head out on a Sunday morning and completely lose track of time. We haven’t been able to do that in many places around that world, except perhaps in Tokyo or New York. It’s safe to say that London holds a special place in both of our hearts, and we will always cherish the memories and opportunities the city gave us.
Enough talk, let’s get right down to business! What follows is an unordered list of our 10 favorite (less-touristy) things to see and do in London. They are not your typical tourist attractions, in fact, most of them are not attractions at all. The majority are just everyday things we really loved while living there, and which we think you will enjoy on your visit too. We often find that the best way to explore a new city is to embrace the locals’ way of life a bit, and so that’s exactly what we do here. We are not saying you shouldn’t visit London Eye or Tower, but you’ll easily be able to find a list of all those things on TripAdvisor. What we include here are our favorite EVERYDAY things to see and do on your trip to London, and we are pretty sure you’ll like them!
- Watch the sunrise from Primrose Hill
- Go for a run (or stroll) through Regent’s Park
- Sip flat whites and devour avocado on toast for breakfast
- Buy handicrafts and indulge in delicious street food at Camden Market
- Walk till you drop
- Spend the afternoon at a local pub
- Experience London’s take-out paradise (particularly a certain pizza)
- Indulge in the city’s best value steak dinner at Flat Iron
- Enjoy sunset drinks and skyline views at Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie building
- Play Crazy Golf in the Gherkin building – a fun night out in the City
1. Watch the sunrise from Primrose Hill
While living in London, we lived super close to Regent’s Park, which made it quite easy to go for a stroll in the park. Should you venture beyond this park, you find Primrose Hill tucked in right behind it. This is, without a doubt, one of the best places to watch the sunrise over London.
You have to get up early, sure, but the sight of the sun rising behind the legendary skyline of London is just stunning. You could probably grab a cab or take the tube from wherever you live, but you should definitely spend just one morning like this while visiting London. Remember to bring some warm clothes for the wait on the hill. London isn’t particularly warm in the early morning, not even during the height of summer. Trust us.
The first time we went to see the sunrise from Primrose Hill, we found 40 pounds just lying in the street. Maybe that’s part of the story why we kept coming back!?
2. Go for a run (or stroll) through Regent’s Park
When you are done watching the glowing red disc rise majestically over the bustling metropolitan that is London, why not stick around? Regent’s Park is just a few minutes away, and we highly recommend you go explore it while you are there. It’s definitely one of our all-time favorite parks worldwide, and that says a lot!
When we lived in London, we used to run all the time. Come to think of it, it’s really a shame we don’t do that anymore. We better get back into that great routine! Anyhow, our favorite place to go for a run in London was, hands down, Regent’s Park. It helped that we lived right next door, but that’s not the only reason. It is also absolutely stunning in all seasons, and it’s just big enough for a proper run. There’s a variety of beautiful flower gardens, which are very well maintained, and plenty of small “secret” corners where you can lay on the grass and just bask in the sun (if you happen to be so lucky with the weather). There is a lot of sports activity in there as well, and you will definitely have plenty to look at.
It goes without saying that you don’t have to run to enjoy Regent’s Park – you can simply stroll around there for hours and not be bored. We have walked around in there aimlessly for countless of hours, and this is one of the things we miss the most from London. We hope you will enjoy it just as much.
3. Sip flat whites and devour avocado on toast for breakfast
When you are done with your morning stroll (or run) through Regent’s Park, you’ll be getting hungry. Time for breakfast and a cuppa. Or if you are like most people outside of Great Britain, you’ll take a cup of coffee instead of tea.
If you have read our other post on living in London (especially the section about the little things we miss the most), this is one of our top three. Few things beat taking a break from your street wandering, by finding a lovely café to rest your tired feet in. Here you enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while just watching the rest of the world passing by outside. We love good coffee, particularly the all-famous flat whites. To us, they taste even better in London compared with Australia where they originate from!
Besides the amazing coffee, London really delivers on the breakfast front. Not usually being breakfast fans, we were surprised how cafés and coffee shops in London often managed to lure us in even when we weren’t the least bit hungry! Admittedly, it was mostly after a long night at the pub, but regardless of incentives, the food was always right on point! We don’t recommend the typical English breakfast, but rather enjoyed the more international alternatives such as smashed avocado on toast (a worldwide hit nowadays) and the classic Eggs Royale (smoked salmon, poached eggs, and hollandaise on an English muffin).
In London, there are an almost unbelievable amount of great places to get this stuff, but our personal favorite was the aptly named café Flat White located in SoHo. They claim they brought the original flat white from Down Under to London, but we have no idea whether that’s right. What we do know is that the taste and texture is spot on, and so is the breakfast.
There are literally hundreds of places that make great breakfast and coffee, though, so you really are spoiled for choice in London. We probably should have tried every single one of them and written a detailed guide for you, but if you Google around, someone else probably beat us to it! However, you should note that some of the most popular ones have queues forming outside every single day. In our experience, it generally isn’t worth waiting for those. You can usually have an equally great experience nearby in a less “Insta-famous” place.
4. Buy handicrafts and indulge in delicious street food at Camden Market
Camden Market is a bit outside of the city center, but you can take the tube there. However, do note that they tend to close down the nearest metro station in the afternoon as it otherwise gets too crowded. Then you have to catch a bus instead, and that can be a bit of a hassle. A better alternative, in our opinion, is to walk. There is a great route from Regent’s Park that follows the cozy canal. Why not make a day of the whole thing?
Camden Market has it all. There’s plenty of handicrafts and unique stuff to purchase, and much of it is ecological or recycled in one way or another. Besides this, they have plenty of food options, both in terms of street food and traditional restaurants. You could, for example, try the famous “cronuts”, essentially a combination of donuts and croissants, which is a big (and super greasy) hit. You’ll be full and happy for days.
5. Walk till you drop
Many people who visit London shop till they drop. Personally, we don’t mind walking around a shopping district, but we get bored within 2 minutes of actually entering a shop. So we just wander around outside instead.
While we lived in London, we forgot to cherish the fact that we could walk EVERYWHERE! Going from one end of the city to the other would maximum take us around 2 hours on foot. There were so many great routes to choose from, but mostly, we just walked randomly in a general direction.
When we moved from London to Abu Dhabi, we quickly realized how valuable it is to be able to explore a city on foot. We couldn’t do that anymore, and we missed it immensely. London, it turns out, had been the perfect place for it and we had completely forgotten to enjoy it. You may, for example, wander up Carnaby Street for some hip fashion shopping or through Marylebone High Street with its many hidden cafes and crafty shops. Other directions may lead you through beautiful Hyde’s Park or past the paparazzi at Buckingham Palace.
London really has it all, but you won’t get a good feeling for it unless you explore on foot. If you take the tube, you simply go underground in one place and emerge magically in another. You miss all the great stuff in-between. To get a good feeling for how big the city really is, and how much there actually is to see and do in even the most mundane of neighborhoods, put on your sneakers and go on a proper urban hike. We promise you are going to love it!
6. Spend the afternoon at a local pub
If you followed our previous advice about walking around everywhere, you would soon notice there is a proper British pub on almost every corner. It makes sense, really, since spending the afternoon at the local pub is what every Londoner would do after a day’s work. You won’t see a crazy amount of people there on the weekends, but that is just because everybody is back home in the suburbs, probably hitting a different pub there.
It isn’t super important which pub you choose to go to, because in the afternoon, they will all be full and buzzing. For the most genuine London pub atmosphere, head down to the City at around 4pm. Here every single of the thousands of office workers seems to be getting their drink on. You’ll find all the pubs filled to the brim, and not having a place to sit is actually part of the charm. The true London pub experience is had out on the street, with an ice-cold lager or a luke-warm ale, freezing you’re a** off. Believe us, it is way better than it sounds!
One example of a genuine London pub in the City would be The Trading House. They have plenty of beers on tap, and the atmosphere is great. Just don’t head there too late, as it can get really cramped. The place is not the cheapest of all London pubs, but we loved hanging out there nonetheless.
Most of the pubs also serve up some good, hearty, food like the famous Fish & Chips. However, the locals won’t be eating much in terms of solid foods in there – a point which we’ll expand more upon below!
7. Experience London’s take-out paradise (particularly a certain pizza)
When you’re at a pub in the afternoon/early evening, (some) of the locals have a saying that goes: “Eating is cheating.” However, after a couple of hours of pouring down liquid calories, you might as an inexperienced tourist be looking for something a little more solid. Luckily, London is a real takeaway paradise! So on your way home from the pub, why not head over to our favorite pizza place in the city?
In London, we lived very close to a hip part of the city called Fitzrovia. It offered a wide variety of take-out possibilities and made it pretty much impossible for us to find the motivation to cook ourselves. We were particularly fond of a specific pizza joint known as ICCO. While the steel diner looks they have chosen isn’t particularly inviting, the pizzas will make you forget that entirely.
We mostly just ordered the Margarita, as we like the simplicity, but you won’t go wrong with any of their choices. You get a generously sized pizza for around 5 GBP! Go for extra cheese if you dare, just don’t tell your dietician. We actually often shared a pizza, which felt like plenty of food to us.
We always managed to devour the pizza before snapping a good picture of it, so the one above isn’t actually from here. Instead, it’s from another great mini-chain called Pizza Union that you can also safely choose!
8. Indulge in the city’s best value steak dinner at Flat Iron
Whenever any non-vegetarians ask us where to eat in London, we always go with the same answer: Flat Iron. They have several spots around the city, but we believe the best one is in Covent Garden. That also happens to be the main tourist district, so that makes it a bit easier for your planning. They serve a single type of delicious and tender steak (the Flat Iron cut) with a side salad for around 10 GBP. We recommend you order their fries, or creamed spinach, on the side and go for the bearnaise sauce. There are also free popcorn appetizers, which are probably the best we’ve ever had! Don’t be afraid of asking for seconds. You can sometimes get some other beef cuts or a burger, but the choice varies, so don’t count on it. For dessert, we highly recommend their caramel ice cream.
Flat Iron doesn’t take reservations, so they often have a line. You can be lucky to walk straight in for lunch, but for dinner, you are almost guaranteed to have a wait of up to an hour. Thankfully, instead of having you wait outside in the cold, they will take your number and send you a text when a table is ready. That means the waiting time can easily be killed by having a pint or two at a nearby pub.
9. Enjoy sunset drinks and skyline views at Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie building
Maybe you aren’ that much into pubs, or maybe you just like to spice things up with a cocktail once in a while? Well, we got just the place for you too!
Even if you aren’t going to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, you should go see the amazing skyline views from Sky Garden. It’s basically an indoor garden located at the very top of 20 Fenchurch, also known as the Walkie Talkie Building. You’ll notice why when you visit.
You should note that you can’t just drop by there – admission is strictly by reservation. They have several restaurants where you can book a table, giving you full access. However, you can also get in for free if you book ahead of time on their website. You can only book 3 months in advance, but the tickets sell out fast, so don’t wait too long. We suggest you put a reminder in your calendar and book as soon as tickets are on sale.
We always made sure to have a booking here whenever we had some friends or family visiting us in London. Our favorite choice was generally a late afternoon slot, to enjoy the sunset over the skyline. It’s really a magnificent view. When you get in for free, it also makes it easier to justify buying an overpriced drink. So go to the bar and do just that before getting ready for the sunset magic to happen.
The skyline looks awesome at any time of the day, though, so don’t hesitate to go to Sky Garden for a morning croissant and a cup of coffee either.
10. Play Crazy Golf in the Gherkin building – a fun night out in the City
Almost right next door to Sky Garden in the Walke-Talkie building, you will find the aptly named Gherkin building. The Gherkin is another famous skyscraper located in the City of London, which is used primarily for offices. However, in the basement, fun happens. They have installed a giant “crazy golf” course, which is the name the English have given “mini-golf.” It’s a truly great course, in 2 parts, and you are sure to be impressed by the layout. Be prepared for a very English experience, with lots of beers and plenty of street-food like options.
The course is much harder than it looks, but it is really fun! The beers are, of course, a bit pricier here than elsewhere, but we think the experience more than makes up for that. Go and see if you don’t agree!
The place is called Swingers, and it’s the perfect place to get fancy cocktails, a pint, or some greasy snacks while having massive fun on the crazy golf course. We suggest you first go see the sunset at the Sky Garden at the top of the Walkie-Talkie building, before heading to the basement of the Gherkin for dinner and more drinks. That’s sure to make for an unforgettable night out. Make sure to book here as well, though, as the place does get busy, especially on a Friday evening.
That concludes our 10 greatest (less-touristy) tips for your London city getaway. Remember, there are many more things to see and do in this glorious city, so don’t be afraid of going out to explore it on your own.
Oh, and if you are traveling with a few little devils, you might be interested in the best things to do in London with kids!
As always, if you need any more advice for your trip, then please do not hesitate to leave a comment here or give us a shout on any social media channel of your choice. We promise we will get right back to you…
Now go enjoy amazing London!