From outdoor pools and African restaurants to dingy museums — these are the best under-the-radar things to do in London, according to Londoners.
According to TripAdvisor, there are over 1,700 tourist attractions and 18,000 restaurants in London, not even counting parks, pop-ups, and seasonal attractions.
With so much going on, it’s easy for visitors to get overwhelmed with choice during a weekend in the UK capital — or to end up only hitting the easy, obvious tourist spots.
In order to ensure a truly authentic London experience, the real-life Londoners from the Business Insider UK office have compiled a list of the best things to do in the city if you’re trying to avoid crowds of travellers, lengthy queues, and hefty price tags.
From gilded museums and sprawled-out parks to quirky breweries and hidden-away restaurants, the list offers a look at how a true Londoner spends their weekend.
Scroll down to discover 34 under-the-radar things everyone should do on a weekend in London, according to Londoners.
Take a stroll around the Capital Ring walk.
“The Capital Ring walk is a great (and free!) way to spend a Sunday, particularly Section Four between Streatham Common and Crystal Palace,” said Sarah Kocianski, a Senior Research Analyst for BI who has lived in London for the past seven years.
“It takes you through the Rookery gardens — a beautifully restored formal garden — and there are some great pubs at both ends of the walk if you need extra motivation.”
Nearest station: Streatham Common (Zone 3).
Grab a curry at Tayyabs in Whitechapel.
“Tayyabs curry house — an East London institution — is the very definition of organised chaos,” said BI’S Associate Social Media Editor Tom Murray, who has lived in London for the past six months.
“Waiters weave seamlessly between customers while somehow balancing 17 sizzling dishes about their person. When the food quickly reaches your table, you are rewarded with Punjabi fare you’d happily wait hours for.”
Nearest station: Whitechapel (Zone 2).
Take a stroll through Victoria Park in Bow.
“Victoria Park is a jewel of a park in between Hackney and Tower Hamlets,” said Politics Fellow at BI Adam Becket, who moved to London in 2016.
“It feels a world away from the skyscrapers you can see from the park, with so much open space to relax in. It’s bordered by the Regent’s Canal and has a very upmarket food market on Sundays. It’s a great place to exercise, escape, and stroll around.”
Nearest station: Homerton (Zone 2).
Grab a vegan burger at The Waiting Room in Deptford.
“The Waiting Room in Deptford is a must-see — an amazing, cheap, vegetarian and vegan cafe that only costs about £15 for two,” said BI’s Sports Reporter Alan Dawson, who has lived in London for the past 10 years.
“Tasty coffees, delicious breakfasts, heavy metal music, and weird punk decor.”
Nearest station: Deptford (Zone 2/3).
Take a stroll through Highgate Cemetery.
“Highgate Cemetery is great for a quiet and reflective afternoon,” said BI’s News Editor Kieran Corcoran, a resident of the capital for around four years.
“It’s full of elaborate Victorian monuments, and is the final resting place of Karl Marx. Other famous residents include novelist George Eliot, poet Christina Rossetti, scientist George Faraday, and murdered Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.”
Nearest station: Archway (Zones 2/3).
Grab a pint and watch a match at the Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park.
“Tucked away in the residential roads behind north London’s Finsbury Park, the Faltering Fullback pub boasts one of the city’s best beer gardens,” said Fraser Moore, a BI Research Fellow who moved to London three and a half years ago.
“A modern-day Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the multi-platform drinking space provides a cosy and unique experience. Inside, the pub offers a friendly atmosphere for locals and the area’s growing twenty-something crowd.
“The Fullback is an ideal location for watching sports — particularly football and rugby — as indicated by the wide range of memorabilia adorning the walls,” Moore added.
Nearest station: Finsbury Park (Zone 2).
Wander through the gilded rooms of The Wallace Collection in Marylebone.
“The best museum in London, The Wallace Collection is hidden away from the bustle of Oxford Street in Manchester Square,” said Becket.
“The collections of Dutch, Belgian, and Italian art are some of the best in London and The Laughing Cavalier is a must see. There’s all sorts to see — from armour and weaponry to fine art and furniture. The café in the centre is a fantastic place to have afternoon tea.”
Nearest station: Bond Street (Zone 1).
Witness some old, grimy London history and get locked up in The Clink near Southbank.
“The Clink is a £4 museum near the old site of a prison that lasted about 400 or 500 years. William Shakespeare was a regular visitor [for leisure rather than being locked up],” said Dawson.
“Prisoners had to pay to be in the prison, so they’d go out and beg on the streets in chains — hence the name ‘the clink.’ This is proper, grimy, old London history,” he said.
Nearest station: London Bridge (Zone 1).
Grab a cocktail and soak up some smooth jazz at the Jazz Café in Camden.
“An intimate bar and music venue, The Jazz Café in Camden hosts new and eclectic talent which offers a fresh experience every visit,” said Connie Main, a History Researcher who has lived in south London since birth.
“Those who want a more relaxed evening can watch the action from the cocktail bar upstairs, while the more lively music lovers can watch from the ground floor bar.”
Nearest station: Camden Town (Zone 2).
Go for gold at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.
“The new Olympic park in Stratford is an under-appreciated gem,” said Corcoran.
“It’s lovely just to walk around, and the sports facilities used in the 2012 games are now open to the public. For £5 you can swim in the pool where Michael Phelps won six medals, and for £45 you can get a taster session at the Lee Valley VeloPark where Sir Chris Hoy and Laura Trott took gold for Team GB.”
“The nearby Here East development has a series of fun bars and restaurants, too.”
Nearest station: Stratford (Zone 2/3).
Order up an Eritrean feast at The Blue Nile in Woolwich.
“This Eritrean restaurant is a local legend,” Dawson said.
“Northeast African stews are served like tapas with injera — a spongy pancake-of-sorts that you use instead of a knife and fork. There aren’t many places in London left where you can have a high-quality meal for two, Eritrean spiced teas, dessert, and have change left from £30.”
Nearest station: Woolwich Arsenal (Zone 4).
Take a dip in the chilly waters of Tooting Bec Lido all year round.
The country’s largest freshwater outdoor pool at 92 metres long, Tooting Bec Lido’s colourful doors and year-round activities have been part of the south London community’s backbone since 1906.
“You have to be a member to swim in the winter, but it’s very easy to sign up,” said Lifestyle Fellow Bobbie Edsor, who moved to London in July.
“No matter what time of year you go, though, there’s always people milling and bobbing around. The lido offers a proper community in a city that can sometimes feel quite isolating —and they’re very welcoming!”
Nearest station: Streatham (Zone 3).
Compare bagels from the rival beigel shops on Brick Lane.
“Beigel Bake and Beigel Shop are two of the oldest and most famous bagel shops in the UK — and the deepest of rivals, despite only lurking mere metres away from each other’s doorsteps,” said Edsor.
“The Kray twins were reportedly regulars at Beigel Shop in their heyday, while Beigel Bake is known for its hot and tender salt beef bagels. Whichever side of the rivalry you choose to support, you can grab a ring of delightfully chewy, decadent dough slathered in pretty much any topping you can think of from either store.”
Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street (Zone 1).
Take your loose change to the Novelty Automation arcade in Holborn.
“Novelty Automation in Holborn is one of the strangest places you will ever visit: It’s an old storefront filled with surreal, handmade mechanical games and machines in the tradition of Victorian automata but with a sly, modern sense of humour,” explained BI UK Editor-in-Chief Jim Edwards, who moved to London three years ago.
“For instance, one machine, titled ‘Is It Art?’ lets you place any object inside it whereupon an ‘expert’ robot examines it and then renders a judgment. Delightfully pointless.”
Nearest stations: Holborn (Zone 1), Chancery Lane (Zone 1).
Lounge on Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park.
Regarding the views to be spotted from Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park, BI Tech Reporter Edoardo Maggio said: “I could say something, but the picture says it all.
“It’s just a small park, but with arguably one of the best views of London — if not the best outright. I’ve been there countless times and it still leaves me amazed each time,” said Maggio, who moved to London in September 2014.
Nearest stations: Baker Street (Zone 1), Regent’s Park (Zone 1), Great Portland Street (Zone 1).
Take a break from city living at Mudchute City Farm on the Isle of Dogs.
“London created a handful of city farms throughout the late 1900s to give city children a taste of the countryside. Mudchute is one of the largest, covering 30 acres in the Isle of Dogs, just a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf,” said Digital Fellow Harry Kersh, who has lived in London for the last year.
“They have a load of different animals ranging from llamas to ducks, as well as several picnic areas for those just looking to relax. Best of all, entry to the farm is completely free! Just be sure to bring some change to buy bags of feed for the animals.”
Nearest station: Mudchute (Zone 2).
Take a stroll through Crystal Palace park, admiring the local…dinosaurs.
“The Dinosaur Court was built in 1852 to thrill Victorian visitors to the original Crystal Palace (which was destroyed in a fire in 1936). The life-size concrete structures were designed by Sir Richard Owen, the man who coined the term ‘dinosaur,'” explained Edwards.
“At the time of their unveiling, six years before Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution, they were one of the most spectacular things you could see in London.
“Today, their charm is that many of them are wildly inaccurate depictions before modern palaeontologists figured out that the creatures were more closely related to birds than giant lizards. The park displays accurate diagrams of the dinosaurs alongside sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ more charming mistakes.
“The park is free, and it also has a lake where you can rent rowboats and pedalos. It’s great if you have kids. A short walk away, the centre of town has plenty of nice restaurants and pubs and a terrific view of the London skyline,” Edwards said.
Nearest station: Crystal Palace (Zone 4).
Grab a pint by the canal at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick.
“Go here to drink good craft beer by the canal, eat delicious pizza, and watch good DJs spin vinyl,” said BI Web Producer Sabrina Cesar, who has lived in London for the past three and a half years.
“You can always extend your fun by going to Howling Hops — the first tank bar in the UK —that’s right next to Crate where you can try beer from 10 different tanks.”
Nearest station: Hackney Wick (Zone 2).
Grab some dinner in Tooting Market, and sit back as the nightlife unfolds around you.
“Tooting Market hosts everything — from fresh groceries, fashion and music, to beauty salons, craft sellers, furniture, and endless food stalls,” said BI’s Senior Video Producer Leon Siciliano.
“As well as the daytime antics on offer, the market is equally as lively at night when excellent craft beer stalls, gin bars, and wine bars start playing music and open their doors onto the communal benches. Unlike many other markets across London, Tooting has retained its laid-back, authentic mix of independent and chain businesses.”
Nearest station: Tooting Broadway (Zone 3).
Have brunch (with or without bubbles) at Sunday in Barnsbury.
“Go for brunch at Sunday in Barnsbury,” said Ali Millington, BI’s Lifestyle Editor who moved to London in 2013.
“Tucked away in a residential area, it’s the best brunch in the city. The mouthwatering stack of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup make the queue worth it, especially on a sunny day.”
Nearest station: Caledonian Road & Barnsbury (Zone 2).
Browse the independent shops and cafes along Stoke Newington Church Street.
“Stoke Newington Church Street is a very charming street in Stoke Newington with plenty of good restaurants, shops and bars,” said Cesar.
“My favourites are the recently opened Mother Kelly’s for good craft beer, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (the same one seen in the movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’), Nook Shop for home decor, and the Green Room Cafe for a cup of tea.”
Nearest station: Stoke Newington (Zone 2).
Head to Pop Brixton for laid-back vibes and some of the UK capital’s best pizza.
“Pop Brixton is a hub of small independent businesses — all rammed into converted shipping containers in true hipster fashion,” said Marketing Manager Billie Holland, who has lived in London her whole life.
“My favourite pizza restaurant, which was voted home to both the first and second best pizza in London, Made of Dough, lurks here. If pizza’s not your thing, there are plenty of other independent eateries and bars, with live music and DJs late into the evening. Unlike Camden Loch or Covent Garden, this is a hangout spot for real Londoners.”
Nearest station: Brixton (Zone 2).
Take a look at some Victorian toys at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.
“The infant branch of the much bigger — and busier — V&A is worth a visit, especially with children,” said BI’s Finance Reporter Tom Colson, who first moved to London two years ago.
“It’s in Bethnal Green, which is only a few stops from Soho on the Central Line, and has the largest collection of childhood objects in the UK, most of which are from the Victorian era (and way more interesting than they sound!)
“It’s currently running a brilliant Michael Morpurgo exhibition (until February 2018), which is packed with interesting notes and manuscripts from his iconic books.”
Nearest stations: Bethnal Green (Zone 2), Cambridge Heath (Zone 2).
Grab a coffee and mooch your way around Broadway Market in Hackney.
“Every weekend trip to Hackney should involve Broadway Market, which rivals any you’ll go to,” said Colson.
“As well as selling vintage clothes and nice handmade stuff, it’s a foodie paradise: stalls sell free-range meat and organic breads, and there are nice pubs dotted at either end. Make sure you get a coffee from Pavilion Cafe.”
Nearest stations: London Fields (Zone 2), Cambridge Heath (Zone 2).
Try orange wine at Bedales in Borough Market.
“This cosy wine bar is the perfect spot to escape the crowds of the market — and the charcuterie board is a must-order item if you’ve worked up an appetite,” said Millington.
“Be sure to try the orange wine if you’re feeling adventurous.”
Nearest station: London Bridge (Zone 1).
Order a cocktail at high-altitude at Frank’s Cafe in Peckham.
“Frank’s Cafe is south London’s worst kept secret,” said Edsor.
“This rooftop carpark has been converted into a gallery space and open-air bar and restaurant. Long lines of picnic benches see businessmen, art students, and everyone in between mingle over pints and Moscow Mules.
“The bright pink staircase that ascends to the rooftop will look great on your Instagram (a cheeky snap or Boomerang is essential practice for every visitor) and, when you finally reach the top, the views over Canary Wharf and wider London are just spectacular. The sunset from this height is jaw-droppingly gorgeous.”
Nearest station: Peckham Rye (Zone 2).
Play bingo in Elephant and Castle.
“Bingo hardly has the ‘coolest’ reputation, but it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with the retro carpets and fluorescent hues of the bingo hall in Elephant and Castle’s London Palace,” said Edsor.
“Drinks are cheap, there’s almost always a dinner option from one local eatery or another, and it’s a great excuse to gather some friends and do something highly ironic yet way more fun than it sounds.”
Nearest station: Elephant & Castle (Zone 1/2).
Buy a bunch of flowers at Columbia Road Flower Market.
Colson recommends Columbia Road for a laid-back, Sunday morning excursion.
“Every Sunday, all year round, hundreds of flower sellers and market traders descend on Columbia Road in Hackney and transform the place for a few hours,” he said.
“You can find pretty much any flower or plant you want there, and it’s worth going if only for the colourful spectacle. Open every day from around 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., but get there early before it gets hectic.”
Nearest station: Hoxton (Zone 1/2).
Crack open a cold one at Beavertown Brewery in Tottenham Hale.
Sophie Harvey, an independent food startup founder who has always lived in London, recommends Beavertown Brewery for special edition brews and tasty beer snacks.
“Londoners really love their craft beer, and Beavertown is by far the best,” she said.
“Hit up Beavertown for the best selection of London beers. Every Saturday, the brewery opens its doors and punters can chill amongst the kettles, drink delicious beers, and indulge in some pitta nachos from a cute pitta chip van next door.”
Nearest station: Tottenham Hale (Zone 3).
Unleash your inner eccentric at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
“This tiny central London museum is the legacy of eccentric Victorian collector Sir John Soane — and has been kept more or less exactly how he left it,” explained Corcoran.
“His four-storey townhouse — which he expanded several times so it could hold more things —is crammed with architectural models, curios, paintings, and an Egyptian pharaoh’s sarcophagus. It’s also free.”
Nearest station: Holborn (Zone 1).
Slip into your bowling shoes at Rowans in Finsbury Park.
“Rowans Tenpin Bowl in Finsbury Park is a true gem,” said Murray.
“This retro bowling alley has been serving north London’s punters for over 100 years. Not only can you bowl, but you can drink, dance, play arcade machines — there’s even karaoke and turns into a nightclub on the weekend with live DJs. Did I mention you can get pizza delivered right to your bowling lane?”
Hike a trail through Epping Forest.
“Epping Forest is London’s largest open space, covering 2,400 hectares of land. It’s free to enter and open 365 days a year,” said Kersh.
“There are dozens of trails to follow, as well as a hundred lakes and ponds you can relax by. It’s a great way to escape the city and get into the wild, but without having to travel way into the English countryside.”
Nearest station: Loughton (Zone 6).
Grab a football-friendly pie at Piebury Corner in Highbury.
“Piebury Corner – a play on Islington’s Highbury Corner – is the place to go for a classic Cockney pie in north London,” said Moore. “Once a mere stand serving Arsenal fans on match days, it’s since expanded to two locations on Holloway Road and in King’s Cross.”
“Tasty pies – served with chips or mash and peas and gravy – are named after legendary Arsenal players. Vegetarian options are also available and equally delicious.”
Nearest stations: Holloway Road (Zone 2), King’s Cross (Zone 1).
Peruse an exhibition as part of the Late at Tate Modern series.
“On the last Friday of each month, the Tate Modern extends its opening hours until 10 p.m., installs a couple of bars on site, and invites DJs to perform live music while you roam around,” explained News Fellow Alex Ma, who moved to London in June 2016.
“It’s a great option either for a date, a drink before a night out, or just as a chance to see the Tate’s art without having to jostle with hundreds of other people during the day.”
Nearest stations: Blackfriars (Zone 1), Southwark (Zone 1).