Let’s be honest, the internet is full of articles about things to do in London! But what if you want to experience the city like an actual Londoner?
Whether you’re a visitor the the city, have recently migrated, or maybe you’re a Londoner yourself who’s never explored your city, there are many fabulous experiences in London beyond the famous attractions.
So in this list we’re excluding everything you’ve probably already seen, and everything you’ve already been told to do, to bring you some fabulous ideas for experiencing London like a local.
Have bags with you? Yikes, none of the locals do!
20 Things to Do Like a Local in London
#1 God’s Own Junkyard
One of the best ways to embrace the London spirit is to head straight to God’s Own Junkyard! This is a bit of a trek from South London, but is much more fascinating than the typical tourist trail museums guides normally recommend.
A gallery / museum in a salvage yard in Walthamstow, this is a louche cave that draws you in with its throbbing neon lights. And there’s a cafe onsite called The Rolling Scones.
Late owner Chris Bracey was a famous sign maker who started making signs for Soho’s strip clubs and brothels, though they then started popping up in Hollywood! The warehouse is his personal collection of signs, including work he did for the movie industry, like pieces from ‘Captain America’, and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’.
You’ll probably need a few hours to explore here. To get there you can take the Victoria Line to Walthamstow Central.
Image credit: Paul Hudson (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
#2 Severndroog Castle
Chances are you may not have heard of Severndroog Castle, though it’s definitely worth a visit after you’ve ticked off the more famous Tower of London and Buckingham Palace.
This is a Gothic Tower in Oxleas Wood, on Shooter’s Hill in south-east London. It is at 132 m above sea level, with panoramic views over seven counties: Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, and Bedfordshire (it’s one of the highest points in London)
Besides the view, the Tower is set on ancient woodland, and you can explore and hike London’s oldest wood: Oxleas. This is a great way to spend some time away from the city bustle.
Castle open times are seasonal, so best to check their website for up to date details. From 10 am – 4.30 pm Thursday – Sunday there’s a Tearoom open. Entry to the tower is £3.00.
Image credit: Anne and David via Flickr
#3 Walk along Regent’s Canal
Have you ever considered fishing in the middle of the city? Surely we can’t be talking about London?
It’s true though! Regent’s Canal is where locals head for walking, cycling, boating and fishing in the city. It’s a canal just north of central London that stretches from Paddington to the Thames at Limehouse.
And while this is a popular spot among local anglers, we suggest you join the London pedestrians.
The canal walk in London starts from Little Venice and finishes in Camden Lock. It passes by parks, a zoo, Camden Market, Victorian warehouses and celebrity hangouts.
#4 Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park
It’s one of the oldest outdoor theatres in Britain, but is stays somehow hidden inside Regents Park!
Performances here are seasonal and usually run from May until September. You can catch theatre, music, comedy and film events, and it’s definitely worth checking out at least one show here (book through their website).
We love family-friendly shows like Peter Pan, and you’ll never get bored with the classic Shakespeare. This is a great local alternative to lining up with other tourists who flock to the West End.
#5 Mayfield Lavender Farm
The UK has up to 10 secret lavender fields that locals like to keep to themselves, but Mayfield Lavender Farm in Croydon is perched on London’s very edge; an easy 15 miles from the city center close to Croydon station.
Lavender has bloomed throughout the UK since the 18th and 19th centuries, and this 25 acre farm was set up on an original Victorian site. You can walk through the fields, pick up some locally distilled oil, or enjoy an outdoor picnic of lavender tea and scones.
They even offer tractor tours which are usually around £2 for 15-20 minutes through the fields. The lavender normally starts to bloom towards the middle to end of June and the peak time is July and August.
#6 Swim in Hampstead Heath Ponds
Wild swimming in London? To quote their website: “Yes, it’s chilly, it’s muddy and there are ducks.”
But it’s glorious!
For an exceptionally natural experience, go ahead and strip off for some swimming in the famous Hampstead Heath ponds – probably the best to strive for summer though!
#7 One New Change Terrace
Most tourists will head to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but why view it from ground level when you can get a stunning view from the shopping mall just opposite?
Head to One New Change shopping center, summon the speedy lift, and whisk up to the 8th-floor roof top terrace. Here, you’ll get a stone cold stunning close-up view of St Paul’s Cathedral and its magnificent dome.
The rooftop is open from 6am-midnight daily, and you’ll also find Madison’s Restaurant and Bar if you’re hungry, or looking for a sunset tapas / cocktail combo.
#8 Kayak Down the Thames
You’ve been above it, and beneath it, but how about floating on the Thames?
Here several adventure providers in London offer plenty of adventure opportunities that include night kayaking under Tower Bridge and stand-up paddleboarding in Richmond!
#9 Notting Hill Carnival
Block out a day from the August bank holiday weekend and head west to see this Brazilian style carnival come alive in the streets with music, dancing, and street food.
It gets busy, and it gets loud – you’ve been warned!
Image credit: David Sedlecký (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons
#10 Soho Waiters Race
A quirky annual event in London where waiters race through the streets of Soho balancing trays of Prsecco!
This is an event that dates back to the 1950’s, so it’s a very popular local tradition. The rules are they have to hold the tray in one hand, while striving not to spill any!
#11 Spitalfields Goat Race
Another quirky event Londoners love – head to Spitalfields City Farm for this annual goat festival; it’s not just a race, there’s also a full schedule of activities including goat yoga, and a goat rave!
#12 Have a Picnic on Primrose Hill
Agreed; It’s a cliche! And yes, we’re trying to avoid those in this article. But with stunning views of rolling hills and parkland leading up to the city skyline, this is a favorite local spot for a picnic.
No need to carry a picnic from home – take some tempting foods from local shops. Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath is another decent picnic spot with views.
Image credit: Alexander Svensson (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
#13 Hit Up The London Gin Club
A relaxed soho bar with exceptional gins, the London Gin Club has over 300 of the best premium and super premium gins available including micro-distilleries and small batch producers from around the world.
Discover independent and rare gins, and classic cocktails with recipes dating back to the 1800s. They pride themselves on their Gin & Tonic, served in a copa glass over cracked ice with garnish individually matched to your gin of choice.
#14 Eat at Borough Market
Borough Market is a foodie paradise, and one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, with a market on the site dating back to at least the 12th century.
It’s been serving the people of Southwark for 1,000 years, though it’s definitely not a museum or a relic! This is still an energetic, bustling food market, and it gets busy during lunchtime, especially at weekends!
This is a great way to connect with local Londoners and buy local, as many of the traders are producers themselves, whether it’s ‘the farmer who reared the animal, the fisherman who caught the fish, the baker who baked the bread’.
As per the tagline, ‘join the scoundrels in Cahoots’, this is a 1940’s underground cocktail bar in an abandoned tube station in the Blitz, and it adheres to its theme very well!
Spirits are high, and the drinks never run dry!
#16 Eat a Brick Lane Beigel
Brick Lane is famous for its yellow and white bagel shops, and the Beigel Bake Brick Lane Bakery in particular has famously served this freshly-baked and generously-filled treat 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 1974.
Beigels here are baked in the traditional Jewish style with fillings like hot salt beef with mustard, chopped herring, and cream cheese and salmon.
They produce around 7,000 beigels every day!
Try both and avoid coming here during lunchtime though, as the queues are out the door!
#17 Curry in Southall
Southhall is London’s ‘Little India’, and this is where locals head for the best and most authentic curry. It’s like you’ve visited the subcontinent without having left west London!
#18 Ace Cafe
This is a cafe with a potted history; the Ace Cafe was established in 1938 as a simple roadside Cafe for travelers, particularly truckers and motorcyclists.
Perched by the North Circular, it’s a favorite among revheads and rock ‘n’ roll friends, and you can head here for live leather-jacketed bands, and endless vintage car and bike meetups.
#19 Bermondsey Beer Mile
The Bermondsey Beer Mile is a stretch of London’s best artisanal boozers. Though it’s become so popular with brewery bars and bottle shops that it’s actually closer to two miles these days!
This is a beer hop that will take you through 17 stops in South London, starting at Southwark Brewing Co, and ending at Fourpure Brewing Co. Tap rooms open on Saturday afternoons!
#20 Afternoon Tea
There’s nothing more British than afternoon tea in London!
If you want something elegant we recommend The Lanesborough. If you want glamour we recommend Balthazar London. If you want something classic we recommend Fortnum & Mason’s Tea Salon.