Best Things to Do in London (tips from a local!)

Looking for tips on the things to do in London?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Lucy Dodsworth who lived and worked in London for over ten years, and is now starting to get to know London as a visitor instead of as a resident.

Lucy shares with us her insider tips on the best things do in London including where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and explore.

Why Visit London, UK?

London is a real world city – with some of the most famous buildings, museums and galleries in the world and 2000 years of history to go with them.

But it’s not just looking backwards, there’s always a new bar, play or concert to see.

London is also one of the most international cities, with people from all around the world making their home here, so it’s just as easy to get Indian street food as it is a roast dinner.

Yes, it might rain a lot and no people won’t smile on the Tube, but whatever you’re interested in – from museums to shopping, rock to opera, budget to luxury – there’s a London that will suit you.

Things to Do in London
Tower Bridge

Best Things to Do in London, UK

Walk along the Southbank

Follow the Thames from the London Eye along to Tower Bridge and you’ll pass some of London’s most famous buildings, like the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern.

Find a great London view

To see the city from above, you can climb to the top of the Monument and the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, and from February there’ll be a viewing platform at the top of London’s new tallest building, the Shard.

Visit the London museums

The permanent collections at London’s museums are free so you can dip into as many as you like.

Choose from big names like the British Museum and National Gallery, or check out some of the smaller museums like Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Cabinet War Rooms.

Try this guided tour of the British Museum and National Gallery

Visit London parks and Escape the city

London has plenty of parks and gardens, from the manicured gardens of Hyde Park and St James Park to huge, hilly Hampstead Heath and the hidden gardens tucked away in residential squares.

Walk through London’s history

London Walks run themed walking tours around London, from the haunts of Jack the Ripper and night-time ghost tours, to Harry Potter film locations and Olympic London.

things to do in London
Inside the geology gallery at the Natural History Museum

Tours of London + Sightseeing & Passes

Get Your Guide has an incredible variety of tours, activities, tickets and passes with a list of handpicked tours and things to do in London.  Like this original Harry Potter Guided walking tour

The London Explorer Pass

gives you free entry to 60+ top London attractions, Hop on and Off sightseeing tour, and fast track passes at popular London attractions. 

Get yours and save money on travel to London.

The London Sightseeing Pass

Our favorite of the tourist discount cards is the London Sightseeing Pass for their flexibility and diversity. They offer entry to top London attractions, plus quirky local tours, and discounts on shopping and eating out.

See more information and get your pass here.

Best Neighborhoods in London

Covent Garden

One of London’s early markets and the original marketplace still stands in the Piazza.

But today it’s one of the city’s main entertainment and shopping areas, with stalls selling crafts and gifts rather than fruit and veg, with street performers and musicians, surrounded by bars and restaurants.

South Kensington

The place to go for museums, with the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and V&A are all in easy reach of each other.

From here you can walk up to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, or window-shop at the seriously expensive shops in Knightsbridge.

Bloomsbury

London’s academic heart.

It’s still home to the University of London, the British Museum and British Library, but was made famous by the Bloomsbury Group of 1930s intellectuals.

You’ll find blue plaques on their former houses all around the area, along with garden squares and coffee shops.

things to do in London
Inside the British Museum in Bloomsbury

Where to Eat in London

You can find food from almost any part of the world in London – like Bangladeshi in Brick Lane, Middle Eastern in Edgware Road and Caribbean in Brixton.

Good-value food chains to look out for include Leon, Busaba (Thai), Tas (Turkish), Pho (Vietnamese) and Wagamama (Japanese).

Street food has really taken off in London too, try Portobello Road Market and the Real Food Market on South Bank.

My favorite London food market though is Borough Market with over 70 different stalls selling produce from the UK and beyond and lots of tasting samples. While you’re there, don’t miss nearby Neal’s Yard Dairy for amazing cheeses.

things to do in london
Delicious cakes on a stall in Borough Market

You can’t visit London without eating

For a classic English tradition, it’s got to be afternoon tea.

Preferably with a glass of Champagne to go with your sandwiches, cakes and pastries, all served on an elegant cake stand with a pot of tea.

Some of the most well-known places for tea are The Ritz or Fortnum & Mason. But I love the afternoon tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery, in a light airy building in the park.

Where to Drink in London

Steer well clear of the overpriced touristy bars and clubs around the Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. If you’re looking for recommendations in a particular area, check out the review on the Time Out website.

Some of my favourites are the Booking Office and Champagne bars at St Pancras – a train station might not sound the most exciting place for a drink but the setting is beautiful.

Or for city views, perfect for a sunset cocktail, try Vertigo 42 in the city. And you can’t beat a cosy pub with a log fire in the winter, like The Flask in Highgate.

St Pancras Station - Things to Do in London St Pancras Station

Best places for a night on the town in London

London’s West End has a huge choice of musicals and plays. For the best tickets either book in advance or try the tickets booth in Leicester Square on the day.

For cinema, small independent places like the Screen on the Green in Islington, Curzon Soho and Prince Charles offer a wide variety of independent and foreign language films.

For live music, check out Ronnie Scotts in Soho for jazz, the Barbican for classical, the O2 for big names, and the Camden and Dalston areas for up-and-coming bands.

Where to Stay in London

London’s not cheap, but you can find a few London budget accommodation options.

  • For a local and unique stay check out the properties available on Airbnb in London. 
  • For a hostel, try the YHA London Central, about five minutes walk from Oxford Street, or the Safestay Hostel.
  • For a budget hotel, the Asian chain Tune have four hotels across the city from about £35 a night.
things to do in london
view across the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern’s Cafe

Markets & Shopping in London

London has a wide range of markets.

Some of my favourites are Borough Market for food and drink, Portobello Road Market for antiques and fashion, Camden Market for vintage and alternative clothes, and the Colombia Road Flower Market.

Oxford Street is the city’s most famous shopping street, but it’s mostly full of chain stores and big department stores.

For more interesting independent shops check out Carnaby Street, Covent Garden or the King’s Road.

Also worth seeing is Harrods, though more for its completely over-the-top décor – especially at Christmas – than for actual shopping.

things to do in london
The lights of Canary Wharf at night

Festivals & Events in London

London has hundreds of festivals and events each year, so you can usually find something going on whenever you visit.

For old-school British events, there’s the Trooping of the Colour in June, a huge military parade to celebrate the Queen’s Official Birthday (she gets to have two, her real one is in April) and the Lord Mayor’s Show in November.

Other major events include firecrackers and fireworks in Chinatown for Chinese New Year, the Caribbean style Notting Hill Carnival in August, cheering the runners at the London Marathon in April, and getting a glimpse into some of London’s normally inaccessible buildings over Open House weekend in September.

Getting around London

Central London is fairly walkable, but the city sprawls out so you’ll need to use the Tube or bus. Get an Oyster card to save money on transport – you load it up with money and touch in and out on the bus or Tube.

Also, try the riverboat services along the Thames for a scenic view of the city. But watch out for line closures on the Tube at weekends and it closes every night around 1 am, so you’ll need to get a night bus or cab after that.

things to do in london
London Underground, aka The Tube

Finding WiFi in London

Free wifi access in London isn’t great but it’s getting better. There are free wireless hotspots in Islington and the City of London.

Otherwise, chain cafes like Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Coffee Republic give free wifi to customers, and there are a whole load of other independent places with wifi listed on the Time Out website.

Best Time to Visit London

London’s weather is always unpredictable and if it’s bad then there are plenty of things to do inside.

In the summer, you can spend time outside in the parks and at outdoor festivals and events.

But winter is a great time to visit too, with Christmas markets in Hyde Park and along South Bank, and outdoor ice rinks in the Tower of London and (my favorite for its beautiful setting) Somerset House.

things to do in london
The ice skating rink outside Somerset House just before Christmas

Best side trip from London

In the summer, I’d head an hour south of London to Brighton to paddle on the pebbly beach, eat candy floss on the pier and check out the cool shops in the narrow streets of the Lanes.

Otherwise, I’d head west to Oxford to see the famous university colleges, visit some of the museums and try out punting on the river.

things to do in london
Brighton beach

Getting to London

London is a major international hub with five main airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Luton and Stansted.

But watch out as although they’re described as ‘London’ airports they’re often way out of the city, so you’ll need to get a train or bus into central London.

There’s also the international Eurostar train service which runs from Paris and Brussels right into St Pancras Station in the centre of town.

Best insiders tip for London

To see the ‘real’ London, get out of the centre to some of the outer neighbourhoods. Each has their own totally different feel.

  • Try Hampstead and Highgate for literary history, celeb spotting and leafy parks.
  • Notting Hill for coffee shops, retro shops and antique markets.
  • Shoreditch for street art, hipster boutiques and and Brick Lane curries.
  • Or stand on the meridian timeline and check out the National Maritime Museum and pubs along the riverside in Greenwich.
things to do in london
The Anchor Pub on the banks of the Thames

I love London because …

There’s always something going on and you can come back again and again and see a completely different city every time.

Plan Your Trip to London

Accommodation in London

Flights to London

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, you book directly through the airline or agent (no extra fees).
  • Scott’s Cheap Flights have amazing deals on cheap flights

Tours & Sightseeing

More London posts

BIO: Lucy is a UK-based editor and designer and part-time traveller. She started her blog On the Luce for people like her who want to make the most of their travel time as they combine their passion for travel with family, friends, work, love and everyday life. You can find out more about her travels on Twitter and Facebook.

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Do you have any tips on things to do in London? Share in the comments.

84 thoughts on “Best Things to Do in London (tips from a local!)”

  1. On the subject of Oyster cards, make sure you touch in AND out of the stations. The touch points at some stations are easy to miss and if you don’t touch out you will be charged the maximum amount possible for your journey even if you only travel in one zone.

    If you like cocktails I would also suggest popping into Freud bar on Shaftesbury avenue or the Arts Theatre Club in Soho (teapot cocktails!). Both bars are small and can get really busy in the evenings but if you get there early enough I highly recommend it.

  2. Afternoon tea at Claridges is also worth a shout although book in advance.

    Cheap accommodation may also be found if you look up the UK versions of Travelodge or Premier Inn. They have a vast selection of properties around London and the UK.

  3. “There’s always something going on and you can come back again and again and see a completely different city every time.”

    Right on! I’ve visited London for the fourth year in a row this year and for the fifth time in total and each year I discover new things. Already have my list for next year!

  4. I’m glad that you have mentioned some budget-friendly options too. I’ve been thinking of visiting this wonderful city for several weeks now, but I still don’t have enough money, since I had the luck to travel to Toronto on a budget two months ago. In Europe it is quite easy to travel cheap, but unfortunately, London doesn’t belong to the cheaper cities. I would appreciate any tips how to get the most out of the city for a small amount of money;)

  5. It’s where I grew up even though I’ve been in exile for years. I still visit 2 or 3 times a year and love it, of course. There are so many hidden secrets too – check out the lidos (open air pools) in the summer and cross the Thames by walking UNDER it using the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. I’d also suggest using a ‘Boris Bike’ to get around – it’s much less daunting than you’d think.

    1. Hi Andy,

      Well, you grew up in a great city. I lived there for 2 years 97-99. Thanks for the extra tips, we’d love to do a summer in London now there’s four of us!

    2. I spent five weeks working in London a few years back and lived right next to the foot tunnel. I loved walking across to Greenwich!

    3. I spent five weeks working in London a few years back and lived next to the foot tunnel. I loved walking under the Thames to Greenwich.

  6. Such a comprehensive guide. It’s very obvious to me now that I need to spend way more time in London. I’ve never managed to get out of the airport as of yet.

  7. Great guide. If you have kids, or are a big kid yourself, try the Science Museum. But give yourself plenty of time – it’s huge! And Camden Lock is a must see.

  8. Great London guide. I don’t agree with you on your choice of neighborhoods though.

    The west side is a little bit to mainstream for my taste. i like the more hip bars and clubs in the eastern pars like Shoreditch and Islington. But we are all differnt i guess 🙂

    great looking site as well

    1. Yes. All different Peter. Thank you so much for mentioning these suburbs as I am sure lots of people would love to check them out. I used to go to a couple of bars in Islington–cool area

  9. Hotel near Big Ben

    I love London–its my favorite destination. I usually use the big sites to find hotels. Recently came across to your blog, very good information and very much helpful for me, the picture are awesome too, thanks a lot for sharing this post. Glad 🙂

  10. I love London. It is my favourite destination. I have been to London many times, but still want to go there again and again.

  11. My favourite place to eat is definitely Brixton Village. Its hidden in a series of old alley ways that look pretty run down, but inside there are tonnes of lovely little eateries with delicious food for under £10. My favourites are Honest Burger, Wish Bone and The Joint. Most places allow you to bring your own wine, although be sure to take cash as a lot of places don’t have card facilities. Also, I recommend catching show at the Royal Opera House if possible, they do seats from £5 (restricted view) but its worth that just to see the amazing building!

  12. A good post for the guidance, I always love to see this city. Its market places, Borough Market for food, drink and Portobello Road Market for antiques and fashion are my favorite’s places, whenever I go, visits these markets for updated things.

  13. Nice list 🙂 We’ve been in London for over 6 years now and can vouch for all these places. London never ceases to surprise us with all it has to offer !

    Brick Lane and Dalston are our favourite neighbourhoods to check. Lots of culture, amazing food, and great street art on offer ! In terms of markets, we’d add Greenwich market to the list too 🙂

    Cheers

  14. What a great list! I love the fact that you added some things that are free too because people generally find London very expensive when it doesn’t have to be! Even though I’ve lived here for 5 years I still look for free or cheap things to do, and this page I found has really helped with some suggestions http://www.citymarque.com/london/free-things-to-do-in-london/ .

    The museums are always a good bet, as they suit all ages and we are fortunate enough to have some of the best in the world here in London!

  15. Thanks for sharing. I have wanted to go to London for the longest time. There is so much to see there. Plus you can travel to neighboring countries, such as Wales and Scotland. If it is planned out properly, you can go on a not too expensive budget. And I want to see all the museums.

  16. Primrose Hill is a lovely park too with great views of London and a really pretty high street that has lots of cool little shops, restaurants and cafés (and lots of famous residents!) 🙂

  17. Awesome…Its very good information. London is the kind of place where no tourist can ever be disappointed. Also I want adding some point in this list like

    Barbecoa – This steakhouse not only provides gorgeous food but also stunning views of St Paul’s and is known for quality meat, fish and seafood.

    Gordan Ramsay’s The Savoy Grill – this French and British menu now serves up some of the highest quality food in town.

  18. A really nice and extensive guide to London. This city always surprises me with hidden less-travelled places to visit. During my previous trip, I bumped into the Southwark Cathedral a hidden gem, definitely worth a visit, plus a walking distance to the Borough Market and London Bridge.

  19. Mayfair bars are known to offer an exclusive experience to people seeking fun with great luxury. Mayfair Eccentrics provides you the latest and most authentic information about these exclusive bars that have been designed to cater to the needs of the rich and celebrities for enjoying the best drinks in a great ambience.

  20. You have covered quite a lot about things to do in London. Very impressive and comprehensive article. Nice read 🙂 High time to travel to London, at this time of the year. Merry Christmas to all in Advance!

  21. Excellent Blog!!! Interesting information about things to in London. I’m glad I stumbled on it while browsing the web.Thanks for sharing valuable stuff taken your time. Really appreciative wok.

  22. I am bringing my family to London from the US for my Mom’s 70th birthday. We have 4 days in Lindon then need to get to South Hampton to catch a cruise ship for Ireland and Scotland. Are there any inexpensive ways to get 5 people with luggage from London to South Hampyon on a Wednesday morning in June? Any help on this would be appreciated! Thank you!

  23. London is a real world city with some of the most famous buildings, museums and galleries in the world and 2000 years of history to go with them.If you’re visiting UK for business or pleasure, AirportsFirst Taxi ensure you achieve utmost satisfaction. AirportsFirst Ltd is a company that provides exclusive chauffeur 24 hours services in the London towns such as Belgravia, Chelsea, Mayfair, Islington, Clerkenwell, Barbican, Regents Park, Pimlico, Whitechapel & Mile End are just the few that are in our reach. We also get to major airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend and London City airport among others during our operation.Simple Book your cab by calling or booking online by giving details about your travel in UK.

  24. Thanks for all the great tips, One thing I would suggest if you’re not using public transport would be to pre book a taxi as Black cabs can be up to 50% more expensive. Also its quite handy for going to and from airports with luggage.

  25. This post is so attractive. London was totaly the best place to visit for me. Last year i had a trip to London,using this blog as a “guide”, and still i couldn’t see all the attractions. So i used Vivaster which made it much easier

  26. Great tips! I found a great vlog on youtube that shows london in a nutshell.. Very fun and entertaining video. irnl.it/175 Keep up the good work!

  27. Great tips! I would also add that it’s probably best not to rely on free wifi and instead get a pay-as-you-go sim from 3 and you can pay £25 for unlimited data for a month – perfect for all the Citymapper and Google Maps usage you’d want 🙂

    Emma
    http://fizzy-cola.com

  28. I’ve lived in London for 4 years now and I haven’t even been to some of these places! I just wrote a piece on some places that I think are pretty underrated in London, let me know what you think!

  29. Hey Caz and Craig,

    AWESOME List! Already shared it on my pinterest! I like it that you mention as well the weather in london. I agree, the weather is unpredictable. I went there in November which gave me the original London-feeling. Every day it rained a tiny bit. It was fun either way, I somehow expected it anyway.

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed some entertainment around, as long as it’s not a heavy rain, it’s okay, I guess.
    I will keep reading now, let’s see if I find more pinterest-able posts, no doubt actually! THANKS!!!!! Matt

  30. Hi Caz, hey Craig,

    what an awesome post. Although it’s from 2012, it seems to be pretty accurate still.

    I was wondering if you found any more cafés with WiFi? Just a thought.

    As for hostels, I would add Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage, it is an old victorian building, great area and vibes. Very family-friendly as well, so you would enjoy it as well.
    I recently wrote a post as well about things and activities in london. It’s really packed with EVERYTHING, this list could be endless 😀
    However, it’s a brand new article, so I thought it could be interesting https://hostelgeeks.com/27-fun-things-to-do-london/

    BTW I found this piece via pinterest, but I knew your blog long before. Always inspiring!!!

    Safe travels, Matt

  31. Great guide, I love the parks in london. And also the area around paddington, its a very good place to stay.
    I can recommend a good place to eat, “The Diner” very you can get a good burger.

  32. My advice for finding wifi in any major city is simple, just find a fast food burger restaurant , get into a McDonald or burger king 100% of the times you find free wifi, and it’s anywhere!

  33. Claire Latchford

    Since this was done there have been changes to the tube system, it now runs 24hr on Friday and Saturday night on most lines. Buses no longer take cash but Contactless Bank cards are accepted as an alternative to the oyster card and work in the same way. Also if you use more than one bus in an hour you will only be charged for one journey.

  34. I was in london last month for a business trip. Ever since i came back i can’t stop thinking about taking a vaction and explore london and the neighbouring places. Planning to visit again soon.

  35. Adegboyega ADEBAYO

    I want to know how far Barbados is from UK and the possibility of visiting the place during my trip to UK soon

  36. I have visited London 8 month ago, and I am planning to visit this great town again in the near future. I have cheerful memories, I like the winter there and it was very interesting to walk on roads paths. Last time I did not cover up most of the historical and beautiful places, your recommendation and advice will be very welcomed in directing me to your favorite places, as I like cinema, beach football and archaeological sites.

  37. Love it! I spent a sleepless weekend in London back in 2010 when I first visited it. I’d love to go back and do everything that you have mentioned in your post.
    Website- Travelouts.com

  38. Love this article! You are sharing the great info. I am so excited to try these things. Thanks a lot for sharing the great article.

  39. Hello Craig. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I definitely agree there is tons to do in London and I am a traveler as well and I go to London often. I enjoy how much there is to do in the city. I feel every time I go back to London I have new experiences because there is always something more to do and honestly I give myself a huge list and when I finish doing something in London that I have never done I cross it off my list and move on to the next task on my list for London. The transportation is excellent and yes, Starbucks, for example has free wifi and it’s nice. I also love their markets, such as Borough Market, which offers great food!

    1. Hi John, glad you found our post on things to do in London useful. And yes, there are endless new things to discover, such a big and sprawling city. Yep, the Tube is great for getting around, and whilst we prefer independent coffee shops to Starbucks, it is useful for wifi and toilets etc

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