If I’m being brutally honest, the desire has never really existed within me to visit London. I know that must make me some kind of Philistine, but I’ve always struggled to see the appeal of dreary weather over crowded streets in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
It’s not that I have no desire to visit the United Kingdom – far from it – but the ‘lure’ of London just seems lost on me. Sure, it might be cool to say I’ve been in the Tower of London or seen Madam Tussaud’s, but at the end of the day, very few things infuriate me more the press of a crowd.
But with the London Olympics just around the corner, what better time to turn my eye to the old dart and suggest some different things to do in London? Much like I recently did when discussing different places to go in China, I’ve put together a list of ten slightly less clichéd things to do in London.
#10 – Check out one of the ‘other’ footballs
While it’s true that England is most famed for football of the soccer variety, it certainly isn’t the only game in town. London also plays hosts to teams playing rugby union and rugby league. Why shell out a few hundred quid for a seat at Emirates (Arsenal) or Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) when you can get a seat to watch the London Broncos in the English Super League, or the London Wasps; Harlequins; or London Irish in the English Aviva Premiership.
While you won’t get the pageantry of a singing crowd at a ‘soccer’ football match, you’ll still be seeing a traditionally English sport being played and you’ll be spending of a fraction of the price.
If seeing the round ball game is a priority for you, why not opt to avoid lining the coffers of Chelsea, Arsenal, or Tottenham in favor of supporting one of London’s less internationally renowned clubs? Charlton Athletic, Fulham, Millwall, Leyton Orient, and Crystal Palace are all viable choices if you’re looking to see football without the billion dollar squads. A ticket to see Leyton Orient play will set you back as little as 14 pounds.
Heck, go balls deep and aim for the really cheap seats. Catch powerhouses like Cray Wanderers, Tooting & Mitcham United, or Dulwich Hamlet FC hoofing the ball about in the lower tiers of England’s immense footballing pyramid. You can see mighty Dulwich Hamlet run around for a humble 8 pounds.
#9 – Indulge in some people watching in Shoreditch
This suggestion comes courtesy of the supremely talented photographer, Kyle Hepp, who you can follow on Twitter @kylehepp. A bit of people watching is one of her favorite things to do in London.
Somewhat akin to Sydney’s Newtown, Shoreditch is a built up area of trendy eateries & night spots; street markets; and a bit of an indy shopping mecca. And much like Newtown or hippie cities such as Portland in the United States, Shoreditch is a great place to sit down and while a way an hour or two people watching while you eat at one of the countless eateries in the area.
Whether you’re bargain hunting in Brick Lane Market or sipping a cocktail in one of the many unique bars and night clubs in the area, the formerly trendy London suburb still has a lot to offer those wanting a step away from the grind of High Street.
#8 – Browse the Borough Markets
Two separate readers suggested a visit to Borough Markets as one of the best things to do in London, so I’m taking that as fairly high praise. While I’m not one for shopping at markets, I do enjoy the festival atmosphere and the sense of community you can experience when people get together to buy and sell all manner of odds and ends.
Borough Markets is all about that most important of vices – a good bit of gluttony. Boasting the best of food from around London, the UK, and the world – there’s no shortage of tempting tastes and sumptuous snacks to sink your teeth into. The sights and smells alone are likely to be worth the trip, but there’s plenty of opportunities to eat while you’re browsing the stalls and admiring the work of the artists who also display their wares on site.
With the markets running on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, there should be ample opportunity to fit a visit into your itinerary.
#7 – Gorge yourself at the Pieminister
My good mate Brendan (who I still owe about five Long Island Ice Teas) suggested this one and I was hooked as soon as I browsed the site.
There are a few foods that are distinctly British in my mind. Fish & chips, beer, a good curry (albeit via India), and the humble pie. A staple in the Australian diet, the folks at Pieminister have taken it to a whole other level with an utterly mind-blowing selection of pies in all shapes and flavors. From the traditional meat pie to minty lamb, steak and blue cheese, fish, and everything in between.
There’s even a selection of sausage rolls for those who prefer their meals with a bit more phallic innuendo.
It might not be a day trip and it certainly won’t be good for the waist line, but you’ve got to eat like the locals do – and better a fancy gourmet pie than a dodgy one from an even dodgier corner store, right?
#6 – Do a Monopoly Pub Crawl
This one will someday warrant an entry all on its own, but thanks to @Seduniatravel for suggesting that a Monopoly themed pub crawl be added to my imagined itinerary.
Hell, I’m contemplating a visit to London solely so I can attempt this feat myself.
There are several websites dedicated to suggesting routes for your Monopoly Pub Crawl and the traditional one includes no less than twenty six pubs. That’s a whole lot of beer if you’re sticking to the rules and sinking a frosty pint at each stop…
With pubs ranging from shonky dives to classier establishments, you’ll not only be getting blind – but taking in London from a completely unorthodox angle as you stumble, stagger, and bus your way between the iconic stops on the world’s most recognizable game board.
Where do I sign up?
#5 – Experience the majesty of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
This one goes against my original guideline of avoiding the crowded tourist clichés, but what kind of thespian and Shakespeare lover would I be if I didn’t pay a visit to the grandest tribute to ‘the bard’ that there is. It really is my #1 must do on this list of things to do in London.
While the original Globe burned to the ground in 1613, the reconstruction was built to be as close to the original as possible. What results is an impressive open air theatre that embraces the rowdy, raucous, and communal feel of theatre as it was performed before the audience were sealed off behind the fourth wall in comfy chairs.
While tours of the Globe Theatre are available for around 13.50, to truly experience the theatre you need to see a play performed as it might have been in Shakespeare’s lifetime. A year round schedule of classic performances is available from the Globe Theatre’s website and is a great chance to embrace England’s classic culture.
Of course, London is known for more than just the theatre of the Bard. Plenty of companies offer deals including a London show and hotel that might be worth checking out.
#4 – Soak in London’s haunted past
In a city as old as London, there is no shortage of horror stories to be told. From Jack the Ripper’s violent ‘crusade’ against prostitutes to the horrors of the Black Plague; it’s no surprise that the English capital boasts a vast selection of companies offering to guide you through the city’s sordid past.
Having taken a Rocks ghost tour in Sydney last year, I have developed a bit of an addiction. While I certainly don’t expect to encounter a supernatural being, there’s something very enjoyable about hearing a city’s darker secrets while you roam its even darker streets. The guides are typically performers with a real talent for weaving a picture with their words, and the streets of London are a perfect backdrop.
Ghost tours of London are a great way to learn a bit of history and fill up those usually dull evenings spent locked in hotel rooms or cafes. There’s also a very interesting looking death & debauchery tour that touches on the likes of Sweeney Todd and other haunted locales.
#3 – Go white water rafting or zorbing
The popular image of the prim and proper Brit perhaps make it surprising that there are a number of extreme sports to be had right in the heart of the old Empire. While rock climbing, kayaking, and even ice climbing are all options – I couldn’t go past the danger double of a bit of white water rafting and a thrilling zorb ride.
The zorbing through Zorbing UK certainly isn’t cheap at 49.99 a ride, but from my own experiences zorbing in Rotorua have convinced me that everybody needs to give it a whirl at least once. I mean, what’s not to love about tumbling down a hill inside of a giant ball? It’s awesome!
A bit of white water rafting not with Lee Valley White Water Centre not only looks like fun, but it would also help me check off an item from my ever-growing (and rarely dwindling) Bucket List. A somewhat hefty 49.99 gets you out on the rapids for some adrenaline pumping fun and change of pace from London life.
While white water rafting is the big draw at Lee Valley for mine, there are certainly other options. These include kayaking, ice skating, orienteering, horseback riding, and sailing.
#2 – Be ‘enlightened’ at the Speakers Corner
The original ‘speakers corner’ exists in the north-western corner of London’s Hyde Park, and it’s certainly an interesting (and free) way to kill some time while in the city.
A place where free speech is taken to extremes by its collection of kooks, would-be politicians, and eccentrics – there’s never a shortage of interesting tales (intermixed with nonsensical ramblings) to be found at the notorious spot.
Pull up a chair, grab a sandwich, and enjoy a bit of live theatre. Heck, nut up and give a speech yourself!
#1 – Take a walk!
There are so many different walking tours of London available that I found it impossible to just highlight one or two of them. London Walks has done a fantastic job of compiling an exhaustive list of fascinating walks covering everything from rail history to horror to sex to sites from classic literature such as James Bond or the works of Dickens.
While I was disappointed to find there was not yet a tour dedicated to the sites of Neil Gaiman’s fantastic Neverwhere, there are certainly enough alternatives to ensure I’d get plenty of exercise while I learned all about the many facets of London.
What did I miss?
Not having been to London myself, I relied pretty heavily on Google and the suggestions of friends to put this list together. I’ve no doubt left off a few interesting spots not named Buckingham Palace or Big Ben, so feel free to let me know what I’m missing out on. What are your favorite different things to do in London?
Who knows? You might even be the one who convinces me to go.
While it’s true London isn’t the cheapest city in the world to visit, I think I’ve highlighted a few good reasons to go beyond the obvious. And with it getting easier and easier to find a cheap holiday rental apartment, the dream isn’t so unattainable.