30 April 2017 | 14.1 °C

Top 10 London Tourist Attractions That Don’t Suck

M@
By M@
Top 10 London Tourist Attractions That Don’t Suck

London's full of treasures that we all too often shun, dismissing them as tourist attractions. So we've rounded up a list of our favourite attractions that every Londoner should visit. Note that we've excluded museums and galleries, which are nearly all worth a visit or three. They'll probably find their way into their own top 10 sooner or later.

10. London Zoo
Because it's not just cuteness in cages. Did you know we have the oldest scientific zoo in the world? The mega-menagerie opened in 1828 as a place where learned gentlemen might become yet more learned in the handicrafts of Mother Nature. The zoo continues as a research organisation to this day, and even supports a molecular biology team. As a visiting local, you won't want to get caught in the tourist queues. So take a boat from Camden Lock and get in through the little-known canal entrance for just a couple of pounds more than regular entry.


9. Royal Observatory, Greenwich
It’s a bit of a climb for the out-of-shape, but a trek up the hill in Greenwich Park will repay the effort. Once you’ve got over the impressive view, the Observatory site has plenty to recommend it. The largest refracting telescope in the UK, the Greenwich meridian, London’s only planetarium and Harrison’s marine chronometers are all justifiably famous, but how many people know that you can touch a chunk of rock that’s possibly older than the Earth? A regular events programme keeps locals and tourists starry-eyed.

8. St James's Park
They’ve got pelicans! And not just any old pelicans. Pelicans that eat pigeons. St James’ Park is one of the best places in central London if you like your avians wet, with a whole lake-full of grebes, cormorants, coots and their squawking friends. With its Horseguards backdrop, the lake bridge is a favoured photo spot, and it is impossible to cross without spoiling someone’s shot. While this is undoubtedly the most touristy of the inner parks, the south-west corner offers secluded spots for a pleasant picnic.


7. Shakespeare's Globe
The newest attraction on our list is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1599. The original theatre conflagrated itself out of existence in 1613 and its replacement was pulled down by the Puritan henchfolk of Cromwell a few decades later. The Bankside landmark was resurrected in 1997 after a quarter-century of campaigning by Sam Wanamaker (who sadly died before its completion). Today, it’s that rare thing: a venue that attracts tourists and Londoners in equal measure, thanks to a winning combo of historical authenticity and a generally laudable production programme.

6. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
The Cheese on Fleet Street must rank as one of London’s most touristy pubs, and it’s not hard to see why. The entrance to this 345-year-old inn is down a dingy alley straight out of Dickens. The interior, meanwhile, is a tangled mess of wood-panelled spaces, crooked corridors and dimly-lit basements. No one’s entirely sure how many rooms - or even floors - there are to this place, which is why it appeals to Londoners as well as visitors. You’ll need at least 10 visits to properly orient yourself, and you’ll enjoy every one of them. (Unless you hate Sam Smiths beer.)

5. Kew Gardens
Or the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as they’d like us to call them. The ticket price might seem a little pricey for a glorified park with too much noise pollution from Heathrow arrivals, but there’s much more to Kew than gawping at plants. The pagoda, treetop walk and various conservatories are well documented. Less so is the delightful Queen Charlotte’s cottage at the south-western extremity, where you can picnic in peace, troubled only by the approach of a golden pheasant or two. Kew Palace, former home of George III, is also worth a visit, though that incurs an additional entrance fee. The Gardens also conduct important scientific research, so your pennies are well spent.

4. Buckingham Palace
A trip to Buckingham Palace is the ultimate tourist mainstay. Even the BFG paid a visit. During the summer months, the palace opens its doors to anyone craving a snoop, and we’ve been on a couple of occasions. It’s easy to spot the few Brits who take the tour - we’re the ones trying to suppress that involuntary smirk triggered by any annunciation from the Prince of Wales (who here provides an audio introduction to his once and future home). Only the most frenzied republican could remain undazzled by the opulent interiors, the Old Master paintings and Her Majesty’s secret dinner service.

3. HMS Belfast
Probably the only warship in the UK to share a birthday with Rudolf Nureyev (17 March 1938), the Belfast is a popular floating museum that gives you a cadet’s-eye view of a WWII Cruiser. The ship is pincered by competing attractions such as Tower Bridge and the London Dungeon. Yet it outguns them, both metaphorically and physically, with the depth of its displays and hands-on attitude. In particular, visitors are welcome to clamber around the pipes and ladders of the engine rooms with a refreshingly relaxed approach to health and safety. NB. You don’t want to do this in a skirt.

2. St Paul's Cathedral
Never been? What? Shame on you. St Paul’s might be yet another tourist cliché, but it’s the spiritual heart of our city. It somehow feels more ‘human’ than the Abbey. Wren’s masterpiece offers a crypt full of celebrities (Wren, Nelson and Wellington, for example), that famous whispering gallery and one of the best views of London from its lofty lantern. Those who object to the entrance price can attend a religious ceremony for free, or indulge in some posh nosh down in the free bit of the crypt (entrance on the north side of the cathedral).

1. Tower of London
Quite a few of you should be around in 2078 to witness the thousandth anniversary of the White Tower, the nucleus of the Tower of London. Everyone knows the rudiments of its history - stronghold, prison, execution site, royal palace, treasury, menagerie... Today, it’s one of London’s greatest attractions and a World Heritage Site to boot. Don’t be deterred by its notoriously touristy reputation. The Tower oozes history like David Starkey in a Turkish bath, and there’s a full day’s-worth of turrets and cells to explore. Plus, you get to see beefeaters, the Crown Jewels and the ravens. Residents of Tower Hamlets can get in for just a pound.

Our selection above is based on personal experience and utter whimsy. Let us know below if you think we're dead wrong about these, or if you have your own suggestions. Remember, we're purposely not including museums and galleries.

Last Updated 08 December 2016

RachelH

As someone quite lazy, I like to approach Greenwich Observatory from Blackheath - over the heath and into the park through the gate with the donkey rides. Apart from the slopes of Blackheath it's much flatter, and much less swamped by tourists.

Helen

Love love LOVE that residents of Tower Hamlets get into the Tower of London for £1.

Dean Nicholas

Didn't know that TH residents get into the Tower for a quid. I'll have to go now. Put up with a lot of shit from this incompetent council, so it's nice to know there's a tiny advantage to be had living here.

DG

I always recommend Monument. It's cheap, and you get a fantastic view from the top. and the last couple of times I went up I got a certifiate. *grins*

Simon Powell

How do you qualify for the Tower Hamlets discount?

JohnnyFox

This seems a bit lazy for Londonist, since so many of these sights would be in many 'Top 10' lists of London attractions - are we just saying Westminster Abbey and the big museums are a bit shit because they're not listed?

1. Can we warn anyone and everyone who comes to London off the tawdry pile of junk assembled in The London Dungeon.

2. HMS Belfast is quite naff, and expensive.

3. Recommend the Courtauld collection for the impressionist paintings in Somerset House - Monet, Manet, van Gogh for six quid, the (free) Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, and the museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green ...

nemethv

Not sure about the Zoo. Anyone I've ever talked to said it's a waste of money. (Haven't been myself though.)

Chicoscience

Waiting for the Top 10 London attractions that suck. I would put here Madame Tussaud's, Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, London Dungen, even though I have never been to any of them

Simon Fowler

Why not include a walk, say Tower Bridge to the Houses of Parliament along the Thames? Or open spaces like Hampstead Heath, or even a trip on Docklands Light Railway through Docklands from Bank to Greenwich or Lewisham - this always impresses my visitors.

Zzapback

I'd like to add this one!
http://flic.kr/p/bHDJqi

london chauffuer

If you are a foodie you should check out Borough Market, there are same great places to catch some tasty food and you can pick up the best ingredients.

christopher west

Sorry to be boring and conventional, but it's a good list!

JGS

It's not really a tourist attraction, but I think the Thames Clipper is FAR superior to any overpriced river cruise and one of the best ways to see the city. Take it from Westminster to Greenwich; you get to see all the highlights from the river. It's also pretty cheap with your Oyster.  

Terry

took the family to the Tower of London yesterday.
I enjoyed the experience,
but walked away talking of the Shard bldg wow !! 
this is something else 

Adam

Loved every one on that list except for the zoo. I don't think it's that great and ive never been a big fan of animals in captivity. Ohh this brings back so much memories..stayed at Bishop in one of Frasers' serviced apartments. Everyday after walking about in London, it was like going back home at the end of the day. Sigh i want to go back soon..

Marioni

Can I add the London Walks to the non-museum list of goodies?  Get the brochure in many places but I always pick one up in St Martins in the Fields' crypt (great for quick and reasonable meals too).  We take our surroundings for granted. I have enjoyed the Hampstead Walk and Old Marylebone among others. Good value for 2 hours entertainment and you discover new places to go back to.

Donkeyshed

'I found the Belfast fascinating, and outrageously good value for money.'
You have got to be kidding...
This comment is a prize example of how the social disease of exaggeration has led to many adjectives ('hilarious'/ 'legendary' / 'incredible' being just three) being rendered redundant by inappropriate or excessive use. If you want people to take you seriously, you might want to cut the crap. To carry on your theme of ridiculous over-statement, if hyperbole were an Olympic sport, the above comment would be nailed on for a gold.

Urbanoak

@Dshed Good point but come on! This is not the time or the pace for a language lesson.  You may like to think you're superior by criticising others but you sound like a right tool.

spain rentals

I have just miss to see some of these wonderful places during my last trip but Next time i would definitely like to go for all of these wonderful places..

DWJTravel

Great list. I have to say that the HMS Belfast is one of my favourite attractions and one
that I have been visiting since a child. I had never heard of the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese so
will give this a try on my next visit to London. Thank you for sharing

Rеinеr Tоrheit

The idea of vile Nazi historian David Starkey "oozing" anything puts me off my supper. A viciously unpleasant individual, and a rubbish historian into the bargain.

Thankfully the Tower of London is big enough, in all senses, to divest itself of any associations with the pukesome Starkey.

Pickwickian

Not mentioned the tours !! These make the history come alive. What about the street art tours, there are some wonderful days out based on a sinister theme and this is the world capital of Rock N Roll. Then we have the William Morris museum at Walthamstow, Chiswick House and gardens and Kenwood House opens this week,and while you are in the neigbourhood there is always the tour of Highgate cemetry. I am not knocking any of the attractions you have listed but it could have been put together using Wikipedia from anywhere in the world. A site called the Londonist should do better. If people haven't visited the big sites then maybe they should but the smaller ones offer better value for a family/group/ individual not on holday.

Annu

Nice list! I would add also to the list one lesser known place: The Hindu Temple Swaminarayan (http://www.tripbetter.blogspot.... I wasn't expecting much but during my visit I was blown away. That is, of course, if you are into Eastern stuff.