The internet's full of things every visitor to London should do. But what about those of us living in London, who've ticked off all the regular tourist haunts? Here are some things you wouldn't necessarily get round to doing if you were just visiting London for a few days, but we reckon you absolutely should do if you're living here for any period of time, presented in no particular order.
Think of it as a London bucket list, if you will (and feel free to add any other suggestions in the comments). We're assuming you've already done the main tourist attractions, so we've missed them out.
If you need any more inspiration, take a look at our list of 51 weird things to do in London.
Days out and attractions
1. God's Own Junkyard: If ever there was a reason to venture to the far end of the Victoria line, this is it. God's Own Junkyard is a neon paradise, a warehouse full of illuminated artworks, complete with a bar and cafe too. It's hard to know where to look.
2. Severndroog Castle: A castle you've probably never heard of, with views over seven counties on a good day. What's not to like?
3. Walk along Regent's Canal: You could walk the whole length of the canal, from Paddington to where it meets the Thames at Limehouse — or you could pick a favourite section and walk that. We're huge fans of the Paddington to Camden section (which takes you right through the centre of London Zoo) or else we suggest dipping in and out between Angel and Hackney Wick.
4. Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park: How can a whole theatre hide in one of the Royal Parks, you may wonder. Yet many casual visitors to Regent's Park don't notice the Open Air Theatre (nor the tennis club or university nearby). Its season usually runs from May-September, and it's worth checking out at least one show there — we love the family-friendly shows such as Peter Pan, and you can never go wrong with a classic Shakespeare.
5. Globe Theatre: While we're on the subject of theatres, could you really come to London and not visit The Globe? Tickets start from just a fiver (a fiver!) for standing in The Yard, as audiences would have done in Shakespeare's time — you wouldn't get lunch for that.
6. Barbican Conservatory: A tropical-style conservatory within the City of London, complete with fish ponds, terrapins and so many plants — oh, and it's free to visit.
7. Royal Albert Hall: At the very least, get a glimpse of this famous concert hall from the outside, but experiencing it from within is thoroughly recommended. BBC Proms or the festive season is the ideal opportunity to get inside — or else wait for Cirque du Soleil, usually in residence January-March — but if there's nothing on the programme that you fancy, take a guided tour instead.
8. Brunel Tunnel Shaft: Isambard Kingdom Brunel nearly drowned in this tunnel shaft, but don't let that put you off. Visit the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe to enter the Grand Entrance Hall where work on the Thames Tunnel — now forming part of the London Overground — began.
9. Lavender Field: Perched on the very edge of London is Mayfield Lavender Farm, 25 acres of Lavender fields that open to the public during their beautiful, purple summer months. There are plenty of other lavender farms near London too, or you can take part in the annual lavender harvest in Carshalton.
10. One New Change terrace: It's not often you get a skyline view for free, but summon the speedy lift within One New Change shopping centre and you'll be whisked up to the 8th floor terrace, where you can get close-up views of St Paul's Cathedral's magnificent dome. (Note: it's closed due to essential maintenance work as of August 2023), but we hope it'll be open again soon).
11. Swim in Hampstead Heath Ponds: London's awash with places to swim outdoors, but for the real, natural experience, head to the famous Hampstead Heath ponds — probably best to aim for summer for this one.
12. Visit a city farm: London has a surprising number of city farms, where you can go and visit sheep, goats, pigs and the like, but for our money, it's Spitafields City Farm every time. Say hi to Watson and Holmes for us.
13. See a temple: You probably won't be able to go inside (as they're functioning places of worship) but it's worth glimpsing some of these impressive buildings from the outside.
14. Kayak down the Thames: You've been over it, and under it, but how about going on the Thames? Secret Adventures offers plenty of opportunities, including night kayaking under Tower Bridge.
15. Climb over the O2: Why settle for solid ground when you can climb over London's largest tent? Alright, it's a bit more solid than that, but take it from us — Up At The O2 is a tougher climb than it looks.
16. Stand on the Meridian Line: GMT= Greenwich Mean Time. Yep, time starts in Greenwich (sort of). The Meridian Line runs through the observatory and Greenwich Park, and its path is illuminated overhead at night, so you know exactly where to stand. That said, you don't need to head to Greenwich at all — the Meridian Line is marked in plenty of other locations, in London and beyond.
17. Ride the entire Elizabeth line: Our go-to transport challenge used to be riding the Kennington loop, but since the Northern line extension RUINED that experience, we'll exchange it for riding the entire length of the Elizabeth line instead. Start at either Shenfield or Abbey Wood and ride all the way out to Reading, a journey time of around 1 hour 20 minutes. Just remember, before you buy a takeaway coffee to enjoy on the journey — there are no toilets on board Elizabeth line trains.
18. Ride the Waterbus: We reckon this is the most relaxing way to get around London — providing you only need to get from Paddington to Camden or vice versa, of course.
19. Ride the DLR: It's an obvious one, but we reckon a great many temporary Londoners live out their lives here without ever setting foot on London's tamest rollercoaster. Go off-peak to bag yourself a front seat and experience life in the driving seat — or make like us and head for the rear instead.
20. Ride a bus route from start to finish: Weirdly relaxing. Try it.
21. Ride Mail Rail: A railway under London, built for and used by the Post Office before it shut down for years. Now the public can ride Mail Rail at The Postal Museum.
22. Visit an abandoned station: Hard to get into, but not impossible. To visit a secret transport location, including closed stations and tunnels which aren't usually open to the public, take a Hidden London tour. They normally book out immediately when they go on sale, so don't hang about.
23. Ride a miniature railway: Choo choo! Treat the kids (and yourself) to a trip on the Ruislip Lido Railway, a miniature gauge railway that's open all year round, ploughing through woodland and around a lido. Or else try one of these train journeys — or these ones.
24. Visit every tube station: Another one that's tough — and even tougher since two new stations opened with the Northern line extension — but doable. Depending how long you've got in London, maybe try for a line a week. Seriously — learn from our mistakes.
25. Millennium Bridge funicular: A lift that's technically a railway? You can only imagine what this did to our inner geek. It's called the Millennium Inclinator, and you'll find it right near St Paul's.
26. The cable car. OK, maybe not.
Eating and drinking
27. Have a picnic on Primrose Hill: It's a cliche, but it's something we try to do at least once a summer — and why wouldn't you, with that view? Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath is another decent picnic spot with views.
28. Eat at Borough Market: The foodie paradise gets very busy at lunchtimes, especially at weekends, but there's so much fun to be had in wandering around to find your lunch, then standing in the streets below the railway viaducts, tucking into your findings.
29. Dine in a fancy church: Mercato Metropolitano is a food market hidden away in a rather fancy deconsecrated church in Mayfair. Worth it for the wow factor.
30. Press the champagne button at Bob Bob Ricard: If you want to know true luxury once in your life, book a table here.
31. Eat a Brick Lane bagel: Some people say Brick Lane's famously rivalled yellow and white bagel shops (officially known as Beigel Shop and Beigel Bake respectively) are both the same. These people are lying. It's a debate that splits opinion at Londonist Towers every single time. Try both and decide for yourself. Just try to avoid lunchtime — the queues are out the door.
32. Cahoots: As the tagline goes, "join the scoundrels in Cahoots". This underground bar is designed like an abandoned tube station in the Blitz, and sticks to its theme very well.
33. Proper pie and mash: They may be gradually falling by the wayside, but a handful of proper pie and mash joints still exist. Treat yourself to double pie, mash, liquor and stewed eels at a Manze (Peckham, Tower Bridge Road, Sutton) or F. Cooke (Hoxton, Broadway Market).
34. Curry in Southall: London's 'Chota Punjab' or 'Little Punjab' does some of the best curry in the city. Stuff your face with chicken madras, murg malai kebab and aloo tikka chaat. Then scoff the myriad sweets on offer, for dessert.
35. Ace Cafe: Since 1938, this cafe's sat by the North Circular, welcoming petrol heads and rock 'n' roll fiends, to indulge in double egg sandwiches, live leather jacketed bands, and endless vintage car and bike meet ups. One cool cafe, daddy-o. Decent breakfast, too.
36. Bermondsey Beer Mile: With so many decent craft beer places in such close proximity to each other, it'd be rude not to. Just go soon, before it changes too much.
37. Afternoon tea: Love it or hate it, afternoon tea is big business in London. Do it at least once, whether you go traditional at a hotel or department store, or quirky with one of London's themed offerings. Take the kids along, or get adventurous with international-themed menus. You never know, you might like it.
38. Columbia Road Flower Market. Every Sunday come rain or shine, Columbia Road in the East End is closed to traffic, and flower and plant sellers set up their stalls. Despite being around for quite a while, the market draws the crowds every single week. Here are some photos of the market — and here's a bit more info about its history.
39. Smithfield Meat Market: One for the early risers among you — the famous meat market opens at 2am, to allow restaurants to buy their stock for the day ahead, and it's surprisingly lively. We chatted to some of the butchers who work there.
40. Billingsgate Fish Market: Pescatarians might want to swerve Smithfield and head to Billingsgate instead, where 35,000 tonnes of fish is sold every year. Again, it's lively — and a little bit stinky — and it's all over by 5.30am. Look out for resident seal, Sammy.
(Can't face the early start for Smithfield or Billingsgate? Make friends with this chap instead).
41. New Covent Garden Flower Market: Sadly, no longer as central as it sounds, you'll have to head down to Nine Elms to stock up on flowers. It's calmer — and prettier — than the meat and fish markets, but it's still an early start.
Occasional events in London
42. Spitalfields Goat Race: If you've got eyes on the river on the day of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race (usually in April), you're doing it wrong. Instead, head to Spitalfields City Farm and watch a couple of goats go head to head. Much less stuffy, much more fun. Usually sells out, so book well in advance when tickets are announced.
43. Soho Waiters Race: Another quirky annual event. Watch waiters from Soho's restaurants race round the area with a tray of drinks, aiming not to spill any. It's part of the Soho Village Fete, which usually takes place in July every year.
44. Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride: Ladies, don't be put off by the name — dandily-dressed motorcyclists of all genders take part in the Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride, with around 1,000 riders taking to the city's streets each May dressed in tweed jackets, pocket squares, bowties and and stiffly-waxed moustaches. Check out the date of the next event and line the streets to watch them roar past.
45. Clown Church Service: How many clowns can you fit into a church? Not a joke, but an actual event that happens in February every year, when a church service for clowns takes place. Not many clowns as it turns out, as the event has had to move to a bigger church in recent years.
46. Go to a local football match: Tickets to London's big-name football clubs can be extortionate, so why not support a local team instead. Dulwich Hamlet, Clapton FC and Enfield Town are just a couple of suggestions — more ideas here.
47. Watch an ice hockey match: It may not be a traditionally British sport, but there are plenty of opportunities to watch ice hockey here in London, with four main teams. You're looking at about £10 a ticket, which isn't bad for a night out.
48. Notting Hill Carnival: Block out a day of your August bank holiday weekend and head west to see this Brazilian style carnival come alive in the streets with all manner of music, dancing and street food. It's Europe's biggest street party, so it gets busy, and it gets loud — you've been warned.
49. NYE Fireworks: As London events go, seeing a new year on the bank of the Thames watching the fireworks with the London Eye as a backdrop is pretty iconic. In recent years, entry to the fireworks has been ticketed. They're usually £10 and go on sale months in advance — sign up here to get updates.
50. Museum lates: You could visit London's museum among the school trips, family days out and rucksack-wielding tourists. Or, you could visit after hours, have a drink as you walk round, and enjoy extra-curricular activities such as talks, film screenings and quizzes. Here's our guide to London's museum lates.
So that's our list. Now, let us have it? What else should we have included? Which of our inclusions doesn't deserves its space on the list? Slog it out in the comments below.