Non-Touristy Things To Do In South London

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 14 months ago
Non-Touristy Things To Do In South London

Just because the tube shuns the south, doesn't mean you should.

Mayfield Lavender. Photo: shadow_in_the_water

Frolic in fields of purple

Pretty close to the fringes of London, but in the borough of Croydon nonetheless, is Mayfield Lavender. At this organic lavender farm, row upon row of vivid purple lavender sear through your eyes, the scent shooting right up your nostrils; it's unforgettable. This place only opens during the summer, so if you find yourself in the area at another time, visit the nearby village of Carshalton and the picturesque Honeywood Museum, with its Edwardian billiards room. You can also join onto the Wandle Trail [pdf], and learn about the river's history as a power source for snuff mills and print factories.

Visit the UK's first international airport

Still around Croydon. As surprising as it sounds, this was the main London airport at the time commercialised international flights became feasible. It's open the first Sunday of every month and is free to visitors. Then go and enjoy the rest of Croydon town.

Museum of the Mind

Bethlem Royal Hospital was opened in 1247, becoming the first UK institution to specialise in caring for the mentally ill (although 'care' might be a bit rich for most of those centuries). The hospital still functions today alongside a museum — reopened in 2015 as Museum of the Mind — which showcases work pertaining to mental health, and exhibits from past patients at Bethlem.

South London Gallery

Camberwell's South London Gallery is one of London's best contemporary art spaces — certainly loved by Londonist's own art critic. It's free to the public, and that includes its gardens. They were created over two years by acclaimed artist Gabriel Orozco, made even more impressive considering it's his first foray into horticulture. They always have exciting temporary exhibitions too, which we've covered many-a-time in the past.

Gabriel Orozco's garden at South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg

Hall Place

Sure, parts south of the river took longer to become consumed by London, but they still have a rich history of their own. For instance Hall Place in Bexley dates back to the Tudor period and now functions as a museum with a great permanent collection and possibly the funniest topiary anywhere.

Severndroog Castle

Nope, this has nothing to do with A Clockwork Orange — Severndroog Castle is a grandiose building that dates back to 1784. We previously discovered that it has never been used residentially or in battle, so technically shouldn't be called a castle, but who's to get in the way of an epic name. The folly, sorry, castle, offers fantastic views over south London, which makes it worth the visit alone.

Chislehurst Caves

Did you know about the 22 miles of manmade caves beneath Chislehurst? They used to be flint and chalk mines but now they just host visitor tours (and larping sessions). Also, Jimi Hendrix played there. Twice. Just imagine Hey Joe echoing down there.

Visit one (or two) of the Magnificent Seven

Two of London's Magnificent Seven burial grounds lie in south London: West Norwood Cemetery and Nunhead Cemetery. Dating back to the Victorian period, both have become relatively wild due to being left untended for years. Their overgrown nature is part of their charm nowadays though.

Tooting Bec Common. Photo: Ronald Hackston

Common ground

You may have noticed that south London is full of commons. Wimbledon Common, Clapham Common, Peckham Rye Common, Tooting Bec Common and loads more. They're not named common because there are just so many of them (we're sorry), but rather because they're all common ground. They're all great for running around on like a five-year-old.

Horniman Museum. Photo: IanVisits

Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum isn't completely unknown — it's never empty per se — but it doesn't strike us as touristy either. It seems it's the Londoners in the know who visit this museum, and they've been doing so since Victorian times. Among the strangest objects are an overstuffed walrus and a torture chair.

Korean Food Festival in New Malden. Photo: su-lin

Little Korea

New Malden is affectionately known as Little Korea. It's home to the Korean Embassy, many Korean immigrants and perhaps most importantly, all that mouth watering Korean food. If you have to pick just one, try Jin Go Gae for their Korean BBQ.

Little Portugal

What Korea is to New Malden, Portugal is to Stockwell. Lots of Portuguese immigrants settled there in the 1960s — and it's a great alternative dining spot to Brixton. Try A Toca on Wandsworth Road, for a taste of the Iberian Peninsula, or settle in with a bottle of Portuguese wine at Estrela.

The windmill in Brixton. Photo: iainsr

Brixton Windmill

The legendary music venue was called the Windmill for a reason — it's round the corner from an actual windmill. The windmill dates back a little further than the dingy gig spot too, all the way back to 1816. It's only open for tours in the warmer months, but look out for the odd event in winter.

The Fan Museum. Photo: Treble2309

A fan of fans?

Greenwich's most niche attraction, the Fan Museum teaches all you need to know about fans and the art of fan making. Though they've moved out of the limelight now we live in the heady days of air con, fans used to be the classy way to cool oneself down on a hot day (and to essentially 'sext' people across the dinner table). The museum is also home to The Orangery, which does a lovely afternoon tea.

The looming Broadway Theatre. Photo: helenoftheways

Pop down to the theatre

Despite tourists rushing to the West End, there are theatres galore south of the river. We recommend Ovalhouse Theatre, Greenwich Theatre and The Broadway Theatre in Catford. They're all much more affordable than their West End counterparts — and the art deco Broadway Theatre a particular beaut.

Last Updated 05 December 2016