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101 things to do in London: central London

Track down the best things to do in central London and get ready to venture into the depths of the city

© Garry Knight

The heart of the capital is home to countless activities, events and venues, and our list will help you find some of the best things to do in central London. Whether you’re looking to wander around London’s major parks, seek refuge in one of London’s top museums, eat in some of the best restaurants in London – or do all of the above – the centre of town is definitely the right place to be. Have a look through our pick of the best things to do in central London and get ready to Zone One by storm.

RECOMMENDED: 101 Things to do in London

The best things to do in central London

Tour the Royal Opera House

Discover something new at an institution with centuries of Covent Garden heritage. The Royal Opera House backstage tour takes you around the auditorium and behind the scenes, often with a chance to see the Royal Ballet in class. The Velvet, Gilt and Glamour Tour offers a look at the building’s architecture as you hear stories of the opera greats who have performed there.

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Covent Garden

Visit the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral

Both inside and out, Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque beast is a marvel to look at, but it also sounds pretty awesome, too. Up in the Whispering Gallery (the indoor balcony at the base of the dome), the acoustics of the cathedral’s architecture create a bizarre aural phenomenon: stand on the exact opposite side of the dome as a friend, whisper something (‘I’m watching you’ works rather nicely) and they’ll hear you loud and clear, despite being over 100 feet away. Spooky.

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St Pauls

Browse more than 200,000 titles at Foyles’ flagship branch

Having been forced out of the premises where it spent the best part of a century by Crossrail, London’s biggest independent bookshop moved into a shiny new home in 2014. The 107 Charing Cross Road site boasts eight levels of bookshelves, an events space, an art gallery, a café and a nifty interactive search tool that makes tracking down books an absolute doddle. It’s also an incredibly beautiful shop just to stroll around. Take that, internet!

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Soho

See the pelicans in St James’s Park

Greenwich Park and Richmond Park have deer, Clissold Park has goats and Holland Park has peacocks. In St James’s, the crowd-pulling wildlife is, believe it or not, pelicans. The baggy-beaked birds were first given to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador (pelicans being the seventeenth-century equivalent of a bottle of Jacob’s Creek and some Ferrero Rocher, presumably), and can be seen chowing down on fish (and the odd pigeon) by the park’s central lake.

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St James'

Read the TV news on a BBC Broadcasting House Tour

There’s an undeniable frisson to being in a working studio, and the daily tours of the Beeb’s radio and television HQ in the West End let even the non-luvvies among us experience some of that thrill. After you’ve taken in the glorious art deco reception and a had a glimpse of the real newsroom, the best bit of the tour is getting to read news stories in a virtual-reality studio. It’s all great, interactive fun and a brilliant chance to see behind the scenes of a British institution.

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London

See the Christmas lights twinkling in the West End

For generations, an evening stroll to see the lights has been a Christmastime tradition. Switched on in early November, usually by a celeb who’s likely to draw a crowd, the lights in Oxford Street tend to be more modern and might even promote a new movie, whereas the Regent Street lights are usually classic and classy. Check out Selfridges’ beautifully dressed Christmas windows, too. Magical.

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London

Revisit the Routemaster at the London Transport Museum

The city’s iconic red buses may not be a constant feature on the roads these days, but you can admire them at these Covent Garden vehicle vaults – without having to wait ages for one to arrive. Hop aboard for a taste of what it’s like to navigate London from the driver’s seat of a bus or tube train; kids even get their own fleet of miniature versions to play on. Design buffs should head straight for the classic poster displays.

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Covent Garden

Spend an evening at a world-famous jazz club

When saxophonist Ronnie Scott opened a basement jazz club in Soho in 1959, he created a space where musicians could play in an intimate setting rather than big concert halls. From Miles Davis and Count Basie to Nina Simone, all the legends played at Ronnie’s. It moved to its present home on Frith Street decades ago and remains a must on any great jazz musician’s tour itinerary.

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Soho

Have a drink on the tube at Cahoots

Housed in a former air-raid shelter in Soho, Cahoots is a theme bar, but, somewhat impossibly, a cool one. Tapping into Londoners’ fixation with public transport and all things retro, it models itself on a wartime tube station, complete with vintage signs, shiny tiles and a replica train carriage upholstered in that famous geometric fabric. Elaborate cocktails are served by staff in full costume – it’s the only time you can legally drink on the tube, and in great style.

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Soho
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How many things have you done?

The 101 things to do in London checklist

Living in London, it's amazing how many things we never quite get around to doing. See how many of the entries on our 101 things to do in London list you've actually seen and done...

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By: Phoebe Trimingham

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