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101 things to do in London: south London

Seek out the best things to do in south London with our south-of-the-river selection

It may not be so well served by the tube network, but hop on a bus and you’ll find loads of great things to do in south London. The lively communities of south-east London and south-west London have some pretty unusual things to do: there’s high-altitude aperitifs, bountiful London food markets, cafés and coffee shops in shipping containers and an over-inflated mammal – all waiting for you south of the Thames.

RECOMMENDED: 101 Things to do in London

The best things to do in south London

Float past dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Boating Lake

Hire yourself a pedalo in Crystal Palace Park and you’ll be able to admire the Victorian (anatomically incorrect) concrete dinosaurs which inhabit the banks of the lake from a brand new angle. You can even take a waterborne dinosaur selfie, which should win you some Instagram points. Other good reasons to visit the park include a maze, a children’s farm and the ruins of Crystal Palace proper’s aquarium.

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Crystal Palace

Meet the walrus at the Horniman Museum

Victorian south-east London was far more fascinating than most other parts of the capital thanks to tea trader Frederick John Horniman, who wanted to ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’. He began to collect specimens and artefacts of natural history and culture from all over the world to create his own museum in the late 1800s. The present museum opened in 1901 and the 130-year-old over-stuffed walrus is still its star attraction!

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Forest Hill

Go stargazing at the Royal Observatory

The Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich Park is the only place in London where you can take your eyes on a tour of the universe. In these days of HD and 3D TV, the Planetarium has raised its game, with state-of-the-art projection technology and spectacular films revealing the latest scientific discoveries. Shows include Space Safari, which is suitable for children under eight.

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Get up early to bag a doughnut from St John's Bakery at Maltby Street Market

Whether you’re on your way home from a night’s clubbing or you’ve been up since 5am with your three-year-old, gloriously quiet mornings in central London are your reward. Head for St John Bakery, just behind Maltby Street Market for their famous freshly made doughnuts oozing with jam, or go Proustian with just-baked madeleines dipped in your cup of tea.

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Drink spritz on the top of a car park

If there’s one thing London’s trendy set love more than an Aperol spritz (a blend of orangey aperitif, prosecco and soda water), it’s an unconventional party space. Open-air Peckham bar Frank’s Café has both (it’s located on top of a multi-storey car park), with sensational views across London to boot. As with all of the city’s rooftop bars, queues can become formidable when the sun’s out. They’re worth sticking out, though: Frank’s is a scene-leading bar that, for once, lives up to the hashtagged hyperbole.

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Watch the tennis at Wimbledon

In late June leafy south-west London becomes the focus of the world’s greatest lawn tennis championship. Top tickets must be applied for by ballot (UK applications start the August before) but there are also tickets available each day during the tournament for those prepared to queue. The action is also broadcast for free on a big screen just outside the grounds, on Aorangi Terrace.

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Have an affordable meal with the local community at Bonnington Café

Community cafés are happily on the rise in London – places where local people come together and serve what their talents can muster. This vegan and vegetarian community café sits in peaceful Vauxhall Square. The dishes reflect the nationalities of its contributors and the meals are super-affordable – starters £3, mains £8, puds £3, BYO drink. Book ahead, it’s very popular.

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Celebrate the seasons at Kew Gardens

The colours at Kew change throughout the year – from February’s stunning sea of two million purple and white crocuses and March’s pink blossom Cherry Walk, to the rich red poppies that bloom in August and the autumn fruit of the berberis plants. Download the free Kew Gardens app to find out what’s in bloom on any day of the year.

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Do some thinking with your drinking at the Beefeater Distillery

When it comes to booze, it doesn’t get more London than Beefeater Gin. They’re even named after our Tower’s guards. Celebrate our city’s very own alcoholic output with a visit London’s to oldest gin distillery to find out how the 150-year-old company cook up mother’s ruin and learn facts and figures about the spirit’s history. And your attentions will be rewarded with a generous G&T, naturally.

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Find out what the containers are hiding at Pop Brixton

A pile of colourful shipping containers are carefully arranged to create Pop Brixton, which feels a little like a giant Lego fort where all the bricks are filled with treasures. The thoroughly modern mall was commissioned by Lambeth Council to provide affordable workspaces and venues for local independent businesses, and is already home to some stellar shops and food outlets. The hungry are spoilt for choice but we advise prioritising a visit to Kricket for their delicious Indian small plates.

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Forage for antiques on Bermondsey Square

A few blocks south of Tower Bridge, Bermondsey Square has been developed as a classy enclave of bars and arty hangouts. However, the Friday antiques market is no new arrival. For years it’s been a savvy spot for browsing vintage homeware, furniture and jewellery. The hardcore buyers show up when it opens at 6am but you’ve got until 2pm to surf the stalls.

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See a nineteenth-century clipper from below

The stunning centrepiece of Greenwich’s maritime heritage, the Cutty Sark spent the end of the nineteenth century keeping London supplied with one of its favourite commodities: tea. The ship was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, but reopened to the public in 2012 looking more handsome than ever. The £30 million restoration has seen the ship elevated three metres above its dry dock, allowing visitors to get closer than ever to its 65-metre-long gilded hull.

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Harness up and scale the O2

See that big white thing held up by yellow sticks by the Thames in Greenwich? It was originally called the Millennium Dome, and Londoners hated it. But it’s enjoyed a new lease of life since being repurposed as a live music venue, and even if there’s no international megastar playing a gig, there’s still plenty to do. The latest attraction is Up at the O2 – a 52-metre climb up and over the venue’s roof. Book a dusk slot and look westward for one of the most spectacular city views going.

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Greenwich Peninsula

Go birdwatching at London Wetland Centre

Although most visitors to the capital won’t get further than the common pigeon, there’s a whole lot more to birdlife in London than the feathery pests of Trafalgar Square. Venture out to leafy Barnes in the south-west and, as well as a picturesque landscape, there’s the opportunity to spot kites, sandpipers, kingfishers and more at London Wetland Centre. Over 200 species of bird have been spotted in total, along with various reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and – eep! ­– bats.

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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