Whether you’ve lived here all your life or you’ve just arrived at Heathrow, we're all completely spoilt for brilliant things to do in London. From picture-postcard attractions to hotspots in odd spots, by day and by night, from high art to wildlife, there are, in fact, so many more than 101 things to do in London. But we think this list (hotly debated within the Time Out office on a regular basis) is a good place to start.
Find something new at London’s landmarks, get a taste for the West End even when you can’t get a ticket for a show, travel the world through a hundred amazing cuisines, and discover new parts of town you’ve never even heard of before. And, if you think you’ve got the energy to go beyond 101, check out our tips for secret London, our favourite London attractions, the capital’s best museums or see what’s happening right now in our London events calendar. Enjoy!
101 things to do in London: quirky
Anish Kapoor’s curiously curvaceous ArcelorMittal Orbit was one of the more unexpected sights at the Olympic Park in 2012, but if you thought it was its least sporting, think again! We consider a good hurtle down the slide that now winds round its tower all the way to the ground a pretty thrilling experience. Belgian artist Carsten Höller has created the slide, which will speed you from top to bottom in just 40 seconds. There are clear plastic windows at strategic points so you can see out – if you dare to take the drop without closing your eyes.
Yes, as in the old TV show that used to be presented by Richard O’Brien! (Only not with Richard O’Brien, obvs.) The rise in puzzle-oriented escape-game attractions around London has created a new kind of experience for mates who like something more challenging than a pub quiz machine, and we think this is the best: a lovingly recreated version of the TV show, complete with glass dome and all the physical, skill, mental and mystery challenges you’d expect. Even if your team loses, it’s a proper giggle.
The stalls and stores around Camden High Street and the Lock might not be quite so weirdly varied as they once were, but there’s still plenty of out-there fashions, music and curiosities to be had. Go browsing then revive yourself with an ice cream from Chin Chin Labs, where your choice from a small (but always delicious and inventive) menu of flavours is prepped and frozen in front of you using liquid nitrogen. We always knew that chemistry GCSE would come in handy one day.
We suspect Industrial Age legends Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have approved of what the Brunel Museum has done with the southern entrance to their Thames Tunnel. The world’s first underwater crossing, it quickly became London’s hottest tourist attraction in the 1800s and, while their groundbreaking feat of civil engineering is still a working rail tunnel, the museum hosts subterranean dining and clubbing events, and in the summer months, campfire cocktails on the roof at the wonderful Midnight Apothecary events, overlooking the river and the city.
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.
Sutton House in east London isn’t yer average National Trust property. Yes, it’s beautifully maintained and there are lots of original architectural features spanning centuries, but in the house’s empty years it was occupied by squatters and in 1982, hosted gigs as The Blue House. See the painted walls they left behind and time your visit for one of the community art happenings in the Breaker’s Yard next door.
From a boutique chip shop with a jukebox (Poppies) to Kerbisher & Malt, where you can see what’s frying tonight via CCTV, London holds its own when it comes to brilliance in batter – just check out our list of London’s best fish and chip shops. But if you fancy going out of your comfort zone, head for Hook in Camden. Sustainable fish is cooked to perfection and offered in classic but also more original forms: sea bass in a lime, mint and wasabi batter or cajun-spiced hake, for example. Even the sherry vinegar is a cut above.
Tim Hunkins' eccentric collection of mechanical sculptures looks nothing special from the outside, but don't be deterred. If you're a fan of all things quirky, ironic and genuinely original, venture inside, fork out for some tokens and get stuck in. You can do a spot of money laundering, experience a total eclipse (by getting into a cupboard and shutting the door, basically), have your foot tickled by dodgy-looking chiropodist or test your nerve by seeing how long you can bear to hold your hand beneath the salivating jaws of ferocious dog. Prepare to be charmed.
A visit to London Zoo and its exotic inhabitants has been a must for animal-mad Londoners since it first opened to the public in 1847. Nowadays it offers extra special experiences for those who want to get that bit closer to the wildlife. Younger visitors (ages 7-11) can stay overnight in the zoo’s bug house thanks to the Bedbugs Sleepovers, which include a torchlit tour of the zoo after dark, games, storytelling and talks. Grown-ups can book their own sleepover adventure – staying at the Gir Lion Lodge rooms right next to the slumbering big cats. Yikes.
Let’s face it, how many of us have time for a round of proper golf? In footgolf, the holes are bigger, fewer people have the experience to beat you and if you don’t come first you can blame the weird notion of kicking a ball around a golf course in the first place. Yes, it’s really just kicking a football around a golf course, and it’s as utterly daft and brilliantly amusing as that sounds.
Imagine you’ve stepped into a painting by one of the Old Masters. Walking into Dennis Severs’ House is rather like that. Restored in the style of east London’s Huguenot period, it’s open for tours throughout the year. In silence, visitors pass through its ‘still life drama’, visiting each room to see evidence of an eighteenth-century silk weaver’s family life without ever meeting a soul: a dinner lies half-eaten, a fire still crackles, a chamber pot needs emptying. A unique experience.
Islington’s Little Angel Theatre presents its own shows and touring productions, runs education programmes and makes its own puppets in the workshop next door. Children and adults enter the worlds of fairy tales, comedy shows and drama and are completely drawn in by the expressive magic of this timeless art. There are children’s holiday workshops and marionette courses for grown-ups, too.
That’s how the CLF Art Café at Peckham’s Bussey Building likes to describe itself. And yes, there are soul music nights – along with a variety of other great clubbing sessions here, plus art exhibitions, live shows, comic-book and vinyl market events, a bar and good food. Like Hornsey Town Hall in north London, it’s one of the best local gems for culture vultures that you don’t have to be local to enjoy.
Board games are for life, not just for Christmas. If you’re already skilled at Carcassonne, Pandemic, Seven Wonders and other modern classics then Draughts, with its library of over 500 games, is going to rock your geeky world. If you’re a Monopoly fan looking to experiment then step this way – there’s a whole world of serious gaming to get stuck into.
Whether you’re a ping-pong pro or a wiff-waff wally there’s fun to be had at Bounce Shoreditch, the second of two vast bars dedicated to table tennis. Just like its Holborn predecessor this place buzzes with fun as balls land everywhere but the table. The music is loud, the pizza is good and when the lights go low you’d better hope you’re not wearing white underwear because those UV lights make more than the balls glow.
Banish thoughts of trouser clips and oily repair kits – now that pedal power is fashionable the savvy cyclist gets his bike checked while enjoying a barista-prepped coffee at a cycle café. Look Mum No Hands! is the cream of the crop. The Old Street branch has a large workshop, plus a menu of salads and hot dishes that changes seasonally, plus locally baked cakes and craft beers.
After suspiciously cheap curry, Brick Lane’s second greatest contribution to London’s gastronomic index is the salt beef beigel, which have been served up at this charmingly scruffy bakery since 1977. It allegedly churns out 7,000 of the boiled bready beauties a day (that’s why it never closes), which are consumed by everyone from night-shifting taxi drivers and party people to savvy tourists and local pensioners. At just £3.70 a pop, it’d be rude not to.
Islington’s nineteenth-century gothic revival church is always a glorious place to watch music, comedy or whatever else is on the bill, but tickets often take some forward planning. Daylight Music offers a chance to just drop in, listen to some wonderful music and soak up the venue’s lovely atmosphere, and all for free. The concerts take place most Saturday afternoons. Bring a little cash to buy some cake from the charity café.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maintaining the freedom of fringe arts in an intimate space above a pub, the award-winning Finborough Theatre company still manages to compete with theatreland’s bigger players for quality. The focus is on new writing or neglected plays from the nineteenth and twentieth century that would rarely been seen elsewhere, and productions regularly transfer to the West End.
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.
You’ve already found that Stephen King you were missing and are just calmly flicking through the newest Nigel Slater when a duck glides past the window. So goes shopping at Word On the Water, a 1920s Dutch barge that serves as a floating bookshop. Prices are reasonable and the selection is excellent – the only issue is that it moves. Check the Word On the Water Facebook page before you set off to work out which bit of Regent’s Canal it’s moored at.
This massive trampoline park offers 150 interconnected trampolines for energetic people to bound around on to their heart’s content. Sure, you can take lessons in the trampoline academy, but you’ll probably have more fun flinging yourself at the walk-the-wall trampolines in one of the ‘freejump’ sessions. Bouncier than Tigger on a pogo stick.
101 things to do in London: hotspots
The grand Tudor pile that Henry VIII ‘acquired’ from Cardinal Wolsey was later home to royal Stuarts and Georgians who also made their mark on the palace and the remarkable thing is, you can stand in the very rooms where history was made, walk down the corridor where Kathryn Howard was dragged screaming, see how George I’s chocolatier prepared the king’s favourite tipple and yes, where the monarch did his business. Top tip: the wintertime ghost tours are frighteningly good.
Seeing a play isn’t the only reason to visit Denys Lasdun's 1970s concrete edifice. Behind-the-scenes life there is like a permanent piece of site-specific theatre, which you can explore on daily tours with guides who have a seemingly endless supply of fascinating anecdotes about the building and its history. Book a table for afternoon tea afterwards at House, the National's newest restaurant. The menu is wittily themed to reflect past productions and the moreish pork pie – a nod to the National's production of 'Sweeney Todd' – is not to be missed.
Whether it was to bring the audience closer to the action or just because they hadn’t invented chairs yet, back in Shakespeare’s day theatregoers would spend performances on their feet. At the Globe theatre on the South Bank the tradition continues, with 700 standing tickets released for each performance. Not only do these tickets cost a very affordable £5, they also offer the best view of the show – assuming you’re not incredibly short, that is.
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.
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!
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.
The stadium may have been entirely rebuilt, but there’s still magic in the air when you get pitch-side at Wembley. Take the 75-minute tour and hear tales of sporting heroics with a few lesser-known asides along the way, provided by well-informed and enthusiastic guides. You can even see the England changing rooms and sit in the seat used by the England manager for press conferences. Despite rumours, it doesn’t have an ejector switch.
The city’s most famous bridge recently gained a daring glass floor on the high walkways, meaning visitors can now look straight down to the road and river 42 metres below. Each of the six glass panels is 11 metres long and weighs more than 500kg. Try not to think about that as you're walking across them. Regain your equilibrium by taking in the stunning views of London to the east and west from the windows.
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.
If you've already paid your respects to Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, it's time to delve deeper at the BM. You’ll find the Merman in the Enlightenment gallery. It once belonged to Queen Victoria's grandson Prince Arthur of Connaught and is said to have been caught in Japan, in the eighteenth century. It's not true though; this specimen is a cut-and-shut job – and it's not pretty. The head and torso of a monkey has been attached to the tail of a fish using the dark art of taxidermy to create what is possibly the capital's most fascinating fake.
The IWM’s First World War Galleries examine the politics and legacy of the 1914-1918 conflict, but also day-to-day life in the trenches. In photographs, artefacts like tins of food, and a collection of letters (many from fighters who never came back), the museum tells a powerful and moving story.
Can’t decide between the Picassos at Tate Modern and the Constables at Tate Britain? Do both! The Tate Boat (decorated with Damien Hirst dots) runs along the Thames between Tate Britain by Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Modern on Bankside every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours, seven days a week (except Dec 24-26).
Making the city’s skyline a whole lot more spiky than it used to be, the Shard has quickly become an iconic London landmark. The tallest building in Western Europe, the tower has floor-to-ceiling windows offering amazing views. The public visiting area, The View From the Shard, allows you to look out 244 metres above ground level, as if you’re perched over the city on your own cloud.
Okay, at an elegant 0.6mph, the London Eye doesn’t really spin, but the views as it wheels round to 135 metres above the ground can be pretty thrilling nonetheless. Look out over the Thames and central London (you can even see if the Queen’s opened her curtains at Buckingham Palace), or book a special package – options include romantic champagne trips and a two-trip ticket so that you can ride early in the morning and at dusk on the same day.
If you’re taking a tour of this grand palace of politics you can book ahead to enjoy afternoon tea afterwards. Sadly there’s no chance of seeing the PM – teas are served on Saturdays and selected days during Parliament recess – but you can nibble on savouries and cakes in in the elegant Terrace Pavilion with views of the Thames rarely enjoyed by the public.
Almost every one of London’s top museums is free to visit, leaving you no excuse to plead ignorance in matters of natural history, science, fashion or world culture. It also leaves you with spare cash for the excellent special exhibitions at the V&A, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, and for dynamic live shows and 3D films at the Science Museum.
Remember your old Star Wars, He-Man or Sylvanian Families toys? They're all here, in fun displays that make for a fab afternoon of browsing and reminiscing. That's adults covered, and if you have kids you're in for an even fuller day of activities. Favourites include coin-operated vintage automata and old-school trains chuffing around tracks, dressing-up gear, the famous indoor sandpit, a nightclub-like baby sensory pod, plus craft activities galore in school holidays. As you’d expect from the V&A, the café’s pretty decent too.
The London 2012 Olympics has left us with a collection of wonderful venues and attractions, and among the many great reasons to visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – playgrounds, waterways, meadows and a squiggly red sculpture – are the professional-level sporting facilities. Try track cycling in the velodrome where Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won gold medals in 2012, or sign up for a beginners’ course at the Tom Daley Diving Academy, which is based in the London Aquatics Centre.
You can’t but gawp at the staggeringly invaluable collection of diamonds, crowns, tiaras and sceptres that make up the Crown Jewels. Rock up early to catch a glimpse of these precious rocks that the Royal Family still uses in official occasions. The 900-year-old Tower is one of the country’s finest historical attractions and has enough to see to fill a whole day. Don’t miss the entertaining tours by real live Beefeaters.
It’s far from the most vertiginous landmark in London these days, but the Monument still offers a darn fine view of the City. Tower Bridge, City Hall and the various skyscrapers of the financial district can all be seen from the top of the Christopher Wren-designed column, which was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. There’s a certificate for everyone who completes the 60-metre climb to the top, while those unable to make the ascent can check out a live stream of the view via a screen at the entrance.
Part tourist attraction, part overly ostentatious public transport, it’s fair to say the Emirates Air Line (as the cable car that runs from Greenwich Peninsula to Royal Docks is officially known) has proven itself a bit of a white elephant. Oddly enough, not many Londoners are factoring it into their daily commute. Still, the flipside to its lack of popularity is that, unlike pretty much every other attraction offering a grand view of the city, you shouldn’t have to queue to have a go. Nor will you have to part with much cash – using an Oyster card, a 20-minute round trip costs just £7. Bargain. Why not take your bike onboard and follow The Line art trail from south of the river to Olympic Park?
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.
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.
Can’t get to Florence to examine Michelangelo’s David up close? An impressive five-metre-high reproduction is on show over in Kensington, in the V&A’s Cast Courts. Collecting plaster-cast reproductions of European monuments and works of art for the British public was popular in the nineteenth century, and present-day museum-goers are still benefitting from a practice of which the V&A was at the forefront. The high-ceilinged, light-filled galleries have become an invaluable record of many sculptures whose originals have been since damaged.
For everyone from T-Rex-obsessed toddlers to budding paleontologists, the Natural History Museum remains the ultimate destination for matters pre-historic. A left turn from the vast main entrance hall leads into the west wing or Blue Zone, where long queues form to see animatronic dinosaurs – especially endlessly popular T-rex. A display on biology features an illuminated, man-sized model of a foetus in the womb along with graphic diagrams of how it might have got there.
101 things to do in London: indoors
Fancy gliding around with someone special? It’s a lot easier when you’re on a specially sprung dancefloor like the one at the Rivoli – London’s last remaining authentic 1950s-style ballroom. In sumptuous gold and red, the Rivoli has been the star of many a TV show and pop video, but for more retro pleasures, glam up for Jacky’s Jukebox on the first Saturday of the month (ballroom, Latin and salsa) and Jive Party on the third Saturday each month, for a live band and all the jivin’ you can handle.
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.
With 2016 being the 350th anniversary of the fire that started in a baker’s shop, burned for four days and destroyed much of the old City of London, it’s no surprise that the Museum of London has dedicated a (ticketed) exhibition to it. Walk into seventeenth-century London as it would’ve been before and during the fire, hear eyewitness accounts and see if you can identify real objects that melted in the blaze. Until April 2017 there’s also a special ‘Out of the Fire’ exhibition at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The ornate mock Tudor exterior and the warren of rooms and galleries are all part of the magical experience of a shopping trip to Liberty. Established in 1875, the original store sold fabrics and fine objets d’art from the Far East. Eclectic style throughout its fashion, beauty, gift and home departments continues to set rather than follow trends, with leading designers selling exclusive ranges through the store.
London’s biggest independent bookshop moved into a shiny new home just a few doors down from its original home on Charing Cross Road in 2014. Swapping cluttered warrens of rooms for glass mezzanines, Foyles now has space for over 200,000 titles plus an auditorium for author talks and, rather splendidly, live music curated by Ray’s Jazz. There’s also an art gallery, a café and a nifty interactive search tool that makes tracking down books a doddle (handy, given there’s four miles’ worth of bookshelves here). It’s also an incredibly beautiful shop just to stroll around. Take that, internet!
Arthur Conan Doyle visited the original waxworks as a boy, when it was located in the Baker Street bazaar and legend has it that the experience was one of the reasons he was inspired to set his classic detective stories here. It’s fitting, then, that you can crack your own mini-mystery in the bowels of Madame Tussauds. Holmes himself has gone missing and you must look for clues through a beautifully designed set, travelling from Edwardian Baker Street to the sticks, meeting shady characters along the way.
Every one of the world’s great touring art exhibitions passes through the Tate galleries, the Royal Academy or the National Gallery at some point, while the Hayward’s reputation for hosting innovative art ensures world famous names attract queues around the block. Booking ahead is always advisable, and don't forget First Thursdays – free evening openings at east London galleries.
Since 1900 this workers’ caff has provided carbs and protein in eggy, meaty and pan-fried form to the good people of east London. Traces of bygone eras, like art deco interior details and Formica tables have earned it Grade II-listed status but what diners love best is that the fry-ups, grills and Italian dishes are still served by the same family.
The London Dungeon is a journey through the real stories of London’s nasty past, and it’s done with such energy and humour it’s a shame to leave it to the tourists. Funny thing is, even though you know it’s all actors and props (the rats are real), by the time you’re lead into a dark recreation of Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel, you might as well give in to the screams. The new bar at the end of your 90-minute tour comes as a welcome addition – steady yourself with a ‘bootleg’ beer or a gin cocktail.
The Magna Carta, works of Shakespeare and Dickens, copies of The Beano – they all have a home at the British Library. However, you can also see original manuscripts handwritten by some of the world’s greatest musical talents. See early drafts by John Lennon of ‘In My Life’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ written on a piece of Lufthansa-headed paper.
Ready for some interactive fun? You can experience an alternative take on the magic of fairytales by embarking on a swampy adventure in the bowels of County Hall. Shrek and Donkey aren't the only characters you'll encounter – a whole host of Dreamworks favourites get a look in at an attraction that's enormous fun if you're prepared to throw yourself into the action.
Tucked into a little dry dock in bustling Bankside, the full-sized replica of the Golden Hinde galleon looks like it’s just dropped out of the sky, ‘Time Bandits’-style, from another century. As well as daily tours and pirate fun days, there’s the Family Overnight Living History Experience: dress as Tudor sailors, learn about life on a ship then bunk down on the Gun Deck after supper.
The capital has many excellent art spaces dedicated to photography. Atlas in Marylebone specialises in classic and modern twentieth century work, photojournalism and fashion, Hamiltons in Mayfair shows and sells works by greats such as Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts, and the Photographers’ Gallery on Ramillies Street boasts space for special exhibitions, a bookshop and a print sales room.
With great London nightclub Fabric passing into legend thanks to neighbourhood disapproval, clubbers in one of the most exciting nighttime cities in the world need somewhere to party, and XOYO is two floors of first-class DJing. A variety of curated DJing residencies keeps things fresh but consistent, with live music gigs during the week. Put on your glad rags and do your bit on the dancefloor.
The National Maritime Museum collection includes great works of art and incredible treasures from centuries of naval and commercial ocean-going heritage and wonderful interactive play zones for kids, but most remarkable is the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery. See souvenirs revealing how the great admiral was the subject of the hottest-selling merch in late eighteenth-century England, find out what life was like for ordinary sailors at sea and check out the actual clothes Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded on board HMS Victory.
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.
Sir John Soane’s Museum in Holborn takes its name from the architect whose sprawling art collection it houses (he built the Bank of England, so wasn’t short of a few bob). Among the museum’s biggest crowd-pullers is a series by fellow Londoner William Hogarth entitled ‘A Rake’s Progress’, which, in eight scenes, charts the downfall of a young man who inherits and squanders a fortune.
A great way to see upcoming talents, Comic Mondays is held in the bar at Theatre Royal Stratford East and is London’s longest running free comedy night. Sessions start at 8pm, with a full bill of stand-ups on a mission to make you smile. And if one of the comics doesn’t tickle your funny bone, you’ll still have cash in your pocket to buy a drink.
Nothing beats sitting by an open fire drinking a good pint in a charming old pub (reading Dickens while you toast your toes, optional). On a cobbled street on the lanes above Hampstead village, the Holly Bush is one of the perfect spots for just that. The menu is reliably gastropub, but the low-beamed bar and the eighteenth-century interiors are pleasingly far from contemporary.
Secondhand, vintage – call it what you want, London has a sense of serious style for clothes and accessories you won’t see anyone else in. We’re not talking charity shop finds here. Vintage Showroom just off Seven Dials, for example, is a proper pre-loved gents store for carefully sourced army surplus and old-school classics, while nearby Blackout II (Endell Street) has affordable threads for Downton wannabes and lovers of ’70s chic. For more style inspiration from yesteryear, check out our rundown of London’s best vintage stores.
From mid-July to mid-September The Proms’ annual festival of classical music takes over the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park. For each concert there are about 1400 £5 standing tickets, but if you want to wave your flags at the famously rousing last night, apply by ballot online from mid-spring. Alternatively, for last-minute tickets on the day, join the queues on the Queen’s Steps.
From daytime play for little ones to lates for geeky grown-ups, the Science Museum is a happily noisy home of scientific discovery that’s free to visit for one and all. Its latest feature is the new Wonderlab: Statoil Gallery, a state-of-the-art seven-zone area of the museum that’s ticketed, allowing you to see live experiments and shows, and get interactive away from the crowds. From moving exhibits and a chemistry bar to friction slides you can try yourself, it’s an exciting new addition for adults and school kids.
From mid-July to mid-September The Proms’ annual festival of classical music takes over the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park. For each concert there are about 1400 £5 standing tickets, but if you want to wave your flags at the famously rousing last night, apply by ballot online from mid-spring. Alternatively, for last-minute tickets on the day, join the queues on the Queen’s Steps.
In London’s West End there’s an insatiable appetite for Broadway transfers like ‘The Book of Mormon’ and 'Kinky Boots', but there’s homegrown success, too: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘Les Miserables’ and the RSC’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ are among the hits. Last-minute tickets from the Leicester Square ticket booth are usually your best bet for a bargain.
Visit our London Theatre Tickets page to book now.
Medical research charity the Wellcome Trust created its free-to-visit gallery on the Euston Road to help foster a wider appreciation and understanding of medicine. Innovative exhibitions, talks and performance events reflect themes of medicine and the body in all kinds of creative ways, often through art. The permanent collections include an image library so you can see X-rays from over 100 years ago.
101 things to do in London: outdoors
Get a taste of the countryside in central London at this welcoming and brilliantly maintained green spot just off Brick Lane. Friendly residents up for a pat include Bayleaf the donkey and a loveable pair of hairy hogs. The farm shop sells homegrown produce like freshly laid eggs – the range of veg grown is remarkable for the location. There’s always something going on, from the homely café and laid-back weekend festivals to the kids’ Wild Club. A proper city gem with a lovely vibe.
As long as street-food stallholders keep up the quality and flair of bringing good grub to our pavements, London foodies will happily forgo tablecloths and a roof. Check out our list of London’s top 50 street-food traders for something tasty near you, or just head straight to Kerb, which curates food markets in several places across town. Kerb Camden in West Yard is one of the best and it’s open seven days week, so you can satisfy your desire for a well-rolled burrito or a perfectly pickle-adorned taco whenever you feel the need.
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. Go to the Kew Gardens website to find out what’s in bloom at the time you plan to visit.
Bilingual street signs, colourful pagodas, lion statues and grand red and gold gates welcome you to Chinatown, the area between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue that’s packed with restaurants and shops devoted to Asian culture. Browse the weird and wonderful products in supermarkets such as See Woo, pop into Chinatown Bakery for a cheap, delicious lunch or end your night out with a meal in Four Seasons, a Wardour Street restaurant that stays open until 4am.
London’s outdoor cinema season usually runs from late spring until the autumn, with more screens popping up every summer. Among your choices are the Rooftop Film Club in four urban locations across town, Luna Cinema, which tends to present evening screenings in pretty parks and squares, and Dalston Roof Park where you pay £5 membership and can see films for free.
Even the beautiful wilds of Wimbledon Common need care and attention once in a while. The regular ‘health scrub’ sessions and other volunteering tasks hosted by the Wombles’ homeland are the ideal way to get some fresh air, exercise and venture to the heart of one of London’s most beautiful and historic commons. The chi-chi cafés of Wimbledon Village are an easy walk for a caffeinated reward afterwards.
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.
Holland Park has many great assets including sports facilities, play areas, woodland and an eco centre, but it also has a remarkable hidden treasure: a traditionally designed Japanese garden. Created as part of London’s Japan Festival in 1992, the garden has water features, Japanese trees and other pretty plants, and is carefully tended to ensure it remains a picturesque spot.
This celebration of West Indian culture and Europe’s biggest street party always takes place on August Bank Holiday. Sunday is family day, and on Monday the streets get especially crowded so arrive by tube then walk to Chepstow Road, Ladbroke Grove or Westbourne Grove. Sound systems on the street and in the squares are a big draw, but some of best DJ sessions feature at the warm-ups and after parties.
Every weekend a great gang of street food vendors materialise behind the Royal Festival Hall, determined to make sure you don't go hungry, whether you're headed for a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a free informal dance in the RFH's Clore Ballroom or one of the great seasonal festivals on the river bank. Grab a craft beer and snack on freshly barbecued corn on the cob, or fuel up on something substantial like delicious Iberican braised pork cheek and butter bean purée from the Donostia Social Club van, or spicy Korean barbecue from Korrito.
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.
Facts? Figures? Historical accuracy? All totally overrated, if you believe the comedy duo behind this fun, fallacy-filled walking tour of the city. Starting every Thursday at 7pm outside St Paul’s Cathedral (look for the ‘flamboyant jackets’), the tours cost £10, last around two hours, and comprise of a healthy mixture of improvised skits and out-and-out porkie-telling. Highlights of the route include the South Bank, the Thames Mermaid and Trafalgar Square. One of which we suspect may be made up.
Though London’s cycle hire scheme was the idea of long-gone London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Sadiq Khan is now in the top job, the bulky red steeds will forever be known as ‘Boris Bikes’ after Boris Johnson under whom the scheme was implemented in 2010. Download the Santander scheme’s mobile app to check the status of your nearest dock and to plot a cycle-friendly route through town.
The craze for wild swimming continues to gather pace and you don't have to leave London to indulge a taste for adventure. For a bracing weekend dip in a spectacular setting, head to London’s Royal Docks, where on Sundays you can take advantage of sessions that cater for both casual swimmers and those training for competitive events. There are lifeguards to watch over you and all swimmers are issued with a safety tag in case they find themselves in metaphorical as well as literal deep water.
Ever since Frank’s Café set up one of the sexiest bars in London on the roof of Peckham car park, mixologists have been spending nights on the tiles – turning their rooftops into funky spaces for dining, drinking, cinema and even mini-golf. As a result, sky-high terraces are no longer the sole preserve of posh hotels (though our list of the London’s best rooftop bars does include a few bust-the-budget gems). And be assured that a nation obsessed with the weather plans for everything – blankets, heaters and hot cocktails make an appearance as the temperature drops.
A weekend institution in east London, the Sunday flower market that lines Columbia Road is the hippest and one of the best places to buy flowers, bedding plants and even a banana tree if you’ve got the patio space at home. It goes on until 3pm in all weathers, but for the best buys you need to get there for 8am.
Having played host to some heroic oarwork during the London 2012 Olympic Games, Lee Valley White Water Centre is now open to aquatic adventurers of all abilities. Activities on offer include canoeing, kayaking and – for those with an appetite for some real adrenaline – white water rafting. The latter costs as little as £30 per person (for a full raft of nine during special off-peak times), and includes some basic training and use of the centre’s equipment.
Hampstead’s ladies’ and men’s ponds are the UK’s only places offering life-guarded open-water public swimming all year round. (There’s a mixed pond, too, but it’s members-only in winter.) Competent swimmers aged eight-plus are allowed in but remember there’s no shallow end – just jump in. In winter there’s ample health advice to make sure you’re up to splashing about in ice-cold water!
There’s plenty of highbrow, sophisticated fun to be had in the redeveloped Granary Square, which is home to University of the Arts London and some seriously posh restaurants. Of course, if you’d rather, you can just strip down to your swimmers and cool off in the fountains. There are over a thousand in total, blocked off into four rectangular grids, which squirt and splash in choreographed patterns from 8am until late. Each of the jets is individually lit, so visit after dark for a stunning light show.
Londoners’ nostrils have a pretty hard time of it, what with the traffic, the bin lorries and the lack of public loos. On balance, though, we really can’t complain, especially considering that we’ve got free and unticketed access to one of the country’s largest collection of roses in Regent’s Park. Queen Mary’s Gardens are home to around 12,000 roses of more than 85 varieties, including the unique Royal Parks rose. The fragrance is fantastic throughout the year, but visit in early June to see the blooms at their best. For further alfresco pleasures, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a magical way to enjoy excellent drama from April to September.
A stroll through a graveyard may seem like a fairly macabre way to spend an afternoon, but then again the chaotically overgrown Highgate Cemetery really is something special. While a visit to the West Cemetery requires booking in advance, entrance to the East Cemetery costs just £3 on the gate. It’s here you’ll find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams, artist Patrick Caulfield (whose headstone spells out the word ‘DEAD’ in big letters) and father of socialism Karl Marx, whose tomb is modestly topped with a massive sculpture of his head.
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.
A postcard-worthy view of the city’s skyline isn’t the only reason to visit Primrose Hill – it’s surrounded by posh cafés and frequented by some of London’s friendliest dog walkers, making this well-kept annex of Regent’s Park a great place to people-watch. When the sun goes down, though, it really is all about that view, so pack a picnic, set your camera to ‘panorama’ and play ‘spot the landmark’ as London is bathed in an awesome orange light.
There are stalls selling veg and new goods through the week, but on Saturdays Portobello Market is at its best. At the Chepstow Villas end of the road you’ll find the antiques and bric-a-brac stalls. Don’t be fooled by the fold-out tables, this isn’t cheap tat, there are some serious treasures here. For secondhand goodies, head further along the road, beyond the Westway.
Every summer, Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery invites a different so-hot-right-now architect to design a temporary outdoor space for visitors to lounge around in. Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Ai Weiwei are among the more famous names to contribute work, which often makes the increasingly amorphous architecture of the city’s financial centre look like reserved office blocks by comparison.
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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...
Whether you’ve lived here all your life or you’ve just arrived at Heathrow, we're all spoilt for brilliant things to do in London. From picture-postcard attractions to hotspots in odd spots, by day and night, from art to wildlife, there are, in fact, many more than 101 things to do in London.