The best things to do in London
The return of the newly restored Temperate House is a horticulturalist’s delight. It’s a grade I listed glasshouse, twice the size of Kew’s much-loved Palm House and after a major five-year renovation it’s opened its doors to the public. It’s large enough to hold three Boeing 747s, and is now overflowing with plants from temperate climes. Travel to the north end to visit Encephalartos woodii, a spiky cycad that’s one of the rarest plants in the world. Its kind outlived the dinosaurs, but this is thought to be the last specimen in Europe. Poor woodii.
Everyone knows about the London Underground – it’s one of the wonders of the world. But this city has another underground railway: one that was shrouded in secrecy until recently. The Mail Rail shuttled letters and parcels across the city for nearly eight decades, delivering post through six-and-a-half miles of tunnels. In 2003 it was taken out of service, effectively mothballed. But now the tracks are humming again: a chunk of the line has been opened up to tourists and Londoners as part of the new Postal Museum. Hop aboard the electric train and discover a secret London history.
Ah Padella. You’ve most likely heard of this carb-lovers paradise, which more or less only serves pasta. With a small menu of six antipasti and ten pasta dishes, the whole ‘less is more’ formula has proven immensely successful. Ever since opening in 2016 it has been nearly impossible to get a table without queuing first. Fans of Islington’s hugely popular Trullo (which was Padella owners Tim Sidadatan and Jordan Frieda’s first venture) will recognise some menu items, like the pappardelle with beef shin ragu. Head there instead if you can’t stand the wait.
The V&A has always been a gorgeous institution – but it got all the prettier after the renovation that was unveiled this year. The café’s Gamble Room alone is a glittering Victorian fever dream filled with stained glass windows and big spherical lights. It’s now home to the Sainsbury Gallery, a subterranean space for temporary exhibitions. And then architect Amanda Levete upped the ante by creating the world’s first all-porcelain courtyard with 11,000 handmade tiles. When it catches the sunlight, that ceramic courtyard makes London look like 1960s Rome.
Turning at a leisurely speed of 0.6 miles per hour, the London Eye is more like a graceful pirouette than a spin cycle. Providing astounding views of the skyline and cityscape, many of London’s landmarks are visible from this 135-metre high wheel. See if you can spot Big Ben, Tower Bridge and a tea-sipping Queen at Buckingham Palace. Special packages are also available, which include champagne and chocolates. In fact, if you want a total VIP experience, hire a private capsule and watch the city illuminate as day turns into night.
They aren’t a constant feature of London’s roads these days, but you can still admire examples of the classic Routemaster bus at these vaults in the bowels of Covent Garden. (And hey, there’s no waiting at the bus stop.) 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.
Can’t choose which London market to visit? Go back to the start at Borough, a market hall with a history going back to the thirteenth century. But it’s far from tired: the place is packed with artisan traders such as Brindisa, Monmouth Coffee Company and Roast Hog. Borough Market is also home to some of the best restaurants and bars in the city, where you can sit outside, beneath the industrial roof, and watch the noise of the vendors wind down for another day. If you’re in for a very late (or early) one, try The Market Porter, which opens at 6am for those working the graveyard shift.
For all the furore surrounding its conception and creation, The Shard has established itself as a timeless London landmark despite being barely a handful of years old. As well as making the city skyline a whole lot spikier than it used to be, it’s an ace place to cop a look at London in all its glory. It’s the tallest building in Western Europe, after all. At the top, where you’ll find public visiting area, The View From the Shard, the tower boasts floor-to-ceiling windows offering amazing views. You’ll be peering out over the city at 244 metres above ground level. It’s as if you’re perched over the city on your own cloud - and it makes for one awesome snap. Say cheese!
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.
What can’t you do at Ally Pally? Originally built in the 1800s to serve the public as an entertainment and education venue, Alexandra Palace is home to a forest adventure ground, a skate park, a farmers’ market, an ice rink, a boating lake and a golf course. It has long served as a music venue, attracting big name bands, and semi-regularly screens films, too. Look out for seasonal food festivals like StrEATlife, or crafting events and vintage expos if that’s more your bag. Finally, the palace’s ‘hidden’ theatre is set to reopen within the next few months, having been closed to the public for the last 80 years. An (as yet unnamed) ‘major music act’ will grace the theatre’s stage at it’s official grand unveiling on December 1 this year. Keen to know who it’ll be? You can register your interest here.
When you’re feeling tired, cold and like you’ve eaten too many pies, know that you can set yourself right at The Ned’s Malibu Kitchen. The restaurant ticks all those feel-good Californian boxes. Matcha lattes we know, but how about a ‘beetroot cacao latte’? Start with a mind-boggling selection of juices and ‘wellness shots’. Acai bowls, turmeric pancakes and guilt-free egg-white omelettes abound on the breakfast menu; for lunch choose from Ahi tuna poke, light veggie flatbreads, rice bowls, salads or indulge in a premium grass-fed beef cheeseburger. Meanwhile, ‘Taco Tuesdays’ celebrate that much-beloved California staple. When you’re done, explore the rest of The Ned, Soho House’s latest (and grandest) addition.
London’s past is many things, but pretty ain’t one of them: think stinking streets, heads on spikes and torture devices that’ll make your buttocks clench. And the London Dungeon transports you there by utilising all kinds of nastiness from the past. You can expect to meet some of history’s most notorious criminals, such as Jack the Ripper, plus fictional Victorian terror Sweeney Todd and his tasty meat pies. But don’t worry – these are all actors, and they can’t actually hurt you. Still, descending into the murky dungeon brings guts, gore and a hair-raisingly good time.
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.
Those picture-postcard view of the capital’s skyline might be your top reason for visiting Primrose Hill – but it shouldn’t be the only one. This well-kept annex of Regent’s Park is also surrounded by posh cafés and frequented by some of London’s friendliest dog walkers, making it 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
To stand or not to stand, that is the question. In the era of Mr Shakespeare himself, many theatregoers would stay on their feet whilst watching a play. Somewhat charmingly known as groundlings, those who stood would get an ace and up-close view of the show. At the Globe Theatre the groundling tradition has endured, where you can watch one of the Bard’s plays for as little as £5. Honestly, the action is so engrossing that by the time you realise your feet hurt, it’ll all be over.
After suspiciously cheap curry, Brick Lane’s second greatest contribution to London’s gastronomic index is the salt beef beigel. It's salty, it's beefy, the mustard will singe a layer of skin from the inside of your throat (you have been warned) and it's an absolute classic. This tasty to-go item has been served up at this charmingly scruffy bakery since 1977 and it allegedly churns out 7,000 of the boiled bready beauties a day! That's why they're consumed by everyone from night-shifting taxi drivers and party people to savvy tourists and local pensioners. At less than a fiver a pop, it’d be rude not to.
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.
Check out the great big blue whale skeleton at the Natural History Museum – and more than 100 seaborne specimens on show together for the first time in the ‘Whales: Beneath the surface’ exhibition. Go back 50 million years and learn how whales became lovely, sociable, intelligent animals, and see what’s lurking in their ambergris-lined paunches. While you’re at it, explore the extraordinary adaptations that dolphins and porpoises have made to their underwater world. The Natural History Museum remains your go-to spot for all things prehistoric.
Can’t decide between the Swings 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).
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.
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.
The city’s most famous bridge has 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.
Think you know London inside out? Think again. A trip to the Museum of London will make you see the city in a whole new light. Discover what was here before it was even Londinium, or reignite your understanding of the Great Fire of 1666, before honing in on the revolutions, innovations and trends that turned us into a global metropolis.
Flaky, fatty and full of steak: pie isn’t fancy, and that’s why we love it. Pie is the warm, comforting hug we turn to in times of need – like the unbearably long winter months – and you used to be able to get it from kindly cockney OAPs all over the city. Many of the original (read: affordable) places have closed down as the classic pie has been adopted by pricey gastropubs, but you can still get a full, carbtastic meal for less than a fiver if you look hard enough. For starters (and mains, those pies are filling) visit the green-tiled beacon that is F Cooke in Hoxton, which still serves jellied eels. And you can’t go wrong with M Manze, which has been going since 1902. Just make sure your pie arrives with a scoop of fluffy mash and a pool of indefinable green sauce. Lavvly-jubbly.
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.
Yes, as in the 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.
It’s no secret that London is in the middle of a serious love affair with gin. The city is dotted with distilleries and dedicated drinking dens. Now there’s a gin hotel. The Distillery on Portobello Road is home to Portobello Road Gin, where lovers of mother’s ruin can now rest their hazy heads. Blend your own batch of the good stuff at The Ginstitute downstairs before drinking giant G&Ts at GinTonica and falling into bed with a premixed cocktail from the minibar. If that’s not living we don’t know what is.
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.
In July 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.
Not got an invite to Buckingham Palace? No worries. Ever since Marie Tussaud modelled French author and philosopher Voltaire, the world’s been transfixed by the waxy complexions and uncanny likenesses that are still lovingly built in her name. Go now and find the members of the royal family – now featuring the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – then rub shoulders with more A-listers before checking out the immersive Star Wars Experience.
For ancient woodland, open space and enchanting rural wilds in the capital, head to Richmond Park. London’s biggest, grandest royal park boasts rare species, stretching grassland and plenty of wildlife. The former royal hunting ground has changed little over the centuries, but modern-day visitors are more likely to be wielding a kite than a bow and arrow. Our advice? Rent a bike to really see the park, don’t miss the Isabella Plantation for swathes of blossom in spring and summer and always keep your eyes peeled for herds of wild red and fallow deer.
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.
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.
What a surprise it must have been to discover a Roman temple during the 1954 construction of an East London office building. It took an excavation led by the director of the Museum of London (W.F Grimes) to establish that the site was home to a Roman mithraeum – a temple erected by worshippers of the god Mithras around the third century AD. The temple was relocated to a nearby 3.2 acre site, where it now stands, open to the public. Visitors can also view hundreds of artefacts left or lost by the very first Londoners.
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.
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 concrete rampart that forms the Barbican doesn’t look like it would house a lush indoor garden, but lo! Concealed artfully in this Brutalist marvel (or eyesore to some) is the second biggest conservatory in the city. Inside you'll find exotic fish and more than 2,000 plant species. It’s like stepping into the happy ending of a dystopian thriller, when the characters find signs of life on an abandoned planet. It’s only open on selected Sunday afternoons and bank holidays; if you want to make the most of this tropical spot, book in for afternoon tea with bottomless prosecco (£37.50 per person). Try not to panic when you get drunkenly lost in the fern leaves.
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.
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. Either way you’re guaranteed to leave with armfuls of flowers.
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.
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.
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.
The Bridge Theatre is a recent addition to London’s cultural scene. Located (you guessed it) more or less opposite London Bridge, it was opened by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, after they left the National Theatre. Designed by Stirling Prize winning Architects Haworth Tompkins, it’s also the first entirely new theatre of scale to arrive on the capital’s commercial theatre scene in 80 years. A collaboration with iconic London restaurant St. John means there’s another good reason to swing by, whether you’re after a quick coffee and fresh doughnut or a doorstop sandwich dreamt up by Fergus Henderson himself. Sweet refreshment is on hand too, thanks to Jack’s Gelato. Basically everything you could want from an evening out in the capital, all under one roof.
You don’t need us to tell you that veganism is on the rise; you’re probably stirring almond milk into your coffee right now. This year there were more vegan street food launches than you could shake a carrot stick at. Hackney Downs Vegan Market went from monthly to weekly. And just down the road is Broadway Vegan Market, a new Saturday food offering with 30 vendors (including jackfruit taco-makers Club Mexicana). Not forgetting all the amazing vegan-friendly restaurants around London. You can take our meat, but you can’t take our desire to eat.
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. Head to the 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 alike.
There is a whole host of Harry Potter magic in London. For starters, iconic landmarks like Diagon Alley were set here and scenes from the world-famous movie franchise was filmed here. It’s also home to new stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter. Once you’ve spied movie locations on a wizarding walking tour, gazed at original art at House of MinaLima and had your picture taken at Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross, head to Leavesden to get up close with incredible props and sets from all eight of JK Rowling’s films.
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 that welcomes major artists from all over the world. Even when the likes of Katy Perry or Jay-Z aren't strutting their stuff, there's loads to do here. 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.
Homerton’s cinema has had more iterations than Madonna: it’s been a bingo hall, a shoe factory and a snooker club. That was until a local couple stepped in and restored it to its 1913 cinematic glory, creating a boutique film house with a London-generated crowdfund £57,000. It has just 80 seats, and each one is a bum-hugging velvet armchair from which you can watch carefully picked new releases. And it’s above a Spar, so, y’know – you can grab a pint of milk on your way home.
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!
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.
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 £8 on the gate. It’s here you’ll find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams and none other than TV legend Jeremy Beadle. On a more socialist note, you can also visit Karl Marx. Simply turn left as you enter at Swain's Lane and you can't miss it – literally, it's topped with a massive sculpture of Marx's head.
Islington’s nineteenth-century gothic revival church is always a glorious place to watch music, comedy or whatever else is on the bill. The seats are old wooden pews (naturally), the surrounding stonework is mesmerising and the stage is close enough to touch. Understandably, tickets often go fast, but not every event is ticketed. 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.
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.
Open to the public since 2017, Walthamstow Wetlands is Europe’s biggest urban wetland nature reserve. Bird-watching enthusiasts will be able to spot all sorts of different winged friends, from kingfishers to peregrine falcons, wildfowl and more (54 species, in fact). Entry is totally free but permits are available if you take your birding seriously, and are necessary for angling too. Warm up after a weekend stroll at The Larder cafe, which is housed in the wetlands’ Victorian Engine House, serving comforting classics like fry ups, toasties, jacket potatoes and homemade soups.
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.
Swim in the pool of champions and by some kind of peculiar chlorine-osmosis, perhaps become one yourself. At the Olympic Park you can go for a swim at the London Aquatics Centre, in a pool where Ellie Simmonds broke records and Phelps won all the golds. You can use the 10-lane 50m competition pool, which is 3m deep; the training pool, where you can frolic or swim; and the diving pool or a dry-land diving facility for both newcomers and Tom Daley-level twizzlers. It’s all there and it’s the same price as your rickety local community pool, so why not give it a go?
Swingers is a London success story. It’s a 1920s country golf club, but the crazy kind, in a former warehouse with DJs, a gin terrace and ace street food should you get peckish after all that physical exertion. Right by the Gherkin, the quirky complex is 16,000 square feet of what they call ‘socially competitive fun’, with two nine-hole courses that conclude at the bar. It’s basically the ideal place to beat your mates or impress a Tinder date.
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London’s outdoor cinema season usually runs from late spring until the autumn, with more screens popping up every summer. Among your choices are Time Out's very own Movies on the River, the Rooftop Film Club in urban locations across town, Pop-Up Screens and Luna Cinema, which tends to present evening screenings in pretty parks and squares. This year they screened at the Houses of Parliament for the first time.
Who doesn't love a good meander down memory lane? No one, that's why you hear the saying 'it wasn't like that in my day…' all the time. An afternoon at the V&A's Museum of Childhood affords all kinds of nostalgia. Remember your old Star Wars, He-Man or Sylvanian Families toys, they're all here. And as for the youngsters not yet old enoguh to reminisce, they'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Southbank Centre is like a cultural Transformer: it can morph to fit any artsy need. The collective includes three major venues – Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall – with a bunch of smaller rooms and terraces that host a wide range of events. Think: The London Literature Festival, Meltdown and the Women of the World festival. Plus it’s simply a prime ambling spot. Munch on vegan cake at the food market or pick up a first edition at the Southbank Centre Book Market. In the summer, head to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden for a cocktail. That’s some multi-purpose Londoning, right there.
There are countless places to booze in London. We have creative cocktail bars, historic pubs and intimate wine cellars. But it was revealed in July that London is also home to one of the best bars on the planet. As well as picking up Best Team at the Time Out Bar Awards earlier this year, swish South Bank spot Dandelyan was named the World’s Best Cocktail Bar at the 2017 Spirited Awards over the summer. It consistently serves up London’s most mind-blowing drinks in a seemingly effortless fashion.
Nobody told the bloke tasked with stuffing the Horniman walrus that these marine mammals have big folds of skin, so he just packed it to busting point. As a result, the walrus is anatomically incorrect, and even more loveable for it. But the walrus isn’t the only draw: tea trader Frederick John Horniman’s museum is filled to the rafters with interesting artefacts. And if its crowdfunding campaign is a success, the museum will have a new gallery with 3,000 objects from around the world exploring ‘what it means to be human’ opening in 2018. Put that between your tusks and smoke it.
People love to hate on brunch, but tucking into shakshuka when you’re three bloody marys deep is one of London’s great Sunday joys. But there’s a lot of competition in the market: avo sourdough and the promise of a few extra mimosas isn’t enough to draw the crowds. At Flesh & Buns, you can have unlimited red wine with a gut-busting sushi brunch, or sate yourself with beef rib tacos and never-ending prosecco at HotBox. But for something straightforward, you can’t go wrong with the all-American liquid brunch at Bad Egg in Moorgate. Just watch out for the spicy gochujang bloody mary: it has the kick of a newly castrated shire horse. You’ll be lucky to get through one, let alone three.
London’s Design Museum packed up and moved to west London late last year after almost three decades in Tower Bridge. The new building on the edge of Holland Park is a design feat in its own right, with an incredible curved ceiling. Visitors can peruse the permanent collection – starting with Designer Maker User, an introduction to the history of contemporary design – wander around the mix of free temporary exhibitions, pop-ups and bookable displays or just get distracted taking snaps of the museum’s amazing interior space.
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 in the Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery. 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.
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 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.
Man, The Barbary’s good. Not just good – in our opinion, this atmospheric Covent Garden joint is the very best in London. Its menu gallivants down the eponymous North African Barbary coast (running from Morocco to Libya, atlas fans), with all the smoky, meaty, gutsy fare that encompasses. It’s also miniscule: all 24 seats are at a horseshoe counter that wraps around the teeny kitchen, so you can eyeball the chefs while waxing rapturous over the food. You can even book at noon and 5pm – groundbreaking stuff all round.
London has some of the best free museums and galleries in the world, and that’s a fact. You can find many of them in one place, we’ve even named it for you: Exhibition Road, the home of the Natural History Museum, V&A and Science Museum. Did we mention BOTH Tate Britain and Tate Modern have permanent collections you can explore gratis, too? Plus the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery. And then there are the hundreds of independent galleries that don’t charge for entry, such as the brilliant White Cube. Just don’t try to do more than three in one day, your feet will not thank you.
Sunday lunch is the greatest meal of the week, bar none. From snug neighbourhood staples to more bijou gastropubs, London has something for every taste (if that taste is for comforting mounds of carbs that’ll see you through winter). For a memorable slap-up meal topped with heavenly gravy head to meat-masters Hawksmoor.