101 best things to do in London
What is it? A cathedral to culture, the V&A is a world-class museum championing the very best of decorative art and design.
Why go? The V&A houses one of the greatest collections of art, design, fashion and textiles on the planet. The permanent exhibits in this South Ken museum are fascinating, free to visit and include a mini pet cemetery. Ticketed exhibitions, like the recent ‘Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up’, often sell out.
Don’t miss: The world’s first all-porcelain courtyard created by architect Amanda Levete with 11,000 handmade tiles. When it catches the sunlight, the glittering ceramics make London look like 1960s Rome.
What is it? One of the city’s largest and oldest food markets. It heaves with both tourists and locals gaping at a dizzying array of gastronomic delights and scoffing free samples.
Why go? This mega market in London Bridge has a history that goes back to the thirteenth century, and it’s livelier than ever: Borough Market is packed with artisan traders such as Brindisa and Monmouth Coffee. It’s also home to some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. Take a seat beneath the glass-and-iron roof and watch the traders pack up after another day.
Don’t miss: The Market Porter pub. It opens at 6am for those working the graveyard shift, perfect if you’re in for a very early (or late) one. It also appeared in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ as a bookshop next door to The Leaky Cauldron.
What is it? A West End neighbourhood with a somewhat sleazy history, that now teems with a bustling mix of party-goers, foodies, tourists, theatre buffs and media types in addition to a few surviving colourful local characters.
Why go? If you really want to soak up those city vibes settle in for a stint in the heart of London’s West End. Soho is home to some of London’s best theatres, restaurants, bars, clubs and shops. The maze of streets, linked by narrow Dickensian alleyways, are always busy and full of life. Order a coffee at one of the pavement cafés on Old Compton Street and watch the world go by in all its glory.
Don’t miss: Grade-II listed pub The French House. Charles de Gaulle used it as a base in exile during World War II, Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon both drank here and beer, famously, is only ever served in halves.
What is it? A riverside icon on London’s South Bank dedicated to modern and contemporary art. It’s the younger, hipper sibling to Pimlico’s Tate Britain.
Why go? To be inspired and challenged. Tate Modern is based in what was Bankside Power Station. Step inside and you can discover works by the likes of Warhol, Dalí and Hockney, as well as eye-grabbing installations, which are all part of the free permanent collection. The Switch House extension has an incredible 360-degree view of the London skyline.
Don’t miss: The Tate Boat (decorated with Damien Hirst dots) runs up and down the Thames between Tate Modern and Tate Britain every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours. Just tap in and out with an Oyster or contactless card as you would on the tube or bus.
What is it? An impressive light and sound installation in the huge Kew Gardens, which is triggered by the activity of bees in a nearby hive.
Why go? Kew Gardens is 300 acres of beautiful green space, filled with stunning vistas, rare plants, Victorian glasshouses, a Chinese pagoda, a treetop walkway and, of course, ‘The Hive’. The newly restored Temperate House is also a horticulturalist’s delight. A Grade I-listed greenhouse, twice the size of Kew’s famous Palm House, it reopened its doors to the public this year after a major five-year renovation.
Don’t miss: Encephalartos woodii, a spiky cycad that’s one of the rarest plants in the world, in Temperate House. It outlived the dinosaurs, but Kew’s specimen is thought to be the last one in Europe. Alas, poor woodii!
What is it? A reconstruction of William Shakespeare’s circular theatre, which was destroyed by a fire, sat a few hundred yards from its original site.
Why go? It’s the closest you’ll ever get to experiencing the Bard’s plays as his Elizabethan audience did. To stand or not to stand, that is the question. In the era of Mr Shakespeare himself, many theatregoers would stay on their feet when watching a play. Known as ‘groundlings’, those who stood would get an ace and up-close view of the show. At the Globe, this tradition has endured and you can get a standing spot 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.
Don’t miss: A midnight performance. You’ll have to book well in advance for one of these late-night shows but it’s worth it for the raucous atmosphere. Pop to the pub beforehand for a pint or two – and maybe a coffee to keep you awake into the early hours.
What is it? One of London’s oldest and best-loved flower markets.
Why go? A weekend institution in east London, the Sunday flower market that lines Columbia Road is a hipster paradise and one of the best places in the city to buy flowers, bedding plants, cacti and even a banana tree if you’ve got the patio space at home and the upper body strength to carry it there.
Don’t miss: The best blooms and bargains. The market goes on until 3pm in all weathers, but for the best buys you need to get there for 8am. Alternatively, hold out for the end, when traders often sell off their remaining stock cheap. Either way, you’re guaranteed to leave with armfuls of flowers.
What is it? A buzzy shopping mecca tucked away behind Oxford and Regent Streets and full of independent brands, quirky flagship stores and some of the city’s best places to eat and drink.
Why go? This pedestrianised street is one of London’s best shopping destinations. Creative Carnaby is known for being at the heart of the swinging ’60s in London, when the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elizabeth Taylor were all regular visitors. Nowadays the area is home to shops like Monki and The Kooples as well as dining and drinking destinations Dishoom, Cahoots, Pizza Pilgrims, Le Bab and Breddos.
Don’t miss: Carnaby’s Christmas lights. Carnaby Street’s annual winter display is always much anticipated and never disappoints. This year’s version is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’-themed, and switched on by Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor.
What is it? A riverside titan of arts and entertainment, the Southbank Centre – comprised of brutalist icon Royal Festival Hall, contemporary art gallery the Hayward and events space Queen Elizabeth Hall – is one of the most revered cultural hotspots in London.
Why go? The Southbank Centre is like a cultural Transformer: it can morph to fit any artsy need. The collective includes three major venues with a bunch of smaller rooms and terraces that host a wide range of events. Think: London Literature Festival, Meltdown and the Women of the World festival. Plus it’s simply a prime strolling spot. Munch on vegan cake at the food market or pick up a rare first edition at the Southbank Centre Book Market. In winter, explore the magical festive market along the banks of the Thames.
Don’t miss: The Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden. A green space and open-air bar with views of the river in the summer. Last year it transformed into a Scandi sauna in the winter months. That’s some multi-tasking Londoning, right there.
What is it? The magnificent South Kensington home of around 80 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. This fascinating museum, which is also a world-class research institution, is full of wonders.
Why go? To come face-to-face with animatronic dinosaurs, a man-sized model of a foetus, a dodo, a giant sequoia tree, an earthquake simulator, glow-in-the-dark crystals and a great big blue whale skeleton which hangs from the ceiling of the Hintze Hall.
Don’t miss: Night at the museum. The NHM often holds after-hours events where you can solve crimes, conduct experiments, listen to talks or watch movies. At Dino Snores you can actually have a sleepover in the museum itself.
What is it? London’s highest public garden – three storeys of lush landscaped gardens on the thirty-fifth floor of a City skyscraper.
Why go? Located on Fenchurch Street, right in the heart of the City, this beautiful venue caused quite a stir when it opened back in 2015. Zip up 35 floors of the Walkie Talkie and you’ll be transported to a public garden with truly spectacular views. As well as all the lush greenery, you’ll find an observation deck, an open-air terrace, two restaurants, two bars and an uninterrupted panorama of the city’s skyline and the Thames snaking by below. Entry is free but you’ve got to book in advance online.
Don’t miss: Fancy watching the sunrise from Sky Garden’s spectacular Sky Pod? Rock up at 6.30am for a dynamic vinyasa flow yoga class (from £10) followed by breakfast at the Darwin Brasserie.
What is it? An actual medieval castle on the north bank of the Thames, and, officially speaking, Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and fortress.
Why go? For all that bling (and the ravens). You can’t help but gawp at the staggeringly priceless collection of diamonds, tiaras and sceptres that make up the Crown Jewels. Arrive early to beat the crowds and catch a glimpse of these precious rocks that the Royal Family still uses on official occasions. This 900-year-old monument is one of the country’s finest historical attractions and has enough to see to fill a whole day.
Don’t miss: A tour with one of the Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters) to get the Tower lowdown by someone who lives and works there.
What is it? Bathing ponds in the middle of the wild green space of Hampstead Heath, where you can splash about any time of year. In fact, it’s the only place in the UK to offer life-guarded open-water public swimming all year round.
Why go? With men’s, women’s and mixed ponds, there’s nowhere better – or more picturesque (the ponds are a short walk from Parliament Hill, with views over the city skyline) – to cool off on scorching London days. The mixed pond is members-only and not lifeguarded in winter. Competent swimmers aged eight-plus are allowed. Just jump right in: there’s no shallow end!
Don’t miss: Looking for a hot shower afterwards? You’ll only find them at the Ladies’ Pond. Sorry, chaps.
What is it? The British Museum is one of the UK’s most famous institutions, dedicated to human history, art and culture.
Why go? There’s so much to see at the British Museum –Parthenon sculptures, Lewis Chessmen, The Rosetta Stone. The world-famous Egyptian stone, the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs, is the most sought out item in the collection. If you think you’ve done it all, delve deeper by looking out for new acquisitions, or pop into one of the museum’s temporary exhibitions.
Don’t miss: The Mermaid 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... 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.
What is it? London’s one and only 95-storey skyscraper, and the tallest building in Western Europe.
Why go? 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 from which to cop a look at London in all its glory.
Don’t miss: The very top. There are bars and restaurants all the way up, but at public visiting area The View from The Shard, the tower boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with amazing views. You can peer out over the city at 244 metres above ground level. It’s as if you’re perched over the capital on your own cloud — and it makes for one awesome snap. Say cheese!
What is it? The world’s largest antiques market, on a pastel-painted, picturesque shopping street in Notting Hill.
Why go? Although home to fruit and veg stalls too, Portobello Market is best known for the antiques and bric-à-brac stalls featuring at the Chepstow Villas end of the road. Don’t be fooled by the fold-out tables – this isn’t cheap tat and there are some serious treasures here. For more secondhand goodies, head further up the road, beyond the Westway.
Don’t miss: The market at its antiquey best. Sections of the market are open six days a week but for vintage treasures, brave the crowds and go browsing on a Saturday.
What is it? The beautiful Liberty opened in 1875 and continues to be one of the most renowned department stores in the world.
Why go? A stone’s throw from Oxford Circus tube station is the whimsical London icon that is Liberty, an impressive building constructed with the timbers from two ancient warships. Peruse the silks, Liberty-print cottons, haberdashery and nifty collaborations with titans of the fashion world in this famously quirky outfitters. Oscar Wilde once said, ‘Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.’ Make like the writer and shop for elaborately decorated silk scarves.
Don’t miss: The Liberty Christmas Shop. Open for a sizeable chunk of the year, it’s a magical, glitter-covered, gift-wrapped festive grotto, perfect for selecting weird and wonderful decorations for your tree. Brussels sprout bauble, anyone?
What is it? A 57-acre park in Westminster, which is basically the Queen’s giant front garden.
Why go? St James’s Park has undergone a lot of changes over the years. In King Henry VII’s day it was swampy and used mainly as a deer-breeding ground. King James I drained it and moved more animals in (including elephants, crocodiles and exotic birds). Today it remains as it was redesigned in the 1820s, all lush landscape and winding paths. Spot squirrels scampering around and pretty views of Buckingham Palace at the western end.
Don’t miss: The park’s famous avian tenants – the pelicans. In 1664 the Russian ambassador presented a pair of pelicans to the king, and today the birds are still offered to the park by foreign ambassadors. Find them at the big lake in the middle.
What is it? The most quintessentially English thing you can ever eat at one of the most traditional and elegant hotels in London.
Why go? Forget brunch, afternoon tea is really where it’s at. With flattering lighting, the scent of fresh roses and classical musicians playing away in the corner, the Foyer at Claridge’s is a class act. This elegant art deco space is where chic A-listers and other ‘people with taste’ come to take tea. Expect tasty patisserie, sensational just-baked scones and incredible finger sandwiches.
Don’t miss: The drink at the heart of the ritual. Sip on a fine bone-china cup of Claridge’s Blend, a bespoke tea designed for this very occasion.
What is it? A large, leafy greenhouse within the iconic performing arts and exhibition centre.
Why go? 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 is the second biggest conservatory in the city. Inside you’ll find more than 2,000 plant species and even exotic fish. It’s like stepping into the happy ending of a dystopian thriller, when the characters finally find signs of life on an abandoned planet.
Don’t miss: Everything else the Barbican has to offer. The much-loved complex is also home to a theatre, cinema, exhibition spaces, restaurants, bars and a very good shop.
What is it? A tranquil and photogenic pocket of London just north of Paddington, which is known for picturesque waterways and narrowboats.
Why go? Home to a community of boat-dwelling Londoners, Little Venice is a special spot. Wander through Rembrandt Gardens, feast on seafood at The Summerhouse or browse the plants and have a cuppa in the Quince Tree Café at charming Clifton Nurseries. Then hop on board a cruise travelling between Little Venice and Camden Lock, or wander east along the canal towpath to London Zoo or Primrose Hill.
Don’t miss: The Puppet Theatre Barge. This intimate water-borne theatre is the setting for quality puppet shows that put a modern twist on traditional tales and kids’ classics.
What is it? A bar at the very top of a former multi-storey car park in Peckham, which serves up Aperol and ace views every summer.
Why go? All walks of life make the trip to tick Frank’s Cafe off their London bucket list. Open from May until late September, the summer pop-up plays host to hundreds who mob the bar for Italian cocktails and tasty small plates. They keep it simple, with big open-air spaces and festival-style facilities, as well as free art and sculpture exhibitions. If the weather isn’t playing ball, head inside Peckham Levels for classes and events plus food stalls and bars on levels five and six of this former car park.
Don’t miss: The rest of London’s rooftop bars. When Frank’s closes for the winter months, turn your attention to other high-rise spaces for dining, drinking and even ice skating. Be assured that a nation obsessed with the weather plans for everything – blankets, heaters and hot cocktails will make an appearance as the temperature drops.
What is it? One of the UK’s most prominent performing arts venues, which sits proudly on the South Bank.
Why go? Seeing a play isn’t the only reason to visit Denys Lasdun’s 1970s concrete edifice (though it is a very good reason). Behind-the-scenes life here 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.
Don’t miss: Tea and cake. Book a table for afternoon tea at House, the National’s restaurant. The menu is wittily themed to reflect past productions and the moreish pork pie – a gruesome nod to the NT’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ – is not to be missed.
What is it? Fabric is London’s most iconic club. The former meat factory is a bastion of drum ’n’ bass.
Why go? ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Not just the words of Charles Dickens, but of every exhausted clubber to emerge from Fabric at 4am. Numerous attempts have been made to shut down this treasured superclub over the years (we nearly lost it for good in 2016) but Londoners have always rallied around to save it. The queue might snake as far as Farringdon station some Saturday nights, but if you haven’t been to Fabric, you haven’t experienced London nightlife. End of story.
Don’t miss: A legendary extended set from Chilean-born Germany-based techno warrior and semi-regular at Fabric Ricardo Villalobos – you’ll never have a Saturday night like it.
What is it? The Palace of Westminster is the home of Parliament, made up of the Houses of Parliament (the House of Lords and House of Commons) and (the currently silent) clocktower Big Ben.
Why go? The Palace of Westminster is a wonderful mish-mash of architectural styles, dominated by neo-gothic buttresses, towers and arches. It contains 1,000 rooms, 11 courtyards, eight bars and six restaurants, for use by staff, MPs, lords and their guests. Members of the public are welcome, too. Book a tour to follow in the footsteps of the Queen at the State Opening and get a sense of how Parliament functions. You can even have afternoon tea at the end of your tour in a room beside the Thames.
Don’t miss: ‘New Dawn’, a sculpture by Mary Branson in Westminster Hall which commemorates the long campaign for women to get the vote. Or the statues in St Stephen’s Hall, one of which was damaged when members of the suffragette movement chained themselves to it in 1909.
What is it? The Meridian Line is Longitude Zero, the reference point for GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) since 1884. Every place on Earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west from this line, which runs across the courtyard of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
Why go? The Meridian Line makes for a mega photo op, but there’s plenty more to see. As well as the courtyard of Flamsteed House (the observatory built in 1675 on the orders of Charles II), you can explore the apartments of Sir John Flamsteed and other Astronomers Royal. Meanwhile, in the ‘onion’ dome is the country’s largest refracting telescope, completed in 1893. The Astronomy Centre on the south site contains the free-entry Weller Astronomy Galleries, where visitors can marvel at a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite before popping into a star show at the Peter Harrison Planetarium.
Don’t miss: The views from the peak of Greenwich Park of the area’s grand, historical buildings (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with the futuristic profile of Canary Wharf in the distance.
What is it? A magnificently gothic, overgrown, 53,000-grave cemetery (housing 170,000 dead) in north London.
Why go? A stroll through a graveyard may seem like a macabre way to spend an afternoon, but the chaotically overgrown Highgate Cemetery really is something special. It was one of London’s seven great Victorian cemeteries but fell into disrepair. Today, you can go and witness it in all its crumbling glory. The West Cemetery requires booking in advance for a guided tour (£12) during the week (at the weekend just show up and join a tour). Entrance to the East Cemetery is £4 at the gate.
Don’t miss: The cemetery’s famous residents. Find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams and poet Christina Rossetti. You can also visit Karl Marx. You can’t miss his spot – it’s topped with a massive sculpture of his head.
What is it? London’s biggest, grandest royal park.
Why go? For ancient woodland, open space and enchanting rural wilds in the city. This 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. Look out for wild red and fallow deer but be sure to keep your distance (especially during autumn’s rutting season).
Don’t miss: The Isabella Plantation for swathes of blossom in spring and summer. Rent a bike to really get to see the whole park.
What is it? Soho’s insanely popular Sri Lankan street-food spot.
Why go? Londoners love to politely queue, and we’d much rather wait in a line for a Sri Lankan feast than for a stamp at the Post Office. If you’ve ever spent a hangry evening in the queue at Hoppers, you’ll know that getting a table is no easy feat. The wait is entirely worth it, though. We promise. If you really can’t stomach the suspense, you can now book at the branch in St Christopher’s Place.
Don’t miss: The incredible bowl-shaped savoury egg hopper. It’s heavenly.
What is it? Founded in 1857, the Science Museum is one of London’s largest tourist attractions, and one of the world’s major museums.
Why go? 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 Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery, a state-of-the-art seven-zone area of the museum that’s ticketed, allowing you to see live experiments and shows away from the crowds, or Space Descent, an immersive VR trip through the cosmos with British astronaut Tim Peake as your guide.
Don’t miss: Amazing objects that have shaped the last few decades, from the first Apple computer to Apollo 10, which orbited the moon in 1969.
What is it? The longest surviving cocktail bar in London. The Savoy hotel’s American Bar has been mixing excellent drinks since 1893.
Why go? Lots of London bars try to recreate a fantasy world of retro glamour. The American Bar already has one. There’s no single element that creates the feel, but it’s a mix of everything: the portraits of showbiz stars, the tasteful interiors, the gleaming baby grand (in action every evening), the impeccable jazz, the polished welcome from tie-and-jacketed waiters who greet you as a long-lost friend.
Don’t miss: The clever cocktail menu, which is inspired by the star-studded black and white photography you can find around the bar.
What is it? A carb-lover’s paradise near Borough Market, which more or less only serves pasta.
Why go? With a small menu of six antipasti and ten totally delicious pasta dishes, Padella’s whole ‘less is more’ formula has proven immensely successful. Ever since opening in London Bridge in 2016 it has been nearly impossible to get a table without queuing first.
Don’t miss: Padella’s sister site, Trullo. The hugely popular Islington restaurant was owners Tim Siadatan and Jordan Frieda’s first venture. You’ll recognise some menu items, like the famous pappardelle with beef shin ragú. Head there instead if you can’t stand the wait.
What is it? A grassy hill on the northern side of Regent’s Park, and the name of the surrounding swanky neighbourhood.
Why go? The 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 annexe of Regent’s Park is also surrounded by posh cafés and nice shops and frequented by some of London’s friendliest dog walkers, making it a great place to people-watch.
Don’t miss: The sunset. When the sun starts going down, it really is all about that view, so pack a picnic, set your camera to ‘panoramic’ and play ‘spot the landmark’ as London is bathed in awesome orange light.
What is it? There are a whole lot of Harry Potter locations in and around London, but the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford is the most magical.
Why go? The capital is heaving with Harry Potter hotspots. Locations like Diagon Alley were set here and scenes from the world-famous movie franchise were filmed here. There’s the stage play ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, walking tours and photo ops at the actual Platform 9¾ in King’s Cross. But you can’t beat the Warner Bros Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, just outside of the capital, to get up close with incredible props and sets from all eight of the HP films.
Don’t miss: The chance to fly your very own broom. Or drink butterbeer. Or wander in the Forbidden Forest. Or pose in the Great Hall. Or window-shop on Diagon Alley. Go!
What is it? A whole lot of neon artwork on display at a salvage yard in Walthamstow.
Why go? If you happen to appreciate a good neon sign, well, you’ll be in heaven at God’s Own Junkyard. Its late owner, artist Chris Bracey, collected neon signs over a period of 37 years, as well as crafting and restoring them. Some are on the super-seedy side, having featured on 1960s strip clubs and peep shows, while others are heartwarmingly nostalgic.
Don’t miss: The neon wonderland’s ‘Rolling Stones’ café. It serves cake and hot drinks, or something a bit stronger if you so desire.
What is it? A charmingly scruffy bakery that has been serving Londoners fresh bagels since 1977.
Why go? Ah, the salt beef beigel (or bagel). It’s salty, it’s beefy, the mustard will singe a layer of skin from the inside of your mouth (you have been warned) and it’s an absolute classic. Beigel Bake allegedly churns out 7,000 of the boiled bready beauties a day! That’s why they’re consumed by everyone from night-shift taxi drivers and party people to savvy tourists and local pensioners. At less than a fiver a pop, it’d be rude not to.
Don’t miss: Your place in the queue. Much like the fast-paced delis in New York, Beigel Bake offers fairly brusque service. Know exactly what you’re having before you order, and have your cash ready.
What is it? The capital’s most famous bridge, which crosses the Thames near the Tower of London.
Why go? The historical structure – not the star of childhood ditty ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ FYI – is a bit of a stunner. It lifts up in the middle when large vessels are passing underneath (lift times are available on its website) and it gained a daring glass floor on the high walkways in 2014, allowing visitors to 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.
Don’t miss: Your chance to stand inside Tower Bridge’s Bascule Chambers. These underground caverns allow for the movement of the huge counterweights when the bridge is raised. The subterranean space is normally out of bounds but is sometimes used for concerts and events.
What is it? Flaky, fatty and full of steak: a traditional pie isn’t fancy, and that’s why we love ’em. Settle down for a treat at the oldest of the Cooke family’s surviving pie houses.
Why go? 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 pricy gastropubs, but you can still get a full, carbtastic meal for less than a fiver if you look hard enough. F Cooke is famous for having sawdust sprinkled beneath its tables – a tradition that dates back to the time when discarded eel bones were just chucked on the floor, making it slippery. Trading since 1900, the shop is now run by the original owner’s great-grandson Robert, who sticks to the original recipe for some of east London’s best pies – well-browned and filled with beef and sweet gravy.
Don’t miss: The steaming mug of rosy lee, aka the perfect accompaniment. Luvvly-jubbly!
What is it? The home of Sipsmith gin. It planted its copper stills here in west London in 2009.
Why go? Sipsmith was the first of the new wave of London gin distilleries, becoming the first copper pot still in London for nearly 200 years. Now you can sip a G&T while listening to a little history of gin in London, tour the Sipsmith stills and get a tutored tasting. To drink deeper, book on to the Sipsmith Sipper Club every Tuesday – after the distillery you head to Charlotte’s Bistro for a gin-themed slap-up meal.
Don’t miss: The wall of weird and wonderful gin experiments in the bar. This is where Sipsmith’s master distiller gets creative, cooking up unusual flavour combinations that don’t go on general sale. If you’re lucky you might get to try one.
What is it? A totally beautiful, independent bookshop, founded by James Daunt in 1990.
Why go? Daunt Marylebone, the small chain’s flagship store, might be London’s most beautiful bookshop. Occupying an Edwardian building on Marylebone High Street, it boasts an incredible galleried main room and stained-glass windows that feel like they’re from a long-lost world. All the books are arranged by country – regardless of content – which makes for a fun and unique browsing experience. Take home your books in a branded tote bag for the true Daunt experience.
Don’t miss: The other amazing bookshops in London, like King’s Cross bookshop barge Word on the Water, tech-free Libreria in Shoreditch, Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street, which sells pretty reprints from female writers, and the stellar London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury.
What is it? The legendary Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square is central London’s coolest movie house.
Why go? It’s a breath of fresh air in tourist-trap central. The two-screen independent shows an eclectic mix of new releases, cult and arthouse titles. It’s comfy, cheap and very cheerful, and the programming is as good as it gets. Expect double bills, short seasons, singalongs and unusual screenings – epic 70mm presentations of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ take place in one screen while people acapella-along to ‘Pitch Perfect’ in the other.
Don’t miss: The all-nighters. Ever fancied watching every Harry Potter film in one 22-hour sitting? How about a ‘Lord of the Rings’ extended editions marathon? A seven-film Disney pyjama party? Or six classic horror movies back-to-back? Rock up and get ready for a seriously numb bum.
What is it? Built by the Post Office a hundred years ago, this underground train line was once used to move mail around the city. Now a chunk of the network has been opened up for visitors.
Why go? While everyone knows about the London Underground, the Mail Rail was shrouded in secrecy until recently. Shuttling letters and parcels across the city for nearly eight decades and delivering post through six-and-a-half miles of tunnels, it was taken out of service in 2003. But its tracks are now humming again, encouraging visitors to make like a letter and hop aboard the tiny electric tube train to discover a secret subterranean London.
Don’t miss: The Postal Museum’s calendar of events, from historical walking tours to papermaking workshops for kids.
What is it? The UK’s tallest sculpture, Anish Kapoor’s curiously curvaceous 114.5-metre-high ArcelorMittal Orbit was one of the more unexpected sights at the Olympic Park in 2012. Then German artist Carsten Höller added the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide to it. As you do.
Why go? We consider a good hurtle down the slide all the way to the ground a pretty thrilling experience. It’ll speed you from top to bottom in just 40 seconds.
Don’t miss: Those impressive views. There are windows at strategic points so you can see out – if you dare to take the plummet without closing your eyes.
What is it? A Grade I-listed Royal Park, which is home to London Zoo, a boating lake and lush rose gardens.
Why go? 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, 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.
Don’t miss: The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for further alfresco pleasures. It’s a magical way to enjoy excellent outdoor theatre from April to September.
What is it? A tiny North African-inspired restaurant in Neal’s Yard, which tops our list of the best restaurants in London right now.
Why go? Man, The Barbary’s good. Not just good – in our opinion, this atmospheric Covent Garden joint is the very best eatery 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 minuscule: 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.
Don’t miss: Your chance to book. The restaurant has a walk-in policy almost all of the time, but you can reserve seats online for up to four people at noon and 5pm.
What is it? 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.
Why go? Designed by Stirling Prize-winning architects Haworth Tompkins, this is the first entirely new theatre of real scale to arrive on the capital’s commercial 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.
Don’t miss: Your interval ice cream. Superior sweet refreshment is on hand thanks to Jack’s Gelato, who serve up flavours like Chelsea bun, salted treacle and spiced pumpkin.
What is it? As its name implies, the Museum of London is dedicated specifically to documenting the capital’s history.
Why go? 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.
Don’t miss: A Roman inscription from AD 160-170, featuring the first recorded use of the word ‘Londoners’.
What is it? A remarkable house on east London’s Folgate Street has been dressed to resemble the home of eighteenth-century Huguenot silk weavers.
Why go? To imagine you’ve stepped into a painting by an Old Master. Walking into Dennis Severs’ House is rather like that. It’s open for tours throughout the year: visitors silently pass through its ‘still-life drama’, visiting each room to see evidence of an eighteenth-century silk weaver’s family life without meeting a soul. It’s a unique, unnerving experience.
Don’t miss: The Annual Christmas Installation. Visit on a frosty winter’s night for a truly atmospheric experience.
What is it? Built as the Millennium Dome to mark the year 2000, these days the O2 Arena is best known for being a major live music venue.
Why go? It welcomes amazing artists from all over the world, so there’s that. But there is loads to do here even when the likes of Katy Perry or Jay-Z aren’t strutting their stuff. Think restaurants, bars, a bowling alley, a cinema, an Oxygen Freejumping trampoline park and new outlet shopping centre Icon.
Don’t miss: The opportunity to scale the dome. Book a dusk slot for Up at the O2 – a 52-metre climb up and over the venue’s roof – and look westward for one of the most spectacular city views going. You’re welcome.
What is it? People love to roll their eyes at brunch, but tucking into shakshuka when you’re three bloody marys deep is surely one of London’s great Sunday joys. Our fave place to make our brunch bottomless is Bad Egg, an idiosyncratic spot in the brutalist shadow of the Barbican.
Why go? Run by London ‘barbecue king’ Neil Rankin – his CV a where’s where of ace meat joints, Pitt Cue, Temper and Smokehouse among ’em – it’s maniacally popular: booking is essential despite this part of the City being an eerie dead zone on the weekends. That’s all with good reason, though, as the food is fabulous. Think cheeseburger hash, french toast with fried chicken, banana and syrup, and guacamole and black bean tacos.
Don’t miss: The spicy gochujang bloody mary: it has the kick of a newly castrated shire horse. You’ll do well to get through one, let alone three.
What is it? A grand Tudor pile that Henry VIII ‘acquired’ from Cardinal Wolsey. It was later home to royal Stuarts and Georgians too, who all left their mark on the palace.
Why go? The remarkable thing about Hampton Court Palace is that you can stand in the very rooms where history was made. Wander down the corridor where Catherine Howard was dragged screaming, see how George I’s chocolatier prepared the king’s favourite tipple and take a gander at King Charles II’s royal bog. There are also ace gardens and the UK’s oldest surviving hedge maze.
Don’t miss: The wintertime Ghost Tours. These after-hours adventures, with tales of paranormal activity and regal apparitions, are frighteningly good.