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 (updated for 2017 and always hotly debated in the Time Out office) is a good place to start.
Whether you’ve lived here all your life or just touched down at the airport (if so, check out our best hotels list), our city checklist will help you 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!
By Ellie Walker-Arnott, Katie McCabe, Phoebe Trimingham, Laura Lee Davies, Oliver Keens, Kitty Drake, Tom Howells, James Manning and Nick Thompson.
101 things to do in London: classic
The V&A was already a stunner even before its renovation, which 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.
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.
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.
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.
For ancient woodland, open space and enchanting rural wilds in the capital, head to Richmond Park. The largest and grandest of London’s royal parks 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.
We all know how horrific London’s past is: severed heads were skewered on spikes, men scrapped for soiled bread and everything smelled rancid. But did you know you could go back there? At the London Dungeon, it takes 110 minutes to go through 1,000 years of grim history, including all the heavyweights: the plague, the medieval torturer and Jack the Ripper. The actors, the decor and the ambience definitely succeed in taking you back there. But never fear, they can’t actually hurt you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in their best – then rub shoulders with more A-listers before checking out the immersive Star Wars Experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
101 things to do in London: quirky
London is a hub of Harry Potter magic. The world-famous movie franchise was filmed in locations across the capital, from Shaftesbury Avenue to Westminster tube station. Serious fans can set off on wizarding walking tours, see unique art from the films at House of MinaLima, secure tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, pose at Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross or head to the place where it all began: the Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden. This was where the movie series came to life and it’s now home to incredible props and sets, from Diagon Alley to Privet Drive.
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.
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.
Become one with the humble British bumble bee at the incredible Kew Gardens with The Hive: an innovative multi-sensory experience designed to help you see the life of a bee in a new way. Step inside this 17-metre tall faux hive set down in the idyllic splendour of the Royal Botanic Gardens to see lights and hear sounds triggered by bee activity in a real beehive nearby. The intensity of both sensory delights fluctuates dramatically like a hive would. This scientific research-inspired work is intended to demonstrate the challenges, and importance to our planet, of our black ’n’ yellow friends. Buzzing.
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.
The concrete rampart that forms the Barbican doesn’t look like it would house a lush indoor garden, but it does. Inside that Brutalist fortress is a glasshouse heaving with 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.
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!
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 £4 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.
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.
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?
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.
Venue says: “Two nine-hole crazy golf courses, cocktails and three street food vendors - Patty&Bun, Pizza Pilgrims and DF/Mexico - all under one roof!”
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.
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.
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 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’d head straight for Donostia Social Club.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
101 things to do in London: eating and drinking
Flattering lighting, the scent of fresh roses, a classical cellist-plus-pianist duo in the corner: the Foyer at Claridge’s is a class act. This elegant art deco palace is where chic A-listers and other high rollers come to take afternoon tea. Gracious, discreet service is a bonus. Soak up the surroundings and tuck in, this is a five-star experience you won't forget in a hurry.
Londoner’s love to politely queue, and we’d much rather wait in an line for a 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 at Soho’s insanely popular Sri Lankan street food spot is no easy feat. The wait is entirely worth it, though. We promise. Plus, if you really can’t stomach the suspense, Hoppers have just opened a new branch, where you can book, so it is possible to sample those incredible bowl-shaped savoury crêpes without having to hang about on the street for hours.
Underneath a burlesque club in Camden, this bar feels sexier than any place that smells this much of brie has a right to. Cheese is the star of the show here, not booze, and the menu reads like hardcore food porn. Order the ‘young buck’ raclette and the Insta-famous Keen’s cheddar and onion sarnie (a better hangover cure than any bloody mary on Earth). Also unmissable is the blue cheese ice cream sundae. Sounds so wrong, but it tastes so right.
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.
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.
Hungry in central London in the early hours? A greasy kebab is not your only option. Sky-high dining destination Duck & Waffle is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with epic round-the-clock views of London’s lustworthy skyline. There’s something wildly indulgent about heading up in the middle of the night to feast on dishes such as confit duck leg, fried duck egg, maple syrup and waffles. Stay put with a champagne negroni to watch the sun come up over the city.
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.
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.
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.
Spend a penny (OK, more like £15) in a bog-turned-bar. Cellar Door was once a gents in Victorian Theatreland, now it’s a gritty underground cabaret joint reached by a very subtle staircase on Aldwych. These days, there are dozens of liquid lavs for the discerning cistern fan to choose from. Try Attendant in Fitzrovia for strong coffee and French toast beside pretty porcelain urinals and Kentish Town’s Ladies & Gentleman for experimental cocktails in a dark bunker of a bar. Rage against the latrine, and take getting ‘pissed’ to the next level.
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.
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.
Flaky, fatty and full of steak: pie isn’t fancy, and that’s why we love it. The ultimate cockney comfort dish has been adopted by most pricey gastropubs in recent years. But you can still get a full, carbtastic meal for less than a fiver at one of the city’s old-fashioned takeaways. 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.
Venue says: “Open since 1900, E Pellicci cafe and restaurant has been awarded Grade II-listed status by English Heritage.”
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.
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. For more, check out these London pubs with real fires.
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.
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.
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.
Venue says: “On March 6, our new menu launches so make sure you head down & have some of your favourite drinks from the current menu before its too late!”
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.
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.
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). You can take our meat, but you can’t take our desire to eat.
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.
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.
101 things to do in London: culture hotspots
The Southbank Centre is like a cultural Transformer: it can morph to fit any artsy need. It’s made up of various venues – including the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall (reopening in 2018) and The National Poetry Library – which host a whole lot of events, like 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.
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. 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.
Is there a better way to spend a Sunday than wandering around the city’s bookshops? London’s ace independent bookstores are the best places to browse for reading material, from tatty second-hand paperbacks to shiny tomes bigger than your coffee table. Step onto bookshop barge Word on the Water, eschew tech at Libreria, peruse pretty reprints from female writers at Persephone Books, stop for a wedge of sponge at London Review Bookshop and admire period features at Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street.
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.
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.
Yes, the eighteenth-century neoclassical architecture of Somerset House is impressive, but it looks even better when it’s lit up with purple floor lights for a raging concert. Every summer, the Strand arts space puts on a stonking programme of gigs (Goldfrapp, Basement Jaxx and Jessie Ware have all filled out that classy cobbled courtyard). Even when it pisses down with rain, the spectacle more than makes up for it. If you miss out on tickets, you can try and catch a cult movie at the Film4 Summer Screen, and do some figures-of-eight on the Christmas ice rink, which appears annually.
Big into photography and know your aperture from your ISO? Head to The Photographer’s Gallery for thought-provoking exhibitions, such as Wim Wenders’ personal polaroid collection, which will be running from October 22 until February 11 2018, providing insight into the Oscar-nominated filmmaker’s thought processes and life. Also find ‘4 Saints in 3 Acts - A Snapshot of the American Avant-garde’, featuring photos of the groundbreaking 1930s modernist opera, which featured an all-African American cast.
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.
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).
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Not just the words of Dickens, but of every strung-out clubber to emerge from Fabric at 4am. Numerous attempts have been made to shut down our treasured superclub over the years (we nearly lost it for good in 2016) but Londoners rallied around to save it. The former meat factory is a bastion to drum ’n’ bass. The queue might snake as far Farringdon station some Saturday nights, but if you haven’t been to Fabric, you haven’t experienced London nightlife in full. End of story.
This charmingly shabby venue started life as five houses back in 1690. Then, it was an ale house serving sea captains. Fast forward to 1858 and pub landlord-come-entrepeneur John Wilton built the magnificent auditorium. Since then Wilton's has been a base for the East End Methodist Mission, a soup kitchen, a shelter during the Blitz and a rag warehouse. Now, after a little restoration, it's still standing as the oldest grand music hall in the world. The Grade II* listed building is now home to plays, opera, puppetry, classical music, cabaret, dance and magic shows once more.
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.
Music festivals don’t have to equal muddy sleeping bags and baby wipe washes. From Field Day and South West Four to Wireless, Lovebox, Citadel and British Summer Time, London’s music festivals attract ace acts, stellar food and all the alternative entertainment you could ask for. And you can just get the tube back to your own bed when you’re done. Winner.
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 cheap 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rumours of London's death as a clubbing city are premature. A huge former printing press in Canada Water reopened as a dance music space in 2016. The venue, rechristened Printworks, has been a spectacular success. Even though parties rarely go beyond midnight, the expansive post-industrial setting, the moody darkness and jaw-dropping lasers all come together to provide a much-needed space to lose yourself to some of the finest dance music on the planet each week.
It can attract a bit of a luxury-loving Chelsea crowd (Kate Moss and Keira Knightley have also been known to shop here) but this Marylebone antiques emporium is a precious London timewarp. The multi-storey art deco building is a maze of milliners, furniture sellers and loveable misfits flogging bronze sculptures. Everything looks like it’s seconds from falling over. And it has a cracking rooftop space where you can have a coffee surrounded by your haul of vintage hat boxes and antique custard tins.
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.
Head over to Great Marlborough Street and duck into the whimsical London icon that is Liberty. 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, expensive silk scarves. For the aesthetic, my dear.
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.
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.
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In coming up with this list of the 100 best hotels in London, we considered a heady mix of factors – from definables like design, location, service, amenities, architecture, and value for money, to less tangible elements like ambience, history and the character of the reception cat. Then we factored in what we think Time Out readers would want from a hotel. So, a definitive list of the best hotels in London with something for everyone? We think so.
An all-day restaurant set within Dukes Hotel in St James's, with a British menu.
Venue says: “Enjoy 3 course meal for only £25.00 or a 2 course meal for £19.00.”