Want to do something special without buying into all the flowers and other mind-meltingly mushy nonsense this February 14? There are loads of loved-up spots in the city, as well as unusual events and alternative date options. Skip the chocolates and teddies and treat your beloved to something different, with our guide to non-naff romantic things to do in London.
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Non-naff romantic things to do in London
Don’t buy blooms from the petrol station
Do learn how to whip up a terrarium
Giving flowers can be dangerous; how can you know which flowers to send when you don’t know how you feel? Red roses mean ‘love’ and yellow ‘friendship’, but we don’t think there’s an official flower for ‘you’ll do until I find someone better’. Happily, lovely London florist Grace & Thorn hosts regular terrarium-making classes. And there’s not a lot you can read into something that’s transparent.
First Tuesday of every month. £65. Grace & Thorn, E2 7AX.
Don’t make a baby
Do build a Lego robot, a marshmallow mansion or a house made out of toast
Multi-tasking spot Drink, Shop & Do host regular random construction evenings. They are the perfect activity for creative commitment-phobes; a weirdly bonding activity, it requires teamwork and a shared vision, but then at the end of the night you can just dismantle your creation and go your separate ways.
From free when you buy a drink. Some events are ticketed. Check website for details and future dates. Drink, Shop & Do, N1 9DX.
Don’t share a plate of spaghetti
Do share a plate of heart
Sharing spaghetti is old hat and, more to the point, incredibly messy; what are you, a cartoon dog? Instead, head down to Jidori (we gave it a five-star review) on Kingsland High Street and share some chicken heart skewers. Romance tastes delicious.
Jidori, E8 2PB.
Don’t send a mindless card full of mushy verse
Do polish-up on your punning
On selected Mondays, The Book Club in Shoreditch hosts Pundemonium!, a night of competitive wordplay. Comedians, poets and a guest dad battle it out in game shows to be crowned the ultimate pundit. It’s billed as an event for ‘compulsive punners and their carers’ and quickly shapes up into a perfect night of punnilingus.
Selected Mondays, check website for details. £5-£7. The Book Club, EC2A 4RH.
Don’t drink champagne
Do go whisky tasting
Once a wedding dress boutique, Cadenhead’s on Chiltern Street is one of London’s oldest whisky shops. And there’s nothing pretentious about its dinky basement – which, fact fans, is the room in which Princess Diana first saw her wedding dress. Head down there and join other Scotch nerds as your tastebuds go on a whisky tour of Scotland.
Monday–Saturday, check website for start times. £25-£35. Cadenhead’s, W1U 7QF.
Don’t cuddle up with Netflix
Do live out your ‘Grease 2’ (yes, 2) fantasies at a boozy bowling alley
It’s widely believed to be one of the worst films ever made, so don’t watch it; become it instead. With a score that includes the numbers ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Do It for Our Country’, ‘Grease 2’ is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Seize the opportunity to pull on your gold lamé pants and dance down the lanes singing about how you’re going to ‘Score Tonight’. But where to do such a thing? At Rowans, of course – Finsbury Park’s haven of bowling, karaoke and slush puppy cocktails.
Rowans, N4 2DF.
Don’t stare into each other’s eyes
Do dine at Dans Le Noir in Clerkenwell
Staring longingly into the love of your life’s eyes is all fine and good until the other mates you’re hanging out with start to get irritated out of boredom or jealousy. One way to rectify this slightly awks predicament is to book a table at Dans Le Noir, a quirky dining experience sans mood lighting, or any lighting at all for that matter. Yep, you and your date dine in complete darkness so the sensory nature of the meal is prioritised over how aesthetically pleasing your date is. Just make sure you find your way back to the right table or that innocent leg rub could get weird.
£46-£99, Dans Le Noir, 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, EC1R 0DU.
Don’t go for a cocktail
Do go on a gin odyssey at Mr Fogg’s
The upstairs salon of Mr Fogg’s Tavern houses London’s largest gin collection, and it’s here that you can sample and learn about six of the most interesting, concluding with two G&Ts made with your favourite Gs. The Gin Safari is for 10 people, so round up your most emotionally supportive pals and get sipping.
£40. Mr Fogg’s Tavern, WC2N 4EA.
Or try some romantic movies with a twist
Mandira – a cute, clean spot on the far eastern end of Covent Garden’s Long Acre – bills itself as ‘London’s first fresh yoghurt bar’. It’s a slightly bizarre concept, but not a bad one, and most of the menu is indeed based around tubs of yoghurt, embellished with either sweet or savoury toppings. Being lunchtime, I ditched the fruit, nuts, honey and herbs of the sweets and plumped straight for the savoury. A bowl topped with hummus and za’atar was over salty, and the texture – smooth yoghurt + slightly grainy chickpeas and a sprinkling of sumac – was odd, though by no means awful. Far better was a bowl strewn with good-quality smoked salmon, dill and excellent olive oil (an amazing bagel filling without the bread, basically); and then one topped with smokey aubergine purée, sharp cherry toms and nicely punchy chilli pepper. The only problem was that none of this felt like a meal, per se: even with (or perhaps because of) a bag of tangy, oily bread chips, it all screamed ‘upmarket dinner party dips’ rather than lunch. Lucky, then, that Mandira also does an ace line in simit bagels: skinny, chewy Turkish breads best filled with mild kasseri goat’s cheese and Turkish-style cured beef (one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in eons and a steal at a fiver). Get one of those and demote those yoghurt bowls to dipping duty and you’ll be pleased as punch.
Venue says: “Calling all coffee lovers; 99p for any coffee all of this week to celebrate UK Coffee Week. Enjoy it while it lasts! 😍☕️🎉”