6 minutes reading time United Kingdom
London is one of the most iconic cities in the world. Images of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the flashing lights of Leicester Square are instantly recognisable. But these places attract hordes of tourists and, to let you in on a little secret, Londoners very rarely visit these places. How do I know? Well, I’m a Londoner myself, and I’m going to let you into the best hints and tips so you can visit London like a local!
Tip #1: Skip Hyde Park and visit one of the parks in Zones 2 and 3
From Clapham Common in the south, to Victoria Park in the East, and Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) in the North, there are so many beautiful green spots to check out.
In fact, London is one of the greenest cities in the whole world. There’s nothing more Londoners love than grabbing some picnic food, a couple of beers and a portable speaker to spend the whole day relaxing in a nature spot with friends.
If you fancy something a bit more active, hop on a bicycle and race through one of our wooded areas. Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common are great for this, and you may even be lucky enough to spot some deer!
Enjoy some wild swimming by jumping into one of the beautiful swimming ponds in Hampstead Heath, or swimming and canoeing in the disused docks at Shadwell Basin.
Tip #2: Fish ‘n’ Chips may be famous, but don’t miss our melting pot of cuisines
The truth is, Londoners rarely eat fish and chips in the city, saving it for days out at the beach. Instead, we love to take advantage of the food on offer from different countries. As one of the most international cities on Earth, you can find almost any authentic cuisine you can think of as well as some crazy cool fusion food!
The best way to sample this array of delights is to visit one of our food markets. Popular ones include Borough Market, where you’ll find City workers stopping by to pick up their lunch, and Berwick Street Market in Soho, where creative types grab their mid-day meal.
If you’re looking for something more upmarket, Hakkasan, sketch and Novikov will serve you high-class fusion food that will blow your mind. After, have a cocktail at the bar of these preferred late-night drinking spots for cosmopolitan Londoners.
For a restaurant experience that’s more budget friendly, go for Tayyabs in Mile End, Pho Anh in Wandsworth, or Apollo Banana Leaf in Tooting.
Tip #3: The West End is great, but the real gems are to be found in our smaller venues
Sometimes, you just want to see the Lion King and if that’s the case then head over to the West End. If you’re looking for something a little more original, however, you’d do well to book tickets at one of our smaller venues.
London is a cultural capital known for producing ground-breaking, boundary pushing art. The Young Vic produces modern interpretations of classic plays and has a trendy open-air bar above for pre-theatre drinks. If you’re looking to get a taste of that famous, tongue in cheek British humour you should check out Up the Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich. The club is often host to famous and up-and-coming British comedians who love to get the crowd involved with their high jinks.
If you want to experience modern and contemporary art, the Tate Modern is the first gallery that springs to mind. It’s seriously impressive, and even stressed out Londoners will push past the crowds of tourists to get a glimpse of their exhibitions. If you want to get slightly further off the beaten path, the Hayward Gallery is just down the river and has an equally impressive collection of works all situated within the brutalist South Bank centre.
Tip #4: Whatever you do, don’t go shopping on Oxford Street!
Perhaps one of the most famous shopping districts in the world, is also one that is almost universally detested by Londoners. Tell someone that you went shopping in Oxford Street and they’ll normally respond with a shocked “why would you do that?!”
Oxford Street is way too crowded with tourists and people who visit from the rest of the UK. Whilst it has some great shops, it’s just not worth the hassle and there are so many other great options to get your shopping fix.
If you’re a vintage lover, head to Brick Lane where you can find several warehouse style stores with a vast collection of retro pieces. The largest is Beyond Retro and if you head a bit further than Brick Lane, you’ll find the East End Thrift Store which has some real bargains.
For all the top chains like Zara, Topshop and Cos, head to either Westfield Stratford or Westfield White City. The White City mall has a great selection of designer clothes if you’re looking for something luxury.
Find cute boutiques and slick brands at Coal Drops Yard, a recent development close to King’s Cross St Pancras.
Tip #5: Skip the cliché afternoon tea and head to the pub
Yes, Claridge’s and the Ritz serve beautiful afternoon teas with dainty cucumber sandwiches and cakes, but the tradition is a dying one. In fact, it’s mostly our grandparent’s generation who keep going with the ritual of afternoon tea.
Everyone else is more likely to be found in the pub at teatime! Avoid the Wetherspoons chain of pubs and search for independently owned ones, preferably with a beer garden. Some well-loved haunts are The Selkirk in Tooting, The Woolpack in Bermondsey, The Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park and The Westow in Upper Norwood.
Go for a traditional pint of beer or, if you prefer not to consume alcohol, try one of the many innovative alcohol-free drinks such as Sipsmith which are being adopted across the city.
Armed with this insider knowledge you’re ready to have the best trip ever in London. It’s so easy to visit London and just see the surface level. Make sure you dig deep into the city and experience what it’s really like here.
Finally, feel free to ask locals for their favourite recommendations, despite the reputation Londoners are actually very friendly!