Are you visiting London this summer?
Do you love experiencing the culture and food and meeting the locals when you visit any country?
I certainly do!
Thus I don’t prefer to visit the usual tourist attractions hoarded by hundreds of tourists which can get mechanical and boring after a while. I rather like to look around for something more real where I can get a flavour of the culture of that country through off beat experiences or ones where tourists are few and far between. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t! But I never stop trying!
Today I want to list some of my favourite things which you MUST try while you are in London. These will give you a real flavour of the city and you will get to know yourself why I love London so much.
So skip the cliched and touristy things to see and do these if you want to feel like a local in London which I am sure you would if you have read Part 1. If you haven’t, read it here.
1. Afternoon Tea
If you really want to get a feel of British tradition and the eras, then you must try this little ritual called Afternoon Tea. It was introduced in England in the 1840’s by Anna the Duchess of Bedford as a mini meal in the late afternoon and consisted of sandwiches (usually cut delicately into ‘fingers’), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes along with a range of teas. There are many places which serve it. For a list of options to choose from, you can check here.
2. Traditional Pubs
Tea is very British and very popular no doubt but much older than tea has been ales or beer and the pub culture. London and Britain are famous for their traditional English Pubs which actually started almost 2000 years back during Roman invasion and are a nostalgic experience indeed. These are not just places to drink but are a unique social centre and the focus of community life in Britain. The quaint traditional setting, low lights and enthusiastic vibe of these little jewels of history are infectious and the experience cannot be described in words but can only be lived.
Every area has a pub and the locals frequent their area pubs regularly thus getting to know their neighbours and forming bonds and a community like feeling. In fact pubs are as essential a part of British life as probably fish and chips. So if you come to London you must visit one if you truly want to see how the locals hang out and feel like one yourself. There are no preferences here and you can visit any pub in the vicinity you are in. But evenings are the best time to visit especially Friday and Saturday evenings. Do try the alcoholic fruit punch Pimms which is my favourite drink. Else you can go for other traditional drinks like beer or gin as well.
If you want to get a feel of the modern London, you must visit the Soho area in Central London!
Situated in the heart of London’s west end the 2.6 sq km area is easy to explore on foot and is bordered by Oxford Street, Regent Street, Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road. It is a great place to find live entertainment, interesting food and pulsing nightlife along with shopping, theatre and even gay and lesbian bars. I went there for the food and might I say I was not disappointed. We chanced upon a very good Korean restaurant called Jinjuu. But what I loved the most about this area was the energy and vibe in the air. Buzzing till late at night, bars and restaurants tucked around in little alleys were the true draw for me.
Read more at Soho
4. Oxford Street
If you go to London and you don’t go to Oxford Street then you have truly committed a sin! It is a mecca for shopping lovers and shopaholics like me and has the largest selection of shops in Europe.
IMO it is the best area for high street shopping in the world! There are more than 300 shops and you will find things to suit every budget here. Some of my favourites are House of Fraser, Ted Baker, Zara, Mango, Topshop, River Island, Victoria’s Street, Dorothy Perkins, TK Maxx, H&M and of course Primark. Selfridge’s is very popular too but is more for high end shoppers and therefore not on my list. There are a lot of other brands too that I would love to add to my list but I would need to earn a million rupees before that.
5. Weekend Markets
London is very popular for its weekend markets and I must say this is an experience not worth missing.
They sell everything from food, to antiques, clothes and curios and is the perfect place to spend a pleasant summer afternoon. There are many options to choose from like Spitalfields, Camden Market, Portobello Road, Broadway Market. But my most favourite is the Borough Market for its delicious street food and Brick Lane for bargain buys.
Read more at Weekend Markets
6. Covent Garden
This also has a market but I didn’t include it above because I love it so much that it deserves a separate mention altogether.
Housed in and around the iconic Market Building and Piazzas, Covent Garden is an architectural masterpiece. It has many speciality shops, restaurants and cafes in the Apple Market .You will also come across street performers and portrait artists amongst the gorgeous antiques and jewellery on offer. The place is especially buzzing on the weekends. With its cobbled streets and gorgeous spread it is definitely not to be missed, if you want to get a flavour of London as a true ‘Londoner’.
Read more at Covent Garden
Another masterpiece which is worth a visit if only to window shop or to eat in one of their 27 restaurants is Harrods.
With seven floors and 330 departments dedicated to the finest products in food, fashion, homeware and technology, Harrods has something for everyone. It is an iconic destination for luxury shopping and houses top brands like Valentino, Prada and Dior, among many others. Also the Salon du Parfums houses the finest fragrances which is exclusive only to Harrods.
Read more at Harrods
8. Hyde Park
Located right in the centre of London, Hyde Park is one of the four royal parks that form a chain from the entrance of Kensington palace through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park via Hyde Park Corner and Green Park past the main entrance to Buckingham Palace.
It has something for everyone from swimming, boating, cycling, skating to horse riding tracks and a children’s playground as well as two lakeside restaurants. But the reason I added it to my list is that a stroll through Hyde Park is enough to make you feel like a royal walking through your own little palace garden. Though it is much smaller than Central Park in New York, the history and charm attached to this patch of greenery is nowhere close to any other.
9. Take a walk around Piccadilly, Trafalgar and Leicester Square and Soho
If you want to just soak in the city of London this is one of my favorite activities. You can just walk around these major squares which have many fun things to do like theatre, food, nightlife and much more.
Since you need to spend weeks if not months if you were to check them all out I would suggest this alternative. Just walk around and soak in the whole vibe of this area, then sit and watch the world pass by and round it off with some pictures and street food or just end it with a meal in Soho. This IMO is a much more unique, local and fun experience than rushing around and just checking off all the touristy attractions. Sometimes its therapeutic and soothing to just stop and look within and around when you are in the midst of the hustle bustle that London is.
10. Take a walk down South Bank
This one may well appear on the tourist list but it’s just as popular with locals. It has superb views of the Thames and is lined with some really cool restaurants and cafes along the waterside.
I love walking around this part of the city in the summer and this is a must do on my visit to the city. In the summer they also create a small village where you can eat, drink and be merry! A walk along South Bank in summer is a magical activity which cannot be expressed in words but can only be experienced. But you have to in an idyllic mood for this. No rushing allowed!
London also has a thriving theatre scene and offers some of the world’s best theatre from world famous musicals to West End shows. But you should book well in advance for cheap tickets. For tips on how to get cheap tickets read here.
Also note there are many shows offered and many theatre locations. So you should check before to take your pick. For a full list of options, check here.
I must add here that though an interesting activity, this is not on my personal top list over the other things above. Nevertheless if you are an avid theatre lover you should not miss this.
If you are in London, then you must experience the tube and I am sure you will because it is the quickest and easiest way to navigate the web of this huge city called London and is an absolute necessity for all without any biases. And this experience will definitely make you feel like a Londoner if only for a short while!
Do remember to get your oyster cards before though for cheap tickets on all modes of public transport and some free entry to museums too. You can get it easily at your local visa office at the time of collecting the visa. For more info, visit the transport for London site here. You can also check this helpful article here.
13. Red Buses
Another thing that you MUST not miss is travelling by the iconic red buses of London.
Though slower than the tube in general, sometimes this can be a better option for short distances (especially when you are tired with shopping bags) as you don’t have to climb endless stairs up and down or change multiple lines. But that is not the only reason. This is also a great way to enjoy the sights of the city. You should get the front seat in the top deck for the best views. (Wwe had a blast doing this).
In fact there is also an afternoon tea or two on one of these iconic buses. So you get the best of three two worlds in one – afternoon tea, red buses and touring London! Cool right? To book refer here or here.
There are many touristy things to do in London like museums, palaces, tower bridge, tower of London, London eye and many more. And they are great too. But if I had to choose between the two, I would pick the local things over those any day.
So if you want to get a real flavour of London and not feel like a mere tourist then you must NOT miss out on the above. Get Local, Get Real!
Do you like being touristy or being local?
Do you have anything to add to this list? What’s your favourite local thing to do in London? Let me know in the comments below!