We think London is the best city in the world – what makes it great is that there is so much more to see and do than the obvious landmarks. There are markets to be shopped, food to be eaten, parks to be walked in and so, so much more. Yes you’ve got to do the museums and see the Changing of the Guard, Big Ben must be seen and the London Eye must be ridden but let’s say it’s your second visit or you’re coming for a whistle stop tour and the thought of spending 90% of your time in a queue isn’t that appealing or you’d rather just see the real London. This guide is for you:
Drinks With a View
Save yourself the £30.95 ticket price to shoot up to the top of The Shard and try this instead: get the lift to the 31st floor, head to the bar and spend your £30 on cocktails instead (they’re not cheap). Aqua Shard doesn’t take reservations for drinks so just walk right in but if you want brunch, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, book online in advance. Bear in mind the smart casual dress code, so leave the flip flops and trainers at home.
Where: Level 31, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY, United Kingdom
Nearest station: London Bridge (0.1 miles)
The Food Market for Gourmets
Think hungry tourist and you think Borough Market. Don’t get us wrong, it should be on everyones must-visit list but there are so many other great food markets that give Borough a run for its money. Take Maltby Street Market for example, not far from Borough (you could actually do both in one day), it boasts some of London’s best street food including grilled cheese, ice cream sandwiches and gourmet smoked salmon down the Ropewalk and under flagged archways. Dive into one of the archways and you’ll find cosy wine bars, bakeries and charcuterie.
Saturday 9am-4pm, Sunday 11am-4pm
East London Flower Market
Not only do you get a taste of Hackney (one of London’s coolest neighbourhoods) when you visit Columbia Road but you have plenty of opportunity to prettify your Instagram. East London’s traditional and historic flower market attracts the crowds so arrive early on a Saturday or prepare to wander along at a snails pace and soak up the atmosphere. Great at any time of the year, in summer you’ll find seas of sunflowers whilst come Christmas, berries, mistletoe and Christmas trees take centre stage. The shops are great too – pick up a memento, gift or just a coffee, from the guy at the window in the wall then wander down Ezra Street – follow the sounds of live music.
London’s Largest Green Space
Yes you can visit Hyde Park but go west for Londons most impressive green space. Richmond Park is the largest Royal Park (owned by the Queen) at an impressive 2,500 acres – that’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park. Most famous for its population of deer, 630 Red and Fallow deer have roamed freely since 1529 when Charles I fled there to escape the plague, building a wall around it at the same time. Get the train to Richmond and explore the area (River Thames and Richmond Green) whilst you’re there before walking up to the park and in through Richmond gate. Be sure to find King Henry’s Mound and ‘The Way’ gate for uninterrupted views of St Paul’s Cathedral – a protected view since Henry VIII’s time – and Isabella Plantation for colourful Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias.
Panoramic Views of the London Skyline
Ascending to one of the city’s skyscrapers is great but by being in the hub of things you actually have a limited view of the skyline. It may seem a bit out of the way but Franks Cafe in Peckham offers some of the best views of the skyline you can imagine – all from the rooftop of an old multi-storey car park. If you like the finer things in life this isn’t for you but if you’re happy in the company of South London’s cool kids then grab a drink from the bar, some snacks from the kitchen, watch the sun go down and let the view steal the show.
Open for Summer until 1st October
London’s Oldest Wine Bar
Imagine a wine bar so cosy and so packed with local office workers that you feel like you’ve really ‘discovered’ the real London. Gordon’s is that place. Tucked down an alleyway just by Embankment, this candlelit wine bar is always busy so take on the crowds and be rewarded with a glass of wine and platter of cheese at what is London’s oldest wine bar. If you don’t like wine or if you get claustrophobic, go elsewhere – the vaulted ceilings are low. It’s unfussy, authentic and one of London’s true gems.
London’s Bagel Institution
Who doesn’t love a bagel? Head to Brick Lane for a dose of culture and diversity with your salt beef-filled bagel, or try the smoked salmon and cream cheese. The bakery is open 24 hours a day so is a popular choice in the small hours – perhaps to ease your jet lag? Accept no imitations, these traditional Jewish-style wheels of squidgy, chewy dough are the bagels you’re after.
Views of St Paul’s Cathedral
If you can overlook the sea of suited bankers then you’ll see St Paul’s Cathedral peeping out from the rooftop of Madison. The restaurant and bar will keep you fed and watered but the views here are by far the main attraction. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night sees DJs setting the mood, whilst Sunday is a more leisurely brunch with the option of bottomless Bloody Marys.
Where: Rooftop Terrace, 1 New Change, St Pauls, London, EC4M 9AF, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Mansion House (0.2 miles)
Hidden Cocktail Bar
There’s nothing quite like a speakeasy to make you feel in-the-know. Tourist or not, Happiness Forgets is one such bar that never fails to impress a new visitor. Tucked away in a moodily-lit basement, it’s often considered one of London’s best bars – which also means out of sight does not mean out of mind. Make sure you book to get a seat as hanging around is thirsty work.
Central London Park
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, go east to Victoria Park. Lucky locals have 86 hectares of green space on their doorsteps, with the central lake the main feature. Go for a stroll, jog or grab a coffee and pastry in the Pavilion cafe. After your dose of fresh air wander along Regent’s Canal to Broadway Market or go east to discover Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – home of the London 2012 Olympics.
London’s Highest Public Garden
The Sky Garden is 155 metres above the City of London offering 230 degree birds eye views of the Tower of London, down the Thames, across the river to The Shard, and beyond. London’s highest public garden is free to visit – simply book a time slot in advance. If you want to make an occasion of it, visit Fenchurch Restaurant or Darwin Brasserie and let the views continue.
Where: Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 8AF, UK
Nearest station: Monument (0.2 miles)
A Proper Boozer
If you think ‘London’ and think ‘pub’ then this historic boozer is for you. Like something out of the Harry Potter film set, The Jerusalem Tavern is set in a 1720s building (although it only became a pub in the 90s) serving IPAs and ales from St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk. Step inside and feel like you’re going back in time before spilling out onto the pavement or getting cosy if you can nab a seat inside.
Classic Afternoon Tea
What’s a tourist’s guide to London without an afternoon tea? We think Claridge’s is hard to beat – yes it’s a tourist’s dream but it’s also an English institution and you are as likely to spot a celebrity across the room as you are a mother and daughter enjoying a memorable day out. Tuck into classic sandwiches with the crusts cut off, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and delicate cakes, all served on Claridge’s distinctive green and white striped crockery. Why mess with a tried and tested formula?
Late Night Art
Museums and galleries are great but what isn’t so great is viewing a painting from behind four other people. Many of the top museums and galleries are open late – we like the National Gallery’s late night Friday, when it stays open till 9pm for musical performances, tours and talks from the experts, many of which are free. See the programme online.