London, England is home to some of the world’s most infamous historic sites, museums and art galleries, but there’s so much more to this diverse and interesting city than Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Once you’ve checked off the must-see landmarks, take some time to get to know London like a true local—you won’t regret it. Read on for some easy tips on how to explore the city like an authentic Londoner.
Skip the taxi and ride the tube
London is notoriously bad when it comes to traffic. So, while the iconic black taxi cabs might be synonymous with the city, London’s underground transit system (aka: the tube) is usually the much faster and more affordable option. If you’re planning on covering a lot of ground during your visit, download the free CityMapper app to figure out the best routes via bus or tube and use your contactless credit to tap through the turnstile or buy a reloadable Oyster card, which is infinitely cheaper and more efficient than purchasing single-fare tickets each time you ride. Avoid traversing long distances during rush hour (platforms and trains can get extremely hot and congested between 4:30pm to 6:30pm) and try to cross the city during off-peak hours.
If you’d rather see the city from above ground, forget the pricy double-decker bus tours and hop on a city bus instead for a budget-friendly sightseeing tour. The #11 bus travels through the city core covering many of the major sites, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. Catch the bus at Great Winchester Street near Liverpool Street Station, and try to get a seat on the top floor for the best views.
Eat a proper Sunday roast
There’s no denying that London is a world-class culinary destination; you’ll find hip eateries, cool cocktail bars, incredible street food and Michelin-starred fine-dining in every corner of the city. Sundays, however, are reserved for a very special British tradition: Sunday lunch. Make like a proper Englishman and pop into a local pub for a pint of beer and a proper roast, arguably the country’s most iconic meal. Classic Sunday lunches are usually served from around midday into the early evening and feature a roast meat main – beef, lamb, chicken or pork – served in hearty portions with all the fixings, including roast potatoes, seasonal veggies and a deliciously fluffy Yorkshire pudding all topped with lashings of gravy. Most pubs in the city will serve their own version of this classic British meal; The Albion in Islington, The Lamb in Bloomsbury and The Gun on the Isle of Dogs are all highly rated favourites among Londoners. Finish off your meal with a sticky toffee pudding and plan to roll yourself back to your hotel room fully satisfied.
Explore an off-the-beaten-track neighbourhood
Make like a local and get out of Central London and away from the throngs of tourists by taking time to explore some of the city’s off-the-beaten-path boroughs.
- Balham: This charming South London ‘hood has a young, vibrant energy without feeling so hip-it-hurts (we’re looking at your Shoreditch). The area has become a brunch hotspot thanks to queue-worthy daytime spots like Megan’s and MILK, so plan to get there early if you’re looking for a late-morning indulgence. Sweat out your calories and sign up for a spin, barre or boxing class at local boutique fitness studio The Dog House. When the sun goes down, there are plenty of pubs and cocktail bars where you can grab a drink with friends. If you’re up for a show, pop into The Bedford, a storied live-music venue that has seen everyone from U2 to Ed Sheeran grace the stage.
- Chalk Farm: Hop on the Northern Line and take a break from the maddening crowds in charming Chalk Farm. Tucked away between posh Belsize Park to the north and fashionable Camden Town to the south, this pretty enclave offers stunning views from up on high if you’ve got the energy to climb up to the lookout at the summit of Primrose Hill. Enjoy a stroll through the residential streets and admire the chic properties while stopping in to enjoy a bite to eat at the many local cafes, wine bars and bakeries–you might even spot of local London celebrity. If you’re up for a longer walk, pay a visit to nearby Abbey Road and pose for a photo at the infamous zebra crossing featured on the cover of the 1969 Beatles’ album of the same name. You’ll find it at the intersection of Abbey Road and Grove End Road.
- Stoke Newington: Located in the borough of Hackney, Stoke Newington (or ‘Stokey’ to the locals) has a cool, laid-back community feel and is popular with young families who flock to the many independent shops, bars and restaurants along the high street. Spend an afternoon here meandering through stately Clissold Park, stocking up on gifts and home décor items at Nook, and enjoying inventive Middle Eastern eats at neighbourhood fave, The Good Egg. Alternatively, visit in the evening to catch an indie film at the stunning Art Deco RIO Cinema or enjoy a jazz performance at the Vortex Jazz Club, widely considered to be one of the best in London.
Stretch out on some green space
Many first-time visitors are shocked to discover just how much green space London has to offer. The city’s sprawling parks and gardens are packed to the brim in the summer months when the weather is rain-free and Londoners try to soak up as much sun as possible–it’s quite fleeting after all. Visit the world-famous Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew if you’re a passionate fan of flora and fauna, or get lost in Hampstead Heath, a rambling park with a bowling green, sports pitches, swimming ponds and beautiful views of Parliament Hill. Simply looking to stretch out on a blanket with some ice cream? Hyde Park is great for kids and grown-ups with its children’s playground, boat rentals, multiple food and drink options and great people watching. If you find yourself in the city during a heat wave when air conditioning is hard to come by, visit a one of London’s many local Lidos (public pools) to take a dip and cool down.
Haggle at a local market
Londoners love a market, and a true local will never pay full price for a vintage handbag or a dozen dahlias. Skip the market stalls in tourist-saturated Covent Garden or Camden Town and visit one of the weekend pop-up markets outside of the core to really practice your negotiation skills. Columbia Road Flower Market transforms the streets of Bethnal Green every Sunday with seasoned street vendors shouting loudly at passersby while hawking their fresh flower bouquets and houseplants for a tenner. Or head to the diverse area of Brick Lane in East London for a truly international shopping experience. Located in and around the Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane’s multi-street Sunday market boasts an eclectic mix of stalls selling antique furnishings, handmade jewellery, fruit and veggies, second-hand clothing, electronics and much more. Grab a curry, take in the colourful street art and live performers, and don’t be afraid to bargain for a better price on a fabulous pair of vintage cowboy boots!
Whatever you decide to do on your next visit, these tips are sure to help you experience London like a local—no matter what your preference is.
Have fun exploring London-town,