London is one of Europe’s largest cities, yet many tourists glue themselves to Westminster. Though Big Ben, Westminster Bridge and Buckingham Palace hold intricate columns and arches that you may only see once in your lifetime, limiting yourself to those attractions will exclude some of the best things to do in London.
For hidden gems and local spots, here is a guide to London’s underrated destinations.
Find Italy in the heart of England with Little Venice
London’s canals don’t stretch across the city like the cyan waterways of Venice. However, Little Venice is a quaint interpretation of its more famous neighbor. Located in West London, Little Venice is just a 10 minute walk from the Paddington station (according to the Visit London website) and can be found using the station’s Grand Union Canal exit.
Of course, when visiting Little Venice, the best way to experience the neighborhood’s scenery is to take a boat ride on the canal (this experience is only available from April to November, however). See weeping willows hunch over the water as your boat glides past brick houses. Along the canal, you can find plenty of pubs and cafés with scenic views. However, make sure to save room for dinner because the lawns of Rembrandt Gardens are perfect for a picnic.
Shop at Columbia Road Flower Market
If you wake up at sunrise to beat the crowd at your local farmer’s market, the Columbia Road Flower Market is the place for you. Located in Bethnal Green borough, the market has been a London staple since 1869, though it originally sold food primarily. Now, enjoy the hundreds of buds bursting from cellophane wrappings and stroll by the variety of stalls. While flowers are the focus of the market, you can also find traders selling succulents and cacti.
After filling your tote bag with bouquets, head to one of adjacent cafés–some are only a minute walk from the market. Grab a sugar-dusted pastry and enjoy exploring the rest of Bethnal Green’s cobbled streets.
Embrace your artsy side at God’s Own Junkyard
For one of the most unconventional things to do in London, visit God’s Own Junkyard–a blast of neon lights and flashing artwork. The enter sign is a jumble of fonts and colors; while alternating bulbs of pink and white form the letter “N,” the second “E” is flaming fuchsia. In neon indigo letters, against a splatter paint outline, is the word “Crash.” A blue ampersand hangs on a nearby wall next to a shamrock silhouette.
Chris Bracey, the God’s Own Junkyard website states, has “been the Neon Man for 37 years” and has “made, installed and collected signs that have appeared behind some of the greatest stars.” In 2011, Vogue even held a shoot at London’s most fluorescent shop, photographed by Emma Summerton.
Take advantage of the free museums
Though London’s museums are far from forsaken destinations, the benefit of taking advantages of these museums cannot be emphasized enough. Not only does London hold world-renowned galleries, but the majority of the city’s museums are free to visit. The British Museum, Natural History Museum and British Library are all worthy excursions, but one less-frequented destination is the Cinema Museum. Located in Kennington, the museum only admits those who book in advance, but its collection is worth taking that extra step.
According to the museum’s website, the Cinema Museum is “devoted to keeping alive the spirit of cinema from the days before the multiplex.” Its artifacts dating back to the 1890s include vintage cinema uniforms, an early-edition rectifier, film reels and red velvet cinema seats.
Soak in East London’s street art
If exploring art scenes is one of your favorite things to do in London, head to East London to see its famous street art. Shoreditch is one of the most popular neighborhoods to venture through and roads such as Ebor Street offer bold, colorful artwork that stretch across the sides of buildings. While you can find several guided tours of East London’s street art, traveling through the area on your own can allow you to view the works that appeal most to you.
Order fish and chips like a local
Now, we’re not suggesting you visit any old tourist trap that you saw on a double-decker bus tour. We’re talking about a real, authentic chippy (a fish-and-chips shop) that specializes in the British staple. Unlike a pub or restaurant, a chippy has the equipment needed to immerse itself in the art of frying those battered cod pieces to perfection.
Try to venture past the typical tourist sites and head to a more residential area. If few Americans are at the chippy, that’s a sign you’ve made a decent selection. Fish and chips may be served on newspaper in plastic baskets and usually cost around seven pounds. To eat them the British way, enjoy the chips with vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and dip the fish in tartar sauce.
Go book shopping on the sea with Word on the Water
For one of the most tranquil things to do in London, visit Word on the Water, a barge bookshop situated in the middle of a canal. Just a six minute walk from King’s Cross Station, the bookstore is centrally located. As you look through the store’s collection of vintage books, passing sailboat models and cushioned armchairs, listen to the live band music.
London Wetland Centre
London Zoo may be one of the best zoos in the world, but its popularity comes with slow-moving crowds moseying in the hot sun. For an immersive experience with animals in their natural habitats, visit the London Wetland Centre–a conservation site dedicated to protecting the endangered species and threatened lands of wetlands.
Some of the most popular activities include canoeing through the waters, trying to spot otters amid the logs and going on safari. The organization’s website also regularly updates which animals have been seen recently, so you can be on the look out for specific migratory birds.