Local Experiences: 12 Ways to See London Without Tourists
Unless you’re living in London, the locals will consider you a tourist, but that doesn’t mean you have to behave like one. For most of the year, London has one of the world’s densest population of visitors. Sure, you can visit during the winter offseason, but you’ll be lucky to get farther than a cosy pub fireplace.
Instead, opt for some of London’s more local attractions, restaurants and neighbourhoods to discover why people from around the world love living in this enigmatic city. Read on to find out where to eat, admire artwork, relax in a park or venture out of town without following the stream of snap-happy tourists.
1. Visit the Off-Radar Markets
Held every Saturday in Chelsea, the Duke of York Square Food Market is a treasure trove of farm-fresh produce and artisan food stalls. It’s worth a wander, as you’ll discover delicious gluten-free cakes, freshly shucked oysters, cold beer, duck sizzling on a giant wok and various purveyors of cheese, olives and sweets. And the prices are more than reasonable for the quality of food.
Want more of a party? Dinerama is Shoreditch’s liveliest street-food scene. It boasts a global scale of food stalls, multiple beer and cocktails bars and keeps grooving late into the night with live DJs. What are our picks for a night out? Start with cocktail slushies at Big Bar, fill up on steamed dumplings at Yumplings and finish with bubbly on the rooftop at Winerama.
Formerly The Arch London, the 5-star Prince Akatoki London boasts a timeless devotion to luxury and elegance with Japanese-style decor and hospitality. The on-site restaurant, TOKii, serves delicious Japanese-fusion cuisine, while The Malt Bar & Lounge has top-shelf Japanese whiskies.
The rooms and suites are modern sanctuaries with contemporary and minimalist furnishings. The Executive Room boasts a king-size bed and Japanese-style windows, while the One Bedroom Suite adds a kitchenette, separate sitting room, a study area and high ceilings.
2. Get Acquainted with London’s Local Bars
Do you like detective mysteries? Tucked in a small street in Earl’s Court is a rather unassuming black door belonging to the speakeasy cocktail bar, Evans & Peel Detective Agency. Walk-ins are only accepted if you can create a riveting mystery to appease the detectives inside. Once you’ve passed, you’ll be greeted with craft cocktails and tasty eats at candlelit tables.
Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is another London speakeasy that’s only accessible if you first go through the attached restaurant. The entry is through a fridge door, which leads down to a shadowy basement bar with exposed-brick walls and quirky decorations. The cocktails are key here, such as the Copper Sting with vodka, Sauvignon blanc, lemon, chamomile syrup and wild nettle tincture.
The tailor-made opulence at 51 Buckingham Gate Taj Suites and Residences is apparent in the wide range of elegant suites and residences. Car lovers can book the Jaguar Suite for Jaguar-inspired decorations along with a fireplace, ceiling speakers and a balcony. The Cinema Suite celebrates film history with nods to Hollywood legends, vintage mirrors and a vintage screening room.
On-site dining is highlighted by alfresco dining in the manicured St James’ Courtyard, luxe breakfast spreads at Kona and Michelin-star Indian cuisine at Quilon. Don’t miss a visit to Jiva Spa for signature Indian-inspired treatments. You can also enjoy afternoon teas and morning yoga.
3. Browse Artwork in St James’s
St James’s is home to many of London’s most revered art dealers selling Rodin sculptures, medieval weaponry, contemporary paintings and historic portraits. They also routinely showcase emerging artists. Visit Bowman Sculpture to browse works by Auguste Rodin and contemporary artist, Emily Young.
Other dealers of note include Peter Finer (medieval antiquities) and Sladmore Gallery, which specialises in Animalier sculpture. Wandering around the St James’s streets also reveals an abundance of gentleman tailors and shirt stores.
Nestled near Kensington Palace and Kensington Gardens, The Milestone Hotel perfectly pairs its boutique style with unbridled luxury. The extravagant Park Lounge sets the scene for afternoon tea with its antique furnishings and portraits and garden views. You can also try the signature Old Fashioned cocktail at Stables Bar or organise a gourmet picnic in the park.
The unique rooms and suites boast antique decor and rare artwork, while some also overlook Kensington Gardens. You can also book two or three-bedroom residences with all the comforts of home, including designer kitchens, separate living rooms and bespoke furnishings.
4. Stay Fit & Fabulous
Combining exercise with a little local immersion means you have no excuses for not staying active this London holiday. Barry’s Bootcamp is a London staple, known for its communal spaces, healthy Fuel Bar and intense group workouts.
Visit Psycle London if you’re looking for an intense cardio workout with up-tempo music that creates the perfect cycling rhythm. KOBOX has boxing-based workouts perfect for targeting specific muscle groups and many of the parks around London, including Hyde and Battersea, have tennis clubs.
Stay in a storied Georgian townhouse at The Montague On the Gardens Hotel London, which is surrounded by Bloomsbury’s bookshops and cafes. The rooms and suites are well furnished, including the Deluxe King with a marble bathroom and small sitting area. Stay in the Master Suite for garden views, a king-size and complimentary evening canapés.
The hotel hosts various events throughout the year, including live jazz music, private garden dinners and unique food tastings. You can enjoy top-shelf whiskey and cigars in the Cigar Terrace, alfresco dining on the Garden Terrace and signature cocktails with live music at The Leopard Bar.
5. Explore Parks Not Called Hyde
Hyde Park might garner the most attention online, but London isn’t known for its green spaces for just any old reason. Along with the eight royal parks, London boasts around 400 green areas, including public parks, commons, gardens and squares.
About 30 minutes’ drive north of London’s city centre, Hampstead Heath is 320 hectares of verdant British nature, including swimming ponds, woodlands and grassy lawns. You can admire city views from atop Parliament Hill, one of the highest points in London. Alternatively, get lost among the pathways in Battersea Park, where you can relax with a drink by the duck ponds.
The quintessentially British Chesterfield Mayfair is known around London for its gin tasting, expert mixologists and themed afternoon teas. The Terrace Bar pairs live jazz with whiskey tasting, while Butlers Restaurant is considered one of the best places in the city to order Dover sole.
Choose from more than 100 beautifully appointed rooms and suites, such as the Superior King with a plush king-size bed, a business desk and his-and-hers slippers. Upgrade to one of the suites for added luxuries, including nightly canapés in the Dormer Suite, the split-level bedroom in the Stanhope Suite and the four-poster bed in the Philippe Suite.
6. Visit London’s Quirky Museums
If you’re interested in anthropology and natural history, visit Horniman Museum and Gardens, home to taxidermy animals, a variety of ancient musical instruments and various pipes and jars from older civilisations. The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret reveals the strange and often horrific medicinal practices before advancements in science.
Lovers of old cinema should explore the Cinema Museum to recapture that nostalgia through memorabilia, including early-20th-century films, Art Deco cinema chairs, usher uniforms and posters. Historians shouldn’t miss Sir John Soane’s Museum, which houses the architect’s collection of antiques, furniture, sculptures and models.
Timeless opulence awaits at Rosewood London, which greets you with a grand Victorian-era facade before capturing you with its art-adorned lobby. The hotel entices you to stay longer with its various gastronomic experiences, such as gourmet share plates in the mesmerising Mirror Room and seasonal British fare in The Nyetimber Secret Garden.
You can join a running club or seek the services of a personal trainer in the Fitness Suite or unwind with a nurturing treatment at Sense, A Rosewood Spa. The entry-level Executive Room is a marvel with its deep-soaking tub, high ceilings and separate seating, while the Grand Premier Suite boasts a spacious living room and dressing room.
7. Discover the City’s Incredible Street Art
London’s art scene isn’t confined to galleries and museums. Simply wandering around certain parts of the city reveals an ever-changing tapestry of intricate and thought-provoking street art. Leake Street Tunnel has about 300 metres of street art and you can often see artists working.
Brixton has an up-and-coming street art scene and has set the stage for some of London’s most recognisable creations, including the mural of David Bowie. Closer to the Thames, Southbank Skate Park is filled with interesting street art and surprisingly talented skateboarders to boot.
A name synonymous with luxury, The Langham London is an award-winning hotel with modern and comfortable rooms and suites that exude Victorian charm. The rooms all come with large windows and sitting areas, while the suite add separate living rooms. Splurge on one of the signature suites for added luxuries like a private terrace, antique furnishings and a media lounge.
The hotel is well-known for its 16-metre-long swimming pool, which is part of the Chuan Body + Soul spa along with sauna and steam rooms. You can also work out in the 24-hour fitness centre, join the prestigious cookery school, Sauce by The Langham, or indulge in classic British fare at The Wigmore.
8. Dine Off the Beaten Track
London’s dining scene is as diverse as anywhere in the world, offering an array of cheap eateries, fine-dining establishments and street food. Not to mention the global cuisine on offer, from Europe and South America to Asia and Africa.
The Phene in Chelsea is a great spot for socialising with the after-work crowd in the lounge bar or dining on roast lamb or seared salmon in the garden terrace. Jia in South Kensington is one of the best places in London for dim sum and duck pancakes with plum sauce, while Andy’s is a rustic taverna in Camden serving authentic Greek specialties.
London’s highest hotel, Shangri La Hotel At The Shard London has won over HotelsCombined visitors for its epic city vistas and its 52nd-floor infinity Skypool. On-site dining ranges from fresh Borough Market fare and 360-degree London views at TING to cocktails and Champagne at GONG.
Every room and suite has sky-high views of iconic London landmarks, including the corner Iconic City View Room with a marble bathroom and signature Shangri-La Bed. The Shangri-La Suite is the epitome of opulence with its kitchenette, Jacuzzi, executive writing desk, personal butler and spacious living room.
9. Watch a Local Derby
The English Premier League is the pinnacle of football in England and offers a variety of derby matches throughout London. These are consistently intense games between local teams who have a history of deep-rooted rivalry.
The North London Derby is one of the best, pitting EPL heavyweights Arsenal and Tottenham against one another. Previous games have included a three-point comeback from Tottenham and fast-paced 3-3 draw. The London Derby is another incredible spectacle between Arsenal and Chelsea, while the West London Derby showcases Chelsea against Fulham or QPR.
Nestled along the River Thames, Sea Containers has been designed to reflect a 1920s cruise liner and captures the old-world magic of these prolific open-ocean vessels. The Standard Room features a rainfall shower and heavenly bed, while upgrading to a Superior Room gives you views of London. You can book a Superior Room with an ivy-clad patio or splurge on a Riverview Balcony Suite with open-plan living and a furnished balcony.
Unwind with personalised spa therapies at agua, work out in the well-equipped gym or kick back with a film in the Curzon cinema. Visit Sea Containers to dine alfresco on gourmet pizza while overlooking the Thames or duck into the rooftop bar, 12th Knot, for wine and cocktails.
10. Venture out of the Concrete Jungle
Tired of those London crowds? Take a day trip out of the city and explore the stunning English countryside on your way to a historic city or seaside town. Whitstable is just over 1.5 hours’ drive away and has a classic British seaside setting complete with fresh oysters, vinyl and vintage stores and waterfront restaurants.
Alternatively, drive about 1.5 hours to Canterbury, where you can browse the boutiques along King’s Mile, indulge in farm-fresh fare and explore the cobbled streets and timber houses in the medieval centre. Cambridge is about two hours away from London and offers microbreweries, punt boat tours and prestigious universities.
Since opening in 1889, The Savoy London has become a beacon of sophistication and elegance on the London city skyline. Today it’s home to some of London’s best restaurants and bars, including Britain’s oldest surviving cocktail bar, American Bar, and the celebrity-frequented Savoy Grill.
The hotel also boasts an indoor pool, state-of-the-art fitness centre, signature body treatments and a tea shop. History reigns supreme in the rooms and suites, which boast Edwardian or Art Deco designs. Luxury King Rooms have river views and chandeliered bedrooms, while The Royal Suite also has a private bar, living room, dining room and steam shower.
11. Appease Your Inner Bibliophile
One of the most beautiful bookshops in London, Daunt Books is housed within an Edwardian building and boasts stained-glass windows, multiple levels of shelves and a conservatory ceiling. Just off King’s Road, John Sandoe Books is worthy of exploration with its creaky stairs and stacked shelves of vintage and contemporary classics.
If you’re more interested in libraries, check out the National Art Library at the V&A. The timber desks are surrounded by rows upon rows of leather-bound books on drawings, textiles and other art subjects.
Located in The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, The Nadler Kensington houses you within an Edwardian townhouse with thoughtfully designed rooms. The Single and Luxury Bunk rooms cater to solo travellers and friends, while the Superior has a balcony and king-size bed. The Nadler Deluxe treats you to a sitting area and sofa bed.
Along with room service and the signature Mini Kitchen in all the rooms, the hotel can provide a personalised fridge-fill service before arrival. Don’t forget about the daily breakfast from Over Under Coffee, which can be delivered to your room.
12. Explore the Burbs
Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square highlight London’s touristy side, but the city’s suburbs are their own communities with numerous local haunts. Chelsea is an affluent suburb with designer boutiques, weekend markets and gourmet restaurants, while Hammersmith offers a riverside setting with pubs, verdant gardens and theatres.
South of the Thames, Brixton has garnered a reputation for its street markets, murals and clubbing and live music scenes. Balham, meanwhile, is home to Bedford, an award-winning comedy and live music venue, along with various Italian and brunch restaurants.
The Ritz London offers the royal treatment, especially with its world-renowned afternoon tea and top-shelf Champagne in The Ritz Secret Garden Bar. The “Ritz Experience” also includes a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, environmentally-sustainable practices and various treats for the kids.
The opulent Signature Suites include The Two Bedroom Piccadilly Suite with two sitting rooms and stained-glass windows and the two-level Royal Suite with fireplaces, antique furniture and bay windows overlooking Green Park. You can also stay in Junior Suites with fireplaces and cosy sofas or the Executive Suites with separate living rooms and marble bathrooms.