Madame Tussaud’s, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, what do they have in common? Well, they’re some of London’s most famous attractions and therefore some of its busiest as well. But in a city with London’s size, history and diversity, there are tonnes of other things to do. Here are some of the coolest activities you might not find in a guidebook.
Sure, you’re a grown up and all, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still like playing games. Scenario, in the hip Dalston area, is one of London’s coolest bars. Visitors can play retro video games while enjoying a cocktail (or two, maybe three if you get a power up). A host of board games, consoles and arcade machines are available, and are all free to play.
London certainly isn’t short on cocktail bars, but we tend to believe atmosphere and location to be as important as the quality of the cocktails themselves. Fifty-Five Bar does all of these things extremely well. Nestled beside the canal in Camden, it’s in a busy enough area to be lively, but removed from the centre of London and as a result comes with a more natural party vibe. It’s Happy Hour offers two cocktails for just £10 (a steal in London) and the selection of drinks and spirits is almost as impressive as the know-how of the guys and gals behind the bar.
Not far away from Fifty-Five Bar is Koko, a legendary music venue and one of London’s (perhaps the world’s) finest. A Grade-II listed building, it’s decor is largely unchanged from its early 20th Century design. Big name acts frequent the palatial music hall, and it’s played host to the likes of Prince and Madonna in the past. But the venue is perhaps best enjoyed while watching one of the UK’s many up and coming acts.
A little more sedate than cocktail bars and clubs, but no less interesting, is Hampstead Heath. A huge park in North London, it overlooks the city and on a clear day there are excellent views. Families can be seen taking walks with children and dogs and for kids, it’s a fantastic place to run free and explore.
Another benefit of Hampstead Heath is its proximity to Hampstead Village. More of a high-end district of London than an actual village, it nonetheless bears all the hallmarks of country living, with beautiful coffee and antique shops and a calmer atmosphere than Camden, just down the road. Check out one of the town’s many pubs, which are known for their roaring fires and friendly bar staff. Alternatively, head over to nearby Highgate Village, which also boasts a fine selection of bars, cafes and restaurants.
Somerset House is one of central London’s coolest venues, with live music shows, film screenings, art exhibition and a whole lot more. It is best enjoyed at the height of summer, when the evenings are long and the sun descends slowly. With so much going on year round, it’s one of London’s most exciting venues, and yet relatively unknown to visitors from abroad. Make sure you don’t miss out.
The expensively built and controversial new(ish) Wembley Stadium has packed a lot into its short history. While the area around the stadium is low on attractions, the venue itself is not. If you’re a sports fan, there are plenty of events year round including, football, but also American Football and other events. Moreover, the stadium plays hosts to various concerts from A-list acts. For those unable to afford tickets to premium shows, there is an interesting museum in the stadium worth visiting.
South London’s Clapham Common is one of the city’s great green spaces. London is famed for its beautiful park, and the Common stands head to head with its more illustrious competitors further into the city. If you want to avoid the noise and crowds of central London, you could do a lot worse than spend a sunny afternoon lazing in this park.
East London’s Victoria Park is another option for those who want to play games or relax in the sun. A bit more lively than the above, but not quite as packed as Regent’s Park in the centre of town. In summer, it has festivals, and in winter there is a temporary theme park with ice skating, mini golf and more. The summertime is the best time to visit though, as Londoners bathe in the pleasant weather and local street performers practice their tricks.
London’s shopping scene is world famous and its markets suitably busy. While Portobello Road is certainly the latter, it has a more natural feel than areas such as Oxford Street, and is a favourite of locals on weekends. Pricey antique stores mix with bespoke, streetside stalls seamlessly, and the atmosphere is charming. If you happen to be in the UK during August, make sure you check out Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest street carnival and a reflection of London’s multicultural diversity.