I was born and bred in Britain’s capital, so I want to help you navigate London like a local, and enjoy your time there like a true native—get to know the real city, enjoy the vibe and mind the tourist traps.
The first time I ever went to Paris as an adult I hated it. It was prior to smartphones (yeah, I’m THAT old), and even though I had a guide book I basically ended up being ripped off in all the usual old overly crowded tourist spots.
The second time I went, I met up with a local, and it was like night and day. Because, like most things in life these days, it’s all about who (or what) you know. Knowledge is power, even when it comes to traveling–so use it.
Sometimes it’s worth doing the tourist thing—especially if you have a landmark tick list that you want to cross off, and I totally recommend jumping on one of the City Tour buses—if it’s a rare sunny day then get an open-top double-decker to maximize the smoggy air and muggy humid weather that is glorious London in the summer!
Make the city tour one of your first things to do as it will acclimatize you to the city and help you get your bearings. Plus, if you get a “hop on hop off” ticket you can cross off all the major tourist hotspots in one go (or snap a photo from the bus and don’t even bother getting off).
If you want to save yet more pennies, and you’re not bothered with the guided part of the tour then your best bet is to jump on the 453 bus, which covers all of the best sites in London central and costs only £1.50. It runs between Deptford Bridge and Marylebone bus station.
Phew! That’s THAT out of the way then, now on to actually enjoying the city.
Another tour that’s highly recommended, is the Jack the Ripper tour. If you’re into history, horror, and beer it’s the perfect night out for you. An experienced guide takes you around the Ripper’s old hunting spots in and around Whitechapel, stopping off at pubs along the way, and recounting the horrors of his 1880s’ gruesome crime spree.
[Side note: if you want to read up on the case, and more importantly the tragic life stories of his five unfortunate victims, plus get a peek into the horror that was Victorian England, then read Halle Rubenhold’s amazing book “The Five”]
Don’t bother with the London Eye, seriously. Sure you get a great view of London, but you also have to spend a fortune for it (at the time of posting, £31 per person) and it will eat up hours of your time. You can get equally amazing views for free, in addition to being able to come and go as you please.
Swerve the Eye and go to the rooftop of One New Change instead, that way you get one of the hands-down best aerial views of London, for free, and the bonus of some shopping and a beer or two at the same time. Ka-ching!
Talking of rooftops, views, and cocktails, you could do worse than a drink or two at the nearby The Garden, which offers sweeping vistas of the city from a truly innovative and breathtaking building.
Buck the Palace
Even the most ardent Royalist will likely be disappointed by the Buckingham Palace tour—it costs a fortune (£49 per adult for the bells and whistles ticket). Most of the palace is closed off to tourists though, so no, you won’t get to see the Majesty Herself, instead, you’ll just get whisked around the staterooms, gallery, and the exterior at the speed of lightning, you’re better off saving the cash and doing one of the virtual tours instead.
If you feel you haven’t seen London unless you’ve been inside of a palace, hop on a train at Waterloo Station and treat yourself to a day out in Hampton Court. It takes twenty minutes on a fast train—or jump in an Uber for £35 and change.
You’ll get to tour the complete inside of Hampton Court Palace, which was built by Cardinal Wolsey, before being “gifted” to everybody’s favorite psychopathic serial killer king, Henry VIII; in addition to walking around the glorious gardens; hanging with the many ghosts and losing yourself in the maze.
Added bonus, you can slouch around the quaint little surrounding town afterward—enjoy a beer or two by the river, check out the plentiful art galleries and eat in one of the adorable little bistros or gastro pubs dotted around.
If you’re a ROM-COM fan you’ll likely want to go to Notting Hill, and its infamous Portobello Market, but trust me, don’t bother. If you did the City Tour you’d have swanned through the area anyway, and nowadays, Portobello Market is just an overpriced, hideously packed, tourist trap. The same goes with Camden Market….just…don’t… bother—unless you’re jonesing to get pickpocketed or score some fake weed.
Instead, step back in time and visit Leadenhall Market (added bonus of thrilling the kids, or your run-of-the-mill adult Harry Potter fans) as it was a Diagon Alley filming location. It’s an absolutely stunning locale, and pretty much tourist-free, so a total twofer.
Or, head to Box Park in Shoreditch, to get real hip with the kids who are too cool for school daddio, and enjoy some of London’s best and most diverse street food in addition to cocktails, nick-nacks, and pop-up boutiques flogging trendy clothes.
Finally, Greenwich Market is adorable. It’s little but it packs a punch with an awesome array of arts, crafts, and “things” you never knew you wanted, but just can’t resist—best of all? next to no tourists. Oh, and while you’re in the area go check out the glorious Cutty Sark, the world’s only surviving Tea Clipper, built in the 1800s, and even indulge in some star gazing at the Greenwich Observatory.
If you’re in London in the summer then you’ll be only too aware of how hot and sweaty it can get. Given space constraints, and the usual year-round crappy weather, outdoor swimming pools are scarce in the UK. That’s what makes Brockwell Lido all the more fabulous.
A public outdoor community swimming pool, in the middle of an amazing park, the Brockwell Lido looks like it’s ripped straight out of the 1950s. You need to get there early, as it can get packed, and it’s always best to go during the week when Londoners are at work (in theory), but it’s the hands-down best non-touristy place to enjoy a hot summer London day-out, and indulge in some covert people-watching from the comfort of your own towel.
Check back next week for the second part of London like a local!