I’ve got your complete guide of alternative things to do in London.
Having been to London twice now, I can easily say that it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Let’s put it this way; I’m already itching to plan my third visit. While it’s easy to get sucked up into the hustle and bustle of touristy things (especially for a history nerd such as myself), finding the nit and grit of the city is much more exciting. For those who are planning a trip to England’s lovely capital, I’ve put together a list of my favorite alternative things to do in London.
The Best Alternative Things to Do in London
Skip out on the kitschy gift shops and Tower of London tour. There are so many other places to see and things to do. With two weeks under my belt, I’ve managed to scope out some of the coolest places in the city. Often logging 13 miles a day on foot, I was determined to make the most of my time. While waking up at sunrise and returning to your hotel room after midnight isn’t for everyone, I was pretty happy with my time. To make a long story short, don’t follow the crowd. Why not delve into the unusual and the worthwhile?
From world-famous museums to the weird and wonderful, there are so many ways to entertain yourself. Whether you have a layover with several hours to kill, an entire week to spend, or you’re an expat, these spots are just for you. Keep an open mind, grab your friends, make some new ones, and get ready to have fun with the best alternative things to do in London.
1. Sleep Over at the Gir Lion Lodge at London Zoo
Credit: ZSL London Zoo
Okay, having a sleepover at the zoo sounds like every seven-year old’s dream come true. But this fantasy is like living out the Jungle Book. For those who want more than your typical day’s admission experience, read on. You can book a lodge at the ZSL London Zoo and hire a guide to give you guided tours around the animal enclosures after hours. And since there are a two-course dinner and a big breakfast included, you won’t have to worry about trying to sneak in a pizza and wings.
Come experience where the wild things are – without being their next meal. Ever since their doors opened, these lovely zoological gardens have been entertaining viewers of all ages. In the last few decades, it has transformed into something spectacular. We appreciate that they put their full effort into ensuring animal welfare and conservation on a global level. This thirty-six-acre park is truly one of the most incredible experiences. Make sure to add it to your list of alternative things to do in London. You can book your reservation here.
2. Check out the City’s Coolest Street Art
Who needs a walking tour when you can make your own? You see what you want to see and you can skip out on all of the annoying crowds. It sounds like a win-win situation to me (especially if you’re 5’4” and can’t see over anyone’s head but I digress). East London has some of the most spectacular work displayed on nearly every street corner. Bring your favorite travel camera and start out around Spitalfields Market. You’re going to want to snap a lot of pics. This is definitely one of the best alternative things to do in London.
The cool thing about these exhibits is that they change up a lot. Each time you visit them, you will find new and unusual treasures. Plus, you’re not too far away from some of the city’s best watering holes either. After an hour or two of wandering, make your way into the nearest pub for some cold, frothy brews and delicious bites. Can you think of a better way to spend the afternoon?
3. Take on the Rapids at Lee Valley White Water Centre
Well, that escalated quickly. While I’m not recommending you should hop straight from art visits and the pub to white water rafting, how could you pass this up? A friend told me about this place after the fact and had I known while I was there, I would have jumped on the opportunity. Now’s your time.
For those crazy enough to brave the rapids, this 2012 Olympic facility is open to the public. Who’s up for some adrenaline-pumping white water rafting? How about canoeing? Riding the rapids inside one of London’s epic Olympic Games Venue is a memory you will never be able to live (or talk) down. Book your reservation for some spinning, nose-dunking, and make a splash. If this isn’t one of the coolest alternative things to do in London, we don’t know what is.
4. Marvel at the Quirky Wonder of the House of Dreams
Credit: Stephen Wright
In typical London fashion, wander down a seemingly-normal looking street and you will stumble upon something cool and utterly unexpected. With this said, East Dulwich throws us a complete curveball. Come and marvel at the quirky abode around the corner. Artist Stephen Wright has taken the idiom of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ quite literally.
Building his house out of eclectic pieces, the result is a garish and kitschy hideaway that is open to the public a few select days out of the year. Barbie heads, toy tigers, rhinestones, license plates and a slew of other objects grace the scene. It’s a memorable stop, to say the least. For open dates and to book an appointment, send an email to email@example.com.
5. Have Tea at Sketch London
Credit: Sketch London
This is the pink, Instagrammable place of your dreams. This fun 18th-century teahouse serves fancy cups of earl gray by day and transforms into a cocktail lounge by evening. Come for one or both. This is the place to be for food, drinks, music, art, and more. Here, every detail is taken into consideration.
The outside of the restaurant looks like it is plucked straight from a storybook. The playful atmosphere begins right at the entrance with a game of hopscotch. What better way to bring out your inner child? Inside, hundreds of flowers line a long hallway and the staircases are dripping in pink roses. It all seems like something from Alice in Wonderland.
From the dainty china gracing the tables to the lighting and egg-shaped toilets. The folks here are nothing short of marketing geniuses. Whether you end up going for the art or the Instagram snaps, I highly recommend stopping by for a spell. Visiting Sketch London is one of the best alternative things to do in London.
6. Catch a Last-Minute Show at West End
Come catch a show at the trendy West End Theatre. Along with New York City’s iconic Broadway scene, this location represents the highest level of commercial theater in the English-speaking world. So what makes this one of the best alternative things to do in London? While a typical show is certainly nothing out of the norm, it all depends on how you decide to play the game.
In the event that you are looking for something to do on the day of, call or visit their website and try to snag some seats. Try to challenge yourself a little. Ask what is available for under 20 GBP. There should be some leftover seats for at least one show out on the market. Snag the best seats that you can find and prepare for a night out on the town. Why not get a little dressed up? There is nothing quite like taking in a show in the big city.
7. Have the Time of Your Life at Dance Yrself Clean
Credit: Dance Yrself Clean / Facebook
An Indie pop dance party by music lovers for music lovers, this is clearly one of the best alternative things to do in London. I’ve been to the Seattle and Los Angeles locations and now that I know there is one in London, I just have to go back. What started out as a small bar party has spanned into a massive international movement.
Set at the Shacklewell Arms, this simple wood-floored pub is just the place to be a fun performance. Throughout the night, different DJs play sets, strobe lights come on, and you’ll boogie till you barf. It’s the best place to be. If you only take one thing away from my list (hopefully you take a lot more), do this. Dance Yrself Clean is something I just can’t talk up enough.
8. Have Dinner and Drinks at an Epic 14th-Century Pub
Have you heard of Ye Old Cheshire Cheese? If not, it’s about time you did. This 14th-century pub is one of my favorite places in London. Walk down from St. Paul’s Cathedral after enjoying a beautiful Evensong service and keep the cathedral at your back. After walking a ways down Fleet Street, you will see the sign for Ye Old Cheshire Cheese on a cobblestone street.
Take a second and read the plaque outside on the wall. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666, this pub is best known for its literary associations. Did you know that this was once the watering hole of the greats? Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and G.K. Chesterton have frequented it in times past. After you brush up on a little history, walk down a small alleyway and down the stone steps to find the entrance.
Make sure to duck when you step inside. These entryways were not made for tall people. Inside, the pub branches out into multiple cavernous rooms, each with stone walls and dim candle-like lighting. At the very basement of the restaurant, you’ll find long, communal tables where the locals come in suit and tie, beer in hand, laughter filling the room. Make your order for some steak and ale pie and a Samuel Adams bitter beer. This is some of the best British food you will find.
Book Your Trip and Enjoy Our List of Alternative Things to Do in London
I hope you enjoyed reading through my suggestions for the best alternative things to do in London. During your visit, you will come across so many touristy joints. To make the most of your time, try to dive deeper. Scope out the spots where the locals go, meet people, appreciate the diverse culture. Make sure to take some epic day trips too. Have you been to London before? What are some of your favorite places to see and things to do? Let me know in the comment section below.
Related Article: 15 London Streets That Will Give You Serious Wanderlust