London is a vibrant and diverse city with many different things to see and experience. There are countless hidden gems and it’s hard to decide which ones to see when visiting for a few days. I myself have lived in London for around year in total and therefore got to experience the city from the local perspective. When friends ask me what they should see when coming to London I would tell them exactly what I’m sharing with you today.
For your trip I’d definitely recommend to see the highlights you can find in any London guide! I still love going to Buckingham Palace, riding over Tower Bridge or just strolling past the London Eye. But if you want to explore more things off the common tourist path then this blogpost will give you some nice ideas. Below you’ll also find a map featuring all the mentioned locations so you can easily add them to your phone
Off the beaten track activities in London
1 Columbia Road Flower Market
Starting with the Columbia Road Flower Market which happens on Sundays from 8am to around 3pm. Columbia Road is located in the East End of the city. You could rent a Santander cycle to get there as there are many bike stations around. Along Columbia Road there are sixty independent businesses: Smart art galleries, coffee shops, vintages stores, delis and antique shops. Some of them are also open during the week.
The main attraction is the flower market on Sundays. You will find many market traders lining the narrow street selling flowers, herbs and plants. Grab a coffee and then stroll past the stands. Have a look at all the different plants, sit down for a piece of cake in one of the side streets and observe the crowds.
What I like about Columbia Road Flower Market is that it’s not only a tourist attraction. You will meet many locals who are out buying flowers and having coffee on a Sunday morning. Depending on the time the market can get quite busy and crowded though. For your visit there is no cash needed as both the shops and stands accept card or contactless payments. All in all a perfect Sunday destination, especially if you are exploring London by bike.
2 Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill gives you spectacular views across London. It is located north of Regent’s Park, 63 metres above sea level. The view basically speaks for itself. You can see the Shard, London Eye and parts of Westminster. With a lively neighbourhood closeby, Primrose Hill is a great spot to see London from a different perspective.
You could sit on the grass, read a book or go to one of the cafes in the area. Camden town and Regent’s Park are within walking distance and could be added to the journey. Primrose Hill is a place I always enjoy visiting. Also at night it is stunning!
3 Sky Garden
Enjoy brilliant views and a refreshing drink in London’s highest public garden: Sky Garden. London Sky Garden is a lovely place to visit either during the day or at night. It’s perched at the top of the Walkie Takie building. The views over London are spectacular! The access to Sky Garden is free of charge on weekdays between 10am and 6pm and on weekends from 11am to 9pm. You can get tickets here.
A sub-tropical garden will be waiting for you between the 34th and 37th floor featuring the best views in London. There’s even more: You can book a table for breakfast, lunch and dinner online and Sky Garden also hosts weekly yoga lessons with a view. From Sky Garden you can spot some of the biggest landmarks of the city: London Eye, The Gherkin, The Shard, St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge and many more.
Located in the heart of the City of London you could continue your journey to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millenium Bridge. All in all Sky Garden is one of the best view points in London and if you’re quick enough you can get a free ticket!
Disclaimer: Sky Garden might not be an off the beaten track activity for some. For me and many friends though Sky Garden is not a well known place to visit when coming to London. Therefore I had to add it to this list!
4 Kayaking tour on Thames
This one I call an “off the beaten track” activity as I’ve never heard of it before. I came across kayaking on Thames online by coincidence and would state that this is probably the most unique way to see London from the water. It can’t be compared with a normal boat trip. It’s much more fun!
The London Kayak Company takes you from Greenwich to Battersea Park or the other way. The whole journey takes around 3-4 hours. This activity is suitable for everyone who enjoys being active! You don’t need to have experience in kayaking or be super sportive – Thames does part of the job. I think this company takes out customers throughout the whole year. You will be given a wader (waterproof boot extending from your foot to the thigh) and therefore not get wet.
All in all it’s a fun activity you will probably never forget. The group size is maybe around 12-15 people and during the tour the guide will tell you more about the sights and history. You will paddle past Big Ben, London Eye, Tower Bridge and many more. Greenwich to Battersea really covers the most important river parts of the city. It’s also a great perspective to gape at the small houses along the river.
The kayaking tour is perfect for a day trip. I recommend to start with a nice breakfast in Greenwich, followed by a stroll around the area and a visit to Greenwich observation (see no. 6 below). After the tour you can check out Battersea Park and have late lunch or a drink at Battersea Power Station. Battersea Power Station is a quite new and innovative venue to eat, drink, sit and play right at the Power Stations at Thames. A great way to end this day!
5 Southbank food market
This one is for the foodies. Southbank food market is very popular but not always on the agenda of tourists in London. Therefore I had to add it to this “London off the beaten track”-List. It’s open on Fridays and weekend days. With its location close to London Eye and Thames it’s a good spot to go and see some more popular sights after (Big Ben, Millenium Bridge, St. Paul’s…) in central London.
At Southbank food market you will find food stalls from all over the world. My all time favorite is Ethiopian and Venezuelan. There are many choices for all variety of diet styles. Those with a sweet tooth will also come to their taste with donuts and home made cakes. For this venue you don’t need cash.
6 Greenwich Observation & Outdoor cinema
I’ve already mentioned Greenwich in activity no. 4 as the kayaking tour starts there. Greenwich is a district in south east London featuring a big park, popular Greenwich market, cozy cafes and restaurants. Fun fact: It’s pronounced Gren-ich, not Green-witch. Greenwich is known for its maritime history and also giving its name to the Greenwich Mean Time.
My favorite place is the Royal Observatory as it gives you a stunning view over the City of London and Canary Wharf – from a very different and further away perspective than Primrose Hill. You just walk up the hill to enjoy the views and could also visit the Royal Observatory afterwards. I’ve never been but it’s definitely an interesting thing do to. There’s a huge park and plenty of cozy cafes to explore. Located close to Thames you can also listen to live music while looking at the river. It’s worth having a look at the local Greenwich market. There are also some museums about the maritime history around.
The Luna outdoor cinema will give you an unforgettable summer experience. You’ll sit on the grass, feel a nice summer breeze, order some popcorn at one of the stands and while the sunset is happening in the background you can watch movies like the Greatest Showman & many more. It really is the most beautiful location for an outdoor cinema. Highly recommend!
With those six activities you will get to experience London off the beaten track! Not all of them are super local but usually not on ones list when coming to London for the first time. Feel free to share your favorite place of the city in the comments below!
You really enjoyed London and would like to get a taste of living in this city for a few months? In this blogpost I’m sharing how you can find a cozy and well-equipped home.