London is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. But if you’re looking for something different, why not explore what London offers beyond its iconic sights? There are plenty of excellent experiences away from the hustle and bustle of central London, from community festivals to lesser-known attractions, all of which are guaranteed to make your trip even more memorable. I’m not suggesting you skip the highlights, but I certainly recommend exploring London off the beaten path. How else will you find London’s hidden gems? In this blog, I share some great non touristy things to do in London.
What does London off the beaten path really entail?
Is there such a thing as a hidden gem anymore? Perhaps in far-flung lesser visited countries like Sierra Leone, but I’m not sure that the world’s third most-visited city is hiding too many surprises. Or is it? I’m not about to reveal a never heard of activity, but I do hope that this blog encourages you to explore some of the non touristy things to do that London has to offer. Despite its popularity, so much of London is still off the beaten path.
Some of the activities I will suggest you might have heard of before, some I hope are a complete revelation, while others are famous, but relevant because they embody the city’s culture. But above all, I hope you find the kind of inspiration in this blog that you won’t come across on your typical “Top 10 things to do in London” posts that too often dominate the web.
My top non touristy things to do in London
Here are some of my favourite non touristy things to do in London. Of course, not all are hidden gems, but all are off the beaten path.
Discover some of London’s real hidden gems on the Capital Ring trail
The Capital Ring, a 78-mile circular path that winds its way around the outskirts of London, is an often overlooked hidden gem in the city. Starting at Woolwich and ending there again after navigating Lewisham, Richmond, Greenford, Highgate, and Hackney, this trail offers adventurers a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the inner city. Seamlessly divided into fifteen sections, each with its own distinct character and attractions, the Capital Ring is an ideal way to discover the non touristy side of London.
The Capital Ring route is much more than just a great way to explore the highlights of London; it’s an opportunity to delve off the beaten path and uncover its rich social history. Take, for example, Severndroog Castle, a Gothic tower built on Shooters Hill by Lady James in 1784 as a memorial to her husband’s successful campaign against pirate king Angrier. Or Biggin Wood, which today is all that remains of the vast Great North Wood that once stretched from Camberwell to Croydon. Along the Capital Ring route, you’ll pass these sites and many others that tell stories of London’s past.
A walk or cycle along the Capital Ring is, without a doubt, a great way to explore an alternative side to London.
Watch a Boxing match at York Hall
Unless you are into boxing, chances are you have never heard of York Hall, yet York Hall was voted the 6th best place to watch boxing in the world. There aren’t many other venues where you can get quite so close to the action!
This boxing mecca is located in London’s historic Bethnal Green neighbourhood. It is one of the oldest and most celebrated boxing gyms in Britain. Since the 1920s, some of the greatest global boxers have trained here and brought with them world-renowned matches for spectators to enjoy. Notable fighters such as Lennox Lewis, Nigel Benn, and Mike Tyson have all graced York Hall with their presence over this time, making it a true temple of pugilism. Today, although busy schedules make it hard to keep up with regular boxing shows, York Hall still stands proud as an icon of sportsmanship and athleticism throughout the world.
Film premieres, art exhibitions, street food markets, private hire spaces, and musical performances all form part of its vibrant history, making it a cherished landmark for locals and tourists alike. The old-school atmosphere oozes character, allowing visitors to soak up a truly unique experience at one of the capital’s most distinctive destinations.
And if you think that boxing isn’t for you, then I’d urge you to read my kickboxing experience in Cambodia, as I thought the same… until I was in the mix of it!
Address: 5-15 Old Ford Road, London E2.
Nearest Tube Station: Bethnal Green, Central Line.
Discover one of Europe’s most important ecological areas
Large cities are not where you would expect to find important conservation areas, yet the suburbs of Barnes houses one of Europe’s most important environmental areas! Over two hundred species of birds call the London Wetland Centre home. An unlikely spot considering that a jet roars overhead every few minutes as it lands or takes off from Heathrow.
Created over a decade ago from the old Thames Water reservoir, the London Wetland Centre is a 100-acre oasis that offers Londoners the chance to experience wildlife without even leaving the city! You can expect to see lapwing, sparrowhawks, redshanks, teal, and even kingfishers. You may be reading this wondering whether birdwatching is your thing. I can’t tell you whether it is or not, but what I can say is that the free guided tours are definitely worth joining. Not only will it highlight the importance of conservation, but it will also help you identify the birds and understand each of their individual quirks.
The London Wetland Centre is definitely off the beaten path. No tourists here!
How to get there: You will want to get the tube to Hammersmith Station (Piccadilly or District and Circle lines), and from there, either walk the towpath, which will take roughly 25 minutes, or alternatively catch either the 209 or 533 bus to the Red Lion pub.
Step back in time at Dennis Severs’ House
Located in London’s historic East End, Dennis Severs’ House presents a unique experience that immerses visitors into an alternate world of 18th Century Spitalfields life. Each room tells a different story, from the candlelit kitchen to the heated drawing room and stunning hothouse conservatory. Visitors can admire the intricate sculptures and wood carvings and explore life within these Georgian walls, guided only by their imagination. From its inception in 1979, this house continues to provide a surreal journey and will leave lasting impressions upon those who dare to follow its mysterious passageways. Certainly a unique experience to have when you are next in London!
Admission Fee: £15 for the standard self-guided visit.
Address: 18 Folgate St, London E1 6BX
Nearest Tube Station: Either Aldgate or Liverpool Street Stations. Both on the Circle and Metropolitan lines. Liverpool Street is also on the Central and Hammersmith lines.
Don your wellies and visit Billingsgate Market
If you are genuinely looking for a non touristy activity in London, set your alarm for 4 am and get down to Billingsgate Market! Located in the heart of London’s dockyards, this is a true off the beaten path experience and a real chance to immerse yourself in a side of London that few tourists (or indeed locals!) ever see.
With only a few hours of trading every day, the atmosphere is electric as merchants and buyers haggle and banter over the catch of the day. It is a wholesale market, so don’t expect to buy anything unless you have a rather large freezer or are there with a load of friends! This is where the restaurants and fishmongers come to buy their produce! And with over 50 varieties of fish, you can see why!
Although Billingsgate Market has only been in its current location beneath Canary Wharf since 1982, the market itself has been going since Roman times. Watching the traders go about their day really is a sight to behold. One of Londons’ true hidden gems! But one that might not be there for much longer.
Address: Trafalgar Way, London E14 5ST
Nearest Tube Station: Canary Wharf Station, on the Jubilee and DLR lines.
Explore the largest Hindu temple outside of India!
Did you know that the largest active Hindu temple outside India is hidden in the Neasden suburbs of London? It is hard to believe that the unremarkable North Circular road could be hiding such a grandiose gem!
Featuring 7-tiered marble and limestone pinnacles, it is easy to see why people liken BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. As beautiful inside as outside, you will find elaborate carvings of dancers, ornate staircases, and deities as fine as those in any Hindu temple in India.
Made from 2,000 tonnes of Indian marble and 3,000 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone, the construction took only 27 months, a rarity for a building of this size and intricate detailing. It contains no steel or iron for support and was put together very much like a lego set, following the careful instructions of the sculptors who had carved 26,300 separate stones separately, ready to assemble them into what is thought of as one the most magnificent works of modern architecture.
The main attraction within the temple is the mandir: the central shrine. Located inside a marble room adorned with intricately carved pillars, you will find seven icons of divinities, known as murtis. You will often find worshippers praying in near silence, a reminder that this is no tourist activity, but instead a living and breathing temple.
On your way out, why not stop by the small museum to learn about the origins and principal beliefs of Hinduism? And to top the visit off, enjoy some Saatvic vegetarian food at the Shayona restaurant nearby.
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6 pm daily.
Address: Pramukh Swami Rd, Neasden, London NW10 8HW
Nearest Tube Station: Neasden or Dollis Hill Stations, both on the Jubilee Line.
Head to prison for a gourmet meal!
Did you know that HMP Brixton, a Cat – C prison, has a restaurant open to the public? Yes, you read that right! You can actually go to jail for lunch! Or dinner. The restaurant is situated in the Old Governors House, which dates back to 1819, and the food is prepared and served by prisoners working towards their culinary qualifications.
Because this is an active prison, you need to book at least 72 hours in advance, and you will need to bring your ID with you and go through an airport-like security check before entering the restaurant. Unfortunately, phones are not allowed inside the prison, so this experience will be one for the memory but not for Instagram!
Aside from being a very different experience, by eating at The Clink you are helping change attitudes, transform lives and create second chances. The Clink provides prisoners with opportunities to gain qualifications and skills which will help them return to the community and turn their lives around. Projects such as this cut re-offending in half.
During the pandemic, HMP Brixton even offers “Clink and Collect”!
So if you want to enjoy some nice food while dining in a very different setting and supporting the local community by providing a second chance to rehabilitating offenders, then why not book a meal at HMP Brixton?
Visit their website for more details.
Address: HMP Brixton, Jebb Avenue, Brixton, London, SW2 5XF
Nearest tube station: The nearest station is Brixton station, which is about 1 mile away from the actual prison. From there, you can walk (20 min) or catch the 333 Bus.
Explore Highgate Cemetery
As I write this, I realise I might have a morbid obsession. This isn’t my first time recommending my readers visit a cemetery! I did the same in Buenos Aires and Romania!! Highgate Cemetery as a whole isn’t necessarily one of London’s hidden gems. In fact, many tourists come to visit the grand Victorian burial ground on Highgate Cemetery East, where you will find lovingly tended graves adorned with fresh flowers.
However, this differs from the part of the cemetery I am suggesting you visit. Instead, I want you to get off the beaten path and follow the overgrown wooded tracks that take you to the Western side of the cemetery. Follow the thick blackberry bushes and wild roses until you encounter the ivy-tangled tombstones. Take your time reading the now-faded words on the tombs. Discover lovers reunited in death, war heroes, and eccentric revolutionaries. But above all, enjoy the quiet of this magical wild place and remind yourself that life is short, so make the most of it!
Address: Swain’s Ln, London N6 6PJ
Nearest Tube Station: Archway Station on the Northern line. From there, it is a 15-minute walk.
Enjoy a little slice of Spain at Casa Manolo
Having grown up in Spain, nothing brings me more joy than finding a Spanish restaurant or bar that serves genuinely authentic food. I am one of the harshest critics, which means I rarely find somewhere I am genuinely happy with, but Casa Manolo was certainly the exception.
I discovered it when I was last in Covent Garden. Leaving the hoards of tourists behind, I decided to explore some of the nearby roads, and it was while doing this that I came across a mouth-watering display of Jamon Baguettes. They looked like the real deal, so I bought one and can tell you I have not looked back! It was as good an Iberico Jamon as I experienced during my road trip through Extremadura in 2021. And if you are not aware, Extremadura has the best Jamon in Spain!
It doesn’t get more authentic than Casa Manolo!
Address: 99 Strand, WC2R 0EW
Nearest Tube Station: Covent Garden on the Picadilly Line.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Step back to the Victorian era at 221B Baker Street. If you are an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, you will recognise that address! After all, it is the address of one of Britain’s most loved literary characters.
Visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum is an adventure full of mystery and intrigue. Not only will you get to explore the fascinating world of the famous detective, but you’ll also discover one of London’s hidden gems. Step into Sherlock’s living room and explore over 35 carefully re-created sets from his stories, all complete with hundreds of authentic artefacts and props, making it seem as if Sherlock himself had stepped away only moments ago. The museum also includes interactive activities, such as a 3D photo opportunity and a fun quiz, so you can find out which character from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” you most resemble! Walk away inspired by one of the greatest fictional characters ever created!
Admission Price: Adults £16, Children (6 – 15) £11, and children under 6 Free.
Address: 221b Baker St, London NW1 6XE
Nearest Tube Station: Baker Street, which is on the Bakerloo, Jubilee, Circle, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City Lines.
London transport museum hidden tours
The London Transport Museum is a wonderful place for anyone wishing to unlock the history of the city’s transportation system. Not only does it hold artefacts and documents about the past, but it also offers interactive experiences that can transport visitors back in time. Those who visit will come away with new knowledge and admiration for how far Britain’s roads have truly progressed throughout the centuries, from horse buses and steam locomotives to high-speed electric trains.
However, it’s London Transport Museum’s Hidden London that is truly special! They offer tours of often-forgotten parts of the “tube network”. An opportunity to step off the beaten path and explore an area of London that not many visitors get to see! They have several tours available, from Down Street, where Churchill’s bomb-proof headquarters were located during WWII, to Euston, where you can step back in time as you wander the corridors still adorned with vintage advertising. The most fascinating one, however, is Clapham South, where you journey 11 stories underground to explore more than a mile’s worth of underground shelters and corridors that provided refuge to hundreds of citizens during WWII.
These tours are aptly named, as they truly are one of London’s hidden gems!
Please visit their website for details of each of the tours.
Maybe not a London hidden gem, but certainly unique!
My following recommendations aren’t exactly tourist-free, but they still deserve a mention in a post about off the beaten path London. If not a hidden gem, they are definitely unique!
Alternative culture in Camden Town
With over 100,000 visitors every weekend, it is definitely not one of London’s hidden gems, but a trip to the big city wouldn’t be complete without exploring this eclectic market!
The outdoor market has been around since 1603 and preserves the longstanding tradition of artisanal shopping; here, you can find locally crafted goods as well as sumptuous foods from all over the world. Take your time browsing through stalls selling fashion essentials and trinkets, or savour local flavours like bucatini carbonara or dulce de leche pancakes. You’ll also get to meet some of England’s most colourful characters at Campden Market, as it’s a regular haunt for many locals – perfect for an immersive cultural experience!
Nearest Tube Station: Camden Town, Northern Circuit
Insert get your guide
Bond in Motion: London Film Museum
Is anybody a fan of the world’s most renowned “secret” agent?! Well, here is your chance to dress up James Bond himself and fully immerse yourself in the 007 life!
Nestled in one of London’s most touristy areas, it would be easy to ignore the London Film Museum. After all, Covent Garden is home to a huge market, over 300 shops, 50 street performers, and 18 bars and restaurants. You will also find plenty of theatres, museums, bars, and clubs in the area, so it is no surprise that the London Film Museum is not necessarily the first thing people think about when visiting Covent Garden.
But it just goes to show that off the beaten path activities can happen even in the most touristy of areas! The London Film Museum offers an immersive experience into the world of film. From a permanent display of the Bond franchise to a rotating selection of exhibits exploring different aspects of the film industry, this museum offers something for everyone. With interactive activities sprinkled throughout, you can make your own movie poster, try out costumes from classic films, and step into some of cinema’s greatest scenes.
Maybe not the true definition of a hidden gem, but certainly one of the more unique things to do in London!
Admission Price: Adults £14.50, Kids £9.50.
Opening Times: 10 am to 6 pm every day except Saturday, when it remains open until 7 pm.
Address: 45 Wellington St, London WC2E 7BN
Nearest Tube Station: Covent Garden, Picadilly Line (don’t take the stairs unless you are fit enough!)
Explore London’s best food market: Borough Market
You know I love my food, which is why I had to feature a food market on this list! With over 1 million visitors each year, Borough Market is no hidden gem, but it also isn’t a tourist trap either! This is where the locals in the know shop for the best ingredients and indulge in delicacies that are hard to come by elsewhere. You will find one problem though… it is impossible to choose with so many amazing options at your fingertips!
There has been a market here since the 12th century, and the wrought ironwork is distinctly Victorian. However, the market as we know it today only came into existence in the late 1990s when it diversified from wholesale into a retail outlet. Now Borough market is a foodie heaven where you can find mouth-watering dishes from all over the world. So why not try ostrich sausages at Baxter’s, or indulge in confit au canard at Le Marche du Quartier?
Address: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL
Closest Tube Station: London Bridge Station on the Jubilee line.
Immerse yourself in London’s Caribbean routes at the Notting Hill Festival
The Notting Hill Carnival is London’s answer to the joyful carnivals of places like Rio de Janeiro and Trinidad. Taking place in late August each year, it is a celebration of Caribbean culture that attracts visitors from all over the world. This vibrant festivity includes colourful parades, floats, dancing, live music, and delicious street food. So whether you want to show off your own dance moves or sample the many culinary delights on offer, there’s something for everyone at Notting Hill Carnival – it’s an absolute must-see if you’re visiting London in August!
2023 Dates: Sunday 27th and Monday 28th August
Nearest Tube Station: Ladbroke Grove Station on the Circle Line
Spotting deer in Richmond Park
Deer? In London? Yes, you read that right! You don’t have to head into the countryside to see deer up close. In fact, all you need to do is explore Richmond Park. Based in charming Richmond upon Thames, it takes pride of place as the largest enclosed space within London. Spanning an impressive 2,500 acres, it is a nature enthusiasts’ paradise. A wildlife haven within the confines of a bustling city. And home to over 600 species of wildlife, including red and fallow deer!
Whether you venture out for a leisurely stroll or choose to explore further on bike or horseback, it’s easy to spot the 500-plus herds of deer frolicking in these peaceful surroundings. The best time of year to visit Richmond Park is during the autumnal rutting season from late September through October, when you will likely spot stags fighting for dominance! It truly is a spectacle to behold.
Nearest Tube Station: There are many different gates into the park, however, for the purpose of this article, I am suggesting you enter via the Petersham Road pedestrian gate. You will want to get the tube to Richmond Station on the District Line and then catch the 371 or 65 bus to the entrance.
What is first on your list?
London is such an iconic city that you will not want to skip the highlights, especially if it is your first time here, but I am a big believer that the real magic always happens when you step off the beaten path and explore the non touristy areas. London has so much to offer, so put on your walking shoes and explore. You never know what hidden gem you might encounter when you turn that next corner!
If you have any recommendations of places I should add to this list, please leave a comment or drop me a message, as I’d love to experience them and add them to the list for others to enjoy!