The Best Non-Touristy Things to do in London

The 11 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in London (An Insider’s Guide!)

London is one of the world’s greatest cities, but while the UK’s capital is teeming with amazing sights, local pubs, and quirky markets, it’s all too easy to fall into the tourist traps. Sure, you’ve got to check off iconic attractions like the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben, but once you’ve seen the sights, it’s time to dig a little deeper. 

Trade The Shard for Sky Garden, or instead of joining a river cruise, hit the Thames on a kayaking tour. Search out lesser-known street markets on Maltby Street or Columbia Road, and hit up local spots like Brick Lane for a superbly spicy curry. 

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why I’ve compiled my list of the best non-touristy things to do in London for you. Stick to these hidden gems in London, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an incredible time exploring the British capital! 

The 11 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in London

1. Enjoy the Peace of St. Dunstan-in-the-East

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in London: St. Dunstan-in-the-East

One of my favorite secret places in London is St. Dunstan-in-the-East, an old medieval church that’s been left in ruins among the high-rise buildings of the capital. 

A place of veritable peace when compared to the hectic streets of the city outside, I always enjoy visiting the crumbling remnants of the church when I’m in London. The church dates back to the 12th century when London was but a collection of towns and villages strewn along the River Thames, but it was almost destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. 

In 1941, the church was bombed out during a Luftwaffe raid in World War II, and it was never rebuilt. I’m not religious, but there’s something about the swallowing vines and ever-expanding greenery that touch a nerve when you’re in the city. Perhaps one day, all of London will be the same as nature reclaims its rightful place. 

2. Dig into a Brick Lane Curry 

Cool Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Brick Lane

Ask any Londoner where to get a curry and nine times out of 10, Brick Lane will be the answer. Located in the East End, Brick Lane has garnered a reputation for itself over the years for its cheap and abundant curry houses.

After the Second World War, Britain encouraged immigration from its dwindling empire, and many Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis began to set up shop in London. Brick Lane became a hotspot (literally) as new curry houses sprang up across the city, and decades later, the entire street is lined with restaurants. 

Of course, things are touristy here – as with anywhere in London – but you’ll still love the rustic feel of the curry houses and how Brick Lane speaks of the capital’s enduring multicultural character. 

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3. Go Mudlarking Along the River Thames

Unique Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Mudlarking Along the River Thames

London is a city with 2,000 years of history, and much of the past has been trapped in the muddy, tidal banks of the River Thames. Revealing this hidden heritage has become a pastime known as mudlarking, which is one of the most non-touristy things to do in London.

Mudlarking is a somewhat strange London tradition undertaken by budding historians and trained archaeologists alike. When the tides are low, you set out along the river banks, squelching through the mud in search of historical artifacts that have washed up.

You can join a mudlarking tour to learn more about the strange pastime and the passionate Londoners who love discovering the hidden heritage of the Thames. And from Roman coins to Victorian bottles, you never know what you’re going to find!

4. Kayak Under Tower Bridge 

Fun Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Kayak Under Tower Bridge

Why not get off the beaten path in London by leaving dry land altogether as you explore the River Thames by kayak? This wide waterway is your constant companion on any trip to the capital, but the best way to escape the crowds is to hit the river itself. 

If you’re looking for unique things to do in London, forget about those packed river cruises and sightseeing tours because when you’re kayaking, you can forge a watery path along the River Thames. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, or join one of the tours that head out under iconic sights like Tower Bridge for a unique view of the city!  

5. Shop for Neon Signs at Gods Own Junkyard

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Gods Own Junkyard

If you’re seeking out quirky, non-tourist attractions in London, make plans to visit Gods Own Junkyard, a funky warehouse in Walthamstow that’s packed with neon signs and old advertising boards.

Step through the doors and if you’re not in awe of the garish lights and colors, you’ll certainly be bemused. This warehouse specializes in collecting and selling old neon signs and artwork, and given the chaotic, junkyard-like setup, it’s hard to tell if it’s a shop or an art gallery.

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6. Enjoy a Pint and a Feed at a Wetherspoons 

If you haven’t been to a Wetherspoons, then have you even been to the UK? By far one of the most non-touristy things to do in London, a trip to a Wetherspoons pub is like no other foodie experience you could have in the capital.

Wetherspoons is a British institution, known for its no-nonsense menus and excellent deals. Admittedly the pub grub on offer here is basic, but where else in London can you get a pint and a burger for less than £10? 

Wetherspoons pubs are also packed with history, and each has a unique story to tell. In London, The Montagu Pyke is a former art deco cinema dating back to 1911, for example, while Shakespeare’s Head is inspired by the literary history of London and was once run by the founder of “Punch” magazine. 

Wetherspoons pubs look like any other pub from the outside but once you get to know the menus (which are the same everywhere), you’ll soon start spotting them all over the country.

7. Take the ‘Secrets of the London Underground’ Tour

Take a tour below ground and you can experience one of the most unique things to do in London. The London Underground is the oldest subterranean rail system in the world, and there’s a vast network of tunnels and stations that are no longer in use.

You can explore this hidden world on a Secrets of the London Underground Tour. Run by the London Transport Museum, these tours take you to abandoned tube stations and along deserted stretches of line below places like Euston and Trafalgar Square. The schedules vary, so check the website for updates on which tours are running and when. 

8. Explore London’s Roman Wall

Cool Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Roman Wall

With a spiraling population verging on some 9 million people, London long ago outgrew its ancient city walls. But dig a little deeper into one of the most unique hidden gems in London, and you can discover what most tourists ignore as they make their way around the city – because the remnants of London’s Roman walls are still there!

Once ringed by tall defensive gates and towers that in some places date back to the original Roman designs, London’s old walls tell the story of the city through the centuries. You can find lasting sections of the wall in surprisingly excellent condition by Tower Hill, while the Roman City Wall Walk traces the outline of the walls through the ages.

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9. Have a Drink with a View at Sky Garden

Unique Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Sky Garden

If you’re looking for non-tourist attractions in London, then forget about visiting The Shard. It might be the tallest building in the city, but it’s also one of the busiest sights in London. Instead, make your way to Sky Garden, where you can enjoy fine dining and cocktails with an exceptional view.

Sky Garden is the highest public garden in the city, and from the viewing area, you’ll have supreme views over the city. You’ll also be surrounded by lush tropical scenery in what is effectively a sky-high greenhouse. 

Entrance to the garden is free, but you’ll still need to book a time slot online. There are several restaurants and bars at the top, too, and again, you’ll want to make a reservation to avoid disappointment. 

10. Visit the Columbia Road Flower Market 

Fun Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Columbia Road Flower Market

Visit the East End of London on a Sunday and you’ll find Columbia Road is abloom with color and fragrance as the Flower Market gets into full swing. 

Another place to get off the beaten path in London, the Columbia Road Flower Market wows buyers and passers-by with its eclectic array of flowery market stalls and fresh food stands from 8 am until 2 pm. 

Officially sanctioned since the Victorian era, flowers have been sold here since at least the 17th century, making this one of the most historic markets in London.

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11. Eat All the Street Food at Maltby Street Market 

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in London: Maltby Street Market

London is one of the world’s greatest foodie destinations, but these days, it’s difficult to find street food markets that aren’t overrun with hungry tourists!

Trade Borough Market for Maltby Street Market, which is hidden down a side street in the southeast of the city. Street food dishes at Maltby Street Market are truly international, with everything from Vietnamese banh mi and Ethiopian injera to Japanese gyozas and Argentinian empanadas for sale. 

If you’re a foodie who’s looking for secret places in London, be sure to add a visit to this market to your to-do list!

There you have it! The best non-touristy things to do in London. What’s your favorite way to get off the beaten track in London?

About the Author:

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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