Insider Guide: 12 Alternative Things To Do In London

Liars’ tours, football matches, and farmers’ markets. | By Ronan O'Shea  
Street art, like this mural in the East End, is an integral part of London’s identity as a multi-cultural metropolis. The images are a great way to tune in to the beating heart of the city. Photo: Chris Cheadle/All Canada Photos/Getty Images
Street art, like this mural in the East End, is an integral part of London’s identity as a multi-cultural metropolis. The images are a great way to tune in to the beating heart of the city. Photo: Chris Cheadle/All Canada Photos/Getty Images

London is like paperwork—you never get to the bottom of it. Fortunately, in the case of this capital city, that’s a good thing. Some of London’s most popular attractions are fantastic (The Eye, Tate Modern), others not so much (London Dungeon, Madame Tussauds), but what’s certain is that no matter how many times you visit London, you won’t have seen it all.

The city is teeming with lesser-known haunts that are just as worth visiting as their more famous rivals. Venture a little from the city centre and you’ll find no end of things to enjoy in the capital, some of them free. Here’s a rundown of a few of those less-appreciated London attractions.

Take a Street Art Tour

Everlasting building work in London may have its downside, but it’s all welcome development for street artists, who are never short of a canvas (or wall) to work with. Street Art London is a great way to see both London’s East End, and the work of some of the finest street artists in the world including Space Invader, Thierry Noir, Ben Eine, and Ben Wilson whose carefully detailed ‘chewing gum’ pieces play with the fact that dropping gum is illegal in London, but painting with it isn’t. The tours are conducted by street artists who know the area inside out, and have often worked with the people whose works they show to visitors. The tour is a great insight into the world of street art, but also the ever-changing face of London’s fast-paced East End.

Tours take place in Shoreditch, Hackney and Dulwich. Tube station: Shoreditch High Street (East London line); Hackney Central (East London line); East Dulwich (South London line). Click here for days and times; Tours cost between £12-15 (₹980-₹1,230). Private tours are available.

Tuck into Ethiopian food and Turkish coffee at Finsbury Park

Not many walks offer grand suburban houses, delicatessens from every corner of the globe, and cracking English pubs all in one go, but the Emirates Walk in north-east London shows off the diverse nature of the capital like no other. Watch how the city changes from one street to the next, starting at Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium, and walking towards the Blackstock Road. Take in the diverse mix of modern flats and old brickwork houses: a hint of London’s ongoing gentrification. From there, head to bustling Finsbury Park. Pop into a local Ethiopian delicatessen for lunch, or a Turkish cafe for coffee and baklava. Don’t mind the screaming locals—they’re generally just arguing about Arsenal’s latest performance. From there, walk up Stroud Green Road to leafy Crouch End, a world away from the hustle and bustle of where you began.

Begin at Emirates Stadium, Hornsey Road. Tube station: Arsenal on the Piccadilly Line (Dark Blue). Alternative stations include Highbury & Islington, or Finsbury Park, on the Victoria Line (Light Blue).

Find peace (and possibly ghosts) in Highgate Cemetery

Highgate London England

The Highgate Cemetery opened in 1839 and is filled with beautiful funerary architecture, including Gothic vaults and delicately carved headstones. Its residents include the likes of philosopher Karl Marx and novelist George Eliot. Photo: Nick Jewell/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

A visit to a cemetery might not sound like a great holiday activity, but Highgate Cemetery in North London is among the most beautiful in the world. Run by volunteers, its vast grounds are carefully tended and preserved. The gardens’ stunningly ornate headstones and mausoleums are worth the entry price alone, and famous residents include Karl Marx, George Eliot and Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Oh, and it’s said to be haunted, but visit during the daytime and you’ll find a quiet, secluded spot away from the crowds of central London.

From Archway station (one stop before Highgate on the Northern Line), take a bus (210,143, 271) as the walk is quite long otherwise. Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Weekends and public holidays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Last admission, 4.30 p.m. Admission: £4 (₹330) adults, children and teens under 18, free.

Have a pint of Guinness at Quinn’s Irish Pub

With almost a million ethnic Irish people in London, Irish pubs are as familiar to the capital as English alehouses. One would assume that getting a nice pint of Guinness would be easy. Wrong. Guinness travels badly, and needs to be well looked-after in transit. Thankfully, the good people of Quinn’s have been doing that for generations, and know a thing or two about the black stuff from their native land. This is an Irish pub in every sense of the word: a dimly lit interior, warm and welcoming, with photography from the Emerald Isle on the walls, Celtic music in the background, and friendly locals on the barstools, happy to chat the day (and night) away. A pint of Guinness will cost you around £4.50 (₹370), a steal in this part of the world. If you’re feeling peckish, The Colonel Fawcett down the road is an award-winning pub with a Sunday roast to die for—literally, if you’re the chicken.

Quinn’s (65 Kentish Town Road) is located near the Kentish Town and Camden Town stations on the Northern Line. The Colonel Fawcett (1 Randolph Street) is close to Camden Overground, but a short walk from Camden Town, which is more easily accessed from Euston and King’s Cross on the Victoria Line.

Play video games and drink craft beer at Bar Scenario

The London borough of Hackney may be hipster central and over the top, but it does boast some of the London’s quirkiest spots. If you like beer and video games, Scenario is the place for you. This is an east London pub with a relaxed atmosphere, where you can grab a pint or a cocktail before sitting down to play classic video games, including Mario Kart 64, Tekken or Goldeneye. Just don’t expect your hand-eye coordination to be the same when you leave as it was when you entered.

97 Stoke Newington Road. The nearest train stations are Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction, both on London Overground. Both stations, along with other Hackney stations, are best reached by the Victoria Line (Blue) to Highbury & Islington and then changing to London Overground (Orange). Pints range between £4.50-6 (₹370-₹490). The pub is open late, sometimes until 2 a.m.

Take the liar’s tour

Picadilly London England

The London Liars’ Tours take place across London (Piccadilly Circus is pictured here), offering travellers a chance to re-imagine the stories behind its historic architecture. Photo: Fabricio de Paula/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

There’s nothing wrong with a little white lie. Well, as long as you don’t get caught. The London Liars’ Tour is simple: the guide reads historical “facts” as you walk around London, and a member of the tour reads another. One is true, one is false. Those who answer correctly get a token (there are prizes), while those who answer incorrectly risk having to perform a forfeit, which includes anything from singing “YMCA” outside St. Paul’s to reading in Welsh outside St. Benet’s Church. Not a tour for wallflowers, but great fun. Tours take place all over London including the East End’s Spitalfield’s Market and central London’s Piccadilly Circus.

Click for more information on locations and timings. Tour for two £50 (₹4,100), and group tours for up to 12 people £100 (₹8.100). Bespoke tours are available.

Catch a game at Dulwich Hamlets FC

Football London England

Dulwich Hamlet Football Club attracts hundreds of fans who come out to support the team wearing its trademark colours of pink and blue. Photo: James Boyes/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Football is the people’s game in London. But with huge ticket prices and all-seater stadiums, the atmosphere can be a little flat. Head instead to south London’s Dulwich Hamlet FC neighbourhood. The team may be in the seventh tier of English football, but the games are lively affairs with friendly crowds, lots of singing, and a selection of craft beers to enjoy while watching the game. Now, you don’t get that if you go to see Manchester United.

Champion Hill Stadium, Edgar Kail Way. From London Bridge station (on both the Northern and Jubilee lines, but you will need to walk to the main railway station once you get there—look for the National Rail symbol) take the Southern service to East Dulwich, less than 15 minutes away. Tickets can usually be bought on match days; Adults £10 (₹820), Teens £4 (₹330), Children, free entry.

Go birdwatching in Hampstead Heath

Due to its famous shopping streets and big red buses, London often has its parks overlooked—a shame, as they’re among the best in the world. Hampstead Heath is the pick of the bunch. Why? The 790-acre park in North London boasts stunning wildlife such as falcons, grass snakes and kingfishers; Kenwood House (an English heritage site); and amazing views of the city including the Shard, Canary Wharf and St. Paul’s Cathedral. What’s more, it’s only a short walk to both Highgate Village and Hampstead Town, both of which have a small, local feel, and many fine pubs, restaurants and cafes. Highgate Village is the quieter of the two, but its pubs sell some amazing craft ales and lagers, while Hampstead is known for its upmarket cafes and shops, including Venchi, which sells some of the best chocolate in (London) Town.

There are a number of nearby tube stations: Archway is the best if you want to combine it with Highgate Cemetery, though Tufnell Park and Belsize Park are both within walking distance (Northern Line), as well as Gospel Oak (London Overground). The park is open 24 hours, though it is not advised to venture in after dark. No entry fee.

Gross out at the grisly Hunterian Museum

Hunterian London England

Located in the Royal College of Surgeons, the Hunterian Museum is a repository of weird and wonderful medical specimens and marvels. Browse its impressive bone collection, which includes specimens like this skull of a babirusa (right), a wild boar native to Indonesia and the Philippines. Photo: Hunterian Museum, London/Facebook

Few places in London rival the Hunterian Museum for its combination of quirkiness, scientific value and historical insight into our understanding of the human (and animal) body in years gone by. The museum is named after John Hunter, a celebrated 18th century Scottish surgeon whose pioneering research in anatomical medicine heavily influences our understanding of the body today. If you like dissections, formaldehyde and lots of bones, this is the place for you. Highlights include the “Irish giant” (a 7 feet 7 inches skeleton), Winston Churchill’s dentures, and a portrait of Daniel Lambert, the 52-stone man—a big lad, to say the least. The museum is small, with just two floors and a couple of large rooms, but with thousands of exhibits, there is plenty to lose yourself in for hours.

Royal College of Surgeons, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. A few minutes’ walk from Holborn Station on the Central Line (Red) and close to Temple, on both the District (Green) Line and the Circle Line (Yellow) Tue-Sun, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free entry.

Jog along the canal in East London

If jogging is your thing, don’t worry; London isn’t all busy streets and fog (I can’t remember the last time I actually saw fog in London). The city has many wonderful running routes and you don’t have to go to the suburbs to enjoy them. The best of the lot is the East London Canal Run, a 21-mile (34km) stretch that starts near Angel station and takes in Victoria Park, the Hackney Marshes and the Olympic Stadium. Here, you’ll see a mix of the East End’s traditional industrial roots, swish modern apartments, rustic canal boats, and green open spaces in both Victoria Park and Hackney Marshes.

For a long run, the best starting point is in North East London’s Angel station (Northern Line).

Tuck in at Marylebone Farmer’s market

Market London England

Every Sunday, the thirty-odd stalls of the Marylebone Farmers’ Market sell great food and produce, from organic veggies and homemade pies to cheeses and preserves. Photo: Marc Cluet/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Farmers’ markets are popular in London these days, as the focus on healthy, locally sourced food continues to grow. There is no shortage to choose from, but Marylebone Farmers’ market (on Sundays) is one of the nicest. Just a short walk from Baker Street station, it’s less crowded than other markets in London but has a bustling atmosphere and a range of fresh produce, meat, fish and savoury goods to choose from. Treats on offer include artisan sourdough bread, gluten-free brownies and some of the juiciest tomatoes you’ll ever come across, sold, of all places, at the Danish vegetable stand.

Cramer Street Car Park. Baker Street on the Jubilee Line (Grey) is the closest tube station. The market is open every Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Blues and burgers in Brixton

Brixton London England

Brixton’s quirky vibe has made it a hub for hip eateries, trendy art galleries and live performance venues. Photo: Ted and Jen/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Bowie, burgers and blues—Brixton has something for everyone. There’s always a party in this south London town, which has a more diverse mix of restaurants and cafes than anywhere else in the capital. For years, this area has been a breeding ground for great music artists, and though many venues have disappeared over the years, a number still remain, including O2 Academy Brixton which welcomes world-famous acts, and the Blues Kitchen, serving up nightly blues and soul with a side order of Cajun cuisine.

The streets are alive during the day with Caribbean street performers playing steel drums alongside preachers and protesters of every kind. A walk down Electric Avenue offers fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. Brixton Village, meanwhile, is a roofed market with eateries from around the world. Whether it’s Colombian cassava chips at El Rancho De Lalo, or Franco Manca’s sourdough pizza, Brixton is your culinary oyster.

Brixton, the final stop on the Victoria Line, is the nearest train station. Brixton Village, Reliance Arcade and Market Row are open Tuesday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-11.30 p.m.; and Monday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

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