If you have ever been to London, then you will agree with this famous quote: “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
London certainly has enough activities and attractions, such as theater, dining, museums, parks, gardens, and music venues, to fill your calendar for weeks on end. If you have been to London before and have seen all the major attractions, or if you are going to for the first time and want to see some alternative sites, we have prepared a list of fun, off-beat places and things to do.
A charming neighborhood not usually known to tourists, Islington is a residential area close to the city center, yet far enough away from it to be off the beaten path. Stroll through the quiet side streets of Islington and admire the handsome architecture, including one of the greatest concentrations of Georgian style houses in London. The houses were predominant in the area from the early 1700s to the early 1800s, followed by Victorian-style homes built in the mid-to-late 19th century.
Islington High Street is the main shopping and restaurant street, lined with chic clothing and home design boutiques as well as fashionable restaurants and casual cafes. Israeli born Yotam Ottolenghi is the superstar chef of London at the moment and has a chain of popular restaurants and a series of best-selling cookbooks. You can savor his eclectic combination of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine for lunch at the community table of Ottolenghi Islington for less than £20 for a main course and two generous side salads. Do not leave the restaurant without having one of their unforgettable desserts, whether at the table or to go. The pub scene in Islington is quite active, and the Compton Arms was the favorite of writer George Orwell. The cozy, friendly pub serves tap beer along with craft beers, and their food menu includes a killer cheeseburger.
As far as culture, Islington has a number of notable theaters. The Almeida Theatre is one of the world’s leading theaters, presenting cutting-edge plays, many of which have transferred to the West End. Sadler’s Wells Theatre is the premier venue for contemporary dance in London, and some of the best dance companies in England perform there.
Pro Tip: Angel and Highbury-Islington are the two London Underground stops for Islington.
2. Museum Of The Home
Explore the history and design of English homes at the Museum of the Home, formerly the Geffrye Museum. The museum, located in the Hoxton area of East London, presents the different aspects of home life, including food and dining, entertainment and games, faith and religion, housework and home gadgets, comfort, and breakthrough inventions. A series of 18th-century brick almshouses have been joined together to set up 11 authentic period rooms that display the progression of English design, style, and architecture from the 1600s up to the 20th century. The museum also has an extensive layout of different garden styles from the past, including Georgian, Stuart, Victorian, Edwardian, and for the future, an urban green roof garden.
3. Chelsea Physic Garden
The oldest botanical garden in London, the Chelsea Physic Garden, is a delightful sanctuary in the middle of the bustling city. Located on four acres overlooking the River Thames, the Chelsea Physic Garden was started by a group of apothecaries who planted medicinal herbs to help cure illnesses, and today it has over 5,000 species of edible plants. The gardens are arranged in several categories, including the Garden of Medicinal Plants, where plants are related to the ailment for which they are used to treat, the Garden of Edible and Useful Plants, and The Garden of World Medicine, with medicinal plants arranged by different cultures that use them. The greenhouses have species of cocoa, cotton, and coffee plants that are linked to their pioneering history. The Chelsea Physic Garden also sponsors special events and workshops all year round, including lectures, behind-the-scenes tours, family workshops. There’s also a cafe within the gardens and dining outdoors in the summer.
4. Old Spitalfields Market
In recent years, the Old Spitalfields Market has rivaled the more familiar Borough Market. Located in the East End of London, the covered market has been around since 1638, when King Charles I allowed the rural area of Spittle Fields to incorporate a marketplace. Today the market has been revived with the renovation of its classic Victorian buildings. In addition to food, the market now has stalls and shops with jewelry, clothing, accessories, cosmetics, home designs, housewares, and arts and crafts.
Over 40 food stalls offer an international variety of foods including French, Thai, Japanese, Turkish, Vietnamese, Greek, and Caribbean cuisine. There are restaurants and places for drinks, as well.
The market is open seven days a week. On Thursdays, it hosts a vintage market.
5. Little Venice
You may blink twice to realize you are in London instead of Venice or Amsterdam when you walk through the canals of Little Venice. In the West End of London, the canals run the length of Warwick Avenue and the tube station of the same name. Along the way, you will pass colorful houseboats and a number of London’s popular sites, including the London Zoo, Camden Town, and Regent’s Park. A handful of boats offer 45-minute canal cruises. You can even enjoy London theater in Little Venice with the Puppet Theatre Barge, which puts on marionette shows, and Canal Cafe Theatre, which presents award-winning comedy shows. There’s also a number of restaurants, cafes, and tea salons on and off the boats.
6. The Leighton House Museum
A treasure trove of art from a supreme artist and tastemaker awaits you at the Leighton House Museum. Known as “Private Palace of Art,” the museum was the former art studio and palatial home of Victorian artist Frederic Leighton. Leighton purchased a plot of land near Holland Park in central London and commissioned his architect to build his dream house and studio, and in the next 30 years, a number of extensions were added to the main house. The museum contains 76 of Leighton’s paintings, along with hundreds of drawings and sculpture casts. Two highlights of the museum are the Arab Hall, which displays a vast collection of textiles, pottery, tiles, and artifacts from the numerous voyages Leighton made to the Middle East, and the Silk Room, which features green, silk-covered walls and has a collection of contemporary and Old Masters’ paintings. Queen Victoria was known to make frequent spontaneous visits to Leighton House.
7. The Painted Hall At The Old Royal Navy College
Among the many treasures inside the Old Royal Naval College (a UNESCO World Heritage site) in Greenwich, just outside of London, is the remarkable Painted Hall. Recently restored, the 12,000-square-foot hall, which was the college’s massive ceremonial dining room, was painted completely by hand by artist James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726. The Old Royal Naval College is known as one of the best-designed buildings in the history of architecture.
On the same site, you can visit the Greenwich Palace, the home of King Henry VIII and his daughters, and the Royal Hospital, which was constructed in 1694 by the order of Queen Mary II and served as a hospital and rest home for retired military men.
The complex also has a few dining facilities, including a cafe beneath the Painted Hall, and the Old Brewery, a gastropub serving specialties with ingredients sourced from the southeast of London. There are also picnic grounds.
Pro Tip: You can take a leisurely 30- to 40-minute boat ride up the River Thames to reach the Old Royal Naval College.
8. Holland Park’s Kyoto Garden
Holland Park is one of the more prestigious parks and gardens in the Kensington area of London and features an opera house, an orangery, a statuary, and peacocks frequently roaming around. A special attraction inside Holland Park is the Kyoto Garden. The gardens, which were originally opened by Prince Charles in 1991, were recently refurbished by a special team of gardeners brought in from Japan. The 54-acre garden contains a series of tiered waterfalls, maple trees, stone lanterns, and a pond with koi carp.
While you’re in England: