Top things to do in London

leisure in London
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Updated 2019-01-10 07:47

No matter what your definition of fun is — whether you love to spend a day in the museum, play fetch with your dog, shop till you drop, or spend the day watching your favourite series and go out after dark, there’s something for you to do in London. London is the type of city that helps you stay active, be inspired, and get creative. Single, with family, or friends discover the leisure opportunities that London generously offers to everyone who’s ready to indulge into some well-deserved hours of recreation.   

Outdoors activities

London's weather is unpredictable and gloomy, but its instability is what makes the few sunny days highly appreciated. The sun shines, and you see merrier, livelier, and noisier Londoners taking over the alfresco spots of the capital. Walthamstow Wetlands, the largest urban wetland nature reserve in Europe, is an unexpectable oasis just a 15-minute tube ride from central London. If you wish to get close to nature without having to leave the city, the Wetlands host many activities for children and adults, which focus on raising public awareness of water sustainability and wildlife conservation.

Good to know:

Entry to the Wetlands is free. However, some activities and events may be ticketed.

Hampstead Heath, only six kilometres from Trafalgar Square, is a rich wildlife resource, which also serves as a recreational space for Londoners. Hampstead Heath hosts a zoo, an education centre, and three all year round bathing ponds (ladies', men's, and mixed ponds) for avid swimmers.

Living or spending time by the water improves our wellbeing. Little Venice, a picturesque canal area north of Paddington, has waterside cafés and pubs and is the starting point of Regent's Canal, which takes boats to ZSL London Zoo and Camden.

The best spot in town to unload all the worries of a tough day at work is Primrose Hill on the northern side of Regent's Park. From up there (63 metres above sea level) you will get spectacular views of London's skyline, especially during sunrise. If you have a dog, let it enjoy vigorous rolls on the grass.

Useful links:

Walthamstow Wetlands
Hampstead Heath bathing ponds
ZSL London Zoo
Primrose Hill

Markets and shopping

Oxford Street and Harrods are a big part of London's shopping scene, but consumerism in London often occurs in the most unpredictable and tucked away places. Pedestrian-only Carnaby Street, behind Oxford and Regent streets is full of independent shops, restaurants, and bars.

Liberty London, opened in 1875 with three members of staff, as a result of Arthur Liberty's ambition to 'create new fashions'. Today, Liberty London's fashion and design items are spread across six floors and bring to life tales from mysterious and far away places.

From vintage clothes and antiques to food and flowers, London's markets are great shopping destinations for the patient and creative shoppers, who are looking for unique pieces. Borough Market by London Bridge is one of London's oldest food markets (its history dates back to the 13th century), and Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is the place to be for vintage and antique lovers.

Good to know:

Borough Market is open from Monday to Saturday. However, on Mondays and Tuesdays, many of the stalls are closed. Portobello Road Market is open from Monday to Saturday, but Fridays and Saturdays are the big market days.

Alfies Antique Market opened about 40 years ago on Church Street in the area of Marylebone, where the Madame Tussauds and Sherlock Holmes museums are. Alfies is a permanent, indoors market with more than 70 independent dealers of antiques, collectables, vintage fashion items, and furniture. And if treasure hunting has worn you out, head upstairs to Alfies' rooftop café.

The cuisine, architecture, and philosophy of the Chinese culture are concentrated in Chinatown, between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue. Here, you will find shops which are dedicated to one of the world's oldest civilisations, selling signature products such as books about herbal medicine and martial arts, cosmetics, and stationery.

Useful links:

Liberty London
Borough Market
Portobello Road Market

London by night

For a guaranteed fun night out, Soho, in the heart of London's West End is the place to be. You can start with a delicious meal in one of the many restaurants, which offer all types of cuisines; from Vietnamese and Thai to the Caribbean, Spanish, and Italian. Then, treat yourself with a world-class theatre show, and call it a night with a signature cocktail or a craft beer in one of Soho's unique drinking spots.

To the night owl expat, London has a lot to offer. Printworks London in south-east London is a versatile venue, which comprises of six soundproofed event spaces, spread over many levels. This maze of corridors and rooms that used to be a fully operational printing press, where London's local, free daily newspapers, Metro and Evening Standard were printed, is now hosting live and electronic music shows.

Any jazz lovers in the house? With a history of more than half a century, Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, in buzzing Soho, is one of the most acclaimed and iconic jazz clubs in the world. When saxophonist Ronnie Scott first opened the club as an intimate space for musicians to perform their art, he couldn't have possibly imagined that it will attract vast audiences every single night.

Tip:

If you missed out on tickets to the main show, there's an upstairs bar that has live music, including Latin and blues every night.

Has it ever crossed your mind to spend the whole night in a movie theatre? Apart from the typical times, every Saturday, The Prince Charles Cinema near Leicester Square underground station shows films throughout the night. These movie marathons will put to the test even the most dedicated cinephiles.

If your ideal night revolves around food, then you will find your haven in Dinerama in fashionable and hip Shoreditch. With street-food traders serving Mexican, Argentinian, and Italian flavours among others, and seven bars, including cocktail bars, a whisky shot bar, and a wine bar, Dinerama covers our primary needs in the most selective way.

Useful links:

London Theatre Guide
Printworks London
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club
The Prince Charles Cinema Movie Marathons
Dinerama

Arts and culture

London is the centre of museums, theatre, music, and dance performances; the spot where one cannot be left untouched by the wisdom of William Shakespeare, the street art of Banksy, the sounds of The Beatles and Queen, and the tales of Charles Dickens.

One of London's most famous spots is the British Museum, which is home to human history, art, and culture. From Ancient Greece's Parthenon sculptures and the Rosetta Stone to Chinese ceramics and Assyrian sculptures, the British Museum safeguards the past of all known civilisations.

Get to know more about the story of your host city in the Museum of London. The museum is an introduction to the history of London, from the period before the creation of the Roman town of Londinium to the Great Fire of 1666, and up to the modern times and to what has become a global hub of business and finance.

The V&A museum is home to over 2.3 million objects of art and design, covering over 5,000 years of human creativity. The museum is an excellent source for anyone who is interested in architecture, fashion, photography, theatre, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, and more.

Good to know:

Admissions to the British Museum, Museum of London, and V&A's permanent exhibitions are free.

Modern and contemporary art in London is exhibited in one of the world's most renown galleries, Tate Modern. London's South Bank iconic building and descendant of Pimlico's Tate Britain has permanent collections with works by Warhol and Dali among other profound artists.

Good to know:

Admission to Tate Modern's permanent exhibitions is free.

Tip:

An open-air viewing terrace is waiting for you on the top floor of Tate Modern. Enjoy spectacular 360 London views while sipping a drink from the bar.

Southbank Centre is UK's largest arts centre. With three big venues and several smaller spaces and terraces, Southbank Centre hosts events and festivals for all ages throughout the year. The Centre's activities encompass the fields of art, theatre, dance, music, and literature. The annual London Literature Festival takes place here and is not to be missed.

George Mercer Dawson, a Canadian geologist, once said: 'A great library contains the diary of the human race.' This is especially true for The British Library, UK's national library and the second biggest library in the world, which has a collection of over 150 million items in most languages. Some of the library's treasures are the world's earliest complete, dated, and printed book, the Diamond Sutra, one of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, the Magna Carta, and manuscripts by Shakespeare and Dickens.

One cannot live in London and not seeing a West End show now and then (note that there are over 200 theatres in London). After all, people come to Theatreland from all over the world, booking their tickets many months in advance to secure the best possible views to the stage. Some of the most long-lasting and sought-after musicals in London are The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre, Les Misérables at the Queen's Theatre, Matilda at Cambridge Theatre, and Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre.

Tip:

It's possible to find cheaper last-minute tickets at Leicester Square ticket booths.

The National Theatre on the South Bank of Thames stages about 20 (and sometimes more) new productions every year, which cover as many genres as possible to appeal to a wide audience, including young audiences. National Theatre's goal is to be open and diverse and to collaborate with partners across the country. Apart from the shows, the National Theatre has a learning centre, which hosts talks, events, and workshops.

London's music scene has something to offer even to the most demanding audiences. Since its opening in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall has been bringing to London audiences inspirational music, exhibitions, and events. Nowadays, over 1.7 million people attend Albert Hall every year. The Albert Hall Proms, which take place every summer, is London's biggest celebration of classical music.

Union Chapel isn't the typical music venue, as it's also home to a working church and a community project for the homeless and vulnerable people of London. For more than 20 years, Union Chapel has been hosting concerts, comedy nights, free gigs, film screenings, and talks. The money from all the happenings is used to conserve the architectural masterpiece that the building is.

Good to know:

Renown musicians such as Tom Jones, Amy Winehouse, Elton John, and Philip Glass have performed in Union Chapel.

Located in the East End of London, within walking distance from the Tower of London and the City, Wilton's is the oldest grand music hall in the world. Apart from opera and classical music shows, Wilton's theatre and dance shows, cabaret, workshops, and talks are great.

Good to know:

Many of the activities are free for the local community and tickets prices are affordable.

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden doesn't present traditional opera only, but the work of new composers too. It's also the home to the Royal Ballet.

Useful links:

British Museum
Museum of London
V&A
Tate Modern
Southbank Centre
The British Library
London theatre guide
National Theatre
Royal Albert Hall
Union Chapel
Wilton's
Royal Opera House

Sports

Every summer, Wimbledon in south-west London hosts the world's biggest and oldest tennis championship. Obtaining tickets for the notable event can be mission impossible unless you are prepared to queue for hours on the day of the game, and hope for the best. If you wish to be part of this unique atmosphere, you can sit on the ground and watch the games on a big screen along with other tennis fanatics who didn't manage to obtain tickets for Centre Court.

Good to know:

Watching the game on the screen isn't for free; you must buy a ticket, which costs about £20.

If you are more interested in doing than watching sports, put your swimming suit on and go for a swim to the London Aquatics Centre. Seasoned swimmers can use the 50m competition pool, in which Michael Phelps won his four gold and two silver medals during the 2012 London Olympic Games. Those who want to take it easy can splish splash in the training pool.

Good to know:

There's also a diving pool with platforms at different heights, from one metre up to ten metres.

Talking about swimming, Tooting Bec Lido is England's largest (90 metres long and 27 metres wide) outdoor swimming pool, with about four million litres of fresh water. Regardless of your swimming performance and your training goals, everyone is welcomed to enjoy the benefits of outdoors swimming all year round.

Useful links:

Wimbledon Championships Tickets
London Aquatics Centre
Tooting Bec Lido

London with kids

London is a great city to raise a family and get active with your children thanks to the many educative and interactive options it offers to proactive parents. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is an excellent place to spend some quality time with your kids. Take pictures on the Prime Meridian, explore distant galaxies in the Peter Harrison Planetarium, and admire the technology of astronomers at the Weller Astronomy Galleries. While you are in the area, your children will be grateful if you take them on board the historic sailing ship of Cutty Sark to meet the crew and get a taste of life on the ocean.

Good to know:

The planetarium has different shows for different ages (5 , 11 , and under-7s).

London is home to Warner Bros.' Harry Potter Studio, which has preserved and showcases unique pieces of clothing and costumes, iconic objects, special effects, and breathtaking sets such as the Platform 9¾ that were all used during Harry Potter's filmmaking. Rumour has it that parents enjoy the tour as much as children do!

Make the most of a dry and sunny day in London by taking your children to the London Zoo in Regent's Park. Operating since 1847, London's world-leading zoo with 36 acres of gardens provokes curiosity, raises wildlife awareness, and introduces young visitors to remote habitats that it is our responsibility to preserve.

Good to know:

Children between 7 and 11 years old can spend the night in the Zoo's BUG house to reinforce their explorer's instincts. Children between 8 and 10 can attend a two-day course at the Junior Zoo Academy to find out more about animals and the responsibilities of a zookeeper.

Are your kids watching Peppa Pig fervently and acting out animal stories with their farm playset? To make it all more real and interactive for them, pay a visit to Spitalfields City Farm, off Brick Lane in east London. Here, the whole family can learn about animal welfare, enjoy the serenity of the gardens, and of course, meet some of the cutest animals in the city: sheep, pigs, parrots, donkeys, goats, and ferrets.

Tip:

The entrance to the farm is free from Tuesday to Sunday.

Good to know:

On Saturdays, families can take part in gardening, animal care, and cooking activities. On Sundays, young children between 13 to 18 years old can participate in the volunteering programme.

The Natural History Museum of London is a world-class resource of plant and animal species, fossil, and minerals. Children can boost their knowledge and understanding of the history of the world through entertainment and interaction with animatronic dinosaurs, an earthquake simulator, and a blue whale skeleton.

Good to know:

Dino Snores is an extraordinary sleepover in the museum for children between 7 to 11.

Useful links:

The Royal Observatory
WB The Making of Harry Potter
London Zoo
Spitalfields City Farm
Natural History Museum

Parks and gardens

In spite of its urban landscape, Greater London is home to more than 1000 green spaces, including royal parks, public gardens, and ungated commons. St James's Park, one of the five central London Royal Parks, covers an area of 57 acres in Westminster. The park has kept the same design with the lush views and winding paths since the 1820s.

Tip:

St James's Park offers excellent views of Buckingham Palace.

Richmond Park is London's biggest Royal Park. It used to be a place for royal hunters, but today Richmond Park is home to wild deer roaming around.

Tip:

Rent a bike if you wish to explore the whole park.

Besides being the home to London Zoo, Regent's Park has two boating lakes for children and adults and is home to Queen Mary's Gardens, the largest rose garden in London with additional selections of begonias and delphinium. Follow your nose, as the fragrance gives away the way to these mysterious and sheltered plots.

South-east London has its green gem too. Crystal Palace is an excellent place to reconnect with yourself after a tough week at work, to boost your well-being with a run, or to enjoy the company of friendly animals such as pigs, horses, and meerkats. For the active and adventurous, Crystal Palace is home to a 1,100-square-metre skatepark ' not quite surprising as in 1977 Crystal Park was the location where the first big UK national skateboarding competition occurred.

Good to know:

Crystal Palace has one of the largest mazes in the UK with a diameter of 160 feet. The entrance to the maze is free.

Everyone talks about London's supertall skyscraper, The Shard, and the outstanding 360-views you get from its 68th, 69th, and 72nd floors. However, fewer people know that in London's iconic Walkie Talkie building, in the heart of the City, you can enjoy not only panoramic London views but a lush public Sky Garden too by climbing only 35 floors up.

Tip:

Entry is free, but make sure to book well in advance.

Are you looking to restore your inner balance? Or maybe you wish you could take a trip to far away places when in reality, your schedule is so cramped that a holiday is not something you can afford. Don't worry; London has your back covered, as it has brought the traditional gardens of Japan to your doorstep (especially if you live in Kensington or Chelsea). Kyoto Garden in Holland Park is curated with Japanese maple trees, waterfalls, stone lanterns, and koi fish.

On a Sunday afternoon, treat yourself to special tea time in London's second-biggest conservatory, the Barbican Conservatory in central London. The lush garden, which is within the iconic arts and culture Barbican Centre, is home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants and fish.

Important:

The Barbican Conservatory is open only on selected Sundays and Bank Holidays from noon to 5 pm, and admission is free.

Useful links:

The Royal Parks
Crystal Palace
Sky Garden
Barbican Conservatory

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