How to spend your free time in London

leisure in London
Updated 2023-12-01 08:36

No matter what your definition of fun is – get ready to feel active, inspired, and creative in London. Whether you love to spend a day at the museum, play fetch with your dog, shop till you drop, or spend the day watching your favourite series or go out after dark, there's something for everyone to do in London  –single, with family, or friends – discover the leisure opportunities that London generously offers to everyone ready to indulge in some well-deserved hours of recreation.

Outdoor activities in London

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

Good to know:

Entry to the Wetlands is free. However, some activities and events may be ticketed, and the proceeds are then used to run Walthamstow Wetlands.

Hampstead Heath, only six kilometres from Trafalgar Square, is a rich wildlife resource, serving 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.

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

ZSL London Zoo

Primrose Hill

Little Venice

Markets and shopping in London

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 has independent shops, restaurants, and bars behind Oxford and Regent Streets.

Liberty London opened in 1875 with three staff members due to Arthur Liberty's ambition to “create new fashions”. Today, Liberty London's fashion and design items are spread across six floors and bring tales from mysterious and faraway places to life.

From vintage clothes and antiques to food and flowers, London's markets are great shopping destinations for patient and creative shoppers 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 for vintage and antique lovers.

Good to know:

Borough Market is open seven days a week. If you can't make it to the Market, there's a wide online selection of produce delivered to London addresses. Portobello Road Market is open from Monday to Saturday, but Saturday is the main market day.

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

Chinese cuisine, architecture, and philosophy are concentrated in Chinatown, between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue. Here, you will find shops 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

Alfies Antique 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 offering various cuisines, from Vietnamese and Thai to Caribbean, Spanish, and Italian. Then, treat yourself to 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.

Good to know:

West End is one of the best theatre districts in the world. There are more than 30 theatres in the West End to choose from. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend the whole night in a movie theatre? The Prince Charles Cinema near Leicester Square underground station hosts all-night movie marathons. These movie marathons will put even the most dedicated cinephiles to the test.

To the night owl expat, London has a lot to offer. Printworks London in southeast London is a versatile venue that comprises 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 complimentary daily newspapers, Metro and Evening Standard, were printed, now hosts live and electronic music shows.

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 world's most acclaimed and iconic jazz clubs. When saxophonist Ronnie Scott first opened the club as an intimate space for musicians to perform their art, he couldn't have imagined that it would attract vast audiences every night.

Useful links:

London Theatre Guide

Printworks London

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club

Prince Charles Cinema

Arts and culture in London

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, 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.

Learn more about the city's story 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 art and design objects, covering over 5,000 years of human creativity. The museum is an excellent source for anyone 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 renowned 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.


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 the 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, the UK's national library and the second biggest in the world, with a collection of over 170 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.

Some of the most long-lasting and sought-after musicals can be seen in London. 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.


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, covering as many genres as possible to appeal to a broad audience, including young audiences. National Theatre aims to be open and diverse and collaborate with partners nationwide. Apart from the shows, the National Theatre has a learning centre hosting 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 brought inspirational music, exhibitions, and events to London audiences. 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 your typical music venue, as it's also home to a working church and a community project for London's homeless and vulnerable people. 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 of the building.

Good to know:

Renowned 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 activities are free for the local community, and ticket prices are affordable.

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

Useful links:

British Museum

Museum of London


Tate Modern

Southbank Centre

The British Library

London Theatre Guide

National Theatre

Royal Albert Hall

Union Chapel


Royal Opera House

Sports in London

Every summer, Wimbledon in southwest London hosts the world's biggest and oldest tennis championship. Securing tickets for the notable event can be mission impossible unless you are prepared to queue for hours on the game day, hoping 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 get tickets for Centre Court.

Good to know:

If you are more interested in being active, put your swimsuit on and go for a swim at the London Aquatics Centre. Seasoned swimmers can use the 50m competition pool, in which Michael Phelps won 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.

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

Useful links:

Wimbledon Championships Tickets

London Aquatics Centre

London with kids

London is a great city to raise a family and get active with your children, thanks to the many educational and interactive options it offers to proactive parents. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is an excellent place to spend 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 happy 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 and the Harry Potter Studio. Experience Harry Potter's world and magic through special effects and behind-the-scenes tours. 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. Since 1847, London's world-leading zoo with 36 acres of gardens has provoked curiosity, raised wildlife awareness, and introduced young visitors to remote habitats we are responsible for preserving.

Good to know:

You can spend the night at the London Zoo Lodge, note the lodge is only open on specific dates during the year. Children between 8 and 10 can attend a two-day course at the Junior Zoo Academy to learn 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, visit 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 meet some of the cutest animals in the city: sheep, pigs, parrots, donkeys, goats, and ferrets.


The entrance to the farm is free from Tuesday to Sunday between 10 AM and 4.30 PM.

Good to know:

Families can participate in gardening, animal care, and cooking on Saturdays. 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 plant, animal species, fossil, and mineral resources. 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.

Useful links:

The Royal Observatory

WB The Making of Harry Potter

London Zoo

Spitalfields City Farm

Natural History Museum

Parks and gardens in London

Despite 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 57 acres in Westminster. The park has kept the same design with the lush views and winding paths since the 1820s.


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.


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

Besides being the home to the 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, boost your well-being with a run, or 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 entirely 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-degree 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 panoramic London views and a lush public Sky Garden by climbing only 35 floors up.


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

Are you looking to restore your inner balance? Or you may wish you could take a trip to faraway places when 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 tea time in London's second-biggest conservatory, the Barbican Conservatory in central London. Within the iconic arts and culture Barbican Centre, the lush garden is home to over 2,000 tropical plants and fish species.

Useful links:

The Royal Parks

Crystal Palace

Sky Garden

Barbican Conservatory

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