29 lesser-known London attractions that locals love

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A vibrant and diverse metropolis, London is one of the most popular destinations in the world. Millions of tourists visit the city every year, drawn to famous attractions like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the London Eye.

If you’re at all like us you prefer to (mostly) avoid the touristy spots and instead spend time soaking up some local culture. To that end, we’ve prepared this guide to the lesser known attractions of London: places and activities that showcase local food and culture, and aren’t usually as crowded with tourists as more well-known spots tend to be.

Eat, drink, and shop like a local

From pints and roasts, to local shops and markets, to an absolute foodie heaven, we’ve named the spots where you can eat, drink, and shop like a real Londoner.

Even if a few of the ideas we’ve chosen for this section aren’t exactly lesser-known London attractions, they’re all definitely loved by the city’s residents. Visit the spots listed here and you’re going to meet a lot of locals. It’s pretty safe to say some of them will be real characters – especially at the pubs!

Interior of London's Leadenhall Market with small wooden toy double-decker bus in foreground
Leadenhall Market

1. Grab lunch inside gorgeous Leadenhall Market. One of the oldest and most beautiful markets in London, Leadenhall Market dates back to the 14th century. It’s located in a stunning Victorian building with ornate ironwork and glass roofs, often used as a filming location for movies like Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes.

Leadenhall Market is mostly known for its high-end shops and restaurants, but you can easily find some affordable options for lunch or snacks. Enjoy your meal inside the market hall or outside on one of the benches, surrounded by history and elegance. You can book a driving, bus, or walking tour that includes Leadenhall Market but entrance to the market itself is free.

2. Visit a local pub for traditional Sunday roast. Going to a local pub for Sunday roast is a quintessential London experience. The hearty(!) meal usually consists of roasted beef, lamb, chicken, or pork; an assortment of potatoes and other vegetables; gravy made from the roasting juices; and horseradish. And of course, no Sunday roast dinner would be complete without Yorkshire pudding.

Many pubs in London serve quite excellent Sunday roasts, and the locals of course all have their taverns of choice. Some of our favorites are The Castle in Walthamstow, The Red Lion and Sun in Highgate, The Clarence Tavern in Stoke Newington, The Quality Chop House in Clerkenwell, with the hands down winner being the punk and rock club The Black Heart in Camden.

3. Have a picnic on Primrose Hill. One of the best ways to enjoy London’s green spaces is to have a picnic on Primrose Hill. This 213 foot mound sits north of Regent’s Park and is a popular spot with local families. The top of the hill features amazing views of the central London skyline, especially at sunset.

Bring your own food and drinks, or grab some takeaway from nearby cafes and shops. After the picnic, explore Regent’s Park or the nearby neighborhoods of Camden and Kentish Town. You can book various tours that include Primrose Hill. Entrance to the park is free.

Flowers on display at Columbia Road Flower Market in London
Columbia Road Flower Market

4. Enjoy the Columbia Road Flower Market. This market is one of London’s most vibrant and colorful attractions, where every Sunday morning hundreds of vendors peddle fresh flowers, plants, pots, and gardening accessories. The market is also surrounded by shops, galleries, cafes, and pubs that cater to the eclectic crowd of locals and visitors.

Besides flowers, you can shop for everything from vintage clothing to antiques to art and crafts. You can also book any of a number of tours that include the market as part of their routes. Entrance to the Columbia Road Flower Market is free.

5. Discover Camden Passage. Not to be confused with Camden Market, Camden Passage is a hidden alleyway in Islington that’s full of vintage shops, antique stalls, and quirky cafes. It’s a great place to find unique treasures, from jewelery and clothing to books and furniture. Enjoy some delicious food and drinks at one of the many eateries, such as The Breakfast Club, The Camden Head, or Brother Marcus.

Camden Passage is open every day, but the best time to visit is on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when the market is at its busiest. Various tours include the marketplace on their routes. Entrance to Camden Passage is free.

Extra large pan brimming with seafood paella at the Borough Market in London
Seafood paella at the Borough Market

6. Eat your way through Borough Market. Borough Market is one of the oldest and largest food markets in London, with a variety of fresh and delicious products from local and international vendors. Shop for cheeses, meats, breads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, spices, wines, and any other food item you can imagine. Sample street food from a host of international cuisines like Indian, Thai, Turkish, Moroccan, Mexican, Mediterranean, Spanish, and many more.

Borough Market consists of three main areas: Three Crown Square, which contains larger producers and merchants selling a variety of products, from cheese and meat to bread and spices; Green Market, where you can find small, specialist produce traders offering fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers; and Borough Market Kitchen, featuring delicious street food from different cuisines and cultures. In the surrounding area is a variety of restaurants, bars, and shops that complement the market experience.

There are numerous tours that include Borough Market, from hop on – hop off bus tours to gourmet foodie tours to private tours of the area. Entrance to Borough Market is free.

7. Sample some craft beers at Bermondsey Beer Mile. Bermondsey Beer Mile is a stretch of railway arches in South London that house some of the best craft breweries in the city. Hop from one brewery to another and taste different styles and flavors of beer, or join a guided tour and learn about the brewing process and culture.

See these lesser known London attractions with a hop on - hop off bus tour

Take a double decker bus tour of London

A hop on – hop off bus tour from City Sightseeing is a great way to visit the lesser known London attractions we’ve highlighted in this post. Starting at around $50 USD per person, these open air, each double decker bus tour includes at least one audio guide and self-guided tour program.

Pre-purchased tickets are valid any day of the week, include free cancellations, and are good for 12 months after purchase.

Relax at a park or garden

London is known for its many exquisite parks and gardens. We’ve highlighted three of the city’s lesser known green spaces in the list below, as well as a world-famous botanical garden that every plant lover should think about adding to their bucket list.

8. St Dunstan in the East. St Dunstan in the East is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city. It’s a former church that was bombed during World War II and left in ruins. Rather than being rebuilt, it was turned into a public garden, with plants and flowers growing among the Gothic arches and windows.

St. Dunstan in the East is a peaceful and romantic place to escape from the London crowds, and enjoy some nature and history. Numerous tours include the park on their routes. Entrance is free; no reservations are required.

9. Kyoto Garden. This garden is a hidden gem in Holland Park, a large green space in west London. It was created in 1991 as a gift from Kyoto to commemorate the long friendship between Japan and Britain. The garden features a pond with koi carp, a waterfall, a bridge, stone lanterns, and cherry blossom trees.

Kyoto Garden is a peaceful and serene place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can book a walking, driving or bus tour that includes the garden. Entrance to Kyoto Garden is free, and no reservations are required.

Lawn and greenhouse at Kew Gardens, a lesser known London attraction
Kew Gardens

10. Kew Gardens. Who wouldn’t want to see beautiful botanic gardens and the most biodiverse place on Earth? Kew Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts one of the largest and most diverse collections of plants in the world.

Explore the gardens and see exotic flowers, trees, cacti, orchids, bonsai, and more. You can also visit the glasshouses (greenhouses), treetop walkway, pagoda, palace, and museum. Adult tickets are about $17 – $25 depending on the season. You can use the buttons below to buy entrance tickets or a tour.

11. Hampstead Heath. Hampstead Heath is a huge park that covers 790 acres of green space in north London. It’s a favorite spot for locals who want to escape the city and enjoy nature. Enjoy a picnic on the grass, swim in the ponds or lidos (outdoor pools), hike on the trails, or climb to the top of Parliament Hill for stunning city views. Nearby is Kenwood House, a beautiful stately home that houses a collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other classic artists. Entrance to Hampstead Heath is free; swimming sessions are about $5 USD each.

See London tours that include Hampstead Heath on their routes

While visiting Hampstead Heath, explore the Hampstead Heath Pergola and Hill Garden, an oasis on the edge of the park. The pergola is a raised walkway that was built in the early 20th century by Lord Leverhulme, a wealthy soap manufacturer. Hoping to create a grand garden for entertaining his guests, he unfortunately died before it was completed. The pergola is now overgrown with vines and flowers, resulting in a romantic and atmospheric setting. The hill garden below is a lovely spot to take a load off and enjoy the views of the city. Entrance to both the Pergola and Hill Garden are free and don’t require reservations.

Take a stroll

When you’re looking to get away from the crowds, a long walk is one of the best ways to do it. Here we feature two lesser known London attractions in the form of walking paths featuring some of the most gorgeous city and suburban views anywhere on earth.

12. Walk along the Thames Path. The Thames Path is a long-distance walking trail that follows the river Thames from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. Along the way, you’ll pass by some of London’s most iconic landmarks, such as Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and The Shard, as well as some lesser-known gems, such as Fulham Palace, Syon House, and Richmond Park. Walk as much or as little as you like, and enjoy the views, history, and wildlife of the river. Free.

13. Enjoy a waterside stroll along Regent’s Canal. Regent’s Canal is a 9-mile waterway that connects various parts of London, from Paddington to Limehouse. It’s a lovely place to enjoy a waterside stroll or bike ride as you pass by colorful houseboats, charming bridges, historic buildings, and scenic parks. Free.

You can also rent a boat or hop on a canal boat tour that will take you through some of the highlights of Regent’s Canal and the surrounding area, such as Little Venice and Islington Tunnel.

Explore the street art and graffiti scene

The street art in London attracts a lot of visitors and locals alike. Most of it is absolutely astounding, both visually and because of the messages conveyed. If you like art, this is something that you shouldn’t miss.

Brick wall covered in colorful street art and graffiti in Shoreditch, East London
Shoreditch steet art. Photo credit: Padaguan

14. Explore the street art scene in East London. London is home to some of the most impressive street art in the world, and you can find it in abundance in East London. Shoreditch and Brick Lane in Hackney are some of the best areas to spot colorful murals, portraits, and even some works by Banksy. Wander around on your own and discover hidden gems for free, or join a tour that will take you to some of the most famous pieces and tell you more about the artists and their stories.

15. Explore the Leake Street Arches graffiti tunnel. Seemingly made for the Instagram era, this underground tunnel is a haven for street artists, who have transformed the walls into a colorful canvas of murals and messages. You can admire the art for free or join a tour and learn about the unique street art of the area.

Discover art, science, and history

While many of the city’s museums are world-famous, there are plenty that fall within the category of lesser known London attractions. Most of the museums and exhibitions listed here are free or very cheap.

16. Visit the London Mithraeum. The London Mithraeum is a hidden gem in the heart of the city, and it’s completely free to visit. This fascinating archaeological site is one of only 100 Mithraic temples found throughout Ancient Rome, making it an important piece of British history. The temple was first discovered back in 1954, but it wasn’t until the Bloomberg Project that it was excavated and moved to a publicly accessible space.

Now, visitors to the Mithraeum can explore the reconstructed temple and marvel at the remarkable collection of artifacts uncovered during the excavation. If you like, you can learn more about the mysterious cult of Mithras and its rituals, which involved killing a bull as a symbol of creation. Free. Reservations recommended but not required.

See London tours that include the Mithraeum on their routes

17. Visit Jack the Ripper Museum. If you’re interested in London’s dark and gruesome past, you might want to visit the Jack the Ripper Museum in Whitechapel. This museum tells the story of the infamous serial killer who terrorized London in 1888, and who was never caught or identified. The museum recreates the scenes of his crimes, his victims, and his possible suspects, using authentic artifacts, documents, and photographs. Tickets are about $13 for adults and $11 for kids. You can also join a guided tour that will take you to the actual locations where Jack the Ripper struck.

18. Learn at the Wellcome Collection. This free museum is dedicated to exploring the connections between medicine, life, and art. It was founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and collector who amassed a huge collection of objects related to health and disease. The museum displays some of his items, as well as contemporary artworks and exhibitions that explore topics such as genetics, mental health, sexuality, and death. The museum is free to enter and open every day except Monday.

See London tours that include the Wellcome Collection on their routes

19. Discover the Leighton House Museum. This museum is the former home and studio of the Victorian painter Frederic Leighton, who was famous for his classical and oriental themes. The museum showcases his paintings, sculptures, and personal belongings, as well as his stunning Arab Hall, which was inspired by his travels to the Middle East. The hall features a dome, a fountain, and walls covered with tiles from Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and charges a small admission fee, about $14 per adult.

20. Visit Sir John Soane’s Museum. This museum is the former home of the 19th-century architect Sir John Soane, who collected a vast array of artworks, antiquities, and curiosities from around the world. The museum is a labyrinth of rooms filled with paintings, sculptures, books, furniture, and more. You’ll find treasures like the sarcophagus of Egyptian pharaoh Seti I, a model of the Bank of England, and a painting by William Hogarth. The museum is free to enter and open from Wednesday to Sunday.

21. Learn about science at the Science Museum. The Science Museum is one of the most visited museums in London, where you can discover the wonders of science through hundreds of exhibits, interactive displays, and demonstrations. See historic inventions, rockets, planes, robots, cars, computers, and more. Even though it’s not really a lesser-known attraction and can get quite busy, the Science Museum is definitely a must-see during your travels to London. Free. Reservations required.

Book a tour that includes the Science Museum on its route

22. Discover the history of London at the Museum of London. The Museum of London tells the story of London from prehistoric times to the present day, through thousands of objects, exhibits, and interactive displays. Learn about the Roman, medieval, Tudor, Victorian, and modern eras of London, as well as its people, culture, and events. Free. No booking required.

23. Experience Little Venice. You’ll find Little Venice where the Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal meet, creating a network of waterways lined with colorful houseboats, cafes, pubs, and restaurants. You can walk along the towpath and admire the scenery (free) or take a boat ride to Camden or London Zoo. If you need some entertainment, visit the Puppet Theatre Barge, a unique floating theater featuring marionette shows.

24. Go cottage-spotting in Dulwich Village. If you want to see a different side of London, head to Dulwich Village in South London. This charming neighborhood feels like a country village, with its quaint cottages, leafy lanes, and peaceful atmosphere. Stroll around and admire the beautiful architecture, or visit some of the local attractions, such as Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich Park, or Horniman Museum and Gardens. Free.

Walking path through Highgate cemetery with tombstones and mausoleums covered in ivy
Highgate Cemetery

25. Discover the Highgate Cemetery. This Victorian cemetery is the final resting place of many famous people, such as Karl Marx, George Eliot, and Douglas Adams. It is also a beautiful and peaceful spot, with overgrown graves, Gothic monuments, and winding paths. Ticket prices are about USD $13 for adults or $7 for kids over 8.

Go clubbing or catch a show

You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a single night out in London. As long as you don’t get carried away in Soho, the suggestions for lesser known London activities listed below will help you stay within a budget.

26. Experience the nightlife in Soho. Soho is one of the most lively and diverse areas in London, hosting variety of bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants, theatres, and music venues. Enjoy live music, comedy, cabaret, drag shows, or karaoke, or simply soak up the atmosphere and mingle with the locals.

27. See a movie at an Electric Cinema. Electric Cinema is one of the oldest cinemas in London, with its Portobello Cinema dating back to the early 1900s. Restored to its original glory, this amazing 50-seat theater offers a unique and memorable movie-going experience. Watch a film from a plush sofa, armchair, or bed(!) complete with cashmere blankets.

28. Watch a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. Shakespeare’s Globe is a faithful reconstruction of the original theater where William Shakespeare’s plays were performed in the 16th century. Watch a play in the open-air auditorium, or take a tour of the theater and learn about its history and architecture.

Take in the views from above the city – for free!

There are lots of places in London to get up high for an awesome skyline view – and most of them are fairly expensive. Here are two lesser known London attractions that feature awesome views of the city. One even has a rooftop garden.

View of London skyline from the rooftop Garden at 120
Garden at 120

29. Enjoy the views from One New Change or The Garden at 120. Forget about paying for expensive tickets or making reservations to see London from above. There are two free rooftop decks that offer stunning views of the city skyline, both located in the heart of the financial district.

One New Change is a shopping and dining complex opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral, and it has a rooftop terrace that overlooks the iconic dome and the London Eye. The Garden at 120 is a newer addition, opened in 2019. It’s a 15th story rooftop garden that offers panoramic views of the Gherkin, Walkie Talkie, London Bridge, and other famous landmarks. Both are open to the public and free of charge, so you can enjoy the views without breaking the bank.

The takeaway

You don’t have to fight the crowds or spend a lot of money on activities to have a fantastic time in London. We hope you enjoy the suggestions included here on how to find cheap and free things to do in London that also allow you to meet locals and experience the city like they do. Happy travels!

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