UK & Ireland

Best things to do in London: your local experiences bucket list

Take a step outside of the tourist's path to explore hidden gems and see the city from different perspectives

Having lived in the city for nearly 13 years, I’m sometimes asked if I’m bored of London or if I would choose my birth city in the Midlands, over it. My answer is always a resounding and resolute, “No.” Even after a decade of living in the Big Smoke, I am never lost for things to do or see, whether with my friends, my siblings and their children or on my own. And even when you think you’ve just about explored all there is to see, London with in its delightful diversity, has a way of surprising you.

If you’re a new visitor to the city, you might want to tick off London’s classic tourists spots off your itinerary, but with clever organising and a little bit of sleuthing, you can experience London landmarks as well as London’s lesser visited spots and hidden gems. And if you live in the city, like me, there`s always a new place to discover. So, here are my top activities suggestions, so you can choose your next fun thing to do in London.

1. The best experiences in London start from above

London has one of the most iconic and perhaps the most easily recognisable skylines in the world and whilst there are many locations in the city providing great panoramas, the View From The Shard is truly breath- taking. The stalagmite-like structure, Europe’s tallest building at 310 metres tall, protrudes high above the rest of the city, capturing views of London’s most famous sites.

From the open-air viewing deck on the 72nd floor, visitors are presented with stunning 360-degree panoramic views where you can see the River Thames weaving through the city, along with landmarks such as Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

But the experience doesn’t begin on the 72nd floor. Beginning at the kaleidescopic lifts; they shoot smooth and fast through the building, arriving at the first viewing platform in seconds. On the 68th floor, the interactive telescopes with multimedia displays offer another layer to the experience; learn more about London, its history and the landmarks you can see. There are also two bars where you can enjoy refreshments, including champagne. This is an experience enjoyed all year round, but try to book your tickets for a sunset viewing, you won’t regret it!

2. Play the exploration game by visiting London hidden gems

Your next adventure is set in London’s picturesque canal-side neighbourhood of Little Venice, a stone’s throw-away from the busy hub of Paddington. If you’re into RPGs, or like immersive theatre or regularly fantasise about being the main character in a movie, or perhaps you simply enjoy learning about new things and discovering lesser-known places and hidden gems, you’ll want the London city Exploration Game on your itinerary.

The game comes with a free to download smartphone app that will provide cryptic clues for your quest and as you unlock new levels, taking in Little Venice, Regents Canal, Rembrandt Gardens and more, you’ll unearth riveting urban tales. And since you can play the game at your own pace, you can take in all that this pretty piece of north-west Westminster has in store, at your leisure.

There are theatre, exotic animals and delicious food and drinks along the way. Little Venice has some of the best independent theatre you’ll find along the canals; watch theatre on an actual canal boat on the Puppet Theatre Barge, or opt for a candle-lit scene at the award-winning Canal Café Theatre.

If you’d like to get off the canal path an onto the water, you can book a canal or try paddle-boarding and take in views of Little Venice mansions and if you’re lucky, paddle past the animals at London Zoo. For food with a view, stop by Café Laville, an authentic Italian restaurant and bar that sits above the canal boasting gorgeous views from its glass-fronted interior.

3. Why not taking the kids for some family fun in London?

London is a playground of activity and experiences for children, including the world-renowned Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour. You’ll visit the studios where the movies were filmed and get to see Harry’s room in the cupboard under the stairs, the Hogwarts bridge, the Knight Bus and explore the Great Hall, which is so realistic and detailed, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into the movie.

You’ll find the Hogwarts Express on platform 9 and ¾ which is created to mirror the platforms at London Kings Cross Station; there you’ll be able to board the train and explore the carriages. The green screen is where the magic happens; you’ll be able to practice your wand skills and even ride a broomstick over London, the way the cast of the movies did, on set.

There are several venues for refreshments at Warner Bros Studios, but for avid fans wanting the full experience, you should head to the Backlot Café for a Butterbeer break. This tour is an experience that has the approval of Harry Potter fans and those less familiar with the movies and novels, too.

The full tour, from central London and back is around seven hours, so be sure to take the day for this. The tour bus leaves from Kings Cross Station (or alternatively, choose the Victoria option, if that’s more convenient!) where you’ll find an array of restaurants you can enjoy and retailers for you to browse, before or after your excursion.

4. Get some fresh air while exploring great outdoor activities in London

London isn’t just rich in art and culture–it’s also generous in its offering of outdoor activities. There are a plethora of walking and bike tours to help you get to know the city, but if those options seem a little tame to you, an adrenaline junkie, you’ll be utterly thrilled by the Thames Rockets Break the Barrier Speedboat Ride.

Not for the faint-hearted, you’ll board a modern-rigid-inflatable-boat (RIB), with an expert skipper and guide in tow before feeling the thrill of rushing through the Big Smoke at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. The 40 minute ride of rapid twists and turns comes with its own soundtrack; careen through the Thames with the sounds of modern day tunes as well as retro classics, taking you all the way back to the ’60s.

The best thing about this experience is seeing London from a different perspective. You’ll zoom past some of London’s finest attractions like Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, speed through the docklands, swinging past maritime Greenwich, around and beyond the iconic O2 arena to the Thames Barrier and back. Once you’re back on dry land and have caught your breath, you’ll find plenty of food and drink options. Grab a slice of pizza at Bad Boy Pizza Society, a delicious pasty at 40 Maltby Street or a fresh plate of Pasta at Padella.

5. Stay in style with a unique hotel private experience

If you’re after a London experience that exudes style, is wrapped in luxury and filled with sweet indulgences and Hollywood glamour, The Savoy is the perfect place to stay. Bordering London’s vibrant theatre district, it continues to be popular amongst Hollywood and pop music elite and notably hosted Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren amongst others and more recently, Taylor Swift and Rihanna.

You’ll also recognise it as the set for the famous press conference scene in Notting Hill. Whilst its prime location in the cultural centre of the city is great if you want to catch a show, visit an art gallery or go shopping in the city’s main shopping district, a stay at The Savoy is in itself, an experience.

For the best views, choose the Luxury King Room or deluxe suite with fabulous river views–some rooms come with balconies, too. The bathrooms have dreamy claw foot bathtubs where you can indulge in a relaxing bath accompanied by the heady scents of Penhaligons toiletries and a book selected by The Savoys’ very own Book Butlers, catering to guests’ literary needs!

As for food, there’s the world famous Savoy afternoon-tea, with a selection of 30 of the finest teas, delectable sandwiches, homemade scones and clotted cream and delicious and intricately crafted pastries created by the talented patisserie team. For dinner, you are spoilt for choice with five restaurants to choose from, including the hotel’s short season pop-up Solas, an al-fresco experience focusing on superlative cocktails and a masterfully crafted raw seafood bar. There’s also a swimming pool in the hotel’s sun-drenched atrium, with a jet stream and there are two gyms, for fitness enthusiasts.