We Asked 25 Londoners the Coolest Things to Do in Their City
Drop in on London and you’ll find the streets thronging with tourists, all holding up iPhones to snap Big Ben. In 2016, the city hosted the equivalent of every person in California -- 37.3 million travelers, according to Visit Britain -- which means that a hell of a lot of people took that same basic photo.
Naturally those visitors command a lot of the city’s attention, and huge industries have grown up around keeping them happy. But we Londoners spin on our heel rather than wade into those crowds. By all means, check out Trafalgar Square and snap a skyline selfie on Waterloo Bridge. Then you should see what really makes this city worth your plane ticket.
Every local has a different idea of London’s best parts. We debate the merits of East vs. West London, and whether it’s best to be north or south of the Thames River. Depending on who you ask, Shoreditch is either a thriving center of nightlife and culture or it’s totally over, smothered by too many tech bros. No one disputes that London holds amazing restaurants of every possible cuisine (the exception: No one here gets Mexican food right). Our cocktail and bar scene here is unparalleled outside of New York, and our public transit will take you to every corner of the city.
Your best bet on your visit is to take some advice from the locals. Start with these picks I’ve sourced from local Londoners. Just don’t be surprised when you return home 10 pounds heavier, and with a shellshocked liver.
<h2>Best Pizza: <a href="http://www.homeslicepizza.co.uk/" target="_blank">Homeslice</a></h2>
<em>Covent Garden/Shoreditch</em><br />
Londoners love pizza -- and they know how to do it well. Homeslice, which offers a single slice or a massive table-sized pie: the mothership. “I take my pizza eating very seriously, and it's not been as easy as you might think to find the pizza of my dreams in London Town,” says Cara Dattani, a 31-year-old TV director who resides in Lambeth North. “Homeslice comes pretty close. With its 20-inch circumference and its simple but delicious menu, the pizza is the closest I've come to finding to the kind of divine, 2-in-the-morning, giant hunks of pizza by the slice that NYC totally smashes.”
<h2>Best British Food: <a href="https://www.stjohngroup.uk.com/" target="_blank">St. John Bar & Restaurant</a></h2>
Anthony Bourdain fans have already heard of St. John, the “nose to tail” restaurant from Chef Fergus Henderson. It’s British food that focuses on the possibilities of flavor, and its simple, stylish aesthetic makes for a perfect evening out. Order the bone marrow, the best you’ll ever taste, and anything made from one of the local British pigs (if there’s Middle White, get it). It will reward your risk-taking with a quintessential British culinary experience.
<h2>Best (Westernized) Indian Food: <a href="http://www.dishoom.com/" target="_blank">Dishoom</a></h2>
<em>Covent Garden/Soho/Shoreditch/King’s Cross</em><br />
Brick Lane is the classic spot for a late-night curry, but Dishoom has become one of London’s most popular Indian restaurants. Stop by for breakfast and get the bacon naan roll with a chai latte, and be prepared to queue in the evenings when they stop taking reservations. Indian immigrants regularly dine here, which is always a good sign, and it’s a more upscale way to experience Brick Lane’s offerings. At the Shoreditch location, try to get a table in the back garden.
<h2>Best Turkish Food: <a href="http://www.hasanmezemangal.co.uk/" target="_blank">Hasan Meze & Mangal Restaurant</a></h2>
Among the scads of Turkish places, this is where you want to get your kebab fix -- and you can even BYOB. “Hasan's meat bread (cooked on the grill, alongside their delicious, juicy kebabs) is one of the best things I've ever tasted,” says Sophie Achillini, a 31-year-old communications manager, who lives in Blackhorse Road. “They bring it over at the start of every meal, with loads of garlic and chilli sauce for you to dip into and a side of onions, drenched with super tasty pomegranate juice. Every time a friend visits London, this is where they're always excited to go -- and I'm always very happy to take them.”
<h2>Best Vegetarian (and Vegan) Food: <a href="http://www.mildreds.co.uk/" target="_blank">Mildred’s</a></h2>
<em>Soho/King’s Cross/Camden</em><br />
Even meat-eaters line up for Mildred’s. It’s the restaurant every local recommends for your lunch meeting or low-key dinner, which means there’s always a wait at the Soho location. But it’s worth it: The food is delicious and inexpensive. Get the sweet potato and green bean curry -- trust. “I’m gluten free and vegan, but even my meat-eating mates love it here,” says Jenny Lowes, a 25-year-old PR assistant who lives in Hackney Wick. Try the King’s Cross location for shorter lines.
<h2>Best Late-Night Eats: <a href="http://spuntino.co.uk/" target="_blank">Spuntino</a></h2>
London is not known for its late-night hours, despite British predilection for alcohol. Most pubs shut by 11pm, and late-night diners too often wind up noshing on a dodgy kebab. But Spuntino, a low-key Soho joint, keeps its counter seats open until midnight Monday through Wednesday and 1am Thursday through Saturday. Order the eggplant chips and the mac & cheese -- and then order more of them.
<h2>Best Date Spot: <a href="https://www.tdock.co.uk/" target="_blank">Tamesis Dock</a></h2>
Tamesis Dock looks like an old pirate ship washed up onto the banks of the Thames. It stays moored to the edge of the southern bank, allowing guests to imbibe on its decks. It’s like a pub, except it has a beautiful (and romantic) view of Parliament and Westminster Bridge, and you can take in the sunset while sipping your pint. Instead of booking into an overpriced eatery, try celebrating here with your significant other. It’s quirkier, prettier, and opens onto a beautiful river setting.
<h2>Best Local Pub: <a href="http://princesslouisepub.co.uk/" target="_blank">Princess Louise Pub</a></h2>
Every street corner has a pub, but there’s only one Princess Louise Pub. This High Holborn fixture excels for its decoration and neighborhood feel. “Traditional mixture of original and restored Victorian features,” says Chris Kelly, a document services supervisor who hails from London. “Awesome tiling and stained glass. Cosy little snugs around the bar. Cheap by London standards. Equally worth going just to see it as it is to have a drink.”
<h2>Best Sunday Roast: <a href="http://thehawksmoor.com/" target="_blank">Hawksmoor</a></h2>
<em>Covent Garden/Spitalfields/Borough/Knightsbridge/Soho/City of London</em><br />
If you’re in London on a Sunday here’s what you’re going to want to do: Book a table at one of the several Hawksmoor locations for their Sunday roast. It’s a traditional weekly meal taken by Brits that usually involves some sort of roasted meat, vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding. The one at Hawksmoor is beyond. Get a second jug of the bone marrow gravy to dump on your beef and then prepare for a coma-length nap. Plenty of pubs do great Sunday roasts, but this is a worthwhile splurge (and highly recommended by those who work in the hospitality biz in London).
<h2>Best Afternoon Tea: <a href="https://www.fortnumandmason.com/" target="_blank">Fortnum & Mason</a></h2>
Instagram will tell you to book a table at Sketch for your afternoon tea, but ignore the hype and go for the more classic Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason. Yes, it’s a sizable £44 per person. But the food is unlimited and you’ll leave with a large doggy bag filled with cakes. “There are cheaper options than Fortnum for afternoon tea, but there is nothing more delicious, nor greater value for money, and nowhere that makes you feel more like a rich bitch,” says Panteha MirRejali, a 35-year-old administrative assistant who calls St. John’s Wood home. “It is my favorite meal to take foreigners to because you simply can't get a better afternoon tea experience. And the Queen herself christened the tea room upon first opening, which gets a lot of people excited.”
<h2>Best Destination Pub: <a href="http://www.churchillarmskensington.co.uk/" target="_blank">The Churchill Arms</a></h2>
<em>Notting Hill</em><br />
While you’re here, do Notting Hill regardless. To see the city’s coolest pub, find the Churchill Arms. “It’s the most pubbiest pub in all Pubbington,” says Luke Walker, a 33-year-old web editor who lives on Isle of Dogs. “Every single piece of wall, beam and surface has some form of British memorabilia regaling it, and has to be seen to be believed. It’s been around since 1750 and looks it. It’s especially worth a visit at Christmas where the management purchase every Christmas tree known to man and cover the entire exterior to the point where the pub can hardly be seen.” Google it -- it's crazy.
<h2>Best Cocktail Bar: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/satanswhiskers/" target="_blank">Satan’s Whiskers</a></h2>
<em>Bethnal Green</em><br />
Whether it’s Soho spot <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/drink/london/bar/bar-termini" target="_blank">Bar Termini</a> or buzzy joint <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/drink/london/bar/the-blind-pig" target="_blank">The Blind Pig</a> (which has alcoholic Butterbeer), you’re never far from an amazing alcoholic concoction in London. Satan’s Whiskers is an under-the-radar favorite, especially among London bartenders. “The beauty of the drinks is in the simplicity,” says Dominic Whisson, a 24-year-old senior bartender at the Savoy’s American Bar. “The low-key atmosphere is perfect to relax in and it’s somewhere where you won’t be judged for your drinks preference. Also: Good music.”
<h2>Best Market: <a href="http://boroughmarket.org.uk/" target="_blank">Borough Market</a></h2>
No London itinerary is complete without a visit to Borough Market. The market, which originated long before America even existed, features stall after stall of drooling-inducing food: cheeses, donuts, <em>Scotch eggs</em>. Go for lunch and line up at Kappacasein, which serves one of the planet’s meltiest, greasiest, most delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. Stop at Monmouth for a coffee and at Borough Olives for the world’s best, well, guess.
<h2>Best Alternative Market: <a href="http://www.maltby.st/" target="_blank">Maltby Street Market</a></h2>
Locals often dodge the bustle of Borough Market in favor of smaller weekend markets. Michael Endres, who lives in Bermondsey, recommends Maltby Street Market, which features vendors who used to operate in Borough Market but couldn’t keep up with the rents. “It’s a great Saturday market to walk around with some of the best Scotch eggs I’ve ever eaten -- and I generally hate Scotch eggs,” he says. “It’s a fun, little, locally-known-but-gaining-notoriety market.”
<h2>Best Free View of the City: <a href="https://skygarden.london/" target="_blank">Sky Garden</a></h2>
<em>City of London</em><br />
Don’t be fooled by the London Eye. Sure, it’s tall, but it’s also very slow and very expensive. Instead, take in a 360-degree city view from Sky Garden, located at the top of a building London has dubbed the “Walkie Talkie.” Book your (free) ticket a few weeks in advance and arrive on-time; tickets offer only an hour in the two-floor indoor garden. There’s also a bar and restaurant, as well as coffee stands and free Wi-Fi.
<h2>Best Street: Bermondsey Street</h2>
When the put their neighborhood loyalties aside, locals agree that upscale Bermondsey Street, which weaves south from London Bridge, is one of the best streets in town. It’s home to the White Cube Gallery, several bars, restaurants, and coffee shops (including one named Fuckoffee) and a few small parks. Aaron Endres, a 33-year-old senior estimator who lives in the ‘hood proclaims it London’s best thoroughfare. “It’s an eclectic mix of restaurants and bars,” he says. “We always take our visitors there.”
<h2>Best Hipster Hotel: <a href="http://artistresidencelondon.co.uk/rooms/" target="_blank">Artist Residence London</a></h2>
The equal of the Ace, but cheaper and in a chiller neighborhood. The Artist’s Residence boasts a range of room sizes and chic, minimalist décor. It’s located in Pimlico, a high-end area you’ve definitely never heard of in West London, and it’s a great homebase after the hustle of the day. Its basement cocktail bar, the Clarendon Cocktail Cellar, puts fantastic drinks so close to your bedroom. While in the ‘hood, be sure to check out No. 11 Pimlico Road for dinner and the nearby Dominique Ansel Bakery, which somehow never has a line.
<h2>Best Upscale Boutique Hotel: <a href="http://www.portobellohotel.com/" target="_blank">The Portobello Hotel</a></h2>
<em>Notting Hill</em><br />
Rumor has it that Johnny Depp and Kate Moss once filled a Portobello Hotel bathtub with Champagne. That’s never been confirmed, but you can book the exact room that features that Victorian tub (and an actual round bed). It’s a lovely hotel with fine amenities -- especially the included in-room breakfast -- and its central Notting Hill location can’t be beat. While in the area, be sure to visit The Distillery for a drink and Electric Cinema for a film. You can even seek out the infamous blue door from <em>Notting Hill</em>.
<h2>Best Long Walk: <a href="https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-and-river-netw…; target="_blank">Regent’s Canal</a></h2>
<em>Little Venice/Docklands</em><br />
Regent’s Canal spans London from Little Venice (a real place) to London’s east side. It’s a peaceful, beautiful jaunt where you can pass houseboats, Regent’s Park, Camden Market, and the hipster waterside cafes of Hackney. From Paddington to Limehouse the path runs 8.5 miles, an enjoyable walk in either direction. Good for your Fitbit, great for your Instagram likes.
<h2>Best Unusual Tour: <a href="http://www.ginjourney.com/" target="_blank">Gin Journey</a></h2>
Londoners are gin experts, full of gin opinions and occasionally plain ol’ gin. If you want to know more, Gin Journey London is a great way to spend a few hours. The chauffeured tour includes a distillery tour, five cocktails in five different bars, and five gin samples. You can pick from different neighborhoods based on which part of London you want to delve into (try Shoreditch). Tickets run from £63.30 to £73.85.
<h2>Best Place to See Art: <a href="http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain" target="_blank">Tate Britain</a></h2>
The Tate Modern, which recently underwent a massive expansion, is a worthwhile trip, but its sister museum is a more intimate spot to get your culture fix. The entire building is filled only with British artists, spanning hundreds of years. It’s free (except for the special exhibitions) and the contemporary installations always feel revelatory -- especially when juxtaposed with the older, more ornate works. If you’re feeling ambitious, the Thames Clipper, a highly enjoyable boat taxi, offers the “Tate to Tate” service between the two museums for £8.10.
<h2>Best Theater: <a href="http://www.oldvictheatre.com/" target="_blank">The Old Vic</a></h2>
You should absolutely see a show while you’re in London, but skip that West End rendition of <em>The Lion King</em>. Instead book tickets for whatever is playing at The Old Vic, near Waterloo Station. Currently <em>Star Wars</em> actor John Boyega is starring in “Woyzeck” and next up Conor McPherson will reimagine Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” into a musical. If you’re skint, there are usually standing-room-only tickets for less than £10.
<h2>Best Weekend Afternoon Hang: London Fields</h2>
<em>Hackney Central</em><br />
When it’s nice outside (and sometimes when it isn’t) Londoners head to the parks on the weekends. In the summertime you can barely find an open spot of grass for your brie and prosecco. London Fields is a great option, especially on Saturdays, due its proximity to the marvel that is Broadway Market. Grab some street fare, a cheeky bottle of bubbly, and settle in. If you get bored of sitting, wander over to The Taproom, a local brewery, or the beer garden at Pub on the Park. It’s the best day-drinking in a town that loves nothing more.
<h2>Best Shopping: <a href="http://paperdressvintage.co.uk/" target="_blank">Paper Dress Vintage</a></h2>
<em>Hackney Central</em><br />
Sure, you could go to Harrods or Selfridges and drop several hundred £££. Instead go to Hackney’s Paper Dress Vintage, a cool boutique with its own bar and frequent live music. The shop stocks well-kept items from 1900 through the 1980s. Sip an Aperol spritz while you browse and be sure to check out the calendar of events for an upcoming concerts or dance classes. While in the area, head a few blocks south to the Burberry Factory Shop, where you can buy Burberry gear at heavy discounts.
<h2>Best Place to Unwind: <a href="http://www.culpeper.org.uk/" target="_blank">Culpeper Community Garden</a></h2>
The city doesn’t lack for beautiful gardens, but finding one that feels secluded is more challenging. Islington’s Culpeper Community Garden is the perfect oasis in the middle of the city. It’s open to the public and maintained by residents, a great place to wait out the rush-hour throngs shoving through the Tube.