You know the typical attractions of London – visiting Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, witnessing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, and riding the London Eye.

But these activities merely scratch the surface. This is a mega-city stuffed with famous art galleries, museums, and ancient landmarks, but beyond all that is a London of villages and little-known local traditions.

Here are 10 off-the-beaten-path experiences, things to see, and places to eat that go beneath the most famous sites to capture the real essence of London and England.

For the craft lovers: Explore Old Spitalfields Market

If you’re on the hunt for a truly British souvenir head to Old Spitalfields Market. There, travellers will find 44 retailers and 88 market stalls filled with local vendors selling craft and bespoke goods.

And, at the centre of it all lies its food section, which also happens to come with 24 street food vendors just in case you need a quick snack in between shops.

For nature and history buffs: Hike around Beckenham Place

Sure, London is packed with historical sites and castles, but why not get out of town for the afternoon to see one that most tourists miss? That’s where Beckenham Place mansion comes in. The mansion is located just a 34-minute train ride away from London.

All travellers need to do is hop on the Southeastern line from Victoria Station to Beckenham Junction and walk over to the Georgian mansion. The mansion was built between 1760-1762 as a retreat from the city and it still serves as that today.

However, instead of royalty and heads of state, tourists are now invited inside for daily yoga and crafting, are welcome to explore the recording studio inside, stop in the cafe, and roam the expansive grounds to get a little exercise.

For conversationalists: Drink a pint at Draughts

If you don’t stop in for a pint were you ever really in London? While in town it’s basically mandatory to have a local beer, but travellers can up the fun factor by stopping in at Draughts.

There, everyone is welcome to sip and savour a drink while playing one of the bar’s hundreds (yes hundreds) of board games. It’s an ideal spot for couples or solo travellers looking to sit down and make new friends over a friendly game (just maybe stay away from anything too competitive).

For indie music fans: Dance the night away at XOYO

Music fans hoping to discover the next great British DJ should plan on spending an evening at XOYO. The club, which first opened its doors in 2010, hosts nightly shows and events featuring everyone from the world-renowned names to the best-undiscovered artists.

Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes as the dancing will be plentiful.

For mystery fans: Get a Sherlock Holmes-inspired pint at Barts

Barts is open and welcoming to everyone, so long as you can find it. You see, the bar is one of the city’s first late-night speakeasy bars set in the 1920’s prohibition era. It’s meant to feel like you’re walking directly into the private apartment of Uncle Bart.

To get in, would-be guests must find and sneak through the black door. Once inside, guests can order any cocktail they’d like (we’d recommend going with an Old Fashioned to stick with the theme) then smuggle them to the bar’s Secret Garden.

Just make sure nobody is following you along the way.

For culture lovers: Unseen Tours

Unseen Tours is perhaps the most unique tour experience travellers can have just about anywhere. The tour company is a social enterprise that hires both homeless and formerly homeless locals to act as walking tour guides around various locations.

The company coaches, mentors, and pays their guides, helping them find steady work, and helping tourists get a whole new perspective on the city. On the tour, guests will learn about the rich history of each neighbourhood and hear from the guides about their own experiences living on the streets.

For art fanatics: The Vaults

In addition to visiting some of London’s more famous art museums, visitors should spend a bit of time at The Vaults as well. The space is an immersive theatre and alternative arts centre based in a few abandoned railway tunnels in the London Underground.

The space houses work from artists of all walks of life and whose work spans all mediums. It’s easy to get lost among the tunnels, but that’s OK, as getting lost in the art is the entire point.

For photographers: Columbia Road Flower Market

London is rather well-known for being a grey and rainy place. However, there is one spot that always feels sunny: Columbia Road Flower Market.

The market opens its doors every Sunday where guests can literally stop to smell the flowers, snap a few photos, and pick up a couple of stems. Inside, guests will also find a few artisan shops selling jewellery, vintage clothing and items, snacks, and more.

For adrenaline junkies: Climb 02 Arena

Sometimes you need to get a new perspective on a place to truly appreciate it. And that’s exactly what you can do in London by climbing to the top of the O2 Arena. With the outfitter known as Up at the O2, visitors have the chance to scale the outside of the O2.

Don’t worry, every guest is safely fitted with a harness and will be accompanied by a guide. The adrenaline rush is worth it because when you get to the top you’re rewarded with panoramic views of the city below. After soaking it all in you just need to climb back down.

For foodies: Eat your way through Borough Market

Though Borough Market looks and feels thoroughly modern it’s actually a market that dates back to the 11th century. Today, the market is home to dozens of food vendors ranging from bakers and coffee experts, charcuterie experts, procurers of mushrooms, and more.

The market is open every Monday to Saturday and every Sunday in December for holiday hours. Get there early to beat the lunch rush, or stay late for a packed happy hour experience after everyone leaves their financial district jobs.


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