My, oh my, how things change as we age, eh? It used to be the case that the #AP4L and I never wanted to go the same place twice. Because it meant forgoing a whole new place, right? But yes. I’m starting to learn the benefits of repeat visits and, dare I say… slow travel. I’ve never been a slow traveler. (And I don’t think I’ll actually ever be one. I just said I can see the benefits, okay? Calm down.) At any rate, I’d been to London countless times as a kid and, now that I’ve seen the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace twenty times, I get to go see all the actually cool stuff London has to offer. That’s right: “9 Off-the-Beaten-Path Things To Do In London.” Enjoy, friends!
Leake Street Arches
Ah, Leake Street Arches. So. Cool. Basically the gritty archways under the Underground turned into an extraordinary art space. Complete with restaurants and a performance theater called The Vaults. They’re located on the South Bank just a little ways from the London Eye. Free and open to the public 24/7. If you’re lucky, you’ll see someone creating amazing street art right then and there. You can even learn how to graffiti yourself through the free workshops on Thursday evenings.
Saint Dunstan of the East
Oh, Saint Dunstan, you steal my heart. This little sanctuary is right between the Tower of London and London Bridge. And it couldn’t be a more quiet and beautiful respite right in the heart of London. It’s actually church ruins from The Blitz and, even before that, survived the London Fire of 1666. It’s the perfect spot for a good book or a picnic. And don’t forget to bring your camera.
Brick Lane. Of all the famous streets in London, Brick Lane is the coolest of the cool. In my humble opinion. Partly because it’s the old stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper and has businesses like the Cereal Killer Cafe and Jack the Clipper. A favorite East End “haunt” in the Spitalfields, there’s endless stuff to do there. Tour the street art, visit the funky shops, get some street food at the market. It’s actually a Bangladeshi neighborhood, so get some legit Bangladeshi food (curry!) and hit up the brewery. What’s not to love?
Awe, Postman’s Park. What a cute little place. And it’s nestled right behind St. Paul’s Cathedral. An unassuming park squished between some buildings, it commemorates those who died saving the lives of others. Just your average people. Another small space tucked away and hidden from the downtown hustle and bustle. Stroll on through if you have a few extra minutes in your day and want to get away from all the tourists.
Punk. Rock. Yep, it’s Camden Town. Camden Town is a bit of a hike from Central London, but you could easily spend an afternoon there. (We did.) Tons of gaudy stores with crazy, decked out storefronts. Further down the road, you’ll find a whole indoor and outdoor marketplace you can get lost in. There are a bagillion restaurant options, a canal lock, and… another brewery, of course. Pay your tributes to the bronze Amy Winehouse statue while you’re there.
Highgate Cemetery is definitely further afield, but a good place to take a break and go for a wander. It’s the burial place of Karl Marx, who actually has two graves—the original and the… “revitalized” one? (It’s a monument.) At any rate, loads of famous people buried there and a great photography spot. Only a small entrance fee to help maintain the grounds.
Okay, so I can’t say that Borough Market is the most off-the-beaten-path item on this list, but it’s definitely the coolest market we went to. And it’s on the South Bank, so it’s probably less frequented by people like you and I. (You know… tourists.) Just behind The Shard, the hustle and bustle and colors and smells will surely energize you. If the cheese samples haven’t already.
Yes. London has a Chinatown. It gets a little lost between Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and the National Gallery, but it’s 1000% worth a stop. Have some fun admiring the intricate entrance gate, photographing the thousands of lanterns criss-crossing the streets. And of course, eating super legit Chinese food.
Not only does London have a Chinatown, it has a Little Venice! It’s not the most kick-ass stop on the list, but it is really interesting nevertheless. People actually live on all these little house boats lining the canal. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend stopping by. The neighborhood is gorgeous and it’s… just a nice Instagrammable spot. (You know you want your pic for The Gram. No judgment. I do, too.)
Actually Cool Things To Do In London
London’s usual sights are absolute must-dos. Not arguing there. But these are the kinds of places that are the heart and soul of a city. They’re not historic, somber spots that you pay your respects to just because you’re there. Next time you’re in London, if you can get some of these in, definitely do. It’ll add so much to your experience. I promise you.
Don’t forget to check out our full UK Road Trip Itinerary while you’re here. Because we really are still power tourists at heart. Can’t help ourselves, sorry.