I’m often asked what it’s like to live in London, and I typically respond like a deer in headlights. It’s impossible to answer that question easily. London is unlike anywhere I’ve ever traveled or lived. A city of contrasts, old and new, historical and modern, chaotic and peaceful, maddening and magical, cold yet welcoming, claustrophobic but expansive, quintessentially British yet culturally diverse…I could go on and on. London refuses be characterized in simple terms.
I’ve taken my best shot at tourist advice for my visiting family and friends, but there’s also something to be said for taking a page out of a local’s book. Londoners have taught me to embrace free museums, appreciate pubs, and keep up with the latest cultural events. They’ve also taught me to cram too many people into a tube car and queue properly, but that’s another story.
If I was showing you around London like a local, here’s what we would do.
1. Take the bus
The #11 bus is the perfect route to see all the major sites. Rather than getting on a crowded tourist bus, we would pay the regular commuter fare and grab a seat on the top deck of a city bus to sightsee like a local.
2. Enjoy the pub scene
Sunday Roast is like Thanksgiving every Sunday. Wear your stretchy jeans. Here’s a guide for the best roasts in London according to The Londonist.
3. Night at the museum
Most museums in London are free which is reason enough to go. But many also offer late night hours, often serving drinks and hosting activities so we can get our culture on, drinks in hand, without dodging school tours and strollers. Peruse our options here.
4. Grab lunch at the market
The tourists all go to Portobello and Borough Market. We’ll hit up the Real Food Market, Maltby Street, Broadway Market, Brixton, Columbia Road Flower Market, or Spitalfields instead. These are just a few of the markets in London that serve up tasty food at reasonable prices alongside fresh produce and handmade crafts.
5. Coffee and Canals
When I learned about the canals snaking through central London I was intrigued. One of London’s best kept secrets is Regent’s Canal. We’ll get our caffeine fix at local coffee shop Towpath along the canal and start strolling.
One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about London is that British food is bad. In case you couldn’t tell from my food theme, this couldn’t be further from the truth. London has Michelin-starred restaurants coming out of the woodwork and a diversity of cuisines that mirrors the cultural mix of this town’s population. Brunch is the latest revelation in London’s food scene. I would take you to Granger & Co. in Notting Hill for an Australian-style brunch, or The Breakfast Club if you preferred American-style bacon and hash browns. Ottolenghi is another hot chef in town with several brunch and dinner spots.
7. Go to the theatre
The West End isn’t just for tourists. We can buy day tickets or scour lastminute.com for a great deal. There is so much talent in this town we’re sure to enjoy whatever show we choose.
8. Ferry to Greenwich
We can escape London without ever leaving the city limits by hopping on a water taxi and sailing East to Greenwich. The covered market, expansive park, and museums will keep us occupied for hours. The views from the water taxi are stunning too, and much cheaper than a tourist cruise.
9. Walk in the park
Everyone knows Hyde Park is amazing, but have you been to Richmond Park, Regent’s Park, Victoria Park, or Hampstead Heath? Those are just a few of the more popular ones. We’ll walk off all the food we’ve indulged in and take in some people-watching as a bonus.
There’s never a dull moment in London. I hope you have a chance to experience it like a tourist AND a local for yourself soon.