When tourists arrive in London, they’re quickly shuffled through an ultimate bucket list of ‘iconic London experiences’ – but ask any Londoner and they’ll tell you that nearly all of these are hugely overrated, unbearably crowded, and unreasonably expensive. They’ll also be sure to steer you in the direction of some fantastic alternatives that will show you a more authentic side of the city. Here’s why you should skip the tourist hotspots – and where you should go instead.
Visit Buckingham Palace
Sure, the palace is beautiful, and the gardens are lovely for a walk – but is it worth the entrance fee, the queues, and the crowds of tourists pushing through the staterooms? We’d argue not. Drop by and take a photo of the facade, but skip the excursion.
Check out one of London’s more under-the-radar house museums. Leighton House Museum, for instance, was the home of eccentric Victorian artist Frederic Leighton, who decorated the house every bit as extravagantly as any palace. Don’t miss the extraordinary Arab Hall, filled with colourful mosaics and Islamic tiles. And there’s an extraordinary art collection to boot!
Afternoon Tea at the Ritz
We’ve heard great things about the traditional afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel, but with prices starting at £54, it’ll cost you a pretty penny. There’s also a strict dress code, so don’t forget your coat and tie!
Check out one of the hundreds of alternative afternoon teas available around London. They come in different styles, with different price points, and you’re likely to get more bang for your buck elsewhere. One of our favourites is the boozy afternoon tea at Modern Pantry. Or opt for a Moroccan twist at Momo. If you’re set on the traditional, we’re partial to the offerings at Seymour’s Parlour.
Hop on – Hop off bus
It never ceases to amaze us how someone managed to take the concept of a bus, rebrand it, and mark the price up 10-fold… We could think of about 1000 better uses for £28 a day.
Hop on any bus you fancy, hop off wherever you want to, and do it all for £6.60 or less. Transport for London’s service fares are capped daily, so you can ride the buses and tubes as much as you please, for a fraction of the price of a tourist bus. If you’re looking for a good bus line to see a lot of London on, the 15H bus covers many of the centre’s major attractions, plus the line is operated by vintage double decker buses.
Portobello Road Market
The image I had in my head before visiting Portobello Road was of Hugh Grant strolling through a charming local market street as the seasons change around him and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ plays. You know the scene. The reality is more like trying to push your way through a stampede while gasping for air and a glimpse of the overpriced antiques piled on the sides of the street.
Just around the corner from Portobello Road is the lesser known Goldborne Road Market. On a Friday or Saturday, it’s like Portobello without the tourists, and with the added benefit of Moroccan street food!
Platform 9 and 3/4
We know… you simply need that Harry Potter selfie with the luggage cart and scarf. Do it if you must, but be prepared to queue and push through the crowds, as Kings Cross is one of London’s biggest and busiest stations.
OK, this is a great one. If you like Harry Potter, you’ll love House of MinaLima. This 4-floor shop and gallery is filled with works and souvenirs created by graphic design duo Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, the team responsible for the design works in the Harry Potter films, from the Daily Prophet to the Marauder’s Map.
The London Eye
With long queues and a hefty £26 price tag to view London from a slow-moving glass carriage, there are definitely better places to take in the view over the city than the London Eye. Someone had better tell Kate Moss – rumour has it she’s ridden the Eye 25 times!
One of the best views of the city is on the top of 20 Fenchurch Street, the skyscraper affectionately known as the Walkie Talkie for its unusual shape. In addition to the views, there’s a stunning conservatory and a bar stocked with (surprisingly reasonably priced) drinks. Make sure to book your entry slot up to 3 weeks in advance if visiting during the day – or be prepared to queue up for evening entry.
OK, we’re by no means saying that you shouldn’t visit Hyde Park: it’s beautiful and makes for a great break from the bustling city centre of London. That said, there are many parks in and around London which are also worth a wander, so make sure you don’t miss out.
Hampstead Heath is an expansive park featuring swimming ponds, playgrounds, and other landmarks. It’s also very popular with dog walkers, so come prepared to pet some puppies. Also don’t miss the unrivalled sunset view over London from Parliament Hill!
The Prime Meridian Line
While you absolutely shouldn’t miss the Royal Naval College next door, we’d recommend you skip paying the £9.50 fee to see the spot where a line has been marked on the spot where East supposedly meets West.
If you’re feeling adventurous, go on the hunt for the real Prime Meridian Line – that’s right, the line you pay ten quid to see doesn’t actually correspond to the real location of the Prime Meridian. The real line is about 100 metres to the east, and though it isn’t marked, you can use your phone’s GPS to locate the invisible line near a bin on the side of a footpath in Greenwich Park. Oh, and it’s free.
At the end of the day, everyone’s London bucket list will, and should be different. You can find some awesome places to add to yours with our free app – in fact, KOMPAS will even create a personalised itinerary especially for you.