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There are a million things to do in London. The challenge isn’t really in finding one. It’s in choosing which ones to fit in your trip.

London is such a vibrant city full of beautiful places and fun activities – enough to keep you occupied for days (or even months!). My only advice is this: Don’t limit yourself to doing just the touristy activities. If witnessing the changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace or shopping at the famous Oxford Street are both on your bucket list – then go ahead and do those. But remember that London has so much more to offer. You don’t want to miss out because you were stuck queueing at some touristy attraction, do you?

The best things to do in London that are free

Pink house No. 7 Kensington Place Notting Hill - strolling around the neighbourhood is one of the best things to do in London - Photo by Cristina Ilao

It’s true, London can be very expensive. But not everything costs an arm and a leg in this beautiful city. Sometimes, you don’t even need to spend a penny. I’m talking about enjoying the beautiful skyline and views of the city. The London Eye is not the only place to go if you want a bird’s eye view of London. There are better options and they won’t even cost you anything.

Sky Garden

The Sky Garden on top of the famous Walkie Talkie building (or 20 Fernchurch street) offers one of the best 360-degree views in London. Entry to the garden is free and all you need to do is to get tickets in advance through their website. The free tickets are released weekly and are available to book up to three weeks in advance. Strictly speaking, tickets are only valid for an hour from entry (much longer than the London Eye which rotates for only 30 minutes).

Primrose Hill

One of the best (and free) views of the London skyline is the one you can see when you climb up the top of Primrose Hill. It requires a bit of work to get to the summit, but the view is worth the effort. There’s a good reason why photographers troop to this spot during sunrise. Here’s a fun fact. This hill is actually a Grade II listed public park – which means that it is protected by law and is historically important.

The best things to do in London if you want to experience being a local

Antique products sold at the London Covent Garden Jubilee antiques market: Gold ferris wheel and vintage jewellery boxes with fine porcelain and china wares - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Whether you’re here for a short break or staying much longer, you’ll never run out of markets to explore. London has a wide selection of markets, from those that sell antique goods and collectibles to those that showcase the best in the local food scene. You might want to do a quick research before heading to any of the markets though. While some of them operate daily, some are only open on weekends or on certain days of the month. Make sure you visit when the markets are actually open for business. My top choices? Columbia Road Flower Market, Jubilee Market and Borough Market!

Columbia Road Flower Market

I love flowers! So, don’t be surprised that the Columbia Road flower market is first on my list. On Sundays from 8am to 3pm, Columbia road transforms into a beautiful haven. Come early and see it filled with the finest cut flowers and home-grown British plants all sold at reasonable prices.

white hydrangea flowers at the Columbia Road flower Market - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Jubilee Market

The Jubilee Market in Covent Garden is one of my favourites. If antiquing is your thing, then this is the place for you. Every Monday from 5am to 5pm, Jubilee Market comes alive with antique sellers proudly showing off their collection. There are thousands of beautiful heirloom pieces from exquisite Victorian ring boxes to intricate Edwardian paraphernalia. Just make sure to bring some cash if you decide to go antiquing.

Borough Market

If food is your thing, then the Borough Market should be on your list. It’s open from Monday to Saturday at various times. It is London’s oldest food market and has become one of the city’s icons. It’s a good place to visit if you’d like to try local produce and artisan quality products.

The best things to do in London if you have the time

Victorian house number 43 in Belgravia with big number on the door and a wisteria vine around the big window - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Instead of staying on that touristy hop-on hop-off bus, why not experience London’s beautiful neighbourhoods by foot? The city is full of pretty streets, period homes, independent cafes and hidden gems waiting to be explored. Now, let me tell you more about my favourite London neighbourhoods.

Notting Hill

I’m sure you’ve seen Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in that popular 90’s movie, Notting Hill. Well imagine yourself on the movie set, walking along Notting Hill’s streets and admiring the pastel coloured houses of this sweet neighbourhood. Please don’t head straight to the popular Portobello Road. The best streets are on the other side of the Notting Hill tube station. Try strolling through Hillgate Place or Kensington Place and the surrounding streets. They’re quieter and nicer. Just remember that these are residential areas so make sure that you don’t break any trespassing or privacy laws while you’re there.

Belgravia

Belgravia is a quick walk from the Victoria tube station. It has some of the most beautiful streets and the most attractive stores in central London. If you’re visiting in late May, make sure you see Belgravia in Bloom. It’s an annual floral festival that coincides with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Experience seeing Belgravia in full bloom as the houses and storefronts transform into stunning floral displays during springtime. And while you’re there, visit some of the most Insta-famous cafes. Peggy Porschen and Dominique Ansel are both in Belgravia and are just a few steps away from each other.

white Victorian period houses in Kensington London near the foreign embassies - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Richmond

Richmond is a bit out of the way but is still accessible by tube. It’s definitely worth a visit if you want to experience nature while in London. Head to the Kew Gardens and see an extensive collection of trees, flowers and plants. Visit Richmond Park and see the red and fallow deer. Remember to follow safety advice as the deer are wild animals and can be unpredictable. Oh, and don’t forget to drop by Petersham Nurseries before you leave. They have a great selection of home ware and decors plus they also serve some of the most scrumptious meals in London.

The best things to do in London if you love art and culture

I often think that London is somehow similar to New York – well, in the arts and culture department at least. From museums to exhibits, musicals and theatre shows, you’re surely going to have your fill (and more). Go beyond watching the street performers in Leicester Square and venture into the local art and culture districts.

Museums and Art Exhibits

London has a number of world-class museums. They’re good places to visit especially when the weather is miserable (which is most of the year!). While we are spoilt for choice, my favourite museum (and the only one I keep coming back to) is the Victoria and Albert Museum – we call it the V&A for short. The V&A is focused on art and design so it’s definitely not boring. Periodically, it hosts special art exhibitions that require a ticketed entry. Some of my favourite past exhibitions are Dior: Designer of Dreams and Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up.

Light-filled dome with glass installation at the Victoria and Albert V&A museum entrance and reception foyer - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Watch a Musical or Theatre Show

While these shows are now accessible through online streaming, nothing compares to watching them live. London has an abundance of choice when it comes to musicals and theatre shows. My favourites are Wicked, The Lion King and Matilda – and before you say anything… yes, I’m a kid at heart 😉

Head to London Fashion Week

London Fashion week happens twice a year – on February and September. If you’re in London around that time, why not head over to Somerset House and experience fashion week first-hand? You don’t have to be a popular blogger, an official member of the press or even a contributing designer to get to London Fashion Week. Unless you want to attend the exclusive fashion shows – now that’s a different story.

Catch a movie at the Cinema

If you’re coming to London, go for the old-school cinematic experience by heading to the independent cinemas. There’s a good variety of them that are hidden right in the middle of Central London. There’s the fancy Electric Cinema in Notting Hill to start with. Then there’s also Rich Mix in Shoreditch which operates as a charity. Then there’s Whirled Cinema which is a membership only cinema – if you’re here for a while, they have a weekly membership. What a steal!

The best things to do in London if you want to satisfy your cravings

gold afternoon tea tray at Claridge's showing profiterole, miniature cakes and scones at the bottom tray - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Book an Afternoon Tea

The UK may not be very popular for its cuisine, but it certainly is known for one quintessentially British tradition – the afternoon tea. The traditional afternoon tea menu includes tea (of course), finger sandwiches, sweet and savoury pastries, miniature cakes, and delectable scones. There are many places offering afternoon tea so you can easily choose whichever fits your budget. Treat yourself at Claridge’s and enjoy afternoon tea while marvelling at their art deco foyer. Head to Petersham Nurseries and have tea in the middle of a garden. My personal favourite is the quiet Number Sixteen hotel, which is only a quick 10-minute walk from the V&A museum.

Best Things To Do In London: east British meat pies and quiches sold at the London Borough Market - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Explore the international food scene

London is a melting pot of different cultures. It’s no surprise that the international food scene in this capital is so dynamic and diverse. From iconic restaurants, to stylish cafes and trendy pop-up stores, there’s a lot to choose from. While it’s tempting to keep eating at Nando’s (which I’m obviously guilty of), resist the urge and try something different. Some of my favourites are Dishoom (Indian), Yalla Yalla (Lebanese), Polpo (Italian) and Din Tai Fung (Taiwanese).

The best things to do in London before you leave

trinkets, tapered candles and Christmas decors at the Petersham Nurseries in Richmond - Photo by Cristina Ilao

Buy thoughtful souvenirs

Don’t leave London without keeping a token to remind you of all the fun you’ve had. And I don’t mean those random knick-knacks printed with the Union Jack flag nor the die cast keychains sold in hundreds of stalls around the city. Go for something thoughtful and classy. Buy a V&A museum poster to display at home. Stock your pantry with Fortnum & Mason’s luxurious teas and biscuits. And if you’re really feeling it, buy yourself a fancy perfume from Penhaligon’s – my personal favourite is Luna.

engagement session in London near Tower of London and with the view of Tower Bridge in the background - Sweet Escape with Cristina Ilao Photography

Have a professional photoshoot

Yes, you read that right! This won’t be a photographer’s list of best things to do in London if it doesn’t involve a photoshoot! And you know what they say – A picture is worth a thousand words. Cliché but absolutely true. Wouldn’t it be nice to have beautiful professional photos taken during your memorable London trip? Whether you’re here for your annual holiday or you’re here to celebrate an important milestone (an engagement or a wedding, perhaps?), it’s wonderful to have a gallery of memories that you can keep with you to remember this trip. You don’t have to carry that heavy tripod around or ask random strangers to take your photos. There is no need for those awful selfie sticks either.

Having a local photographer take you around London means you don’t just get stunning photos. You also get a lovely complimentary tour around some of the most incredible places and corners in this lovely city.

Phew, that was quite a list! Now you’re ready to pack your bags and explore London the non-touristy way. Let me know in the comments below if you found this guide useful and if you tried anything at all on my list! I’d love to hear from you. If you’re interested in having your photoshoot in London, please get in touch and let’s work together. Fancy getting an update the next time I publish a travel post like this? Subscribe to my email list and be the first to know. Until next time!

Lots of love,
Cristina xx

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