Classics vs. Alternatives: A London City Guide

A city break in London can be a very different trip depending on what you decide to see and do. If you’ve not been in a while, you might want to stick to the classic sights, however if you’ve already ticked off a lot, then why not try some of the capital’s newer, under-the-radar experiences instead? We’ve rounded up the best of both worlds, so you can pick and choose as you please.

Culture

Classics

 

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You could spend a whole week simply touring London’s magnificent museums and art galleries. One of the busiest areas for culture seekers is Kensington’s museum district where visitors can find the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. In addition to incredible temporary exhibitions, these institutions are the permanent homes of fascinating artefacts, including costumes worn by rock and roll royalty and Tim Peake’s 2016 spacecraft, Soyuz.

Similarly, The National Gallery and the two London Tate outposts rarely disappoint — they regularly show highly important works in their temporary exhibitions, in addition to their extensive permanent collections.

Alternatives


If you’ve already visited these iconic spots on a previous trip or just fancy seeing something a little more unusual, then you could head to one of the city’s many offbeat museums: The Magic Circle museum keeps its cards close to its chest and aptly requires advance booking, while The Postal Museum is dedicated entirely to mail. We recommend popping into the Sir John Soane’s Museum if you get a chance — the former residence of the famous 19th-century architect houses thousands of artefacts that he hoarded during his lifetime, from paintings by Canaletto and Turner to an actual Sarcophagus…

The Barbican isn’t exactly under-the-radar, but it may be home to more than you realise! Within this brutalist complex – a sight to behold itself – there are art galleries, theatres, cinemas, and even a magnificent conservatory abundant with jungly flora.

Shopping

Classics

 

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Central London is pretty much unrivalled when it comes to retail, boasting legendary department stores such as Harrods and Liberty, as well as the UK flagship stores of almost any brand you can think of. The pavements of Oxford Street and Regent Street become packed with keen shoppers every weekend, while vintage rummagers head into Soho to find a preloved treasure.

Alternatives

 

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For a slightly calmer shopping experience, we recommend heading to Spitalfields and Shoreditch. Within Spitalfields Market, you’ll find stalls of jewellery and quirky wares, while premium beauty brands and high street favourites line the market’s perimeter. For more preloved gems, head to Brick Lane: it still attracts tourists, but its vintage offering really is enormous and one of the best in the city.

If you’re looking for something quieter still, the recently-opened Coal Drops Yard is a former Victorian canalside industrial site that has now been made into a boutique shopping area full of independent labels and extraordinary design features. Depending when you visit, you might also catch a car boot sale or pop-up market. It’s like nowhere else in London, and it’s just a five-minute walk from King’s Cross St Pancras.

Other notable mentions that feel more like the charming London we see in romcoms rather than during the rush hour crush include the historic and luxurious Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly and Marylebone Village, where you’ll find the curious Egyptian-style facade of Alfies Antique Market.

Views

Classics

 

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It seems logical that the best view of a city skyline would be from its highest building, which in London’s case is The Shard. There are a few ways to take in the vista, however all of them will cost money. You could book a simple viewpoint ticket or upgrade your visit with the addition of a cocktail. Alternatively, you could book into one of the restaurants and bars in the building and enjoy the view while having a meal or a drink. Other popular high-rise dining spots in the city include Duck & Waffle and Sushisamba, both of which are open into the early hours.

Another way to enjoy panoramic views across London is by booking a free advance ticket to the Sky Garden. Housed in the Walkie Talkie, the viewing atrium is filled with verdant foliage, making for a pleasant view inside as well as out!

Alternatives

 

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While they may not be as dizzyingly high as The Shard or the Square Mile’s skyscrapers, there are plenty of other rooftop bars and restaurants scattered across the city. To mix with locals rather than tourists, head to East London gem Netil360 or Forza Wine — a popular Italian joint in Peckham. For views across the Royal Parks and Piccadilly, Wellington Arch – the original entrance to Buckingham Palace – allows visitors to climb to the top and then learn all about its intriguing history in its onsite exhibition.

Markets

Classics

 

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In London, there’s no shortage of spectacular markets filled with fresh and local produce, delightful scents, and if you’re lucky – some old-school Cockney traders. Borough Market, which famously starred in the Bridget Jones film series and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, is one of the city’s busiest food markets, displaying wedges upon wheels of cheese, mountains of spices and some fascinating fish. You can even grab a coffee or a glass of bubbly to sip on while you wander around and decide what to taste or take home…

Columbia Road flower market is a popular Sunday morning jaunt, especially for East Londoners. The cobblestone street turns into a floral wonderland, and it’s almost impossible to leave empty-handed. Other bustling markets in the city include Covent Garden market, the original fruit and vegetable market that now sells all kinds of souvenirs and gifts, and Camden Market, which has been a sanctum for indie kids, goths and rockers for decades.

Alternatives

 

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If you’re hoping to peruse without the queues or crowds, then one less frequented — but no less impressive — option is Leadenhall Market in the City. The interior is so elaborate and enamouring that it was actually used as a backdrop in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The market actually dates back to the 1300s when it traded meat and fish; now, you’ll find premium brands, florists and opticians, as well as wine bars and artisan bakeries. Over in Bermondsey, not too far from Borough Market, Maltby Street Market is a lesser-known foodie mecca, featuring bars with outdoor seating and fresh, hot food that you can eat as you browse.

Camden Passage Market, which is actually in Islington, is a pedestrianised thoroughfare that often hosts stalls, from antiques and jewellery to books. The surrounding pubs and shops are equally charming, making for a delightful day out.

History

Classics


Ravens, dungeons and torture chambers can all still be found in our ancient capital. The Tower of London, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the home of the crown jewels, has long been one of the country’s most popular attractions. It was built by William the Conqueror back in the 1070s and went on to be expanded by succeeding royals. The fortress has witnessed murders, mysteries and executions and several ghosts are rumoured to wander the halls and towers. Meanwhile, across the Thames, the London Dungeon gives visitors a spooky, immersive insight into more of the city’s macabre past — from tales of Sweeney Todd to Jack the Ripper.

Alternatives

 

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There are reams of history to be found beyond the battlements of the Tower of London. You could spend a day in Greenwich, where the Old Royal Naval College conceals an astonishing painted hall and the Tulip Staircase in the Queen’s House spirals hypnotically — not only is this architectural marvel beautiful to look at, but it was the first centrally unsupported staircase to be built in Britain. Just watch out for any ghostly apparitions…

There’s history to be found around every corner of London. Sometimes it’s best to just wander and get a little lost… You might stumble upon the ruins of a church that now appears to be growing amongst greenery over in St Dunstan’s in the East Church Garden, or come across a recognisable name in one of the many serene and leafy cemeteries across the capital.

Food & Drink

Classics

 

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London is home to 66 Michelin-starred restaurants, including those that have long been established on the scene, such as La Gavroche and The Ritz, plus relative newcomers, for example Behind and Casa Fofó. It’s never difficult to find somewhere to dine in the capital if you’re not so bothered about Michelin status: areas like Soho and Covent Garden are lined with eateries, so you can wander around and pop in wherever takes your fancy.

Another popular pastime to partake in if you’re in the capital is afternoon tea. You’ll find plenty of traditional versions, particularly in some of the city’s well-known hotels, while more unusual eateries such as sketch tend to put a extraordinary twist on the classic meal…

Alternatives

 

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If you’re looking for something that feels a little more local and under-the-radar, we recommend heading to foodie hubs that are located slightly outside of central London. Brixton Village features well-loved chains, such as Honest Burgers and Franco Manca, alongside independent traders that sell everything from crepes to Japanese curries.

Food markets have also become more popular in recent years. Our favourites include Eataly, which is located right next to Liverpool Street Station. It’s a decadent Italian emporium where you’ll find endless rows of pasta, intricate pastries that look like ornaments, and a number of places to grab some antipasti or an Aperol Spritz. Meanwhile in West London, a glorious, stained glass-clad church has been transformed into Mercato Mayfair. There are two levels of gastronomic delights, a wine cellar in the vaulted crypt basement, a micro brewery and even a rooftop terrace.

 

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About Marianne
Marianne

When Marianne isn't writing about all the wonderful places you can visit through dealchecker, she enjoys exploring London, visiting scenic spots within the UK and adventuring further afield whenever possible!

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