So, you’ve seen Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben, but now that you’ve ticked off the mega touristy sights on your first trip to London, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty; to what really makes London the cool, quirky, and sometimes straight-up weird city that it is. From sky-high rooftop gardens to West End shows, here’s what you need to experience during your second time in London.
1. Broadway Market
Broadway Market (also known to locals as Hackney Market) is one of the oldest trading streets in London. Every Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM, a small East End street between Regent’s Canal and London Fields becomes packed with vintage clothes, handmade crafts, and anything from traditional pie and mash eateries to cupcake stalls. The permanent indie music shops, quirky cafes, and old Victorian pubs are also worth checking out. Don’t miss Broadway Bookstore, ‘60s-themed Market Cafe, and the good old Cat & Mutton for a delicious roast.
2. Regent’s Park
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With lily-ponds, ornate fountains, rose gardens, and wooden footbridges, Regent’s Park is considered to be one of London’s most beautiful green spaces. In the summer, this is a great place to bring a picnic, hire a boat on the lake, or try out the UK’s favorite ice-cream: a Flake 99 from a Mr. Whippy ice cream van. If you’re here in the winter (or it’s just a classic British day), the park is still worth a visit, as it’s home to the London Zoo, Primrose Hill’s epic city viewpoint, and a whole host of music events.
3. Shakespeare’s Globe
Bang smack in the middle of the River Thames’ South Bank sits one of the coolest playhouses in the country — and maybe even the world. Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre famously built by Shakespeare’s Playing Company in the late 1500s, is the closest you’ll ever get to experiencing the real Shakespearean deal. Keeping to the original as much as possible, the building includes an open-air stage, tudor tiles, reed thatching, and even goat-hair walls. Performances, many of which are candle-lit and have actors perform in amongst the spectators, are no less authentic. Guided tours and show tickets can be found here.
4. Little Venice
Almost every major city seems to have a “Little Italy”, but there are none quite like London’s Venice. While most other cities focus on Italian food, what makes Little Venice special are the beautiful tree-lined canals, colorful narrow boats heading to Camden Lock, and the many traditional canalside pubs serving locally-crafted ales. On a summer’s day, this is exactly where you want to be.
5. The Sky Garden
You probably spotted this building during your first visit to London: Sky Garden is the walkie-talkie-like skyscraper on Fenchurch Street. But did you get the chance to go to the top of it? On the 35th floor, you’ll find 3 levels of beautiful, tropical landscaped gardens, an outdoor cocktail terrace, four restaurants, and several observation decks. The building also has floor-to-ceiling windows, offering awesome panoramic views over the city skyline. Due to its popularity, you have to book a time slot on their website, which is released every Monday and can only be secured up to one week in advance.
6. Camden Passage
Camden oozes cool, and no second trip to London is complete without exploring its many awesome streets and locks. A great place to start is Camden Passage: a beautiful pedestrian alleyway filled with quirky antique shops, cafés, and vintage fashion boutiques. Every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, a street market selling retro clothes and random collectible adds even more character to this street. For a full list of shops, restaurants, and a weekly event schedule, check out the Camden Passage website.
7. The West End
If you didn’t get the chance to watch a West End show during your first visit to London, then you can’t miss it a second time. The biggies, some of which have been playing 8 times a week since the 80’s, are Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, and The Lion King, but there are other awesome, lesser-known comedies and plays on every street corner around Covent Garden and Leicester Square. If you have a specific show you want to see, you can buy tickets online. However, if you’re flexible and looking for a great deal, head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for discounted, on-the-day tickets. Tip: get here as early as you can to avoid long queues and for a better selection of tickets. And just like in New York City, don’t expect to just walk up to the Victoria Palace Theatre to see Hamilton.
8. Banksy Graffiti on Rivington Street, Shoreditch
Every wall, bridge arch, and office block in Shoreditch is covered in awesome street art and has long been the main draw for tourists here. One of the earliest, and today’s most famous, however, is Banksy’s Rivington Street. Here you’ll find some of the artist’s earlier works including “Guard Dog,” as well as many other masterpieces from graffiti legends such as Thierry Noir, Cranio, and Zadok. If you want to learn more about Shoreditch’s art scene, the free graffiti walking tours (donation suggested) led by local street art enthusiasts are definitely worth joining.
9. The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History
London prides itself on being quirky, and when it comes to the weird and wonderful, it doesn’t get any better than The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. Inspired by Victorian cabinets of curiosities, the museum has everything from giant anteater and dodo skeletons to tribal shrunken heads and pickled genitals in glass jars. On the top floor, you’ll also find provocative art exhibitions, a carnivalesque cocktail bar, and taxidermy workshops. Think Natural History Museum; on mushrooms.
Please note: you have to be over 21 to visit the museum.