There are a thousand things to do in London, but sometimes when it comes to narrowing one down – perhaps to impress that special someone/complete randomer off the internet – it can be hard to choose. Here’s a list of fun ideas that might not have occurred to you before. Some of these have links to reviews on the main blog; many I haven’t yet been arsed to do properly. I hope you find some inspiration!
If you’ve done something rad and want to see it on the list, tweet me at @CuriouslyEmily.
Light up your life
Located, ironically, on a street jam-packed with neon lights, Lights of Soho is London’s first and only light art gallery, featuring iconic works from Tracey Emin and Chris Bracey . You can just wander in before 6pm any day of the week, but access is restricted to members only afterwards.
Visit the Wellcome Collection
‘The free destination for the incurably curious’, the Wellcome Collection is my favourite museum in all of London. It’s full of oddities and the best possible place to take someone with an insatiable love for trivia and weird facts. Also it’s freeeeeee. Find out what’s on here.
Go to the Bank of England museum
It’s almost like they don’t want visitors. The Bank of England museum is only open 9-5pm on weekdays, but if you’re
pulling a sicky having a day off, it’s an interesting (albeit fairly serious) afternoon.
Explore a city farm
London is home to a handful of city farms that are home to rare breeds, petting zoos and – if you’re lucky – tractor rides. There’s a full list on Time Out.
Watch Kit Lovelace’s Romantic Misadventures
Kit Lovelace, tweeter, organises readings in pubs where writers both amateur and professional tell funny stories about their misadventures in romance. There’s no official website or cover charge, and the venue changes depending on whichever pub Kit can find that’ll lend him a microphone, but every single one I’ve been to has been heart-warming and hilarious. You can even sign up to read something of your own.
Learn to play the ukelele at the Queen of Hoxton
It’ll be the most hipstery thing you’ll ever do, but the Hoxton Ukulele Hootenanny at the Queen of Hoxton takes place every Monday for “regular Ukers, beginners or anyone who is just Uke curious.” It’s free, and ukes can be hired for a £20 refundable deposit. If you’re really serious about it, try Learn to Uke, which runs taster classes and longer courses for budding ukelings.
Wander along the South Bank
An oldie, but a goodie. The South Bank is home to dozens of street performers, the National Theatre, outdoor food markets, second-hand book stalls and God knows what else. Sometimes there’s a giant purple upside-down inflatable cow called the Udderbelly. See what’s on here.
Spend the day at Ally Pally
Alexandra Palace offers every outdoorsy pursuit from pedalos to pitch ‘n’ putt. If you’re feeling especially energetic you can go on a Segway rally, swing through the trees or visit the ice rink, or, if you’re feeling sluggish, just grab a jug of Pimm’s and enjoy the view.
Visit the Sky Garden
The Shard costs £25 per person to visit the top but the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street is free, though advance booking is recommended. Plus, there are some great restaurants at the top. Review here.
Visit Big Ben
Not many people know that you can book tours to the top of Elizabeth Tower with their MP, but now you do. Waiting times are long – usually a few months – and the hours are weird, but if you’ve got some spare annual leave rolling around it’d be a great day out. The tour is open to UK residents only (sorry, tourists). Find out how to apply here.
CHEAP THINGS (< £20)
Attend a Gin Social
Once a month Soho’s Graphic Bar throws open its doors to gin-lovers and producers alike, hosting a bargain evening in which a lowly fiver will get you a G&T, a tasting of the gin of the month and a specially created gin cocktail. The event is held on the first Monday of every month, and tickets can be purchased in advance from EventBrite.
Drink This, Make That
Indie drink ‘n do collective Drink This, Make That runs quirky masterclasses with cocktails and crafting. Keep an eye on its Facebook page for upcoming events, but previous workshops have included pinata-making and notebook embroidery, and tickets usually cost around £15pp.
Go for £10 steak
There are a few places to go in London now for a cheap steak dinner, most notably Flat Iron, whose three West End locations can attract queues of up to two hours. Fortunately, they work the queue with a mobile app, so you can bugger off to the pub while you’re waiting for your table. If you’re in West London, newly opened Hanger SW6 is serving up the same deal.
Visit Soho’s Murder Mile
Snooze. Jack the Ripper is so 1888. Instead, try a tour with Murder Mile Walks, which offers you more bludgeonings for your buck, featuring over 18 murderers in just two hours. Plus, it starts at Tottenham Court Road, and Soho has better bars than Whitechapel, so you can make a day of it. Places cost £15pp.
Learn to swing dance
Swing Patrol is London’s biggest swing school, popping up in dozens of locations all over town. Classes cost £10 a person, and additional classes on the same night cost just a fiver. There are lessons for total beginners, improvers and experienced dancers, and time is set aside at the end of the evening for extra practice.
Explore Medicine, Monks & Murder (for a good cause)
Barts Cancer Institute is now running historical walking tours of the Barts area (near Barbican), including the university’s private grounds and an exclusive opportunity to visit state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, with explanations and demonstrations from a lab manager – a glimpse of the future of cancer research. 100% of the £5 ticket charge goes to fund BCI and its life-saving research.
Go on a Highgate Cemetery Tour
Probably not best cracked out on a first date as it’s a bit morbid, but fascinating nonetheless. The guides are almost obscenely knowledgeable about the cemetery’s 170,000 residents, and you can see the final resting places of Douglas Adams, George Eliot and Malcolm McLaren. You can book tickets in advance for weekdays online.
Visit a gin distillery
There are a few gin distilleries in London now, but Sipsmith is one of our favourites. Tours cost £15 and include a G&T, but must be booked a few weeks in advance. Reserve your place online. The East London Liquor Co, which makes not only its on gin but vodka and whisky too, is also a good bet. (Review here.)
…Or just drink a lot of it
Don’t be fooled by the crap website, The London Gin Club is a hidden gem amidst Tottenham Court Road’s never-ending construction work. It runs formal tasting sessions from £32pp but also offers tasting menus from £25-55.
Watch a film outdoors…
Obviously a seasonal option, but in the summertime you can barely move in London for outdoor screens. There’s the Rooftop Cinema that pops up in Shoreditch, Stratford and Peckham; Backyard Cinema in Camden and the Luna Cinema that projects its classic movies wherever it can. There’s also a little one under the Westway at Portobello Road which has the added bonus of being positioned right next to Boom Burger (review here).
…Or in an awesome independent cinema
Alternatively, if it’s winter or you’d rather see a new release in something a little less faceless than a Cineworld, there are some amazing little cinemas all over London. They’ve got leather sofas and an in-screen bar, although most of them are a little more expensive than your standard multiplex. Try the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road, Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch, Everyman cinemas (I like Screen on the Green, Upper Street), the Phoenix in Finsbury or the Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton. If your budget is tight, try Genesis cinema. Tickets to its luxury Studio 5 screenings cost just £8. (A full list of Indy cinemas can be found here.)
Play an urban wide game
Fire Hazard Games organise urban wide games with cryptic clues and real life guards including the ever-popular City Dash. Tickets are cheaper the further you book in advance, and start from £10. Review here.
Catch some comedy at the Pleasance Theatre
I only discovered this place recently, even though it’s just up the road from me. It’s a tiny, tiny theatre close to Caledonian Road station, and it’s especially good for Edinburgh Fringe previews. It draws the occasional big name – although you have to get in quick – but you can usually go and see some undiscovered talent for under a tenner. Listings online.
Get crafty at Drink, Shop & Do
By day a quirky cafe hosting all sorts of weird and wonderful workshops, by night a bar and dance club. Drink, Shop & Do really does have it all, from dance lessons and coffee tasting to screen printing and clay classes. They also host afternoon teas at weekends, comedy nights and musical bingo. Find out what’s on online.
Go to a mid-week dance club
Get over hump day while wildly flailing your limbs in approximate time to music at POP Brixton’s Weeknight Dance Club. Designed with weekday workers in mind, you don’t have to get smashed or stay out late to enjoy a weekend dance party on a Wednesday, from 7-11pm. it’s a good way to let off some mid-week steam and costs just £6.95.
The makers of urban wide game City Dash are back with a new game that requires stealth, subtlety and, quite possibly, false moustaches. Become a covert operative for 90 minutes with Undercover London from £15.
Discover your perfect brew
You’re worth more than the ancient box of Tetley grotbags at the back of your cupboard. Instead, make a beeline to Amanzi’s new Soho store, aptly situated on Brewer Street. You’ll find 150 types of tea – including cinnamon spice and roasted almond – and London’s first matcha bar. (They also do tea-based cocktails, too, if you fancy something stronger.)
Visit London Cru winery
London’s only city winery runs 60-90 minute tours at £15pp and includes some tastings, too.
Go on a London Loo Tour
Sounds interesting, but of course could be total crap. Tickets are £12 a person and available in advance online.
Go rock climbing
Quite a few opportunities to make a tit of yourself here, but rock climbing at one of the city’s many climbing walls is a fun way to spend the afternoon. I reviewed the Arch in Bermondsey, but there’s also the Mile End Climbing Wall and the Castle at Archway.
Play board games
Yes, it’s on the nerdy side, but for a relaxed night of cocktails and Cluedo try Draughts, London’s first and only board game cafe (£5 cover charge). If Haggerston is a bit of a mission, you can check out London on Board to find your nearest board game meet-up instead.
Watch naked boys read
Probably not great for a date unless you both enjoy a) naked men and b) literature, but Naked Boys Reading is a bi-monthly literary salon hosted by men in the buff. There’s dancing afterwards, and tickets are only £7 on the door (or £5 in advance). Review here. (Pro tip: NBR tends to be held in very expensive bars, so be prepared for a hefty bar tab if you want to get smashed!)
Gorge yourself senseless at Street Feast
Food out of a van: it’s come a long way since my mates and I spent the arse-end of our nights out crowded round Papa Simon’s decrepit old kebab-mobile outside Loughborough Students’ Union in 2009. Nowadays in London the street food scene is massive, and there’s no better place than to drink (and eat) it all in than Street Feast London, a night-time food market with an ever-turning carousel of nomadic eateries. There are bars too, so you can make a night of it. It’s free to enter before 7pm (£3 thereafter).
Visit the Butterfly House at the Natural History Museum (April-September)
No points for originality at the Natural History Museum, but its summertime butterfly house is home to thousands of rare and beautiful butterflies, caterpillars and moths. Tickets cost £5.50pp.
Rise and shine for an early morning rave
Get the workday off to a jolly start by raving it up in (of course) East London with a pre-work bop with Morning Gloryville, a new global concept now found in eleven countries across the world. It’s almost certainly better for you that the regular kind of late-night dance-a-thon; Gloryville ravers spend their time not snorting coke off each other’s arseholes in the bogs, but indulging in superfood smoothies and early morning massages. More information and tickets (from £10 in advance) can be found online.
Play laser tag
Bunker 51’s runs a ‘Star Command’ themed laser tag in Whitechapel, allowing you to relive your childhood years Barney Stinston-style for as little as £7.50 per 20 minute session.
Meet minds with Thinking Bob
Even in this bustling city, it can be hard to meet new people. If you’re seeking like-minded souls, check out Thinking Bob’s ever-expanding roster of themed meet-ups and kooky socials. Many of their events take place in pubs, so there’ll be plenty of social lubricant (i.e. beer) if you’re not a natural natterer.
Go to a Roller Derby
Roller derby is a full-contact women’s sport played on roller skates; it’s like lady Gladiators on wheels, and completely brutal. Keep an eye on London Rollergirls’ and London Rockin’ Rollers’ events pages for matches and (if you’re not a wuss, bloke or child) training sessions.
Make a great escape
Escape adventure rooms are massive in London at the moment, and a LOT of fun. I recently took some amateur cryptographer friends to Lockd, a new venture in South London with puzzles dreamed up by two Russian physicists. Games cost from £20pp based on a team of five. Review here.
Turn the city into your gym
If you’re bored of pounding the treadmill in some windowless sweatbox, air out those muscles with a free-running lesson from Parkour Generations. Classes cost £10pp.
Explore Viktor Wynd’s Cabinet of Wonders
The Last Tuesday Society’s basement museum is tightly packed with oddments and curiosities. Saturday tours (4:30pm) are free with £4 admission; Thursday tours (6:30pm) are £5 and include a Hendrick’s G&T.
Improve your handwriting
Give the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy a whirl at SOAS’ Friday drop-in sessions. Stop by for £15/session all in, or book a block of five for £60.
Draw on your dark side
Art Macabre hold quirky drawing salons on all things weird, wonderful, camp, creepy and odd. At the time of writing they’ve got ‘adult Alice’, Marie Antoinette and ‘bare and bearded’ coming up.
Learn something new
China Exchange is a Chinatown based charity that holds talks with influential speakers for just £5 a ticket. Past speakers include Lord Coe, Tom Parker-Bowles and Tracey Emin.
Slurp on London’s best hot chocolate
Paul A. Young is a master chocolatier, and his Aztec hot chocolate is the stuff of legend. Pop in to one of his stores in Angel, Soho or Bank to try a thick, creamy cupful of molten chocolate laced with fragrant winter spices. At £3.95 it’ll be one of the posher hot chocolates you’ll ever drink, but on a cold day it’s absolutely worth it. (In summer, try his homemade ice cream with melted chocolate sauce.)
Visit the Ginger Pig
The Ginger Pig is the fabled supplier of all of London’s best steakhouses, including Hawksmoor, but it’s also home to the city’s best sausage rolls. Drop in to the Marylebone, Hackney or Borough Market outposts for £3.50 worth of hot, flavoursome meat swathed in layers of delicate flaky pastry.
Acton is home to London’s first and only trampoline park, Oxygen Freejumping. Many of the sessions are geared towards kids, but 16+ beginners sessions run every Tuesday at 7pm (£10pp), and there are loads of freerunning sessions open to grown-ups (£20pp) once you nail the fundamentals.
Take a dip
The King’s Cross Pond Club is technically an art installation, but in practice it’s a 40m wide public bathing pond complete with self-cleaning algae. Prices range from £3.50 to £6.50, and non-swimmers can visit the pond at a discounted rate. Tickets can be booked up to two weeks in advance.
Climb the Monument
The Monument to the Great Fire of London is 202ft tall (and 202ft away from the start of the Great Fire). You can climb its 311 steps for just £4.
Cross Tower Bridge’s glass floor
The highlight of the Tower Bridge Exhibition is its glass floor, allowing visitors to watch the bridge lifting from above. Adult tickets cost £9, but they’re cheaper bought in advance online or with a Monument ticket. Keep an eye out for other events in the space too, including literary salons, engineering tours and sky-high yoga sessions.
See the city through new eyes
Unseen Tours is an award-winning London tour company with a difference: all the guides are homeless, ex-homeless or vulnerably housed Londoners. Tickets cost just £10pp and tours cover half a dozen different neighbourhoods and run every day of the week.
Go white water rafting
Hiding away in Waltham Cross is the massive Lea Valley watersports facility that was initially built for the 2012 Olympics. These days, it earns its keep with all kinds of aquatic activities for adventurous types, including white water rafting, hydroboarding, canoeing and kayaking. Prices from £25pp.
Explore the Enigma
Okay, it’ll require a bit of a schlepp, but Bletchley Park is only 30 minutes from Euston and is home to the legendary Enigma machine, used to crack codes in WWII and the subject of the recent movie The Imitation Game. Entry costs £17.25, plus a train ticket from London Midland – about £15 without a railcard. (Bletchley Park is just around the corner from the train station, so no crazy non-London bus routes necessary.)
Become an ice cream dream
Ice cream parlour Blu Top runs gelato-making classes from just £38.50pp, unlocking the secrets of three different flavours and ending in a tasting session.
Tea & Crafting is a cave of crafting wonder tucked away in Camden Market, and offers casual classes on knitting, crochet, millinery, jewellery-making, paper-cutting and more.
Try some tea
Lovers of the leaf will appreciate Tea Studio’s vast range of speciality teas, but anyone can enjoy its range of quirky tea-themed events. Try tea and cake pairing, tea and cheese tasting and brewing masterclasses, all £20-35pp.
Visit the Indytute
Shoreditch’s Indytute is a hub of all kinds of weird and wonderful workshops, including hula-hooping, playing the harmonica, aerial silks and more.
Eat at The Clink
Prison charity The Clink offers unique dining experiences to support the rehabilitation of prisoners through hospitality training, and you can find one of their restaurants at HMP Brixton. Your entire meal will be cooked and served by prisoners, and all proceeds go to charity.
Play ping pong
Ping pong bars are becoming increasingly popular in the city, and are a great venue for a date or (smallish) birthday gathering. Bounce in Holborn has recently opened a new location in Shoreditch, and ‘urban pub’ The Bat & Ball in Westfield Stratford offers top-class ping pong alongside hot wings, pizzas and craft beer.
Bowl at All Star Lanes
Continuing the theme of non-athletic semi-competitive games, All Star Lanes gives you the opportunity to casually
rub your friends’ noses in the poo impress your mates with your awesome ball control.
Go to a museum at night
Museums are the most obvious things in the world, but it’s worth checking out the special grown-up times where you can enjoy the wonders of science/nature/history with a beer in hand and no screaming kids in sight.
Visit London Zoo
Similarly, in the summer London Zoo puts on adults-only events every Friday night. And there’s a bar. Tickets are cheaper in advance.
Dress up for Blitz Party
Blitz Party is a monthly(ish) event that recreates the glamour of 1930s Blighty. Fancy dress is essential. Book tickets online from £25pp.
Listen to live piano music
Piano is close to my work so we go there a lot. Invariably we all get accidentally trashed and waltz around the place as though it’s a banging nightclub, not a classy joint with fantastic live music. The pianists change all the time, but most of them can do a decent rendition of Single Ladies as well as all the classics. You can even sit at the glass-topped baby grand and make requests (although, of course, it’s polite to tip if you do!) They also have a branch in South Kensington.
Board an amphibious vehicle
Okay, so this has just reopened after one caught fire last year and everyone had to be rescued by the river police, but it’s back up and running again! It’s a tour bus that turns into a boat; it’s a bit of a silly one but my fellow adventurer @CarlaJuniper took an out-of-towner on it and had a blast. Tickets are available online. (Occasionally they crop up on Groupon-type websites too.)
Stuff some animals
Not for the squeamish. Tonja Grung of the Last Tuesday Society teaches half-day taxidermy workshops that’ll teach you how to stuff a dead rodent and turn it into a delightful objet d’art. All creatures are ethically sourced, and you can even take your furry friend home with you at the end. It’s unusual, you have to admit. Buy tickets here, from £35pp (based on two people). I reviewed a class here.
Buy some affordable art
Art aficionados looking to adorn their abodes with affordable, original pieces can visit the Affordable Art Fair, which pops up periodically in Battersea and Hampstead. Prices start from £20, but even if you’re not in the market for something pretty, it’s nice to window shop.
Kayak down the Thames
Touring the Thames from a passenger boat is so passé (unless you’re in a speedboat, of course), but London Kayak Tours give you the opportunity to paddle your way past the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and all of London’s other top landmarks under your own steam.
Learn to knit
Why not knot your own knit with the needle-wielding duo from I Make Knots? Their workshops run all over town in knitting and crochet, and they’re currently running classes in collaboration with luxury NYC knitwear designer Manoush.
Attend a graffiti art class
The Alternative London people do fantastic walking tours of Shoreditch’s street art scene (review here), but they also do graffiti workshops for people who fancy having a go at wielding a spraycan themselves. It costs £25 for a four hour class and you can book your place online.
Visit the London Cocktail Club
If you’re going to drink cocktails, make sure you do it right. The London Cocktail Club is an underground bar (aren’t they all?) off Goodge Street where flamboyant bartenders leap around the place setting fire to things and serving up elaborate cocktails served in teapots and fuck knows what else. It is loud in there, so don’t go if you’re planning on some deep and meaningful conversation. They also have branches in Covent Garden, Oxford Circus, Shoreditch and Shaftesbury Avenue, and run cocktail classes if you want to learn how to DIY. Cocktails are an expensive way to drink, but they have 241 happy hour promotions all day Monday and 4:30pm-7pm the rest of the week.
Listen to live jazz at Nightjar
This is a favourite bar of the trendiest guy in our office. It’s classy as fuck – cool, intimate and table service only, with live jazz most evenings. Advance booking – weeks in advance – is essential. Listings online.
Bring your own booze at BYOC
You bring the booze (and £20); they bring every mixer under the sun and the expertise of pro mixologists. Bookings are in two hour slots and can be made online.
It used to be a public toilet, now it’s the world’s weeniest cabaret club. There’s no cover charge, but drinks are a little more expensive than average. If you’re super organised you can nab one of few reservable seats, but otherwise it’s standing room only. Listings online.
Go in fancy dress
The Last Tuesday Society always hold the most insane events. I went to their Valentine’s Day Animal Ball once dressed as a zebra. They had a ball pit, tarantulas and lots of live music. Weird but fun.
Attend a Intelligence Squared debate
Intelligence Squared organises highbrow debates about history, economics, politics and sociology. Tickets to watch are generally £30 (half price to students) and available online.
Visit the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
It’s barely a secret any more, but it’ll impress out-of-towners and people who’ve been living under a rock. It’s behind a Smeg fridge at the Breakfast Club, Artillery Lane; all you have to do is tell the waitress you’re looking for the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town and in you go.
Shoot clay pigeons
I always thought it was such a waste how they made pigeons out of clay before shooting them to smithereens, but then I discovered (aged, er, 22) that in fact they’re just clay discs, not model pigeons. Embarrassing. Either way, you can do in North London from £30pp at English Shooting.
Run from zombies
For people who get off on running around like a maniac from zombies/paintballers, there’s Escape From A Room With Zombies, an undead-themed escape game (£30pp), or Bunker 51 near London Bridge. Off-peak prices start at £25, but remember you’ll always need to factor in more paintballs than you think.
Indulge in a bottomless boozy brunch
Spend an indulgent weekend feasting on some of the best brunches the city has to offer alongside unlimited bubbles and breakfast cocktails. Here’s my list (of over fifty!) boozy brunch options.
Learn the flying trapeze
This probably isn’t one to spring on someone, but if you’ve ever fancied learning the flying trapeze, Gorilla Circus runs classes in parks all over the city. Prices from £24pp for two hours. Review here.
RSVP to a Curious Invitation
A Curious Invitation was set up by Suzette from the Last Tuesday Society and organises all sorts of quirky events; from masquerade balls to butterfly preservation classes. What’s on changes all the time, so check out the website here.
Discover London through a lens
Put that fancy camera to good use and explore the rich landscape of East London, overflowing with ephemeral art and quirky characters. Foto Ruta, originally from Buenos Aires, offers photography tours and treasure hunts to help you make the most of the incredible scenery on our doorsteps, and at the end everyone compares pictures over a glass of wine. Tickets are available online and cost from £25 per person.
Get up close and personal with magic
The Magic Hour is an intimate close-up magic show that sells out almost as quickly as tickets go on sale. Ranked at #15 on TripAdvisor, it’s pretty much considered the best magic gig in London, with its star Tony Middleton, alias Sonic, renowned worldwide for his incredible sleight of hand. Tickets range from £25-40pp plus booking fee, and including a complimentary glass of wine. Review here.
Sing along to your favourite films
The Prince Charles cinema regularly screens sing-a-long classics, including Grease, Dirty Dancing, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Moulin Rouge, Spice World and, most recently, Pitch Perfect and Disney’s Frozen. They’re also known for their movie marathons and quote-alongs (including Anchorman and Mean Girls). Full listings are available online.
Dine somewhere different
Grub Club is an online platform that sells tickets to pop-up dining experiences hosted by enthusiastic foodies and professional chefs alike. I’ve been to a few and the food is top notch, plus many venues are BYOB. Get £5 with code CURIOUSLONDON10.
Skate the night away
Vauxhall’s infamous roller disco is now sadly closed, but outdoor alternatives include Easy Peasy Skate and London Friday Night Skate for marshaled free sessions (bring your own kit), or SkateFresh for lessons from £45.
Get into bingo
Unconventional bingo halls are popping up all over London. It’s cheap, sociable and doesn’t require much concentration, which means it’s an excellent excuse to drink mid-week. The Breakfast club runs bingo in Battersea and Angel (review here) every Tuesday night, and other bingo organisers pop up all over town, including Rebel Bingo and Musical Bingo. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern also stages ‘bingo-cabaret-mayhem’ every Monday night, complete with drag acts and ball jokes aplenty.
Gamble and gorge at the Hippodrome
Easily mistaken for a dreadful night out waiting to happen, the London Hippodrome’s Heliot streak house is a gem hiding in plain sight, and often does fantastic offers via Bookatable. Read my review here.
A close shave
Gentlemen wishing to indulge in some olde-worlde grooming may want to check out Murdoch’s London branches or Ted’s Grooming Room, a small chain of traditional men’s barbers by Ted Baker.
Wake up at the Docklands
There’s lots of watery fun to be had at WakeUp Docklands. Ride their wakeboarding cables from just £28pp including kit hire. Or, if you fancy something a little gentler, they do stand-up paddleboarding classes too from £30pp.
FANCY THINGS (> £50)
Knock yourself out
This one requires a bit of forward planning and a few adventurous mates, but if bouncing around on giant inflatables and wearing comedy costumes sounds like a Saturday afternoon well spent, check out It’s A Knockout London, featuring props from the original TV show and ready to rock summer weekend. Places from £45pp.
Take the Harry Potter studio tour
Explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in, er, Watford with the Warner Bros Studio Tour. Tickets cost around £35pp and must be booked in advance.
Pick up some life skills
If cooking isn’t your thing and you’d rather turn your hand to something more practical than flower-arranging, The Goodlife Centre can help you with some new skills in upholstery, furniture restoration, curtain making, carpentry, plumbing and much more. Workshops last anything from an evening to several weeks. Prices vary.
Write some letters
Explore the ancient art of pretty letter-writing with Quill London’s calligraphy masterclasses, which cater for beginners, intermediates, experts and those looking to digitalise their designs. You’ll also find origami, watercolour and paper flower-making workshops, though everything seems to get booked up a couple of months in advance. All ~£50pp.
Learn how to wear a kimono
London’s first and only kimono and Japanese accessories retailer can be found in Notting Hill. The kimonos themselves are eye-wateringly expensive, but Wasokan is also running “kitsuke” experiences, where you can learn how to wear and style a kimono for £50. There are also “Kimono de odekake” sessions, where you can wear a kimono out and about for a day. You’ll also find an on-site Japanese tearoom and, if the £500+ kimonos are a little out of your price range, there’s a range of accessories and homewares from just £5.
Scale The Wall
Literally the coolest possible thing, especially now we’ve all seen the Wildlings going over the top in Game of Thrones. It’s steep (haha) at £50/hour per person, but that includes tuition and all your kit. More information online at Vertical Chill.
Go to the theatre
So obvious, but there’s so much amazing theatre in London it can’t be left off. I’ve seen pretty much everything on the West End, and Phantom of the Opera, Matilda and The Book of Mormon (review here) are the best (although there’s always tonnes of quality theatre outside the West End too). For tickets, I like Theatremonkey, but Lastminute and Lovetheatre do great deals too.
Learn to appreciate chocolate…
Everyone loves chocolate, but think how much MORE you could love it if you learned how to taste it properly. Hotel Chocolat’s School of Chocolate on Monmouth Street offers tasting courses and ‘Bean to Bar’ chocolate-making courses from £50pp, and posh homegrown chocolatier Paul A. Young does premium classes for £175pp. He also does chocolate and champagne pairing evenings with French Bubbles, from £60pp.
…Or champagne and cheese
Speaking of French Bubbles, they also do champagne and cheese tasting from £50pp.
Take afternoon tea
A bit standard, but always a nice experience. The Goring is supposedly the best (and it had better be for the eye-watering £42.50 price tag), but if you want something more unusual try the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson (from £38pp), Moroccan-style afternoon tea at Momo (from £22pp), or the extravagantly wacky afternoon tea experience at Sketch London (from £39pp).
Go to the opera
The marketing people at the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera, are painfully aware that its key demographic is, er, dying out a bit. In an attempt to recruit more young ‘uns, they run a scheme where under-thirties can buy heavily discounted tickets to all its productions. Top price seats are £30/person, but cheaper ones are available for £10 and £20. You need to apply to join Access All Arias three weeks in advance. (NB: You can buy two tickets for a time, using one for a more aged friend or relative.)
Mince like a pro
The perfect experience for the savage, blood-thirsty carnivore in your life, top meatery the Ginger Pig runs hands-on butchery classes from its fancy Marylebone shop. Choose from beef, lamb, pork or sausage-making and spend three and half hours slicing, dicing, cleaving and mincing, followed by the hearty two-course supper you just prepared. Places cost £135pp so it’s definitely a special one, but for meat-lovers it’s a (rib-)cracking way to spend the afternoon.
Hear movies like never before
Awhile ago I went to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Film Gala, which was one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time (I wrote a full review here). Until you’ve seen one of these shows, you haven’t truly appreciated the genius of Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, John Williams and the other composers whose work has brought so many incredible movies to life. The Film Gala is only on once a year, but there are dozens of other concerts focusing on movie scores, as well as special screenings where you can watch whole movies to a live musical accompaniment (think Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Titanic..!) The best resource to find out what’s on in London (and elsewhere) is the Movies in Concert website.
Immerse yourself in ‘4D’ theatre
Immersive theatre is all the rage, and always popping up in one guise or another. Punchdrunk Theatre often comes to London, and Secret Cinema is selling tickets by the thousand.
…Or take it outside at Regent’s Park.
For those who prefer their theatre with a jug of Pimms and a blanky, Regent’s park is home to London’s Open Air Theatre, which puts on four productions every summer. Find out what’s on online.
Discover Russian spa
Banya No. 1 is London’s first and only Russian spa, and therefore the only place to experience an authentic parenie treatment, where huge bundles of fragrant foliage are used to cleanse the body. Read all about my experience here.
Build your own bouquets
Budding florists (aha) can learn the delicate art of floral design and Judith Blacklock’s Flower School, which offers everything from day courses to professional qualifications.
Take a ride on the Ginger Line
The Ginger Line is a nomadic restaurant experience that pops up from time to time in secret locations along the London Overground. They’re immense fun and cost about £60pp…but they sell out quick, so sign up to their mailing list for first dibs.
Try some pie in the sky
I can’t wait for this year’s tickets to go on sale, because this is top of my bucket list. London in the Sky hoists diners into the air for sky-high breakfasts, dinners and champagne receptions. It’s expensive – £50-250 – but, come on, you’ll never do anything else like it. Tickets go fast, so register your interest for this year’s batch now.
Take a macaron masterclass
Those with a sweet tooth and an eye for value may be interested in Oh La La Macarons’ masterclasses, which come with unlimited vodka martinis. Tickets cost £65, and you’ll have a box of macarons to take home with you too. Review here.
Abseil at Olympic Park
The Orbit at Olympic Park may well be London’s ugliest sculpture, but at 262 feet it’s a pretty badass abseiling venue. Tickets cost £85pp and can be booked online.
Three words: WATER JET PACK. It’s called flyboarding and you can do it in the Thames from just £95pp with Flyboarding Experiences.
Design some jewellery
Kat&Bee is one of my favourite indie jewellery bands, specialising in wire-wrapped pieces with skull and flower motifs. I recently discovered they do workshops out of their East London workshop, which includes a piece to take home for yourself. Workshops last two hours and cost £100pp, but there are discounts if you book more than one spot.
Explore London’s food scene
Eating through a neighbourhood is one of the best ways to explore it, in my opinion, and food tour specialists Eating London promise a whirlwind experience through the city’s most vibrant pockets of gastronomic brilliance. Explore the East End and its melting pot of Jewish, Bangladeshi and French cultures or try the Twilight Soho Food Tour to sample Peruvian, Italian and Lebanese cuisines. Tickets cost £50-75pp.
Become a wok star
Turns out Green Thai curry paste isn’t supposed to come from a jar. Who knew? Learn how to make that and more at School of Wok, Covent Garden’s Asian cookery school for professionals and enthusiastic amateurs alike. Three hour courses start from £95pp – choose from traditional Thai cookery, wok skills, dim sum and more.
Spend a night at the Museum
Wannabe palaeontologists can stay the night at the Natural History Museum beneath the benevolent gaze of Dippy, the museum’s resident diplodocus skeleton. Included is three activities – which could include stand-up comedy or drinks-tasting, a three-course dinner and hot breakfast, overnight access to all galleries and temporary exhibitions, live music, edible insect-tasting, an all-night monster movie marathon and a cash bar. Tickets are £180pp (or £162 for members). Places sell out far in advance, so keep an eye out on the Events page – it’s called ‘Dino Snores for Grown-ups’.