The best things to do in London

1. Travel back in time at Dennis Severs’ House, Spitalfields
Secreted in the City, Dennis Severs’s 18th-century townhouse is an unexpected nexus to the past. Visitors wander through the decades as they negotiate the period property’s 10 authentically attired Georgian and Victorian rooms, seemingly moments after its residents, a family of Huguenot silk weaves, have left the building. A uniquely immersive way to engage with London’s past.

2. Join a free art tour at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
Not only are we lucky enough to get free access to many of the world’s best museums and galleries, some of them even throw in complimentary extras. The National Gallery’s gratis hour-long tours are a case in point. Led by a gallery expert, they give visitors a detailed introduction to a small selection of the 2,000-plus paintings on display.

3. Ascend Westminster Cathedral bell tower, Victoria
Not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral is an often overlooked attraction and it is all the more attractive for it. The distinctive Byzantine-style building’s 83-metre bell tower can be climbed – come here for impressive views of the city and, hopefully, a few moments’ solitude.

4. Take afternoon tea


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between shopping stops, city tours and museum visits, afternoon tea in London offers not just another obligatory tourist experience but welcome respite from the hectic pace of the capital. Pretty much every London hotel offers its own take on this quintessential experience, but our guide to ten of London’s best afternoon teas should provide something to cover all tastes.

5. Take an al fresco dip in London’s lidos
Often dating from the 1920s and ‘30s, London’s lidos become substitute seaside resorts on unexpectedly sunny days. As well as outdoor swimming pools, many of the lido sites include cafes and kids’ facilities. They’re spread throughout the city but you’ll find our pick of the crop listed in our guide to London’s best lidos and outdoor pools.

6. Get a word in at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park
Inspiring orators and intentional antagonists have their say at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner every Sunday and you can join them – since 1872 it’s been permissible to speak about whatever you wish here, as long as you avoid obscene language.

7. Wander the trail of London’s hidden waterways 
Modern-day visitors are often ignorant of the trail of buried rivers that surge beneath the city’s surface – did you know a river runs directly beneath Buckingham Palace? Our feature on these secret conduits reveals the surprising ways they’ve shaped the city and where you can see them today; read it to understand how Peckham Rye got its name, and why The Oval is oval.

8. Try fragrance profiling at Penhaligon’s, Covent Garden


Penhaligon’s Covent Garden branch

A bastion of classic British style, London perfumer Penhaligon’s has built its reputation on traditional fragrances and steadfast refinement. At its Covent Garden branch, you can book a private perfume profiling appointment with a fragrance advisor who meticulously details the brand’s scents and helps you select your perfect match. It’s a free service but you’ll likely want to purchase your choice afterwards.

9. Row your boat at London’s parks
Throughout the summer, the boating lakes at many of London’s parks open to the public. The biggest and best-known is the Serpentine lake at Hyde Park, but alternative locations are found at Regent’s Park, Alexandra Park, Greenwich Park and elsewhere.

10. Pay homage at Postman’s Park, the City of London

A peaceful, poignant spot near St Paul’s Cathedral, Postman’s Park on King Edward Street, EC1, pays tribute to the otherwise unheralded people who sacrificed their lives to save others’. A series of tiles embossed with text details their selfless, fatal acts of heroism – expect to be engrossed and moved by the tales.

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