Non-Tourist Things to Do in London

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As one of the great cities of the Earth, London offers an endless variety of interesting things to do and see that even long-time Londoners often miss. It only takes a little extra effort to get out of your everyday habits and enjoy a London you never have before, from picturesque or unusual attractions to busy marketplaces and storefront restaurants serving meals from the four corners of the world.

Places Off the Beaten Path

  • Greater London, home to over 7.5 million people, sprawls in all directions. The place is so large that it's all too easy to ignore the places you don't usually go, but it's simple enough in most cases to reach other parts of the metro area by Underground. The following are just a small sample.

    Right in central London is a storied institution that every Londoner and reader of Dickens has heard of, the Old Bailey, which is London's central criminal court. Few people bother to visit, even though it's free to sit down and watch actual trials underway in stately old courtrooms where the judges and the barristers look like they do in the movies.

    Highgate Cemetery, in north London, dates from Victorian times and features Gothic tombs and picturesque stones among a forest of trees and, in season, wildflowers. A number of historic luminaries are buried there, such as Karl Marx. Part of the cemetery is freely accessible, but other parts must be visited as part of a tour.

    If you're up early in the morning, the Smithfields Meat Market is a site to behold that few ever make an effort to see. At the market, you can see tradesmen buying and selling all variety of meats at a place where meat has been traded for centuries. The current General Market Building is an imposing Victorian edifice.

Entertainment Off the Beaten Path

  • It's good to see a West End show, which is like catching a Broadway show in New York. But London offers a wide range of other theater performances, many of which are seldom seen by theatregoers---but they could be, since all it takes is consulting Time Out magazine or another guide. Off-West End theater can be inexpensive, entertaining or even a little adventurous.

    So can London's lively music scene, featuring every kind of music from all over the world. Headliners come to town, naturally, but much of the musical action is at places other than the major venues such as the Royal Albert Hall.

    London also has some of the best comedians anywhere in the English-speaking world performing in venues around town, including pubs, small theaters and comedy clubs. If the comedian is any good at all, and many of them are, "laugh out loud" won't be an Internet cliché---it'll be what you're doing.

    Supporting your football or cricket club by attending their matches is a fine thing to do, but consider having a look at another sport. London's got everything from basketball to track and field. Or visit one of the city's many gyms or pools and get moving yourself.

Other Experiences Off the Beaten Path

  • London features a number of out-of-the-way, unusual or downright oddball museums and cultural attractions. Sigmund Freud, Samuel Johnson, Florence Nightingale and George Frideric Handel, among others, all have little museums devoted to them. At the Clink Prison in South Bank, you'll see how Tudor-era justice was dispensed, and Fan Museum in Greenwich has the world's only collection of hand fans---more than 2,000 in all.

    Even though Britain has a reputation for bad food, the truth is that the country has a tremendous variety. London in particular is home to any kind of food---good food---that you can think of. Don't eat near your usual haunts; ride the tube a few stops to a new neighborhood, look around and pick a place that seems appetizing: an Indian storefront, a fish-and-chips hole in the wall, or a Korean barbecue specialist, or any of a dozen places on most streets.

    Don't be afraid to wander into a unfamiliar neighborhood pub, either, especially one that isn't part of the major chains. For that matter, don't be afraid to put one foot in front of the other and walk down streets you've never heard of before, to see a parade of people, curious shops, old churches and other unexpected things.

    "When you're tired of London, you're tired of life," said Samuel Johnson. True in the 18th century, still true in the 21st.

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