Local Picks: Underrated Things to Do and See in London

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Whether it's your first or fifth time, traveling to a big city like London can be overwhelming. Historic and trendy, iconic and quirky, England's vibrant capital city is one that has it all. But dig up any must-see checklist, and the same 10 attractions -- you know, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben -- will most likely top the itinerary. This is to say that with so much to do and see, it's still easy to get sucked into sightseeing the tourist traps and miss out on hidden gems and local favorites. That's why we decided to go straight to the source. We asked 10 locals for the best spots to eat, drink, play, and even get a haircut across the pond. After all, no one knows a city better than the residents who call it home. Here are their picks.

Hotels in this story

Kyoto Garden

Photo by George Rex

Photo by George Rex

“I would recommend Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. If you’re looking for a break from the humdrum of London and are in need of a little cultural relaxation, then walk through the garden on a Sunday morning to unwind, watch the koi carp and peacocks, and take in the breathtaking gardens. The design is phenomenal — just be aware it is small.” — Emma Jackson, local for seven years

The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

“While I loving curling up on a cozy couch with a cocktail at home, I’d much rather curl up on a cozy couch in a place that feels like home with a handmade concoction handed to me by a quirky master mixologist. This hidden Georgian townhouse in a cobblestone courtyard is eccentric, modern, and homey all at once, serving bespoke beverages from an apothecary-style bar with serious flair. And if you are so inclined to make a drink yourself, you can try your hand at bartending in one of their private cocktail classes.” — Kim Anderson, local for nearly two years



“After years working in New York and London as a magazine style editor, I’ve yet to come across a better haircut or barbershop experience than what I found at Ruffians in Covent Garden. From the award-winning staff to the eclectic, retro decor — not to mention the complimentary top-shelf bar that rotates with the seasons — it’ll make you wish hair grew faster.” — Dean Stattmann, local for about a year

Columbia Road Flower Market

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Aurelien Guichard

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Aurelien Guichard

“Columbia Road Flower Market is a great little plant and flower market that’s only open on Sunday. Get there early (8 a.m.) for the best pick, although going later may get you a good deal as vendors want to sell everything by the end of the day. The explosion of color and fragrance is well worth the early morning wake-up.” — Reetika Suri, local for five years

Sophie Gass


“Sophie Gass is a beautiful nail salon that offers flowers and fashion on the side. The service is delightful — Sophie herself personally answers booking emails and greets customers in the impeccable boutique, which is nestled between Notting Hill and Holland Park. Tea and iPads are offered during treatments, yet prices remain consistent with standard high street salons. Come for a pedicure; leave with some baubles and bouquets!” — Ekaterina Leonov, local for three years

Damson & Co., Gunpowder, and Momo


“I will start with my favorite place to get a coffee, Damson & Co., a cozy cafe in Soho that serves lovely coffee, drinks, and small plates. Gunpowder in Spitalfields is also an awesome Indian restaurant. You can’t reserve and it gets busy, so turn up early. The food is delicious — go with friends and share some small plates and have cocktails. And Momo, which is located just off Regent Street, is great for a Moroccan-style afternoon tea.” — Ella Ruxton, local for five years

The Harringay Arms

Photo courtesy of Flickr/jelm6

Photo courtesy of Flickr/jelm6

“Hoxton Street is right in the center of East London, but relatively untouched by gentrification. Start at the top with Embassy East, a place run by a couple of cool guys that do amazing coffee and grilled sandwiches. Walk down towards the market and Howl at the Moon — the best pub in east London — is on the left. It has loads of bottled beer, a great mixture of people, and is open late on weekends. Then, go to Olive, which is a few doors down, for fresh brick-oven pizza at three pounds a pie.

The best-kept secret pub-wise is The Harringay Arms in Crouch End. All the classic London boozers are now gastropubs and this one has luckily slipped through that net. Owned and run by proper North Londoners, this off-the-beaten-track space offers more than 30 bottled beers, a great jukebox, a dart board, and a super chill dog. My buddy and I used to spend hours in there on cold nights and drunkenly come up with ways we could try and steal the 40-pound Elvis bust that sits on the bar.” — Andy Quinn, local for six years

Kinoko, Cross Keys, and Maltby Street Market

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Matt Brown

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Matt Brown

“Kinoko is hands down my favorite store in London right now. It has a heavy Japanese influence so you can expect to find anything from selvedge denim to obscure Tokyo-style magazines and rare Japanese stationery. You should visit for the music played on the in-store record player alone!

And while east London has become ‘guidebook hip’, south of the river is the new cool. Forget the crowds at Borough Market and head for the foodie Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey where you can eat fresh St. John doughnuts before sampling any one (or all) of about seven breweries that make up the Bermondsey Beer Mile. If you have to choose, decide between The Kernel Brewery and Partizan Brewing — they’re only open to the public on Saturdays. 

If I had to send a visitor to one pub to try and enlighten them as to why we Londoners can easily spend a whole day in one, I’d send them to the Cross Keys on Endell Street. There’s no food — only big brewery beers — but it’s one of the most evocative pubs around. And it’s in Covent Garden so there’s no excuse to miss it. It’s at its coziest in the winter when the fairy lights sparkle on the brass jugs that hang everywhere.” — Toby Orton, local for 12 years

Borough Market and Victoria Park

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Emerson

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Emerson

“Borough Market is London’s famous wholesale food market and there are many restaurants here. The George Inn pub nearby is popular in the summer, as it has a large outdoor courtyard area. The Shard is also in this area if you want dinner with a view — I took my parents to Ting last year and they loved it. Victoria Park, which is closer to East London, is an alternative to the more well-known ones. There is a great pub called The People’s Park Tavern, which has a big garden that leads directly to the park.” — Andrew Ferraro, local for nearly 38 years

Mangal 2


“Mangal 2 is a really good Turkish restaurant. The food is always fresh, according to several Turkish people I know, too. The place is also a good spot for dinner because almost every evening, around 7:30 p.m., you can see the famous contemporary artistic duo Gilbert and George here. Make a reservation or go late, around 10 p.m.” — Giovanni Romeo, local for 15 years

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