How to Experience London Like a Local

How to Experience London Like a Local

Destinations

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After living in London for some time, I can genuinely say it’s one of the most polarizing cities I’ve ever been to. You either love it or you hate it, there’s no in-between. But you can’t deny its charm, especially if you explore outside of the touristy attractions. Read this guide to know how to experience London like a local!

 

How to Get to the City Center

First things first, you’re probably flying into London and will arrive at one of the 4 main airports: Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton or Stansted. Unfortunately, they’re not next door to Big Ben or London Eye but don’t worry, it’s quite easy to get to the center!

All of them boast great transportation links, here’s a full breakdown of all your options, prices and how long it’ll take you:

Gatwick
Train – £20 (30mins)
Bus –  £8-£12 (2 hours)

Heathrow
Train – £12.80 (30mins)
Bus –  £10 (1.5 to 2 hours)

Luton
Train –  £10 to £20 (45mins)
Bus –  £6 to £11 (1h30mins)

Stansted
Train –  £9 to £15 (50mins)
Bus – £5 to £15 (2 hours)

Whether you take train or bus, your last stop will be Victoria Station, the hub of all transportation in London. If you’re staying outside Zone 1, you’ll be able to continue your journey from there. Apps like CityMapper and Movvit are great to plan your transportation once you get there!

The Endless Neighborhoods

The key to getting to know London is to visit its endless neighborhoods. When you think of London, you probably think of its main attractions like Buckingham Palace but the city is much more than that. Each neighborhood will show you a different side of this fascinating city, with different people, food and vibe altogether. Here are the ones you can’t miss:

Shoreditch

Shoreditch is the heart of North East London. Known for its vintage shops, graffiti and food markets, it’s hard to get bored walking around here.

You can actually take a walking tour here to get a local’s perspective on the art and artists contributing to the overall essence of this neighborhood.

The Brick Lane Vintage Market which is a huge underground market selling all vintage things ranging from suede jackets to dainty 70’s dresses and beautiful accessories. It’s not exactly cheap but if you’re looking for a particular vintage item, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.

If you are looking for more than just clothes and happen to be in London on a Sunday, head onto the main road to visit Brick Lane Market, where you can try a salted beef bagel at Beigel Bake or shop for some unique souvenirs.

Street food stall in Brick Lane Market – Paolo Paradiso / Shutterstock LondonThe food at Brick Lane is a must try if you want to live like a local in London @Getty Images

Don’t forget to check out Spitafields Market, only an 8min walk from Brick Lane. It’s probably the most underrated market in London even though it boats foods from all over the world. My personal favorites are the huge pizza pockets for only £5 at the SUD ITALIA Pizza Van and the iconic British crumble with custard at Humble Crumble.

Camden

Camden used to be a hidden gem but unfortunately, it’s now overrun with tourists and has lost some of its magic. However, if you avoid weekends and public holidays, you can still enjoy explore this iconic neighborhood.

Camden Town, Camden High street near Camden Lock Market.Head to Camden High Street for the perfect Instagram picture with the Camden Lock sign © Getty Images

The main attraction here is the Camden Market. On TikTok, you’ll see a lot of recommendations for the next ‘it’ spot here and most of the time, it doesn’t disappoint but expect large queues. Around the market (and even under it), you’ll find a unique overground and underground vintage shopping experience and a lot of cool jewellery designs (buying rings here is a must!). The prices vary a lot but I’ve been able to find some unique pieces for a reasonable price (don’t be scared to haggle a little!).

selection of jewelry, earrings, rings, necklace in Camden MarketThe selection of vintage jewelry at Camden Market is huge! © Ana Matos

Some must eats here are Funky Chips (loaded chips with various sauces), Mac Factory (with arguably the best Mac and cheese in London and the Yorkshire Burrito (a Sunday Roast put into a burrito). All of these for under £10 so it’s great if you’re on a budget!

You’ll also find the iconic Amy Winehouse statue, not too far from where she first began to perform at The Hawley Arms.

If you do go on a weekend and you’re tired of the crowds, take a stroll through Regent’s Canal, which you can follow until you reach Little Venice, lined with boats and lush gardens.

For those of you who love nightlife and bars, you should head over to The Jazz Café Camden, one of London’s most iconic live music venues hosting many club nights, live music and gigs. If you want something more traditional, you can check out The World’s End for a pint of beer, cocktails and some starters, ranging from £8 to £15.

Southbank

Southbank will give you great views of iconic landmarks like the Big Ben and London Eye (more on that later). It’s a great spot to get photos and just stroll along the river Thames.

Westminster, South Bank, London, England.Take a stroll on the Queen’s Walk for stunning views of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament © Getty Images

From here, you can do the iconic Queen’s Walk which will take you through London’s biggest attractions, restaurants, book markets, and plenty street performers. This should take around 2 hours. If you want to carry on exploring after this walk, you can reach St. Pauls Cathedral and stop by Borough Market, arguably the most popular food market in London. Although it’s a must-visit, it can get quite crowded on the weekends and some of the food is very overpriced (like strawberries with chocolate for £8!). Nevertheless, if you go, you should try the paella made right in front of you with fresh seafood and the mushroom risotto for around £10 each.

Chinatown/SOHO

London has one of the most vibrant Chinatowns in the world. It’s very easy to get here as it’s right next to Leicester Square.

As you walk in from Wardour Street, you’ll be greeted with a huge colourful gate where you can take some cool pictures, and feel like you’ve been transported to Asia. You can step into supermarkets such as Lucky Foods and New Loon Moon to discover the best Asian snacks/fresh herbs and drinks. There are a lot of bakeries where you can get sweet treats from such as the Golden Gate Cake Shop (I would recommend trying the green pandan cake for £3) and you can also try the viral custard bun at Bunhouse for under £5.

SOHO is right opposite to Chinatown and is filled with live entertainment, LGBTQ+ bars, restaurants and theaters with shows like Les Miserables to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Tickets usually range anywhere from £15-£100.

Notting Hill

One of the more posh neighborhoods in London, Notting Hill was once the set for the famous 90s romcom Notting Hill. Today, it’s famous for hosting the iconic Portobello Road Market on Saturdays where you can buy anything from vintage watches to beautiful jewelry with prices ranging from £15-£50.

Notting Hill district colourful homes.These Notting Hill houses look like a row of giant Skittles, making you want to taste the rainbow! © Getty Images

While you’re there, visit the colourful houses on Portobello and Lancaster Road, where you can become the millionth person to take their IG pictures there.

For a sweet treat, you can check out Buns From Home and try THE best cinnamon roll in London (or at least me and TikTok seem to think so) for under £5.

If you happen to be in London around August, Notting Hill also hosts its very own Carnival which is free to enter and an amazing way to experience the Caribbean culture there.

The Parks

London’s parks are the vibrant green lungs of the city, offering a refreshing escape from urban life. It’s where all the locals go on the lucky sunny days after a stressful long day at work. If you want to experience London like a local, here are some of the best parks London has to offer:

Regent’s park/primrose hill

Probably my favorite park in London, Regent’s Park located near Camden is amazing if you want to find some hidden gems and get some great views of the city.

Stroll through Queen Mary’s Gardens, home to over 12,000 roses, or get lost in the picturesque Avenue Gardens. For a hidden gem, visit the tranquil Japanese Garden Island.

Japanese Garden Island in Regents ParkThe Japanese Garden Island in Regents Park is a great place to rest from all the sightseeing © Ana Matos

Primrose Hill, just north of the park, rewards your climb with panoramic views of London’s skyline, perfect for a sunset picnic. And last but not least, don’t miss the ZSL London Zoo, nestled in the park’s northeast corner, making it an animal lover’s paradise.

Greenwhich Park

Greenwich Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers a breathtaking viewpoint when you climb the hill to the Royal Observatory.

It’s one of those main attractions that doesn’t feel too overrun by tourists since it’s a bit far from the center, but with great connections there (you can take the famous Uberboat across the river to reach London Eye for around £12).

View on London Skyline from the Observatory Hill in Greenwich Park.Not only an amazing view of the city but the perfect spot for a picnic on a sunny day © Getty Images

You can also visit the Old Royal Navy College featuring stunning architecture, and Greenwich Market which offers incredible budget-friendly meals from all over the world, ranging from £5 to £15, art work and vintage finds.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park, one of London’s most famous green spaces offers something for everyone. You can take a walk around the Serpentine Lake, where you can rent a pedal boat or spot swans.

For a hidden gem, visit the enchanting Rose Garden near Hyde Park Corner or the Diana Memorial Fountain.

St. James Park

St James’s Park, the oldest of the royal parks, is found between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. The park is known to host a group of very friendly pelicans that will come up to you. Talk about a great postcard picture for your friends back home!

The Best Places to Eat

It’s hard to narrow down the best places to eat in London but here’s my hard-to-beat top 5:

Wetherspoons

Wetherspoons pubs are popular in London due to their affordable prices, extensive drink selections, and convenient locations throughout the city. Here you can try the famous English Breakfast for under £5 or other British classics like jacket potato and fish and chips for less than £7.

A close-up view of a classic British dish of fish and chips, with golden-brown battered fish fillets surrounded by crispy fries, served on a piece of white paper. The paper underneath shows some grease stains, adding to the authentic, casual feel of this popular takeaway meal.Nothing says British comfort food like a piping hot serving of fish and chips © Getty Images

Roti King

This is a Malaysian and Singaporean street food style restaurant chain featuring dishes like laksa, curries and fresh roti. The mutton curry, laksa noodles and homemade lemonade are to die for! Easily my favourite restaurant in London, with most items costing less than £12.

Greggs

Greggs is an iconic budget-friendly pastry shop you can find all over London, making comforting sweet and savory pastries like the classic sausage roll for £1.50. They also have lots of great vegan options and coffee, with prices ranging from £3-£10, a lot cheaper than other similar pastry/coffee shops like Pret or Costa.

Bone Daddies

This ramen spot in London is known for its rich, flavorful broths and authentic Japanese ingredients that are affordable and tasty. There are plenty of locations all over London and they do epic specials each month, the perfect budget eat if you want to spend less than £12!

CHA CHA ROLL

This Asian place specialises in Sushi Rolls of all kinds and when I tell you these things are huge — trust me, it’s enough for 2. Their best seller is the Tori Katsu roll, and for dessert, they also do soufflé pancakes topped with boba balls.

Must See Museums

London is known to have some of the best museums in the world. You probably won’t have time to visit them all so here are my personal favorites which will surely not disappoint:

Victoria and Albert

Often overlooked but a personal favorite of mine, the Victoria and Albert Museum, often called the V&A, is a true hidden gem in London. From fashion and textiles to ceramics and sculptures, its eclectic collections span 5,000 years of human creativity. Don’t miss the replicas of Michelangelo’s David and if you’re a Harry Styles fan, you can see his famous wool cardigan on display.

British Museum

Despite the recent backlash, no one can deny the British Museum features some of the most unique pieces in history. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, and the Egyptian mummies. With exhibits spanning 2 million years of history, it’s a must-see for anyone interested in the story of human civilization.

The Great Court, The British Museum, London, EnglandThe British Museum’s Great Hall features a stunning glass and steel roof, creating a vast, bright space that showcases historic artifacts and cultural exhibits © Getty Images

National History Museum

The Natural History Museum is a marvel of scientific discovery and natural wonders. Famous for its dinosaur skeletons, including the iconic Dippy the Diplodocus, it also features a blue whale model and a mesmerizing collection of gems and minerals. The interactive exhibits make it a hit with families and curious minds of all ages.

National Gallery

The National Gallery, located in Trafalgar Square, houses an impressive collection of Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Art lovers can admire masterpieces by Van Gogh, Da Vinci, and Turner. Its stunning architecture and the sheer size of its collection make it a cornerstone of London’s cultural scenes.

Hidden Gems of London

London is the third most visited city in the world, receiving over 19.2 million overseas visitors in 2023. Your luck is that places like these still exist and you can find cute hidden gems all over the city if you know where to look. Here’s my top 3 hidden gems in London:

Leadenhall Market

Film enthusiasts will recognize Leadenhall Market as a Harry Potter filming location in London, specifically used as one of the entrances to Diagon Alley. This is also one of the oldest markets in London, offering a wide selection of shops, restaurants and bars.

St Dunstan-in-the-East Church

Historic ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East, a serene urban retreat in London's heart.The perfect place if you’re looking for some peace and quiet in London © Getty Images

A true hidden gem in London due to its enchanting, vine-covered ruins that provide a peaceful escape from the bustling city. This is a perfect place to read a book or just relax taking in the beautiful architecture.

Reflection Garden

The Reflection Garden near St. Paul’s Cathedral features a pond that beautifully mirrors the iconic dome. This tranquil spot offers lush greenery, blooming flowers, and inviting benches, providing a peaceful escape in the heart of London.

The Main Attractions

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the British monarch and a symbol of the British monarchy’s rich history. Visitors flock to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a display of British pageantry. During the summer months, the State Rooms open to the public, offering a glimpse into the royal lifestyle.

London Eye

The London EyeProbably the most famous landmark of London and one you cannot miss! © Getty Images

The London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames, is the usual tourist choice for views of the city. It’s undeniably a great viewpoint however, I found it overly crowded and an okay experience. If you can head to The SkyGarden or The Garden at 120, you’ll get free and equally amazing views of London from above!

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge, an iconic symbol of London, is a marvel of Victorian engineering. Visitors can explore the bridge’s towers, walk across the high-level glass floors, and enjoy stunning views of the River Thames. The Engine Rooms offer insight into the bridge’s history and the steam engines that once powered it.

Big Ben

Big Ben, housed in the Elizabeth Tower, is one of London’s most recognizable landmarks. The clock tower’s chimes are synonymous with the city’s identity. For the ultimate photo spot and a true hidden gem, head to Westminster bridge, on the opposite side of Big Ben right next to the National COVID memorial wall where you’ll be able to get a crowd free amazing view of Big Ben.

Best Time to Visit

London is fantastic year-round, but autumn and Christmas are extra special. In autumn, the parks turn into colorful canvases of red and gold – perfect for Instagram shots and kicking through leaves like a kid. As Christmas approaches, the city becomes a festive wonderland. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is a must-see, packed with rides, markets, and mulled wine that could warm Scrooge’s heart.

United Kingdom, England, London . London's Winter Wonderland in Hyde ParkOne of the biggest Christmas markets hosted in London – Winter Wonderland © Getty Images

Budget Breakdown For One Person

London is by no means a cheap city but if you know where to look, it can be quite affordable! Here’s a budget breakdown of what a typical day in London would cost you:

Currency: Pound Sterling (£/GBP)

Lunch: £10-£15

Dinner: £15-£20

Coffee: £3-£4

Beer: £4

Hostel bed: £25-£40

Hotel: £65-£150

Conclusion

So there you have it! If you follow these tips, you’re practically a Londoner already. From my time living here, I’ve discovered that the real magic of London lies beyond the typical tourist spots. Whether you’re sipping a pint at a local pub in Camden, strolling through the colorful streets of Notting Hill, or enjoying the breathtaking views from Primrose Hill, you’ll find a side of London that’s vibrant and full of life. Enjoy your adventure!

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Ana Matos

Ana is an Editor at Kiwi.com, occasionally writing stories of her own. A jazz enthusiast and avid world traveler, always seeking new experiences. @matos_anaa