London is one of the world’s most-visited travel destinations. Along with other major cities like Paris, New York, Berlin and others, there are certain sites in London that tourists just ‘have to’ see and do – like The Tower of London, Big Ben and the houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds, Trafalgar Square, the Natural History Museum, the London Eye, the shops in Oxford Street – and all the rest of it.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But like other seminal travel destinations, you’re going to have to queue along with the other tourist hordes from around the world. It’s like going to Paris and seeing the Louvre and going up the Eiffel Tower. Yes, these are interesting sights, but they aren’t absolutely ‘off the scale’ great. It’s just that you kind of ‘have to’ see them while you’re here. So tourists returning home after the trip of a lifetime to the UK’s capital city will feel they have to tell their friends they went to the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard – their friends, family and neighbours all want to see the photographs after all!
So there is an element of the cliché about such tourist attractions – and there are the practical details to; namely, that you’re fighting lots of other people from all around the world doing the same things and you’re paying way over the odds for everything.
So here are a few ideas for things to do and see in London that are a little off the beaten track – or simply a little different:
Duck boat tours
OK, the Duck boat tours aren’t the most original thing ever and most major cities have them. And these, by the way, are bus tours of the city where the bus changes into a boat and goes up and down the river Thames.
But they are interesting, they’re a little bit quirky and you get to make two big trips in one seeing the city from a completely different angle and picking up a lot of interesting information along the way.
Going to the dogs
Greyhound racing in London is a great working class tradition – and going for a night to the dogs can really be great fun if you haven’t experienced it before. Of course, while you’re here, you need to place a few bets on the greyhound racing – but don’t take it all too seriously. This is supposed to be for pure fun and there are tracks in West London at Wimbledon Greyhound stadium and in the east at Walthamstow and Romford. For a little flutter online why not play bingo games here too.
The London Bridge Experience and London Tombs
The London Dungeon is another hugely popular destination with tourists – but less well-known and right around the corner is the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs. This is a two-part tour which takes in a short history of the London Bridge and the surrounding area and its history etc., which is truly fascinating – followed by a truly spooky trip underground – complete with great actors who will try to scare the pants off you! It’s great fun for all ages – and the queues are shorter too!
If the queues at Buckingham Palace are just too much to bear – head to Kew instead where you can double up by taking a tour of the absolutely astoundingly interesting Kew Gardens followed by the less well-known Kew Palace.
This is a comparatively modest palace, but is fascinating not least because it was bestowed on Queen Charlotte in 1761 by King George III when they were married. Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (a small north German duchy), to give her her full title and George III had never met until their wedding day – yet lived happily ever after in true fairy tale style, producing 15 children. George didn’t even take a mistress – breaking with royal conventions of the time!
Royal Artillery Museum
If you’re interested in seeing the Imperial War Museum, but you really can’t stand to queue any more – then check out the slightly alternative Royal Artillery Museum instead.
The Imperial War Museum has an amazing collection of interesting records concerning wars of the past and associated things like war art and much more and is an undeniably fascinating place to visit. But for sheer fire-power, it can’t quite match the more unsung Royal Artillery Museum.
Firepower has been with us since 1820, but the Royal Artillery Museum’s multimedia exhibitions bring it right up to date and are absolutely superb. They really give you a feel for what it must have been like to have been in the midst of an old-time battlefield – and do the same for today’s awful weaponry.
The shaking floor along with the smoke machines included in the ‘Field of Fire’ exhibit have to be seen to be believed – while the whole history of firearms at this site that was previously the most important site in the world for the manufacture of all kinds of weaponry is simply fascinating. And you won’t queue half as much as you will for the Imperial War Museum.
The Paramount Bar
The London Eye is immensely popular. Every major city seems to have one of these things these days and they’re undeniably good fun – and you see a lot very quickly on a clear day. So if you’ve booked your “flight” all well and good – but if you haven’t you’re going to queue and a trip on the Eye is not cheap.
The Paramount Bar is also not cheap; its better still, as it’s completely free of charge! Yet it also enjoys excellent views of London and you aren’t stuck inside a pod either. And you can put to good use the money you would have spent on the Eye by having a nice long relaxing drink as you watch London going on beneath you. Just find a seat next to the window and take in the London skyline.
Grant Museum of Zoology
Last but not least … if you’ve ever tied to take a child or children to London’s undeniably fascinating Natural History Museum at any time during any of the school holidays – you’ll know what it’s like. If you haven’t tried this then we have one world of advice for you; don’t!
The Natural History Museum is a treasure trove of fossils, dinosaur skeletons and re-created dinosaurs and has an absolute wealth of wonderful exhibits. But you shuffle past slowly with thousands of other people from around the world all of whom thought coming here ‘today’ was a good idea. If you’re absolutely determined to come then do whatever you can to come on a school day – and get here early.
Alternatively, why not check out the Grant Museum of Zoology as a great option. This museum also houses dinosaurs, together with around 67,000 other animal species specimens. It’s fantastic for children in particular as this museum is home to a bizarre collection of moles in jars – and a very artistic collection of bisected animal heads!
So there we have it. The best way to visit London like any other major tourist city is to plan your trip carefully. In particular, be aware that it’s probably going to be worth paying that little extra to stay within the city if you can possibly afford it as the cheaper places on the outskirts that necessitate a “commute” in and out each day can make the whole thing exhausting – particularly if you have children with you.