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London Activities: get off the beaten track with quirky things to do

Whether you like watching or doing things, London has plenty of options – and while the big sporting events are pretty busy and hard to get into, you’ll find plenty of other un/tourist offbeat and unusual things to do below.

Things to do

If joining the tourist crowds in escorted tours ain’t your cuppa – try some of these!

  • Swimming – mightn’t be the reason you came to London, but unusual outdoor pools can be wonderful in summer. Try lidos at Parliament Hill or London Fields; swim in the Serpentine in Hyde Park; dip into the natural ponds in Hampstead Heath (men only, women only and mixed). Or if you’re in Soho, there’s an outdoor heated pool nearby in Oasis.
  • Horseriding in Hyde Park has been a classic since the 1700s – a bit popular with tourists, but still a charming option
  • Boating the canals is a delightful way to see London – there are plenty of guided kayak tours, and boat rental in many of the big parks’ lakes, but the un/tourist option is to rent your own canoe and explore.
  • In winter, many lovely open air ice rinks open around London, in spectacular central locations like Tower Bridge, the Natural History museum and Somerset House.
  • Bad weather outside? Try: Urban Golf (Smithfield, E1), Ping Pong (Bounce, Farringdon E1), Bowling (many places – All Star Lanes in Holborn is US 50s retro), indoor karting at Tower Bridge, trampolining at the O2, or paintball / lasertag in Greenwich SE7. There are plenty of indoor climbing / bouldering locations – see this Time Out list Or, for a chilly twist, try ice climbing in Covent Garden at Ellis Brigham’s vertical chill.
  • Fancy an interesting workout? Hussle gym passes give you free access to tons of unusual options, from martial arts to aerial silks to trampolining.
  • The Lee Valley has a ton of interesting activities – you can paddle the Olympic white water courses, ice skate, horseride, golf and a bunch of other things. Note that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is part of this, with lots of other Olympic facilities such as the Velopark cycling arena and the swimming pool – plus, it’s pretty spectacular in itself.

Sports watching

Many of the biggest sports in the world (yes, and cricket) were born in the UK, and London is home to some of the main centres. Most of the below have stadium/grounds tours even if match tickets are hard to come by: 

  • Wembley for football – and London has many teams, most famously Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham FC
  • Wimbledon for tennis – it’s often possible to get tickets on the day for matches in early July
  • Twickenham for rugby
  • Lords for cricket
  • The London Marathon is one of the biggest (usually held in April)
  • The Oxford-Cambridge boat race is on the Thames in late March annually
  • Ascot and Epsom Downs are world famous for horse racing, with the main meets in June
  • “The dogs” – greyhound racing – is far more traditional / authentic. Romford in east London is the closest option.