If any city in the world can be rated as the one that still holds surprises – even for those who’ve lived here for years – then London has to rate in the top 3, if not hold the top spot.
For tourists (and long term residents) who enjoy seeing and doing offbeat activities in a new location, the list below should delight. Not to mention provide you with memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life. In fact, the below will provide even London experts with some new attractions to go and visit. After all, we all want to visit the iconic landmarks, but who on earth can resist the weird and the wonderful…?
1. Go White Water Rafting
Yes, really…! Although this activity might be more associated with the mighty waters of the Zambezi River, or other locations around the world, it really is possible to do in London. The Lee Valley White Water Centre, just outside the city in Waltham Cross, was built specifically to host the canoe slalom events for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Now the centre is open to the public, and offers such delights as kayaking, canoeing, hydrospeed, hot-dogging and white water rafting. As you can imagine, having being constructed for top level competition, there’s rapids and white water to suit every ability – so don’t go thinking this is a soft option, because the water can be as fast and furious as any that can be found in nature.
2. Swim in Hampstead Heath’s ponds – even in the depths of winter!
Whilst most of London’s parks don’t allow swimming in their waters, uber-trendy Hampstead is the exception. The swimming ponds on the Heath have lifeguarded watched swimming available – and that’s all year round. So no matter how cold it is outside, or whether you have to break through ice to get into the water, it’s possible to take an open water swim. Not only that, but there’s separate men’s and ladies’ ponds (as well as a mixed pond, that’s only available during the winter for members of the club). It’s the only place in the UK to offer open water, life guarded swimming on a year round basis.
3. Take a ‘nonsense London’ Tour
This comedy duo offers factually inaccurate walking tours, where they promise that you’ll learn ‘absolutely nothing’. If you’ve got a sense of humour, then this walking tour of London and the South Bank offers laughs a plenty, and a decidedly irreverent view of London’s history. The guys promise to show you a side of London that you’ve never seen before, as well as passing many of the famous London landmarks, such as St Paul’s Cathedral. Just don’t expect the facts they provide you with to be the gospel truth…
4. Dinner time at a ‘once only’ location
If you’re crazy about food and would like to dine with other similarly obsessed people, then forget eating in a boring, always to be found in the same place, restaurant. One of the latest fads in London is the ‘Pop Up Restaurant’, or Supper Club, which is, as the name suggests a ‘here one minute, gone the next’ dining location. You might find yourself eating in a disused railway carriage, or a posh restaurant out of hours, or even in a warehouse. Whatever the location, it’s more about the food and the company, and the knowledge that even the best connected of people probably can’t get a seat at the table at which you’re sitting…
5. Get hands on with a butcher’s workshop
Okay, so this probably won’t rattle the cage for the vegetarians amongst you. But for foodies who don’t mind getting hands on with meat, then the Ginger Pig Butchery in Marylebone offers an unusual workshop where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the humble animal body. These butchery classes will teach you how to hew a pig carcass, bone and roll a joint, create sausages and how to flavour pork for the perfect mince. With over two decades of experience, the North Yorkshire based butchery company are renowned throughout the UK, and provide top quality meat to various eateries in the city via their network of seven butcher’s shops in London.
6. Visit an air raid shelter
World War II saw the platforms of the London Underground increasingly being used as air raid shelters during bombing raids. In 1940, work began on building deep level shelters for that very reason, with the thought that after the war was over they would form part of an express train route beneath the city. Originally, 10 shelters were planned (but only eight were actually built), with the shelter shafts being protected by pill box buildings that would help prevent a direct bomb hit from bursting through to those sheltering below.
One such shelter that can be seen today is The Eisenhower Centre/Goodge Street (although there’s no public access to the shelter itself). However, the above ground part is visible to all, and it’s quite eerie knowing that beneath one’s feet are kitchens, bathrooms, bunk rooms and medical facilities for up to 8,000 people…
7. Go bargain hunting at one of the trendiest car boot sales
Sure, car boot sales (similar to yard sales, or garage sales) can be found everywhere in the capital – and indeed around the country. But for the chance of finding some of the funkiest (and possibly valuable) vintage clothing, trinkets and bargains, then head to Stoke Newington, and the Princess May car boot sale. It runs every Saturday and Sunday in the summer months, and is renowned amongst those in the know that this is the place where you really might come across that ‘once in a lifetime’ find.
8. Take a cable car across the River Thames
Not technically a tourist attraction (it was built as a commuter option), this cable car that runs from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks offers an amazing view of the city from above the River Thames. Its official name is the Emirates Air Line, and bizarrely, has not proved particularly popular since its opening. The plus side of this is that there are no queues, and it’ll only cost you a measly £6.80 for a 20 minute round trip. You’ll get amazing views of The O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome and now one of London’s premier concert venues), the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the Royal Docks.