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Ah, merry old London, how we’ve missed ye. Well, maybe not missed, exactly, but it is certainly a fun, fascinating place. It never hurts to squeeze in a weekend there, right? Since we’ve been there a few times previously and, as tourists, hit all the obvious tourist spots, this time we decided to dedicate our visit to checking off a list of, in our opinion, weird things to do in London.
Actually, that was Plan B. Plan A was the Arsenal-Chelsea game. I really wanted to get a chance to feel the new atmosphere at the Emirates and, however briefly, get to be part of Arsenal’s most exciting season in 19 years (since the “Invincibles” of 2004). Not surprisingly, though, match tickets were, let’s say, a little difficult to come by. Not to mention a little pricey.
Eventually, though, I got past the sticker shock, found myself a ticket (very expensive, and nowhere near the field of play). Hooray! Then, less than 24 hours later, they announced that the game would be moved from Saturday to Tuesday – one day after our flight back to Canada – because (checks notes) the London Metro Police were busy that night. YHGTBFKM.
So, best laid plans and all. Instead of screaming my fool head off as Odegaard faked the pass and slots into the bottom corner – twice in the first half-hour! – en route to a comprehensive and fun-as-hell win (on Tuesday), the highlight of our Saturday night was witnessing a girl sitting outside the Shake Shack get hit in the head by a pigeon followed by her oh-so-British reaction – a small frown, followed by a quiet “fookin ‘ell”.
Still cool, but in a different way.
Now, obviously, London is a very big place. As such, there are lots of things to see and do there and no matter what you are into, London is worth visiting. So, despite putting in, oh, several consecutive hours three days in a row and getting major value out of the daily limits on our Oyster travel cards (highly recommended, by the way) we did NOT, in fact, try every single weird thing to do in London.
And some of the things we did see were really not even THAT weird (although that may depend on how weird you find takeaway spicy chicken chunks for supper). But weird enough for us to think this that making, attempting and compiling this list was a good idea. You may feel differently in a few minutes…
Routinely Nomadic List of Weird Things to Do in London
In somewhat geographical order, here are some slightly different ideas for your next trip to merry ol’ London.
1. Regent’s Park
Sure, it’s just a park. But it’s a DIFFERENT park than the ones most tourists go to. Like many, of course, it’s got nice trees, fancy flowers and some parts where people play cricket.
2. Primrose Hill
Another pleasant, grassy park where Londoners go to enjoy some nature in the midst of a gigantic city. But this park also has a relatively tall hill with good views of the city. Legend has it you are supposed to keep your eyes pointed straight ahead while climbing up for sunset, only looking back when you’ve reached the top and have London laid out before you in all it’s glory.
What happens if you don’t heed this advice? No idea. But I’m pretty sure it’s something superstitious and relatively dumb.
It is also worth walking through the Primrose Hill neighbourhood just to the east, full of photogenic coloured houses and curving streets, plus tiny little Chalcot Park where local families take their kids to play and glance at you and your busy iPhone suspiciously.
3. Camden Market
One of those ubiquitous food markets you find in every city these days, Camden Market still impresses with its variety, vibrance and barely controlled chaos. It’s kind of messy, crowded, and there are way too many places that focus on burgers, but it’s sort of scenic (right on Regent’s Canal), flamboyantly diverse, relatively affordable by London standards and undeniably fun.
4. Regent’s Canal
When one thinks of picturesque city canals, one tends to think of Venice or Amsterdam, not London. Yet one COULD think of London because, apparently, it has far more canals than one might expect. Lengthy Regent’s Canal is one of the best, with a nice walking path, terrific scenery and several interesting stopping points along the way.
Meanwhile, enjoy the houseboats, the occasional homeless-under-the-bridge vibes, the unfortunate dank smell that waxes and wanes confusingly and, if you’re lucky, maybe an impromptu houseboat roof party.
5. Granary Square
Granary Square features several popular restaurants and bars but, more interestingly, the Green Steps overlooking Regent’s Canal that fill up every evening with people drinking, smoking, chatting and shifting around uncomfortably on the hard surface. It seems to be a very popular spot for foreigners living in or visiting London, at least based on the many different languages and accents on offer. The “green” part is presumably due to the cheap indoor/outdoor carpet the steps are covered in.
We had our 4 convenience store beers, good seats, good weather, a few cute ducks frolicking nearby, and everything was going swimmingly… until some dickhead Canada Goose showed up and chased the ducks off, made a big scene and strutted around acting like, well, a dick. Really made us nostalgic for Meewasin.
A “gritty” neighbourhood, in one of those situations when “gritty” is being used as a compliment (unlike “this beach taco is awfully gritty” or “the date went well except that her teeth tasted really gritty”). Other trendy words used for places like Shoreditch include “authentic”, “unapologetic” and “fairly dirty”.
It is also fairly famous for its “street art”, which is essentially graffiti that nobody’s complaining about. A good place to simply wander. And if you get there at 9 am on a Saturday, like we did, you will practically have all the “authentic street art” to yourself. Shoreditch High Street, Brick Lane and Princelet Street are some of the best spots.
7. Genesis Cinema
One of the things I really wanted to do in London was check out one of the classic old theatres, you know, with tons of history, an art deco façade, big velour chairs and shitty old popcorn. What we did instead, however, was see a movie at Genesis Cinema at 10:30 in the morning.
Ok, the façade is just the tiniest bit art deco, but the seats weren’t velour, or even rubbed-smooth velvet, and I apparently mistook cheap for historic (although it is mighty hard to argue with £3.50 for a movie in London).
On the bright side, the popcorn WAS, in fact, shitty. As was the arrival of two women and their somewhere between 5 and 300 children who were given the run of the theatre and an army’s worth of snacks as a clear attempt to fill at least 2 hours of what must be another interminable day.
8. Line Sculpture Trail
This is a tricky one because, although the stuff we read about it sounded pretty cool, and the photos looked quite interesting, we never actually found the good parts. I think we started in the wrong spot, incorrectly assuming the sculptures could be found all along it’s several-kilometre length from the O2 to Greenwich Park.
However, we did enjoy walking along the river with nice views across to downtown and, hey, if you find partially framed buildings and expansive construction sites fascinating, you are going to love this walk! Unfortunately, I do not, and did not. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Just do it better than we did.
9. The Queen’s House
An immaculately preserved snapshot of Royal life long ago. Surprisingly free to enter, this extensive museum allows you to explore every corner of one of London’s famous residences. However, it seems the vast majority of people just come to get an Instagram photo of the viral black and white Tulip Stairs.
Which, I guess, is why visitors must follow a strict route through the house that forces them to at least briefly pass by all the amazing history and iconic imagery before collecting their Insta photo on the way out to loiter in the park, post their photos and vape.
10. Greenwich Park
Conveniently located directly behind the Queen’s House, Greenwich Park is a huge, spacious beauty with its own “kinda big hill” stuck smack-dab in the middle featuring an apparently excellent observatory. I didn’t make it into the observatory because it was Saturday afternoon on the first hot day of the year and the lineups were, too put it mildly, unappealing.
In my defense, Laynni couldn’t even be convinced to climb the hill with me, instead loitering in the park posting photos… I know what you’re thinking but, hey, she doesn’t vape, so it’s a completely different situation.
11. Double-Decker Red Bus
So iconic, so cliché, yet still full of locals. Perfect, really. There are practically endless route options and several pass a lot of the main London sights for a fraction of the cost one of the dedicated tourist buses.
We took double-decker #91 from just outside our place on Caledonian Road first thing in the morning and rode it through some classic London neighbourhoods all the way to London Bridge, enjoying both the scenery and the typical London bus atmosphere – local occupying the seat with the best view playing games on his phone, Aussie expats – sorry, I mean immigrants – discussing the best pubs in town, a homeless guy sitting downstairs moaning. Real London.
12. Boat from London Bridge to Westminster Pier
Really, any of the boats will work. The point is to get out on the river for a whole different perspective on the city. There are several options but the London River Bus is part of the public transportation system (and therefore payable by Oyster Card). Another good choice is the Thames Clipper (brought to you by Uber).
However, choose your times wisely as we first tried to board at Greenwich Pier (on Saturday afternoon, of course) and were told it would be a 1.5-hour wait (a fact that apparently wasn’t deterring the hundreds of people in line.
In fairness, queueing up seems to be a recreational activity in itself in London, so maybe standing in single file with a few hundred strangers under a surprising sun, quietly shuffling your feet and checking Twitter every 5 minutes actually is what Londonites dream of when stuck at their desk all week.
13. Graffiti Tunnel
Surprisingly close to big attractions like Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, yet miles away in atmosphere, the so-called Graffiti Tunnel (why overthink it) is full of graffiti that has now graduated to “street art” status by virtue of some minor Instagram fame and, apparently, its current featured place on German walking tours.
To me, it seemed like they spent a surprisingly long time analyzing an abstract version of Garfield and Odie but, hey, one man’s marijuana inspiration is another’s profound statement on our culture.
14. COVID Memorial Wall
Commemorating the 223,000 British casualties of COVID-19. Needless to say, it is a rather long, rather sobering wall.
15. Palace of Westminster / Big Ben
On a lighter note, these are two of London’s most famous attractions. Weird things to do in London? Not exactly. But the fact that one of the best views of Westminster can be found in front of the COVID wall, well, that’s at least sort of weird. Notable, anyway.
Then, walking back across the bridge you will get a close-up view of the ultra-famous Big Ben. I was impressed by how well it keeps time. Not as well as my phone, obviously, but still, not bad, Ben.
16. Sherlock Holmes Pub
Yes, there are, in fact, a lot of pubs in London. Dozens, probably. But this one was specifically recommended by a friend of ours who used to be a legit London bobby. And if there is anything London bobbies are known for, it’s their sophisticated and refined taste in drinking establishments.
Ok, maybe not, but the name is fun and apparently they don’t shortchange you on the pints.
17. Gunners Pub / Emirates Stadium
Following the theme of checking out all the weird things to do in London while slightly tipsy, here’s another pub with a famous name in the old Highbury neighbourhood of North London. Instead of honouring a famous fictional detective, however, this one is a virtual museum of Arsenal memorabilia dating back to all their most successful seasons and prestigious stars. A long way back, in most cases, he said while sort of pouting.
And while you’re in North London you may as well wander a couple blocks over to iconic Emirates Stadium, surrounded by paintings, statues and collages commemorating the club’s biggest heroes. I recommend moping all the way around like a lost puppy, feeling sorry for yourself because, by rights, you should be inside right now, watching the match, inspired by the energy, screaming along with all the other Gooners half-drunk on pints of flat ale, occasionally taking a photo just because. But feel free to improvise. Whatever feels right.
Bonus Weird Thing: The Islington Apartment We Stayed In
This isn’t necessarily a place we’d recommend, although it was one of the only apartments we found in London proper for what we considered a reasonable price. By which I mean slightly under $C200/night, yet still the most expensive of our 20 (!) different stays in April.
No, not recommended, but definitely noteworthy. Our accommodation standards have been steadily increasing over the past few years and by using sites with lots of reviews like Booking.com we are rarely surprised by a hotel room or apartment. Rarely.
In this particular case, however, we were already a little on guard by the time we got keys out of a lockbox to navigate the 4 separate locks into a tenement block studio apartment located in what you could charitably call a “vibrant neighbourhood”. Inside, however, was where it really got interesting. Kind of old school AirBnB, as in it felt like you might have just passed the current resident on the stairs. I was afraid to see if the toilet seat was still warm (we’ll never know, now, unfortunately).
Along with a bathroom littered with toiletries, a fridge stocked with condiments and leftovers and a hastily made bed (the sheets appeared clean, at least), the entire apartment was filled with evidence of habitation, seemingly by a college sophomore intent on displaying his eclectic tastes and diverse creative talents to any romantic visitors who may, against all odds, agree to visit.
Obscure Asian movie posters (alternatively inclined), a guitar and amp (musically inclined), a prominently placed chess board (clever), a cheekily decorated skateboard (athletic), paints and an easel (artistic, with a few half-finished works stacked below to sate the curious), a microphone (leader), an old record player (coolly retro), a cat stand (pet lover, yo) and – the perfect touch to top it all off – some carefully strung mood lights over the bed (a patient and generous lover).
For all my facetiousness, however, something must have been working, since a couple days into our stay there was a knock at the door. I opened it carefully, thinking there were even odds of it being either the police with questions about a dead body or somebody offering us meth. Needless to say, I was surprised to, instead, find no one, looking down to see just a blue monkey stuffie.
I was still confused by this highly unexpected development and staring at this bizarre visitor when a 20-something girl popped her head around the corner, smirking mischievously, clearly ready to burst into hilarious camaraderie. Well… that look didn’t last. We both stared at each other, equally speechless, our minds struggling to process all this new information.
I’ll spare you the various “um”s, “huh”s and half-sentences that followed, but will just confirm the obvious, that the stuffie was NOT meant for me, and she was NOT aware, apparently, that our young renaissance man was renting out his apartment, let alone to some middle-aged guy with ketchup on his shirt. Our awkward encounter eventually ended when she scuttled off with her monkey stuffie, only marginally comforted by my reassurance that “I assume he’s coming back, later I mean, probably”.
Weird Things to Do in London Map
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Weird Things to Do in London Summary
From fish ‘n chips to kebabs to Vietnamese noodles, modern London is easily the most diverse place I’ve ever been. And by virtually any criteria – race, style, language, fitness, taste, age, level of t-shirt irony. The only things they all have in common is that they all use Oyster cards and share a fondness for drinking in public.
So, when it comes to finding the best weird things in London, this list is really just a starting point. Just hop off the bus/tram/boat/metro at any random stop, start walking and have a look around. I guarantee you’ll see something that makes you go, “huh, that’s weird, right?”
Obviously, the city is full of amazing and famous tourist attractions that should not be missed. But once you’ve been there, done those, well, it’s time to simply wander, observe and, if all goes well, eventually see a pigeon run into a woman’s head.