The main difference between when I had a day out in London as a complete tourist, and to when I have a day out in London now as a local, is with the cost and the breadth of what I do and see. No longer is it a dash from Oxford Street to Buckingham Palace, Leicester Square and the train home, following coffee stops, picnics and an expensive dinner. It is now an experience of following the city along the Thames and experiencing the true London spirit, as well as the core London tourist spots. The first thing to do when visiting London is to get yourself an Oyster card, which gives you cheaper travel around the city, available from most stations without requiring registration.
Firstly, London has some fantastic independent and good value tea and coffee houses, so don’t just rush straight off to a popular large chain branch if you get thirsty. An example of this is a short walk from Holborn station towards the West End, with ‘Fleet River Bakery’ being the perfect place for a coffee, snack or even a full British baked lunch, with it being full of locals at lunchtime with people longing for fresh London foods. A step on from this is a trip to one of London’s many fantastic food markets, with the quality and price at these being far better than at the characterless shops across the capital.
A good example is the locals Borough Market, by London Bridge station, which has quality goods from across the country, with a great tradition heading back to the 11th century, making it the perfect place for picking up a picnic. It is this sense of living London that can be lost to tourists, with there being so much more going on than the tourist rush. The comedy circuits across the capital are a good example of this, with there being comedy shows almost nightly in pubs and clubs across the capital, away from the expense of the big shows and yet still quality and well known stars, for instance ‘Downstairs at the King’s Head’. Sport also plays a massive part of London life, especially since the 2012 Olympics which have made Londoneers go crazy for watching and participating in anything sports related. This ranges from football matches at the major clubs across the capital like Chelsea in the west and Arsenal in the north right through to the amateur leagues across the city.
My biggest tip though is to get out yourself on a river bus from the west of the city to the east, with this taking in the biggest landmarks of the city, the wealthy areas of the west and the old industrial wharfs and up and coming landmarks of the East like Canary Wharf and the Olympic stadium. My recommendation would be from Westminster Pier in the heart of London’s political power, through to North Greenwich at London’s o2, passing through the stunningly modern Canary Wharf. This can be paid for by Oyster card, giving you a 10% discount, with you able to jump on and off with the bus service not just giving you great views but also being practical, with stops along the Thames including key tourist sites like at London Bridge enabling you to pick up lunch from the market.
In summary, London is a stunning city to visit with its tourist attractions and unique level of diversity and sights to see and therefore it would be a shame to not venture slightly off the pages of tourist brochures and into the true local’s London spirit. This includes the award winning cafés and markets in the city, and using the historically important and valuable Thames to see the sights and travel around the city, rather than being stuck in the tubes and having a less interesting but more expensive tour of the city through the open top bus services.