Calling London overwhelming and/ or expensive is quite the understatement. There's so much to see, do and eat (the food doesn't suck!) that travelers often stick to the usual tourist haunts: Big Ben, The Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace. In contrast, locals shamelessly skip out on the city's cultural offerings to loyally hang at their fave old pub or brunch spot. Clearly, both of these aren't ideal, especially when there's a bunch of hacks to discovering the city, and genuinely cool spots to visit. Without further ado, here they are:
Dutifully visit Sky Garden and ogle at the view
If you want a ridiculously touristy experience then see London's iconic views from the London Eye – an attraction that's otherwise known as the world's slowest, most expensive Ferris wheel. But if you want identical sights for free then hit up Sky Garden, a public 'garden' which offers all the Insta-ready moments you'd expect from 155 meters high in the air. The trick is to book the hour-long slot you want in advance, and try make it coincide with either sunrise or sunset. Then you'll be read to perfect the social media #humblebrag, and to visit the on-site restaurants for breakfast or dinner. Insider tip: head to the Sky Pod Bar nice 'n' early (the smoothies rock) or the all-day brasserie Darwin for British eats at their finest. So, yep if you want ridiculously good views of The Shard, Tower Bridge, the Thames and more then you know where to go.
Avoid Leicester Square like the plague, especially when clubbing
If there's one place that screams overpriced, commercialized and just God awful London then it's Leicester Square. As glitzy-sounding as the film premiere-filled 'Entertainment District' is, there are truly few worse places than the always crowded, depressingly mainstream area. Proof? Cinema tickets here cost a good £13.50 ($17), attractions here include M&M's World (a candy store that's as confusing as it is tourist-filled), and the only people you'll come into contact with are those promoting the most depressing, trashy clubs in existence (Piccadilly Institute, Zoo and Tiger Tiger for starters). That being said, you'll inevitably end up in the area if you're visiting London – it's so centrally-located, and close to Soho, it's tough not to. So, take our word for it and visit these gems, then nowhere else: Brasserie Zédel, a stunning Parisian brasserie hidden right by the tube station, and the TKTS booth to snap up some crazily discounted theater tickets.
Dine at the Duck & Waffle for a special occasion
There's some weird unspoken rule in London whereby noteworthy birthdays or anniversaries simply must be celebrated at the Duck & Waffle. 40 floors up in the sky, the swanky restaurant is just one of those places that's made for dressing up, acting like royalty in, and acting like you can afford the prices that are as high as the view. To be fair, the food really is on point – small plates, raw dishes and a bunch of other main courses you'll reject in favor of the obligatory duck and waffle dish. Slightly pretentious but ridiculously nice, it really is the epitome of London – partly 'cos it's open 24/7. If you're looking for other places for the archetypal posh London dining experience, head to Sketch for a basic bitch-esque Afternoon Tea or Claridge's for an insanely traditional one.
Go to the Natural History Museum whenever bored/ unemployed/ hosting guests
We said the Natural History Museum here, but we meant the Science Museum too (they basically come as a free-but-fantastic pair in that part of South Kensington). Sure, London has a ton of slightly more intellectual museums and galleries, but nothing beats the super interactive nature of the former, and the epic dinosaurs filling the latter. And put simply, these museums serve as a reminder about how bloody great London is. The city offers everything on Earth, and because both museums are genuinely priceless (cost and experience-wise) you'll find yourself there weirdly regularly. Unemployed? Sure. Bored? Why not. Showing London to out-of-towners? 100%. Side note: you'll also find yourself there out of guilt – if you live in one of the world's most cultured cities but spend the majority of your time drinking then soaking up last night's alcohol over brunch, you need to atone somehow...
Hang out at Boxpark Shoreditch like the unbearable hipster you secretly are
Well, we couldn't write about London without discussing gentrification. The hipster-driven phenomenon has led to Brixton, Peckham and Hackney all transitioning from neighborhoods you can get stabbed in to ones possessing an abundance of latte art. Street art and ethnic eat-filled Shoreditch really stands out of the hipster crowd though, and nowhere epitomizes its trendiness better than Boxpark. Its Twitter account labels itself 'the world's first pop-up mall, based in the heart of East London.' Though true, this doesn't truly explain what the unique attraction is really like. Made up of refitted shipping containers artfully bundled together, it's home to a bunch of independent fashion and lifestyle stores, as well as cafes and eateries (highlights of which include clothing brand Hype and pizzeria, Voodoo Ray's). For the true hip London experience, pre drink at Boxpark, then head to Cargo late at night for an inoffensive combo of decent DJs and live music, disused railway decor, a sizable garden, and edgy(ish) vibes.
Stroll along the Thames and remember why the city rocks
Thanks to the ridiculous rent prices, astronomical transport costs, and general dirty, grey and stressful existence the city provides, it can be easy to forget that it's actually pretty awesome. So, when you're feeling glum from spending half your salary on Itsu sushi, or because the Tube getting inexplicably delayed for the seventh time in one day, there's nothing that'll fix everything like a walk by the Thames. This isn't science, but we can promise that getting an eyeful of London's iconic sights is simply good for the soul. Our pick of the best points to gawp at the city and river from? Blackfriars Bridge, for its Tower Bridge views and proximity to Borough Market, and Millennium Bridge, an architectural marvel and spot where Harry Potter was (briefly) filmed. Sweet.
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