The day’s best things to do all in one place
Got a few hours to kill today? You’re in luck. London is one of the very best places on the planet to be when you find yourself with a bit of spare time.
In this city, you’re never too far away from a picturesque park, a lovely pub or a cracking cinema where you could while away a few hours. And on any given day, you’ve got a wealth of world-class art shows, blockbuster theatre and top museum exhibitions to choose from if you’re twiddling your thumbs.
And while London has a reputation for being pricey, it’s also one of the best places in the world to find fun things to do on a budget, whether that’s a slap-up meal that won’t break the bank or the wealth of free attractions across town.
Whatever you feel like doing today, you can guarantee that London has the answer. Here are just a few suggestions of our favourite things on right now. Don’t forget that you can also check out our area guides and love local pages if you’re after something in your immediate vicinity.
You have absolutely no excuse to be bored in London ever again!
1. Experience the H.M.S. Titanic’s famous doomed voyage for yourself
‘Titanic: The Exhibition’ will take visitors on a journey through the commissioning of the ship, and the huge publicity surrounding its first crossing of the Atlantic, bound for New York. Along with firsthand testimonies and objects, there will be detailed recreations of the ship’s interiors, based on contemporary photographs and the input of Titanic experts. It’s also a chance to see some of the actual artefacts from the ship, many never displayed before in the UK, and experience the disaster at first hand (in a good way).
The various lockdowns of the last year have shown us that without pubs, London could never be its chatty, chaotic and slightly tipsy self. There are thousands here and they come in many forms: your old man boozers with crap carpets permanently sticky from decades of spilled beer, your craft-beer hipster hotspots, your questionably soundtracked 3am blurs and more. Our 100 best pubs list exists to celebrate London’s taprooms in their many guises. From the perfect pubs for drinking alone to the best boozers for giant yorkshire puddings – get stuck in, spot your local and maybe find a new favourite.
3. Go to the Royal Academy’s dazzling Francis Bacon exhibition ‘Man and Beast’
Francis Bacon’s art is a physical experience. It assaults you, it leers off the walls at you. Every figure in this exhibition is twisted and contorted, every face is screaming, every orifice is bleeding. It’s claustrophobic, violent, and properly overpowering. And it’s totally brilliant. Bacon is one of the great masters of twentieth-century art, and this exhibition focuses on the influence of animal figures on his painting. It turns out that the brutality of the animal kingdom pulses through the veins of almost everything he did. This is a huge, daunting, breathtaking show, filled with violence and blood. It leaves you uncomfortable, physically affected by what you’ve seen. Bacon makes you lose faith in humanity, in our morality and culture and superiority. You can dress it up any way you like, but in the end, we’re all just animals.
4. Check out the London Transport Museum’s Windrush exhibition
Explore the impact Caribbean people have made on transportation in London at London Transport Museum. ‘Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce’ features stories from Caribbean people who worked for what is now Transport for London, many of whom came to London in the postwar years in search of a better life. The exhibit highlights the triumps and challenges they experienced, and the major influence that London’s Caribbean communities have had on the city’s culture, particularly highlighting events like Notting Hill Carnival and recent Tube station art campaigns.
5. Watch rising star Jessie Buckley shine alongside Eddie Redmayne in ‘Cabaret’
In Rebecca Frecknell’s new revival of the great music masterpiece, Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne will follow in the footsteps of Joel Grey, Alan Cumming and Will Young as he takes on the role of the Emcee, the increasingly sinister master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club. And rising star Jessie Buckley will be joining him as Sally, in what promises to be a truly distinctive production that will see the Playhouse Theatre given a wholesale makeover and transformed into the Kit Kat Club (as in, it is literally being renamed the Kit Kat Club for the duration of the run).
6. Embark on one of the city’s best bracing winter walks
Yes, it’s pretty darn cold out there. Sure, the trees are fairly bare. But we’re lucky to have some amazing parks and green spaces in London, and walking around in them is genuinely one of life’s great joys. Dig out your cosiest scarf, pack a flask of hot tea and head out there for a bracing stroll!
7. See the stunning stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’
Did the unnamed protagonist of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ really fight terrible extradimensional monsters as a 12-year-old, accompanied by his irrepressible, otherworldly friend Lettie Hempstock? Or is the much older version of him we meet at the beginning of this play just using the fantasy stories he loved to process a miserable, lonely, even abusive childhood? You can read Joel Horwood’s superlative National Theatre adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2013 fantasy novel any way you like. This show is big, strange, sad and truly beautiful, a pretty dazzling achievement that sees the NT go toe-to-toe with the fantasy worlds crafted on film and TV and pretty much come out on top.
8. Do something really touristy with a trip to one of London’s most awe-inspiring attractions
Whether you’re a visitor, a daytripper or a tourist in your own hometown, there are certain iconic London attractions that you simply have to visit. These museums, galleries, monuments and parks are part of the city’s fabric – to experience them is to uncover a patch of the capital’s culture and history. But where to begin? We’ve pulled together a list of the 50 best attractions in London for you to start ticking off your bucket list.
9. Head to the British Museum’s epic show about the mysteries of Stonehenge
This epic show about the world’s most famous stone circle will go down as a landmark exhibition in the British Museum’s impressive history thanks to its imaginative sweep, emotional generosity and the sheer stash of treasures it assembles from ancient Europe (430 objects, mostly unseen in London before). There are too many treasures to describe. But Stonehenge is clearly depicted here as so much more than a circle of stones for fake druid solstice parties; it’s a vortex and lens at the centre of thousands of years and tracks of migration, pilgrimage, quests, spiritual meaning and exchange. The human, emotional landscape and the mystical experience are equally conveyed in a way that’s personal, enriching and genuinely wondrous. Unmissable.
10. Treat yourself to a delicious lunch for under a tenner
London might well be the world’s greatest city for top nosh, but it’s also expensive enough that most of us can’t eat out as much as we’d like to. But never fear! Everything in this list has been priced at £10 a head or less to eat in or takeaway, but many of them will have you well-fed for a fiver. And variety is the name of the game – so expect London staples like fish and chips or pie and mash, but also the best banh mi, patties, gozleme, shawarma, steamed buns, lahmacun and more. Not only will visiting these places give you the kind of buzz only a bargain bite can deliver, but you can also relish in the fact that you’re supporting small London businesses as they bounce back post-pandemic. Winner winner, chicken dinner!