I have lived in London for just over 17 years now and have tried most tourism experiences from the very well known to the rather esoteric! If you are looking for some unusual experiences in London – as a tourist or as a local – here is my list of 13 unique things to do in London that you are unlikely to forget!
1. Go on a London Loo Tour
You can learn a lot about London by finding out about the history of its toilets or loos! It is quite unbelievable how many of London’s Loos come with a story. This London Loo tour also covers old Loo’s with new uses. Several of the older underground public bathrooms have now been changed into coffee shops and bars. Indeed, the tour even ends in an old Loo which is now a bar.
⇒ One of my favourite websites for finding unusual things to do in London (including the London Loo Tour) is Funzing. Funzing offers a range of tours, classes, evening events and lots more all at very reasonable prices.
2. Make your own London Gin
Did you know that it was illegal to distill Gin in small amounts in London before 2008? In 1720 the distilling of Gin was made legal in London. This was to offset the popularity of French brandy – and the taxes being paid to France on this which was funding the French army. Well alas London went Gin mad!
Those who didn’t become alcoholics often ended up with serious health problems as there were no regulations around making gin or what went into the gin. A new law was brought in prohibiting the distilling of gin in anything under an 1800 litre still. Anyway, luckily the team from my favourite London gin brand, Sipsmiths, took up the cause and had this law repealed in 2008.
Top Tip: Sipsmiths run a fantastic tour and tasting evenings at their distillery in West London.
Without Sipsmiths The Distillery would not exist! The Distillery is a three-storey Gin temple on Portobello Road in Notting Hill.
The ground floor of The Distillery contains the wonderfully titled The Resting Room bar. This cozy bar has a wall of very comfortable red leather booths in which we very happily sat! What a menu in the Resting Room! It is pages of delicious and exciting sounding beverages.
How about some butter gin? There are many unique twists on well-known spirits at The Distillery – one thing I really liked about the menu was that they then suggest a cocktail which best suits that spirit flavour – can be a bit much to have something like this neat! I started with the Lemon Fizz – lovely but possibly more for a summer day than a cold February night!
Next up was the Gin and Tonic. Wow wow wow!!! It is served with loads of ice and orange peel and peppercorns in a lovely big glass and tasted just amazing! I then had to have another one of these it was so good!
Upstairs is The Distillery’s restaurant Gin Tonica. I learned that Spaniards are very big gin consumers – who knew? Gin Tonica is a fabulous room – buzzy and comfortable with an open kitchen and a small bar.
A couple of doors down from The Distillery is the Ginstitute. A three-hour session at the Ginstitute will educate you in all things gin. Once you have been filled in you will be invited into a blending room where you can sniff your way through a range of botanicals and choose your ideal mix. These will then be used to make your own bespoke gin!
In addition to leaving the Ginstitute with your personalised bottle of gin, gin cocktails are served throughout the session. For a cost of £120 guests receive four gin-based cocktails, a bottle of personalised gin and a bottle of Portobello Road Gin – fantastic value for money!
⇒If you know someone who loves a Gin and Tonic as much as I do check out this post on the Best Gin Set for Gin Lovers
3. Go back in time to the 18th Century
One of my favourite tourist attractions in London is the fantastic Dennis Sever’s House. Dennis Sever’s house is a living and breathing museum. It is made up of ten different rooms which are decorated in intricate detail. What makes this museum so unique is that it has been designed for all of your senses.
As you enter each room it feels like the people who lived in that room have just left. Dennis Sever’s house uses smells to bring to life what it would have been like in the 18th century. Sound is also used very well with noises from tramcars and background noises within the house all add together to a feeling of complete immersion.
A typical visit to Dennis Sever’s house lasts about 45 minutes. Opening hours are a little random so do check their website. The house also hosts lots of special evenings that are often themed throughout the year. Usually, this involves the addition of champagne and/or mince pies!
4. Attend a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
London is famous for its fantastic afternoon teas. There are so many to choose from these days that it can be a bit overwhelming. If you want to experience afternoon tea but are looking for something different then the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is for you!
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is held at the super stylish Sanderson hotel in Soho. Afternoon tea is served in their lovely covered outdoor area (with heaters etc in the winter). As per the other activities in this blog post, this is an immersive afternoon tea! Your afternoon tea menu comes inside a vintage book. All of the crockery has been themed to Alice in Wonderland.
A mix of tea recipes based on Alice in Wonderland are on offer like the White Rabbit. Afternoon tea consists of a delicious range of interesting savoury items and the real wow – the sweet items. From fudge caterpillars to pocket watch themed macarons this is a true feast for the eyes as well as your taste buds!
⇒ I enjoyed the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea so much that I wrote an entire blog post about it! Check it out here.
5. Travel under London with Mail Rail
It turns out that London traffic was just as bad over 100 years ago as it is today! Royal Mail was struggling to get mail across the city with both congested streets and fog. A recommendation was made to build an electric railway with driverless trains. The railway opened in 1927. Although it was designed for mail rather than people the stations actually resembled tube stations as did the sounds.
Mail continued to be delivered through the railway until 2003 when the system was suspended. The former engineering depot of Mail Rail was re-opened as Ride Mail Rail in 2017. The highlight of any visit is crawling into one of these miniature trains and experiencing the same journey that the mail would have underneath London! Not one for the claustrophobic!
There is a museum with interactive exhibits to help re-create the time when this was a bustling railway system and all of the stories of those who created and ran mail rail. There is also the opportunity to dress up in some of the old rail mail workers’ gear!
⇒ I love the new Nova complex in Victoria – read all about its great restaurants in my post.
6. Do your own Breaking Bad
I do like quirky bars in London! So when I heard about a cocktail bar based on Breaking Bad and liquid nitrogen cocktails I was in.
I must admit Iw wasn’t the biggest Breaking Bad fan but I had watched enough episodes that I got the gist of the storyline. And I had always wanted to be involved with liquid nitrogen cocktails in some way! So I headed to ABQ London to experience its Immersive Molecular Cocktail Bar!
Embarrassingly we did have a challenging time finding ABQ London – due to the fact we totally missed that it was in a bus/Winnebago as per the meth lab in the show! We walked past it and had to ask – and then realised we were right in front of it and so much less hip than we might have thought! There is a food truck at the ABQ location serving Italian food so you can grab something there but there is no food on the bus!
Our ABQ London host came out to greet us in Breaking Bad character – lots of high fives, drug references etc. We got into the bus and had yellow boiler suits waiting for all of us. They are not the easiest things to get on and the fabric is far from breathable but it is essential to put them on for the total experience! You can also then get shots taken with various masks etc.
There is a glowing mural of Walter at the end of the bus which is well worth a photo.
Once inside things kicked off with a welcoming drink. This is a mojito type concoction which is served in a beaker – such a good idea! It also comes with a plastic syringe with some blue liquid inside – up to you how much you put into your beaker. I injected the whole thing and was still standing so feel free to do the same thing!
We were then asked to choose 2 cocktails from 12 on the ABQ London spring/summer cocktail menu. All had fabulous names such as the Walter JR Breakfast, La Tortuga etc. You get involved in the making of the cocktails that you order. The waiter brings you several ingredients and you then use a type of nitrogen cavitation or dry ice to finish the cocktail off.
My first choice was La Tortuga which was mezcal, agave, lime and pineapple. I then infused the drink with sage and jalapeno chilli. This was done using the type of container that you normally see whipped cream in. I put the ingredients in and did some shaking and out came my infusion which I put on the top of my drink.
Next up I wanted something with dry ice as this had been demonstrated earlier and was the most dramatic option! I ordered the CRT Fix which was Gin, elderflower, lime, cucumber and mint. In a beaker, I mixed up the thyme and rosemary with the dry ice and then used a liquid tube to put the outputs of the dry ice on the top of the drink. This was definitely the most photogenic option!
And I should add at this point that the drinks also tasted fantastic!
The staff gives excellent instructions when they bring you the ingredients for each drink and your host stays in character through the evening. Once you have had your three drinks (these are covered in your entry fee) you can then move on to a more “normal” cocktail menu or try some of the others on the list.
7. Use a real-life Enigma machine to get your drinks
I am a bit of a World War 2 geek. I will go and see anything related to WW2 – from museums to memorials to movies. So when I heard that there was a new WW2 themed bar opening in London that was based on the famous Bletchley Park I was online immediately securing a booking! And I am delighted to say that The Bletchley London did not disappoint!
The Bletchley London is all about full immersion into WW2. This begins on their website where you must crack a code to even make a booking. You are then sent an essential communique to confirm your booking. The entire concept of The Bletchley Bar is based on codes and cracking codes – as per Bletchley Park. You then have to crack codes once you arrive to order your drinks.
Walking into the Bletchley Bar is like heading back in time! This is added to when you are given a WW2 style jacket to wear on arrival. The team behind The Bletchley has done a fantastic job creating a bunker/code cracking room style theme with blackboards and equations and enigma machine mockups for code-cracking.
All of the staff at The Bletchley Bar are immersed in the experience from the concierge to the bartenders. They use WW2 style language and are always in character speaking as if the war is ongoing upstairs.
You receive a two-hour booking at The Bletchley. On arrival, in addition to your jacket, you are given menus with clues and 3 “codes” to crack. The keys to cracking the codes are in some of the diagrams on the walls or by using the Enigma machines. I don’t want to give too much away as it is so much part of the fun – that and these guys are serious and could track me down!
The cocktails were delicious! One of the ways to crack one code is by sniffing test tubes which leads to your drinks. The outcome of the code-cracking leads to certain cocktails but you can choose your own if you prefer.
The Bletchley London is in Chelsea and is tucked away behind a pub in the Worlds End area. There is one door and you head down a set of stairs to arrive at the bunker style bar. It is 36 pounds per person paid when you book and this covers the entire experience and three cocktails.
Are you also a WW2 Geek?
If so whilst in London, I would highly recommend a day trip to Bletchley Park. It is about an hour or so on the train from Euston station. Definitely, do the tour. And don’t miss the Churchill War Rooms – my number one favourite London tourism experience! These are the rooms from where Churchill ran the war and they have been kept completely intact.
And last but not least see if you can attend a Blitz Party. These fantastic events are held every couple of months and will have you travelling back in time with cocktails and dancing. Everyone dresses up and if your female pop into the hairdressers and get some victory rolls to really get in the mood!
8. Create Street Art
London has a thriving street art scene – particularly in the East of the city. Whilst many have heard of Banksy, alas few of his pieces are still up and available to be viewed. Instead, new artists and techniques come and go with great frequency. This is why the best way to check out London street art is through a guided tour. Personally, I don’t know a lot about art but I do like to see it and photograph it! I really enjoyed hearing from the guide why certain techniques had been brought in and the stories behind the art.
Best of all there are now options available to create your own street art! Alternative London combines a street art tour of the area around Brick Lane with time in their studio. Here you can make your own stencils and then use their spray paints to make your own street art in their garden area.
Or forget the tour and just head straight to the quirky Nomadic Community Gardens to experience a graffiti and street art workshop with an actual local street artist. You’ll get an introduction to the main tools of the street artist (spray paint, stencils) plus have a lesson in basic art theory before you get going on your own creation!
9. Take a Rubbish Tour
Dotmaker Tours is a fantastic local tour company that run some genuinely inventive and unusual tours in London. My favourite is their Rubbish Trip. This fantastic and unique tour basically tells the history of how rubbish gets taken care of in London and uses it as a theme to show visitors lesser-known parts of London.
The 2-mile tour covers the seldom visited Isle of Dogs in East London as well the more well known and very lovely Greenwich. The walk was devised by the founder of Dotmaker Tours, Rosie Oliver, a former environmental lawyer. I have lived in London for a long time and I found out many new and interesting things about my favourite city.
10. Learn how to Flirt
Here is a tour with a difference!!! The amazing Jean Smith is a flirtologist. She has a master’s degree in anthropology that was obtained via a multi-city study of how women and men flirt. She has taken her extensive knowledge in this area and turned it into a brilliant fearless flirting tour to help all the rest of us that are rather terrified when it comes to how to express interest in someone who we find attractive!
What makes this tour so fantastic is Jean. She is incredibly warm and funny and has a knack of saying out loud exactly the doubt or blocker heading into your mind the moment you think it! She combines flirting theory with flirting practice (and you will do the same!) providing lots of ways to start a conversation with confidence.
And the tour takes in some key sights around London. You don’t need to be living in London to apply the benefits of this tour. Aspiring flirters will try out their skills on the street as well as in a supermarket – scenarios which take place all around the world. So why not experience more of London as well as developing an important life skill?
11. See 68,000 zoological specimens at the Grant Museum
OK so maybe you won’t see all 68,000 specimens at the Grant Museum but it is always good to have a goal! The Grant Museum is one of those wonderfully quirky places that only exist in London and isn’t featured in many guidebooks. The Grant Museum was established in 1827 as part of London’s biggest (and fantastic!) University UCL.
The Grant Museum includes everything from the world’s rarest skeleton to dodo bones to what I am sure was the largest penis bone of any mammal. It feels like walking into something from a Harry Potter movie with shelves and books and tables and unusual items in glass all over the place yet organized.
And entry is free! The Grant Museum is open from 1300 – 1700 Monday through Saturday.
12. Have lunch at the Cereal Killer Cafe
Yes, that is its name. And yes it does serve cereal. It was – and maybe still is – the world’s first international cereal cafe. The Cereal Killer Cafe was opened in 2014 by cereal obsessed twin brothers. In addition to, of course, ordering bowls of cereal, cereal is an ingredient in everything else served at the Cereal Killer Cafe. It is used as part of the batter for cereal fried chicken, cornflake burgers and my favourite, cereal Chillers!
⇒ If you’re a food Londoner and heading to London check out my post on the Best London Food Tours.
The original Cereal Killer Cafe is on Brick Lane in East London.
13. Enjoy a Gourmet Meal on a Double Decker Bus
London is famous for its red double-decker buses. However, they are seldom associated with food – let alone fine dining. Well, the team at Bustronome has changed all of that with its fantastic black double-decker buses that offer gourmet lunch, afternoon tea, and dinners.
All seating is on the top floor so as to maximize the views. I enjoyed an outstanding dinner on Bustronome whilst the bus drove throughout the middle of London and passed many key London sights. The aesthetic is upmarket with wooden floors and clean lines – and a fantastic plastic glass holder for your wine!
Dinner was a six-course tasting menu which was delicious. From a crab and artichoke gateau to seared tuna to strawberry and ginger pavlova, it was an outstanding meal with an ever-changing interesting view! Champagne is served on arrival and then the staff is quite generous with their pouring on the red and white wine throughout the meal!
Boutique Hotels in Londons
Artist Residence is located in Pimlico which is fabulously central. It is in a gorgeous 5 store regency building and has a cute bar.
The Portobello Hotel is located in one of London’s best known and cutest neighbourhoods Notting Hill. This is also the hotel where Kate Moss and Johnny Depp filled up the bath with champagne! The hotel is located on a quiet street but is a great location.
The Great Northern Hotel is ridiculously close to Kings Cross and St Pancras stations which is incredibly convenient. The hotel dates back to 1854 but has had a major refurb so it feels fresh and modern.
The Hoxton hotel is in the heart of East London in Shoreditch and a perfect base for exploration. The rooms aren’t huge but the location makes up for it – as does the great value for London with rooms starting at £99 a night.
Getting to London and Getting Around:
Best Ways to get from the airport to London
London has several airports. It can be confusing and expensive to get from each of the airports into central London. And the last thing you need after a flight! It is much easier to organize tickets before you fly.
Heathrow is the most common airport for international flights. The fastest way to get from Heathrow into Central London is the Heathrow Express. This train only takes 15 minutes to get from Heathrow to Paddington Station and runs 4 times an hour. The Heathrow Express is much faster than a cab or any other option. Save £5 per standard ticket when you book here.
⇒ Save £5 per standard ticket on Heathrow express tickets here
The lowest cost way to get from Heathrow to central London is the tube. The tube is actually one of the fastest options as well – and will get you the closest to your final destination.
⇒ Avoid the Queue – Book Your Heathrow airport to London tube here
There is also a bus or coach option which drops passengers at Victoria Station. This is a cheap option but you will have to deal with London traffic! If you are taking this option during peak hour it could take up to 2 hours each way. Book your national express heathrow airport coach transfer here.
Gatwick is south of London and can be quite the distance in a car. The Gatwick Express is the fastest option into London and runs directly from Gatwick to Victoria Station.
⇒ Book Here and Save £5 per standard ticket on your Gatwick express e-ticket here
If you don’t need the express option there is a slightly slower-moving train that has several more options in terms of stops including Clapham Junction, Kings Cross St Pancras, and London Bridge.
⇒ Book the Gatwick Airport to Central London Commuter Train here.
The third option is the national express gatwick airport coach transfer. This is the least expensive option but it can take some time with London traffic. There is one departure an hour and the average journey time is 90 minutes.
⇒ If you’re planning a trip to England and looking to visit some other interesting areas check out my posts on Winchester, luxury hotels in Yorkshire, Exmouth, Exeter, the New Forest and a fantastic spa experience at Ockenden Manor.
Getting around London
When in London the tube and buses are absolutely the best way to get around town quickly and cheaply. The best way to pay for this is to get a London visitor oyster card– which you can order before you leave home.
However, once you leave London trains are a great option – Train prices and availabilities – or the roads are less scary outside London so hiring a car can work well – for great deals on car hire click here.
UK Travel Essentials
⇒ Grab a WorldSIM PrePaid Global SIM Card to stay in touch at reasonable prices.
⇒ Access WIFI at local rates with the mobile wi-fi rental wireless internet anywhere you go in Britain. This in your pocket wifi can be picked up at Heathrow or Paddington Station.
Who Paid for What in this Post
Thanks to ABQ London who invited me to experience their Breaking Bad night and The Bletchley Bar. All other admission and transport fees I paid for myself. I live in London so there weren’t really any costs involved for me but as always my opinions are my own.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click through on them and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of this.
READ NEXT: BEST COTSWOLDS TOURS FROM LONDON
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Also published on Medium.