The playwright Samuel Johnson famously said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, and with hundreds of things to do in London, the UK capital doesn’t disappoint. But what if you’ve already hit all the top attractions? Bored of Buckingham Palace? Done with Downing Street? Then try something a little more unusual. Here are 15 of the best quirky things to do in London; fun and unique sights and activities that offer something a little different for every visit.
My favourite quirky things to do in London
1. Novelty Automation
Novelty Automation is hands-down my favourite quirky attraction in London. It’s part tourist attraction, part art project, and takes its inspiration from the coin-operated machines you might find at traditional seaside amusement arcades.
The difference at Novelty Automation is that all the machines have a satirical slant. Try your hand at the Fulfilment Center machine and see whether you’ve got what it takes to land a zero-hours contract at an Amazon warehouse. Always thought you’d be a dab hand at corporate fraud? Give the Money Laundering machine a go. Lighter subjects include the Microbreak, where you go on an express holiday from a moving armchair on a magic carpet in front of a retro television and my favourite, the Expressive Photobooth.
2. The Orbit Slide
If the traditional London sights and tourist attractions are a bit sedate for you, try the Orbit Slide. The Orbit slide snakes down and around the ArcelorMittal Orbit at London’s Olympic Park and is the world’s longest, tallest, fastest tunnel slide.
Fancy going for a slide on the Orbit? First, you’ll take a lift up to the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s viewing platform, with fabulous views across the East End towards Canary Wharf and the City. Anyone who doesn’t want to ride the slide can walk back down to ground level along a looping walkway, brought to life with audio recordings of East End life. But you’re not here for that, are you?
When it’s your turn to brave the slide, you’ll be given elbow and knee pads, and a fetching soft, padded helmet. Sit down on a mat at the top of the slide and slip your feet into the pocket at the end, then when the route’s clear, launch yourself down the narrow silver tunnel for the 40 second, 178m hurtle to the ground.
Read more about the Orbit Slide
3. God’s Own Junkyard
God’s Own Junkyard is truly incredible. If you’re looking for quirky things to do in London then visiting this amazing collection of neon signs should be really high on your list.
God’s Own Junkyard is in a warehouse on a small industrial estate in Walthamstow. The unremarkable outside hides an absolute wonderland. It’s the largest collection of neon signs in Europe and includes amazing, giant vintage pieces along with newer works – many of which are for sale.
4. Mail Rail
Between 1927 and 2003, there was another underground railway in London alongside the Tube. The Mail Rail was a narrow-gauge railway which carried letters and parcels underneath London’s congested streets, far faster than they could have travelled by road.
After it closed, the tunnels and stations of the Mail Rail stayed silent and unused until 2017, when a section of the network reopened for visitors as part of the Postal Museum. You’ll need to book well in advance, but the experience of climbing into the tiny carriages for a 15-minute guided trip around the tunnels is a lot of fun – although it’s perhaps not for the claustrophobic.
5. St Dunstan in the East
St Dunstan in the East was a parish church until 1941 when the building was hit and badly damaged in the Blitz. The authorities decided not to rebuild it this time round (it had already been rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, when Sir Christopher Wren added the lovely spire) but instead turn it into an oasis in this bustling part of London.
Today, St Dunstan in the East is a serene, green space, full of trees, flowers and quiet places to sit. It’s open every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, from 8am to dusk, and is free to visit.
6. Sky Garden
If you’ve already visited London’s famous parks and gardens at ground level, then why not try London’s highest garden? The aptly-named Sky Garden is at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (better known as the Walkie Talkie) in the City of London and boasts tropical palm trees, lush planting and astonishing views across the Thames to the Shard and Tower Bridge from the outdoor terrace.
The Sky Garden is free to visit during the day, although you have to book a slot at least three days in advance. After 6pm it’s only open to people visiting one of the Sky Garden’s restaurants or bars.
More quirky things to do in London
I asked some of my fellow travel bloggers to recommend their favourite unusual attractions in London. Here are their suggestions!
Feed the parakeets in Kensington Gardens
By Lauren from Always Find Adventure
Did you ever think you would find parakeets in London? Surprisingly enough, they live in Kensington Gardens next to Hyde Park.
It’s one of the most unusual things to do in London and it happens to be FREE, except for the cost of food. They like apples, sunflower seeds, or peanuts. You can conveniently find these items in the Hyde Park Superstore close by.
Feeding the ring-necked parakeets is such a fun and unique thing to do in London all year round. These birds are large and green, and spend time in the trees around the park, but are generally located in this one spot because people come to feed them there. One or a few at a time will come directly into your hand, arm, or shoulder as you hold the food in your hand.
When doing this activity, plan to wear old clothes, a jacket or something that can be easily washed in case of ‘accidents.’ Accidents don’t happen that often, but you never know. In addition, bring napkins or paper towels, as well as hand sanitiser to clean your hands afterwards.
How to find the parakeets: Lancaster Gate Station is the most convenient London underground stop. Walk towards Kensington Gardens and find the Peter Pan statue. It’s to the right of the Peter Pan statue among the trees.
See the graves of the great and good at Highgate Cemetery
By Talek from Travels With Talek
I’m a cemetery aficionado so I jumped at the chance to prowl the gravestones and winding paths of Highgate when I visited London. I find European cemeteries to be especially impressive.
Highgate is one of London’s Magnificent Seven, one of seven large and impressive cemeteries built in the city in the 19th century.
Created in 1839, the cemetery has over 53,000 graves. Many famous people have been buried there including Karl Marx.
The older gravestones are covered in moss accumulated after many decades of neglect. Still, a little imagination reveals their brilliant funerary art.
There are two cemeteries at Highgate, the East can be visited independent of a tour and costs £4 admission, and the West, only accessible with a tour costing £12 but worth every cent. The tour guide explains how the cemetery was built, who is buried where, funerary customs throughout the decades and much more. We were especially delighted with the legend of the Highgate Vampire. An actor portraying a vampire for a horror movie filmed at Highgate was spotted by a visitor who then spread the rumour.
To get to Highgate, take the tube to the Archway stop on the northern line. Exit through the Highgate side and walk up to Highgate Hill. As the walk can be a bit long, you can take the number 143 or 271 bus 2 stops to Waterlow Park. Highgate Cemetary is open 10 to 4 Monday – Friday and 11 to 4 on weekends.
Make a life-size lollipop with your face on it
By Katja from globetotting.com
Spun Candy is the closest thing you’ll find to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in London. This candy-making workshop is the perfect quirky attraction in London, especially for those with a sweet tooth.
Located in east London, Spun Candy offers a number of workshops from simple lollipop-making classes and tutorials on how to create candy flowers to cooking crunchy honeycomb and mastering the art of crumbling fudge. Held in a large, light-filled space, the workshops are led by Spun Candy’s talented staff all of whom are artists and sculptors. These fab folk are on hand throughout your class and can help your own candy creations look that little bit more professional.
The most challenging workshop, but also perhaps the most fun, is the Candy Face Making class. During this 90-minute class you learn to make a life size lollipop that looks just like you – or anyone else that you choose from partners and children to Hollywood stars. The Spun Candy shop is filled with lollipop faces of famous folk, which are a lot of fun to look at. Workshops start from £60 and last between one- and three-hours.
Travel on the world’s last ocean-going paddle steamer
By Annabel from Smudged Postcard
There are plenty of tourist boats plying the River Thames these days but a particularly special one is the Paddle Steamer Waverley.
The last ocean-going paddle steamer in the world, the Waverley takes passengers from Tower Pier next to the Tower of London beneath the famous bridge (which opens especially) and along past many of the city’s greatest landmarks.
Passing Canary Wharf, the Emirates cable car and the ominous Thames Barrier, the paddle steamer travels downstream to Gravesend where there is a connecting train back to central London.
This is a particularly interesting trip for visitors wishing to see more than just the main sites of London. You’ll pass old warehouses where workers once toiled in grim conditions, now expensive apartments for affluent Londoners. You’ll see vast docks and landfill sites as well as shiny skyscrapers, reflecting what a diverse city London is.
The journey from Tower Pier to Gravesend takes two hours and the return journey by train is under 30 minutes if you take the high-speed service to St Pancras.
Take a Harry Potter walking tour
By Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
There are several places in London that Harry Potter fans should not miss. There are filming locations, spots that inspired aspects of the books and films, and other venues with links to the series. The best way to see these is to do a Harry Potter walking tour in London with a knowledgeable guide who can share behind the scenes info, but you can also visit these spots on your own.
Start out at King’s Cross Station where you can take a photo at Platform 9 ¾. Be prepared to wait or pay for the VIP experience. The gift shop there also has an impressive selection of Harry Potter souvenirs.
In the Leicester Square area, you will find the streets that inspired Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. Stop by Hardy’s Candy Shop for some Harry Potter themed candies. You can also visit the shop of MinaLima who did all the graphic design work for the films.
Close to Covent Garden, you will find Gringotts Wizarding Bank, known as Australia House to muggles. In Westminster, you can take photos in the spots where they filmed outside the Ministry of Magic.
In East London, Borough Market is the location of the Leaky Cauldron from the Prisoner of Azkaban film. You can also see the Golden Hinde that inspired the ship in the Goblet of Fire. Nearby is the Millenium Bridge which collapsed at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Have a Harry Potter-themed afternoon tea
By Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
There are many different types of afternoon teas on offer in London these days, but for Harry Potter fans there’s no better choice than The Potion Room. This Potter-themed afternoon tea takes place in the basement of a bakery called Cutter and Squidge. While the upstairs dining area looks like any ordinary café selling cakes and coffee, as soon as you head down the stairs into the basement you will feel like you’ve just stepped into potions class at Hogwarts.
This afternoon tea is a bit more interactive than most, as you’ll actually create some of the dishes yourself. Using magic, of course! You’ll find a black cape and a wand waiting for you at your desk, and your professor will teach you some spells that you will use to create a “hubble bubble” cauldron that actually bubbles and crackles in your mouth as you eat it!
Even though, due to copyright restrictions, there’s no explicit mention of any Harry Potter place names or characters during the experience, the professor does a wonderful job of staying in character and creating the mood. A standard ticket costs £49.50 for adults and £39.50 for children, while the VIP option, which includes two alcoholic drinks and a special gift, goes for £79.50 for adults and £54.50 for children. VIP kids receive a “wizard’s drink” in lieu of an alcoholic drink.
Deer-watching in Richmond Park
By Darek from Darek and Gosia
London is full of secret spots for tourists and locals to explore. There is always something to see and do in the capital city but if you are looking for quirky things to do in London, head out to Richmond Park.
Richmond Park is located in the south of London and the easiest way to get there by tube. Take the District line towards Richmond and get off at the last station. You can get to the park either by bus or just walk 20 minutes.
The park is one of four, and also the largest Royal Park in London with an area of about 1000 hectares. You can find a variety of wildlife in it, and in particular, admire the magnificent deer. The park is a great place to relax from the hustle and bustle and indulge in outdoor activities. There is a bike rental, you can run, walk, ride a horse or play golf.
Despite the fact that Richmond Park is surrounded by urban buildings, it is one of the best places to enjoy the wildlife. The park has more than 600 wild deer and fallow deer, who are used to seeing people. You can get close enough to admire their beauty in nature. It should be remembered that they are, however, wild animals and should not be approached closer than the recommended distance of 50 m.
Visit Brixton and use Brixton Pounds
By Kylee from These Foreign Roads
For many years, Brixton has been considered one of London’s more dangerous boroughs. As a result, it rarely lands on the itinerary of many tourists. However, with its rich Caribbean culture, proud local spirit, and vibrant food scene, Brixton has become one of our favourite parts of London.
But there’s one truly unique aspect that few foreigners are familiar with: the Brixton Pound.
Brixton locals are a very proud bunch and truly love their tight community. So much so, that they created their very own currency that can only be used in Brixton. The idea was to create something to encourage shopping in small, locally-owned brick-and-mortar shops, rather than the big box stores and chains of central London.
And in 2009, the Brixton Pound was born.
Currently, nearly 250 businesses in the community accept the local currency, which is valued equally to the Pound Sterling. The high-quality banknotes feature famous Brixton natives like activist Len Garrison, WW2 secret agent Violette Szabo, and the legendary David Bowie.
Other cities to create their own local currencies include Cardiff, Liverpool, Cornwall, and one of the most colourful cities in England: Bristol.
If you’re from the area or plan to be around for a while, having a few of these on hand is a great way to show your support for Brixton. However, even if you’re from afar, this unique currency makes a great souvenir.
You can exchange regular Pound Sterling, one for one, at almost any participating store. Though if you want a nice, crisp uncirculated note to show off to your friends back home, head over to the official Brixton Pound website. You’ll pay a little more for the souvenir version, but it’s one of the most unique items you’ll find on your visit to London!
See 221 Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes
By Jyoti from Story At Every Corner
Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Who isn’t?
If you’re in London you must visit the home of the most famous detective ever. Granted he is a fictional character, try telling that to his fans! To his fans, Sherlock Holmes is as real as a person can get. When you visit his home on 221 Baker Street, there is no evidence that the address was made up from a gap in the numbers on Baker Street. It’s a real brick & mortar house on the busy Baker Street.
The home of Sherlock Holmes is as authentic to his stories as it gets. His famous living room is exactly as one could imagine – with his chair, coat, hat, smoking pipe, desk, dining table, fireplace, you name it.
Sherlock Holmes’s house has multiple floors and rooms, exactly as portrayed in Arthur Conan Doyle’s books. Some of the rooms are decorated as they are in the books, others are set up as museums with famous scenes and objects from the best-known mysteries.
The visit will be extra enjoyable if you refresh your memories of the Sherlock Holmes books before your visit. As one can imagine, 221 Baker Street is very popular and well visited. The house is small and does fill up. So, try to visit early or late. We visited it as part of our 6 day trip to London in late November and it was filled with visitors, but there were plenary of quiet pauses between groups so be patient.
Sherlock Holmes is the most loved detective ever and will always live in the hearts of mystery lovers. Visiting the home where he and Dr Watson solved the most complicated crimes, is an experience worth making time for and cherishing forever.
Scare yourself silly at The London Dungeon
By Paula from Truly Expat
Who doesn’t like to combine history, amusement and gory details all rolled into one? The London Dungeon is one of our favourite quirky things to do in London. Filled with gory true-life stories of a time long ago in old London Town, it’s both fascinating and scary.
The whole family will love hearing what London was like back in the days of Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. While you walk from dungeon to dungeon, stories are told (and sometimes played out by well-rehearsed actors) for you to be spooked and entertained. It’s a way of telling the history of England that might otherwise have been a little boring in a traditional museum.
Along the way, you come across rides, backdrops and some scary people who reenact times of long ago. If you’re feeling really adventurous, head out later in the evening (without the kids of course) and experience the dungeons by nightfall, to be well and truly scared.