London is an urban metropolis rivaled by few on this Earth. Few cities can match the size of its metropolitan area. Few can match the sheer numbers: 14 million people, 32 boroughs, 120 theaters, 3 times hosting the Summer Olympics, somewhere near 7,000 pubs, somewhere above 16,000 restaurants, and only one you. And yet, with all of the Westminster Abbeys and Piccadilly Circuses and Buckingham Palaces and London Eyes that sparkle and strut like floats in the tourist parade, how can a traveler like yourself find a corner of London where the chatter of cameras can die down long enough so that you may hear this city whisper its true self? How can you have your own authentic London experience without feeling that you've walked in the same prepackaged footsteps as countless others? These are fundamental questions for any destination; with London, despite its many popular attractions, you'd be surprised at how quickly you can find something that speaks to you. Even if you're merely looking to jump off of one of the world's most famous arenas or roll down hills inside of a plastic ball. You know, the usual.
Just because a ton of people tend to visit something does not mean that you shouldn't. On the contrary, it means that you probably should do it. Millions upon millions of visitors a year can't be wrong, can they? The British Museum, for example, is the largest and most comprehensive in the world. If you enjoy museums, this has to be near the top of your list. If you are interested in the most far-reaching line of royalty in the modern world, then pay your fealty at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, or any of the dozen or so local palaces that have royal connections. Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square are good candidates for sensory overload, the London Eye and the observation deck at the Shard are excellent opportunities to put the activities below into lemmings-like perspective, and true artistry is on display in spades at the National Gallery, Tate Modern, and Tate Britain.
So far, we've given you two weeks of itinerary items and only mentioned the popular attractions. That's what happens when we attempt to summarize a city that packs forty performance venues into its West End alone. By the way, you'll need an updated guide to the performances if that's where you're looking to find your London niche. Exploring neighborhoods like Camden, Shoreditch, Fitzrovia, and Clerkenwell would be a great way to get a feel for what everyday Londoners do to feed and entertain themselves. And do they ever know how to entertain. Some places have been doing it for centuries (Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Lamb & Flag, Spaniards Inn, the list is near endless), while others have driven the musical trends of the last few decades (Fabric, Cargo, O2 Academy, KOKO: another list miles long). For those who dream of an artsy, Bohemian London of old record stores and funky shops, then Brick Lane or parts of Brixton and the aforementioned Clerkenwell. Again, in a city this big, there's so much left for discriminant travelers to discover.
Then again, why not escape from the buzz of the city? Take a stroll through the Royal Parks, which include Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, or take a quick drive to the Cotswolds for the rustic country cottages and pubs of vintage Britain. You can even hit the coast for the beach paradise of Bournemouth, which has shed its retirement age image for the appeal of youth and water sports. Hikers may traverse the ocean-side cliffs of the Jurassic Coast and the South Downs Way if you'd rather put the onus on natural beauty and adventure. Browse our London adventures for more to do on the active end of things.
In a megalopolis broken down into a mere 32 districts, we understand that you won't be able to experience the personality and appeal of every neighborhood in one fell swoop, even if said swoop were to last a lifetime. That shouldn't keep you from seeking out the type of contexts that will make your excursion into London the best it can be. So, to return to our initial question: how do you find your authentic London? Well, you can start with a little research. There's a lot more to see on our culture, nightlife, and cuisine pages. We also have plenty of travel videos, pictures, and activity listings to give you a more well-rounded idea of what awaits you in the Western world's most visited city.