Unusual and Fun Date Ideas to Try in London

Sam Peet /
Sam Peet / | © Culture Trip
Alex Allen

In a city as big as London, the opportunities for fun dates are pretty much endless. But where do you go when you’re struggling for inspiration for date choices? Whether it’s a first date with someone you meet on an app, a romantic night with a long-term love or a friend date, trying something new is always fun. We’ve made a list of slightly quirkier date-night alternatives – and if you end up not liking the date idea, at least you’re doing it with someone you’re really into.

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Go for a London bike ride

While London isn’t as cycle-friendly as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, there are some lovely places to go for a ride. The Greenway route from Victoria Park to Beckton in East London is a traffic-free path and cycleway that runs along a raised embankment, with amazing views across the city, while the 10mi (16km) ride along the Thames from Battersea Park to Greenwich is straightforward and safe. Alternatively, you could go for an off-road cycle around the enormous Richmond Park, with its frolicking deer. Don’t have a bike? No problem – you’ll find Santander Cycles and Lime UK bikes dotted all over the city, or if you’re after an even nicer ride, try Tokyobikes.

Crank up the crazy golf scores

Swingers (yes, the name is a terrible pun, and you might have to explain it to your date in advance) is a chain of indoor crazy-golf courses that blend childhood nostalgia and silliness with grown-up sophistication – and cocktails, of course. Of the two London locations, the one in the City is slightly smaller but has the same number of bars as the West End counterpart, which means less queueing time for drinks. It’s a fun, unusual date, and the venue has some of London’s best street food names on-site.

Book a ping-pong table at Bounce

If you’re one of those people who always end up playing table tennis in your parents’ basement and the office or on that ping-pong table in the park, Bounce is for you. Inspired by table-tennis venues in the USA, Bounce majors in table tennis, digital beer pong, happy hours and sharing pizzas in a fun, cosy setting in two locations: Farringdon and Old Street. If a first date can survive a bit of friendly competition, that’s a good sign – and maybe the winner can pay for the next date?

Watch the sunset over London

From rooftop bars to viewing platforms, leafy hillsides to perfectly positioned pubs – there are hundreds of romantic ways to watch the sunset over the city. One of the most scenic outlooks is from outside the Roebuck pub in Richmond, where a west-facing view shows off the evening sun as it sets over the Thames, running like a river of gold into the distance. Spendthrifts can head up to Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath, both of which reveal glittering skyline views; bring your own carefully packed picnic for extra romance. If you’ve got cash to splash, consider dinner with a view at Aqua Shard or Searcys at the Gherkin.

Have an unusual film experience at Backyard Cinema

Backyard Cinema specialises in experiential film screenings in quirky settings. We’re talking about sitting down to watch Romeo and Juliet (1996) in Highbury’s Union Chapel, decorated with neon crucifixes, enjoying its soundtrack backed by a live choir. Alternatively, sink your feet into the sand at its permanent space in Wandsworth, decorated Miami Beach-style for the summer, and screening retro classics such as Grease (1978), Stand by Me (1986) and ET the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Keep an eye on their social channels for regular pop-up events, too.

Explore an old overgrown railway

The Parkland Walk is a picturesque 2mi (4km) walk along an old railway that used to run between Haringey and Alexandra Palace in North London. Now it’s the city’s longest nature reserve, brimming with wildlife – from hedgehogs to tiny muntjac deer – and more than 200 wildflower species, including orchids. It’s overgrown and beautiful, with old railway structures and graffitied sidings showing through the enveloping greenery. Start in Finsbury Park and end the walk with a cosy dinner in one of Highgate’s many pretty pubs.

See a really off-the-wall play

London is the home of theatre, and that extends beyond the West End. There are plenty of smaller independent theatres that promote up-and-coming actors, writers and directors, so not only will you be first to get a glimpse of exciting new talent, the tickets for these smaller shows are often cheaper, too. Venues such as Southwark Playhouse and the Hen and Chickens Theatre have upcoming performances for the summer, starting with the musical You Are Here and the coronavirus-related play La Serva Padrona, respectively.

Visit a food theatre

In New Oxford Street’s Centre Point building, Arcade describes itself as a “food theatre”. It’s essentially a gigantic indoor food court, with seven live kitchens and three all-day and evening bars that promote the cooking of up-and-coming food businesses and chefs. Current eateries include cult bakery and patisserie Pophams, specialising in off-the-wall flavours in its pastries, such as Marmite, schlossberger cheese and spring onion, and Lina Stores, which creates fresh, authentic pasta. It’s on the lookout for new culinary talent, too, so expect more offerings to be added throughout the year.

Hang out among the greenery at Barbican Conservatory

The Brutalist exterior of London’s Barbican belies a world of inner beauty. It not only hides art galleries, music venues and a cinema but also the second-largest conservatory in the city, where greenery clashes artfully with the building’s concrete and steel bones. Tickets are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis; if you grab a couple, you could be walking hand in hand through a jungle of more than 1,500 plant species, including fern trees, date palms and ginger and coffee plants. There are also two ponds containing numerous species of fish, including the majestic koi carp.

Pétanque, mademoiselle?

Ramp up the va-va-voom at French-inspired bar Baranis, where you can sip herb-infused cocktails while playing the quintessential French pastime of pétanque. With its brick archways, sunflower-yellow colour scheme and mismatched furniture, it has the sunny, relaxed feel of a market square in Provence. If the sun is out, head to Cleaver Square in Kennington to watch locals go head-to-head in deadly serious matches (while you sip pints from the square’s posh pub, the Prince of Wales).

Stay late at Tate Modern

On the first Friday of every month, the Tate Modern holds free late-night events (usually from 6pm to 9.30pm) with food, drinks, DJ sets, live performances and workshops themed around the gallery’s current exhibitions and collections. Away from the Turbine Hall, where performances take place, you’ll also be able to explore the enormous gallery on your own as the sun sets over the city beyond the windows. It’s great for a cultural date night, as you’re guaranteed to have things to talk about.

Kayak down the Thames

You’ve probably walked or cycled alongside it, crossed it on bridges and may even have taken a Thames Clipper up or down it, but did you know you could go for a paddle on the River Thames? Getting within touching distance of London’s lifeblood river is a thrilling experience that adventurous couples will bond over. Specialist tour operator London Kayak Company runs guided kayak tours on the river, and you can opt for either a gentle one-direction tour between Battersea and Greenwich or go a bit farther – to the Thames Barrier.

Cuddle up in the cinema

London has so many fantastic independent cinemas, many with spacious, comfy seating and grown-up food and drinks – perfect for a casual rainy day date. One of the most famous is the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, where you can book a whole squishy sofa for yourselves and grab something to eat in the on-site French-American diner afterwards. Meanwhile, at the Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green, you get a sofa, with a little table for your wine and snacks – it’s as sophisticated as it gets.

Have dinner in the Sky Garden

In the greenhouse-like top-floor atrium of the “Walkie-Talkie” building (otherwise known as 20 Fenchurch Street), the Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden. Densely planted with a huge variety of hardy Mediterranean and South African species (it gets hot and sunny up there), the garden itself is free to visit. However, push the boat out by booking dinner at one of the two restaurants, or grab a cocktail at the bar and take in those sweeping city views.

Book into the gin hotel in Portobello

Holding pride of place at the heart of Portobello Road’s bustling antiques market, the Distillery is a four-floor emporium of gin. As well as making gin in the basement distillery, the establishment has a restaurant and bar (with a 100-strong gin list), an extensive bottle shop and even a micro-hotel with three rooms. So, after taking part in one of its gin-making classes or sampling the range of spirits behind the bar, you won’t have to catch the last train home.

This is an update to an article originally by Cajsa Carlson.

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