The Best Food, Art and Cultural Tours in London

Explore the essence of the capital with a self-guided tour
Explore the essence of the capital with a self-guided tour | © Trevor Mogg / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Cassie Doney
1 June 2020

Explore London on your own terms with a self-designed tour through the capital’s highlights – see Culture Trip’s suggestions on where to start.

London is a wonderful jumble of art, history, food, literature and pretty much every other aspect of culture you can think of. These ideas for self-guided tours explore the essence of the capital, from spotlighting the city’s different communities to honing in on exactly where you’ll want to pick up picnic supplies.

Explore Brixton’s black history

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Brixton Cultural Archive-Brixton-London-England
Ameena Rojee / | © Culture Trip

London’s strength lies in its diversity, and nowhere is this more clear than South London’s Brixton. This neighbourhood became home to many people from the Caribbean (most notably the Windrush generation) and though Britain proved to be far from the welcoming “mother country” that was promised, today the area still maintains a strong Afro-Caribbean culture. Pay a visit to inclusive children’s bookshop Round Table Books and stop to admire the Grade II listed sculptures ‘Platforms Piece’ in the station, which were cast using models from the community. End your exploration at an exhibition at the Black Cultural Archives to learn about the history of the area, the community and the cultural contributions that have been ignored for too long.

Sample the wares at the ancient Borough Market

Market, American, Asian, European, South American, Caribbean, Street Food, Gluten-free, Vegan, Vegetarian
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An array of vendors sell their goods at Borough Market
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Close to London Bridge, Borough Market is a sprawling food market, open every day of the week except Sunday. There’s been a market of some kind here for over a thousand years, and it’s still going strong today. Put together the picnic of your dreams from a selection of cheeses, meats, fresh bread, pickles and pastries, or opt for lunch from one of the street food stalls filling the courtyard. There are plenty of vegetarian options and hearty dishes like Malaysian clay pot curries and Japanese bento boxes.

Take a trip to queer London in Soho

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Soho Square is home to several media companies
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Soho is worth touring even when it’s not Pride season; you’ll find pop-up galleries showing queer art, newsagents selling independent magazines, and clubs such as world-famous Heaven and women-only She Soho. A few streets away is Gay’s the Word, the capital’s only LGBTQ bookshop. Among the gaiety (pun fully intended), there are more sombre reminders of the area’s history. Before drag queens hit the mainstream, LGBTQ spaces were, by necessity, secretive; homosexuality was a criminal offense in Britain until (partial) decriminalisation in 1967, and even after that, queer people were heavily persecuted. The Admiral Duncan pub features a plaque commemorating those killed and injured by a nail bombing in 1999. However, today Soho is as lively as it ever was, and there’s nothing better than rounding off your exploration with a picnic in the heart of it all, Soho Square.

Journey from Tate to Tate

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The Tate Britain art gallery for British art from 1500 to the present day. Millbank London England
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Some of the world’s most incredible art is held in London’s magnificent sister galleries: Tate Modern and Tate Britain. For a day filled with masterpieces, start at Tate Britain, browsing through iconic art through the centuries, with highlights including David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash and Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia. Once you’ve finished here, jump onto the Thames Clipper for a scenic tour over the river to Tate Modern, where you can continue your journey into contemporary art with mobiles by Alexander Calder, grid paintings by Agnes Martin and works by the patron saint of Pop Art himself, Andy Warhol.

Seek the most unique souvenirs imaginable at Portobello Road

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Portobello Road Market, London.
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As the song from Bedknobs and Broomsticks goes, “Anything and everything a chap can unload, is sold off the barrow at Portobello Road.” If it’s treasure rather than tourist tat you’re after, spend a few hours browsing this antique market. Explore a labyrinth of rails packed with colourful vintage clothes, stalls of patterned homewares spilling out onto the pavement, and boxes of handmade and antique jewellery catching the sunlight. There are also plenty of cafes where you can grab a coffee and a sandwich to fuel your adventures.

Explore the literary highlights of London

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interior lobby British Library, St Pancras, London, England
© B.O'Kane / Alamy Stock Photo

Over the years, England’s capital has drawn the attention of writers, poets, essayists and dreamers from across the globe. Those who have found inspiration here include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (with his most famous creation, detective Sherlock Holmes, putting 221B Baker Street firmly on the literary map), Zadie Smith (who weaves family epics of the minority communities of the city) and Virginia Woolf (a modernist author whose work helped define a feminist movement). Blue plaques often commemorate literature’s important sites, so keep an eye out on the sides of buildings as you pass. A true literary tour should cater to your own reading tastes as you follow your favourite stories through the streets, but it’s imperative you start at the British Library, which holds among its manuscripts works by the city’s most notable authors and often has enlightening exhibitions. The cafe’s not bad, either.

These recommendations were updated on June 1, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.