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Leisure Activities in London

Living in London is the dream of many an expat. The city’s flair and its multicultural society attract millions of visitors every year. On InterNations, you’ll learn more about living in London, about getting around the city and about London’s exciting nightlife and ample leisure opportunities.
Take a break and relax in one of the city's numerous parks!

London's cultural and recreational offerings are vast and impossible to list comprehensively. This page can only give you a brief overview. For a detailed guide to what's going on in London on a weekly basis, we recommend you check the daily newspapers or Time Out Magazine.

Recreation

With 31% of London's area covered in green space, chances are you won't be living or working very far from one of the many public parks. Some are beautifully designed by landscape architects, some captivate by their sheer vastness and natural beauty, and others offer large outdoor sports facilities which are either free or can be used for a small fee.

Ideally, they combine all three elements, like Regent's Park in central London, Hampstead Heath in the north and Richmond Park in the west. Despite the high entrance fee, London's famous Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew near Richmond are definitely worth a visit.

Cycling

Cycling in London is both a form of recreation and a way of getting around. Although London still has a way to go before it is anywhere close to being a European cycling capital, like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, the city is actively trying to increase the number of cyclists. 

In 2008 Ken Livingstone, who was mayor at the time, announced a project to build 12 new bicycle routes. These routes are called Cycle Superhighways. The project deadline was the end of 2012; however, to date only 4 of the 12 routes have been completed. The other 8 routes should be finished by 2015. This project may be taking longer than was expected, but it is proof that London is doing its part to promote cycling. In the meantime, the ever-growing army of cyclists commuting to work is still engaged in a constant battle against motorists on the streets of London.

Although it is not compulsory, wearing a bicycle helmet and reflective clothing is strongly recommended for your personal safety. Also, be sure that your bike has a light if you are cycling in the dark, or else you can be fined.

There is a big market for second-hand bicycles in London. If you don´t want to spend a lot of money at a bike shop, go to one that deals in used bicycles or try Gumtree or your local freecycle group.

A word of warning: Bicycle theft is a major issue in London. Always make sure to lock your bike to an immobile object and do not leave it outside overnight. New and expensive bikes should be registered with the police so if they do get stolen, they can easily be identified and restored to their rightful owner.

Sports

Alternatively, you could join a rowing club on one of London's many canals, or, if you're not the outdoor type, there's always the gym. Most big companies offer corporate gym memberships to their employees, giving them access to private gyms and health clubs at a reduced rate.

If you don't mind working out in slightly less luxurious surroundings and want to support your local community, you can also join a council gym. Council gyms are local government charities and have the advantage of no minimum contract periods – very convenient for those who will only be in London for a limited time.

At little extra cost, they offer membership to the UK Fitness Network, which will allow you to use any one of London's approximately 90 not-for-profit leisure centers and swimming pools.

Arts and Entertainment

London has a rich and varied cultural life. It occupies the leading position among the world's greatest cities on many league tables comparing various indicators of cultural life.

With its free museums, London has a strong tradition of publicly funding the arts. Unfortunately, this has come under attack in recent years. In 2011 the Arts Council England made major cuts to funding. Out of the 206 organizations targeted in 2011, nearly one in four was based in London. On the one hand, this shows how pronounced the funding cuts have been. On the other hand, it also shows how much is culturally happening in London.

Nonetheless, the arts continue to be alive and well. The Tate Modern is the most visited modern and contemporary art museum in the world. Countless cultural festivals take place across the city each year, a lot of which are free to attend and encourage visitor participation. While London’s West End is most famous for its many commercial theaters, the countless smaller, independent venues spread all across town are also worth exploring for their staging of innovative fringe productions.

London's two major public arts centers, the Barbican and the South Bank Center, both incorporate great concert halls, cinemas, theatre stages, and exhibition space.

For music fans, both classical and popular, there is much on offer. London is, without a doubt, a city for music lovers. With abounding music venues and performances, several world-class classical orchestras and ensembles, and countless new bands, DJs and urban music styles appearing every year, you will almost certainly never be bored during your time in London.

Nightlife Hotspots

London is renowned for its exciting nightlife. If you fancy a bit of everything and don't mind throngs of tourists and youngsters, pick one of the big night clubs or music bars around Covent Garden and Leicester Square.

Soho offers a more eclectic mix of stylish bars, normal pubs and strip clubs. It is also very popular with London's gay scene. Executive business people, some VIPs and members of the upper classes tend to prefer London's many private-member clubs, a lot of which are based in and around the West End.

Angel Islington is another nightlife hotspot with plenty of bars, pubs, and concert and theater venues around Upper Street. Those of you keen to experience London’s nightlife from its most excessive and exciting side should venture into the East End, notably Shoreditch and Dalston.

Looking for more on leisure activities in the UK? Our Culture, Shopping and Recreation articles have more info on shopping, British cuisine, sports, theaters, museums, and more.

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Jan-Peter van Tijk

"I wish I'd found InterNations sooner: It would have made my first few month as an expat in London much less overwhelming."

Therese Yeboah

"For me, the InterNations events are the best part. I attend almost every get-together and always get to know lots of friendly fellow expats."

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