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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 27 May, 2023
Expert travel writer: Annabelle Thorpe

British food has undergone a revolution in the last twenty years; high-profile chefs such as Mark Hix and Fergus Henderson have sparked a culinary revival, with traditional flavours and dishes reinvented with contemporary techniques and ingredients.

Rich gravies and jus characterise many meat dishes; tangy with blackcurrants, red wine and handfuls of sage and marjoram, while strongly-flavoured hard cheeses – most notably Cheddar – flavour many vegetable and pasta dishes.

Bread remains a national passion; good bakers can be found everywhere, with chewy sourdough, fluffy white ‘bloomers’ and sugar-coated doughnuts (filled with raspberry jam) classic favourites. Traditional British desserts are sweet and treacley, while cakes are often rich with dried fruit.

What to try

The new wave of cooking in London is known as ‘Modern British’; hearty meat dishes – lamb shanks, casseroles, steaks and pies. For something lighter, bar snacks are a great British tradition; many pubs offer small plates of pork crackling, Scotch eggs (egg wrapped in sausagemeat and breadcrumbs) or sausage rolls. Streetfood is everywhere in London, but nothing beats hot chips, wrapped in paper, drenched in vinegar and salt.

Don’t miss a hearty pub roast on a Sunday – usually beef and Yorkshire puddings, lamb or chicken, and save room for a classic dessert; treacle tart or sticky toffee pudding. And of course, London invented the traditional afternoon tea, which must be experienced in one of London’s most elegant settings.

Street food is everywhere in London, but nothing beats hot chips, wrapped in paper, drenched in vinegar and salt.

Also see our round-up of traditional English foods you must try in England.

The dining scene

London’s culinary scene has undergone a massive reinvention over the last two decades, with Michelin stars peppering the capital, and a street-food revolution offering quick, cheap eats from every corner of the planet.

For upscale, old-school dining, Corbyn and King’s clutch of restaurants – The Wolseley, Zedel and the Delaunay, among others – are an expensive treat, while Rules – the oldest restaurant in London – has old-fashioned glamour in spades.

Gastropubs – classic pubs offering upscale dining – are a great place to try classic British dishes in an informal setting.  Several streetfood markets dot the capital, from the South Bank, by the National Theatre, to Berwick Street in Soho and Boxpark in Shoreditch.

Recommendations

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8 best places for afternoon tea in London

London, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Afternoon tea cake stand and tea set

Introduced by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 to stave off hunger until dinner, afternoon tea is one of England’s greatest traditions – and there is no better way to experience it than in one of London’s historic, grand dame hotels.

Adult price: £20

Best for ages 13+

Duration: 1-3 hours

Bentleys

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Platter of oysters

This 103-year-old, Richard Corrigan-led restaurant offers a shuckingly good selection of oysters and British seafood. At Champagne-fuelled morning sessions, long-serving staff give expert lessons in the art of oyster-opening.

Best for ages 18+

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Borough Market

London, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Close up of a stall selling artisanal breads

London’s premier gastro hub, with over 100 stalls in a historic covered market, offering everything from artisan breads and cheeses to street food, hand-made chocolates and vegan cakes.

Best for ages 13+

Curry on Brick Lane

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Close up of a Murgh makhani with tender chicken breast

A London lane once lined with 16th century brick kilns is now home to curry houses serving world-class Indian food, from tender Bengali lamb dishes to Balti, curry and beyond, plus some standout bars, clubs, bagel shops and smoked meat joints.

Best for ages 18+

Duration: Any

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London’s Chinatown

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A street view of a local Chinatown gate during the day

Among the new wave of noodle bars, bubble tea outfits and Korean grills, some grand Cantonese restaurants remain, along with such stellar supermarkets as Loon Fung, a Gerrard Street stalwart since 1965.

Best for ages 18+

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London Gin Club

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A beautiful underground wooden bar with a lighted bar full of gin bottles

The Soho bar largely responsible for making gin cool again is home to 100 varieties of new era ‘mother’s ruin’, including tasting flights all served in a fittingly Victorian setting.

Best for ages 18+

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Maltby Street Market

London, United Kingdom (UK)

View of street markets during the daytime

Great little foodie market filled with upscale food stalls, squeezed into an alleyway alongside and under converted railway arches beneath Tower Bridge. Open all year round on weekends.

Best for ages 18+

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Mercato Metropolitano

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Mercato Metropolitano

The best British burgers, pizzas, tacos and wine from vendors at this industrial-look, indoor-outdoor food market.

Best for ages 13+

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Neal’s Yard Dairy

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Close up of a piece for sale in the cheesemonger's shop

A Covent Garden cheese hub since the 1970s, and a Borough Market pioneer in the 1990s, Neal’s Yard continues to offer a stupendous choice of cheeses supporting specialist makers across the UK and Ireland.

Best for ages 18+

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Street Feast

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Close up of some delicious vegan burgers up for sale

Since 2012, Street Feast has transformed some of London’s derelict spaces into buzzing food markets with stands selling everything from high-concept gelato to tacos, Taiwanese buns and all manner of craft libations.

Best for ages 18+

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More details >

Taste of London

London, United Kingdom (UK)

A Lady viewing food at an outdoor kitchen stand during the summertime

An annual four-day feast of all things foodie, held in East London’s Tobacco Dock, with hundreds of stalls, tastings, talks and demonstrations by some of the country’s best-known chefs.

Adult price: £17

Best for ages 18+

Duration: 4 days

When: 3rd week June

Frequency: annually

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Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Close up of the pub from outside, looking up at the sign

A hugely characterful cluster of subterranean bars and rooms, a pint at London’s oldest pub in the historic publishing hub of Fleet Street, takes you back to the 1660s.

Best for ages 18+

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More details >

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: -

Getting there & doing it

Although London has a reputation as an expensive city, it’s possible to eat well and affordably almost anywhere if you do your research. Soho’s small grid of streets if choc-full of every type of eaterie, from Thai to Turkish, while the quiet side streets around Covent Garden also have a good mix of affordable – and upscale – restaurants.

Chinatown is a great option for Asian food, while Brick Lane – in the East End of London – is the place for curries of all kinds. For quick and easy street food, the new chain of Market Halls brings together a handful of food stands in one place, along with a bar and seating.

Upscale areas like Knightsbridge, Kensington and Mayfair are home to a high proportion of Michelin-starred restaurants, many in five-star hotels.

When to do it

Reservations are essential for most of London’s upscale restaurants – most operate two-hour time slots, if you want to relax and sit for longer, book for 8 or later.

A new breed of simpler restaurants – particularly in Soho and Borough Market – have a no-reservations policy, meaning queueing is part of the evening. Arrive early to just walk in (before six) or go for a late lunch.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Small-Group Tour: Historical Pub Walking Tour of London

London

Small-Group Tour: Historical Pub Walking Tour of London
Discover ancient ale houses and literary drinking dens on a 3.5-hour afternoon pub tour of London. Centered on the area in and around the City of London, the tour visits at least four of London’s finest historical pubs, your guide will recommend different ales in each (not included). Hear the history of the pubs, learn the differences between Elizabethan coaching inns and Victorian gin palaces, and visit the watering holes frequented by legendary British novelist Charles Dickens. Numbers are limited to 14 on this small-group pub tour, ensuring you’ll enjoy personalized attention from your guide.

Price: £25

Min age: 18

Rating 4.97 / 5 [4039 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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London Walking Food Tour With Secret Food Tours

London

London Walking Food Tour With Secret Food Tours
Join our Secret Food Tour: London Bridge for classic British cuisine. Indulge in Fish & Chips, Sausage Rolls, Bacon & Egg Baps, street food tastings, cheese with beer/cider, British dessert with tea, and our Secret Dish. We challenge misconceptions about English food. Come taste and be amazed!

Price: £85

Min age: 3

Rating 4.89 / 5 [1219 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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East End London Food Tour with Eating Europe

London

East End London Food Tour with Eating Europe
The East End is a neighbourhood like no other. Its tapestry of diverse cultures, mouth-watering cuisines, unique architecture and fascinating stories make it an unforgettable destination. You will visit our favorite markets, shops, bakeries, pubs and restaurants, meet the owners and explore historical sites that few tourists have an opportunity to experience. We’ll redefine what you think of London. With Eating Europe, you’ll escape the crowds and explore one of London’s best-kept secrets like no other can - through its cuisine. The food tour is led by entertaining local guides that will not only make sure you are well fed but also educate you with stories that give you insights into the East End’s traditions and culture. You’ll wander the streets to discover ancient Roman burial grounds, Georgian-style mansions built from the French silk trade, hidden synagogues and the most vibrant street art in the world. Take a break from being a tourist and experience the REAL London!

Price: £99

Min age: 4

Rating 4.93 / 5 [768 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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London Walking Indian Food Tour With Secret Food Tours

London

London Walking Indian Food Tour With Secret Food Tours
On our Secret Indian Food Tour: East London, you'll enjoy a variety of authentic Indian foods. You'll discover and taste exciting curries, flavoursome dishes, try Indian sweets and learn about spices and Indian and South Asian cuisine. This tour is for all tastes (some mild, and some more spicy), whether you are a seasoned curry fan or new to this type of food and need an introduction to the varied tastes. You’ll be taken off the beaten track for a truly authentic experience. There's a lot of food, so come hungry!

Price: £88

Min age: 0

Rating 4.89 / 5 [378 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Private Group: Historical Pub Walking Tour of London

London

Private Group: Historical Pub Walking Tour of London
Enjoy a historic private tour down the infamous "street of shame". With over 30 pubs and gin distilleries to choose from, your guide will tailor the walk to your personal preferences. With plenty of time to pause for a drink in 4 or 5 of London's most famous pubs along the way, the guide is on hand to recommend a few local tipples. You'll also enjoy a smattering of quirky history as you stroll through the hidden alleys and courtyards that make the City of London so unique. The walk finishes close to Covent Garden, and you might choose to dine in a haunted pub dating back over 400 years.

Price: £125

Min age: 18

Rating 4.97 / 5 [354 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

London

Greater London, United Kingdom (UK)

view of houses of parliament at night

World-class culture, fashion, music, food and history – and a mind-boggling array of bucket list experiences – packed into one extraordinary, incomparable destination.