London is, easily, one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world. History, culture and entertainment collide to offer any traveler an enviable profusion of memory-making sights. And on the heels of royal milestones (think princely nuptials and a beloved queen's diamond jubilee) and the 30th Olympiad (Summer 2012 marked the third time the British capital hosted the most revered international games in the world), London's allure now has soared to new heights. Playing tourist here appeals to even the most seasoned globe-trotter, so the sightseeing classics – from the London Eye to Buckingham Palace – will never disappoint. But here's a look at an alternative London -- some off-the-beaten-path gems – also well worth a visit.
Skip the London Eye, See London City Hall
The views from the famous Eye are beautiful. But the throngs of people waiting to hop on, not so much, nor the price tag (£18, about $29, for adults and £9.50, about $15, for kids). City Hall, which is home to the mayor of London and several regular exhibitions, costs nothing to visit. And the best part is that it offers many of the same, snapshot-friendly sights, such as the Thames River, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Wi-Fi access throughout the building, which is open weekdays, is free.
Skip Borough Market, See Broadway Market
Foodies flock to London's famous Borough Market, renowned for fresh produce from throughout Britain and the world. But it can get extremely crowded, especially on Saturdays. So follow your taste buds, instead, to Broadway Market in Hackney, which tempts visitors with a plethora of international delights, including gourmet coffees, just-picked watermelons, such exotic but tasty treats as jellied eels and Vietnamese Banh Mi (breads). Maltby Market is another great alternative (many popular Borough Market vendors have set up alternate stands here), as well as Portobello Market in Notting Hill.
Skip the London Bridge, See What Lies Beneath
Unperceived by many, tunnels beneath the streets of London abound. Among the most intriguing is the subterranean network of tunnels and vaults below London Bridge. This labyrinth dates back some 2,000 years and has recently been transformed into the London Bridge Experience. Many insist the cavernous nooks and crannies are haunted, so enter only if you dare. The catacombs of Waterloo are also worth exploring.
Skip the Tate Modern, See the Seven Noses of SoHo
The Tate Modern, home to Britain's collection of contemporary art, graces the banks of the Thames and is world famous. But to avoid the throngs of art lovers who flock here, consider a more personal exploration instead, and seek out the Seven Noses of SoHo. Artist Rick Buckley hid casts of his own nose on buildings throughout this popular London neighborhood over a 10-year span ending in 2005. Yes, some are very tough to find; but many sculpture enthusiasts have sniffed them out along streets like Bateman, Dean and D'Arblay. Legend has it that he who finds them all will enjoy eternal wealth.
Skip Celeb Dining for Quirky Eats
The chic culinary scene in London has drawn celeb chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Joel Robuchon and Nobu Matsuhisa. Delectable dining for sure. But the alternative food scene is booming, and worth pulling up a chair. Try the Wild Food Café in Neal's Yard for cutting-edge all-raw cuisine. And you'll have plenty to taste, though nothing to see, at Dans le Noir, where you can enjoy one of three menus by dining in the dark and discovering what you've ingested only when the lights come on at meal's end.
Skip Hyde Park, See Victoria Park
A boating lake has helped make Hyde Park (which also includes Kensington Gardens) one of London's most beloved open green spaces. But Victoria Park, the city's first public park dating back to 1845, is a nature lover's secret. It's teeming with flowers, lakes and trees of all kinds (from cherries to oaks to hawthorns), and kids will love checking out the deer enclosure.
Skip Buckingham Palace, See Eltham Palace
OK, Buckingham Palace is a must. But if time permits, or if the crowds turn you off, consider Eltham Palace in Greenwich. Built in the 1930s on the grounds of a former medieval castle, this Art Deco mansion features stunning furnishings and lush gardens, and you'll find London's oldest working bridge over the moat. The entry fee – under £10 (about $16) – is about half the price to visit Buckingham Palace's State Rooms.
Gabe Saglie is senior rditor for Travelzoo. For deals on the web for London hotels, shows, restaurants, spas and shows, check out Travelzoo's U..K site at www.travelzoo.com/uk.