When you visit a world-class, well-known city like London, it's easy to fall victim to a case of the jaded been-there-done-thats.
The cure? Take an insider tour. Yes, yes, I know, nothing screams tourist more than being part of a tour. We've all seen the throngs of sweaty pink rubes wearing matching tour-issued baseball hats, following a leader with a flag. But London offers several ways to tour that allow you to skip the tacky company and gain a fresh perspective on the city.
London is chock-a-block with international brands, but who travels to buy what they can find at home? Try a shopping tour led by Clare Dowdy, a design journalist and the author of "One Off", a book about independent retail shops worldwide. London is her home turf, though, and she knows it well. For instance, she may bring you to the Lamb's Conduit Street neighborhood, home to a cluster of boutiques ranging from an independent book publisher and binder called Persephone, to a brand new tiny home-design shop opened by architect Ben Pentreath.
The tour is exclusively arranged through the Intercontinental Park Lane, and here's a bonus: since you book through the concierge, you can either go on your own, or with the people you're traveling with, no stranger interaction required.
The Intercontinental also arranges a food tour hosted by Sudi Pigott, author of "How to Be a Better Foodie." Pigott is one of those ridiculously well-connected people who prearranges behind-the-scenes access, tastes and nibbles (she even comes prepared with her own plastic cutlery).
Exactly how much carbon did your flight to London release into the atmosphere? Have a good time assuaging your guilt when you check out Insider London's Cutting Edge Green tour, which is three hours of the most interesting green developments in London, including a floating garden in the Thames, the city's first hydrogen-powered building and sustainable places to grab a bite.
Arrange a bespoke experience to tailor your tour more to your own interests -- you can choose to focus more on architecture, ethical shopping or to incorporate bits of the company's "quirky London" offerings.
London is one of the world's most filmed cities, so while even first-time visitors will find it eerily familiar, film buffs can have a field day.
If London doesn't seem familiar to you from the movies, it probably will as a backdrop from books that you read from childhood to English Lit in college, if ever there was a city teeming with literary history, London is it.
Visit London has a series of excellent maps for self-guided tours, download its London Literary Houses trail guide, which leads you through the can't-miss spots (think Keats, Dickens).
The campaign to Get London Reading has a literary London map that aims to be like the BBC movie map, but is rather incomplete. Instead, download the free "Rough Guide to London by The Book," a 66-page, neighborhood-by-neighborhood guidebook focused on literary landmarks from past to present, including the backstory of writers and their writing, info on libraries, readings, book groups and so on.