It’s time to look up: How to do London without the smartphone

5 minute guide


Be a smarter traveller, without having to rely on a smartphone. Does your Fear Of Missing Out mean you miss the amazing stuff happening right in front of your face?

smart challenged us to look at how you can explore the British capital AND have a digital detox at the same time. Well, challenge accepted, this is multitasking we can get behind.

Georgina Wilson-Powell 31 July 2018

Even if you know London like a pro, we bet it’s all based on what your smartphone tells you. From Google Maps to Uber, ticket booking to cult beers, we’re led around so much by our screen we often forget what it’s like to really explore.

So switch off, look up and let’s go.

Day one

Plan, plan and then accept plans change

If you’re going to get around London without Google Maps, you’ll need to do some planning. Buy an old-school London A-Z instead of using your offline map app and work out your day’s route. 

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Do you remember how to read an offline map?

How about plotting out a long walk to one of London’s lesser known parks, like leafy Kennington Park? 

Or take a stroll from Hackney Wick to Angel along Regent’s Canal. There’s swans, cafes on boats and art galleries to spot when you’re not looking down at the screen.

You’ll also probably need to accept that plans don’t always work out and embrace the randomness of London. Who knows where you might end up if you just let your feet decide where they want to go? 

Stop where you want, buy a magazine or a newspaper, some snacks, find a patch of grass and let yourself relax. It almost feels radical, being away from the phone this much. But who cares what everyone else is up to?

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What can beat a sit down in the sun, when you've nowhere else to be?


Walk in and eat

Instead of obsessively planning where to eat based on the latest Instagram trend or cult blog, why not take a chance?

Head to Upper Street in Islington for a huge range of independent restaurants from French cuisine at Le Mercure to 80s inspired Chinese at Chinese Laundry.

Or pop into Soho where the tiny streets criss-cross endlessly and are filled with every type of eatery, and most of them are walk-in only. No booking required. 

Flat Iron’s a must eat if you like steak or try Mildred's if you’re more on the plant based side of things.

smart recently sent Berlin born jack of all trades and manager of the famous Prince Charles club, Michel Niknafs, to London to see how he’d fare without his phone as part of its Challenge Accepted series.


Day two

Feeling the FOMO?

London’s home to some of the best art galleries in the world - who don’t let you use your phone even if you have got one, so get yourself to the Barbican for modern photography or the Tate Modern for a good old wander around with lots of other people who are without a phone.

And don't forget the gift shop. A good ol' dose of retail therapy will keep you in the moment. 

Smart Digi Detox London

You don't have to rely on your phone to take pictures - remember the camera?


Ditch the data but keep the photos

Recording our experiences has become part and parcel of the modern travel experience but let go of wanting to monitor your step count or activity level and just enjoy the walk or cycle for its own sake.

Putting down the phone doesn’t mean you need to stop taking photos though - remember the camera? Yeah, you know - those things that didn’t used to be in our phone? Pick up a Polaroid and snap each place you visit.

Join a walking tour

Get your info human to human style on one of London’s brilliant walking tours. 

From street art in Shoreditch to food and drink in Soho with Eating Europe, there’s no shortage of half day adventures where you’ll learn something of London’s history or culture (we're still repeating the fab gin facts we learnt on a gin-soaked tour of Soho).

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“Get your info human to human style on one of London’s brilliant walking tours”

Swap swiping right for social games

London’s gone crazy for old school bar games and mini golf. It’s time to keep your mind off your phone and on beating your friends. 

There’s Flight Club in Shoreditch where you can aim for the bullseye and play darts, or practise your putting at Swingers, a chain of crazy golf courses that pit you against ridiculous oversized obstacles. Book a session before you arrive and see who can top the league.

Day three

Find some peace

Set the wake-up call for early. It’s time to find some mindfulness and centre yourself in the moment, rather than constantly scrolling through the latest bad news story. 

London’s fallen for yoga big time and there’s numerous places you can pick up a class, but if you’ve not been before there’s often a weekend yoga class at the top of the Shard. Take in the view down the Thames and breathe out.

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Practise your downward dog in peace without your phone


Brunch off

You can’t leave London without enjoying a long brunch and some serious people watching - who needs constant updates when there’s outfits to assess?

There are some brilliant brunch spots in Hackney (which has some of the best people watching). 

Pull up a pew outside Climpson & Sons for cult coffee in Broadway Market, go for Londoners' favourite, avo on toast, at Morty & Bob’s (hidden in Netil House). Soak up the sourdough vibes at E5 Bakehouse or treat yourself to a Spanish feast at award-winning, Morito. 

You can walk it off with some laps of London Fields or lengths of the local lido afterwards.

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Cool off at the historic London Fields Lido - now a cult place to hang out and swim

Getting itchy hands?

It’s time to switch your brain off and enjoy an evening of theatre or cinema - where phones are a no no anyway. 

London’s not short of fabulous, world class cultural experiences from immersive theatre productions under the arches at Waterloo and cutting edge plays at the National Theatre, to incredible themed experiences with Secret Cinema or Backyard Cinema in Elephant & Castle (every summer).

It’s always best to book something up before you arrive, print out your tickets and be prepared to be amazed.

If you’re prepared to get a little lost and relinquish a little control over what you do and eat, the world’s your oyster. That’s what travelling is all about isn’t it? All you’ve got to do is be brave and power off.

5 steps to switching off

  • Don’t forget to tell family and friends you’re doing it, so they know you’re fine and you don’t switch your phone back on to 46 panicked voicemails.
  • Don’t want to be completely cut off? Invest in a ‘dumb-phone’ like this one.
  • Ease yourself in by switching off notifications or stopping using your phone in bed.
  • Lock the phone away in your hotel safe so you’re not tempted.
  • It’ll all be there when you get back. Social media isn’t going anywhere - if you still want it.

 In the end, it’s all about rethinking and changing your habits. Don't wait for everyone else. Lead the way! 

With the new smart EQ fortwo, fortwo cabrio and forfour electric models, smart has taken mobility in the city one step further – virtually silent, locally emission-free and with full torque on tap at all times. The future of urban mobility is electric. All you need to make the switch is curiosity and the courage to lead the way. 

Find out more about the Challenge Accepted challenge here or watch all episodes on YouTube.

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Put the phone down and don't panic. We've got brilliant offline ideas to get you exploring London away from Instagram. Relax and wander and see what happens.

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With the new smart EQ fortwo, fortwo cabrio and forfour electric models, smart has taken mobility in the city one step further – virtually silent, locally emission-free and with full torque on tap at all times

Discover more from smart's Challenge Accepted

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