Other than boarding Tube trains during rush hour, London doesn’t tend to be associated with adrenaline-fuelled activities. But the city does have an adventurous side, with ice climbing in Covent Garden, bungee jumping by the O2, kayaking down the Thames and cycling the world’s fastest track among the thrills on offer. So gear up and strap in for our round-up of the capital’s 12 best action-packed activities.
Abseil from the UK’s tallest sculpture
The twisting red and silver structure that spears East London’s horizon is a unique spot to dangle from. Created by artist Anish Kapoor, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is the UK’s tallest sculpture and the centrepiece of the Olympic Park. It's also home to the highest freefall abseil in the country. You can enjoy a bird’s eye view from the top before starting the 80m descent. Those wanting to absorb the impressive panoramas can slowly control the drop, while daredevils can whip down as fast as their arms will allow.
A slightly less terrifying (but no less exciting) way to get to the bottom is by using the slide, which is the world’s tallest and longest. Abseiling is available on select dates from April to October, and the slide is open year-round.
Kayak along the Thames
Guided kayak tours along London’s mighty river offer the opportunity to paddle past – and enjoy unique views of – some of the world’s most recognisable landmarks. Departing from Chelsea, in west London, you can glide under famous bridges and float past sights including the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. You’ll be in selfie heaven (just don't drop your phone in the river). The busy waterway is navigated in two-seater kayaks, or singles for those with experience. Trips can be organised with Kayaking London.
Parkour in the urban jungle
Parkour, also known as free running, is the practice of negotiating obstacles in the most efficient way possible, and it is officially big in London. If you see it in action (there are popular spots around Waterloo and the South Bank), it may give you the impression that the urban environment is one big adventure playground, but leaping across stairwells and teetering on rooftops can be a risky business. Classes allow you to safely learn the skills, and Parkour Generations offer lessons around the city.
Climb a wall of ice
One of the most surprising adventures to be found in the city is indoor ice climbing. Tucked away in the basement of Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports shop in Covent Garden is a giant refrigeration unit called Vertical Chill, where temperatures hover between -5 and -12°C. The 8m wall offers climbs for all abilities, with gentle inclines for novices and sharp overhangs for the more experienced.
White-water raft the Olympic course
Hurtling through frothy rapids, dodging boulders and clinging on tightly as you plummet down a 5m drop is all part of the rafting experience at Lee Valley White Water Centre, just north of London. The 300m course, which was constructed to host the canoe slalom at the 2012 Summer Olympics, is one of the world’s top artificial white-water spots. The venue offers a range of activities for aqua adventurers including canoeing and hydro-speeding, where you take to the rapids on a cross between a float and a body board.
Bungee jump next to the O2 arena
If you want to stretch your tolerance for heights, take the plunge with a bungee jump alongside the vast dome of the O2 arena. For one weekend each month a 50m crane in Greenwich gives those willing to take a literal leap of faith the chance to tandem jump or go it alone. From the top there’s just enough time to take in the views of Canary Wharf and some of the city’s tallest landmarks before plummeting towards a giant airbag. Jumps can be booked through the UK Bungee Club.
Swim in the Serpentine or on the Heath
A bracing dip in one of London’s famous parks is a skin-tingling way to revive yourself. Beyond the pedalos and squabbling ducks and swans of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park is a 100m swimming area that’s a great place to cool off in summer (May–August), although it does get busy on warm weekends. In north London, the wilder expanse of Hampstead Heath offers a wonderfully natural environment, and two of its three ponds are open for year-round swimming.
Pedal the world's fastest cycle track
Go for gold at the Lee Valley VeloPark © Kieran Galvin / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Cycling fans won’t want to miss a spin around the fastest track in the world. The indoor velodrome at the Lee Valley VeloPark, inside Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, hosted the world’s top riders during the 2012 Olympic Games, and now cyclists of all levels can have a go. The oval track has steep, sloping banks which, combined with the fixed wheel bikes and iconic setting, makes a circuit a unique experience.
The park also boasts an outdoor BMX track and miles of mountain bike trails.
Speed-boat along the Thames
James Bond is an old hand when it comes to zipping along the Thames in a speedboat, but you don't need a '00' number to follow in his wake. Tours head past Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Shard, before the action is taken up to 35mph when the boat reaches the high-speed zone east of Tower Bridge.
Thames Rockets offer a number of tours departing from the London Eye, as well as a trip from Tower Bridge which heads as far east as the Thames Barrier and is particularly fast as it operates only in the high-speed zone.
Power kite in Richmond Park
Why take a stroll through a park when a giant kite can pull you along instead? A range of kiting activities can be found in southwest London’s massive, deer-filled Richmond Park, starting with two-line and four-line kiting lessons. Once the basics have been mastered you can progress to a kite landboarding course, where you speed along on an oversized skateboard, or a kite buggy course, where you sit in a three-wheeled go-kart. Check out Kitevibe for more details.
Learn how to fight. With a sword.
Gladiator, are you ready? The London Longsword Academy is prepared to teach you how to swashbuckle like a pro. Master the art of blades ranging from rapiers (think Captain Hook) to longswords (think Aragorn, son of Arathorn), and become the hero you always thought you probably were.
Join the circus
The Gorilla Circus, that is, where you can learn to swing like a monkey at the Flying Trapeze School in Regent’s Park. The two-hour classes are open to ages 8 and up, and build to a finale that involves swinging upside-down off a trapeze and being caught by an instructor on a separate trapeze. There is a very large net to catch flailing bodies (though pride may slip through).