Last Updated on February 11, 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Between searching for filming locations, eating in the quirkiest of coffee shops, and seeking out secret museums, there’s no shortage of charming and beautiful offbeat locations across the UK’s capital city. Here’s your ultimate guide to the most unusual things to do in London and the best of London’s hidden gems!
If you’re not sure whether or not you wish to London yet, then consider this: imagine waking up in a boutique hotel followed by a quaint breakfast in a cute coffee shop. By lunchtime, you could have soaked up the exhibits of world-famous museums, shopped in vintage markets, snapped photos from a dozen time periods and more. However, if there’s one London travel tip I would give you, it would be to make sure to discover the more off the beaten path destinations that London has to offer…
#1 Search for Harry Potter London Locations
For Harry Potter fans such as myself, the very fact that Harry Potter and London are so intertwined likely needs no introduction. However, for reference, there are plenty of inspiration locations, places to shop official Harry Potter merchandise and filming locations to scout out, all over London.
Some of the best places to experience Harry Potter in London include the ever-so-pretty Victorian Leadenhall Market (the location for the entrance to Diagon Alley in the films), and Platform 9 and 3/4. If you have a little more time and want to treat yourself while visiting the city, you may well consider booking a Harry Potter studio tour like this one.
#2 Pay a visit to the London Mithraeum (Temple of Mithras)
Lost and forgotten, many a Londoner walked past the crumbling remains of the Temple of Mithras for decades before the Roman temple ruins were moved to their own dedicated location, the Bloomberg Space. Named for the Cult of Mithras, little is known of the religion, which is perhaps what makes the discovery all the more exciting.
The London Mithraeum was originally rediscovered by archaeologists in the 1950s, and can now be visited via an interactive light and sound immersion experience in the very heart of the City of London. Although the entrance to the exhibition is free, you have to book a timed ticket in advance. Tickets and further information can be found on the London Mithraeum website here.
#3 Snap a photo at Neal’s Yard
Come wintertime, Neal’s Yard happens to be one of the best spots in the city to enjoy London’s Christmas Lights. The rest of the year, Neal’s Yard is a pretty enclave nestled in the heart of London’s Seven Dials District, not far from Convent Garden.
Today, the pretty square is painted in bright colours and is the namesake location for the ever-popular Neal’s Yard Remedies brand and flagship store. Though not quite as much as a hidden gem of London as just a few years ago, if you want to snap a photo here without the crowds, be sure to visit earlier in the day and mid-week if possible!
#4 Picnic in St Dunstan in the East
For those who are looking to go a little off the beaten path in the City of London, St Dunstan in the East is a Christopher Wren renovated church that was largely destroyed during the Blitz of WWII. Following the war, a decision was taken not to rebuild the garden, and instead, the space was cleared and turned into a public park.
Today, all that’s left of the 17th-century church, whose history dates back all the way to the 11th-century, is a single steeple. Elsewhere in the grounds, crumbling walls and blown out windows provide pretty dappled light. Now, during the summer months, everywhere you look is covered in climbers, vines, and pretty flowers.
#5 Shop in Persephone Books, 59 Lamb’s Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB
Persephone is a book publisher and bookseller based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London’s Zone One. And thanks to the area’s links with Charles Dickens and the Bloomsbury group, among others, Bloomsbury is a district in Central London that’s a must for any literary lover.
Step into Persephone books today, a publisher and vendor that is predominantly dedicated to out of print women writers from the interwar period, and you’ll soon spy the stunning books. Bound with their unmistakeable light grey jacket cover combined with specific bright endpaper, the book bindings are works of art in of themselves.
#6 Wander along the Covered Arcades of London
If you’re in search of a rainy day activity in London, then you need to look no further than the covered arcades of London. One English staple can be found close to Piccadilly Circus in the form of Burlington Arcade, a historic covered shopping street that’s characterised by its little boutique stores and mosaic tiled flooring.
#7 Visit some of the prettiest London Mews Streets
Throughout London, particularly in the areas of Chelsea and South Kenginston, there are a collection of cobbled lanes known collectively as the ‘mews streets’ of London. Characterised by their two storey stone cottages and plant-filled terraces, these side streets are leftover from a time when the city ran on horsepower.
Today, there are several dozen of these streets left; many of which now house some of the most prime real estate in all of London. Of particular note is Kynance Mews (some of the best fall foliage can be found there) and Bathurst Mews (if you’re leaving or arriving in London via Paddington Station, a trip to this mews can easily be incorporated).
#8 Pay a visit to the Sir John Soane Museum
If you’re looking for one of the quirkiest museums in London, then you simply need to visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. So unique is this collection, that Soane gifted it to the Nation and even had an Act of Parliament passed, stipulating that the collection must remain exactly as it was following his death. And so it has, for the past few centuries!
Once inside (sorry, no photography or phones allowed- this adds to the atmosphere and I most certainly don’t want to spoil the surprise any further!) you’ll soon discover a plethora of architectural styles, eras, and more… All merged into one fascinating time-warp in the heart of Lincon’s Inn Fields close to Holborn Station.
#9 Tulip Stairs, Queen’s House
In the east of London, far away from the Skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and miles from the Roman historic city centre, Greenwich is a London destination that was once a community in its own right. Since absorbed into the fabric of London, it’s here where you’ll find the likes of a Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, the remaining parts of a former Royal Residence.
Free to visit, you could easily while away several hours within the House admiring the artwork and the exquisite 17th-century architecture. However, of all the hidden gems to be found within Greenwich, the Tulip Stairs, the first self-supporting staircase of its kind in the UK is simply not to be missed.
Nearby, other must-see Greenwich locations include the Royal Observatory (where you can observe the Mean timeline) and the Cutty Sark. Of all the London travel tips I could give you, taking the time out of your London itinerary to go and visit Greenwich is an absolute must!
#10 Mudlarking along the Thames Foreshore
London has seen over two millennia worth of history, and as such, it should hardly be surprising that a fair bit of junk and rubbish washes up along the Thames Foreshore, the name given to the tidal beaches that line either side of the River. But, as the saying so goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and this is especially true of many of the finds that are found along London’s Central River.
After all, finds include everything from fossils to Tudor rings, to small fishing hooks that were used to catch food during the Victorian Era. Those who partake in sifting through the stones and pottery in search of ‘treasure’ call the skill ‘mudlarking’. Please note, however, that as of around 2015, you’ll need a permit if you want to go mudlarking along the Foreshore. Please find further information here.
#11 Go up the Monument to the Great Fire of London
In the very heart of the City of London, the Monument to the Great Fire of London is one of those unusual things to do in London that most guidebooks simply don’t recommend (though they definitely should!). A climb up the 200+ spiralling steps can easily be undertaken for under £5, making this quirky activity perfect for those on a budget.
The Great Fire of London ravaged through the city for several days in September of 1666 and is alleged to have started on Pudding Lane, just a few hundred metres away from where the Monument now stands. It’s also this fire that destroyed Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall, thus leading to the construction of the Houses of Parliament as we know them today. Even if you only have one day in London, you’ll want to make sure to explore the wider area of the City of London, where the Monument is to be found.
#12 Visit the Jewel Tower
In a place where many pass on a daily basis but few think to venture into, the Jewel Tower truly is a hidden gem in the sprawling streets of the Westminster district. Free to visit for English Heritage members (and at a small fee if you’re not), the Jewel Tower dates back to the 14th-century and is a true time warp close to the River Thames.
#13 Enjoy a stroll around the Victoria Tower Gardens
As the green space’s name would suggest, the green space that is Victoria Tower Gardens lies in the shadow of Westminster Palace. Opened to the public in the latter half of the 19th-century as a result of a grant by WH Smith (the same man who founded the Newsagents that are so synonymous with the British high street), this hidden London gem is an oasis of calm in the centre of the city.
#14 The Garden at 120
Last but not least, one of the more unusual places to see in London comes in the form of London’s newest rooftop garden. Free to visit (and at time of publication, you don’t even need a timed entrance ticket to visit), this towering terraced area offers breathtaking views over much of the City of London.
Opened in early 2019, the Garden at 120 is set to have a restaurant and café by Summer of 2019. As it is, head there today and you can expect to find 360-degree panoramic views of iconic attractions such as Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Gherkin skyscraper.
#15 Walk under Temple Bar London
Once upon a time, London would have been home to a number of medieval gates which would have signalled the entrance into the main city. However, time, fires, and other calamities meant that all of these gates were lost or destroyed.
During the 17th-century, the architect Christopher Wren designed a new gate that was reminiscent of these gates of old, that of Temple Bar London. Nestled under the shadow of Saint Paul’s Cathedral (another Wren masterpiece), the beautiful arch of Temple Bar London is well worth checking out while you’re in the area.
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