Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Excerptfrom The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
When people think of London and its chief tourist attractions, they usually talk about the Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, London Eye, Trafalgar Square etc. However, the grand old capital of the United Kingdom has far more to offer than the usual tourist hotspots. As the excerpt from the Robert Frost poem says, sometimes taking the road less travelled by, makes all the difference. Similarly, trying out a few or all of the 21 places mentioned in this post will help you experience London in a different manner than most tourists. Oh, and just to point out, this list isn’t only meant for visitors. It can also be used by the Londoners who have been blissfully unaware of the hidden wonders of this great city.
One of the most interesting things about London is that there’s always something new and interesting to discover. It can range from London’s secret spots such as the hidden noses and ears in Covent Garden or someplace unique restaurant which takes its patrons to a hitherto unknown places, like the coffee shop set up inside a Victorian public toilet.
Here are 21 unusual things to see and do in London:
1. Take a look at some of the world’s best street art
East London has been a hub for some of the world’s best street artists for a long time. While street art keeps changing, the streets around Shoreditch and Hackney are awash with colour and life. If you’re not sure where to start, book a street-art tour and drown in some artistic brilliance.
2. Get spooked at the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
It’s Halloween all year round at the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. It’s run by the charity Ministry of Stories. It’s a charity which encourages children to write. The shop has everything a horror buff could want – salt made from tears of sorrow, cubed earwax (fudge) and jars of daylight (a solar-cell LED light) – for ‘the monster in your life or afterlife’. It’s a great place to visit for those who want to find unusual gifts and support a good cause at the same time.
3. Drop by the Last Tuesday Society
The Last Tuesday Society is a Victorian wormhole full of unusual curiosities in Hackney. Well, it’s all of those, and it’s where you can learn the art of taxidermy, should you wish to. Otherwise known as Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors, the Last Tuesday Society has an array of strange and quirky items to see, from skulls to dildos. Oh, and there’s a bar as well, since you might be in need of a drink after taking all this eccentricity in.
4. Go kayaking on the river Thames
The river Thames might look murky and brown, and you definitely wouldn’t want to fall in (a lot of the city’s sewage flows in it afterall), but kayaking is a fun way to get up very close to the iconic London river. Kayaking London takes out small groups every day around the Houses of Parliament or in Little Venice in Paddington.
5. Ride on the subterranean railway
No, this isn’t about London’s famous subway system (known as the Tube). This is about the Postal Museum, which has brought back to life one of the railways that snaked under London. These lin3s once used to deliver letters when there were only two deliveries required per day. The journey takes you from the former engineering depot of Mail Rail, the 100-year-old Post Office railway, into the original tunnels, and is combined with a theatrical experience.
6. Glow under the neon lights of God’s Own Junkyard
If you love neon and can’t get enough of it, London’s psychedelic God’s Own Junkyard is a must visit for you. The gallery, which is located inside an industrial estate, contains everything from old Soho sex-shop signs to props used in fashion shoots. Walking around the colourful space is a truly cool experience. If you love sharing cool images on social media, the God’s Own Junkyard is one of the more Instagrammable places in London. It even has its own café, The Rolling Scones Café. God’s Own Junkyard is only open at weekends and entrance is free.
7. Explore the ancient Roman temple dedicated to Mithras (London Mithraeum)
London is a really old city. The roots of this amazing city date back to nearly 2,000 years ago. London was already a town before the Romans descended on Britain. They made it a fortified city and brought their mystical beliefs with them. The temple of one of their gods, Mithras, was discovered in 1954, and today the London Mithraeum has its own museum below Bloomberg’s European headquarters. The temple has been restored to look the way it did when it was first excavated, and is showcased in a presentation that uses lighting design, audio recordings and haze. Entrance is free but prior booking is essential as the place fills up fast.
8. Sip on some tea at a 300-year old tea shop
No one loves tea more than the Brits, right? London used to practically run on the stuff and the Twinings Café (yes the world famous tea brand ) on the Strand has seen some changes since it opened in 1706. Twining was one of the first merchants to bring tea to the UK and it’s been providing the royal households with brews since 1837.
9. Check out the dreaded cholera pump of Soho
Blink and you’ll miss the water pump in Soho that helped to cure cholera. The water-borne disease caused mass fatalities in London, until local doctor John Snow traced an outbreak back to this pump in 1854. Before this, people believed cholera was transmitted through the air. Pop into the John Snow pub (not related to Game Of Thrones in any way) nearby to raise a pint to the good doctor who saved thousands of lives.
10. Sip on some coffee in a Victorian era toilet at the Attendant
The Attendant chain has a number of cafés in the city, but it’s the Fitzrovia one that is the most eccentric on and the one you wouldn’t want to miss. In Victorian times the space was a public toilet, and the old urinals are now a main focal point of the interior (but don’t worry, they’ve been cleaned). The beautiful wrought-iron entrance is another reason to visit the café, which looks so authentic that baristas say they regularly have to turn away people who think it’s still a functioning public toilet. No, we aren’t taking a piss here, it was indeed a toilet once.
11. Walk along The Line
The Line is a great sculpture and art walk. It stretches from the fresh green spaces of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London down to The O2 in Greenwich, unveils a host of exciting public artworks along the Meridian Line. It’s the perfect way to get some exercise, see London’s waterways (you cross the Thames in a cable car at one point) and enjoy works by artists including Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley. The whole walk takes about two and a half hours, and there’s a whole lotta things to see along the way.
12. Break into England’s oldest prison
The Clink Prison Museum, just off the South Bank, has a long history of locking people up. The clink (a nickname for ‘jail’) operated from the 12th to the 18th century. Today you are free to leave, but not before being shown round by actors in costume who bring the grisly past to life.
13. Swim in the Hampstead Heath ponds
London has a surprising number of outdoor pools and lidos that are perfect for both summer swims to beat the heat and brisk freezing winter dips. Some of the best outdoor pools of the city can be found on Hampstead Heath, where the bathing ponds and the lido are open for swimmers all year round. Taking in the wilderness in the middle of London with an early morning swim is a lovely, calm way to exercise and tune yourself with nature. Opening and closing hours depend on the season, so make sure to check the website, but the ponds usually open for public use at 7am.
14. Check out Europe’s oldest surviving surgical theater
South London’s Old Operating Theater Museum is Europe’s oldest surviving surgical theater.. The charity showcases how surgeries were made before we had anesthetics and antiseptics, and the attic space also houses herbs that were used for medicines. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and makes you very grateful for modern medicine. To help visitors get a real feel for how operations were done in the 1800s, there are surgical demonstrations every weekend.
15. Spend a night at the London Zoo
Visitors to Zoological Society of London Zoo have the option of staying behind when the gates shut by booking an overnight experience in one of the venue’s new lodges. Guests will get an after-dark tour, a drink, dinner and exclusive experiences (there’s even an early-morning fry-up if you make it through the night).
16. Visit the quirky Leighton House Museum
Escape the typical museum crowds and head for something a little more offbeat. London’s full of quirky museums, and the Leighton House Museum is certainly one of them. Once the home of Sir Frederic Leighton, it’s decorated in an Art Nouveau-meets-East style – complete over-the-top Victorian palatial folly.
17. Explore the tranquil beauty of The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven isn’t just a 1960s Western and a Quentin Tarantino flick, it’s also the collective name of the seven large Victorian cemeteries dotted around London: Kensal Green Cemetery, West Norwood Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and Tower Hamlets Cemetery. Originally introduced to help relieve the city’s small, overflowing burial grounds in the 19th century, today the cemeteries are beautifully overgrown and havens for wildlife. Choose one of them to walk around, and make sure to find out if anyone famous is buried there before visiting. Highgate Cemetery is where you’ll find the grave of Karl Marx.
18. Check out the Wellcome Collection
Described as “the free destination for the incurably curious,” The Wellcome Collection has been fascinating the public since it first opened its doors in 1936, and has a specific focus on the connections between art, life and medicine.
This intriguing museum houses everything from Napoleon’s toothbrush to hearing aids and keyholes, and in the past has hosted exhibits on the natural power of electricity, “adventures in refrigeration” and even mental asylums and quack remedies. Visitors can purchase their own audio guide to listen to as they stroll around the building, and the museum even offers guided tours as well.
19. Visit the House of Dreams
The House of Dreams is an embodiment of the common saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Each and every inch and corner of this unconventional museum is covered with all sorts of different forgotten and unloved objects. These objects include things like old Christmas crackers, broken toys, religious objects from Mexico, and much more.
The museum was founded by the local mosaic artist Stephen Wright (known for his mosaic decoration outside the Blue Mountain Cafe), who decided to transform the ground floor of his home into a dizzying display of countless objects that the average person would consider trash. (Wright still resides in this building to this very day, and often conducts tours for visitors).
The House of Dreams is only opens for visitors on three days in a year, July 25th, August 29th and September 26th. It’s open from 11 AM to 4 PM. Iif you are planning on visiting this incredible place, make sure you arrive extra early as the building can get quite crowded very quickly.
20. Take the Sky Garden Walk
Are you itching to see panoramic views of the London skyline but don’t have the money to shell out on a visit up The Shard? Well you’ll be happy to hear that The Sky Garden lets its visitors enjoy stunning views of London from 155 metres above for literally no cost at all!
In The Sky Garden, all of the views of London are labelled on the glass so you can learn more about the different buildings you can expect to see during your visit, and there’s also a picturesque rainforest garden you can stroll around as well.
Sky Garden itself is open from 10 AM to 6 PM on weekdays, and 11 AM to 9 PM on weekends, but its restaurants are open seven days a week from 7 AM to 1 AM, all of which provide unlimited access to the gardens. Given its popularity, it’s highly recommended that you book a spot online beforehand, and make sure you bring some form of photo ID during your visit as well.
21. Visit the house of Dennis Severs
Travel back in time and immerse yourself with the smells, sounds and sights of historic London in this thought-provoking Spitalfields museum. This incredible museum gives its visitors a bird’s eye view of what life in London would have been hundreds of years ago.
The museum was founded by Dennis Severs, who was looking for a spot to serve as a sort of “canvas” for his own artistic imagination. Over the years Severs has redesigned the home with only antique decorations and furnishing, without equipping it with any modern-day technology or electricity.
Visitors can walk around the various rooms inside the home (which include the cellar, kitchen, dining room, smoking room and bedrooms) and look at half-eaten plates of food on the table, jackets thrown over chairs, and even the smell the food cooking in the kitchen. The museum is especially unique in that visitors must stroll around the various areas of the building in silence so they can imagine how the original inhabitants of the house would have lived hundreds of years in the past.
The house offers three separate events for the visitors to choose from, with varying motifs and prices. Those events are:
Sunday “Daytime” events – 12 PM to 4 PM, £10 per person
Monday “Lunchtime” events – 12 PM to 2 PM, £10 per person
“Silent Night” events – These events are really special and only happen on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the Christmas and Holiday season. The Silent Night events run between 5 PM and 9 PM and can cost as much as £60 per person.