Brilliant Things to Do in London for Nerds

Wilton's is not only oldest music hall in the world, but entices with an array of cultural offerings
Wilton's is not only oldest music hall in the world, but entices with an array of cultural offerings | © Katharine Rose / Alamy
Photo of Jill Russo
6 July 2021

A hub of brainiacs and a rich history mean there is no shortage of opportunities to nerd out and get intellectual in London. Broaden your knowledge with free lectures and discussion events, or enter the curious museums of preserved biology specimens and Freud’s last house – activities all bookable through Culture Trip.

Feast your brain at the Wellcome Collection

Museum
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'Being Human', the new permanent display at London's Wellcome Collection includes sections on Genetics, Infection, Minds & Bodies and Environmental Breakdown.
© Rachel Royse / Alamy

A delightfully weird blend of art and science, the Wellcome Collection revels in interdisciplinary inspiration. From a talk about depictions of death in pop culture to an exhibition on the history of mental asylums, its programming draws connections between everyday life, medicine and the humanities in a way that stimulates the imagination. Plus, the permanent collection of medical curiosities and medically inspired art installations is always worth a peek.

Navigate time and space at the Royal Observatory

Building, Museum
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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London
© Chris Dorney / Alamy Stock Photo
Drag your favourite astrophysics or engineering nerd out into the sunlight to climb uphill through Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory. There, you can take a trip back in time to examine the problem that once faced ships at sea: how to determine longitude (without Google Maps). Discover how some of the sharpest minds of the Enlightenment raced to find the solution to this ship-wrecking problem. Afterwards, experience whizzing through space in an immersive Planetarium show.

Feed your thirst for knowledge at a free lecture

School
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Sir Thomas Gresham's grasshopper motif in Lombard Street in the city of London. Image shot 1990. Exact date unknown.
© John Heseltine / Alamy

A thirst for knowledge is always cool. That’s where Gresham College comes in – there are no students here, it’s entirely dedicated to a programme of 140 annual lectures, all free and open to the public. From big ideas, such as the future of our oceans, to niche topics, like where mathematical symbols originate from, browsing the subjects on offer might just spark a keen fascination you never saw coming.

See Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic couch

Library, Museum
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Sigmund Freud house London psychoanalysist couch
© Tom Ferguson / Alamy
In leafy Hampstead, step into the final home of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the man credited with founding psychoanalysis. The study room is arranged exactly as it was during Freud’s lifetime, including 1,600 books, a writing desk and the famous couch on which Freud’s patients would recline during analysis sessions. You’ll also see his specially designed chair, made to accommodate his preferred seating posture of having his legs over one of the chair’s arms.

Have a covert rendezvous at the Southbank Centre Book Market

Market
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Southbank Centre, London, United Kingdom - clem-onojeghuo-RLJnH4Mt9A0-unsplash
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
A fixture of South Bank since the 1980s, the trestle tables of second-hand books, maps and prints is an incongruous sight beneath Waterloo Bridge. But this beloved market, now one of the last open-air book fairs in the UK, is as popular as ever. Open daily, you’ll find an eclectic mix of reads, ranging from Penguin Classics to beautifully illustrated children’s books.

Creep yourself out at the Hunterian Museum

Museum
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Crystal Gallery, Hunterian museum. The Royal College Surgeons, Lincoln's Inn, London. UK.. Image shot 2012. Exact date unknown.
© David Gee 4 / Alamy
Over 3,000 pickled organs and other bodily specimens (human and otherwise) grace the shelves of Holborn‘s Hunterian Museum. The 3,500-piece, 18th-century collection belonged to the forefather of scientific surgery, John Hunter (1728-1793). Macabre and fascinating, displays include the skeleton of 2.3m (7ft 7in) “giant” Charles Byrne and teeth from soldiers who died at the battle of Waterloo. The building is currently undergoing a multi-million-pound renovation, due to reopen in 2023.

Fire your creative synapses at Wilton’s Music Hall

Cinema, Concert Hall, Music Venue, Theater, Theatre
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Wilton's Music Hall, Graces Alley (off Ensign Street), London, E1 8JB, U.K.Wilton's Music Hall is a Grade II listed building in Shadwell, built as a
© Alex MacNaughton / Alamy

If the prospect of exploring the “oldest grand music hall in the world” isn’t enough enticement to visit Wilton’s Music Hall, its cultural offerings should be. Aside from live music, the hall also hosts themed story-telling nights, shows – such as a mischievous abridged rendition of Shakespeare – and regular writers’ groups. There are also two bars attached, giving you a chance to soften your sharp but neurotic intellect with a little liquid courage.

Sip complex cocktails at Oriole

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Market, European, $$$
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Do you call bartenders “mixologists” and know the molecular science behind every spirit? Tucked inside Smithfield Market is a drinking den that has your name on it. Oriole, a cocktail bar run by the folk behind the popular Nightjar, is a showcase of ingenious flavour combinations and unusual ingredients (durian fruit, anyone?), all with a British Empire theme. Taste-science nerds will thrill at the opportunity to guess the exotic ingredients and discover flavour-building techniques.

Google it, literally

Building
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The entrance to Google's new UK headquarters building in St Pancras Square, London. Shows Google sign above door.
© Simon Turner / Alamy
Think you’ve got the next great start-up idea? Bounce it off like-minded people at open networking and skills events (including introductory classes, hackathons, and industry talks) inside Campus London, a sort of community centre for techies and local entrepreneurs, set up by none other than everything-behemoth Google. It’s members-only here, but registration is free, and visiting may lead to finding a business partner – or simply inspiration for the next big idea.

Talk aperture and shutter speed at the Camera Museum

Museum
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Quirky,small,Camera Museum, and, Cafe,on Museum Street,near British Museum,Bloomsbury,London,England,UK,U.K.,Europe,
© Paul Quayle / Alamy
Gearhead nerds will love the teensy Camera Museum, a digestible lunch break treat where you can explore camera equipment from the 1800s through to the present day. The museum also sells specialty cameras (such as Hasselblad and Rolleiflex) and does repairs, so get ready to geek out with the staff. Afterwards, plonk down at the great on-site café for a panini or soup.

Stick your nose in a book, socially

Bookstore, Store
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Interior view of the new Foyles flagship bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London
© Bettina Strenske / Alamy
Let your inner literary geek flourish at one of London’s open book clubs. A centrally located option is Foyles book shop on Charing Cross Road, where once a month the public and staff unite to dissect a selected read. It’s both a great way to meet fellow bookworms in one of the world’s most literary cities and a good excuse to read a novel instead of whatever you’re supposed to be reading for work or school.

Test your Turing at Bletchley Park

Park
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Bletchley Park Mansion showing an office furnished as it would have been in WWII when occupied by the famous code-breakers
© David Askham / Alamy
Ok, so it’s not strictly in London, but a 34-minute journey on the train from Euston will deliver you at Bletchley station, a five-minute stroll from Bletchley Park. Once the top-secret location of the World War II codebreakers, this is your chance to project your inner Alan Turing and pay homage to the wartime contribution of some of history’s biggest logicians.
These recommendations were updated on July 6, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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