With a rich history and a buzzing cultural life, London has dozens of unique things to do and see tucked away – you just need to know where to look. From exploring ancient temples to wild swimming, these are the best quirky and unusual things to do in London.
Hey there, daydreamer! Need an escape? Check out our collection of adventurous, small group getaways – in all-time favourite and further-flung destinations. Packed with authentic local experiences, unforgettable activities and one-off accommodations, they’re a world away from the everyday.
Futur.Shock LIVE by FOLD London
FOLD London have just announced season 3 of their experimental live arts platform Futur.Shock LIVE. This season is titled ‘Another Day Of Gravity’ and takes place over 3 dates / ‘chapters’ exploring themes such as mental health, political & social struggles, intimacy & sexuality in our modern world. The third chapter will also be in collaboration with the London Short Film Festival.
You’ll be able to experience the different instalments over the coming months and contributing artists include Josh Woolford // Leask // Malthus // Mellowdramatics // Oscar King & Lesya Tyminska // SWARMM & Karolina Magnusson Murray.
SAW: Escape Experience London
Plunging straight into Jigsaw’s twisted world, contenders (willing or otherwise) will discover their worst nightmares and fears, as Jigsaw ensnares a new generation of players attempting to earn their redemption. Taking inspiration from the popular horror series, this experience is a light introduction to the world of escape rooms, and a full return to the world seen in the movies. SAW: Escape Experience London is located at 1 America Square, London, EC3N 2LS, just a few minutes’ walk from Tower Hill station. With two game routes to choose from, daring risk takers can return again for a different yet equally terrifying experience.
Futuristic bingo with Hijingo in Shoreditch
This summer, Hijingo is introducing the world’s first cinematic bingo experience. Set to transport guests back in time to the vibrant, dynamic era of the ‘80s with its brand new, limited-time-only experience – ‘The ‘80s Power Trip’. Combining live entertainment, cutting-edge sonic effects, and captivating footage and motion graphics, Hijingo promises to deliver the ultimate in interactive entertainment this summer, through a hilarious story of greed, power, and redemption.
The ‘80s Power Trip follows the tale of ‘80s London’s most fashionable and exhilarating bingo club (Hijingo), and its fight to escape the clutches of a greedy corporate establishment aiming to transform it into a soulless profit-driven machine. It promises to be an experience that has players in fits of laughter and cheering like never before. Players will be guided through the cinematic immersive experience with the help of the ‘80s Hijingobots (other-worldly masked dancers), on-screen characters, and state-of-the-art technology, during a 90-minute session including six rounds of bingo with six chances to win, plus prizes of up to £250 cash and a European holiday for two.
Get spooky at the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
It’s Halloween all year round at the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, run by the charity Ministry of Stories, which encourages children to write. The shop has everything you 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”. A great place to visit if you want to find unusual gifts and support a good cause at the same time.
Swim in the open air at Hampstead Heath ponds
London has a surprising number of outdoor pools and lidos that are perfect for both warm summer swims and brisk winter dips. Some of the best 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 get back to nature. Opening and closing hours depend on the season, so make sure to check the website, but the ponds normally open at 7am.
Visit the oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe
The Old Operating Theatre Museum, close to the Shard in London Bridge, is exactly what it sounds like. The charity showcases how surgeries were made before we had anaesthetics 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. If you want to get a real feel for how operations were done in the 1800s, there are surgical demonstrations every weekend.
Six by Nico
London isn’t short of food options. Locals often find new restaurants opening up overnight and there are hundreds of recommendations everyone can share at the mere mention of dining out, so you do have to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd here. Six by Nico not only offer up an affordable line-up of six courses (with fantastic drink pairings too), but they also opt for a fun twist on dishes and themes. Its never so experimental that it becomes a parody of itself, but it does fill you with excitement every time they announce a new menu. The most recent Neverland dishes were a balanced delight and you won’t have to wait for long for the next series to come along. The good news is that you don’t have to be in London to enjoy a trip to Six by Nico, as they also have branches around the country.
Developed by the creative minds behind London 2012’s Olympic Opening Ceremony, Frameless brings the work of world-famous artists to a new digital generation. You might have seen some of the temporary exhibitions touring around the world of this type before, but there really is nothing of the scale of Frameless at the moment. This multi-sensory, multi-artist experience is set to become a ‘must-see’ as well as a new cultural landmark for London. The space features four rooms that flow seamlessly from one style to another, they all have a distinct look and feel even though the general layout is the same. The transformation comes from the visuals but also the sounds and immersive elements. You’ll go in thinking you’ll spend a few minutes here and end up spending the whole day in awe. With projects like this, there is also scope for refreshing the line-up and adding new works, so repeat visits will be a real option.
Candlelit tour of an eccentric Victorian house
Inside the curious Sir John Soane’s Museum you’ll find a lavish collection of classical paintings, sculptures and relics, all bizarrely jam-packed into a large terrace house, once home to the neo-classical architect it was named after. Sir John accumulated such a stash of historical oddities that a Private Act of Parliament had his home transformed into a museum upon his death in 1837. The museum is so crammed with artefacts, including a huge 3,000-year-old stone sarcophagus, that you’ll have to tread carefully to avoid upsetting a valuable piece of history. You can visit during the day, but for an extra-special treat, visit during a late opening, when the space is lit up by candlelight, Victorian style.
Take an outdoor art walk along The Line
Already familiar with uber-trendy Hackney? If you want to explore a lesser-known corner of East London, take a walk along The Line, a sculpture trail that stretches across the Thames, from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford all the way down to The O2 Arena in Greenwich. There are 12 sculptures along the route by artists including Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley. Look out for the upside-down electricity pylon in Greenwich, and when you visit the 115m-tall ArcelorMittal Orbit tower in Stratford, be sure to ride the slide from top to bottom. The walk takes about three hours and roughly follows the Meridian Line. Both start points are easily accessed via the Tube network and it’s the perfect way to get some exercise and see the Thames, which you’ll cross via a dangling cable car.
If home is where the art is then you’ll love our private small-group getaway to Barcelona. You’ll explore the architectural legacy of local legend Antoni Gaudi, eat pintxos in the Gothic Quarter, and have some free time to take in the Picasso museum.
Drink coffee in a Victorian toilet at the Attendant
The Attendant has a number of cafes in the city, but the Fitzrovia is the one to visit. In Victorian times, the space was a public toilet, but 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.
Raise a glass to Dr John Snow in 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 nearby to raise a pint to the good doctor.
Drop into 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 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.
If your love for tea is equal to your passion for travel, we’ve got the answer – a once-in-a-lifetime escape to Kerala. You’ll trek through lush tea plantations (and even stay at one), cruise the serene backwaters and luxuriate at a spa.
Tour an elaborate Victorian sewage works
Istanbul has its “basilica” Cistern; Paris has its sewer tours. To learn about the history of London’s plumbing, make sure you visit the Grade I-listed Crossness Pumping Station in south east London. After the Great Stink of 1858 – a summer when the smell of human excrement being dumped into the Thames became unbearable – the engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette proposed a radical solution: a London-wide sewage network powered by cutting-edge pumping technology. Aside from being a triumph of Victorian engineering, the site is an ornate marvel, with working pumps and wrought-iron decoration that has been carefully restored. To get there, catch the train from London Bridge to Abbey Wood, then walk 30 minutes north towards the Thames.
Explore a Roman temple dedicated to Mithras
London dates back nearly 2,000 years and 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 booking is essential.
Bask in neon lights at God’s Own Junkyard
East London’s psychedelic God’s Own Junkyard is a treasure trove for anybody fascinated by neon signs. The gallery, which is located on 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; it’s one of the more Instagrammable places in London, and has its own café, The Rolling Scones Café. God’s Own Junkyard is only open at weekends and entrance is free.
Kayak on the Thames
It might look murky and you definitely wouldn’t want to fall in, but kayaking is a fun way to get up very close to the iconic London river. Kayaking London take out small groups every day around the Houses of Parliament or in Little Venice in Paddington.
Spot some of the world’s best street art
East London has been a hotbed for some of the world’s best street artists for the past couple of decades. While street art comes and goes, 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.
Nose round the oldest prison in England
The Clink Prison Museum, just off the South Bank near London Bridge, 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.
Discover the historical graveyards The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven isn’t just a 1960s Western; 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 Karl Marx’s grave.
Additional reporting and updates by Cassam Looch
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