With over 1,000 years of history, you can be sure that London’s much more interesting once you get away from the big ticket attractions. From temples to taxidermy and museums to murders, here’s where to uncover the real city.
Visit the Last Tuesday Society
Is it a shop? Or a gallery? Or a Victorian wormhole full of weird curiosities in Hackney? Well, it’s all of those and it’s where you can learn taxidermy should you be interested. Otherwise known as Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors, it has an array of strange items from skulls to dildos. Oh and there’s a bar. You might be in need.
11 Mare St, London +44 020 7998 3617
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.
216 The Strand, London +44 020 7353 3511
Go on a subterranean railway
No, not the Tube. We’re thinking of the new Postal Museum, which has brought back to life one of the railways that snake under London. They were once used to deliver letters, when there were things like two deliveries a day. Mail Rail will be opening in July 2017.
Phoenix Place London +44 020 7239 2570
Nose round the oldest prison in England
The Clink Prison Museum found just off the South Bank has a long history of locking people up. The clink, or jail operated from the 12th century to 1780. Today you are free to leave, but not before being shown round by actors in costume who bring the grisly past to life.
1 Clink St, London +44 020 7403 0900
Uncover a huge Masonic lodge
Hidden in plain sight is the Masonic temple at the Andaz Hotel, above Liverpool Street Station. When the Great Eastern Hotel was built in 1884, it was one of the grandest hotels in London. It even had its own train line which came into the hotel. A great spot for a huge secret temple for Masons meetings in London. It was so secret that it was lost until the 1980s after the hotel fell out of use. Designers uncovered a huge Grecian style temple with a gold dome and 13 types of marble in the floor.
40 Liverpool Street, London +44 020 7961 1234
Pump up the history of Soho
Blink and you’ll miss the water pump in Soho that helped to cure cholera. The water borne disease often lead to mass fatalities in London, before local doctor John Smith traced an outbreak back to this pump in 1854. Before his deductions, people believed cholera was caught by air. Pop into the John Smith pub nearby to raise a pint to the doctor.
Step into Sherlock Holmes’ flat
Well, it would be his flat if he was real. The Sherlock Holmes pub has a recreation of the famous detective’s apartment above the bar. It was bought from the exhibition of the Festival of Britain in 1951 and it was installed piece by piece. There’s Holmes’ violin, pistol shots in the walls and a fire burns in the grate.
10 Northumberland Street, London +44 020 7930 2644
Hear a whisper in St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s is perhaps the finest cathedral in London, but it’s made more interesting when you head up to the Whispering Gallery. Perfect acoustics mean you can whisper something on one side of the dome, which sits 99 feet above the ground and someone can hear it perfectly on the other. Not a place for secrets.
St Paul’s Churchyard, London +44 020 7246 8350
Find a Roman temple
London dates back over 1,000 years and was already a town before the Romans descended on Britain. They made it a fortified city standing where the City of London is today, but weren’t above bringing their mystical cults with them. The temple of Mithras stands near the London Stock Exchange underground – the worshippers were secretive about their sun god. It’s not open to the public but you can see the site – just past Budge Row near Mansion House.
Look at wildlife in jars
The Grant Museum of Zoology has a lot of jars. There are 67,000 specimens to take in at this weird and not at all creepy museum. They have everything from tiny bacteria to a dodo.
21 University Street, London +44 020 3108 2052
Stay overnight at London Zoo
As of this year, visitors to ZSL London Zoo have the option of staying behind when the gates shut and night falls by booking an overnight experience in one of a series of new lodges. Guests will get an after dark tour, a drink, dinner and exclusive experiences – and a fry up if you make it through the night.
London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Camden, London +44 020 7449 6200
See where time starts from
London is where we measure time from. GMT means Greenwich Mean Time and if you head to the south east London borough to the Royal Observatory, you’ll find the exact spot where time starts.
Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich, London +44 020 8858 4422
Spot some of the world’s best street art
East London has been a hotbed for some of the world’s best street artists (hello Banksy) for the last 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.
Kayak on the Thames
It might look murky and you definitely wouldn’t want to fall in but you can get up close and personal with the iconic London river. Kayaking London take out small groups every day around the Houses of Parliament or Little Venice.
Ditch the Tate for this
Escape the crowds and queues and head to something a little more offbeat. London’s full of quirky museums and the Leighton House Museum is certainly that. Once the home of Sir Frederic Leighton, it’s decorated in an art nouveau meets the East style – completely over the top Victorian palatial folly.
12 Holland Park Rd, Kensington, London +44 020 7602 3316
Stand underneath a historic sailing ship
The Cutty Sark in Greenwich was once the fastest trading ship Britain had ever seen. She is the last remaining tea clipper and was restored and dry-docked by the Thames. Now, an interactive museum has grown up around her. You can now stand underneath and check out her copper bottom for yourself.
King William Walk, Greenwich, London +44 020 8858 4422
Walk past where David Bowie grew up
We may have lost the starman himself but Bowie’s heritage lives on in south London. He grew up on this ordinary street in Brixton but would later transform himself into one of the UK’s most amazing performers. Also, see the famous Bowie mural on Morley’s Department store round the corner.