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, uncover the unique, quirky and unusual things to do in London.
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 caused mass fatalities in London until local doctor John Smith traced an outbreak back to this pump in 1854. Before this, people believed cholera was caught by air. Pop into the John Smith pub nearby to raise a pint to the doctor.
London dates back over 1,000 years and was already a town before the Romans descended on Britain. They made it a fortified city and brouhght their mystical cults with them. The temple of Mithras stands near the London Stock Exchange underground. It’s not open to the public but you can see the site – just past Budge Row near Mansion House.
East London has been a hotbed for some of the world’s best street artists 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.
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 called Stansfield Road, but would later transform himself into one of the UK’s most amazing performers. Also, see the famous Bowie mural on the wall of Morley’s Department store round the corner.
Is it a shop? Or a gallery? Or a Victorian wormhole full of unusual 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 and quirky items from skulls to dildos. Oh and there’s a bar. You might be in need of a drink after taking this all in.
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.
No, not the Tube. We’re thinking of the new Postal Museum, which has brought back to life one of the railways that snaked under London. They were once used to deliver letters when there two deliveries per day. Mail Rail will be opening in July 2017.
The Clink Prison Museum, found 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.
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 actually 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.
Well, it would be his flat if he were real. Above the Sherlock Holmes pub sits a recreation of the famous detective’s apartment. It was transferred from the Festival of Britain in 1951 and was installed piece by piece. There’s pistol shots in the walls, a fire that burns in the grate and even Holmes’ violin.
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.
Visitors to ZSL 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).
Escape the typical museum crowds 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-East style – complete over-the-top Victorian palatial folly.
The Cutty Sark in Greenwich was once the fastest trading ships 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 stand underneath the ship and check out her copper bottom for yourself.