Here are some suggestions for unusual, interesting and 'hidden' places to visit in London which I've featured on this site. These should be of interest to Londoners as well as tourists and visitors!
Parks and squares
- Paternoster Square - just behind St Paul's Cathedral, a mini-monument and Elisabeth Frink sheep.
- Postman's Park - it seems to feature in every 'secret London' list, but is really worth a visit for the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.
- Victoria Tower Gardens, right next to the Houses of Parliament, are home to a wonderful piece of Victoriana - the Buxton Memorial Fountain.
- Pelican feeding time is one of the more unusual attractions of St James's Park.
- St George's Gardens off Borough High Street incorporates an original wall from Marshalsea debtors' prison.
- Charlton House offers parkland, as well as a very lovely venue for a cup of tea.
- Hall Place, Bexley, has parkland, formal gardens and heraldic topiary - as well as a rather amazing Tudor house.
- All London's 'magnificent seven' cemeteries are worth a visit; Nunhead Cemetery is among the less well-known. It is open daily and offers regular guided tours.
- Ladywell Cemetery is a Victorian municipal cemetery, full of fascinating stories: look out for guided tours. Greenwich's Victorian maritime cemetery is now a park, East Greenwich Pleasaunce.
- Crystal Palace Park has dinosaurs lurking in the vegetation. Victorian dinosaurs, no less!
- Kew Gardens may be one of London's best-known parks, but its Japanese Gateway has a surprising and thought-provoking history.
- Many of London's garden squares are private, but open to the public for Open Garden Squares weekend - you can see everything from a nursemaids' tunnel to Doric water pumps.
Transport and travel
- Croydon Airport - once London's main passenger airport, it now opens its museum once a month. You could combine a visit with a look at the remains of Croydon's atmospheric railway.
- If you're in Baker Street, have a look in the Lost Property Office windows.
- Piccadilly Circus underground station has a vintage world clock.
- Also on the Piccadilly Line, Barons Court is an Art Nouveau gem.
- King's Cross Station has a lovely new extension - and the original facade will soon be emerging once more.
- Victoria Station has some vintage tiled maps, full of charming details (I would also suggest a look at Little Ben just outside, but he's in storage until 2016). A smaller, local station full of Victorian appeal is Battersea Park.
- London Transport Museum opens its Acton Depot stores several times a year.
- On Westminster Bridge Road, see where the trains of the Necropolis Railway once departed.
- Royal Victoria Dock is now home to the Excel Centre, Siemens sustainability pavilion and one end of the cable car, but it also has plenty of historical interest.
- If public transport isn't your thing, you might like the custom and classic vehicles at London Motor Museum.
- Here are five specialist museums and five one-person museums.
- Open only occasionally, 19 Princelet Street - a former Huguenot silkweaver's house and Victorian synagogue - is London's museum of immigration.
- Another occasional treat is the Sewing Machine Museum, open the first Saturday of every month.
- The Horniman Museum offers all sorts of exhibits, a basement aquarium, gardens, and a wonderful cast-iron conservatory.
- The Museum of Childhood features mosaics made by prisoners and a building which was originally part of the V&A - as well as lots of toys, of course. A less upbeat experience of childhood is explored at the Foundling Museum.
- Discover Hogarth's House - and statue, and local church - in Chiswick.
- It's worth making an appointment to visit the Thames River Police Museum - although now part of the Metropolitan Police, this body pre-dates it by decades. Also open by appointment is the London Fire Brigade Museum, complete with fire engines.
- There's a little museum in one of London's oldest shops, Twining's tea.
- Dulwich Picture Gallery is Britain's oldest public art gallery.
- The Postal Museum and Archive doesn't currently have museum premises, but does offer visits to its store in Debden.
- The Clockmakers' Museum isn't just about time; it also offers insight into the City of London's guild companies.
- The National Maritime Museum is well-known, and has spectacular exhibits such as Prince Frederick's barge, but don't forget to see Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle while you're there. Also make sure to cross the road - the Old Royal Naval College's Painted Hall is a Baroque masterpiece.
- It's worth heading east to Woolwich Arsenal, home of Firepower - the Royal Artillery Museum. Its tiger-shaped gun is a highlight!
Places of worship
- Sandy's Row Synagogue in Spitalfields, the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London, has occasional openings. (There's also a curious door across the road and some bakery reliefs in nearby Widegate Street.)
- Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with the Abbey) offers Byzantine-inspired architecture and a fine view over London.
- Newington Green Unitarian Church is London's oldest non-conformist place of worship still in use.
- City of London churches include St Botolph Without Aldersgate, at the entrance to Postman's Park. Don't confuse it with St Botolph Aldgate, with its fine memorial to Robert Dow - and fountain to Frederic David Mocatta outside. The sole Jacobean survivor in the Square Mile is St Katharine Cree, while St Mary Aldermary is Wren's only gothic church and St Mary Woolnoth is Hawksmoor's only City church.
- St Paul's Cathedral is a true London icon, but to really get to know it, take a Triforium Tour behind the scenes. It includes the geometric staircase (which is something of a film star), library, and Great Model.
- Notre Dame de France is a French Catholic church just off Leicester Square, with impressive art including Cocteau murals.
- A few steps from Oxford Circus is the Gothic Revival splendour of All Saints, Margaret Street.
- The Thames Barrier has a park, cafe and visitor centre. It's particularly interesting to visit during the annual closure.
- Alongside the river at Greenwich, ceramic panels tell a Thames tale.
- Rotherhithe village offers a concentrated dose of history - not least the Mayflower pub, on the spot where the famous ship of the same name departed.
- Walk under the Thames in the Woolwich Foot Tunnel - you can return on the Woolwich Free Ferry. (You can also walk through Rotherhithe Tunnel, but I wouldn't recommend it.)
- Take a train through the Thames Tunnel, Marc Brunel's masterpiece of engineering; then find out more in the Brunel Museum. You might even get to hear a concert in the Thames Tunnel shaft.
- Alternatively, cross over Tower Bridge - and look out for its mortuary. If you can do one of its occasional engineering tours, jump at the chance!
- Or, simply walk along the foreshore at low tide (keeping a careful eye on the water level). Many parts are readily accessible, although Tower Beach is only open once a year.
|Kirkcaldy Testing Works|
- Crossness Pumping Station, a cathedral to sewage, is currently undergoing restoration but still opens on several days throughout the year.
- Also on the sewage theme, take a look at London's last sewer gas lamp - next to the Savoy Hotel.
- Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which cast Big Ben, offers guided tours - but they do book up well in advance.
- 'Facts not opinions' was the motto of the Kirkcaldy Testing Works, now a museum with regular open days.
|Wilton's Music Hall|
- Wilton's Music Hall, a Victorian original, still offers regular performances and a bar.
- If you can't afford to stay in the high Victorian splendour of the St Pancras Renaissance hotel, you can take a fascinating guided tour to discover its past - and present.
- The Black Friar is London's only art nouveau pub, and a real treat.
- Outside Borough Market, the High Street holds plenty of reminders of the former hop trade here.
- Learn all about London with the treasures of Guildhall Library.
- Sands Films in Rotherhithe has occasional open days, and a weekly film club.
- See the Tower of London long after most visitors have gone home, and witness the ancient Ceremony of the Keys.
- One of the best views of London comes from a Wren building: the Monument. It's quite a climb, but you do get a certificate for completing it!
- Around the corner from Trafalgar Square, Craven Street is a little haven of eighteenth-century history with plenty of traces of former residents - not least Benjamin Franklin whose museum is here.
- At the other end of Pall Mall is London's only Art Nouveau memorial.
- Find out about the legal system at the Supreme Court.
- Eltham Palace is an arresting blend of mediaeval and Art Deco, set in attractive gardens.
- Don't miss the chance to use London's most elegant cashpoint.
- Guided walks are one of the best ways to find new places, even in familiar areas. I discovered Grotto Passage thanks to Joanna Moncrieff of Westminster Walking and some very fine ghost signs thanks to Pete Berthoud of Discovering London. Even that most tourist-y of events, the Changing of Guard, was more entertaining and interesting in the company of Fun London Tours.
- Daily events guides full of the unusual are offered by IanVisits and Londonist.
- For fascinating events and visits (like this one to the Parliamentary Archives), monthly articles and competitions, and to meet fellow London history enthusiasts, I'd recommend London Historians.