There are a plethora of quirky places to while away an hour or two in between London brunches and afternoon teas. Following a post of 15 London secrets that the tourist crowds miss, I decided it was high time to lasso 15 more secrets of London that the tourist crowds miss. Some of these places are free, some have cats, a few have suits of armour, several have excellent coffee, none of them are sponsored and they will all surprise even the longest-serving London addict who hasn’t visited in years.
Discover a tropical oasis inside the ugliest building ever
Free to enter, the Barbican Conservatory is allegedly the second biggest in London and is home to exotic fish and over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees. The residential estate itself was originally built to replace housing destroyed in the Second World War and also houses a labyrinthine layout of “art, music, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events”.
Admire Kenwood House
Astoundingly many of London’s quirkiest and most beautiful attractions won’t cost you a penny. Free (both in a fiscal and tour sense) to wander through and admire, the incredible Kenwood House is nestled in one of the far corners of Hampstead Heath and needs to be added to your must-visit list. I can’t be held responsible for any fruit wine purchases on your way through the gift shop though…
Become a culture vulture for the day (top tip: go early or late to avoid the crowds)
I love taking in a little art – take the National Gallery or for instance. A grand dame of the London museum and galleries scene, I’ve popped in once or twice (ok, many times) over the years to admire the priceless artworks I had studied second hand via glossy book pages in New Zealand. If you really want London points, you’ll need to potter about the Sewing Machine Museum. Yep, it is a real place.
Take in an alternative view of the East End (top tip: take your swimsuit and have a swim in the Olympic Pool afterwards for a few quid)
Whizz up the ArcelorMittal Orbit; London’s tallest sculpture overlooking the Olympic Park. We were extraordinarily lucky in 2012 to get Olympic Game diving tickets via the balloting system and experience the euphoric atmosphere that permeated everything, then watch the slightly more subdued, but no less exciting Paralympics. 3 years on, and we’d visited before to see the developments, but not with a bird’s eye view.
Visit a Gothic inspired castle, I mean house
It ridiculously took me a little over 2 years to visit Strawberry Hill House, a piece of Richmond history. It’s not through want of trying, but rather a lack of memory teamed with the Surrey house being open to the public. We’re talking rooms that seem like you walk into a fairytale princess’ room, beautiful wallpapering, ornate fireplaces, stunning door handles, furniture, stained glass, animal balustrades, suits of armour…
Cat spot in the middle of a bird sanctuary
London bucket lists simply never end. The city is so busy and vibrant that no sooner that you’ve ticked something off, several more dance their wicked way onto the lineup. Sitting on that list for far too long were plans to visit (always seeming to fall a-fowl (sorry) of something else) the luscious lilypads of Barnes Wildfowl and Wetland Centre.
Admire a wooden New Zealand box featured in every parliamentary debate since World War II
Situated in the Palace of Westminster (in Westminster, London in case you live under a rock, or in a hippy commune) is the place where they decide the laws not only for the UK, but influence many commonwealth countries – the Houses of Parliament, home of modern democracy. The reason that Westminster Bridge is painted green & Lambeth Bridge is painted red. Home to four dedicated bars (but used to have many more) and Big Ben. Full of politicians, lobbyists and essential Civil Servants.
Soak up some sunshine (where possible!)
Pick any of the Royal Parks (I recommend Regents Park, Bushy Park, Hampstead Heath or Holland Park for slightly more off the beaten track wanders), pack a picnic or a few pounds for a cafe lunch, take a good book or friend and slip on your walking shoes.
Step into the TARDIS for a journey across time & space. Kinda.
The first ever Doctor Who Episode “An Unearthly Child” was filmed in the East End of London, so it’s a nice echo that the Doctor Who Museum (and shop) is here too. Full of actual props, costumes and memorabilia, the museum is a treasure trove for Whovians (and part of the £3 entry fee goes towards a charity. This means you’re worshipping at the temple of Who for a good
Drunkenly explore London via the Monopoly Pub Crawl
26 pubs. One iconic board game. 1 busy city. Costumes (optional). Who ever could have thought the above could be interlinked?
Promise me the next time you’re on the tube, you’ll take an extra 30 seconds to look around you. No, not at the other commuters – they’ll think you’re crazy, But there is still something quietly adorable about the spider web of train tracks that provides London with commuter lifeblood. You don’t believe me, do you? In fact if you’re in London you’re probably reading this now after getting on at ‘your’ door, hopefully getting a seat and watching the countryside slowly turn to city towers as you head towards your 9-5.
A mansion house with enigmatic links to World War Two, codecracking and Alan Turing – not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly’s performance in The Imitation Game – we fell in love with this home of nerdvana. Around an hour from London Euston on the train, Bletchley Park Estate sits unassumingly between Cambridge and Oxford. Contained within this little world, were some of the greatest (and craziest) minds to assist the war effort – literally saving thousands of lives by intercepting enemy code and translating it into important information for Allied troops – and shortening World War II by at least 2-4 years.
Etham Palace (top tip: check the opening days BEFORE the day you go)
It took a good friend and I more than a year to visit Eltham Palace. Taking into consideration the ease of getting there (there are several central London train stations which serve the 30 minute journey to the Zone 4 Mottingham Station), the Art Deco beauty that Eltham is known for and the curious architectural history of a medieval royal residence, you would think we’d have gotten our act a little more together.
This city of mine will never cease to amaze me. I loved reminiscing over these 15 more secrets of London.
So tell me, what is your favourite London secret?