Tired of being stuck in the crowds around the usual London attractions? Why not head off the beaten track to find some of these lesser known gems and discover another side to the city. From peaceful parks to captivating collections, these locations offer that much needed escape from the usual tourist traps.
1. Sir John Soane’s Museum
The architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) dedicated his life (and his house) to a collection of over 45,000 art objects. They range from an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus to paintings by the most sought-after artists of his day. Narrow, labyrinthine corridors are crammed with objects, with almost every available space being used to display his collection. While at first appearing chaotic, Soane meticulously organised the space so that each piece worked with those around it to tell a story. For example, he placed models of his own building projects beneath models of the ancient ruins that had inspired them. Entry is free, making this the ideal place to drop into to soak up some history.
Image Credit: @soanemuseum
2. The Churchill Arms
Known for its full-on floral displays, The Churchill Arms offers the most fragrant pint in town. What started out as a small collection of hanging baskets has grown into 100 tubs, 42 baskets, and over 48 window boxes, to which more is added every year. The displays hide the building beneath a tapestry of flowers, rumoured to cost £25,000 annually. The Churchill Arms doesn’t take a winter break either. Stop by at Christmastime to see the 90 Christmas trees and 12,000 lights. Churchill memorabilia and, you guessed it, even more plants, fill the interior.
Image Credit: @churchillarmsw8
3. Kyoto Garden, Holland Park
Opened in 1991 to commemorate the friendship between Japan and the UK, Kyoto Garden is a tranquil spot within Kensington’s Holland Park. Designed by Japanese landscape architects the garden offers stone lanterns, native Japanese plants, peacocks, and a koi carp pond fed by a tiered waterfall. Stop by in the spring to see the famous Sakura cherry blossom, or in the autumn for the crimson hues of the Japanese maples.
Image Credit: @holland_park
4. Leighton House Museum
Not far from Holland Park is Leighton House, the home of Victorian painter Sir Frederic Leighton. It’s the only purpose-built studio-house in the UK that’s open to the public. As well as containing a collection of Leighton’s personal items and works of art by his contemporaries, the house also offers some unique architectural features. One downstairs room has been transformed into the “Arab Hall,” inspired by his travels to the Middle East. Tiles collected from Syria and Turkey, an ornamental pond, and latticed woodwork fill the room. Upstairs is Leighton’s studio space, which is hung with examples of his art. It was here where he entertained some very prominent guests, including Queen Victoria herself.
Image Credit: @leightonhousemuseum
5. Neal’s Yard
This secret courtyard is packed with brightly coloured buildings which contain shops selling ethical products and cafes. Tucked away down a small alley close to Covent Garden station, Neal’s Yard offers an oasis in the heart of an otherwise bustling neighbourhood. The ideal place to decompress and people watch, it also offers a highly instagrammable backdrop for brunches or afternoon drinks.
Image Credit: @nealsyeardremedies
6. The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College and The Tulip Stairs, Queen’s House
Over in Greenwich, which itself feels like a hidden gem, are two artistic treats in the adjoining buildings of the Old Royal Naval College and Queen’s House. James Thornhill created the intricately decorated ceiling which gives the hall its name from 1707 to 1726. Over two hundred figures of kings, queens, and mythological creatures fill this Baroque masterpiece, offering endless interest. Then head over to the Queen’s House to see Inigo Jones’s aesthetically pleasing Tulip Staircase from the early 1600s. As well as being the first geometric self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain, it’s also the location of Rev. R.W. Hardy’s infamous ‘ghost’ photograph of 1966. Why not stop by to see if you can solve the mystery?
Image Credit: @visitgreenwich
7. St Dunstan-in-the-East
Nestled amongst the skyscrapers of the City of London is the 12th century church of St Dunstan-in-the-East. The architect Sir Christopher Wren (of St Paul’s cathedral fame) provided it with a new spire after it was damaged during the Great Fire of 1666. This prompted other subsequent renovations over the coming centuries. In 1941 the Blitz damaged the church further, after which the decision was made not to rebuild. Happily, the remaining walls and Wren’s spire have not gone to waste and have instead been transformed into a tranquil garden. With its ivy-clad ruins and established trees, it’s easy to forget you’re in the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world.
Image Credit: @its_so_london
8. Little Venice
Tree-lined canals and colourful boats make this the perfect place to stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This calm stretch of water joins the Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s Canal, from Hyde Park to Warwick Avenue. With a backdrop of grand townhouses Little Venice embodies the grandeur of its namesake. Additionally, the triangular pool is home to a number of quaint floating businesses, including a café, art gallery, and even a boat hotel. Walking the towpath takes around an hour, and offers glimpses into some of the city’s bigger attractions, such as London Zoo.
Image Credit: @londons_venice
9. Chelsea Physic Garden
This secret garden at the edge of the Thames has been in existence since 1673, when Apothecaries opened it to grow medicinal plants. Here they taught their apprentices how to identify plants and their various uses. Additionally its Thameside location offered the perfect base for plant-finding expeditions. A warm microclimate allows some exotic specimens to flourish. Glasshouses also provide shelter for cocoa and coffee plants, and a collection of desert cacti. As the second oldest botanical garden in the UK, Chelsea Physic Garden is full with history.
Image Credit: @chelsea_physic_garden
10. Postman’s Park
Named after the postal workers who frequented it, Postman’s Park is home to one of the most poignant memorials in London. In 1900 the artist George Frederic Watts established the Memorial for Heroic Self-Sacrifice. It commemorated ordinary people who had died saving others, and who would have otherwise been forgotten. Just around the corner from the busy streets near St Paul’s Cathedral, Postman’s Park a quiet place for reflection.
Image Credit: @mackie_bella