Is there ever a better reason to visit a city like London than to get off the beaten path and travel deeper for those lesser-known hidden gems and secret spots? The hidden gems that only the locals seem to know about and treasure for themselves? Just adding a few of London’s secrets to your itinerary will really sweeten your trip to the city!
If there was ever a perfect epitome of a ‘Secret London’ then let St Dunstans be it. Just north of Tower Bridge in the bustling Bank district sits a once beautiful piece of architecture (some parts Christopher Wren) that was blown apart in the blitz, 1941. Part of the church still remains but the internal gardens have been planted to create the effect of nature winning out in times of destruction – it’s beautiful. The odd person can be found sat on a bench, worshipping at the altar of shrubbery and serenity and even the few tourists who have stumbled upon it keep quiet and respectful as they wander the grounds.
The largest collection of silver in the world lies hidden beneath your feet just a stone’s throw from Covent Garden. 30 specialist dealers have set up shop in this bizarre underground world. Built in 1876 to store London’s wealthiest residents’ valuables, it soon became a spot for a bit of silver trading. By 1953 the building was fully operational as the world’s largest antique silver subterranean shopping mall. A literal hidden gem that even most Londoners haven’t heard of and a fun experience even if you don’t intend to buy.
Not far from St Pauls Cathedral, just off the beaten path, Postman’s Park is one of many secret London Green Spaces away from the hustle and bustle. If you park yourself on a bench, you can quite imagine it gets a little busier around lunchtime, since the tall buildings which hem you in are part of a busy business district. It actually got its name from the number of postal workers from the nearby Post Office headquarters who would eat their midday sandwiches here. Postman’s Park is also famous for its memorial plaques to Heroic Self Sacrifice. In 1900 the Lord Mayor and Bishop of London unveiled this new memorial to commemorate ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others.
The disused railway arches of Waterloo may at first feel like you’ve stumbled a little too off the beaten path and into a den of naughty mischief you might get in trouble for. But, in these secret arches, the daring and all things artistic is encouraged. And how appropriate it all began with the man Banksy who proposed these tunnels could be brought back to life again with street art and a constantly changing canvas of tunnels. Anyone can rock up and make their stamp and it has to be one of the most colorful and unusual places to see in London.
One of the lesser-known places in London, the Sir John Soane’s Museum is an Aladdin’s cave you probably never knew existed! A little off the beaten track but not too far from Covent Garden, you could easily while away an hour or two in this most interesting of residences. Sir John Soane was an architect and passionate collector of art, antiquities and amazing artifacts. He set up his home as a bit of a showroom to bedazzle future clients and a giant figurative display cabinet to impress party guests – he was quite the exhibitionist and host. The house is like nothing you have ever seen before and a maze of amazement. This is one of those secret buildings in London where you question if you have indeed got the right address, unimposing from the outside you could actually walk right on by. It is, in fact, a very ordinary looking house at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn.
The Painted Hall at the Greenwich Naval College will knock you off your feet and blow you away. London’s answer to the Sistine Chapel and if you arrive early, you could have this London spectacle all to yourself! And with no restrictions on photographs like its Italian equivalent, feel free to arrive in your most photogenic hat and ready to twirl for the camera. The hall is entirely painted by hand and was completed in 1726. Given its beauty it should be one of those places to visit in London that the world and his wife knows about, yet because it has been in a renovation status for the past few years it’s almost become a forgotten secret.
If you’re really up for getting off the beaten path in London, make the trip to the non-touristy area of the Bank district and treat yourself to the poshest secret drink in all of London. Built as a center of commerce in the 16th century, The Royal Exchange on Cornhill has all of the opulence to go with your glass of champagne. Park yourself on a plush velvet bar stool at the Fortnum and Mason bar and drink up your bubbles at one of the coolest London places that only the locals seem to know about. It’s opulent, it’s grandiose and most pass it by unnoticed in this busy banking district. It’s one of London’s magical places and if you fancy a bit of luxury shopping after your aperitif then the Royal Exchange is the perfect place for Boutique spending.
Brick Lane itself is full of surprises anyway, from some of London’s best street art to the coolest bars and unique markets. But the Nomadic Community Gardens are interesting to say the least – probably the quirkiest of places on this list of London’s secrets, that’s for sure! Like an allotment went to seed and Banksy moved in. Equally more impressive since all of this started with an abandoned piece of land and a charitable vision that this could be turned into a blossoming garden where those who needed it most could grow food, create a pocket for the arts and just be part of a local community. Grab a drink from the Roving Cafe near the entrance and soak up this relaxed environment which remains a bit of a secret from the masses. Definitely one of the most colorful secret places in London.
Better known as Diagon Alley to Harry Potter fans, Leadenhall market is more than a film location. The architecture is stunning at this 19th-century market, with its colorful wrought iron and glass structure. Nowadays it’s a meeting point for after-work drinkers who spill out into the passageways, and also a spot for retail therapy, but the history of one of the oldest markets in London is fascinating. A celebrated character in Leadenhall during the 18th century was ‘Old Tom’, a goose which managed to survive the slaughtering of 34,000 of his fellow geese. He became a great favorite in the market and was fed at the local inns. After his death in 1835 at the age of 38, he lay in state in the market and was buried there. Leadenhall Market is also part of the Harry Potter Guided Walking Tour.
Probably the most beautiful London pub in all of the city, dripping in 19th-century decadence. The locals have it nailed as the best place for a pie and a pint, but tourists pass it by not realizing what London gem lies inside! The Counting House was built in 1893 as a banking hall but the foundations of the building sit on the north wall of a 2000-year-old Roman basilica. It was the Roman equivalent of Westminster and being the largest basilica north of the alps its size demonstrates the importance of Londinium to the Romans. Pies are local and handmade and there are several cask ales on offer. You can even book a night’s stay too in this London hidden gem.
The final resting place for some very colorful and intriguing expired folk, Highgate Cemetery is well worth a peek. Karl Marx, George Michael and Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’s, Douglas Adams, are some of the residents that claim the plots in this beautiful non-denominational graveyard. The cemetery is split into East & West and the tickets can be purchased separately. The East has more of a ‘gone to seed’ appearance, where the sunlight only just manages to kiss the gravestones through the canopy of trees and brings an ethereal atmosphere that’s quite fitting for a graveyard. Whereas the West was built to impress and coax prospective residents through impressive architectural structures like the Egyptian Avenue and Terrace Catacombs.