Most people visiting our wonderful capital city will probably take in London’s most famous sights. The London Eye, Buckingham Palace and The Tower of London are just 3 of the superb attractions on offer to the discerning tourist, enabling them to experience the very best of London. People visiting London for the first time may find it difficult to stray off the beaten track and will understandably stick to all these famous haunts.
Yet aside from the glorious crown jewels within The Tower, there is a vast array of less well known, hidden gems throughout the capital that will interest you just as much. These often beautiful places are sometimes off the main tourist paths, so you may have to discard the guide book and start exploring! From underground tours of London’s disused tube stations, to ancient, well hidden ‘Roman’ Baths; from a labyrinth of man-made caverns at Chislehurst Caves to a former Victorian toilet, now lovingly transformed into a unique eatery. These are just a few of the places which will thrill and delight you by their quirkiness!
Below, you'll discover some of the secret corners of London, often hidden-away amongst the side streets. They probably aren’t part of the traditional tourist agenda for the most famous London attractions, but they won’t stay relatively unknown for much longer, so visiting them now is a must, before they become too touristy! So to discover more of the capital, why not check out these fun things to do in London, and experience a different side to the city with our guide to the secret and hidden spots in London?
West London Hidden Gems
Scale an ice cliff
The Vertical Chill ice climbing wall, WC2E 7HA will thrill both beginners and the more advanced climber. Here you can brush up on your mountaineering skills and become a master climber, all in the centre of London. There are lessons for beginners, or you can just turn up on the day and climb your personal Matterhorn. Not quite as good as Everest, but as near as.
See the last remaining ‘fart-powered’ lamp, WC2R 0EU
Hidden behind the Savoy Hotel in Carting Lane, you’ll discover the last remaining Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp. These lamps were, during the 19th C, widespread throughout London, and provided low-cost street lighting. Also used as a means of clearing the noxious, unpleasant smells coming from London’s sewers, this replica takes you back to a bygone age.
Have lunch in a toilet - Attendant Fitzrovia, W1W 6DY
This quirky coffee bar, where you can rest for coffee, breakfast or a light lunch, is (wait for it), situated in in a restored Victorian public convenience. Built in 1890, this unique space has been lovingly transformed and restored from a gent’s toilet into one of the most unexpected gems of London. With urinals (clean, obviously), providing some of the seating, this compact eatery, has everything…good food, great atmosphere and the quirkiness that only Britain can offer. I’d go on to make a joke about the Attendant’s previous functions, but I think you may get ‘peed off’! (Get the pun?) Whilst on the subject of toilets, why not try the London Loo Tour? According to the website, the route ‘explores the potty politics of public loos. From stories of intrigue to practical tips, this tour is an investment in your bladder future! Never be caught short again!’ Sounds interesting huh!
Discover Ancient 'Roman Baths' WC2
Head off towards The Strand, and you could be taken in, as Victorian Londoners were, by the Ancient 'Roman’ Baths. Hard to find, they’re situated halfway along Surrey St, so keep your eyes peeled for an old National Trust sign above a gated archway. This leads into Surrey Steps, from which you emerge into Strand Lane. Turn right and then look for number 5. Interestingly, the baths are probably not Roman. In fact they probably date back to the 16th/17th C, but the gullible Victorians believed they were much older when ‘discovered’ in the 18th C, especially when the owner of a little-known plunge pool promoted it as being Roman in origin. Nearly everyone was duped, including respected writers, who soon claimed that it was “without doubt a veritable Roman structure”.
Certainly, the brickwork bears resemblance to Roman architecture, and although we’re now certain that the bath dates from the early 17th C, there was little evidence at the time to contradict the story of its ancient beginnings. These 'Roman Baths' were used by the Victorians for their health benefits and remained operating throughout the 19th C. This is a great piece of hidden London history, and well worth exploring.
Visit Kyoto Garden, W11 4UA
For a lovely, tranquil setting, this 55 acre paradise boasts an array of beautiful trees, stone lanterns, winding paths, trickling waterfalls, peaceful ponds with koi carp and splendid statues. This garden, situated within Holland Park, was a gift from Kyoto in 1991 and is hidden within busy Kensington. So why not experience a little piece of Japan and visit one of the most beautiful places in London? With free entry it’s a paradise at any time of year, but particularly in the Autumn, when the garden’s foliage is stunning.
Visit Stafford Terrace - A house stuck in a time warp, W8 7BH
If you’d like to visit a house which has been frozen in a time warp, then this is it! From the outside it looks pretty unremarkable, yet as you enter the house it’s like travelling back in time to the late Victorian period. Going into this freeze frame of Victorian middle class elegance, you’ll realise the house has been largely untouched since Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne lived there from 1875 with his family, until he died in 1910. The entire original decoration still exists, along with many of the family’s personal possessions and furniture. Original diaries, bills and papers make up a huge archive of daily life during the period. The house is open on various afternoons for guests to visit.
Take a trip to Venice! W9 2PF
For a peaceful walk or boat trip, away from the hustle and bustle of the Thames, try Little Venice. Situated where the Grand Union and Regent’s canals meet, this lovely area is where you’ll discover quirky waterside cafes, charming pubs and eateries and even puppet shows! This is London’s answer to Italy’s famous city. The area comes alive in the Summer, when people meander along the riverside to nearby Camden or Regent's Park. If you want atmosphere in a very gentle setting, then this is for you.
Where to stay in West London?
To get the most out of all the above attractions, Euracom have a range of serviced apartments within this area of London. One example is our Luxury serviced apartments Green Park, London W1.
Luxuriously furnished and finished to a high standard, these superb serviced apartments are located near to Piccadilly. They form part of a five-star hotel, offering all the amenities of a luxury London hotel whilst also providing all the benefits of having your own self-contained, fully equipped luxury serviced apartment. For a nightly fee of £765p/n , you’ll get an opulent marble bathroom, spacious lounge/dining area, and fully fitted kitchen. These apartments also have access to a gym and spa and also have the option of a private garden or penthouse! They are a perfect base to explore all London’s hidden gems, as well as the more famous ones.
North London Hidden Gems
The Parkland Walk Finsbury Park N4 3EY
Stroll along the course of the old railway that once ran between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace. If you want a decent walk, in a serene setting and the chance to experience some greenery at the very centre of London, then this local nature reserve is for you. The walk boasts a huge variety of habitats and wildlife, with 200+ species of wild flowers. Here you’ll see orchids alongside dandelions, hedgehogs, foxes, butterflies and a plethora of bird species, along with muntjac deer, which can occasionally be seen.
Head to Chin Chin Labs’ Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream parlour, Cambden, NW1 8AF,
This ice cream parlour is a must for connoisseurs who like something more unusual than the Mr Whippy! Here you can indulge in original ice cream mixtures, thanks to the use of liquid nitrogen! You’ll watch the process unfold while waiting for service, savouring the mystical chemical clouds in the shop’s laboratory. Served in many different flavours, such as red velvet and water melon, Chin Chin Labs’ delicious creations are not to be missed.
Visit Camden Passage, Islington, N1 8EA
If antiques are your passion then a novel place to browse is hidden away from the bustling streets of Islington. Camden Passage hosts regular street antiques markets, selling curios and bric a brac, along with superb antique shops where you could bag a bargain. Unusual cafes abound, along with a range of other quaint shops.
Relax at London’s only bookshop barge, N1C 4LW
If you enjoy a relaxing read, whilst gently idling on the canal bank, then head to London’s only second-hand bookshop barge, Word on the Water. The barge moors at several sites and has a range of excellent novels to peruse. This welcoming venue boasts a wood-burning stove to toast those toes, live music and you may even get to cuddle the resident cat!
Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross, N1 9AP
Harry Potter fans will be overjoyed at this little gem. Situated at Kings Cross Station, you may not think this next feature could be included as a hidden gem. Yes, this station is a busy, bustling area, although many travellers aren’t aware of Platform 9¾. Thanks to the recently revamped railway station, it now boasts a new platform, nestled snugly between platforms 9 and 10. It’s easy to find, as there are always queues of muggles waiting for photo opportunities. Luckily, if you want to replenish your wizard supplies and wands, then there is also a wonderful souvenir shop!
Central London Hidden Gems
Churchill’s Secret Station and other Most of our Hidden London tours
If you’re uninspired by a visit to the London Eye or Buckingham Palace, there’s a new experience below the London streets that could appeal. The London Transport Museum has devised the very popular Hidden London tours, including a ‘secret station’ used by Churchill during the war, a World War II shelter, a disused underground station at Aldwych and a tour taking you along the disused rail lines. Tours are in great demand so often sell out quickly, but these are a rare opportunity to take an intimate peep into London’s hidden historical past, where the warren of tunnels were often used to save the lives of many during the Blitz.
East London Hidden Gems
Chislehurst Caves, BR7 5NL
Slightly further afield, but worth the effort, are Chislehurst Caves, a maze of man-made caverns, dating from the Druids, Romans and Saxons. They have had varied uses over the years, including serving as an air raid shelter during WW2, when people travelled daily from the bomb ravaged East End of London, to a safer place to sleep. For a brief time, they have also been a successful music venue, hosting artists like David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix.
Encounter a Soviet tank, Old Kent Road, SE1
Bringing Russia into London, a rather novel piece of social history can be seen. This materialised due to an argument between a prospective developer, Russel Gray, and Southwark Council. Denied planning permission for his house, the resident waged war on the council by buying a decommissioned T34 Soviet tank for his child and plonked it on the disputed plot! Prior to this act, this canny local had the forethought to apply for new planning permission, not for a building but for a 'tank'. The council granted this request, mistakenly thinking that it was for a storage container of some kind. The council’s error is to our benefit, as the tank is now a popular attraction for graffiti artists, who regularly change its facia. Legend has it that the tank’s turret is aimed towards the council offices! So should you fancy climbing over a part of cold war history, you can make a visit to this symbol of two great struggles, the first between communism and capitalism, and another between a local man and a council planning department.
St Dunstan in the East, EC3R 5DD
An excellent picnic spot, this area boasts a church dating from 1100. It has seen significant damage in past times, the first being inflicted during Great Fire of London in 1666, whilst more recently during the heavy bombing during the Blitz. Some parts survived though, in particular the steeple built by Christopher Wren. This is certainly an atmospheric place to have lunch.
Wilton’s Music Hall
If culture is what you crave, then look no further! Taking a trip to the oldest surviving music hall in the world, tucked within London’s East End is an experience you won’t forget. Wilton’s Music Hall hosts a wide range of theatrical and musical events is being gradually restored from its dilapidated state, whilst retaining its classic, original features.
Originally a traditional Victorian music hall, parts still lie crumbling, which add to its appeal. The ‘shabby chic’ effect also contributes to its character and intimacy, enabling you to either enjoy a drink in the Mahogany Bar, or take a tour around this great historic venue.
Enjoy lunch in a power station, E1W 3SG
For something which may give you a buzz, (another pun), you may fancy lunching in the unique and eccentric setting of Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. Situated in the old hydraulic power station and surrounded by original disused machinery, pumps and turbines, you can experience the quirkiness of this laid-back restaurant. After lunch remember to visit the impressive art gallery.
Where to stay in East London?
After a hard day’s sightseeing, you’ll want to rest your weary heads. We have a range of delightful serviced apartments within this area of London. One example is our superb, beautifully furnished apartments at Bishopsgate Liverpool Street, Corporate Serviced Apartments London, EC2
These corporate serviced apartments offer both studios and 1 or 2 bedroom apartments. Starting from £138p/n, these apartments feature modern furnishings and lovely solid oak flooring. They are equipped with the latest technology, including individual internet access, ISDN and digital telephones, making your stay more ‘home from home.’ They’ll provide the perfect spot for some peace and quiet from hectic city life.
South London Hidden Gems
Fulham Palace, SW6 6EA
For a range of art, architecture and history, this beautiful palace is an unsung gem within London. With free entry, Fulham Palace has and a varied programme of events throughout the year. Paintings, archaeology and an array of artefacts trace the history of the Palace site from prehistoric times.
Mercato Metropolitano and Maltby Street
Two markets off the tourist trail that tend to appeal more to locals, yet are close to the bustling Borough Market, are those of the Mercato Metropolitano and Maltby Street. With their tantalising food selection, the Mercato Metropolitano food court specialises in dishes from Venezuela to Italian favourites. Within the 2 courtyards there are also regular cinema screenings. Alternatively Maltby Street lies under the railway arches in Bermondsey and is close to Tower Bridge. Here, street food is enjoyed by Londoners and visitors alike. With its ‘low-key’ atmosphere great food producers combine with craft brewers. So pick up a beer from The Southwark Brewing Co whilst dining. It’s a real treat.
Discover the House of Dreams, SE22 8RG
If you love discovering forgotten and previously unloved objects, then The House of Dreams is the place to go. This museum has been dedicated to those objects that would usually be thrown away. As you step over the threshold you’ll be treated to a home transformed into an extraordinary environment that is a shrine to….junk! Each surface, wall and ceiling is covered with every object imaginable, from such things as old Christmas crackers, china, broken toys and other odds and ends. There are intricate mosaics and life-sized sculptures of incredible characters which add to the amazing atmosphere of this wonderful place.
The King of Ladies Man, London, SW11 1HG
You’ll find this ‘speakeasy-style’ bar The King of Ladies Man, hidden at the back of a café behind a false wall in a launderette, believe it or not! Based on a 1970s bachelor pad, it is filled with golden light, pink flamingo wallpaper, gold lamé curtains and specialises in “beer, cheese and disco drinks”. The laundrette is a nod to the iconic 80’s advert for Levi Jeans and was transformed into a dining and drinking area. The proprietors will even allow you to perch on the washing machines! Then on sliding back the false wall, you’ll discover the hidden bar with its cocktail shaking staff in Hawaiian shirts!
Old Operating Theatre Museum, SE1 9RY
To see how our ancestors coped with 19th C surgery, and to recognise just how lucky we are to have today’s NHS, for all its faults, the 32 steps up an ancient, spiralling staircase are the stairway to an unmissable spectacle. This museum boasts a frightening array of implements for amputating body parts, reflecting the rather ruthless way that surgery was practiced during the 19th C. Each Saturday they even have a special demo of Victorian speed surgery at its best, a sight definitely to behold!
Where to stay in South London?
Should you decide to visit any of these great venues in South London then Euracom have a range of very affordable serviced apartments for both long and shorter stays.
The Luxury serviced apartments South Kensington Collingham London SW5 for example, have recently been stylishly refurbished as self-catering apartments for rent. Here there is space to relax, unwind and even entertain in luxurious accommodation. At £186p/n for a studio apartment, this Edwardian styled house will make you feel truly at home. They are perfect for families who are seeking all the comforts of home.
So there’s our pick of venues of secret London – a treasure trove of places that currently fly under the radar despite being really amazing. So why not try a few of these hidden gems for that ultimate day out? You won’t regret it.
For information on when & where to stay in London and which serviced apartment is right for you & your stay contact us today.
Kbthompson at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Nigel Chadwick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Wiltonsfan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons