Visitors to London are sure to have a fantastic time exploring top attractions like the British Museum, Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey. And for an extended stay or a return visit, would recommend visiting some lesser known (but equally brilliant!) sights that London has to offer. Thus below is a list of hidden gems in London featuring a variety of sights, sure to include something for everyone.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
What makes the Sir John Soane’s Museum different to many in London is that it is a former home. It consists of 3 properties; No’s 12, 13, and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Sir John Soane, the former occupant, was a brilliant architect with an illustrious career. He worked on many architectural projects throughout London including the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Arguably though, his greatest achievement by far are these properties, which he demolished and rebuilt during his lifetime. A must-see whilst here is the Breakfast Room which has a beautiful domed ceiling, a signature style of Soanes work (which may have inspired the ‘domed’ design of the classic red British telephone box!)
Due to a parliamentary act invoked on the request of Sir John Soane, they have all been kept as close to the original condition as it was when he passed in 1837. Today, it is a brilliant collection of numerous paintings and artefacts that were collected during his lifetime.
Located at the start of Regent’s Canal, it is easy to see where the name comes from; Little Venice is a tranquil and picturesque waterway full of Canal Boats on each side. The buildings on either side are quintessential Regency-era, and many are painted white along with taller mansions of a similar design.
There are many things to do and see a long the walk – weather permitting a great choice could be a stroll around Rembrandt Gardens and Regents Park. There is also the famous Canal Café Theatre which holds performances regularly and can be a nice change of pace from the West End. WW2 enthusiasts can also make a visit to Alan Turing’s Birthplace, who was famously involved in breaking the enigma code and saving countless lives in the process.
Kyoto Gardens, Holland Park
Situated within Holland Park in West London, the Kyoto Gardens is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in London. Once you arrive is not difficult to see why; it has a distinctively beautiful Japanese-style with serene waterfalls and a pond full of koi carp.
The garden was designed as a gift from Japan to Great Britain, in order to celebrate the many years of friendship between the two countries. Coincidentally, this is not the only Japanese garden within Holland Park. The Fukushima Memorial Garden, opened in 2012, was built by Japan to show their gratitude for the support of Britain during natural disasters that they faced the year previous.
The Painted Hall can be found in the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. The college has a long history, first built on order by Mary II after she bore witness to wounded sailors returning from battle. The building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who was also responsible for designing one of London’s most famous sights – St Paul’s Cathedral. The Painted Hall itself was completed by artist Sir James Thornhill, who was commissioned to paint a number of other large scale interiors (coincidentally also including St Paul’s Cathedral!). The Painted Hall depicts the Protestant succession of English monarchs from William III and Mary II to George I and really is a magnificent sight to behold.
Spitalfields and Brick Lane
Spitalfields is one of London’s most weird and wonderful neighbourhoods, with a mix of architectural styles and more painted walls than empty ones. London as a city has always been known for its diverse population, but Spitalfields has a particularly rich cultural history.
It was initially a twice weekly Market held in Spital Square that begin to lure people in to an otherwise quiet area of London, then came the Great Fire in the 1600’s that also pushed people from the inner city to these outer areas of London. Since then, it has been a refuge for French protestants, Bangladeshi immigrants and Jewish communities – at one point home to over 40 synagogues.
In the present day you can find brilliant displays of street art by some truly talented artists. On Brick Lane, you can find a rich selection of food where some say the best curries in Britain reside.
The Sky Garden can be found hidden away on the top floor of London’s famous skyscraper The Walkie Talkie. The name is an accurate description – one can find a large beautiful garden which flows throughout this large upper deck of one London’s most prominent buildings. From the windows you can enjoy sweeping views of the city, and have fun spotting a number of other iconic sights such as St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard or Tower Bridge; and if the skies are clear even as far as the London Eye in Westminster.
Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market is the only one of its kind in the UK, making it an absolute must visit during your time in London. If you love everything floral, then you will be in heaven – the market has one of the largest collections of scents you may ever come in to contact with; jasmine, lavender and mint among many others!
Back in the Victorian era, one could find a giant market building called Columbia Market (where the name of the more modern version takes its name). Unfortunately, it did not make a hit with the locals and was barely visited – eventually resulting in its demolition in 1960. Nowadays one can find a long line of traders in operation 8am – 2pm every Sunday – some of which are 2nd and 3rd generation in their family’s bloodline to do so.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
If you like the sound of the above, then it may also be worth making a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in southwest London. Mainly referred to as Kew Gardens, it was established in 1840 and the surrounding area, as well as the botanical garden, is rich in history. For example, there are royal residences such as Richmond Palace (former dwelling of Henry VII), where surviving parts of the structure can still be seen today.
But Kew Gardens itself is famous for being the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world – for the enthusiasts out there, one can find over 27,000 taxa. It is not hard to spend a whole day here in the summer months, and if you are here in winter then making a visit to see the magical light trail is a must.
Down Street Station
Down Street Station is one of a handful of London tube stops which are now no longer active. Despite closing to the public in 1936, the reason this one is worth a mention is due to its function during WWII. Winston Churchill would use it from time to time for his War Cabinet, but it was mainly the headquarters for the ‘Railway Executive Committee’.
This group was vital to making provisions to keep Britain’s essential national railway running during a potential axis attack. The former tube station was transformed from a dusty derelict platform in to a fully function set of offices – over the course of 6 months in 1939 phones, electricity, lighting and spaces for cooking were installed in the space.
Since 2016 it has been open for touring, and definitely merits a visit if you enjoy ‘off the beaten track’.
The Wallace Collection is a great, lesser known museum in Marylebone. The building, Hertford House, was the former residence of the Seymour family. It holds an astounding art collection from 15th – 19th century, left to the nation by the widow of the final descendent of the Seymour bloodline. The best thing about the Wallace Collection museum is just how few people know about it – in the quieter seasons of the year you may even find that you are the only people in the rooms.
Once you have finished viewing the beautiful interior architecture and design, as well as the brilliant array of art you may like to make your way to the lofty courtyard where they serve brunch.
We hope that the list above gives you some not so common ideas for sightseeing for when you are in London. And if you would like one of our experienced Blue Badge Guides to enhance the experience with a Private Guided Tour, please do not hesitate to contact us!