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26 Hidden Gems in London Off The Tourist Trail

26 Hidden Gems in London Off The Tourist Trail

London is a treasure trove of hidden gems and quirky places waiting to be discovered, and as a Londoner, I have explored them all.

Tucked away beneath the bustling streets and behind inconspicuous doors, London’s hidden gems offer an alternative perspective on the vibrant capital city.

From secret underground tunnels that once served as wartime shelters to crypt galleries and obscure museums brimming with history, this guide will take you on an enchanting journey through the lesser-known corners of London’s rich tapestry.

Whether you’re a seasoned local or a curious traveller, prepare to be captivated by the allure of London’s extraordinary hidden destinations that reveal a side of the city often overlooked.

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Map of Out of The Ordinary Places to Visit in London

Hidden Gems in London You Must See

The Old Operating Theatre Museum #1

Address: 9a St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY

Step inside The Old Operating Theatre Museum, an unassuming building a short walk from The Shard, and discover one of London’s most unusual places.

This 18th-century medical theatre holds a wealth of weird and unique medical paraphernalia. Surgical implements from amputation saws to organ removal clamps look out from the wooden display cabinets, next to strange-looking specimen jars crammed with intestines and other body parts.

Dark bottles containing labelled herbal remedies to cure ailments such as madness, venereal diseases and childbirth symptoms.

Once used by apothecaries, these tinctures are now a reminder of when anaesthesia had not been invented and natural and man-made ingredients were used to stop the pain.

Further up in the attic is the original wooden operating table. Patients from London’s largest hospital, St Thomas’s, would be brought here through a connecting bridge.

Doctors and spectators were welcomed in to see operations being carried out. All without the use of an anaesthetic!

As limbs were removed and internal procedures were undertaken, it is said that the screams could be heard for miles around. Remember, no anaesthesia was administered during these operations.

If a patient survived, and many didn’t, they would be transported through the attic eaves back to a hospital ward; who knows what happened to the bodies of those who weren’t so lucky!

meieval attic with lotions and potions in it

Crossbones Graveyard #2

Address: Redcross Way, SE1 1TA

A short stroll from London Bridge, Borough Market and the Queen’s Walk is Crossbones Graveyard.

This curious medieval graveyard is only recognisable from the decaying flowers and faded ribbons tied to its railings. You won’t find a glossy entrance sign or gift shop here.

This was once the final resting place of Londoners from the nearby slum known as The Mint, the worst in London. Of the 15,000 paupers buried in this unconsecrated ground over the centuries, many were prostitutes, but over half were children.

Volunteers now maintain Crossbones as a memorial to the paupers buried here. The graveyard is small and quite underwhelming, so only visit if you are in the vicinity already; otherwise, you will be disappointed.

Nevertheless, there is much history to learn about this neighbourhood in the 1700s, so I have included Crossbones in this roundup of London’s hidden gems.

Opening times: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 12-2 p.m.

copyright – Crossbones Graveyard Website

The Hardy Tree #3

Address: St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, London, NW1 1UL

It may be surprising to hear that the classic novelist Thomas Hardy, author of the literary greats Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urbevilles, was once a gravedigger.

In Victorian times, St. Pancras station needed to extend its train lines. Sadly, a graveyard sat where the new tracks had to go. The task of exhuming and reburying bones fell to a young employee. None other than Thomas Hardy.

Hardy moved the bodies to a local graveyard and then had to find a home for the headstones. He chose St. Pancras Old Church, considered one of England’s oldest places of Christian worship, and packed the headstones around the base of a tree.

The headstones have now fallen against one another, and the earth has reclaimed several of them, making them a unique sight in the capital.

In 2022, the Hardy tree blew over in strong winds and is now cordoned off; however, a nearby ring of headstones remains unfenced and can still be viewed close up.

Tree with headstones around its base

The Mausoleum of Sir John Soane #4

Address: St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, London, NW1 1UL

In the same churchyard as the Hardy Tree is the ornate tomb of Sir John Soane, founder of Sir John Soane’s Museum and one of the greatest English neoclassical architects.

He designed many of England’s grand mansions and estates, including the Bank of England Building in London.

Supposedly, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott got the idea for the iconic red phone box after seeing the shape of Soane’s tomb.

Architectural excellence ran through the family as his father was George Gilbert Scott, the architect of the nearby St. Pancras International Hotel.

John Soane's Tomb in London

St Dunstan’s in the East #5

Address: St Dunstan’s Hill, Billingsgate, London EC3R 5DD

You might not expect to find a place of solitude and sanctuary in central London, but there is one.

St. Dunstan’s in the East is a church with gothic ruins encompassing one of London’s secret gardens.

It is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and a mere stone’s throw away from Fenchurch Street Station and the Tower of London, one of London’s most recognisable royal buildings.

The Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park #6

Address: Postman’s Park, King Edward Street, London EC1A 7BT

Near St Paul’s Cathedral is a lesser-known hidden London landmark, Postman’s Park. At first glance, it looks like a small green space for workers to rest over lunch. On closer inspection, it becomes apparent it is so much more.

Postman’s Park is a unique London spot that houses a memorial to unsung Londoners who lost their lives saving others. Beautiful ceramic plaques highlight the names and heroic gestures of those brave souls.

The memorial was the idea of George Watts, a local artist who had run a campaign to create a memorial to London’s heroes. Fifty-four beautifully designed plaques make up the Watts Memorial, each telling a unique story of bravery.

Some plaques contain the names of several people who have worked together to save others, and others tell of children who have died saving others.

The Watts Memorial is a moving recollection of selflessness and sacrifice and is a hidden gem in London.

Inscription on a wall plaque

Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden #7

Address: King Edward St, London EC1A 7BA

Opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral and on the site of the 13th-century Franciscan Church of Greyfriars is Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden.

The old church, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, was the burial site for four queens. The new church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1704.

During the bombings of WWll, the body of the church was destroyed, and only the west tower now stands.

A rose garden has been designed to reflect the church’s original floor plan. Box-edged planting represents the original position of the pews, with wooden towers representing the stone columns of the former church.

Westminster Cathedral #8

Address: Victoria St, London SW1P 1LT

Often confused with the Anglican Westminster Abbey, the more modern Westminster Cathedral is dedicated to the Catholic faith. It was completed in 1903 and consecrated in 1910.

red brick facade of cathedral

The vision to build a ‘new’ cathedral was the idea of Cardinal Vaughan to appease the growing Catholic community in early 19th-century London.

It was designed by the architect John Francis Bentley based on the Italian-style basilicas in Rome, encompassing the architecture of the Victorian era and the Edwardian era.

Westminster Cathedral was built entirely of charitable donations from well-wishers, and so it took seven years after it was completed for the building debt to be paid off. It was finally consecrated in June 1910 once it was free from debt.

The interior is unfinished, much like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, making it a work of art evolving through the decades.

Its black ceiling looks almost fire-damaged; nevertheless, the stunning mosaics and marble already in place make the cathedral a must-see hidden London landmark.

St John Paul II visited in 1981 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, making it the only Cathedral in England where two popes have celebrated Mass. Throughout the Cathedral, you can see the tombs of previous Archbishops of Westminster.

Dennis Severs House #9

Address: 18 Folgate St, London E1 6BX

One of the quirky things to do in London is to enter Dennis Severs’ House and be transported back in time.

Showcasing rooms in the exact detail of how they would have appeared in 1724 London is a great way to experience the past.

Silent tours are bookable online and require visits to stay quiet while viewing the house. Not allowing any form of noise lets the senses acknowledge the sounds and smells that make this East London house unique.

The Fourth Plinth #10

Address: Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5NJ

Constructed in 1841 to house an equestrian statue but never finished, the fourth plinth is now a great place to showcase unique artworks.

Standing in Trafalgar Square, the pedestal houses pieces by world-class artists. A giant thumb, a bronze boy on a rocking horse and a giant swirl of whipped cream with a cherry, a fly, and a drone have all stood proud on the fourth plinth.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and not all the pieces have had good reviews. One thing is for sure; it’s an unusual sight to see in such a historic spot in London!

The photograph below shows the artwork entitled Antelope by Samson Kambalu.

Statues of Two men standing on the fourth plinth in London looking away from one another. One man is taller and larger than the other.

Leake Street Grafitti Tunnel #11

Address: Leake Street, London, SE1 7NN

If you are looking for a completely different type of art in London, the Leake Street Grafitti Tunnel is one of the cool things to see in London. The tunnel is a legal canvas for urban street artists to have free rein to create artwork, including murals, graffiti and tags.

Connecting Waterloo Station to the Southbank, this street art hotspot attracts urban artists from far and wide, even knowing their art will only be on display for a limited time. The rules are there are no rules.

It may seem an unusual tourist spot to recommend during a visit to London as it’s neither historical nor royal, as is typically the case; however, it is one of London’s hidden gems and does show a cultural side of the city that is interesting to see.

Dragons in London #12

Dragon Statues on plinths either side of a road in London

Dragons surrounding London might sound like one of London’s hidden gems, but unless you look closely, you probably wouldn’t even notice them. The first two original iron dragons stand on the Embankment and are boundary markers to the entrance of The City.

These curious creatures crop up in various locations in the city, so keep an eye open for this hidden London sight when you next visit.

The most impressive London dragon stands on a pedestal just outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the Temple Bar area of London.

It was commissioned after the Great Fire of London to mark one of the entrances to the city of London.

Cleopatras Needle #13

An ancient Egyptian obelisk flanked by two colossal sphinxes is one of the most unusual things to see in London. It is positioned along the River Thames Embankment and has been there since 1878.

The obelisk was erected in Heliopolis by Thothmes 1 around 1500 B.C.

Lateral inscriptions were added 200 years later by Ramses the Great, the Pharoah of Egypt who built the mighty Temple of Karnak and Abu Simbel.

The obelisk was later removed from Heliopolis during the Greek Dynasty and re-erected in Alexandria, the royal city of Cleopatra.

In 1819, it began its epic journey to London after being gifted to the British Empire by Mahommed Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt.

On its journey by sea from Egypt to England, it was abandoned in the ocean’s depths following a storm in the Bay of Biscay. The obelisk had been encased in a steel cylinder, which was recovered 60 years later and presented to Queen Victoria in 1878.

Later, two metal sphinxes were made and positioned on either side of Cleopatra’s Needle as if guarding it.

The sphinx has also weathered the test of time, having been hit by shrapnel during the first bombings of London in September 1917.  Look out for the benches along the river, which also have an Egyptian design.

Side view of blck metal statue of Egyptian sphinx beside the River Thames

London’s Smallest Police Station #14

In a rather unassuming corner of Trafalgar Square sits Britain’s smallest police station.

Surrounded by London landmarks such as Nelson’s Column, the mighty Trafalgar Square lions, and the National Portrait Gallery, this small, unusual circular building with a glass beacon atop its roof could easily be passed without a second glance, making it a perfect candidate as one of London’s hidden gems.

Built around 1926 to fit one policeman (or two prisoners), its purpose was as an observation post for an officer to be in the thick of the action during the regular demonstrations in Trafalgar Square.

The black door with 16 glass panels was the perfect spot to watch what was happening in the square. If trouble erupted, the police officer had a direct line to Scotland Yard to call for backup.

Once the phone was picked up, the glass light fitting at the top of the box started to flash, alerting any officers in the nearby vicinity that help was needed.

Sadly, the smallest police station is no longer operational and is instead used as a room to hold street cleaning equipment!

The Jamaica Wine House – site of London’s first coffee house #15

Address: St Michael’s Alley, London EC3V 9DS

One of the unique things to do in London is to visit the Jamaica Wine House in the heart of the City. This unusual historic pub dates back to 1670 and was the site of London’s first coffee shop.

Since then, it has been serving up delicious wines and hearty food. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, with exposed brick walls, wooden beams, and comfortable seating areas perfect for catching up with friends or unwinding after sightseeing.

Chelsea Physic Garden – 17th-century botanical gardens #16

Address: 66 Royal Hospital Rd, London SW3 4HS

garden flowers

One of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, and one of London’s hidden gems, is the Chelsea Physic Garden, which dates to the 17th century and was established by apothecaries to grow medicinal plants.

The river’s micro-climate allowed species from other countries to thrive in the walled garden, allowing medical students to study unusual and unique plants as part of their curriculum.

Discoveries were made that identified plants that could cure and kill, ensuring the correct use of each variety.

This botanical garden on the banks of the River Thames remains a place of scientific research and discovery and is a delightful place to visit away from the busy streets of Chelsea.

In 2023, Chelsea Physic Garden will celebrate 350 years of connecting people with plants.

Temple Church – 12th century Knights Templar church #17

Address: Temple, London EC4Y 7BB

London’s hidden gems come in all shapes and sizes, and one such place, built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century, is the Temple church. It is one of the few remaining examples of Romanesque architecture in London.

This unique church was consecrated in 1185 and originally used as a place for worship and accommodation for the Knights Templar. They were an organisation of devout Christians whose job was to protect European travellers visiting sites in the Holy Land. It was also an important site for military training during this time.

After the Knights Templar was disbanded, the church was used by other groups, including lawyers, to hold legal meetings.

Its round nave is surrounded by circular columns topped with intricately carved capitals. The nave is also home to several beautiful stained-glass windows that depict scenes from biblical stories.

Visitors can also explore some fascinating historical artefacts, such as medieval effigies of knights buried within the church walls. One such effigy belongs to William Marshal, one of England’s greatest knights.

In recent times, Temple Church has featured prominently in Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and subsequently appeared in its film adaptation starring Tom Hanks.

Clapham Common South Subterranean Shelter #18

Address: Clapham South Underground Station, SW12 9DU

Brick built entrance to subterranean tunnels in London

The deep-level shelter at Clapham South Underground is one of London’s unusual and unique hidden gems.

Opened to the public in July 1944 to provide shelter from the bombings in WW2, these mile-long subterranean passages in South London can now be explored on a guided tour arranged by London Transport.

Discover the extraordinary stories of those sheltering here, from Londoners seeking refuge during the Second World War to hopeful Caribbean migrants arriving on the Empire Windrush.

Hear how everyday life was lived in the underbelly of Clapham South and how the shelter was even used as a hotel during the Festival of Britain.

If you are interested in history, this is a unique way to learn more about the wars while having one of the most unusual experiences in the underbelly of London.

Twinings – the world’s oldest tea shop #19

Address: 216 Strand London, WC2R 1AP

Nestled in the heart of London’s bustling Strand district, Twinings Tea Shop is an iconic institution that has enchanted tea enthusiasts for over three centuries.

With a rich history dating back to 1706, this historic establishment holds a special place in the hearts of locals and tourists alike.

Step inside and be transported into a world of aromatic delights. The moment you enter, you’ll be greeted by the comforting aroma of freshly brewed tea that fills the air. Try the different varieties at the tasting counter before purchasing a favourite.

Twinings have something for everyone, from classic English breakfast teas to start your day to delicate herbal infusions for moments of tranquillity. From black teas to green teas and oolongs to white teas, there are endless choices for the tea lover.

Visit Twinings on the Strand and take home a piece of English history.

Leighton House Museum – an artist’s house with a secret #20

Address: 12 Holland Park Rd, London W14 8LZ

Arabic decorated room

One of London’s most beautiful hidden gems can be found on an unassuming residential street in Holland Park. It is Leighton House, the home of the renowned 19th-century English artist Frederic Leighton.

What makes this one of London’s unique museums is its interior.

The red-brick building, while grand, is similar to others built in the same era as homes for the famous Holland Park Circle of Artists. Frederic was one of the members of this illustrious circle, and Leighton House was his masterpiece.

Once inside, you will be amazed at the Arab Room’s beautiful midnight blue tiling and central water feature. It would undoubtedly look more in place in Marrakesh!

Leighton’s works of art, his studio, a piano room and a small bedroom can be visited upstairs. Outside, the garden is a tranquil place to sit and reflect on this beautiful house; listening to the birdsong, it’s hard to believe you aren’t a million miles away from the centre of London.

Leighton House Museum is not on the normal tourist trails, making it a London attraction well worth visiting.

Kyoto Garden – Japanese-inspired garden in London #21

Address: Holland Park, London W14

Close to Leighton House Museum is one of London’s natural hidden gems, the stunning Japanese Kyoto Garden in the heart of Holland Park. There are plenty of things to see in Holland Park, with the garden being the most popular tourist attraction.

Japanese Garden with red acers around a pond

Gifted to the United Kingdom from Japan, it is a beautiful example of a traditional Japanese garden featuring red Acer trees, magnolias, camellias, azaleas and a Koi carp pond.

A small waterfall, a favourite spot for Egyptian geese, adds to the charm of this charming, hidden London garden.

Foundling Museum #22

Address: 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ

The Foundling Museum, once the Foundling Hospital established in 1739 by philanthropist Thomas Coram, is one of London’s unusual hidden gems.

It pays homage to its humble beginnings as a safe haven for abandoned infants, offering insight into the lives of these vulnerable children and their remarkable benefactors.

As you wander through the museum’s thoughtfully curated galleries, prepare to be captivated by an array of intriguing exhibits.

Discover poignant tokens left by desperate mothers who hoped to reclaim their lost children one day. These tokens include small trinkets such as coins, buttons or scraps of fabric – each holding a heartfelt story waiting to be told.

One unusual highlight not to be missed is the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. This impressive display showcases original manuscripts and memorabilia from renowned composer George Frideric Handel.

Immerse yourself in his musical genius and learn about his close involvement with the Foundling Hospital, having conducted numerous benefit performances supporting this noble cause.

The museum also proudly displays an extensive collection of artwork donated by prominent artists who supported the institution. Works by celebrated painters such as William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds adorn the walls, reflecting their commitment to improving society through artistic contributions.

For those seeking a deeper understanding of life at the Foundling Hospital, don’t miss out on exploring various interactive exhibits, including recreated rooms where foundlings resided during their time at the hospital.

The Crypt Gallery #23

Address: 165 Euston Road, London NW1 2BA

Stone building flanked by four stone statues supporting the roof and with a red door leading inside.

St Pancras Parish Church was opened in 1822 with a crypt designed for coffin burials. It was used until 1854 when all of London’s church crypts were closed to new burials.

Crypts were popular because they gave an alternative place to bury bodies away from the overcrowded village churchyard. Of course, the service was only available for those who could afford it, making crypt burials a valuable revenue source for London’s churches.

In 2002, long after the St Pancras Church crypt became defunct, it was opened as a space for 21st-century artists to share the gallery space to showcase their art with the public.

This unusual venue now hosts gallery events throughout the year, attracting local and international visitors. The crypt remains the final resting place of 557 people.

Handel Hendrix House #24

25 Brook Street, London W1K 4HB

room with grand piano

The following fascinating London attraction is utterly unique and one of the best hidden gems in London to see if you are a music lover. It is the London home of two famous people: the 18th-century classical composer Handel and the 1960s rock star Jimi Hendrix.

They lived here over 250 years apart, Handel for 36 years and Hendrix for one year before his untimely death. Both these iconic properties have many stories, from classical repertoires performed in the music room to all-night jamming sessions in Hendrix’s bedroom.

Explore the house and flat of Handel and Hendrix and discover how they lived and how their incredible iconic melodies shaped the music world as we know it.

The rooms have been recreated to show how the interiors would have been during the eras that the musicians lived in their homes.

In Handel’s house, the pieces are from the period rather than belonging to Handel. In contrast, in the Hendrix flat, much memorabilia was his, including the Captain’s chair that he famously used for one of his iconic photo shoots.

Both properties have been recently renovated, so visiting this lesser-known London attraction is a great option to experience a unique place in the capital.

Bedroom with bed covered in a red throw

London Silver Vaults #25

53-64 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1QS

The Silver Vaults is an unusual collection of underground vaults beneath Chancery Lane.

With origins dating back to 1885, they were built initially as strong rooms for wealthy individuals and businesses to safeguard their precious silverware during times of uncertainty.

Today, they have evolved into an unusual shopping destination and a unique showcase for all things silver.

As you descend into this underground wonderland, be prepared to be transported back in time.

The vaults exude an air of mystery, with their dimly lit corridors lined with over 30 different specialist shops offering an impressive range of antique and contemporary silverware.

Each item tells its story, from delicate tea sets to intricately crafted jewellery.

The shopkeepers within the Silver Vaults are passionate about their craft and possess extensive knowledge of silverware.

London’s hidden gems come in all kinds of forms, so whether you’re an avid silver collector or simply curious about these beautiful objects, the Silver Vaults are worth visiting.

Exterior view of grey brick building

Battersea Power Station Glass Chimney Lift #26

Circus Rd W, Nine Elms, London SW11 8AL

South of the river, in Battersea, sits an iconic Art Deco building that once powered most of London.

Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert-Scott, who was also responsible for London’s red phone boxes, the historic Battersea Power Station building with its four colossal ivory chimneys is now a place of entertainment and recreation.

Lovingly restored in keeping with its heritage, it contains restaurants, bars, shops, two cinemas and a theatre.

Battersea Power Station

But what makes it one of London’s hidden gems is that inside one of its chimneys is a glass lift, and you can ride it to the top for some of the best views south of the river!

Lift 109 is the icing on the cake for the re-imagination of Battersea Power Station. The Willy Wonka-styled glass elevator whisks visitors to the top of its 109-metre stack to outstanding 360-degree views of London.

It is one of the newest unique attractions in London and a great experience that all visitors to the city will want to have!

View of two white chimneys at Battersea Power Station

Conclusion

I had so much fun visiting these 26 hidden London gems and look forward to finding more to share with you.

I was amazed to venture underground to see the shelter at Clapham South and to visit the Leighton House Museum with its vibrant Arabic interior.

To see Ceopatra’s needle on the Embankment, having recently visited Egypt, was also pretty mindblowing, as was discovering Westminster Cathedral. I still can’t believe I never realised it existed until I wrote about London’s historic landmarks and found out there was a Westminster Abbey and Cathedral!

So, which of these unusual London experiences have made your bucket list? I would love to hear what you think about my suggestions.

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