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 gems and secret spots?
The hidden gems that only the locals seems to know about and treasure for themselves? I think not. And London is no exception. Of course you want to see all the main attractions in London, like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and maybe the London Eye, but for me, finding those unusual and quirky spots and exploring the hidden city beyond the regular tourist attractions is what makes a city break a magical one.
The thing is, hidden gems in London don’t remain secret for long. I recently saw a 2 hour queue of people waiting for their photo-moment infront of the hidden gem Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. 2 hours people, for a photo! You could do the whole Harry Potter walking tour for less time than that! And because of their photogenicness (did I just make up a word?), thanks to Instagram, places like The Sky Garden and Nealls Yard are now just an exercise in patience and how to keep a straight face at the long-suffering boyfriend of the girl in the big hat and floaty dress.
So is it still possible to discover some cool and unique spots that remain hidden from the rest of the tourist crowds in London? Absolutely.
Check out our list of magical finds from the quirky and unique to the most cool local hot-spots. London treasures you don’t want to miss… (plus a map)
1. St Dunstans In The East
I flamin love this place! If there was ever a perfect epitome of Hidden Gem 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 alter of shrubbery and serenity and even the few tourists who have stumbled upon it keep quiet and respectful as they wander the grounds. A inspirational place for a little recoup from the noise of the city.
2. London’s Silver Vaults
The largest collection of silver in the world lies hidden beneath your feet just a stones throw from Covent Garden. Anyone who is anyone buys their silver from London’s Silver Vaults so there’s always the chance you might bump into George and Amal buying their next set of Clooney tableware. 30 specialist dealers have set up shop in this bizzare secret little world – think Alladins Cave meets Wormwood Scrubs, it’s all a bit Italian Job.
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 worlds largest antique silver subterranean shopping mall. It’s free to the public and you never know, you might resurface with a £16k silver barbeque under your arm. A real treasure trove that even most Londoners haven’t heard of and a fun experience even if you don’t intend to buy.
3. Postman’s Park
Not far from St Pauls Cathedral, Postman’s Park is one of London’s many hidden 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.
However, it’s not just a quaint little spot to park your bottom for a while. 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 pretty hand-painted tiles make for some interesting reading whilst you tuck into your tuna baguette.
4. The Barbican Centre
If you like architecture and you’re at the nearby Postman’s Park, make the trip to a little unknown estate called the Barbican. We’re not talking pretty architecture mind you, far from it! The Barbican is a classic example of London Brutalist architecture that sprung up after the war in the late ’50s and ’60s and it’s pretty horrendous as far as design goes. But that’s what makes this place amazing. A concrete housing estate of tower blocks that is so ugly it’s unique. Residents hang baskets of flowers from their balconies to contrast and enhance the landscape and the high walk system which connects all parts of the estate is a peaceful pathway away from the traffic below.
The Barbican estate also has an internal arts centre (Barbican Centre) which, if you can find it, is a haven in the city. An internal lake is the centrepiece of a theatre, cinema and restaurant complex and believe me – you won’t want to forget your camera. A real beauty and a beast.
5. The Vaults
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 colourful spots in all of London.
The adjoining tunnels have also been turned into funky venues for the arts; theatre, music venues, and the occasional fashion show. Their website has more info on what’s on.
6. St. John’s Lodge Gardens (In Regents Park)
So London doesn’t do too badly on the number of green spaces in the city but this little special gem is just that extra bit unique and so hidden you might be the only person there! St. John’s Lodge Gardens is actually part of Regents Park and is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, whose neighbouring mansion looms over. Being the nice guy that he is, he chose to make these gardens public so that you and I could enjoy this landscaped beauty.
St John’s Lodge gardens really does feel like a secret garden out of a classic English novel. Each little section is like a room without a roof, lined with high Buxus hedging making it all the more hidden, plus the occasional sculpture for the romanticists – the kind of place you could expect an amorous couple on a bench, it’s so dreamy. If you’re looking for a magical quiet spot in the middle of London, you’ve found it!
7. Sir John Soane’s Museum
One of the lesser known museums of London, the Sir John Soane’s Museum is an Aladdin’s cave you probably never knew existed! A little off the beaten path 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, I cannot recommend this house enough if you want a bit of a surprise and a change from the usual London tourist attractions – but sshhh! We don’t want everybody knowing about this place, there’s barely room to swing a cat as it is!
8. The Painted Hall (Royal Naval College)
The Painted Hall at the Greenwich Naval College will knock you off your feet and blow you away. Apparently London’s answer to the Sistine Chapel but in my opinion more beautiful, and if you arrive early you could have the whole place 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 – believe me, when you see the place you will want to do just that!
The hall is entirely painted by hand and was completed in 1726. However, this London gem has been in a renovation status for the past few years and almost forgotten about but I can’t imagine it will stay a secret for much longer now that instagram has got its hands on it. This should be on the Best Places To See In London List but I hope it stays off it so that it remains a bit of secret. It’s an incredible masterpiece and no surprise it has been used in several movies due to its impressiveness.
Greenwich is often an area overlooked by tourists yet, in my opinion, it is one of the best areas of London for history and beauty – why don’t you consider some of these tours and make a day of it…
9. The Tulip Staircase At The Queens House, Greenwich
Somewhere else you don’t want to miss when visiting Greenwich is this beautiful staircase at the Queens House. The Queens House might not look out of place in this historical neighbourhood, but in its day it was almost 100 years ahead of its time and would have been surrounded by more Tudor style buildings. But it’s not only the architecture that was avant-garde, as you will see for yourself its innards are also pretty impressive too.
This free museum is home to many a beautiful feature, like the Great Hall’s chequered floor and a well-stocked art gallery. But, the crowning glory thing you really must see is the Tulip Staircase. Britains first self-supporting staircase is not just a marvel in geometry, it is possibly the most stunning staircase you will ever set eyes on. Interestingly, the striking shade of blue paint is made using crushed glass.
This hidden gem is just a 5 minute walk from Greenwich Market – don’t miss it when you’re in Greenwich!
10. The Royal Exchange
Treat yourself to the poshest secret drink in all of London. Built as a centre of commerce in the 16th century, The Royal Exchange in the Bank district has all of the opulence to go with your glass of champagne. Park your bottom on a plush velvet bar stool at the Fortnum and Mason bar and drink up your bubbles with only a few locals in the know. Rest assured that the remainder of London hasn’t discovered this quiet little spot for drinks yet!
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.
11. The Nomadic Community Gardens Of Brick Lane
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. Like an allotment went to seed and Banksy moved in. Like someone spilled a giant bag of skittles and left an open space of rainbow proportions. Made 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 colourful spots in London.
12. The Bourne And Hollingsworth Buildings
If you want the best place for brunch in London then make your way to the Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings in Clerkenwell. Not only is the food amazing and very good value, the surroundings are so cool and unique that you will want to stay for lunch and dinner too!
Not particularly exceptional from the outside you could easily miss this place but once inside it’s a feast for the eyes as well as your belly. Locals are well aware of their magical local brunch spot but not being a very well known London area with tourists, it’s a bit of a secret unless you’re in the know.
Floral is the focus and with beautiful botanical prints everywhere you could easily be in your wealthy grandma’s crittal garden room, complete with silverware and butler. Order the smashed avocado on toast and a second cup of coffee just so you can linger a while. To beat the locals to a table, you might want to book ahead of time.
Incidentally, the Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings even have a hidden bar in their basement too – another little gem and secret place of London.
13. The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town Hidden Bar, Spitalfields
How could this be a hidden gems post without including at least one hidden bar in London? And the prize position goes to The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town. A stone’s throw from Spitalfields market, this basement bar is the perfect spot to avoid the crowds of London and hole up for the evening. Attached to the diner Breakfast Club you make your entrance through a fridge door and exit through the loos – the bit in between is up to you but make sure it involves a lot of cocktails!
I’ve been in a few hidden bars in London, and in fact, several other Breakfast Club locations have more hidden bars to their name, but none so friendly as this one – we even received a hug from the guy on the bar who seemed so pleased to see us again! Order the nacho’s and make yourself comfortable, there is no need to move on from this hidden gem.
14. Leadenhall Market
Off the beaten path from the main tourist attractions in London, you could combine a trip to Leadenhall Market with a visit to the Tower of London or our other hidden gems, St Dunstan’s In The East and the Royal Exchange.
Better known as Diagon Alley to Harry Potters fans, Leadenhall market is more than a film location. The architecture is stunning at this 19th-century market, with its colourful 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 favourite 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 part of the Harry Potter Guided Walking Tour with GET YOUR GUIDE where you can walk in the steps of your favourite wizards and discover more lesser known treasures of the Harry Potter world. A 5 star reviewed tour for sure.
15. The Counting House Pub
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 its internal hidden greatness!
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. Stay the night too in one of the bank themed hotel rooms.
16. Little Venice
No gondola’s and you won’t get ripped off for icecream but you can stroll canals till your heart’s content. Few people realize that hidden away a short distance from Regents Park and Paddington Station is Little Venice – a collection of houseboats and a cafe on the Regents Canal.
It’s certainly a different side to London that you wouldn’t think you’d see. Whilst the world passes by quickly up there on the street, life saunters on to the sound of lapping water and quacking ducks down here on the canal. It’s probably one of the most interesting walks you can take in London and great for kids if you carry on as far as the London Zoo.
Stop at the triangular pool to visit the cafes and art gallery or even book yourself a night on the floating hotel. The Rembrandt Gardens are the perfect secret spot for a picnic away from the London crowds.
London’s Hidden Gems Map
It’s a lot easier with a map isn’t it! So when you’re looking for a hidden gem just click on the location, or click on the little arrow in the top left corner to see the index. There’s also the option to share our hidden gems map with others too – but don’t spread the word too far or these secret places won’t remain a secret for long!
There you have it – some of the best secret spots in all of London. Get off the beaten path a bit, travel deeper and enjoy the hidden city! And, let us know if you find anymore too.
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