Make sure to discover London hidden gems before others do!
If you are planning to spend more than a handful of days there, you should make the effort to discover some of the most unusual places to visit in London. These are the kind of places that are well known to locals, and really pleasant to visit, but hardly ever make it on travel guides or itineraries.
Mind you, I am all for tourist attractions – after all, if it is your first time in the city you really can’t skip places such as the Tower or London or Buckingham Palace. But if you are anything like me, you will get a real kick at discovering some of London hidden gems. It took me years of exploring the city to discover them – most of them by complete chance, and because I was a local living and working in the city. But I want to make sure you get a chance to see at least a couple.
In this post, I highlight the most unusual places to visit in London, those London hidden gems that you may not even know exist and yet are a real find.
24 Incredible London Hidden Gems
One of my favorite London hidden gems (again, not for long I suspect) is the Sky Garden – and it is so central that you really should not miss this! This beautiful garden is at a short walk from Tower of London and Tower Bridge – so you have no excuse not to go. The bonus? It is 100% free to get in – though you do need reservations if you intend to go before 6:00 pm. It’s also a great place to catch sunset!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Sky Garden is open Mondays to Fridays from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm; Saturdays from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm and Sundays from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. Make sure to book a time slot for your visit here, unless you plan to go after 6:00 pm, in which case reservations aren’t necessary but you have to be dressed smartly as there is a strict dress code. Mind you, drinks are expensive!
If you’ve been on my site before, you should know that I am a massive fan of markets. The great news is that London is packed with good ones. Forget about the ones that are for tourists, though! One of the most unusual places to visit in London, indeed, is Leadenhall Market. It’s tucked away between Monument and Liverpool Street metro stations, in Gracechurch street – to give you an idea of the rough location in town.
This is a covered market with a gorgeous roof and glass windows. The colors of the shop windows are nice and colorful – so it’s a great place for photos. Although a market existed in the area already in the 14th century, the covered market was built in the 19th century.
GOOD TO KNOW: This market became more popular as it was a filming location of Harry Potter. You can visit it during this GetYourGuide Originals tour which is a best seller tour in London. You can book it here.
Not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral you will find one of London hidden gems. This park owes its name to the fact that it is a favorite of workers in the central post office located nearby. The main feature there is a memorial wall – George Frederic Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice – which houses tables with the names and brief stories of people who lost their lives when trying to save the lives of others.
The park is unknown to tourists, an oasis of peace despite the chaos of the city surrounding it, and a truly nice place to spend a few moments.
St. Katherine Dock Marina
One of the nicest London hidden gems is St. Katherine Dock. London’s only central marina is tucked away between the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Tower Hill metro station, yet for some reason I only made it there after years or living in the city, when a friend of mine moved in the area.
Let me tell you, this is one of the most pleasant surprises London had for me! What you will love about it is that it is right in the center of town, yet tourists never make it there so you are in for a real local experience – and you won’t get to see any of those crowds that are so typical of London. At the dock you will find some bars, pubs and restaurant and a small square where you can hang out.
The Dickens Inn Pub
If you visit St. Katherine Dock, make sure to stop at Dickens Inn pub for a meal or a drink. It looks lovely – especially in the spring and summer months when the flower decorate the balconies and everything is in bloom.
The building where the pub is located dates back to the 18th century and used to be a warehouse probably stocking tea or owned by a brewery. The management of the pub says that Charles Dickens used to hang out at this pub back in the day. What we know is that in fact he did spend quite some time in East London and the Thameside, so chances are that he did visit this place.
A mews is a narrow cobbled alley. You will find several in London, usually perpendicular to larger and busier streets. They are lined with very expensive buildings where very rich people live, but they are so quaint and pretty that it is worth popping by at least one of them for photos. You will find several mews in Kensington – among them Kynance Mews photographed above, Cornwall Mews which is a parallel, Osten Mews and McLeod’s Mews a bit further south. These truly are some of London hidden gems.
Old Operating Theatre Museum
The Old Operating Theater Museum is by far one of the most interesting London hidden gems. Located close to London Bridge metro station, this is one of the oldest operating theaters in the world – think of a time when anesthesia was not a thing yet. During your visit, you will be able to get a good idea of how surgeries were carried out at a time when anesthesia, antiseptics and antibiotics were not used. There also is a small exhibit of herbs that were used in medicine.
Saint Dunstan In The East
Between London Bridge and St. Katherine Docks Marina there is one of the best London hidden gems. Saint Dunstan in the East church was originally built between the 11th and 12th century. It was partially destroyed during WWII and never restored, so all that is left are the walls and gates to the church which are set in a lovely garden. It’s a truly pleasant place to visit!
I like to think this is one of London hidden gems – even though chances are it is not. Sure enough, compared to other parks like Hyde Park, St. James’s Park or Regent Park, Holland Park gets significantly less tourists and visitors. It’s the kind of place where you walk in through a narrow gate you don’t make much of, and find yourself in a park that is gorgeous and makes you feel a million miles away from the city.
The nearest metro station is High Street Kensington, on the District and Circle lines, so you can pop in if you are on a shopping spree on that part of town.
This is the kind of place you stumble upon and then want to go back again and again as it is so pretty! It’s surprising not so many people know it as it is really close to Covent Garden – one of the city’s most popular attraction. Neal’s Yard is a series of tall brick buildings adorned with flowers and plants pouring out of windows and where you will find many lovely, quaint small shops that sell organic goods and cafés and health food stores.
My tip is to visit this spot before it becomes more popular and has to be written off this post on the most unusual places to visit in London!
London’s Little Venice
London has its very own Little Venice and it is just minutes away from Paddington station! This series of canals lined with trees is the kind of place where you will see canal boats – some used as actual homes and others are cafés where you can stop by for tea. The canals run all the way from Hyde Park to Warwick Avenue, so you can walk along for quite some time and get all the way to Camden Market!
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Opened in 1990 near the very well known Regent’s Park, this museum is among the unusual places to visit in London to recreate what is intended to be the home of Sherlock Holmes. Everything inside reproduces to maniacal detail the house of Sherlock as described in the books – including the bookshelves and the 17 steps that take to the living room.
Despite being one of London hidden gems, you may find a line to get inside so make sure to get tickets in advance. You may even want to join a guided Sherlock Holmes tour. These are the ones I recommend:
- Sherlock Holmes 4-hour private walking tour – a private walking tour that lasts up to 4 hours and includes a visit to the museum.
- Sherlock Holmes 2-hour walking tour – a great tour that even takes you to the movie sets inside BBC. Keep in mind it does not include a visit to the museum.
GOOD TO KNOW: At 5 minutes walk from Sherlock Holmes Museum, Madame Tussauds is actually one of the most popular places to visit in London. You can get tickets to visit here.
Primrose Hill is right on the other side of Regent’s Park. It is a very well known place to people who live in London, yet very much a secret for tourists – so I guess it is fair to mention it among London hidden gems. It really is a lovely neighborhood and the views of London from the actual hill are splendid (and free to enjoy, which really means a lot in a city that is so expensive!). You can even see the Shard and London Eye on a clear day.
One of my favorite London hidden gems is very much in plain sight. If you want a market that is local, central and great to browse on any day of the week, head straight to Spitalfields (the nearest metro station is London Liverpool Street). You will find anything from street food and nice local pubs to vintage and antique shops (my friends and I once stumbled upon a fantastic vintage camera shops!), clothes of all sorts (but especially of emerging London designers) and even art galleries. In other words, this is one of the most interesting despite unusual places to visit in London.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The market is open daily from 10:00 am. Closing time varies – it’s open until 8:00 pm Monday to Friday and until 5:00 or 6:00 pm at weekends.
Whitechapel definitely deserves to be mentioned in a post about the unusual places to visit in London, though I feel this is going to change quite soon as the area is attracting more and more tourists! First of all, it is very central. But, most importantly, it has that eerie feel of a place you know hides a story. In fact, this is where Jack the Ripper killings took place.
Nowadays, one of the most unusual things to do in London is a Jack The Ripper walking tour. It’s the kind of thing that really takes you through the history of the area, and in a very interactive way.
If this is something you are keen on doing, I recommend joining this Jack the Ripper interactive walking tour. It’s a GetYourGuide Originals, which means a small group tour you won’t find sold anywhere else and for which you are led by an expert local guide that will take you to London hidden gems during a carefully curated itinerary – we are talking about places tourists don’t regularly get to see.
This specific tour goes to Brick Lane, Christ Church, Spitalfields Market, Mitre Square, Petticoat Lane and Ten Bells Pub, taking you back to 1888 Whitechapel by following the footsteps of the victims. The guide will even have photographic evidence to show you and you can do your best to help solve the mystery!
If this is something you are keen on trying, you can book the tour here.
Shoreditch and Brick Lake
Another friend, another area of London I got to discover. Nowadays, Shoreditch is the area where I decide to stay any time I am in town. This up and coming neighborhood has a multitude of good pubs and restaurants, shops, art galleries and lots and lots of street art. It’s one of the most unusual places to visit in London, but something tells me it won’t be like that for a long time.
Not far from it, Brick Lane is another London hidden gem that is actually well known to locals. It’s a super artsy area famous for the many Bengalese restaurants and the many new local designers shops. A place you should make sure to stop by is Beigel Bake. Go there for a sandwich or a snack – at whatever time of day. Beigel Bake is a local institution!
If you want to explore this part of London a bit more in depth, opt for one of these tours:
- Alternative London 2-hour street art walking tour – a cool tour that will highlight the most interesting sights in the area.
- London street art walking tour – it starts in Liverpool Street Station and goes all the way to Shoreditch.
- Discover Shoreditch – another excellent option for this part of town.
Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
North of Shoreditch, this is one of the most fun and unusual places to visit in London. It’s a store, really, but with a kick. It’s the kind of place where you will see for sales things such as human bone dust, salt made from tears of anger (which actually is just smoked salt) or cubed earwax (caramels). The shop was first opened in 1818 and re-opened in 2010 after having being refurbished. It’s only open 3 days a week – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – and you can easily add it to any itinerary to visit the areas of Shoreditch and Brick Lane.
If visiting a market is a must in London, skip Camden Market – it has become nothing more than a tourist trap – and head straight to London Bridge where you will find Borough Market. Mind you, it’s becoming a more and more popular place, so it really be one of London hidden gems for long. But it’s such a cool place that I thought I’d mention it – and it is easy to insert in itineraries to visit central London.
The market is the kind of place where you can find all sort of fresh produce, literally from all over the world (I’d go there to get Sardinian Pecorino!). There are some nice wine bars in case you need a drink and a place to sit!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The market is open from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The nearest metro station is London Bridge.
One of London hidden gems which is never mentioned in guidebooks is Chiswick. This actually is one of my favorite parts of town – a place I discovered when one of my friends moved in the area and invited me over for dinner. I liked the area so much that I kept going again and again.
What you will enjoy about Chiswick is the neighborhood feel – something that is often missing in London. It is a chilled place where you can sit in a café and enjoy a drink, looking at passersby; or just browse the many lovely shops.
Among the places of interest you should not skip Chiswick House, a fantastic example of Palladian architecture; St. Nicholas Church, whose tower that dates back to the 15th century. Christ Church is another nice sight. You can also pop in at Duke’s Meadows, a truly nice park beautiful park. Finally, for one of the most unusual things to do in London, go for a walk at Gunnersbury Triangle, a nice nature reserve that will make you feel a million miles away from London, even though you are still very much there.
For a drink, stop at Mawson Arms, one of the nicest pubs in the area.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Chiswick is not in central London. To get there, hop on a westbound District Line train (the Piccadilly Line also stops there, but only at certain times) and get off at Turnham Green. Once you walk out of the station, turn left and you will be heading to the lovely High Street.
Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden
Coming from Sardinia, where there aren’t too many people in such a vast land, I am used to a lot of wide open spaces and spending time outdoors. One of my favorite London hidden gems is Hampstead Pergola – probably one of the best ‘secret gardens’ I’ve ever found, not to mention that visiting is one of the best things to do in London for couples – so go there if you are feeling romantic!
Essentially a raised, colonnaded walkway constructed by a wealthy philanthropist to join two gardens divided by a public walkway, it must have been beautiful in its prime but is even more so now that nature has reclaimed much of it.
The ornate stonework and latticed domes are almost overgrown by climbing vines and other creepers including rambling roses, jasmine and honeysuckle – making for quite a heady perfume on a warm summer day! It overlooks the gorgeous Hill Garden below and both are eerily beautiful, elegant and a popular destination for artists of every kind.
The Hill Garden also has a formal pond and little benches with sweet inscriptions for to enjoy. Make sure to go before everyone else does!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden is located in The Pergola, Inverforth Cl, London. The easiest way to get there from central London is to get a northbound Northern Line train, getting off at Hampstead Station. From there, it is an easy 15 minutes walk.
I am not normally one to count a cemetery as a tourist destination, but this one is incredible, and one of the real London hidden gems, because there are so many famous people buried here and it has become a kind of nature reserve filled with mature trees, shrubbery and wildflowers that are a haven for birds and small animals. In Victorian times, people also had quite a romantic attitude towards death so there are hundreds of elaborately carved headstones, Egyptian sepulchers and Gothic style tombs.
It is no longer free to tour either section, but exploring the heavily wooded 20 hectares and trying to read the inscriptions on overgrown, often crumbling headstones while marveling at the beauty and intricacy of others is something you will enjoy immensely. And if you are into that kind of thing, one fun thing to do is searching for the graves of Highgate Cemetery’s more famous residents or check out the Queen’s Wood or Highgate Wood nearby for a less morbid day out.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Highgate Cemetery is located in Swain’s Ln, Highgate, London. Before visiting, make sure to check the website to double check it is open on the day you wish to go. The easiest way to get there is by metro. Get a northbound Northern Line train and get off at Archway Station. From there, it is about a 15 minutes walk.
You may want to visit Pickering Place for a number of reasons, the first of which is the fact that it was home to the Texas legation (effectively a small embassy) from 1842 – 1845 as commemorated by a small brass plaque.
This is one of the most interesting London hidden gems, located almost directly opposite King Henry’s old barn at St. James Palace and is accessed by a narrow passageway running next to the famous Berry Bros & Rudd wine merchant – their one day wine school being the main reason you may want to go all the way to Pickering Square to begin with!
Legend says that it was the venue for the last sword duel in London, although I couldn’t find anyone to tell me who the two duelers were or what they were dueling about! Yet, it is easy to believe it, because it is hidden away and quite close to the royal court of the time. The seclusion of the square made it a notorious bear baiting venue – but now it houses nothing but some potted plants, a sundial and a snapshot of the 16th century frozen in time!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The closest metro station to Pickering Place is Green Park, which is served by the Piccadilly Line. From there, it is a 6 minutes walk.
Britain’s Smallest Police Station
Any visit to London has to include a trip to Trafalgar Square and with all the other attractions it would be easy to miss the little building that is discreetly located in one corner of the square – this definitely is one of the cutest London hidden gems.
Calling it a building is a bit of a stretch really, especially considering the fact that the structure that used to be Britain’s Smallest Police Station was made out of a hollowed out ornamental lamp post! But apparently it was supposed to be able to hold up to two prisoners, or at least one policeman with a direct line to Scotland Yard.
There is a little conspiracy surrounding its construction as there was originally some objection to a police presence in the square, which being in the center of London has been host to many public demonstrations and protests over the year. It would be nice if this little police station was dressed up and opened to the public in some way – basically used as more than a storage closet but for now it is fun to just peer through the windows and imagine a policeman inside!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Britain’s Smallest Police Station is located in Trafalgar Square.
As I mentioned already, I love the outdoors in all shapes and forms, but there is nothing more beautiful to me than flowers in full bloom – whether it is in the wild or in a garden somewhere! And Isabella Plantation takes that idea to a whole new level with a 40 acre woodland garden that is home to 100 different varieties of azaleas, 50 species of rhododendrons and more than 125 hybrid rhododendrons varieties. This is one of the true London hidden gems!
The best time to visit Isabella Plantation is obviously in spring and the beginning of summer, when the majority of the flowers will be in bloom. But thanks to a few evergreen varieties of both flowers and trees, little ponds and mini lakes scattered throughout the plantation – it is beautiful year round and always worth a visit. Last year I was lucky enough to see the plantation in what was probably the most vivid display in years, and the best part is that it is completely free!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Isabella Plantation is located inside Richmond Park. It is a bit of a way to get there but I promise you it is worth it. Take the Piccadilly Line, westbound, and get off at Earl’s Court. From there, hop on a District Line train to Putney Bridge Station. Then, take bus n. 85 heading to Warren Road Coombe, from where it is a 15 minutes walk.
Final Thoughts On London Hidden Gems
London is old, and dates back all the way to the Roman times – so there is a lot of history in this beautiful city. And with many years to explore it I found many more London hidden gems that I will never forget, although I am pretty sure that there are many other treasures I walked right past! But it just goes to show that no matter how well known and popular a destination is, there are secrets waiting to be discovered everywhere you go! As I have said throughout this post, make sure to hit these London hidden gems before everyone else discovers them!
Have you ever been to London? What’s your favorite part of the city?
Further readings about London
Planning a trip to London? Make sure to check out my other posts:
- How To Make The Most Of London In A Day
- How To See London In 2 Days
- A Perfect Itinerary To See London In 3 Days
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days London
- The Best 5 Days London Itinerary
- 15 Great Day Trips From London
- 5 Easy Ways Of Getting London Dungeon Tickets
- How To Get London Eye Tickets
- How To Get Madame Tussauds London Tickets And Skip The Lines
- How To Get Tower Of London Tickets
- Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of London