Hidden London – Uncovering the lesser known sites of London town
I have always had a huge love and admiration for London and my significant other and I tend to spend 4-5 weeks each summer in Devon enjoying valuable rest and relaxation and immersing ourselves in English country life. Nothing quite beats wandering to the local pub for a roast dinner, or sipping a glass of Pimms in the beer garden; munching on fish & chips down at the beach or pulling on wellies and wandering through the fields in the drizzle, reading up on the latest antics of the Royal family ….. Then when I am over the countryside I head back to one of the most exciting cities in the world to get my urban fix and my very necessary dose of all things ‘London’.
The city of London stole my heart even before I travelled there. There was no rhyme nor reason for this just a knowledge that I needed to go there and that it would fit me like a glove – and it did from my first visit over 30 years ago, right through to today. From Camden to Kensington and everywhere in between, London’s diverse districts have particular personalities but all retain the Big Smoke’s energetic approach to life and its quirky charm.
It feels like the world is here. London is as cosmopolitan as it is British, with people from around the world drawn to the city. Such diversity has seen London become a place of endless possibilities.
Hotels can be expensive (it is one of the most expensive cities on earth), however sightseeing can often be deliciously affordable. Most state and council-owned museums are free to enter – and this includes the likes of the British Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum, amongst many. Not forgetting the array of markets that are ripe to be explored on foot: Borough market, Broadway market, Columbia Road market, Brick Lane market and Portobello Road markets just to name a few. This city is is a shopper’s paradise and it costs nothing to window shop in Bond Street!
Lots of us will have visited London over the years and think we know it inside out – but this city is the gift that just keeps on giving and you will never see it all!
For this blog I’ve asked Zoe our London based Diva to give us 5 favourite lesser known sites to visit in London and here are her suggestions (which I thoroughly concur with).
The Wallace Collection
A free national museum displaying superb works of art in an historic London town house in Manchester Square, the former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford. It comprises an extensive collection of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th centuries with important holdings of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, arms and armour, porcelain and Old Master paintings arranged into 30 galleries. Enjoy viewing works by Titian, Canaletto, Rembrandt and Gainsborough, Hals’ ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ and Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’, four armouries and wonderful Renaissance treasures. Afterwards you can dine in the beautiful glazed courtyard restuarant.
Free Admission – Open 7 days a week, 10am – 5pm
The Wallace Collection
London W1U 3BN
Telephone +44 (0)207 563 9500
Kew Gardens, London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage site, is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Home to the world’s most diverse collection of living plants and a scientific research centre of international renown, it’s the perfect day out. Discover beautiful glasshouses including the iconic Palm House and its exotic rainforest; the Princess of Wales Conservatory which invites you to explore 10 of the world’s climatic zones; and the Waterlily House with its amazing, giant lily pads.
Visitors love the 59ft (18m) high Treetop Walkway, which soars into the tree canopy offering a bird’s-eye view of the gardens. Enjoy a stroll along the Great Broad Walk Borders, home to more than 60,000 plants, and step into history at Kew Palace, the former summer residence of King George III. Kew Gardens is less than 30 minutes from central London, and easily reached by road, rail, and London Underground.
Gardens open at 10am every day
Royal Botanic Gardens,
London TW9 3AE
Telephone +44 (0)20 8332 5655
Just as its name suggests, Little Venice is London’s answer to the famous Italian city. Although not far from congested roads and the commuters streaming out of Paddington Station, Little Venice is an oasis of peace and tranquillity. It’s thought to have been so-named by the poet, Robert Browning.
Dozens of narrow boats, day trip boats and water cafés line this calm stretch where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal. The famous Little Venice mansions provide a stunning backdrop. And the triangular pool, complete with willow tree, is home to several floating businesses such as the Waterside Cafe, London Waterbus, a floating art gallery and a hotel boat.
The area comes alive in the summer months as Londoners jump on canal boats or walk along the riverside to nearby Camden or Regent’s Park.
Directly North of Paddington station.
off Blomfield Road Pool of Little Venice
Sir John Soane’s Museum
When he wasn’t designing notable buildings (among them the original Bank of England), Sir John Soane (1753-1837) obsessively collected art, furniture and architectural ornamentation. In the nineteenth century, he turned his house into a museum to which, he said, ‘amateurs and students’ should have access. The result is this perfectly amazing place and one of London’s finest public museums.
More than 20,000 architectural drawings and antiquities, including the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti, sit alongside works by Turner, Canaletto and Piranesi at Sir John Soane’s Museum. At Soane’s request, the house has been left untouched since his death – almost 180 years ago. The house museum is located in Holborn, London, adjacent to Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Wednesdays to Sundays, 10.00 – 17.00
Last entry at 16.30
Admission is free
Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7405 2107
The Marylebone branch of Daunt Books will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time (or into a Harry Potter film!) as you get lost in the beautiful wooden interior and floors of books. Though not strictly a travel bookshop, this beautiful Edwardian store will always be seen first and foremost as a travel specialist thanks to its elegant three-level back room complete with oak balconies, viridian-green walls, conservatory ceiling and stained-glass window.
It is home to row upon row of guide books, maps, language reference, history, politics, travelogue and related fiction organised by country. France, Britain, Italy and the United States are particularly well represented; go downstairs to find more far-flung destinations. Travel aside, Daunt is also a first-rate stop for literary fiction, biography, gardening and much more.
83 Marylebone High Street
London W1U 4QW
Nearest station: Baker Street or Bond Street
Telephone +44 (0) 20 7224 2295
And just in case you are looking for others, here are 2 bonus suggestions:
The Thames Path
The Thames is home to many of London’s treasures, not many of them hidden, but the 40-mile-long Thames. Path has many quieter spots to be discovered. The best way to explore is to hire a bike and cycle the length of the path, with public beaches, one of Charles Dickens’ favourite pubs (The Prospect of Whitby) and the village of Rotherhithe just some of the highlights to discover.
Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park
The Kyoto Japanese Garden is a hidden gem wrapped in another hidden gem: Holland Park. The beautiful park is tucked away in smart Kensington and has plenty of its own hidden corners, with winding paths, statues, peacocks, an opera house and an orangery, alongside the tranquil Kyoto Gardens.
Any other you would like to share, please drop me a comment as we are always happy to hear about your experiences and share with our readers.
Have a great week,