London’s 9 Best Secret Sights To Visit On Your Next Trip
From secret bars to hidden ruins, here’s the London beyond the tall hats and big clocks.
London has been around since the days of the Roman Empire, and has for centuries served as a nexus of cultural and commercial power. Today however, when visiting the seat of British power, it can be difficult to surpass the bus tours, tourist pubs and Union Jack-spangled merchandise.
#2 Thames Clipper Down To Greenwich
Greenwich is not only the meeting place of the planet’s east and west hemispheres; it’s packed with unusual activities and steeped in London’s history. From the Royal Observatory to Greenwich Market, there’s a wealth of cultural experiences to enjoy, as well as a wide selection of pubs and restaurants.
If you want to visit Greenwich by way of spectacular London views, catch an MBNA Clipper down the Thames to literally beats the bus by miles.
#3 Libreria Bookshop
If you’ve had your fill of Waterstones, taking a jaunt down Hanbury Street will bring you across the sober façade of Libreria, a stylish bookstore that does things a little differently.
The brainchild of entrepreneur Rohan Silva, Libreria doesn’t have a fiction section or a biography section, though it stocks such books in spades. Rather, you’ll find books arranged in such novel categories as “mothers”, “love”, and “enchantment for the disenchanted”. The whole store is setup to encourage browsing and literary exploration, as a kind of antidote to the clinical suggestion algorithms employed by Amazon.com.
Surely there are worse ways to lose a drizzly afternoon.
65 Hanbury St London E1 5JP
#4 The Ruins Of St Dunstan-In-The-East
Built almost one thousand years ago, the Church of St Dunstan has seen a lot in its time. Damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, a steeple was added following repairs, though it was never rebuilt after Nazi Germany scored a direct hit during the Blitz of 1941.
Instead, its remains were converted into a public garden in 1967. Open to the masses from 8am to dusk, the garden’s stone arches and creeping vines give it a tranquil, fairytale quality – an atmosphere incongruous with its heart-of-London surrounds.
St Dunstan’s Hill, London, EC3R 5DD
#5 Stringray Globe Café
If you’re out in the city and growing heartily sick of tourist-trap food, you’d be hard-pressed to find better local fare than Stringray Globe Cafe.
This unassuming Italian restaurant is a favourite for peckish locals, who prize its quality pizzas and affordable, un-London prices. For the health-minded among us, the East End pizzeria also sports a celebrated range of gluten-free products.
109 Columbia Road, London E2 7RL
#6 18 Stafford Terrace
The family home of late-Victorian cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne is seemingly stuck in the 1870s, having been carefully preserved by Sambourne’s descendants. The house is decorated in the “house beautiful” style; think curios, cabinets, and silk rugs from the Orient (which in those days basically meant Turkey).
With costumed tours available, this is an intimate and authentic way to experience London’s cultural history.
18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London W8 7BH, UK
#7 The Nightjar
Like any good Prohibition-era speakeasy, you can only find the Nightjar if you know what to look for. In this case, it’s a plain wooden door squeezed between two cafés.
Should you have a reservation, past the door you’ll find a wood-panelled wonderland of old-school cool. Live jazz and theatrically appointed cocktails laid out in a chronologically arranged menu will leave you absolutely certain you’ve entered one of London’s greatest hidden gems.
129 City Road, London, EC1V 1JB
#8 Hatchards Bookshop
When this Piccadilly bookstore was first opened, Queen Victoria was still monarch and Australia was little more than a collection of shacks on Sydney Cove. The coats of arms and Royal Warrants stamped over the entrance give it a strong air of nostalgia.
Walking into Hatchards Bookshop – which is in fact London’s oldest – you’ll find yourself in a booklover’s paradise, with rows of ceiling-high shelves, squashy leather sofas, and a carved wooden staircase to take you up through the shop’s five storeys.
Hatchards stocks most contemporary books, as well as some rare first editions and signed copies. If you prefer a hearty dose of history with your literature, this might be the place for you.
187 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9LE, UK
#9 The Fake Number 10 Downing Street
Want a selfie at the Prime Minister’s residence? Fear not – there’s a nearly identical façade located at 10 Adam Street, The Strand.
There are of course a few differences, such as the lack of wrought iron fencing, and the fact that the Adam Street facsimile’s door is made of plain old wood rather than blast-proof steel. But we’re trying to fool Instagram here, not Mi6, so it should do the trick.
7-10 Adam Street, The Strand, WC2N 6AA
(Lead image: The Nightjar)