Last Updated on 15th December 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Where do you escape the crowds in London? How do you see quirky sites without the queues? Well, the good news is that there are plenty of hidden gems, lying around the city and just waiting to be discovered. Here are 10 secret spots in London you won’t want to miss!
#1 Temple District, London EC4Y 7BB
This set of passageways, secret alleyways, and churches are located in the very heart of the capital, just minutes away from the embankment of the Thames River. The history of the secluded courtyard, Temple Church, and the other ancient buildings date back hundreds of years and even has links to the Knights Templar.
This order is even said to have built Temple Church themselves. You can’t go wrong by dedicating an hour or two to wandering the pedestrian-only streets, visiting the Church and snapping pictures of the secret gardens that make up this tiny little spot in central London. Nearby, this free and self-guided walking tour of London will help you explore another side of the city.
#2 St Dunstan-in-the-East, Dunstan’s Hill, London EC3R 5DD
Once a grand church designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral), the church was sadly decimated during the Blitz in WWII. Today, all that remains of this once grand place of worship is its spire. The rest of the church has been transformed into a beautiful oasis in the heart of the city. Set amongst the skyscrapers, few people know about this tranquil spot- even the locals!
#3 Leadenhall Market, Gracechurch St, London EC3V 1LT
Best visited earlier in the day, so as to avoid the crowds, the beautiful Victorian architecture of Leadenhall Market is worth a visit, if only to see the amazing architecture and beautiful tones of the buildings. Built on the site of the original Roman heart of ‘Londinium’, today the covered market is home to all kinds of vintage boutiques and independent shops and was even featured in Harry Potter.
The history of trading and market stalls here date back all the way back to the 14th-century, making this one of the oldest markets in the entire city. For even more history close to Leadenhall Market, another hidden gem of the City of London is that of the Temple of Mithras. Long forgotten, a recent restoration project has seen the Roman remains once again opened up for the public to admire.
#4 Sir John Soane Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP
This museum is all kinds of bizarre, quirky and offbeat. Easily one of my favourite attractions in the city (though I may be biased as I used to volunteer here), the Sir John Soane’s Museum is well worth a visit if you love art, history of anything Classical. The collections are housed in a 19th Century building which was created to showcase all of the arts and ornaments at their very best.
Upon Soane’s death in 1837, he bequeathed the house and the collections housed within it to the Nation, through passing an act of Parliament. One of the very best things about the museum is that there is a no phone and no photography rule, meaning that you can really spend your time enjoying the exhibits- all without any distraction! For more information on the area, here’s my complete guide to Holborn!
#5 The smallest police station in the UK, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
The smallest police station in the UK (if not all of Europe) is located in the very heart of where you’d least expect- Trafalgar Square! Installed in an old lampost in the 1920s to keep an eye on protesters, today the station has been converted into a broom cupboard! That being said, you can still peek in the windows while passing on the way to the National Gallery…
#6 St Bartholomew’s the Great, Cloth Fair, London EC1A 7JQ
Of all the secret spots in London on this list, the church of St Bartholomew’s the Great may well be my favourite. Situated in a little-known area, despite being so central, St Bartholomew’s the Great is one of the oldest churches in the city and is home to stained glass windows, beautiful carvings, and even its own set of cloisters.
Dating all the way back to Norman times, the church you see today was founded in 1123. Wander the cloisters (which house a coffee shop- though currently closed until further notice), and see architecture dating back hundreds of years. Nearby, you’ll find hidden London gems such as the Golden Boy of Pye Corner and the Charterhouse.
#7 ‘Roman’ Bath House off the Strand, 5 Strand Ln, London WC2R 1AP
Most likely a ‘fake Roman bath house‘, the Bath House just off of the Strand is a quirky piece of history. Although not much to look at (the term ‘bath’ is a little grand for what is simply a basin created from cement), the bath is still worth a look, if only to learn more about its rich history.
#8 Strand/ Aldwych Station, 171 Strand, London WC2R 1EP
Some secret spots in London are so well hidden that they are rarely in use. They’re so forgotten that hundreds, if not thousands of people pass by each day, without even realising they even exist. The abandoned tube station of Strand/ Aldwych is one of these places.
And it’s just one of many. After all, throughout the city, there are a series of disused and abandoned tube stations. While many of them are all but boarded up, some are still in use as film props or even guided tours. The abandoned tube station of Aldwych has been featured in TV and film productions such as Sherlock, 28 Weeks Later and Mr Selfridge.
#9 Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE
Once home to acclaimed writer, Dr Samuel Johnson, this townhouse is an amazing example of late 17th-Century architecture at its finest. Located deep down a secluded little alleyway behind the district of Temple, you’ll find the Grade I building. In fact, it was in one of the rooms in the heart of number 17, Gough Square, that Johnson composed the dictionary in one of its earliest forms.
#10 The Tulip Stairs, Queen’s House, Romney Rd, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
If you’re wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day, then you might consider heading East of the city and towards Greenwich. This beautiful district of London is home to unusual London attractions such as the Greenwich Observatory, the Cutty Sark Ship, and even the Prime Meridian Time Line (the exact point zero from which all times on Earth are measured).
For those who are searching for cultural attractions, the National Maritime Museum is the largest museum of its kind, while the Queen’s House is all that remains of a once Royal Residence. Today, it’s free to visit many of these museums and a wander inside the Queen’s House will guarantee the chance to spot the Tulip Stairs, the oldest set of self-supporting spiral stairs in Britain.
#11 The Secrets of Hampton Court Palace
Though King Henry VIII’s Palace is undoubtedly one of the more popular day trips from London, the former Royal Residence has a history dating back well over five hundred years. And thus, hidden gems and secret locations are never too far away when it comes to this small snippet of history.
For example, did you know that the largest and oldest vine in the world can be found in a greenhouse on the palace grounds? Or that the largely forgotten Queen Anne is the other famous monarch to have resided in Hampton Court? During her reign, Anne added an entire Baroque wing to the chapel! Elsewhere in the Palace, the story of the Midnight Flit deserves to be heard…
#12 Gordon’s Wine Bar
For a drink with friends or a romantic date night, there is no other wine bar in the city I can recommend more than Gordon’s. Easily one of the best-kept secrets of the Embankment area of London, this jewel of a bar is set against the backdrop of historic wine barrel cellars, this drinking establishment sells only one thing: wine.
While the intimate tables inside are former wine barrels, there’s also ample seating outdoors for the warmer summer evenings. If you’re feeling a little peckish, then there are also cheese and cold cut boards on offer. Otherwise, be sure to arrive earlier on in the evening rather than later as the small space ends to fill up fast!
#13 Word on the Water, London’s only ‘book barge’
Floating on a canal close to King’s Cross, Word on the Water is easily one of the quirkiest and most beautiful bookshops in London. Open seven days a week, the permanent position of this boat close to Granary Square is actually a fairly new phenomenon. In times gone by, problems with licensing meant that the boat had to move around on an incredibly regular basis!
#14 Cittie of Yorke
Set along High Holborn, many visitors don’t notice the tiny entryway that leads onto a dark corridor, which then leads into the Cittie of Yorke, a ‘ye olde’ pub in the heart of Zone one. Though this pub may look ancient, it may well surprise you to know that, while there’s been a pub on site since the 14th-century, the current building was only constructed in the 1920s, using parts of the medieval pub.
Wander in today and you can expect to be greeted by the longest bar in the UK! Serving pints at such a reasonable price you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal in central London, the pub also boasts intimate booths where you can enjoy a date night or catch up with friends.
#15 The Old Curiosity Shop
The oldest shop in continuous operation in central London can be found in the form of The Old Curiosity Shop. Located in the Holborn district of the city, just a stone’s throw away from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, this shop is juxtaposed against the ever-so-modern architecture of LSE University. Now operating as a luxury shoe shop, it’s alleged that the shop was once frequented by Charles Dickens himself.
#16 The Ferryman’s Seat
Close to the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, there’s a particularly unusual piece of flint in an otherwise unremarkable piece of wall. Wedged into the side of a restaurant, it’s alleged that this is the final ‘Ferryman’s Street‘ and a throwback to a time when the only way to cross the River Thames would have been to pay ferrymen (or ‘wherrymen’ as they were often called) to transport passengers back and forth across the two sides of the water.