The internet is filled with ideas of things to do in London — especially for first time or occasional visitors. What about you who have spent YEARS traveling to London? Oh sure, when you have guests, you hit all the typical tourist venues. I am not discounting those royal palaces and museums — they are fabulous. Had I been to London dozens of times before or had the chance to visit for an extended stay, I would want to visit areas that are obscure. Places that are unique and less crowded are filled with London’s history and charm.
Thomas Moore III, founder of London Connection has been traveling to London all of his life. He was kind enough to share some of his favorite hidden spots that will keep you (and me) busy for at least a month.
1. Kenwood House was built as an elegant residence in the 17th century. Its many owners added to the original home. Edward Guinness, the Lord of Iveagh filled it with the finest paintings including Vermeer and Rembrandt. He was the final resident and willed the estate and contents to England upon his death in 1927. Since then, it has been open to the public and is now cared for by the English Heritage foundation. There is a shop and cafe, and tours available. Entrance to the house is FREE.
2. Visit the museum at the Bank of England and hold a real bar of gold. Since it is a place of business, formal tours aren’t given of the actual bank. But step inside and you will feel you are in the scene from Mary Poppins when the children visited the “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.”
3. Church of All Souls at the head of Regents Street was designed by John Nash, the favorite architect of King George IV. Walk by to see the beautiful example of neoclassical style, or go inside to see the fabulous organ. They have a well known orchestra and choir, and it would be worth going to their Sunday worship service just to hear the music!
4. Tour the British Telecom Tower. Access is very limited now, so check ahead if you want to go up inside the tower for special events allowing entrance that are hosted there.
5. The Silver Vaults are stunning to behold. The shiny treasures seem to be endless and most are available for purchase.
6. Walk past the Rose Garden at the southeast corner of Hyde Park, especially in the summer months. As you come out of the Hyde Park Corner tube station, just head across the street to Hyde Park, and you’ll be there. Sit on a bench and soak in the beauty.
7. Jewels at Victoria and Albert Museum — you can spend hours just looking at the tiaras. This is the only area in the V & A Museum where you can’t take photos. I found out through experience; the jewel guard was very kind with his reminder/reprimand.
8. Guards Chapel near St. James Park is the only Royal Military Chapel in London. You can visit M-F from 10am to 4pm, or attend one of their music recitals or concerts.
9. In the summer, it gets extremely hot in the Middle East, so the wealthy ship their most expensive cars to London to escape the scorching heat of their own countries. The cars come out on Saturday night like a spontaneous exhibition. You can stand at the corner on Sloane Street in Knightsbridge and watch the fabulous fleets worth 1-2 million POUNDS as they come rolling by. It is like a parade of the finest vehicles — some wrapped in GOLD!
10. Read the London Connection blog about places to visit that celebrate Queen Victoria's life. Choose the most interesting to you, then take a day-long tour based on reign of Queen Victoria. If you don't want to go it alone, I recommend Marilyn Collis, a blue badge tour guide that has worked with London Connection for years.
11. Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London is worth the trip to England! Apply for tickets well in advance; they are booked almost a year ahead. Get your tickets, then book a trip around them! You will have that rare chance to walk with the guards as they lock the tower for the night. A real treat.
12. South Bank graffiti walls near Waterloo Bridge — see the legal graffiti art and the skateboarders along the South Bank of the Thames.
13. Public art by David Shillinglaw at Brick Lane on the East end of London — Shillinglaw is a well known contemporary public artist. His murals can be found in Denmark, Jordan, Gambia, Netherlands, Cape Town, and Paris.
14. Visit St. Margaret's Church next to Westminster Abbey. Step inside to see where the Parliamentarians attend church and have their marriages.
15. Burial vaults in the lower level of St. Paul’s Cathedral have a reverence all their own. Note the memorials to Lord Nelson, Duke Wellington, Sir Christopher Wren, and many others.
16. Buxton Memorial fountain is a monument to those who abolished slavery anywhere the British flag flew. You will find it next to the Palace of Westminster in the Victoria Tower Gardens.
17. Queen Mary’s Gardens in Regents Park opened in 1934 — visit in May and June when the roses are in bloom. This is London’s largest collection of roses, with about 12,000 rose bushes planted. Many other flower varieties are there, as well. A fitting tribute to the elegant and stately grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II.
18. Gondola above the Thames at O2 Dome (Millennium Dome) runs every day but Christmas and during routine maintenance. The time it takes to cross varies, depending on the time of day; the gondolas slow down in the evening for a more memorable experience. The ride is wheelchair accessible and very affordable, with a discount given if you use your Oyster card. And good news, they will also transport your bicycle with you across the Thames.
19. The Fan Museum in Greenwich celebrates the history of fans and fan making. You won’t believe how much there is to learn! Closed on Mondays. Have afternoon tea in their lovely Orangery.
20. Spend some time at Wartski on Grafton Street to see the Faberge. They are the Royal Jewellers, so there are many breathtaking pieces to view.
21. Queen’s House, the masterpiece palace in Greenwich designed by Inigo Jones. Construction of the palace began in 1617 for Queen Anne as a gift from her husband King James I, supposedly as an apology for swearing in front of her. Only the first floor was completed when Anne died, and the building ceased for a decade until her son Charles I finished it for his wife, Henrietta Maria.
22. HMS Belfast was in service from World War II until 1963. It is now located on the Thames South Bank and open daily for tours. A wonderful way to remember the “Greatest Generation,” as Tom Brokaw would say.
23. Find the burial site of a Nazi dog that belonged to the German ambassador Leopold von Hoesch in the 1930’s. Giro, a German Shepherd, is buried in the gardens of Carlton House.
24. Southwark Cathedral is where Shakespeare went to church and his brother is buried. It was the first Gothic style church in London, built sometime in the 12th century.
25. John Keats House on Hampstead Heath was awarded “Best Hidden Gem” in 2016. The former residence of the romantic poet is now a museum and literary center. Open Wednesday through Sunday, there are family activities and tours of the home that give insight into the life and writing of Keats. Visiting the garden is free.
26. Middle Temple Church is one of the Inns of Court. The circular design was built in the 12th century to resemble the temple in Jerusalem. This was the holy center for the Knights Templar, the sacred order of monks founded in 1118 to protect Christians traveling to the Holy Land. Special events, worship services, and sacred music are open to visitors.
27. Ham House on the south bank of the River Thames in Richmond was built in the 17th century for the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, and the gardens still produce the fresh kitchen crops. The estate has been featured in many recent films, including Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, and Young Victoria.
28. Kensal Green Cemetery was established in 1833 as the first commercial cemetery in the area. With a central chapel and a picturesque colonnade, a walk through the almost 80 acres allows you to see many styles of architecture that honor those buried there.
29. Barbican Conservatory is a hidden tropical oasis in the heart of London. See exotic plants, trees, and fish and then enjoy afternoon tea there.
30. St. John’s Lodge Gardens at Regents Park is a private residence, but visitors are allowed to enter the small gate on the Inner Circle near the park office.
31. Imperial War Museum in London features experiences of those who served in battle from World War I to current conflicts. The museum is open every day from 10-6, and the admission is free.
32. Visit Westminster Hall as part of the tour of Parliament. Oh the stories this hall could tell — everything from coronation banquets to funeral services. Note the plaques on the floor denoting where royals and dignitaries have been honored as they lie-in-state. When the huge rafters were recently cleaned, they found tennis balls lodged in the beams by Henry VIII from 500 YEARS BEFORE.
35. Finally, even though you have probably done this a dozen times, climb the dome of St. Paul’s once again. See the BEST VIEWS OF LONDON from the lantern just to be reminded of the grandeur.
Whenever you are in London, there is always something unique to see. Hopefully, you now have a few NEW ideas that have you itching to return to London at the earliest possibility. London Connection can find your perfect accommodations filled with home-like atmospheres and conveniences. You will experience London as Londoners do. I HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE.