Curiosities

13 Unusual and Secret(ish) Things to Do in London

London is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, if not the most. Every corner hides a story to be discovered. Every new building is a challenge for a city which has evolved organically. And there’s so much history embedded within its walls that the fun facts are uncountable. With so much going on so quickly, the unusual has become the norm.

As many of you know, I’ve been exploring every corner of London while writing Architectour London Guide. I’ve visited some of the most amazing places in the English capital and today I want to share with you my favorites. If you are planning a trip to London soon, continue reading.

Which is your favorite?


1. Spot the bearded woman at Westminster Abbey
A statue of Saint Wilgefortis stands in the Lady Chapel of Henry VII and is notable for being the only statue in the Abbey of a bearded woman. Legend has it that Saint Wilgefortis prayed to be made repulsive in order to escape a forced marriage. Her prayers were answered and she was given a beard (a massive one). Now she is the patron saint of women who wish to be liberated from abusive husbands. Well, don’t miss this statue, it will make you chuckle. 

Location:
20 Deans Yd (Google)
Admission: £20


2. Have a pint at an 19th Century Bank Hall
Built in 1893 as the Counting House, a magnificent banking hall in the middle of the City. You will be surprised to know that many of the old fixtures and fittings are still there but probably the most impressive: the chandeliers and high domed ceiling look as it used to look back in the day. The atmosphere is quite original too, as you’ll be surrounded by proper English businessmen in immaculate suits.

Location:
50 Cornhill (Google)
Admission: FREE


3. Surprise your special one with a movie night in the best cinema
If you are a movie addict, you will love watching the new releases from the amazingly confortable front row beds of the Electric Cinema. London has quite a few remarkable cinemas, being this the best one. Can’t explain if it’s the Notting Hill’s unique atmosphere or the red velvet furniture but coming here is quite a thing.

Location:
191 Portobello Rd (Google)
Admission: £35 (two people)


4. Buy an architecture book at London’s best designed book store
Selgas Cano Architects, best known for designing the Serpentine Pavilion of 2015, have other amazing buildings in London such as Second Home (what a design!) and this little and delightful book shop. I could spend hours and hours here, browsing anything from contemporary design to fashion. It’s specially charming on rainy days by the way!

Location:
65 Hanbury St (Google)
Admission: FREE


5. Witness Notting Hill’s fake houses
There’s a block of fake houses in the middle of beautiful Notting Hill. The Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway, had a route between Paddington and Bayswater and needed the demolition of 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens to keep the underground tunnels clear of smoke and steam. The exposed area was used by steam locomotives to let off steam and smoke, which may not have been too pleasant for the neighbouring houses.

Location:
24 Leinster Gardens (Google)
Admission: FREE


6. Take a friend out for coffee in the crypt of a church
If you want to impress your friends, take them to the crypt of Saint Martin-in-the-fields, just at Trafalgar Square. There has been a church on the site since the medieval period. The church, right in the middle of Trafalgar square, is famous for its work with homeless people and the crypt houses a café which hosts jazz concerts whose profits support the programs of the church.

Location: Trafalgar Square (Google)
Admission: FREE


7. Discover the real location of the Globe Theatre
Almost everyone gets disappointed to find out the present Globe theatre wasn’t built in the 16th century nor it’s located on the original site. Some even chuckle when they realize they’ve paid £16 for a tour of it. Well, don’t be disappointed because we’ll share with you the original site in which a little mark states where it used to be.

Location: Park St (Google)
Admission: FREE


8. Smell the flowers of this quirky florist
Surprisingly this triangular-shaped pavilion designed by CZWG Architects is both a flower shop and public toilets (weird!). The flower shop is a true wonder hidden in between streets on Notting Hill so next time you visit the area, don’t miss it.

Location: 222 Westbourne Grove (Google)
Admission: FREE


9. Meditate at the most beautiful Hindu Temple in town
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is not exactly in the middle of London. However, it’s worth a visit regardless if you are a hindi or not. If you have been in India, you’ll appreciate straight away how clean and white the temple is. It was built entirely according to ancient Vedic architectural texts – using no structural steel whatsoever.

Location: 105-119 Brentfield Rd (Google)
Admission: FREE


10. Scare a child with this park’s spooky inhabitants
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs section of the park is free to visit so if you have family under 10 years old, they’ll thank you after you show them this park. They were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, pre-dating the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by six years. The funny thing is that some of them aren’t accurate at all as the bones were misinterpreted and they look especially weird.

Location: Thicket Road (Google)
Admission: FREE


11. Attend a public court in this amazing Gothic building
The Royal Courts of Justice is a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic style built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. The courts within the building are open to the public meaning anyone can attend court.

Location: Strand (Google)
Admission: FREE


12. Pretend to live in a Victorian House
Home to the Sambourne family, 18 Stafford Terrace is a unique example of a late Victorian townhouse. It survives with almost all of its furniture and fittings intact and it’s the only original Victorian house in London open to the public. The way everything is kept is as if a friend was inviting you to their home for a cup of tea. It’s still a quite secret place so rush before everyone discovers it.

Location: 18 Stafford Terrace (Google)
Admission:  £8


13. Swim in a Zaha Hadid Olympic Pool
The architectural concept of the London Aquatic Centre is inspired by the fluid geometries of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment that reflect the riverside landscapes of the Olympic Park. After hosting the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games, the stunning venue is now open for you to use – and not many people know this.

Location: 18 Stafford Terrace (Google)
Admission:  £4.95


Check these and other amazing places in London on Architectour Guide

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21 thoughts on “13 Unusual and Secret(ish) Things to Do in London

  1. Pingback: 12 Sites To Take The Best Skyline Pictures in London | Virginia Duran Blog

  2. Pingback: The Free Architecture Guide of London (PDF) | Virginia Duran Blog

    • Oh Susanne! Your words bring me so much excitement, you made my day 😊
      August is the date. Hopefully you will be inspired by some of these places and you will draw more ✍🏼

      Like

  3. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of nights in the Linley Sambourne house when it was first gifted to the Victorian Society. They liked to have someone there just to keep an eye on it. It was a little creepy, to be honest, but it was brilliant when it opened to the public and so little was changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t believe you did, it’s such a hidden little gem that very few people have ever heard about it. Everything is still the same! I can’t help to think if our current houses will ever become museums…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved your list, Virginia. I have a special place in my heart for St Martin-in-the-Fields because it is one of the first churches I visited when I first arrived in London. The Notting Hill cinema is a real treat. It was such a lovely evening – and so very old world except that we were not in evening dresses and tuxes 😉 My other favourites are the floating bookshop, Word on the Water, which is now at King’s Cross, at the bottom of the stairs leading to the canal. And I heart Gordon’s Wine Bar in Southbank too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Arundhati! How was the moving week? Are you in New York as we speak?
      It’s so funny that you knew about Word on the Water. My sister used to study in St Martins, that’s how I discovered it. I didn’t know about Gordon’s Wine Bar though, will definitely try when I go back 🙂

      St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of my favorites. I try to never return to a place with somebody different so I always remember with whom I was the first time. One of my best friends enjoyed that cake with me so it also has a dear place in my memory.

      Maybe when I start the visits in New York we can share a cool spot like that one 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello you, no I am quite still in Northampton, going berserk with the entire phase of moving and packing. The apartment looks like a battleground. Books all over the place, cutlery-crockery, clothes, ornaments and boxes all over the place. We fly on Saturday! Gosh cannot imagine not being here but well that’s life.

        I can imagine that you hold memories of a place with certain people. It always is so special because it brings back a smile or the particular emotion associated with the place. I saw Word on Water in various locations but now it seems that it shall be a permanent fixture in King’s Cross. It is delightful! And you think you might love Gordon’s Wine Bar. It is intimate and different. Just wine though and they top up the glasses quite well 😉

        I look forward to the last thought 😀 Here’s to the thought!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hey Virginia, I am still quite soaking up the English air through runs in my park here. We get onto the flight on Saturday. I gave away tons of books yet the movers packed some 7 large boxes of books. I suspect I might have to give some away in NY itself given that we will not be living in a mansion. How are your move plans coming along? xx

          Like

        • Oh I thought it was last Saturday! A few more days left then. I move back to Madrid for a month this Friday, so I feel you. I will do all the printing there so need to start getting everything ready. The post I am publishing in a while looks like if it’s just for you heheh (yes, it has to do with books!).

          Will you stay long in NY? We will be around 3-4 months.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Oooh. I shall come and have a look at your post then of course. Madrid is gorgeous. I have wonderful memories there including that of falling sick after lining up outside the del Prado for a free entrance and getting drenched in a freezing rain 😉 Printing your books will be such exciting stuff! All the best. May they look just as you envisage them. We shall be there for about a year for now. I shall hope to catch you in those 3-4 months then xx

          Like

        • Upside down! Gosh. I suppose you better keep it for later when you might find it amusing. That is a shame indeed. May this time be better and straight up. Let me pop over to your new post and cull some ideas.

          Liked by 1 person

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