When you visit London next, why not wander off the beaten path? Exploring the capital for yourself is the fastest way to get to know the city’s quirky sites, historic corners and local haunts. Not sure where to start? Ditch the typical tourist itinerary and read on to learn more about London’s best kept secret spots.
1. The Thames Path
The Thames is one of London’s most famous sites and home to many of the city’s treasures, few of them hidden. One of the best ways to appreciate this iconic landmark is to hire a bike and cycle the 40-mile Thames Path. This picturesque route has many quieter spots to be discovered, with highlights including public beaches, the charming village of Rotherhithe, and the Prospect of Whitby, which was one of Charles Dickens’ favourite pubs.
2. Magpie & Stump
From gastropubs to ye olde watering holes that are centuries old, visiting a quintessentially English pub is a local experience you don’t want to miss when you’re in London. Magpie & Stump, one of the city’s oldest drinking establishments, has been around for more than 500 years. In the 1700s this pub was one of the most renowned mughouses in London, with guests visiting for a pint of twopenny ale (served in their own mug) as well as a prime view of hangings outside Newgate Prison.
3. Dennis Severs’ House
This is definitely one of the city’s more idiosyncratic attractions. A dark and strange ‘still-life drama’, Dennis Severs’ House attempts to bring the past alive. Have a wander around this artist’s former home, which has been presented as if it has just been left by an 18th-century family. Leftover food and recently slept in beds and the creak of footsteps on wood make this one of London’s most original immersive experiences.
4. St. Giles-In-The-Field Church
If it’s spine-tingling sightseeing you’re after, make St Giles your first stop. The 1665 Great Plague started here, with thousands of victims buried in pits in the church graveyard. St Giles was also the site where Anthony Babington and 13 co-conspirators were hanged and disemboweled in September 1586 for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I, so Mary, Queen of Scots could take the throne.
5. Shoreditch street art
Urban art adds a splash of colour to city streets, and London is no exception. Shoreditch is one of the best places to take in the capital’s vibrant street art scene, with alternative art by Banksy, Eine, Sweet Toof and Stik, among others. Just off Brick Lane, Heneage Street is the place to check out a famous wall mural by Sheffield-based street artist Phlegm. On Hewett Street, not far from the Shoreditch High Street Overground, you can see a handsome cowboy sporting a Stetson and a handlebar moustache, which was created by LA-based artist El Mac.
6. Covent Garden
While not exactly off the beaten path, this district’s sleazy history is sure to surprise. From the 16th to the 18th century Covent Garden was famous for its sordid nighttime happenings, with Sir John Fielding, the magistrate of the Bow Street Police Court, nicknaming this sex trade hotspot “the great square of Venus”.
7. The Gun
Steeped in history, The Gun is a riverside pub dating back to the early 1700s. When Lord Horatio Nelson acquired a property just up the road later that century, he became a pub regular, using an upstairs room for his secret trysts with Lady Emma Hamilton. The Gun also has a long association with smugglers – when you’re there, don’t forget to check out the spy-hole in the secret circular staircase, which was used to watch out for the ‘Revenue Men’.
8. Little Venice
London’s answer to the picturesque Italian city it’s named after, Little Venice is home to riverside cafes, pubs and eateries. This area is best enjoyed in the summer months when Londoners jump on canal boats or stroll alongside the water to nearby Camden or Regent’s Park.
9. The Roof Terrace at One New Change
This public roof terrace is the best place to see St Paul’s Cathedral in all its glory. Open until midnight every day, the 6th floor of this shopping center boasts panoramic views of the famous cathedral as well as the London skyline. There’s also a restaurant, so order yourself a cheeky cocktail and enjoy this not-to-be-missed lookout spot!