You Didn’t Know Existed in London
Beyond the London Eye and the Big Ben, there lies a different side of London. This is the London that only the most in-the-know locals are aware of, and they keep it close to their chests. Put your exploring shoes on and get ready to discover some of London’s most offbeat secret locations.
St. Dunstan in the East
[N]ESTLED between the skyscrapers of Bank, this 12th-century church was largely destroyed during the Second World War, with only the north and south walls, the tower and steeple remaining. Instead of rebuilding, the church was turned into a public garden, featuring manicured lawns and leafy trees growing in between the ruins. Explore the ruins of the old church and read a book in this oasis of calm in the midst of bustling City.
Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
[T]HIS series of 30 dinosaur sculptures was unveiled in 1854, commissioned to accompany the Crystal Palace after it was moved to this location at the end of the Great London Exhibition of 1851. These were the first dinosaur models in the world, predating Darwin’s The Origin of Species. The models were created with what was then considered cutting-edge scientific knowledge, although they’ve since been proved to be inaccurate. You can visit the dinosaurs for free in Crystal Palace Park, and imagine what it was like to be a Victorian Londoner, experiencing the size and might of the dinosaurs for the first time.
Old Operating Theatre Museum
© Image Courtesy of Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
[I]N the attic of a Southwark church, at the top of a creaking wooden staircase, sits the UK’s oldest surviving purpose-built operating theatre. It was built in 1821 and saw dozens of surgeries conducted without the use of anaesthesia, with gruesome-looking tools that look more like torture instruments. If you listen closely, you might still hear the screams of the poor patients who once lay on this operating table…
[H]IDDEN underneath London’s busiest train station, the 300 metre-long Leake Street tunnel is a haven for graffiti artists. It first gained attention in 2008 when Banksy himself took on the tunnel as a canvas. Despite the nickname ‘The Banksy Tunnel’ sticking, the walls get painted over by various artists on a daily basis, so no artwork generally lasts more than a few days.
Victorian Pet Cemetery in Hyde Park
[I]N the heart of London’s most famous park lies a heartwarming tribute to our four-legged friends. The Victorian pet cemetery was started by a 19th-century gatekeeper, who buried his friends’ Maltese Terrier, Cherry, in his garden. The tradition continued, and by the time the cemetery was officially closed in 1903, there were 300 cats and dogs buried on its grounds.
Hill Garden Pergola, Hampstead Heath
[T]HE vanity project of Edwardian aristocrat Lord Leverhulme, the Pergola was built as a spectacular venue for garden parties and romantic strolls. An Italian paradise in the midst of London, the impressive structure, featuring pavilions and terraces, was created using the materials dug up during the extension of the Northern Line into Hampstead.
The Hardy Tree
[I]NSIDE the churchyard of St Pancras church, you’ll find a tree surrounded by dozens of old gravestones. They were placed there by Thomas Hardy when he was not yet a novelist, but an employee of the railroads. Hardy’s job was to exhume the remains of those buried in the churchyard to make way for the railroad. Not knowing what to do with the leftover gravestones, he arranged them around a tree in the remaining part of the churchyard, where they remain to this day.
Leighton House Museum
© LHM Arab Hall. (C)The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Image courtesy of Will Price
[i]t doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside, Leighton House is a palace of art. It was built as the home of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, to his very particular requirements. The gem of the house is the Arab Hall, beautifully decorated with colourful mosaics, tiles and wood carvings.
[M]ERCATO Metropolitano transformed a disused paper factory in Elephant & Castle into a vibrant ‘urban farmers market’, featuring everything from fishmongers and vegetable vendors to Italian street food stalls. Just a stone’s throw away from busy Borough Market, this is the perfect place to get your fill of fresh food and drinks, without the crowds.
Trinity Buoy Wharf
[T]HE site of London’s only lighthouse, this former docklands complex has been repurposed into a cultural centre. Catch an exhibition, enjoy a relaxing lunch by the water, and follow the trail of street art dotted around the area. One of the most interesting attractions at Trinity Buoy Wharf is Container City, an office and studio complex created out of painted shipping containers. An exciting example of architectural innovation, the project was created out of over 80% recycled materials.
These are just a few of the incredible hidden locations around London: any Londoner, whether they’ve lived in the city for one year or their entire life, will tell you that there are endless hidden gems to discover in this metropolis. What is your favourite hidden location in London? Let us know in the comments below.
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Featured Image: Tourist London – Looking downstream from London Bridge, towards HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. On the horizon to the left is Canary Wharf. The passing black cab was a complete coincidence, but sums up London almost as much as a red bus. Graham Horn (CC BY-SA 2.0)
All other images, unless stated otherwise © Emilie Coalson