London is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and you may feel that you’ve already seen all that it has to offer. However, the city is huge and has lots of hidden sights and quirky attractions for you to explore. As Samuel Johnson once said: “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” So, here are 25 unusual things to do in London.
25. Leighton House Museum
This fun and quirky museum was once the home of Sir Frederic Leighton, a famous Victorian artist. Located in Holland Park, this lavishly decorated over-the-top house has been turned into a museum. It contains over 70 oil paintings, hundreds of drawings, and many casts of his sculptures. Don’t miss the decadent Arab Hall at Leighton House.
24. Epping Forest
An area of ancient woodland covering over 2,400-hectares between London and Essex, Epping Forest is the perfect place to escape the city. There are plenty of opportunities for activities such as walking, cycling, horse riding, and more. You can also explore the many lakes and ponds, the nearby market towns, and Queen Elizabeth I’s Hunting Lodge.
23. London Mithraeum
The city of London is over 2,000 years old, and long before the Masons or the Templars built their secret temples, the ancient Romans had theirs. This rebuilt temple was dedicated to the god Mithras, who was associated with Persia and Zoroastrianism. His mysterious cult was found all over the empire, and you can explore a part of it at the London Mithraeum.
22. Neal’s Yard
Tucked away in a little corner of Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard is a picturesque courtyard filled with colourful buildings. Named after the 17th-century developer Thomas Neale, it is home to numerous cafes and boutique stores, as well as the well-known Neal’s Yard Remedies and Neal’s Yard Dairy.
21. Clink Prison Museum
Operating from 1144 to 1780, The Clink is said to be the oldest prison in England. Its very name (“the clink”) became a nickname for ‘jail’. Set just off the South Bank, the former penitentiary is now a museum with interactive exhibits and costumed actors bring its dark and grisly past to life.
20. Parkland Walk
This scenic walking path follows the trail of an old railroad line through the areas of Haringey and Islington. Lined with abandoned stations and tunnels, it was intended as an extension of the London Metro; but it was abandoned during World War II. The Parkland Walk was then established in 1984. Don’t miss the creepy statue of a spriggan, or wood spirit in one of the old stations.
19. The “Magnificent Seven”
No, we don’t mean the 1960s Western. The Magnificent Seven is the collective name given to the seven large Victorian park cemeteries dotted around London. They are filled with impressive tombs and are also havens for wildlife. The cemeteries include: Kensal Green Cemetery, West Norwood Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and Tower Hamlets Cemetery.
Highgate Cemetery is especially famous, as it is the final resting place of Karl Marx and sci-fi author Douglas Adams.
18. Freud Museum
While Sigmund Freud (the pioneer of psychoanalysis) spent most of his life in Austria, he lived out final years in London. Escaping Austria after the Nazi annexation in 1938, he moved with his family to this house in northwest London. After the death of his daughter Anna in 1982, it was turned into the Freud Museum, which displays his library, collection of antiquities, and his famous couch.
17. Hampstead Swimming Ponds
There may be no beaches in London, but there are quite a few outdoor pools and lidos, especially on Hampstead Heath, that are perfect to escape the stuffy city heat in the summer. Fed by the River Fleet, these pools open at different times. You can also pay a visit to the 17th century Kenwood House, and its amazing art collection, nearby.
16. Horniman Museum
Founded by philanthropist Frederick John Horniman, the Horniman Museum has a unique collection of turn-of-the-century displays related to anthropology, natural history, and (oddly enough), musical instruments. There are over 350,000 objects, each displayed using Horniman’s own methods, as well as 16 acres of beautiful gardens, an aquarium, and regular community activities.
15. Barbican Conservatory
Located atop the Barbican’s main theatre lies a hidden conservatory, the city’s second largest after Kew Gardens. The Barbican Conservatory has over 1,500 species of plants divided into two areas; one with tropical plants and one with cacti and succulents. It was opened in 1982 and may sometimes be closed for private events.
14. Dennis Severs’ House
Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields is a time capsule, a reimagining of what life would have been like for a typical family of Huguenot silk weavers. However, this four-floor “dramatic still life,” is also much more than that; it’s a living mystery. Each themed room, from cellar to attic, represents a time period from 1724 to 1914 and has clues to the suspicious absence of the Severs family. Utilising sights, smells, sounds, and little notes, these clues finally come together at the end of the tour.
13. God’s Own Junkyard
Gods Own Junkyard in Walthamstow is a treasure trove of handmade neon signs. Curated by artist Marcus Bracey, the psychedelic signs are part-free-gallery and part-shop. You can find all kinds of signs here, from discos, casinos, sex clubs, and even religious images. There are also props from various movies, such as Captain America, Eyes Wide Shut, and Byzantium. God’s Own Junkyard is only open on weekends, and also has its own café.
12. Osterley House
Surrounded by gardens and farmland, 18th century Osterley House feels like it’s set in the middle of the countryside, but is actually located in west London. Designed by architect Robert Adam for the Child family, the estate is known for its formal gardens, its stables (now a tea-room) and the summer full of lemon trees and scented shrubs.
11. St Dunstan-in-the-East
The great Gothic-style St. Dunstan-in-the-East was originally built 900 years ago. Though it mostly survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, this ancient parish church was mostly destroyed in the London Blitz. Located near the Tower of London, it has now been turned into a serene public garden, its arches overgrown with trees and climbing ivy.
10. Old Operating Theatre Museum
Located in the attic of St. Thomas Church in South London, the Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret is the oldest surviving operating theatre in Britain. It looks exactly as it would have done in the early 1800s; and you can almost hear the screams of the unanesthetized patients who were brought there. The museum was founded by Richard Mead, and now has surgical demonstrations as well as an apothecary with displays on the herbs that were used as medication.
9. Twinings Tea Shop
Located on the Strand, the 300-year-old Twinings Tea Shop (and the merchant Thomas Twining) helped popularise tea in England. The shop has seen very few changes since it opened in 1706 and has also supplied tea to the royal family since 1837.
8. Temple Church
This unusual round church in London was founded by the Knights Templar in 1185. The Temple Church is modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and is located between Fleet Street and the River Thames. It was restored after sustaining damage during the Blitz of World War II and can be seen featured in The Da Vinci Code.
7. Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors
Better known as the Last Tuesday Society, this shop-cum-gallery is filled with all kinds of strange and quirky items. Here you can find everything from taxidermy specimens to insect sculptures, vintage books, skulls of all sizes, and even a couple of mermaids. Located in Hackney, it is both horrific and fascinating in equal measure.
6. The Mail Rail
Hidden beneath the streets of London lies the Post Office Railway—more commonly known as “Mail Rail”. This was an automatic electric railway created in 1927 to bypass the city’s crowded streets and deliver Royal Mail. However, it was the railroad was closed down and abandoned in 2003 before being reopened as a museum in 2017. There are also rides on specially made miniature trains.
5. Syon Park
One of the last “great houses” of London, Syon Park is the home of the Duke of Northumberland. With over 400 years, this large estate holds a fascinating collection of art. Its grand classical interiors and 40 acres of gardens have also been used numerous times in films, such as in Poirot; Downton Abbey; and Transformers: The Last Knight.
4. Geffrye Museum
Located in Shoreditch, the charming museum Geffrye Museum explores four centuries of English middle-class home life. A series of recreated rooms show how tastes and styles have evolved over the years. The museum itself is housed in restored 18th-century almshouses which also give visitors a glimpse into the life of the poor and elderly.
3. The Hardy Tree
This ancient London churchyard is located next to St. Pancras Old Church. It has been the site of many famous events, such as the elopement of Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley. However, it is best known for the hundreds of gravestones placed around an ash tree by author Thomas Hardy in the mid-1860s, when he was working as an architect.
2. Women’s Library
Beginning life as “The Library of the London Society for Women’s Service” on Marsham Street in 1926, this library is the place to go to learn all about the women’s suffrage movement. This was an organised campaign for the right vote which ended in 1928. Today the Women’s Library is housed in the London School of Economics.
1. The Mayflower Pub
Pubs are an iconic part of British culture, and London is absolutely full of them. It is one of the oldest pubs on the River Thames. The Mayflower is famous for overlooking the spot where the Mayflower was moored before setting sail for Plymouth and then to America in 1620. Though it has changed hands many times over the centuries, it is still a wonderful place to take a break and enjoy a pint.
Also Read: You Have To See These 6 London Palaces
There are many more offbeat, weird, and unusual things to do in London, such as the Chelsea Physic Garden, the Stables Market, and the Hunterian Museum. If we’ve missed any of your favourites, de let us know in the comments below.