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33 Iconic Places and Hidden Gems of London - You won't Find Big Ben Here

1// Postman's Park: remember people who lost their lives saving others

Make your way to the mecca for all Closer movie fans (the one that revealed the genius of Natalie Portman to the world). The Postman's park nobly commemorates ordinary people who lost their lives saving others. Particularly if you are looking for things to do in London alone, spend an hour reading the stories of all times on the ceramic plaques, picturing the heroisms in your head and thinking what you would do if…

2// Dans le Noir: eat in complete darkness

If you are after hidden gems in your search for things to do in London, look no further. At Dans le Noir, you will dine in complete darkness (literally), served by blind waiters with a ‘secret menu’ option when, exiting the place, you will need to guess what you have just eaten. And trust me – your taste sensors are capable of miracles in such a unique environment!


3// The naked Stamford Bridge Stadium of Chelsea

Most people go to what is locally known as The Bridge, for a stadium tour and see which football superstar seats next to which in the team’s dressing room. And yes, you will also walk along the famous tunnel which Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba led Chelsea to victories from. The coolest thing, however, is to catch that rare moment when the stadium is dressing up before the season starts and is in its true colours. The new fancy grass will cover it all, but when they are changing the pitch – you will see all that scratches and birth marks left by the heroes of the past. Once you are done with this pretty unique thing to do in London seen only by a handful of people, go get a pint in the legendary Chelsea Pensioner, an old-fashioned pub, completely packed by the football fans on match days.


4// Nunhead: the most magical cemetery of London

If all London travel guides are sending you to the Highgate cemetery, turning a blind eye might be a good idea. Nunhead is a half-wild, half-tamed Victorian Cemetery  - it is one of the least visited but the most enchanting in many of local Londoners’ opinion. It has been left to live its own life around a hundred years ago, but then moulded into a wildvlife reserve. Here you can peacefully explore the narrow paths & intricate graves. And if you are still thinking about what to do in London today, climb the hill on the western side and be rewarded with the unique view of the St Paul's Cathedral.


5// Sir John Soane's Museum: the kingdom of quirky art objects

With its atmosphere of an antique English shop, Sir John Soane’s Museum is just perfect. Discover a jaw-dropping display of weird art objects and a plethora of unusual perspectives & ornaments - a boiling pot of curiosities with a pinch of Egyptian, Medieval & Renaissance spice. At some point, be it for fun or not, they even competed with the British Museum on who has more marble statues. Pro tip - visit on Tuesdays when they offer a fascinating visit by candlelight.


6// Borough Market: the oldest food market of London

Whether you are a certified food connoisseur or just peckish, you cannot go wrong with the iconic Borough Market also known as the oldest food market in London (up and running from 18th century). Fishmongers, delicatessens, butchers, grocers and a fine choice of the freshest oysters complimented by a glass of champagne – the market has it all and actually deserves a separate local tour. Make sure to visit between Wednesday and Saturday when most of the traders are there to offer their delis. By the way, Borough Market is fully owned by passionate local residents who campaigned and raised cash to make it happen – go locals!


7// The antique Dutch boat of Wandsworth

This antique Dutch boat recently became a bit of a sensation of South East London and a favourite of solo travellers. Named Longfellow, she is a 126ft barge built to carry grain on the canals of Europe and brought over during the 1980s. Now, every week, one of the locals hosts lavish dinners with wine and river views there. The whole experience is a part of the new travel trend powered by the innovative Citizen Seven. Instead of booking random tour guides, it pairs you with like-minded locals based on your personality test – then you book a local activity with the person you like most. This is exactly how the Longfellow and its owner gained its towering popularity.


8// The thinnest building in England

Feeling like having a look at the thinnest building in the whole of England? Head to the Thurloe Square and treat yourself with a little treasure hunt trying to find it (I won't spoil you the surprise with the photo).


9// Wilton's Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall is a former public house and a music hall turned a unique bar and an arts performance space. A rare London walking tour will bring you there, so the place is always full of locals. It is furnished with the Victorian mirrors, chandeliers, decorative paintwork and a cool furniture on top of their fine choice of drinks unless you are after some quality gelato?


10// The Treehouse Hotel ruled by recycling and eco-friendliness

Inspired by (surprise-surprise) a treehouse, this quirky hotel has a fascinating collection of smartly recycled objects – from wooden floors to frames. The Treehouse's all about eco-friendliness being buried in greenness. Every room has quite a view – from a traditional London one to the lookout over Regent Street. The rooms have kaleidoscopes & piggy banks, bathrooms - trees with cuckoo wall clocks and cloud-resembling beds carry people over to their childhoods.


11// The Travel Bookshop and the Blue Door from Notting Hill

Most iconic bookshop ever? Hugh Grant’s Travel Bookshop from ‘Notting Hill’ movie, isn’t it? As it became a norm in the world of cinema, it wasn’t a book shop in real life – more like a souvenir one. Head to 142 Portobello Rd in Kensington and find that the Travel Bookshop sign is still there – the glory of the fictional shop outgrew the real one, and the owner decided to keep the movie sign there for local tours. Not far from there, at 280 Westbourne Park Rd, there is also that legendary Blue Door – the entry to the cosy shelter of Hugh Grant (sorry - William Thacker)

12// Hampstead Ponds loved by celebrities

As far as Andrew Garfield aka the 'Amazing Spiderman' is concerned, he loves bathing in the cute Hampstead Ponds and feeling close to the mother nature. Here is another interesting fact – there are Ladies Ponds and Men’s Ponds out there. I don’t know whether this was a cause of effect, but I spotted both genders there sunbathing topless at their dedicated ponds. Highly recommended for solo travelling.


13// Cahoots - a bunker turned pseudo-tube station

Once a bunker during the Nazi aerial bombings, Cahoots has been reimagined into a unique vintage tube station - carriages and sandbags including. Jazz of the Great Britain of the beginning of the last century serves as a subtle reminder you are now in Soho, and the enthusiastic staff keep the spirits high. Their signature cocktails are quite imaginative and complemented with the secret envelope at the back of the menu which begs ‘Do not open’ and, obviously, you should immediately do the opposite.


14// Wimbledon stadium for the true old English football

If you’ve seen enough of the splashy Premier League football, it’s time for the authentic English game adored by our fathers and grannies. The best place to enjoy it I know is the Cherry Red Records Stadium, now home to Wimbledon Football Club. It replaced there an old greyhound racing stadium where my dad once won the ground-breaking £150 and seems to still have that quirky atmosphere. The legendary football gangster Vinnie Jones may not be playing for the Wimbledon team anymore and there is no one to show Paul Gascoigne his place these days, but you will get your inexpensive ticket for any game, adore the myriads of tackles & crosses and from time to time hear the exact communication between the players & referees. Sometimes the Wimbledon team, now playing in EFL League Two, succeeds in the FA Cup competition so much that they may bring the celebrity clubs like Liverpool or Arsenal to their fascinating home stadium to lock horns with.


15// Fire station aka the best breakfast in town

Chiltern Firehouse, a renovated classic red brick fire station. This is the best (hence it may feel a bit pricy) that a breakfast can possibly bring you – from reimagined classics to bold culinary experiments, with focus on healthy eating. Easily one of the best things to do in London when it comes down to local food.


16// Gresham College the Philantropists

The amazing Gresham College offers people a hundred or two free lectures a year since 16th century, no strings attached. The lecturers are known connoisseurs in their fields – from Arts to History. Try to catch a free lecture and connect with the honourable vision of Sir Gresham along with the feel of the British education. Do you need a tour in London when you can do such a superb local freebie thing?


17// The First Shop in the world (literally)

If you aren't much into photos and selfies, that one you might consider. Make your way to Greenwich (the exact postcode is SE10 9JB) and check out the very first shop in the world (no kidding here - it is located at 4/10 of a minute West of the Prime Meridian). Maybe not the very best thing to do in London, but the one to check in at Foursquare if it still existed.


18// Cool and the only fashion museum in town

For miraculous window-shopping, embark on a local tour to the Fashion and Textile Museum - the only British museum dedicated to fashion. Uniquely, they do not have any permanent exhibitions – every time it is different, so it is one of the best things to do in London. Before I confuse you, check out their previous eclectic themes: Swedish fashion, Pop culture and fashion, Post-war British textiles, Bohemian chic fashion, 150 years of English decoration and, my favourite, vintage handkerchiefs. Not a museum recommended by your usual tour guide, right? The museum is trying to inspire new generations of creatives to shape the British design to something very different and showcase current trends in fashion. Not surprisingly, as the Fashion and Textile Museum is a baby of Dame Zandra Rhodes whose quirky designs found love in the hearts of Princess Diana and Freddy Mercury.


19// Blind Beggar pub - the start of the Gangster tours

Gangster tour is music to the ears of Guy Ritchie’ fans and particularly the admirers of the celebrated Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Discovering methods used by gangsters, including ‘taking a shirt from Charlie’, and visiting notorious spots filmed in Gangster No.1 – all possible here. The best part – the tours are often hosted by the actor turned tour guide Vas Blackwood who played a noticeable role in…you got it… Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.


20// Harry Potter's Diagon Alley

No list like this is possible without The Boy Who Lived The Chosen One? It is not easy to find a place in London where Harry Potter movies were not filmed:) Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross St Pancras Station, which Hogwarts Express departs from, would be too easy, so how about Australia House, better known as the exterior of Gringotts? You also have to check out the fascinating Leadenhall Market used for Diagon Alley, probably the most instagrammable Harry Potter location in London.


21// Bunga Bunga - the kingdom of wild parties

You may well have an ambiguous attitude towards the former Italian prime-minister Berlusconi, but when it comes to wild parties – this guy certainly knew a thing or two and we all would love to have paid at least a quick visit. In the end of 2000s, the phrase Bunga Bunga denoting these extravagant sociables of Silvio became popular in Italy and, let alone a huge political turmoil it caused, later gave its name to this wonderful Covent Garden bar. Bunga Bunga’s signature shtick has always been its weekly live shows some may already call famous. In such a place you can’t obviously do without quirky cocktails and the motorcycles hanging from the ceilings. Also, you don’t have to be extremely lucky to catch a sporadic parade of dancing showgirls or sing a karaoke song with a good half of the bar. 


22// The Traitor's Gate of the Tower of London

I won’t be misrepresenting the famous Tower of London as a hidden gem, but there has been something really cool happening there at night for over 700 years. Before the gigantic ex-prison close its doors for the crowds, at exactly 8 minutes to 10pm at the Traitor's Gate you may see there a strange person dressed in all red carrying a lantern in the right hand and a bunch of large keys in the left. This is a Chief Warder and he is about to start precisely the same thing he and his predecessors started in the 1400s – the Ceremony of the Keys (they only use the name of the current monarch for a change). When near the Bloody Tower you will hear ‘Halt! Who comes here?’, this means the ritual is up and running. Even if the King is not there anymore to guard, the Crown Jewels are worth a fortune and you better stick to the traditions to be on the safest side;). Book your tickets here – they are free.


23// The Globe Tavern where Bridget Jones lives

When you arrive at the famous Borough Market these days, you’d never believe this sizzling place have been as quite as a mouse twenty years ago when Bridget Jones’ Diary came out. Bridget’s flat is right in this area – just above the Globe Tavern, a pub with a character in Bedale Street. Remember how Bridgit lured Mark Darcy into this little place, now listed for sale at the insane £900,000?


24// South Bank - always full of surprises

South Bank, let it be crowded on weekends, always has a hidden gem or two to surprise you. Could be a rare book you buy just under the Westminster Bridge there or a wonderfully strange singer who travelled across the whole country to perform today only.


25// Limehouse Basin where your night kayaking starts

If your local guide told you to take a Thames river cruise – respectfully decline. Apart from its equally picturesque daytime alternative known as Uber Boat, go a bit more adventurous with your local tour and do night kayaking starting from Limehouse Basin. You can hire a beast here and embark on this memorable journey staring at the London’s landmarks like Houses of Parliament and Millennium Bridge in their night clothes (and no, you don’t have to be a professional paddler to do that at all and the experience is good for all abilities). You will also have to catch the right tide obviously (check out the timetable here). Tell no one I said so, but those who love checking out how other people live will get a bonus and see some of the insides of the amazing London house boats parked across the river in abundance.


26// Archipelago restaurant - the best scorpions in Great Britain

If at some point you get tired of the proverbial fish and chips, go dine surrounded by golden Buddhas and giant peacock feathers at the Archipelago restaurant. Where else could you be invited to such a sensory travel journey featuring chocolate scorpion, python, crocodile and insects? Don’t hesitate to open this culinary portal – I tried as a solo traveller and this is one of the best things to do in London.


27// Craven Cottage - the cutest place to see Premier League football

Guess how many football clubs London has on its balance sheet? You get it right – more than 50 it is. But nothing is like Craven Cottage Stadium. It dates back 112 years standing right on the bank of the river Thames. So close that, if some strong-legged striker would want to slow the game down, he can easily kick the ball hard enough to find itself on one of the passing boats behind the Craven Cottage. Not only the tickets prices are reasonable and sometimes unthinkably available at the entrance, but at the moment Fulham is officially the easiest Premier League club to get match tickets for. After you enjoyed the game at a really cute stadium accompanied by the mouth-watering hotdog they serve there, go through the picturesque Bishops Park to arrive at the Temperance, just a perfect football bar to watch the next game on Sunday.


28// The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar - as bizarre as the name suggests

I bet you have entered and exited many things via many things in your life, but never through...a fridge in a truly Narnia style… This speakeasy local bar has already become a legend not least because of its quirky name. Apart from that, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town features dimly lit rooms, some fine pieces of vintage furniture and bizarrely wonderful drinks. Oh yes, and a title of the London’s Bar of the Year. Twice.


29// South Bank Centre street food market

South Bank Centre food market is a mecca for street food lovers. Located just behind the Royal Festival Hall, the market boasts a choice of food which should be just enough for the culinary curious on top of a great selection of beers and wines. And surely – few things can compete with a mouth-watering paella accompanied by the amazing river views of Westminster, possibly the best London has to offer.


30// The Barts which you can only enter with a secret password

Barts is an epitome of a hidden gem, right in the heart of Chelsea. When it comes to ‘hidden’, you will never say this unmarked residential door might lead to a speakeasy venue. As far as ‘gem’ is concerned, Barts is filled with cool pictures and splashy cocktails often served in teapots and listed in a menu crafted in the form of a comic book. Ring the bell and, to enter, say your secret password I won’t share here because…it is a secret password in the end of the day.


31// The Draughts - home to 800 board games

Draughts, located in the mysteriously cool Leake Graffiti tunnel, is a true hidden gem of London. It is home to over 800 board games and meeting a new friend over a board game is officially the best way to do so. Not a fan of board games? It is like with documentary movies – hard to start watching but if you do – nobody will drag you away from the screen. Don’t know the game rules? Just ask their super friendly stuff and they will happily explain every bit. Visiting alone? Ask local people to join a game – most of them would be expecting it! Some fine food and a selection of beers will help the time pass seamlessly.


32// St Luke's Mews where the most famous confession took place

When it comes to this British movie classic – Love Actually – and one of the best Christmas movies of all times, my favourite scene is also the most heart-breaking one. Remember Mark confesses to Keira Knightley via hand-made posters being aware that they are never going to be together as she is his best friend fiancée? If you feel like going to stand at exactly the same spot to reminiscent – make your way to St Luke’s Mews and seamlessly find that pink house there. I have heard that not everyone in the area is happy about the holy pilgrimages to this place, so perhaps going easy on selfies might be a good plan.


33// The cemetery of British telephone boxes

Well, not exactly a cemetery - rather that 'Out of Order' installation in Kingston. Its author, the famous David Mach - one of the most recognised Scottish artists known for his quirky collages and sculptures – says the boxes might have disappeared from the streets but they still bind the English as a nation. Indeed, what can be more iconic than the red British telephone box?


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