*Featured image credit: Valdis Skudre / Shutterstock.com
London is packed with famous attractions, and these are usually the first ones listed on all of the travel guides out there.
However, if you want to see a side to London that the majority of tourists don’t get to experience, here are eight secret spots to explore:
The Isabella Plantation
It’s hard to imagine stumbling upon a historic Victorian plantation in the middle of London, but this is exactly what the Isabella Plantation is.
This 40 acre patch of woodland was originally planted in the 1830’s. It was only opened to the public much later, in 1953.
Where exactly is it?
It is in south west London, in Richmond Park.
What will you find in the Isabella Plantation?
A number of different plants, including:
- The National Collection of Wilson 50 Kurume Azaleas
- An extensive Camellia and Rhododendron collection
- Exotic and rare plants
- Native berry trees and shrubs
There are pathways winding their way through the organic plantation, taking you past streams and waterfalls. The plants have been chosen to ensure that there is plenty of interest year-round, making this the perfect spot to head to when you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, no matter the time of year.
Covent Garden is an area of London that is often mentioned in the big guide books. There are a number of attractions here, and most of these are centered around the main part of Covent Garden, meaning that tourists rarely venture much further.
However, if you make your way to the small alley between Monmouth Street and Shorts Garden, you will soon find this opening up into a small courtyard known as Neal’s Yard.
As soon as you step foot into this courtyard, you will see why everyone who has been here was so enchanted by it. Many would call it a micro-village, because it is packed with a colorful array of independent shops, restaurants and bars.
Each of the businesses here is fully dedicated to sustainability, and run their companies in an ethical way. This is a fantastic example to set in the city, and many other nearby businesses are also beginning to follow this trend.
While it may be a small area, make sure to leave plenty of time to explore all that Neal’s Yard has to offer.
Tranquil and beautifully peaceful, Little Venice takes you away from the energy of London, transporting you to the middle of the Italian countryside.
This scenic spot lies at the junction of the Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal, and a unique little community has built up here over the years.
There are a variety of boat rides available to help you explore everything around you. The most popular route will take you along the canal, through Regent’s Park and past Camden Town, showcasing some of London’s more famous attractions too.
Around Little Venice itself, you will find several waterside pubs and cafes, along with an eclectic mix of other businesses. Art lovers will enjoy Gallery Fiodra, a floating art gallery that hosts exhibitions along the various canals around the UK, while the Boathouse London is a boutique floating hotel. The hotel sleeps four people, and they offer up some luxurious extras for guests who want to go the extra mile. From a boat captain to show you the sights of London to a private chef to cook up some extraordinary meals, this really is a hotel unlike any other.
If you are looking for a quiet space where you can go to reflect on life, while breathing in some fresh air, Kyoto Gardens will not disappoint.
This Japanese-style garden can be found in London’s Holland Park, in the Kensington area. It was initially created in 1992, as a way to celebrate the Japan Festival in London, and has now become a much-loved spot among locals.
What will you find in the Kyoto Gardens?
The winding path will take you past Japanese maple trees, a variety of other traditional Japanese trees (which are blanketed with blossom in the spring), tiered waterfalls and a large pond, filled with koi carp. There are even a couple of peacocks that call this park home, adding to its exotic atmosphere.
If you want to do a bit more walking, explore the rest of the 55 acre Holland Park. Here, you will find:
- The Dragonfly Trail
- Rose gardens
- Cherry trees
- Sports facilities
- An extensive woodland area
- A large outdoor chess set
Make sure that you bring your camera to this one, as there are so many Instagrammable spots within the gardens!
Once you are done exploring the greenery…
The residential streets that wrap around the park are also worth checking out too. These streets are where you will find some of the most expensive real estate in London, and the homes here are definitely impressive.
St Martin’s Window
St Martin-in-the-Fields is an authentic slice of London history.
Although the church that is currently there was built in 1726, there are records of a church being located in exactly that site as far back as 1222. The church has evolved so much over the years, and has long since been at the forefront when it comes to the fight for justice and human rights. From campaigning to end homelessness to welcoming in Chinese immigrants, this is a church that has done so much for London.
Sadly, after World War II, the church was quite damaged. One part of the church that was shattered was a large window at the east of the building.
The church underwent a massive restoration project. However, rather than simply replacing the window, the church commissioned artist Shirazeh Houshiary and architect Pip Horne to create a contemporary piece of work in the window’s place.
This is how St. Martin’s Window was born…
The window features mouth-blown clear glass panels, with a feathered pattern etched on both of its sides. The panels are held together by a stainless steel framework, in a way that abstracts the light into what seems like an illusion. There are elements of a cross within the piece, and the lines converge towards an opening in the center.
This opening allows light into the church in a way that the church has never seen before. While it used to be quite dark and dreary, light literally radiates through now, transforming the interior of the church.
Want to go and see St. Martin’s window?
St Martin-in-the-Fields Church is located by Trafalgar Square in central London, making it easy to get to.
London has really taken advantage of its amazing skyline, perching rooftop bars above the whole city.
There are so many to choose from, and you will find them in just about every part of London.
While many are tourist traps, there are several that would be considered a more secret spot. Here are a few to check out:
- Bar Elba, Waterloo – this rooftop bar is quite famous, and is known for its party atmosphere. The cocktail list is extensive, while the communal benches and open layout encourage socializing. Of course, being in Waterloo, the views here are stunning, and these are set off by the twinkling fairy lights that surround the bar
- Sushisamba Bar, Moorgate – located on the 38th floor of Heron Tower, the first thing that you will notice when you enter this swanky rooftop bar is the large tree sculpture right at the center. The bar circles around this, offering up some delicious signature drinks, along with Japanese-Brazilian fusian dishes from the restaurant
- Boundary Rooftop, Shoreditch – this Shoreditch hotspot sits atop the Boundary Project, where you will find a hotel, restaurant, cafe and deli. The rooftop bar features a glass roof, enabling you to soak up the views no matter the weather
- Skylight, Tobacco Dock – boasting panoramic views of London’s skyline, Tobacco Dock sits at the top of an old carpark and features three levels. This means that there is always plenty going on here, from games of croquet to sports on a large screen, along with DJs and rooftop parties in the summer
- Pergola Paddington Central, Paddington – this is another sprawling rooftop bar, with four restaurants, two bars and enough seating for 850 people. There are giant daybeds, regular daybeds and a market-style restaurant here, along with a lively atmosphere and a great drink selection
- The Rooftop St James, Trafalgar Square – this is another rooftop bar that you can enjoy no matter the weather, thanks to its retractable roof. It also has some of the most iconic views in all of London, along with a revamped interior and Asian-inspired bar snacks
Don’t forget, the weather in London can be unpredictable, so make sure that you are prepared to experience all four seasons when visiting a rooftop bar!
Number 10 Adam Street
You have probably heard of 10 Downing Street – after all, this famous address is where the Prime Minister lives, and is often featured on the news.
This political landmark is one that many tourists wish they could visit. It would definitely be a selfie worth taking!
Unfortunately, the general public is not allowed access to the real address, or even to any part of Downing Street.
But don’t worry, there’s a lookalike not too far away…
10 Adam Street can be found a few hundred meters away. This address looks incredibly similar to 10 Downing Street, with the iconic doorway bearing so many resemblances.
Of course, any sharp-eyed folk out there will immediately notice the many differences too, but the similarities have been enough to turn 10 Adam Street into an alternative tourist hotspot.
Columbia Road Flower Market
London is known for its markets, and there are probably quite a few that you are hoping to check out on your visit.
However, make sure that you also save some time for the Columbia Road Flower Market. This unassuming market can be found in London’s East End, just a short walk away from the famous Brick Lane.
This may not sound very exciting at first, but the atmosphere here makes a visit so worthwhile. The market usually features around 50 stalls, with each one bursting with just about every type of plant and flower you could imagine. The colors and scents that surround you when you are in the midst of this market really are unforgettable. You will also find stores selling garden fittings and equipment at reasonable prices, which attracts plenty of locals each week.
Lining the streets on either side of the market are around 60 independent shops, including a tasty choice of cafes and restaurants. These are housed in historic Victorian stores, making the market even more picturesque. You will notice street musicians all around too, adding an exuberant energy to the air.
When is the market held?
It takes place every Sunday morning, with the best flowers being sold in the first couple of hours. However, don’t worry if you only head over there around lunchtime, because this is when you will find the best bargains.
If you do happen to plan your visit for lunchtime, you will probably be wondering where you can eat nearby…
The Royal Oak in Bethnal Green isn’t too far away, and offers up a deliciously authentic Sunday roast, with a modern European cooking style. After that, head on over to Jones Dairy Cafe on Ezra Street. This former dairy now serves up some delicious foods, including some of the best desserts in the area.
There are so many secret spots to explore in London, with these eight being just a few of them. No matter where you go in the city, be sure to set some time aside for wandering the side streets and checking out areas that you have never been to. When it comes to exploring London, you never know what you may end up finding!