Everyone has their own version of London, even every visitor will have their own image of “what London is.” There’s the tourist map version of the city, the South London local’s version of the city, David Cameron’s version even… if you want to discover London under the surface, this is where to start.
1. Spitalfields Market
Traders have been hawking their wares in this marketplace since the 17th century and today it’s one of London’s best marketplaces. It’s open six days a week but Sundays are the best for fashion, jewellery, music and food. Thursdays is good for antique traders and Fridays are good for independent fashion labels.
Channel your inner Harry Potter at London’s oldest magic shop! Davenports has been open since 1898, founded by a guy named Lewis Davenport. His relatives still run the shop today, making it the oldest continuously owned magic shop in the world. If you have more time, it’s worth taking a magic class in their adjoining studio, great for beginners (both children and adults) and seasoned professionals.
Address: 7 Charing Cross Underground Arcade
3. Brixton Village
Foodies listen up, there’s no better place to eat out in London right now than in Brixton. Visitors arrived in droves on Saturday morning at Brixton Tube Station in search of a delicious breakfast offering. Enjoy giant pancakes at Burnt Toast and then a coffee at Federation. For shopping, don’t miss Brixi, Circus or a vintage treasure from Leftovers to take home from your holiday in London.
4. Richmond Park
Richmond Park, a 17th century hunting ground, makes great day trip outside of the city centre. Catch a South West Train from Waterloo Station and get off in Richmond. Wander through the town to the park gates to enter the largest Royal Park in London. Where else can you see hundreds of deer wandering about in “wild” London? Don’t miss the telescope on King Henry’s Mound where you can see all the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, more than 10 miles away.
5. Soho’s Noses
If you look close enough while wandering the streets of Soho you may come across a nose or two. Artist and sculptor Rick Buckley has hidden a total of seven casts of human noses throughout the district, attached to buildings. Legend has it that if someone can locate all seven, they’ll gain infinite wealth!
6. Swimming at Brockwell Lido
There’s nothing better than a dip at one of London’s few remaining lidos on a hot summer day. The Art-Deco pool was first opened in 1937 and was at the centre of Herne Hill’s community until it closed in 1990 due to local council cut backs. It reopened after public demand a few years later and today it’s a hot spot when the warmer weather rolls around. There is also a delicious adjoining cafe-restaurant which overlooks the pool.
7. Sir John Soane’s Museum
Lincoln’s Inn Fields is located right in the heart of London, near Holborn station, and is the largest public square in London. Some even say it was the inspiration for Central Park in New York (but who can know for sure). On one side of the square is Sir John Soane’s Museum which is a must. Sir John was an architect and a very avid collector of antiques. He left his home and his collection to the nation. The collection includes a sarcophagus of Seti I, Hogarth paintings and many other curious items.
8. Hyde Park Pet Cemetery
While there are many notable and historic cemeteries around London, Highgate for example, this one in Hyde Park is rather special. More than 300 dearly loved pets are buried here, with small little gravestones inscribed with some darling and sentimental messages on them.
9. Shopping in Seven Dials
While all the tourist droves head to Oxford Street to get their retail therapy, you’d be wise to head to Seven Dials if you’re after something one-off and unique. Wander into Neal’s Yard to shop for organic body products at the famous Neal’s Yard Remedies and then get your caffeine fix at the original Monmouth Coffee Co. on Monmouth Street.
Try sevendials.co.uk for a complete neighbourhood shopping guide.
10. Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp
This has got to be one of the strangest sights in London, and one that tourists and locals alike probably wander past without giving it much thought. If you head down Carting Lane, just off the Strand, you’ll come across London’s Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp near the Savoy Hotel. What makes it so special? The lamp was invented in the 19th century to draw off smells from the underground sewers, which power the lamp. Today it’s the only remaining gas-powered lamp in the city.
Want to experience more cities off the beaten path? Check out our secret and unusual guides to Rome, London, Berlin and other destinations around the world.