16 Hidden Gems of London
London – the land of tea and crumpets, the Queen and the red phoneboxes. Every guide book will tell you to stop at Trafalgar Square or look around Harrods.
But if you want to try something a bit more, well, local, then try these places out. (Go on, they’re near the tourist stops you do want to go to…)
London may not be known for its pizza, but that may change. Franco Manca in Brixton offers handmade pizzas on a slow-rising sourdough crust, finished with various seasonal toppings. All for less than £7. And after you eat dinner there, you can head to one of Brixton’s many clubs for a fantastic night out.
NEAR – Brixton Academy
Credit: JP Hussey on Flickr
If you’re in the mood for afternoon tea, this is the place to go. Tucked away in – you guessed it – Bloomsbury, this cafe has a set afternoon tea starting at £9 per person. Its cakes are baked and decorated in a kitchen in the back, and everything, from the decor to the porcelain to the wonderful staff perfectly illustrate the charm of British eccentricity. The only downside? It’s incredibly popular with the locals, so you have to book a table, often well in advance of your visit. But it’s so worth the wait.
NEAR – British Museum
Credit: Food Stories on Flickr
This club has been showcasing the best British-based musicians for over 30 years, making it a great place to find some hidden musical gems as well. Because of licensing restrictions, they can only serve alcohol to non-members along with a “substantial meal”, but with offerings like Welsh rack of lamb and fresh sea bass, that shouldn’t be a problem.
NEAR – Chelsea Stadium
Credit: m@teo on Flickr
Even though this bar is right next to Charing Cross Underground station, it can be easy to miss: you have to turn down a small walkway, then down a steep set of stairs to the bar. Housed in 17th century cellars, it has the atmosphere of a centuries-old tavern, though that could also be because it is London’s oldest wine bar.
NEAR – Trafalgar Square
Credit: Ewan-M on Flickr
The oldest operating country pub in London, The Albion was established when Islington was still mostly farmland and fields. Now it’s an incredibly popular pub with a large beer garden in the lush and green Barnsbury area. Though that might be enough to make it a local favourite, it’s the pub’s award-winning Sunday roast that makes people trek from all over the city to spend an afternoon here. But be sure to book a table – at least a few weeks in advance.
NEAR – Upper Street, Islington
The Albion – used with permission
Here you’ll find some unique items, like vintage dresses, handmade hats and one-off pieces of jewellery, often being sold by their designers. And if you feel like having a bite to eat, you can sample the cuisine of Spain, India, Ethiopia, the Caribbean, amongst many others. It takes every Sunday place in the Old Truman Brewery, an 11-acre collection of shops, restaurants, offices and other spaces.
NEAR – Brick Lane
Credit: LiB on Wikimedia Commons
If you love coffee, this is the place for you. Monmouth Coffee Company makes strong, silky drinks that allow the nuances of a superb roast shine through. They even roast their own beans, supplying many of the other top coffee shops in town. Its employees’ immense knowledge and sublime technique are probably why it regularly features on lists of the top coffee shops in London.
NEAR – Borough Market and Covent Garden
Credit: sashafatcat on Flickr
If you really want to ride a big red bus to see some of London’s most famous sites, there’s no need to buy those expensive tickets for cheesy tours when you can hop on the northbound 12. Catch it just outside Lambeth North Underground Station, then take it across the river. It takes you past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, 10 Downing Street and Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. For just £2.00.
NEAR – Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus
Credit: oyxman on Wikimedia Commons
Ever wanted to know what it’s like to spend the night in a 19th jail cell? No? What about hanging out with up to seven of your friends enjoying “legal-themed cocktails” ‘til the wee hours there? If your answer is yes, then this is where you need to go. Plus, you’ll be hanging out where both Oscar Wilde and Keith Richards were held whilst awaiting their trials.
NEAR – Oxford Circus
Credit: Mark Hillary on Flickr
(Beyond Retro and www.beyondretro.com and Absolute Vintage)
We’ve already mentioned the East End is great place to shop (see Sunday Upmarket), but if you are heading over that way sometime that isn’t Sunday, you won’t be at a loss for great vintage shops and unique boutiques. They line just about every street around Brick Lane, and they pretty much all have great finds. The biggest – and arguably, best – vintage shops are Beyond Retro and Absolute Vintage, but be sure to stop in a couple of the random shops, too. You’re guaranteed to find something you never knew you couldn’t live without.
NEAR – Spitalfields Market
The gardens, spreading across 1.5 acres, are actually three themed gardens: the Spanish Garden, based on the Alhambra in Granada; the Tudor Garden, inspired by that period of British history; and the English Woodland. The English Woodland mimicks the natural English countryside, but it has quite a few ducks as well as a few somewhat unexpected residents – the Gardens’ four flamingos, Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks. All of this sits 100 feet above Kensington High Street, on top of soil just 1.5 meters deep.
NEAR – The Serpentine
Though its traditional Hungarian dishes are still served by friendly staff, people come here for the history. The Gay Hussar’s heyday was after World War II, when the leftist intelligencia and Labour MPs would congregate here to eat, drink and plot the occassional political coup. This rich history is memorialised with the caricatures of various Labour MPs that practically wallpaper the amospheric dining room.
NEAR – Shaftsbury Avenue
Credit: Baston on Flickr
So we’ve made it clear where to shop if you want to buy unique handmade products (see East End shopping), but if you like to make those products yourself, you should make your way to this shop on Marylebone High Street. Packed with the company’s own brand of trimmings and edgings, from ribbons, tassels, tie-backs to flowers and interior and fashion accessories, the store, like our mothers’ jewellery boxes, holds all the shiny, pretty things that fascinated us as children.
NEAR – Madame Tussauds
Credit: Robert on Picasa
If you thought golf could never be an urban sport, this place will prove you wrong. It’s more chic hangout than simple putting mats, with its locations’ distinctive interior design, state-of-the-art technology and bars serving sushi and lager keep guests fuelled for their games. The golf itself is played in a small room with a screen and two sensors. You tee up with a real ball and club, hit the ball into the screen, which projects one of 22 world-famous courses on the wall. The super-sensitive sensors measure the speed and direction of the shot, allowing it to figure out how your shot would have played and projecting its flight onto the simulated green. Whether you’re a tech-head or a golf freak or just a bit curious, you need to try this one out.
NEAR – High Street Kensington, Soho and Smithfield
Credit: riklomas on Flickr
This cinema is part of a renowned chain, Curzon Cinemas, that specialise in independent films. But this theatre focusses on French art house films and movies by new world talent. Pretty much the antithesis of Leicester Square’s glitz and shimmer, it seats only 500 people at its two screens, and its bar is, like its sister cinemas, a sophisticated, laid-back destination in its own right.
NEAR – ish to the British Library
Credit: Robin Schroder on Flickr
Part studio, part art collective and part nightclub, this venue embodies artistic vanguard, where the cultural forefront of London comes together. Artists can put up their studios in retired Underground tube carriages, and a restored Victorian warehouse forms the backdrop for its events – maybe a DJ one night, an upcoming band the next, a mixed-discipline art experience the day after that.
Credit: diamond geezer on Flickr
List taken from www.europenethotels.com with permission