‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Or so the saying by Samuel Johnson, 18th Century writer and “distinguished man of letters” goes. Presumably, the same applies to females but the fact remains, if you can’t find something in London that excites you, then perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place!
I’m a Londoner, born and bred, and to help you find one or two of the things you only know if you’re a Londoner, here’s access to my top ten of London’s hidden secrets. All are easily accessible by public transport or on foot, so open Google Maps and away you go…
Nope, we’re not starting off in Italy… Little Venice is in West London, in the Paddington Basin area of the Grand Union Canal. The cute and colourful houseboats on the canal make this place a must visit, but look beyond these boats and you’ll see an array of different cafés, restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
Not hungry? No problem, book yourself on a boat trip to work up an appetite! Full from lunch? Take a wander around the Rembrandt Gardens or wind alongside the canals on foot. You can always pop back for a glass of something chilled as a reward later…
Columbia Road Flower Market
Head east towards Bethnal Green on a Sunday morning, and you’ll discover the Columbia Road Flower Market. Teeming with flower stalls, this place is definitely bustling. Feel free to barter here, and be amazed by the variety of blooms on offer. Never fear though, it’s not just cut flowers – if you’re looking for pot plants, shrubs, bulbs and herbs, you’ll find them here too.
If you’re not in this area on a Sunday, there’s still plenty of places to browse and spend your money. The Victorian buildings are packed with art dealers, antiques, quirky bric-a-brac, vintage clothing and a variety of places to eat and drink.
St Dunstan in the East Church Garden
If religion isn’t your thing, then you might not enjoy walking around an old church garden. But this old church garden really is something to behold. For me, Mother nature is my ‘religion’ and a visit here will prove just how wonderful she is.
St Dunstan in the East was named for a 10th Century monk called, unsurprisingly, Saint Dunstan, who eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Badly damaged centuries later in the Great Fire of London, part of it was reconstructed by Sir Christopher Wren. Sadly, most of it was then destroyed again during the bombing raids on London in the Second World War.
Considered too costly to repair, it became a public park in 1967 and nature has allowed all manner of greenery to weave its way through the ruins leaving a beautifully stunning yet somehow mysterious place of quietude and reflection. All right in the middle of the City of London and all its power suits and bankers!
Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane
Moving east from the city past Liverpool Street station, you’ll stumble across one of my favourite places in London – Spitalfields Market. After the Great Fire, Londoners needed to move outwards, and so east London became more populated. Hence, a thriving market developed in Spital Square, selling food and essentials to the ever growing communities.
With this movement of people came the inevitable mix of crime, poverty and cholera outbreaks. Oh, and a serial killer, in the form of Jack the Ripper.
Thankfully now, Spitalfields trades on the fact it’s a trendy and fun market full of fashion, food, art, music and curiosities and is must see on any London exploration.
Move a little bit more east and you’ll find Brick Lane by smell alone. Famed for its numerous curry houses, this is a place not to be missed on a Friday night for the best Bangladeshi curries in London. And if curry isn’t your thing, make sure you grab a bagel from the (probably) world famous 24-7 Beigel Bake Brick Lane Bakery. Ideal for soaking up one or two many cocktails in nearby Shoreditch!
If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter films, then you may recognise the ornate features of Leadenhall Market in the City of London. Used as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this Victorian covered market is a must visit for fans.
Harry Potter fans aside, Leadenhall Market is still a brilliant place to visit, with its array of market stalls, pubs, restaurants and shops. Like St Dunstan’s in the East, Leadenhall Market was damaged during the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt, the standout painted roof being added as late as 1881. It’s of such historical importance, it’s now a Grade II listed structure. So when you visit, make sure you look up!
Almost in the shade of St Paul’s Cathedral sits Postman’s Park, a park dedicated to those who gave their life trying to save that of another’s. It began life in 1900 with four plaques detailing the lives of four of these selfless people.
It now contains 54 plaques as a memorial to self-sacrifice. The 53rd plaque was laid in 1931 and curiously, the 54th and final was laid in 2009. With 66 empty spaces, there’s room for 66 more heroes who met a tragic end whist trying to save another tragedy.
Visit here for quiet refection among the otherwise busyness of central London.
The London Charterhouse
Despite its name, the London Charterhouse is more than simply one building. It’s a group of buildings that are steeped in history and continue to be part of London’s story on a daily basis.
Located in the borough of Islington, the London Charterhouse has occupied this area of London since 1348. Over the centuries, it’s been a monastery, a privately owned mansion house, a private school for boys and an alms house for the elderly (which it still is today).
Learn more about it’s history by visiting the free museum or take a wander around the Great Chamber to get emersed in historic art. If the weather is good, an amble around the beautiful gardens is a must.
Hidden away in the urban streets of Clerkenwell in Islington, sits the hive of activity that is Exmouth Market. Whether you’re hungry for some amazing street food, thirsty for an expertly made barista coffee, looking for the perfect cocktail, searching for a quirky gift or piece of art, in need of a haircut, considering a tattoo or shopping for a diamond or a bicycle – this is the place to be.
Busy, cool and a real showcase of all the beautifully unique and different things London has to offer, Exmouth Market should feature high on your to do list. You won’t be able to help being drawn in to its independent vibe.
A gleaming example of what can be achieved by community spirit (and a heavy dose of hard work), Pop Brixton is a community space that’s home to social enterprises, street food entrepreneurs, start-ups and independent retailers.
Created as a collaborative as a temporary venue on a disused piece of wasteland in Brixton, South London, it’s a hive of activity, creativity, learning and amazing food.
Pop along for food, drinks, a community event, an art class or to learn some green fingered tips in the community garden. Child free after 6pm at weekends, this could be your perfect adult place to wind down, have some fun and meet likeminded people.
Spanning 320 hectares, Hampstead Heath is a stunning open space with lots going on – whoever said London wasn’t green? Venture to the top of Parliament Hill for panoramic views of London and beyond, but make sure you stay clear of all the kites as this hill is also known as Kite Hill!
If you love an open air swim, then pack your bathers and choose from the lido or the famous ponds. Or, take a wander through the ancient woodlands and take in the delights of all the flora and fauna that this area attracts.
So inspiring is this beautifully magical green expanse, that it’s said to have been the inspiration C.S Lewis needed to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Who knows, it could inspire your hidden masterpiece too…
The Tip of the London Iceberg!
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… But honestly, all you need to do in London is turn a corner, and you’ll find something going on. Be that a bustling market, a thriving street food stall, a cosy tea room or a lively art gallery. The best way to explore our capital city is by foot, hoping on a bus or navigating the London Underground system.
So leave the car at home, wear some comfy shoes and prepare to be wowed by all that this exciting city has to offer.