Oh, there is so much more to see in London than Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the Thames. Yes, we have some of England’s most iconic historic buildings, but we are also home to a creative and thriving entrepreneurial scene, ensuring that this truly wicked city is packed full of hidden gardens, secret prohibition bars, exclusive events and delicious experimental eateries.
You could easily spend a lifetime exploring it all! But, as we’ve had to pick just 10 of London’s hidden gems, you can be sure this list is an excellent place to start.
1. Rooftop Film Club
Going to your local multi-screen cinema complex is SO mainstream these days. In London, the best movie experiences involve deck chairs, rooftop bars and open-air screens. During the summer, Rooftop Film Club take over some of the city’s best open roof spaces, including spots in Shoreditch, Stratford and Peckham, to screen Hollywood blockbusters and classic movies as the sun sets.
2. Barbican Conservatory
Did you know that there’s an indoor rainforest hidden away in the heart of London? When most tourists head to Kew Gardens for some tropical plant action, instead visit Barbican Conservatory. Here palm trees and banana plants rise up from a ground floor covered in cacti gardens and koi carp fishponds, and great leafy vines hang down from the concrete balconies of floors above.
3. Paul Rothe & Son
In a small sandwich shop in Marylebone, someone has discovered the secret to stopping time. Family-run Paul Rothe & Son first opened its deli doors to London’s hungry lunch crowd in 1900, and this super Instagrammable store has maintained its classic décor and exterior façade ever since. The inside is a shrine to old-school condiments and preserves, with towering stacks of jams and marmalades on sale alongside the business’ famous range of classic English sandwiches.
4. Neal’s Yard
Just a few minutes from Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard is a beautifully colourful and quirky cobbled alleyway, tucked away in the heart of the city. From independent cafés and bakeries to organic health shops, every building in this tiny haven is painted or decorated with bright oranges, blues, greens and yellows.
5. Hook Camden
Fish and chips are a staple part of the English diet. Traditionally a dish best enjoyed at the beach or in one of the UK’s many pretty seaside towns, Londoners can still get their fix in the big city. Head to Hook Camden for a classic battered cod and chips or opt for one of their fantastic creative dishes, with southern-fried fish, pancakes and vegan tacos also on the menu. Eat in or opt to take your food away and enjoy it on Primrose Hill in nearby Regent’s Park.
6. Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden
During WW2, the church of St Dunstan in the East was bombed and left to crumble in ruins. Now, overgrown with trees, the church ruins form a small public park boasting some of London’s greatest “secret” Instagram-worthy backdrops, from the tall bell tower and old fountains to pretty stone arches once containing stained glass windows now covered in clinging ivy.
7. The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Pretty much every city in the world has a collection of secret drinking spots and London is no exception! The candle-lit Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is one of the city’s many awesome speakeasy bars and is hidden in plain sight behind a fridge door in east London. How do you find it? Head to The Breakfast Club, tell the staff that you are “here to see the Mayor” and they’ll point you in the direction of the fridge door.
8. Swimming Ponds
Fancy a swim? London is home to a whole bunch of open-air bathing spots. For wild-swimming vibes, Hampstead Heath has several large scenic swimming ponds open to the public, including the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond which is, as you’d expect, a pool just for women to enjoy a few lengths with a feel of exclusivity and privacy. If au naturel green waters aren’t your thing, head to one of the city’s open-air lidos; clear, chlorinated swimming pools with Victorian-style wooden changing rooms around the edge. Find them in Tooting Bec, Charlton or Brockwell.
9. The Vaults
Occupying a hidden set of tunnels underneath Waterloo Station, The Vaults is an innovative creative venue which plays host to some of London’s most exciting and unusual art installations and events. Head underground and you could experience novel theater performances, enjoy a live music night, watch emerging comedians refine their jokes, dance the night away at a themed party or even pick up a paintbrush to join a collective public painting exhibit.
10. Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
If you’d seen this old railway line in Dalston, Hackney, twenty years ago, you wouldn’t recognize it now. Teams made up of landscape architects, the local council and local residents have transformed this old section of disused train track into a peaceful, free, flower-filled oasis in the heart of London. Proceeds from the garden’s café go towards keeping the space beautiful and full of life, and there’s a wood-fired pizza oven open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.