As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, London is a city with countless landmarks and attractions that draw millions of visitors from all over the globe. From the historic Tower of London to the contemporary Shard skyscraper, there’s so much to see in the city, both on and off the beaten track. The capital is bursting with interesting places to visit.
However, with so many popular sights and activities, some of the lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path attractions can easily be overlooked. These are often secret places that even long-term residents of the city have yet to discover. They offer the visitor a unique and unforgettable experience.
London is a city full of surprises. These gems are just a few of the many remarkable and unique destinations that will appeal to visitors willing to step off the well-trodden tourist track. Whether you are interested in history, art, or engineering, there’s something for everyone to discover in London’s less well-known attractions.
Let’s look at a few of these ‘secret’ often overlooked London attractions.
Located in the Paddington area of West London, Little Venice is a picturesque canal district that provides a tranquil escape from the bustle of the city. With its charming narrow boats, attractive cafes and shops, and tree-lined waterways, this hidden gem feels like a world away from the crowded streets of London. It’s also off most tourist guides and many of the people enjoying this vibrant area are locals.
Visitors can take a boat ride along the canal, or simply stroll along the towpath and admire the colourful houseboats and charming architecture. Kate Moss and Kelly Osbourne are among the celebrities rumoured to live in the area.
Leake Street Tunnel
For a more urban and gritty experience, head to Leake Street Tunnel in the Waterloo area.
The tunnel is also known as the Banksy Tunnel after the famous Bristol-born graffiti artist. This pedestrian tunnel is 300m long and completely covered in street art and graffiti, making it a popular destination for photographers and art lovers. Here, graffiti is legally permitted (it isn’t elsewhere in the city) and it is even encouraged. The tunnel is also home to several restaurants and bars, making it a great spot to grab a bite or a drink while taking in the vibrant surroundings.
Location at 26 Leake St, London SE1 7NN
Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and UnNatural History
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities is a unique and remarkable museum situated in the heart of East London. Actually, its been described as ‘a little bit nuts’! It is unlike any other you might have visited in the past.
The museum was founded by Viktor Wynd, an artist and collector, who wanted to create a space where visitors might explore and engage with unusual, strange, and quirky objects. Viktor Wynd, is a self-described “wunderkammer obsessive compulsive” who has been collecting curiosities and oddities for years.
Among the highlights of the museum is the collection of taxidermy animals. Visitors can expect to see the strange and bizarre: a two-headed lamb, a skeleton of giant anteater, animal and human skulls, and a mummified cat, to name just a few of the oddities in the collection.
The museum also has a large collection of preserved specimens including a jar containing a human brain and display of numerous species of species of butterflies and insects.
Another interesting aspect of the museum is the collection of art and artifacts. Visitors can see a painting by Damien Hirst, an Egyptian mummy, and even a vessel containing a preserved human penis. The museum has an exhibit filled with old medical equipment and devices, including surgical tools and anatomical models.
A popular attraction in this unique space is the bar that is situated on the premises. The bar, The Last Tuesday Society, serves a range of drinks including cocktails inspired by the by the museum’s curiosities. Booking is essential. Visitors can enjoy these unusual drinks surrounded by similarly strange and unusual objects.
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities is a must-visit ‘secret’ destination for anyone interested in the weird, the unusual and the uncommon. The museum offers an unusual and unforgettable experience, and visitors will leave with a new appreciation of the bizarre.
Located at 11 Mare St, Cambridge Heath Rd, London E8 4RP
While numerous tourists flock to Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, the lesser-known Highgate Cemetery offers a unique and hauntingly beautiful experience.
This Victorian-era cemetery in North London is the final resting place of many famous figures, Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, George Eliot and Eric Hobsbawm. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn more the cemetery’s history and its notable residents. Or visitors can simply wander among the stunning Gothic architecture and lush greenery, the cemetery being a de facto nature reserve.
Don’t miss wandering through Egyptian Avenue complete with vaults and giant pair of obelisks reflecting the high interest in Egyptology among the Victorians.
The cemetery is split into two parts: the East Cemetery (where many of the most famous graves and tombs are located, and the West Cemetery (which can only be visited on an assisted guided tour). There are some 53,000 graves across both East and West Cemeteries.
Highgate cemetery was briefly abandoned in the 1970s but has since become an attraction off the beaten track for both tourists and locals.
Located at Swain’s Ln, London N6 6PJ.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Hidden away in the Holborn area, on Lincoln’s Inn, the Sir John Soane’s Museum is a surprise gem that is often overlooked by tourists.
This quirky and eccentric museum is housed in the former home of Sir John Soane, a renowned architect and collector of art and antiquities. The museum’s eclectic collection includes everything from antiquities and ancient Egyptian artifacts to architectural drawings, paintings, models, sculpture and furniture, and other curiosities, making it a fascinating and unexpectedly delightful destination. Hogarth, Turner and Canaletto are included in the painting collection.
The house was kept as it was after the death of Sir John Soane, almost two centuries ago. It is full of quirks and curiosities. The museum is noteworthy for its unusual layout which includes hidden rooms and spaces that are means to surprise and delight visitors.
Located at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP
St Dunstans in the East
This tranquil garden in the City of London was once a church designed by renowned architect, Sir Christopher Wren. The church was originally built around 1100. Although the Great Fire on London also damaged it is 1666, the church was restored.
However, St Dunstan in the East was severely damaged during the Blitz in World War II. Instead of reconstructing the church, the decision was made to turn the ruins into a public garden. It is beautiful and atmospheric. Today, visitors can stroll among the ivy-covered arches and ancient walls. Enjoy a peaceful respite from the bustling streets of London.
Located at St Dunstan’s Hill, London EC3R 5DD
For fans of engineering and history, the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe is a must-visit destination.
The museum is housed in the former engine house of the Thames Tunnel, an engineering marvel that was the first tunnel to be built under a river. The Museum tells the story of a local engineering family who changes the world, and whose impact on London especially is still felt. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, himself the son of a famous engineer, oversaw the design and construction of viaducts, railways and bridges, and made significant contributions to advancing marine engineering.
Visitors can explore the museum’s exhibits and artifacts, and even take tour of the tunnel itself.
Located Railway Ave, London SE16 4LF
Museum of the Home (Formerly the Geffrye Museum)
Nestled in the heart of the trendy Shoreditch, Museum of the Home offers a fascinating take on the history of interior design and domestic life in London. The museum’s collection includes rooms that display the changing domestic styles and tastes of Londoners from the 1600s to the present day.
In addition to these interior design exhibits, the museum also exhibits on topics like home cooking and gardening.
The Museum of the Home is a charming cultural and historical institution. This 400-year-old former Georgian alms house. Alms houses were founded by charity and offered accommodation to the poor. The Museum offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in English society from the 1600s onwards. The views are intimate and capture the social and technological moment in each period.
The House is an excellent example of Georgian architecture: the outside is immediately conspicuous for its intricate and elaborate carvings. These are elaborate and details and highlight the architectural importance of this attraction.
Once inside the Museum, each era is recreated. These rooms display the domestic arrangements of families from different social classes lives throughout history. These are domestic spaces give insight into the lives of ordinary people. These range from the humble 17th-century wood-panelled room of a yeoman farmer to the elaborate Victorian parlour of a wealthy merchant. In these rooms, the rooms gesture to the remarkable journey through time as they display illustrate how fashion, design, style and technology impacted homes over the centuries.
Another highlight of the museum is the extensive collection of art, textiles, and furnishings spanning over 400 years of English history. These items provide a visual representation of the changing tastes and preferences of eras and individuals over time. Expect to see every era from Tudor-era wooden chests to contemporary from Tudor-era wooden designer chairs.
It’s especially interesting to see the changing role of women in the home: early periods saw women responsible for the embellishing of household furniture including needlework, embroidery, and tapestries, many of which are exhibited.
The Museum of the Home is a fascinating and immersive experience that provides a unique insight into the history of English social and domestic life.
Located at 136 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8EA
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Tucked away in the attic of a church in Southwark, the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is a fascinating destination for history enthusiasts and lovers of medical history, in particular.
The museum houses a collection of surgical instruments, as well as a recreated operating theatre, where visitors can learn about the grisly realities of 19th-century surgical treatment. The Herb Garret, a collection of medicinal herbs and plants, offering a glimpse into the world of 18th-century apothecaries.
The operating theatre remained in use from 1822 to 1862, and later became part of St. Thomas’ Hospital.
Located at 9a St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY
The Cinema Museum
Located in Kennington, the Cinema Museum is a surprise gem that’s a must-visit destination for both film and history enthusiasts.
The museum is housed in a former Victorian workhouse, and features display screens on the history of cinema and the function of movie theatres in British culture. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the museum and discover more about the interesting stories behind some of the artifacts, including old movie posters, vintage projection equipment, and even a working Wurlitzer organ.
Located at 2 Dugard Way, Renfrew Rd, London SE11 4TH
Crossrail Place Roof Garden
Located in Canary Wharf, the Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of London’s financial district. This secret haven is a peaceful oasis far from the hustle and bustle of the city, providing visitors with a chance to escape and unwind.
The garden is planted with over 100 species of plants, including many rare and exotic species.
Visitors can stroll along the winding paths while they take in the views of the city skyline and enjoy a coffee or snack at one of the garden’s coffee shops.
The Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a strikingly distinct attraction with a style that blends modern architecture and traditional horticulture. The garden is a botanical masterpiece with plants and flowers from across the globe, from towering palm trees to delicate ferns.
Among the most impressive features of the garden is the way it has been artfully and sensitively incorporated into the surrounding architecture.
The roof is constructed in a distinctive semi-circular shape, with large glass panels that enable natural light to flood the space. This design creates a seamless transition between the garden and the building with the plants and flowers appearing to spill out onto the surrounding pathways.
The garden is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike, who visit to enjoy the spectacular views of Canary Wharf and the surrounding area. There are places to sit and relax, as well as enjoy a bite to eat, making it the perfect spot for a peaceful break or even a romantic evening.
Located at Crossrail Pl, London E14 5AB
The Hunterian Museum
Housed in the Royal College of Surgeons, the Hunterian Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is a hidden treasure that offers a fascinating view into the history of medicine and surgery.
The Museum first opened in 1807. The museum’s collection includes anatomical specimens, surgical instruments, and numerous skeletons and animal and human specimens that are bound to intrigue any visitor.
Visitors can take learn more about the life and work of John Hunter, the pioneering surgeon and anatomist who established the collection.
In recent times, the Museum was closed for six years and recently reopened after a renovation costing £4,6million.
Located at 38-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
The Thames Barrier
Situated in the southeast of London, the Thames Barrier is a striking engineering accomplishment that plays a crucial role protecting the city from flooding.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the barrier and learn about more about its history and operation. In addition to threats posed by climate change and rising sea levels, the Thames Barrier also protects London from North Sea storm surges.
The visitor centre offers interactive exhibits and displays about the River Thames and its role in London’s history and culture.
Located at 1 Unity Way, London SE18 5NJ
The Fan Museum
Found in Greenwich, the Fan Museum is a quirky and charming destination that’s often overlooked by tourists. The museum’s collection includes of over 5,000 fans from around the world. In addition, exhibits cover both the history of fan-making and the function of fans in art and culture.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the museum and learn about more about the remarkable stories behind some of the fans or browse the collection and appreciate the sometimes intricate and elaborate craftsmanship.
Do treat yourself to a wonderful afternoon tea in these elegant surroundings.
Located at 12 Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ER
Dennis Sever’s House
Dennis Severs’ House is a special museum situated in Spitalfields which offers visitors with an immersive experience of life in the 18th century. The house is a recreation of the home of a Huguenot silk weaver’s family.
The house was the former home of Dennis Severs, an American artist who was captivated by the concept of time-traveling and wanted to create a living experience of what life was like in the past.
As such, the museum is designed to take visitors on a journey through time, with each room representing a different period in the history of the house. The rooms are decorated with authentic furniture, artwork, and artifacts, creating a sense of authenticity and realism that transports visitors back in time.
The house has ten rooms, each with a different theme and time period. The first room is the cellar, which represents the 17th century and is complete with coal fires and flickering candle lights. The next room is the kitchen area which is set in in the 18th century and features a large open fireplace and various cooking utensils.
Other rooms in the museum include of a smoking room, a drawing room, a bedroom, and a study. Each room is designed to be a sensory experience, with authentic smells and sounds that bring the past to life.
Located at 18 Folgate St, London E1 6BX.
The Wellcome Collection
The Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London is a fantastic attraction for those interested in science and medicine. It also covers the history of both science and medicine.
Located close to Kings Cross, this world-renowned institution was founded in 1936 by Sir Henry Wellcome, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and philanthropist. The aim of the Trust is to advance human health by supporting research and innovation.
The trust’s impressive collection spans over 500 years of medical history and includes of artifacts, art, and manuscripts from around the globe.
The Wellcome Collection houses over 1,500 objects collected by Sir Henry himself. These range from antique prosthetics and surgical instruments to shrunken heads and mummified remains.
Visitors can marvel at the complex workmanship of these objects while learning about the history and cultural significance behind them. The Collection also explores latest advancements in medical science and technology.
Here, visitors can engage with cutting-edge exhibits advances in genetics, robotics, and neuroscience. The permanent exhibition, Being Human, explores what it means to be human in this century. Another popular temporary exhibit, ‘Milk‘ looks at our relationship to the white stuff through a social, political and cultural lens.
Location at 183 Euston Rd., London NW1 2BE