To say London is large would be an understatement. The city is massive and it is stuffed to the gills with people from all over the world. Needless to say, there’s a lot to see.
While guidebooks can direct you to the major tourist areas, I like the off-beat sites and experiences. Here’s a list of some of my favourites.
Explore the mind-boggling inventiveness at Sir John Soane’s Museum
Sir John Soane was an architect and built an amazing house just off a main road in London. From the outside, it looks ordinary enough, but if you go inside, it is just amazing.
There is one room (wish me luck describing this) that is full of paintings and has two walls, opposite each other, that open up like windows to reveal more paintings on both the inside of the door/window and on the next wall/door. It’s an ingenious way of having access to more paintings than you can fit on the wall. One side opens to yet another set of door/windows and exposes a great open space with many Italian artefacts and even more paintings. There are even skylights (which are not that common in London) providing an incredible amount of natural light. It’s quite amazing and if you get the chance, look it up and if you can, visit! It’s free, small, off of the tourist trail and just amazing.
Here is a link to Sir John Soane’s Museum.
A show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s theatre is a large part of London’s art history. While the theatre he originally wrote his plays for has been torn down, a new theatre has been built to be a replica of the original, just smaller.
It’s nice, cozy and shows are cheap. If you don’t mind standing, you can get a groundling ticket for just £5 ($8 or €6). The ticket allows you to be in the ‘standing room’ of the theatre.
The actual seats are further back and in the shade (depending on the time of day), but the standing area lets you get up close and personal with the actors. You can even go so far as leaning on the stage. Of course, you can always leave during the performance if you get tired of standing or bored.
Here’s a link to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Lunch at St Martin in the Fields
If you want a cool/creepy dinner experience, head to St Martin in the Fields, on Trafalgar Square. For less than £10 ($16 or €11), you can eat on top of monk’s tombs from the 18th century in Café in the Crypt.
While some think this is too creepy, I enjoy it. The café is full of tourists (you’ve been warned) and the food isn’t five-star, but the prices are decent if you like the idea of eating in a crypt. Most Wednesdays there is a Jazz concert at 8p if that sounds more appealing to you.
Here’s a link to St Martin in the Fields.
Mass at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral
Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral are two must-see sites in London. If you have seen them as a tourist before, maybe it’s time to attend mass or evensong. Even if you’re not religious, it’s still interesting – and free!
During the services, you get to hear the acoustics in action and participate in something that’s gone on for years. Certainly a unique twist on a typical tourist site, all you have to do to attend is be at the back entrance of Westminster Abbey or the main entrance of St Paul’s 30 minutes – 1 hour before the service begins.
Check the service schedule. They have services in the morning and evening during the week, so something is sure to work out.
Adult’s night at the Science Museum
The Science Museum is geared more toward children with a lot hands-on materials.
The last Wednesday of the month, the museum stays open until 10p for adult’s night, or simply ‘lates’ as they call them. Children are not allowed, there is beer and wine served and adults get together for a classy evening of playing with toys. When the children are away, the adults will play!
I went with some friends and had a great time playing with heat cameras, bubbles and crazy spinny things. The Science Museum Lates are free and a lot of fun, just be sure to queue early as they’re very popular.
Here is a link for London’s Science Museum Lates.
Dinner on Brick Lane
If you’re hungry and tired of bangers and mash, head for Brick Lane. Filled with Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, this is the best spot to find curry in London.
If business is slow, the restaurants might compete for your business. When I went with a friend, we got free house wine and 20% off our bill because it was a slow night. There is a lot to explore in Brick Lane and plenty of good eateries to choose from.
Here is a link for Brick Lane.
London is full of sites. Some are uber touristy, some are not and some are hidden gems.
When the tourist spots get overwhelming, I like to head for one of these areas. You might not have them completely to yourself, but they aren’t completely overrun like most of London’s sites.
If you see it in a mainstream guidebook, you will most definitely not be the only tourist there. Trust me.
So go, enjoy these sites, but don’t tell everyone – I want to keep them somewhat to myself!
Find more of my London adventures and tips here.