London is known for many of its famous attractions: Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace…but did you know that London is also home to an abundance of wonderful hidden gems across the city? Take a look at our list of 15 quirky things to do in London before you plan your next visit:
Clowns’ Gallery and Museum
The first item on our list might induce panic in those with Coulrophobia: London has a museum dedicated to the strange and wonderful world of clowns. Located in the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston (yes, really – clowns have had an ‘official’ church in London since the 1940s), this museum and gallery featuring collections of clown memorabilia, props, photographs and costumes is open to public viewing on the first Friday of every month.
Highlights of a visit to this museum include a look at the suit owned by the famous Coco the Clown; a collection of awards for clowning; and part of the Clown Egg Register – ceramic eggs painted to record each clown’s personal make-up design. The church also has a stained-glass window of Joseph Grimalidi – considered the father of modern clowning – complete with biblical quote: ‘a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance’. This church is a fascination not to be missed.
Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
Established in 1818, this quirky shop is a purveyor of quality goods for monsters and every kind of creature of the night, providing them with their everyday essentials. However, this strange shop is actually a front for a community writing program.
The exact reasons for the shop’s existence are sadly lost to time, but if you’re a fan of the supernatural and keen to get your hands on such goodies as cubed earwax, salt made from the tears of anger, night terrors and a vague sense of unease, then a trip to Hoxton Street Monster Supplies should definitely be on your to-do list.
The Sherlock Holmes Pub
The Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue looks like the thousands of other pubs across the capital; that is until you venture upstairs into the extraordinarily accurate recreation of the 221b Baker street flat shared by Holmes and Dr Watson.
Created from an exhibit once on show at the 1951 Festival of Britain, this pub was renamed in honour of its newly obtained collection. Wonderfully authentic, this representation of Doyle’s fictional masterpiece includes everything from the famous violin and pipe, and the wall is even marked with Holme’s pistol shots. For fans of any Sherlock Holmes medium, a trip to this pub is essential.
The Monty Python Foot
An absolute treat for Monty Python and comedy fans alike. Hidden in a painting of Cupid and Venus and hanging in London’s National Gallery is a pop culture icon. You remember that giant foot from the Flying Circus’s animated title sequence, the one that stamps down and crushes the title? Well, that foot actually belongs to Cupid, and you can see it in the bottom left hand corner of Bronziono’s masterpiece: ‘An Allegory with Venus and Cupid’.
The story goes that a young animator by the name of Terry Gilliam was wandering the museums of London looking for inspiration. The surreal animation sequence used for Monty Python’s Flying Circus – animated entirely by Gilliam – was heavily influenced by contemporary classical art and borrowed pieces of famous paintings and photography. The museum is surely worth a visit for this piece of comedy history alone.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea
A trip to the capital would not be complete without a round of afternoon tea. There are a plethora of unique afternoon tea spots in London, including the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea in Covent Garden.
Travel to the magical world of this Roald Dahl classic with this fantastical afternoon tea. With everything from golden eggs to homemade flavoured candy floss, every delicacy included reflects the mystical wonder of this beloved tale.
The King’s Cross Ice Well
In Victorian Britain, ice was something of a commodity and was harvested from frozen ponds and rivers before being stored in underground vaults to slow the thawing process. A far cry from what we’re used to today – back then drinks served with ice cubes were a luxury only few could afford.
These two Victorian ice wells are located behind King’s Cross Station and were built by the Italian ice cream manufacturer, Carlo Gatti. Each well has a depth of forty-two feet, and they were able to store tons of natural ice, which Gatti distributed all over London, accumulating himself a fortune. They were used until 1904, when artificial ice production had become more common, after which they were forgotten for many years.
The wells can be viewed from an observation platform in the London Canal Museum and once a year the museum invites visitors to descend into the well for a closer look. An interesting and unusual part of London’s history and another thing to add to that checklist.
The House of Dreams Museum
In East Dulwich there is a home belonging to artist Stephen Wright – not just a home, but an art gallery and a personal record of his entire life.
The ground floor is a museum to the forgotten and unloved objects that Wright has accumulated, and no surface has been left uncovered. Heavily influenced by Haiti and South America, the house is cram-packed with mosaics that depict moments in Wright’s life, as well as sculptures created with everything from false teeth, wigs, old toys, old wills and letters.
Bequeathed to the National Trust, The House of Dreams is open on certain days throughout the year. If you find your trip to London corresponding to one of these days, you should consider booking a visit to this remarkable house.
Traffic Light Tree
Thankfully not used to control traffic, this eight-metre-tall sculpture of a ‘tree’ featuring branches of traffic lights is in Billingsgate Market. Designed by artist Pierre Vivant in 1998, the ‘Traffic Light Tree’ was meant to reflect the ‘never ending rhythm of surrounding domestic, financial and commercial activities’ with its constantly changing patterns.
It was moved from its original home on a roundabout in Canary Wharf after it was reported to be confusing motorists. A unique sight to behold, this sculpture is said to be a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike.
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, or The Last Tuesday Society, is a 21st Century take on the classic Victorian cabinet of curiosities. Located in East London, this museum is ‘devoted to exploring and furthering esoteric, literary and artistic aspects of life in London and beyond’ and is a hybrid of a museum, shop, academic institution, gallery, installation and performance art.
A bizarre collection of taxidermied species, antique erotica, skeletons, shrunken heads, modern art and a plethora of other curiosities, this museum is both fascinating and horrific in equal measure. Without agenda or educational purpose, this strange concoction is solely for the amusement of the museum’s creators.
The Postal Museum
The Post Office Railway was an automatic electric railway created to deliver Royal Mail between sorting offices across London. It ceased operation in 2003 and was abandoned; now it is open to the public in the form of a Postal Museum.
Explore the history of the Royal Mail railway, see the original trains and make your way around the interactive exhibition in the abandoned engineering depot. You can even take a miniature train ride through one of the original tunnels deep below Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office!
The Cross Bones Graveyard
A medieval burial ground located in South London, The Cross Bones was an outcast’s graveyard for centuries and is considered the final resting place of the Winchester Geese – medieval sex workers. Because of the high concentration of prostitutes, it became known as the ‘single-woman’s’ cemetery; since these women could not be given a Christian burial due to their reputation, Cross Bones became a dumping ground for them and others living in squalor.
Excavation uncovered the true horrors of Cross Bones, revealing it to be a mass grave with bodies piled together; many were discovered to be babies or foetuses. These grisly truths inspired the creation of a shrine at the red iron gates outside, dedicated to ‘the outcast dead’.
London’s Original Coffee House
In 1652, London opened its first coffee house – well, it was probably more like a coffee shack. But still, it was the first established venue to sell ‘the virtue of the coffee drink’. It was set up by Pasqua Rosee, who worked for a man who imported goods from Turkey, one of those being coffee.
The original shop was re-built after the great fire of London in 1666 and then re-built again in the 19th Century. However, it continues to serve drinks to this day under the name of the Jamaica Wine House. Rosee’s legacy still lives on in a plaque on display in St. Michael’s Alley.
Dans Le Noir?
A quirky restaurant that has taken the world by storm, at Dans Le Noir ? guests eat their meals in pitch black darkness – and you can visit one right in the heart of London. The idea behind the restaurant is for patrons to discover a complete sensory journey whilst they eat, discouraging people from ‘eating with their eyes’ and letting their experience be dictated solely by taste, texture and smell.
Guided into the darkness by visually impaired waiters, at Dans Le Noir? you sit at shared tables with strangers to engage with people you have not seen before and gain knowledge about blindness and disability. An unusual experience and something worth checking out during your visit.
God’s Own Junkyard
Hidden inside a warehouse in Walthamstow is a shining beacon of light – neon light that is. God’s Own Junkyard is a dazzling wonderland of neon lights and vintage signs; started by the late Chris Bracey who was commissioned to fashion props for Hollywood films, the Junkyard is littered with old film props as well as religious statues, disco balls and retro signs crammed into every available space.
You could spend hours admiring these psychedelic creations; you can even buy them – for a rather drastic price tag. The place even has its own café called The Rolling Scones. If you find yourself drawn to bright lights, then God’s Own Junkyard should be a port of call.
Gorilla Circus Flying Trapeze School
Have you ever wanted to learn to fly? Well now you can! (Kind of). You can take trapeze lessons in Regents Park in a two-hour class; start with warm ups and some simple low bar tricks, ending with an attempt on the Flying Trapeze, where you’ll be caught by the instructor on a separate swinging bar.
A unique experience for any of the truly adventurous amongst you. Soar through the sky like a true circus performer – and enjoy the bragging rights when you get home that you’ve had a stint as a trapeze artist.
There are so many weird and wonderful things to do in London, you will never be stuck for plans. For a central location in the Kings Cross area with comfortable, affordable rooms, look no further than the Swinton Hotel. Book your stay online today.