About Time: You Discovered London’s Hidden GemsBy Angelica Malin
How well do you know London? Yes, there are the tourist hubs with which everyone is familiar, the popular pubs and clubs, the high profile events that headline every week. But for every one of these, there are five, ten, maybe even a hundred alternatives that fly under the radar.
It’s impossible to get to know everything there is to see and do in this unique city. Here, we take a look at some of London’s best kept secrets. As well as being great to visit in their own right, they also offer an intriguing alternative that will help you steer clear of the major tourist traps on your next weekend trip.
A city that loves its sport
Every major sporting tournament wants to come to London. For significant football events like the FA Cup, Wembley is the only choice; Lord’s is known, not just in the UK but the world over, as the home of cricket; Wimbledon is the tennis tournament that everyone wants to win. The list goes on and on.
These are all wonderful places to visit and will undoubtedly feature on every sport fan’s bucket list. However, they are also expensive and crowded. On top of that, you will find yourself a long way away from the action. None of these factors are a problem if you explore one of London’s multitude of sports facilities that are home to the city’s many lower league football teams, rugby clubs, cricket clubs and lots more.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing sport at grass-roots level, and being able to enjoy the action from the sidelines, alongside the families and friends of the players. No millionaires here, just people playing sport for the love of the game. Often, you can even have a chat with the players themselves.
The list of sports facilities mentioned above is also a great resource for those who would prefer to participate in sport than to watch others. So dust off those football boots, oil the cricket bat and check the strings on your tennis racquet. There’s a world of outdoor sporting activity just waiting to be discovered from Beckton Park in the east to Tweeddale Playing fields to the west, and all points in between.
A quirky look at history
London has some of the best museums in the world, and tourists come from far and wide to spend the day at the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert and so on. Free entry is a major bonus with these venues, but it also means they are an absolute magnet for large groups of tourists at the weekends and coach loads of school children on week days.
Why battle the crowds? Did you know that there are at least 200 museums in the capital? Here are just a few examples.
- The Wellcome Museum is open seven days a week and conveniently located just across the road from Euston Station. Named after pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome, it is packed full of medical curiosities, from the fascinating to the downright gruesome.
- The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising doesn’t have the most appealing name. Don’t let that put you off, however. You will be absolutely spellbound from the moment you walk in the door, and those of a certain age will be instantly transported to their childhoods. As well as exhibits from the relatively recent past, there are some items going back more than 200 years.
- The Ragged School Museum is a must for fans of 19th century literature by the likes of Charles Dickens. It recreates a variety of educational settings and schoolrooms from the early 1800s, as well as touching on other aspects of life 200 years ago. To keep the Dickensian theme, it is even situated on Copperfield Road, close to Mile End Park.
- The Museum of Freemasonry lifts the lid on one of the most secretive societies in the country. As well as providing an intriguing glimpse into who the Freemasons are and what they stand for, it has artefacts from some of the most famous Freemasons ever. These include Winston Churchill and William Perfect. The museum is on Great Queen Street, just to the east of Covent Garden.
A boat trip with a difference
Thames cruises are hugely popular, but they do not provide you with any new perspectives on the city. If it’s a boat trip you are after, far better to head for Little Venice on the Regents Canal.
You might struggle to find a gondola, but a narrow boat is just as good, and the 45 minute ride to Camden Lock is an absolute joy. There are also plenty of waterside cafes and restaurants to choose from, and whether you are after a quick bite or a full meal, you’ll be sure to find something to suit. Best of all, the prices are far more reasonable here than in the main tourist areas – at least by London standards.
Little Venice is easy to find – it’s a ten minute walk from Paddington and is clearly signed, or if you take the tube to Warwick Avenue, it’s an even shorter walk. Just head south when you leave the station and look out for the canal on your right hand side.
Secret passages, secret shops
People talk up the shops around the Oxford Circus area. Sure, they are big, but they are also the same old names from the same old chains that you will find in every town and city up and down the country.
Want something a little more special? There are plenty of hidden-away shopping precincts around London, but one of the very best is Camden Passage in Islington. No big name chains here, just small independent vendors selling everything from vintage clothes to bric a brac to high-end perfumes. The narrow cobbled street adds to the impression that you have stepped back into a bygone age.
It’s conveniently located close to Regents Canal, so combine a visit with your boat trip and everyone in the party will have something to smile about.