Updated on 8 August 2017
London is famous for its iconic landmarks like Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Yet there are many London hidden gems just waiting to be discovered if you know where to look. We’ve rounded up 15 of our favourite off the beaten track and secret London attractions.
West London Hidden Gems
One of the most beautiful places in London, the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park was a gift from Kyoto in 1991. Spread over 55 acres, it’s a tranquil place with a koi carp pond, stone lanterns and beautiful trees. It’s free to enter and worth visiting at any time of year, especially in Autumn when the foliage is at its finest.
Chelsea Physic Garden
Located just off upmarket Cheyne Walk, you’ll find the historic Chelsea Physic Garden. This little gem is not only a charming place to visit but it serves an educational purpose too. It was founded in 1673 in order to train apprentices in the use of medicinal plants. Around 5,000 plants on display, each with their usage clearly explained. There’s a book and gift shop, as well as Tangerine Dream cafe overlooking the lawn.
This rather unique building looks impressive enough on the outside but the real surprise is inside Leighton House. Situated in the upmarket Holland Park area, it’s decorated in an opulent Eastern style, The highlight is the Arab Hall’s stunning blue mosaics and gold dome. It was the home of Lord Leighton and is the only purpose built studio house open to the public in the UK. Construction started in 1865 and continued until 1895, with many embellishments being added throughout the years.
North London Hidden Gems
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Angel, Camden Passage is a cute place to browse. There’s a regular street antiques market, as well as several antique shops, independent coffee houses and restaurants. Etc. has a good selection of gifts, whilst Paul A Young is a mecca for chocolate lovers. The main market days are Wednesday and Saturday, as well as a book market on Thursday and Fridays in Pierrepont Arcade.
Secret Garden in Regents Park
We could tell you where this place is, but first we’d have to kill you…just joking! It’s so hidden away that many locals don’t know of its existence. Nestled inside a discreet gate in the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park, St John’s Lodge Gardens is one of our favourite secret places in London. Admire the artworks such as the Grade II listed Goatherd Daughter’s statue or relax on one of the benches with a good book. The imposing private house overlooking the gardens belongs to the Sultan of Brunei.
Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross
Although Kings Cross is hardly a hidden gem, being one of London’s busiest train stations, you might not all be aware of Platform 9¾. The designers of the revamped station must be Harry Potter™ fans! It’s easy to find next to platforms 9 an 10 and by the queue of muggles waiting to have their photo taken. There’s also a souvenir shop where you can stock up on wizard supplies.
Central London Hidden Gems
Sir John Soane’s Museum
This fascinating place in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was the former home of Sir John Soanes. A talented architect, he designed many well known buildings such as the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery. He bought and redesigned 3 adjacent Georgian townhouses, establishing the museum during his own lifetime. It is preserved much as he left it, with a myriad of curios from his travels as well as architectural drawings.
Inns of Court and Temple Church
This area of London is a whole city within a city, centred around the Royal Courts of Justice. It’s the workplace of London barristers, yet the pretty gardens are open to the public at lunchtimes from Monday to Friday. Temple Church dates from the 12th century and is famous as being a church of the Knights Templar. It is one of only five surviving round churches in England and features in Dan Brown’s novel, the Da Vinci Code.
From the outside, this park located close to St Paul’s Cathedral looks like any other green space. However, approach a little closer and you’ll spot something rather unique…a memorial to brave individuals who lost their lives whilst trying to save others. The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice was designed by George Frederic Watts in 1900 so that these courageous deeds would not be forgotten. The park features in the 2004 film, Closer, with Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen.
St Dunstan in the East
This church originally dates from 1100 but was damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and heavily bombed during the Blitz. The church tower and steeple built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1695 survived intact. The window frames also survived and make an atmospheric backdrop. It’s a popular place with City workers and a great secret London spot for a picnic.
Dennis Severs’ House
Imagine stepping back in time to how we lived centuries ago – that’s the experience that you get at Dennis Severs’ House. Located on Folgate Street in Spitalfields, it recreates the life of a fictional Huguenot silk-weaver and their family. Created by Dennis Severs, who lived here from 1979 to 1999, this Georgian townhouse features several rooms modelled on 18th and 19th century styles. Mobile phones and photos are not allowed, and if you visit in the evening, it is lit by candlelight. Quite a welcome change in some ways!
One of East London’s most interesting visitor attractions is the Geffrye Museum. It focuses on the history of the home from 1600 to the present day. Set in picturesque 18th century almshouses, it was extended in 1998 to include a pleasant cafe and additional exhibition space. There’s a charming courtyard at the front, and a lovely series of period gardens to the rear.
Wilton’s Music Hall
Did you know that the oldest surviving music hall in the world is located in London’s East End? Wilton’s Music Hall is being restored to its former glory by a dedicated team, and regularly hosts theatrical and musical events in its auditorium. There are several bars which have been deliberately left in a shabby chic style that adds to the ambiance. It’s a few minutes away from the Jack the Ripper Museum which you might also find interesting.
South London Hidden Gems
Not far from bustling Borough Market, you’ll find a place that is of the tourist trail but with an equally tempting selection of food. Mercato Metropolitano is more of a food court than a market, although there’s a Sicilian supermarket attached to it. There’s a huge array of food stalls from Venezuelan and vegan dishes to Italian favourites like pizza and risotto. There’s ample seating inside and in the 2 courtyards, and regular immersive cinema screenings.
Another market that is well worth a visit is Maltby Street, open on Saturdays and Sundays. Nestled under railway arches in Bermondsey and a few minutes walk from Tower Bridge, it’s popular with Londoners for its low-key vibe. Again, this is a place to enjoy street food rather than somewhere to pick up fruit or veg. Having said that, there are some great food producers and craft brewers in the area like Southwark Brewing Co will quench your thirst. Meanwhile, Lassco is the perfect place to pick up vintage furniture or to relax in the cool cafe.
So there you have it, our pick of some of the best London hidden gems. If you like places that are off the beaten track, be sure to check out our guides to the best hidden gems in Paris, Rome and Venice too. Which of these is your favourite or would you like to visit most? Are there any other London hidden gems that you would add to this list?