What should you do once you’ve seen the classics? With Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye under your belt, allow me to show you some of the more unusual things to do in London…
Of all the Royal Parks, Richmond Park is the biggest and arguably the best. Here you’ll find hordes of deer running wild, catch pro cyclists in training and even stumble on the home of the Royal Ballet School. It’s further from the centre than most, with even the London Underground not making it that far. Yet amidst these rolling hills and hefty oaks, there’s one spot where you can see all the way back to St Paul’s. Legend has it that this was where King Henry VIII brought Anne Boleyn on honeymoon – and also where he waited for the signal that told him of her death. Shiver…
Hyde Park on the other hand, sits right in the centre of all the action, flanking Monopoly jackpot Park Lane and iconic Marble Arch as well as Kensington Palace, the official home of Wills & Kate.
Yet my favourite spot is Speakers’ Corner, a place where people from all around the world gather to, well, speak about whatever it is that’s bothering them. Race, religion, war and satire, nothing’s off limits at this bastion of free speech. Sunday afternoons draw the liveliest crowds, showcasing the best and the worst of London’s stand-up speakers.
In this leafy quarter of northwest London, you can hop on a canal boat and glide through the smaller waterways of the capital. Start at Little Venice and slosh past the London Zoo and the edges of Regent’s Park to reach Camden Lock. At times like this, it’s hard to remember that the Underground exists…
You’ve heard of the Tower of London and even the shiny grey Gherkin but what about the buildings in between? Travel through 2000 years of history to find Victorian markets, medieval relics and even crumbling walls from when the Romans were in town. Amble around yourself or, for maximum impact, travel with an academic guide from Context Travel* to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
This small yet info-packed museum lives within a Victorian promenade of Big Ben yet no-one’s ever heard of it. Travel back in time and retrace the steps of the woman credited with founding the modern nursing profession.
Once you’ve had your fill of Covent Garden, Portobello Road and Notting Hill, travel east to Greenwich. Not only can you find the centre of both time and space at the Greenwich Observatory, you can find handicrafts and food from around the world at the busy market at the foot of the hill.
Black cabs and the London Underground are so passé. Head back to the1960s and zip around the city in an Austin Mini Cooper. Peaked caps and gold bars are available on request.
While the Ritz and the Savoy grab the headlines when it comes to afternoon tea, they also grab the crowds. For a more private version of this English tradition, head to the elegant Cranley Hotel in Kensington. You’ll still find cucumber sandwiches, clotted cream, and lashings of jam and scones but you’ll also find peace. And quiet, save for the chinking of china and the chiming of the clock.
In the narrow streets of Soho, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club has hosted many a jazz superstar over the years. Today, it remains as committed to its jazz roots as ever – but if you can’t manage to get into the main area, try climbing the stairs to Ronnie’s Bar. Decked out in animal prints and attracting plenty of up-and-coming talent, it’s still an edgy, fun place to be for a night out in London.
For more on unusual things to do in London, browse through these travel ideas.
PS – That gorgeous black and white image of London comes from Shutterstock.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com