By Holly Stark
Looking for unusual things to do in London? The capital is home to world-famous museums and well-loved attractions which are always worth a visit, but in a city as large, sprawling and brimming with history as London, there’s always the weird and wonderful to delve into. Zig-zag through the streets to discover London’s hidden gems, from green havens in London Kings Cross area to communal spaces at the heart of creativity and wellbeing. Wander through old and new, leafy parks, historic squares, cool art galleries and find plenty of places to call in for a drink and a bite to eat. Experience London attractions beyond the most famous sights and see another side to the busy capital. Here, I’ve collected some of the freakiest and most fantastic top 10 things to do in London. Simply open your mind and tell your friends in advance that things might be about to get kinda strange on your London must see adventure.
Try a Full English at St. Margaret’s House
Kickstart your day celebrating creativity and wellbeing at St. Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green; an exhibition house and event space with one-off workshops, wellbeing classes featuring low-cost yoga, film screenings, open mics, gigs, spoken word, comedy, festivals and a delicious vegan cafe. At the heart of the space is a mission to promote positive social change by creating opportunities for people to come together and play a more active part in their East London community. Head to the Gallery Café, home to many locally-sourced options, low-cost vegan dishes, locally-ground coffees, sweet treats and healthy juices. On the menu is a cracking selection of hot vegan plates; including classic breakfasts such as the Full English (vegan style), which will feel as familiar as an old friend. The breakfast is one of the top things to do in London. The Gallery Café is a local treasure and run by community charity St. Margaret’s House. All profits from the cafe go straight back into the charity, so your hungry tummy isn't the only reason to give this wonderful spot your custom.
Check Out Eel Pie Island
If you head from east to west on the River Thames, things start getting quite interesting. Along the Putney to Hampton Court and beyond, small islands begin to pop up along the way. One of the larger, little-known London islands - Eel Pie Island - was once a countercultural hippie haven; a cauldron of British rock ‘n’ roll and a regular gig spot for artists including The Rolling Stones, The Who and Pink Floyd. The spot became famous in the 1960s for gigs and later for its recording studio. Now, this privately owned island is home to a nature reserve and artists’ studios. You can grab a rare chance to see it for yourself on one of the few open days they hold there each year. Over a sweet footbridge that arches over the River Thames, you’ll find a jarring ‘private property’ sign when you reach the other side but, on those odd occasions, the islanders invite the public to come and visit this London hidden gem for the Open Studios event. A curious, little-known river haven; Eel Pie Island is one of the top unusual things to do in London. If it’s not open to the public, why not try mudlarking on the River Thames? Mudlarking is the urban equivalent of beachcombing (looking on the beach for “treasures” washed up by the sea.) You’re likely to find everyday objects like pottery, buttons, tools and old clay pipes.
Discover the Hidden Gems of London Kings Cross
Explore the charming waterway of Regent’s Canal; soak up the connection to nature, colourful narrowboat moorings, heritage buildings and see the locals living on the peaceful canal. Shop for books on a barge at Word on the Water, London's only floating bookshop. Brimming with affordable books and hosting live music and poetry events up on its restored 1920s Dutch barge roof, the shop was saved from closure after a passionate campaign and is now moored permanently at Granary Square near King's Cross Station. Head to Camley Street Natural Park; and float through the urban nature haven in the middle of one of the most densely populated parts of London. Enjoy birds, butterflies, bats and plants as you wander through wetlands, woodland and meadows. Check out the Skip Garden; a peaceful, hidden green oasis in the middle of the King’s Cross development and witness a sustainable urban garden and a charismatic oasis with wild flowers, vegetables, herbs, beehives and chicken coops. Grab a bite to eat at the Canopy Market, dedicated to the best artisan food, drink and designer-makers at West Handyside Canopy in the heart of King’s Cross.
Catch Live Music in Camden
Considered the capital of music, Camden is a well-loved area that’s great for eating, people watching, hearing good music, and partying. From little hole-in-the-walls to venues that hold thousands, Camden is home to some of the greatest live music venues in the world and has hosted world-class bands and artists. Check out historically and architecturally impressive The Roundhouse (the roof converts into a sandy beach in summer) Koko (where Madonna played her first UK show) and Electric Ballroom (which dates back to 1938). Other popular music spaces include Dingwalls, The Jazz Cafe, The Blues Kitchen, and The Fiddler’s Elbow. For upcoming artists, visit Spiritual Bar, run by indie label Spiritual Records. For decent pubs, check out the Hawley Arms (where Amy Winehouse used to hang out), The Good Mixer (which is said to be where Oasis’s rivalry with Blur began) and The Lock Tavern. As well as music, Camden is home to the iconic Camden Market which encompasses Camden Lock Market and Stable Market (old horse stables), you’ll find plenty of local and international food options as well as lots of small shops with quirky bits and bobs to peruse. Seeking things to do in London at night? Head to Camden and you’ll be in for a great night in London.
Get High on Primrose Hill
Just down the road from Camden is Primrose Hill, one of the best free viewing points in London, and a pause from the busy city. Get yourself up the hill, take some food, drinks and a friend with you, and admire the city skyline from the sublime green space. Enjoy stunning panoramic views of the London skyline, where on a sunny day you'll be able to see popular London attractions and landmarks like The London Eye, The Shard, and The BT Tower. Up until the 19th century, Primrose Hill was a woodland area of trees and wolves, and was once used as a hunting ground by English monarchs. Throughout its history Primrose Hill has changed very little, and just strolling around its surrounding streets will feel as if you're walking around a London borough during the 20th century. Many of the streets, buildings, homes and pubs have been left untouched, giving the area a very unique architectural feel that is unlike any other in London. Inhabitants of the area have included Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Kate Moss and Jude Law.
Wander Bowies’s Birthplace: Brixton
The birthplace of David Bowie, a creative hub, a place to party and an emerging foodie hotspot, Brixton has it all. There’s museums, listed building-come-lidos, book shops, rooftop bars, urban beaches, craft breweries, old theatres and some of the best nights in London. If you’re seeking somewhere to party in Brixton, dance the night away at Hootananny or check out Effra Social for live music, pub quizzes, comedy improvvand disco nights. Get educated at the Black Cultural Archives where you can learn about the history of African and Caribbean communities in Britain. The Black Cultural Archives is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain. Check out the collections including personal mementos, photographs, rare books and an archive collection of over 2,000 records reflecting the history of Black presence in Britain. The collection also contains records from modern history including that of African and Caribbean soldiers in World Wars I & II, resistance movements and pressure groups of the 20th century. Brixton has become one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in London by shaking off most of its rough past without sacrificing its sense of identity.
Head to God’s Own Junkyard
If you like unusual art, head to God's Own Junkyard, which showcases neon artist Chris Bracey's personal collection of work in a salvage yard in Walthamstow. It’s home to everything from his signage for Soho sex clubs in the '60s to his work for the movie industry, including pieces that were used in Captain America, Eyes Wide Shut, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton’s Batman and Byzantium among others. A sensory stimulation unlike anything else in the capital, every surface of the family run warehouse space is covered in neon and bathed in colourful light. Once you're done being dazzled, you can grab drinks and snacks at the yard's own Rolling Scones Cafe. A neon-lit paradise, God's Own Junkyard is a great place to pass an hour or so in the city.
Be Enchanted by a Potterhead Paradise
London is steeped in Harry Potter history, with several iconic locations from the films to visit. Go for a wizard-themed afternoon tea in Soho. Soho’s favourite all-natural bakery has transformed their underground space into the The Cutter & Squidge School of Alchemy. Conveniently located within walking distance from the Palace Theatre, the basement of this Soho bakery has been converted into an unofficial potion room. Expect magical refreshments, colourful drinks, robes and wands. Cast spells and concoct edible potions before tucking into a magical selection of sweet and savoury, including Yorkshire puddings filled with roast beef and horseradish, classic finger sandwiches, knickerbocker bites, and spectacular drinks served in personal-sized cauldrons. Alternatively, take a guided walk where you will see some lesser-known wizarding world sights you might recognise. Take yourself to Leadenhall Market, the enchanting London market with a great history. London is perfect for any Harry Potter fan, with a ton of Harry Potter London attractions to delve into.
Dine in the Dark at Dans Le Noir?
Dans Le Noir? is a profoundly sensory food adventure that makes for a unique evening. An unusual dining experience and London food experience that aims to encourage participants to re-evaluate their approach to eating. Hosted and served by visually impaired people, the aim is to change your point of view about many preconceived ideas of the world. The evening may seem slightly daunting for some diners, but the social experience means darkness frees inhibitions and fosters a conviviality without preconceptions. An unusual experience where those with visual impairments become your eyes and guides, at Dans Le Noir? you eat in complete darkness, so all focus is on the taste, smell, texture, and even the sound of the food and those around you. Before being led into the pitch-black basement dining room by the restaurant’s guides, you choose one of four colour-coded mystery menus; red (meat), blue (fish), green (vegetarian) and white (chef’s special). It’s a weird, curious experience you’re unlikely to forget.
Soak Up the Colours of Neal’s Yard
If wandering around aimlessly, looking at colourful streets, pretty corners, hidden bookstores, and quiet tea shops, is your thing, then you will love Neal’s Yard. One of the best London must see hidden gems is a small alley called Neal’s Yard. Opening into a courtyard of colourful facades housing organic food shops and cafés, Neal’s Yard is just a short walk from the popular Covent Garden area and train station. Head up Neal Street until Short Gardens, take a left and enter a little colourful paradise tucked away from the usual modern setting. Away from the bustle of busy London streets, enjoy a snack, coffee or lunch while soaking up the pretty surroundings and watching the world go by.
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