Off Beat London - London's Hidden Tourist Gems

No matter how many times you've been to London, you can always find new and out of the way places that most visitors don't visit. Here are some of London's less publicized gems. And the best part, some of them are FREE! `

Sit with Churchill and Roosevelt

This bench in central London is called ‘Allies’ and commemorated 50 years of peace. The bronze statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill appear to be sitting and having a chat but there’s a handy space between them for you to sit down.

It makes for a fun photo opportunity. Note how shiny Churchill’s right and Roosevelt’s left knees are from visitors giving them a rub!

Highgate Cemetery

Karl Marx's final resting place is in north London at the Highgate Cemetery. The cementery is split into East and West on either side of a quaint village lane. The East Cemetery is where you can see Karl Marx’s Memorial every day as well as Malcolm McLaren andJeremy Beadle’s tombstones.

Over on the West you have to take a guided tour as it’s incredibly overgrown and the ground can be pretty uneven and they don’t want to lose you in there. All entrance and tour fees go towards the upkeep and repairs on site. (10 am to 4 pm)

Entry: £3 per adult / £2 for students with valid NUS card or equivalent
Tours: £7 for adults, £5 for students and £3 suggested donation for children over 8 years old.

Speaker’s Corner

Every Sunday afternoon you can hear preaching and ranting in a corner of Hyde Park, near Marble Arch tube station. Free speech is welcome and encouraged at Speaker’s Corner and there’s plenty of religion and politics but also some off the wall ideas such as free hugs and alien invader news. Karl Marx and Lenin have spoken here so there may be someone worth listening to or you might want to hone your heckling skills.

Dennis Severs’ House

Just by Spitalfields Market is a wonderfully atmospheric London street with the bizarre but fascinating Dennis Severs’ House. American Dennis Severs bought the house 30 years ago and lived here, without electricity and other home comforts.

A time capsule in which visitors are immersed in a unique form of theatre. Guests are escorted, in total silence, into candlelit chambers from which, apparently, their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century inhabitants have only just withdrawn. Powerful historical sensations and a family saga add up to a magical journey through time. Unsuitable for children.

6-9pm Mon, last adm 8.15pm; noon-4pm Sun, last adm 3.15pm, noon-2pm, last adm 1.30pm Mondays following the first and third Sun

£12 Mon eve (not bank hols) by candlelight; booking essential. £8 Sun, £5 noon-2pm Mon following the first and third Sun; no booking required

Duck Tour :

It's a Duck. No, it's a Bus. It's a Boat. Actually it's a Duck Tour - bus cum boat. These canary-yellow vehicles drive on the road and float on water. These Chitty Chitty Bang Bang truck-boat hybrids are each pushing 70 years old. The 75-minute tour trundles around Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and Hyde Park Corner in central London, then lurches at an alarming angle into the Thames to chug low in the water alongside the Houses of Parliament.

The entertaining guides combine interesting facts, stand-up comedy. One thing for sure, you will come back home with the widest grin on your face.

London: The Secret City:

Leave behind the hustle and bustle of the 21st century and step into this bygone world to visit places that have changed little in over a hundred years.

Gaze upon the Tower of London, and learn how it nearly came to grief in the 19th century; explore Victorian London’s most beautiful market, which is featured in the Harry Potter films; go inside London’s medieval palace; enjoy the ‘holy gloom’ of London’s oldest parish church.

More Secret City Walks >>

The ‘Roman’ Bath

This lane, down a flight of steps just off Surrey Street, is said to be where Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plotters met. The bath was once used by Charles Dickens. There’s also thewatch house to look out for grave robbers in St Clement Danes church yard. The water comes from St Clement’s holy well.

Strand Lane WC2 
Tube: Temple

Centre of London

On a busy traffic island below Trafalgar Square is a statue of King Charles I looking towards Whitehall, where he was beheaded. On this site once stood Queen Eleanor's Cross (a replica of which is now in front of Charing Cross station), and it is the place from which all distances to London are measured.

Trafalgar Square WC2
Tube: Charing Cross

Go on a Bat Walk:

This is not for the queasy hearted. Walk the St James's Park Bat Walks, which take place at dusk and start at Horseguards Parade (tube: Charing Cross). It's generally fully booked, so you need to book ahead.

Almost as interesting as the bat spotting itself are your fellow spotters, who range from flappy-eared fanatics to quintessential English gentlemen, all sporting crackly bat detectors. The tension mounts as you circle the lake without spotting a single flying mammal, but as evening falls, the bats oblige by whirring above the trees, provoking a moment of pure wonder.

Find the Gods in Neasden:

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir the first Hindu temple in Europe, would be amazing anywhere. But in a northwest London suburb, off the North Circular motorway, it's otherworldly. The lace-like marble carving, delicate as flowers, was made by Indian sculptors and then shipped to the UK, where volunteers worked to build the temple from 26,300 carved pieces. Built from 1992 to 1995 and funded entirely by donations, it's for the area's Indian community, but everyone is welcome.
Nearest tube: Neasden

Go spiritual at Westminster Abbey:

Attend a spiritual sunday service at the West Minster Abbey Church, irrespective of your beliefs. Its chicken soup for the soul. The Chuch is one of Britain's finest Gothic buildings. Scene of the coronation, marriage and burial of British monarchs. Visitors can see the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, Royal Tombs and Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, the Coronation Chair, Lady Chapel and Poets' Corner, Pyx Chamber, Nave and cloisters, the Royal Chapels and the Undercroft Museum.

Visit Sir John Soane's Museum by candlelight

The 18th-century architect's former home, is a British Aladdin's cave. It's at its most magical by candlelight (6-9pm, first Tuesday of the month).

From outside, the museum is a graceful townhouse. Within you'll find a treasure trove, lit by hidden skylights, reflected by mirrors, and topped by a glass dome. Highlights of Soane's crammed-in collection of art, sculpture and antiques include the Egyptian sarcophagus of Seti l and a bevy of Hogarth paintings.

Visit London's most famous address - 221b Baker Street:

Step back in time and visit the most famous address in London, within a short walk from Oxford Street. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson lived in a Victorian lodging at 221b Baker Street between 1881-1904 according to stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This house has been preserved faithfully as per the published stories.

The address itself did not exist at the time the stories were first published. The site of the house - had it ever existed - has been disputed by scholars. In his first manuscript, Conan Doyle put Holmes's home in "Upper Baker Street", indicating that if he had a house in mind it would have been in the section north of Marylebone Road, near Regent's Park.

Become a kid at the Cartoon Museum :

This highly entertaining London tourist attraction covers the history and development of British cartoons from the 18th Century till the present day. It has an exhaustive collection of all types of cartoons in this museum including caricatures and rare examples of cartoon art. Sure the kids will find it entertaining but we recommend it for all animation enthusiasts.

There are over nine hundred pieces on exhibit and the museum regularly holds events where both children and adults can participate. Please note that the museum is closed on Mondays and open Tuesday to Saturday 10.30- 17.30 and Sunday 12.00-17.30.
Free Entry with the London Pass
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £4.00

West Brompton Cemetery:

London has many beautiful and overgrown cemeteries. Squeezed almost out of existence by Fulham, Chelsea and Earls Court, between which it lies, West Brompton was an area of fields and market gardens until the late eighteenth century. Much of the land was acquired from 1801 by the Gunter family, confectioners of Berkeley Square.

The cemetery was compulsorily purchased from the private owners in 1852 by the General Board of Health, becoming the first and only London cemetery under government control. Around 200,000 people have been buried here, including eleven holders of the Victoria Cross, 3,000 Chelsea Pensioners.

Children’s writer Beatrix Potter often walked in the cemetery and seems to have found the names for many of her characters on the gravestones here.

Take the Hogwarts Express:

Walk in Harry Potter’s footsteps, and visit the sites where the movies were filmed.
First stop Diagon Alley
where Harry and his friends visit at the start of every school year to pick up their supplies of spell books, Robes, wands and other items in preparation for their return to Hogwarts.
Step inside the Leaky Cauldron for a Butter Beer.
Kings Cross Station
is over 150 years old and pretty impressive all on its own. Try to find Platform 9 ¾, between platform 9 and 10, and you might also see a luggage cart about to vanish .
Head to Australia House to look for Wizard gold on The Strand in London – it’s really Gringott's bank.
London Zoo – Check out the great owl exhibit, but don’t miss the reptile room, where Harry realized he could talk to a boa constrictor.
The Great Hall of Christ Church College “is” Hogwarts School and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University appears in the movie as Hogwarts dining room and library.
Gloucester Cathedral - Recognize many exteriors from the movie (students of the King’s School next door were extras.)
Lacock Abbey (Lacock, near Devizes, Wiltshire) – Another wonderful place to visit is Lacock, the medieval town that is home to 13th century Lacock Abbey, used for interior scenes of Hogwarts School.
Goathland (near Grosmont, Yorkshire) – The village of Goathland on the Yorkshire Moors has a train station that’s been virtually unchanged for 135 years: perfect to recreate “Hogsmeade Station,” end of the line for the Hogwarts Express. You can catch a steam train not unlike the Hogwarts Express for 18 miles that run through the spectacular North Yorkshire Moors.
Alnwick Castle (Alnwick, Northumberland) – Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England, home to Earls and Dukes since 1309. Recognize the grounds as Hogwart's "quidditch pitch.” Open March – October.

Watch this space! We'll be regularly updating with some less obvious places to consider visiting when in London.

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