Do you already know the English capital and want to discover unusual and quirky places in London ? This article might give you some ideas!
There are indeed many unusual or surprising places, which go beyond the usual image that one can forge oneself of London … Places that one does not visit during a classic tourist stay but which are nevertheless worth a detour !
Here is the list of 12 unusual places to visit in london
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir London, a Hindu temple in London
Do not ask me how to pronounce the name of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir London , the result might be surprising … but it is a place worth its weight in peanuts!
It is an authentic Hindu temple located in Neasden, North West London, which is why it is often called the “Neasden Temple” there.
Built in Italian marble and limestone from Bulgaria, it was largely hand-carved in India by 1526 sculptors … then assembled in the suburbs of London between 1992 and 1995.
It is one of the biggest Hindu temples in the world outside of India ! You can easily visit it but since it is a place of worship, certain rules apply: no camera inside the temple, you must remove your shoes when entering, wear clothes that cover shoulders, stomach, upper arms and legs; the bottom must go below the knee so no shorts or short skirt.
The temple offers an audio guide and guided tours , you will find all the information on the site .
To get there, you can take the tube to Stonebridge Park Station (Bakerloo Line) and then walk for about 20 minutes; or get off at Neasden (Jubilee Line) and walk about 20 minutes.
There are also buses between the metro and the temple if you don’t want to walk.
Visit the Magic Circle – an unusual place in London
Imagine a private and fairly confidential magic circle , which brings together enthusiasts. The Magic Circle, that’s it! And imagine that from time to time, magicians open their doors to the public for a show or a guided tour of their neighborhoods!
Their Christmas show is extremely famous and there are a few dates throughout the year to enter this privileged world (this is often limited to 5-6 visit dates per year + the shows, which means that it will be a unusual and unique visit if you manage to go!).
The dates are announced well in advance on the Magic Circle website. The “History and Mystery at The Magic Circle” guided tour allows you to discover the world of magic while visiting the building. There is also a mini-show and can enjoy tea / coffee on site.
Ski London at Chel-Ski
The first time I was suggested to go skiing in London , my eyes widened. Ski ??? In London ??? And yet! Head to Chel-Ski, an indoor ski center located near the port of Chelsea .
You can discover skiing or snowboarding but also enjoy the pleasures of skiing at a more advanced level … because the artificial slopes are “adjustable” in inclination and speed.
You must arrive 30 minutes before the reservation time, we provide you with the boots and skis (or snowboard) as well as a helmet, there are lockers on site to leave your belongings safe … and let’s go for the glide! Lessons last 1 hour, but you actually ski half an hour, with a maximum of 3 skiers per track; the lessons are always supervised so in my opinion, it is not intended for experienced skiers (except if you are in dire need of skiing!).
ChelSki has fairly extended opening hours, you can take a shower on site after your lesson, there is also a bar to have a drink or eat. Only downside: the price. Yes, the unusual has to be paid for and a session at Chelski costs around £ 40 per adult (£ 200 for 6 lessons).
ChelSki is very easy to reach by tube from Fulham Broadway station (District Line), walking about ten minutes. In short, if you are looking for an unusual place in London , I think it meets the need;)
Mail Rail, an unusual place in London… underground
Between 1927 and 2003, mail was routed between the various sorting centers of the English capital through an underground network, nicknamed “Mail Rail” . Since September 2017 only, the London Postal Museum has decided to open part of this network to the public.
You can not only visit an exhibition that tells its story but also board a small train which, for about 15 minutes, takes you on this railway line once used by thousands of letters.
This museum is very easy to reach on foot from Russell Square (Piccadilly Line) or King’s Cross – St Pancras stations in about 15 minutes on foot.
Walk in a cove at low tide
Another unusual outing in London: Deptford Creek ! The Ravensbourne River is a tributary of the Thames… and it forms one of the very few natural coves in England… right in the heart of London!
At low tide, you can walk for about 1 kilometer in the very bed of the river … the opportunity to discover a fauna and flora that you are not used to seeing in a European capital!
These walks (“Low Tide Walk”) last about 2 hours , are organized on certain Sundays by the Creekside Education Trust . You will be provided with waders suitable for walking in the mud, trekking poles and waterproof clothing, it is advisable to wear old clothes underneath.
The Crossrail Place Roof Garden
In the heart of the Canary Wharf district in London, in the middle of the buildings, this garden like no other makes you travel from one continent to another! The Crossrail Place Roof Garden has the distinction of being built almost astride the Greenwich Meridian.
It occupies 300 meters , on the site where the Company of the West Indies docks formerly unloaded its cargo after long voyages abroad… and it shelters plants resulting from the countries where one traveled at that time to trade. .
The garden is open daily, a short walk from Canary Wharf Tube Station (Jubilee Line).
Highgate Cemetery London
I have already told you about Highgate Cemetery , which I discovered at a time when it was still a very private and little-known place. In recent years, it has been one of the unusual places in London very popular with tourists. Highgate consists of two parts, the private cemetery is one that is definitely worth a visit for its unique beauty.
You can visit it exclusively with a guide… and you come out with the impression of having spent a moment out of time (or perhaps in the Victorian era!), In a peaceful and surprising environment.
There is another very beautiful Victorian cemetery on the outskirts of London, Abney Park . It can be visited freely and will appeal to most photo enthusiasts! It can be reached in less than 5 minutes on foot from London Overground’s Stoke Newington station (just a 15-minute journey from Liverpool Street in London).
Cross Bones Garden-Cemetery
We stay in cemeteries with this unusual place, halfway between a garden and a cemetery . Cross Bones has an astonishing history: it would have existed since the 15th or 16th century and the place where it is located was at the time a district plagued by misery, alcoholism and prostitution.
There were most of London’s brothels, taverns, high crime… and a cemetery was created to accommodate the bodies of all the people who could not be buried elsewhere , for lack of money or because of their “bad luck”. conduct ”which deprived them of a Christian burial.
According to author John Constable, the cemetery was also home to “single women,” a euphemism for prostitutes. During archaeological excavations, we have also found the remains of young victims of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease.
Cross Bones operated until 1853, when residents of the neighborhood opposed further burials, as the cemetery they said was too full, risking the health of the neighborhood.
Today there is a small garden of remembrance on site where vigils are regularly organized for all those “excluded from society”, in tribute to the history of this place … Cross Bones is not open all the time because the garden is run by volunteers, it is easier to enter on weekdays at lunch time and some Saturdays. You can find out about the opening days via the garden website.
The London Ice Pits
If you have time to kill before catching the train at King’s Cross station, there is the London Canal Museum nearby . This small museum tells the story of London’s canals, offers boat trips on the Regent’s Canal … and allows you to look inside an ice well.
It would also be one of the only ice wells still visible in Europe, because most have been filled since they are no longer used.
Their history is quite fascinating: in the 19th century, there were no refrigerators… and even fewer freezers! However, ice was needed for many reasons: in hospitals, it allowed a little anesthetic for patients who were in pain or who had to undergo operations; in commerce, it was used to preserve perishable foods; in wealthy homes, you wanted it to cool your drinks… but what was to be done at a time when you couldn’t make ice ?
A Swiss, Carlo Gatti, had the idea in 1857 and then in 1862 to build two big wells 9 meters wide and 13 meters deep… and to pile in them ice imported by freighter from Norway . Surprisingly, the ice cream kept very well, losing only a quarter of its volume.
The wells were in use until 1904 and in the London Canal Museum you can look inside one.
God’s Own Junkyard
It is an unusual place in London that we no longer present as it is intriguing! God’s Own Junkyard is quite simply the largest collection of neon lights in Europe , which to my knowledge approaches 700 to 1000 neons.
These neon lights are located in an industrial building, a 15-minute walk from Walthamstow Central (Victoria Line) underground station. In itself, the place is not very big but it is full of so many neon lights that you notice new ones every time you visit! You can stop there for a gourmet break at the Rolling Scones Café .
The place was created by Chris Bracey , fascinated since childhood by lights (is it so surprising for a man born on December 25?) And from a family of neon makers (they run the Electro company Signs ).
For years he made neon lights for all kinds of businesses, including clubs and sex shops in Soho, also working for the cinema. Chris Bracey unfortunately contracted prostate cancer which killed him shortly before his 60th birthday in 2014. God’s Own Junkyard was his “baby” and if you go there, the family – who keep the place going – will appreciate the donations to the Prostate Cancer UK association .
St. Dunstan-in-the-East, the abandoned church
St. Dunstan-in-the-East was an Anglican church built around the year 1100. Affected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, it was then “patched up” by successive restorations, partial reconstructions when the building threatened to collapse… until World War II when the church was bombed.
It was then decided to leave it “as is”, with its tower still standing and the walls that remained … and to install a public garden in the middle of the ruins .
It’s a tiny place but if you are looking for a quirky little place in London to take a break, there are a few benches there and the place is surprising. It is a stone’s throw from the Monument and the Tower of London.
The Hardy Tree
We end with an unusual place to visit while waiting for the train at King’s Cross – St Pancras station! The Hardy Tree is a tree located in Saint Pancras Gardens, a stone’s throw from the station.
His particuliarity ? It is surrounded by old tombstones ! In fact, this public garden was originally a cemetery attached to St Pancras Church. Many French people were buried there, died in exile in London after fleeing the Revolution.
In the mid-1860s, a young architect, Thomas Hardy (who would later become a novelist and poet), was given the responsibility of “emptying” part of the cemetery in order to make room for the construction of a railway line connecting the Midland Railways to St Pancras. The tombstones removed for this occasion were gathered around a tree, nicknamed since the “Hardy Tree”.
And as a bonus, an unusual place at the gates of London: lavender fields!
Well, we are cheating a bit with this final suggestion because the place is located in the great southern suburbs of London, about twenty kilometers from the English capital. But what a place! This is the Mayfield Lavender Farm , which produces lavender.
In July-August, you can go for a walk in the middle of the lavender fields … and buy products made from lavender. It is a very popular outing in summer!
Just take the train at London Victoria station, get off at West Croydon (there are trains every 5 minutes on this route!) And then take the 166 bus to the farm.
So these are some of the unusual places in London among all those that exist! I hope this gives you some ideas to think outside the box if you want to visit London a little differently from the usual tourist routes.