London, baby!

Is there anywhere that manages to be so effervescent yet so poetic as England’s charismatic capital? I think not!

With ancient tales etched into its streets, this sprawling metropolis seems to continuously reinvent itself for each generation while still holding on to its distinctive charm. This seductive city certainly has something for all sorts of travelers. 

But put down the guidebooks, folks! This isn’t your regular Buckingham Palace to the London Eye touristy article.

On the contrary… we’re venturing off the beaten track to uncover London’s juiciest secrets. I’m talking about the kind only known to the locals or ultra-savvy urban explorers!

So, ditch the crowds, and let me take you through some of the best-hidden gems in London. Let’s go, guv.

danielle at a phone booth in london, england
Hi mam, this telephone box smells of wee.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

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What’s LDN Like?

London is all-consuming. From glitzy West End musicals to world-class museums, and fashionable international eateries to The Big Smoke is going all out 365 days a year. But don’t worry – whenever your energy flags, there’s always a pub nearby to grab a pint of local ale, served warm if you’re a traditionalist. 

During the summer, London locals to love to whip their shirts off and enjoy picnics with friends. For a big city, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, offer large, green spaces. But there are also tons of smaller public patches dotted with a little peace in the centre of chaos, surrounded by gorgeous Georgian and Victorian townhouses.

London Tube
Avoiding rush hour is bliss.
Photo: Sasha Savinov

It’s well known that the east part of London is where a lot of the coolest brunch spots and bars are to be found. But of course, this metropolis has neighbourhood after neighbourhood to uncover. I love a canal day in Canden or hitting up the market in Soho.

Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey… Blah, blah, blah. Yes, you should go and see them. But once you’ve ticked the essentials, dig a little deeper into the magic of the British capital, Hogwarts and all!

1. Climb the O2

Climb the O2 London

Virtually everyone knows about Australia’s Sydney Harbor Bridge climbing experience. But did you know that it’s possible to have a similar experience while visiting London? That’s right: the city is home to the O2, one of the most magical places in London.

The O2 regularly hosts celebrities and major sporting events but what makes this place doubly special is that you can literally climb the building to enjoy panoramic vistas of London from way above – 52 meters above to be exact! Not only does this guided activity provide all the safety equipment, but you’ll also be treated to unobstructed views of Greenwich, the Olympic Park, and Canary Wharf.  

  • Rating: 7/10 – Hidden Gem Alert
  • Cost: $46
  • Personal Opinion: Worth it for the views!  

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    2. Mosey Around the Temple District

    Temple Church London

    If your idea of fun is to explore secret alleyways, ancient churches, and ancient passageways, the Temple District is definitely the right spot for you!

    Nestled right by the Thames River embankment, the Temple District is even said to be connected to the Knights Templar. The highlight of this area is no doubt the Temple Church, a 12th-century landmark where the Knights Templar used to worship. If this spot looks familiar to you, that’s because it was featured in The Da Vinci Code.

    Located off the beaten track, this place is accessible through a deceptively simple passageway from Fleet Street. It looks like an unassuming area.

    But as soon as you cross the passageway, you’ll step into a generously sized area speckled with beautifully preserved heritage buildings. I’m talking about cobblestone streets, quaint courtyards, and collonaded pathways. It’s not surprising to see barristers with powdered wigs strolling about since this area is one of the most notable legal districts in the country.

    • Rating: 10/10 – Bucket List Essential
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: Eccentric and quirky in all the right ways!

    3. Bike your Way through the Hidden Gems

    London Bike Ride

    In my opinion, one of the best ways of exploring the (many) secret spots in London is by biking your way through the city.

    Hop on your classic English Pashley bikes and enjoy a leisurely ride alongside your guide down the quaint backstreets in search of both lesser-known places and more famous landmarks alike. My favourite place to do this is Covent Garden, it’s my favourite part of London. It’s also home to my favourite hotel in the city – The Resident.

    You’ll bike past notable spots like the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben – but that’s not all! The activity will also take you off the beaten track, perfect for discovering lesser-known attractions in London like Cleopatra’s Needle and the Banksy Tunney under Waterloo Station to see street artists working on their murals. Rest assured that spray cans are provided if you want to have a go at your own street art!  

    • Rating: 9/10 – Don’t Miss It!
    • Cost: $60
    • Personal Opinion: A delightful detour with plenty of lesser-known attractions.

    4. Search for the Hidden Gardens

    Secret Gardens of the City of London Private Tour

    Okay, London is famously known for being one of the glitziest European cities, but did you know that there are quite a few hidden gardens speckled outside the tourist trail?

    Perfect for travelers who’d like to uncover those secret spots in London, this activity features a private walking tour through the gardens, ruins, and even graveyards. Plenty of fascinating spots await, including the St. Mary Aldermanbury Garden, the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars, and St. Olave’s Church which still houses an ancient churchyard.

    You’ll also see St. Dunstan in the Old City area as well as Whittington Park which is dedicated to one of the city’s most popular Lord Mayors.

    • Rating: 8/10 – Hidden Gem Alert!
    • Cost: $210
    • Personal Opinion: A lush experience, especially in spring.
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    5. Immerse Yourself in Victorian London

    Jack the Ripper London

    If you’re looking for unique things to do in London, this definitely is one activity that you just can’t miss!

    Jack the Ripper is a notorious part of British history, but unlike other experiences, this activity features high-tech RIPPER-VISION™ and hand-held projectors to help you feel like you’re strolling through Victorian London. Moving images and film clips are also part of the experience!

    It’s fun to do with people you meet at hostels in London. As you stroll through Whitechapel’s dimly illuminated streets, a guide will let you in on some of the lesser-known legends and theories surrounding Jack the Ripper.

    • Rating: 6/10 – Worth a Deeper Look
    • Cost: $25
    • Personal Opinion: Worth it if you’ve got some extra time to spare.

    6. Hit the Stalls at Leadenhall Market

    Leadenhall Market London

    As far as the hidden gems in London are concerned, this one is a real doozy!

    While tourists normally flock to more popular spots like, say, Camden or Borough Markets, I can absolutely recommend a visit to Leadenhall. Located in Central London’s financial district, this spot is an absolute feast for the eyes – so much so that it has even been featured in numerous movies, including the iconic Harry Potter series.

    Dating back to 1321 when London was still under Roman rule, this spot started as a meat and poultry market. Nowadays, you’ll find just about everything there, including trendy boutiques, cafes, wine bars, and even a pub.  

    • Rating: 8/10 – Magic Awaits
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: A hidden wonderland just waiting to be explored.

    7. Treat Yourself to a Classic Afternoon Tea

    Afternoon Tea at The Rubens at the Palace London

    The thought of having afternoon tea in London usually evokes images of Claridge’s famous striped cups. While this Mayfair hotel is no doubt one of the most popular afternoon tea venues in London, it’s undoubtedly a touristy place with a rather lengthy waiting list.

    Travelers who’d rather shun the usual tourist itinerary may wish to consider having afternoon tea at The Rubens at the Palace instead, a lesser-known but equally luxurious hotel in Central London. Overlooking the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace, this underrated place boasts quite a scrumptious offering which includes classic British goodies: finger sandwiches, cakes, and (of course!) scones served with clotted cream. Yum…

    • Rating: 7/10 – A Classic Experience
    • Cost: $90
    • Personal Opinion: An absolute feast that won’t leave you hungry!
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    8. Walk the Thames Path

    Thames Path London

    I know, I know. The River Thames isn’t exactly a hidden gem in London!

    While the river is the city’s most famous natural landmark though, it does hold its own share of treasures, especially if you venture down the Thames Path.

    Stretching from the Cotswolds to end in Woolwich, London, the long-distance Thames Path hides plenty of attractions that tourists may not necessarily know about. As you reach the end of Clink Street, for example, you’ll stumble upon The Golden Hind, a replica of the ship that Sir Francis Drake used to sail around the world from 1577 to 1580.

    Tired of walking? Then I can absolutely vouch for this adrenaline-pumping speedboat expedition that seamlessly combines adventure and sightseeing!

    • Rating: 8.5/10 – A real corker.
    • Cost: FREE
    • Personal Opinion: This is a national treasure you don’t wanna miss.
    Hidden Gems in London
    Best HotelBest HostelBest Private Stay
    Park Plaza Westminster BridgeWombat’s City Hostel LondonHope House Residencies

    9. Step into Windsor Castle

    Windsor Castle Day Trip

    There’s no denying that Buckingham Palace is by far one of the most iconic tourist attractions in London. But if you want to go off the beaten track and avoid massive tourist crowds while still experiencing the thrill of visiting a palace, then you should definitely check out Windsor Castle!

    Established way back in the 11th century, Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world – and well worth a visit in my opinion! If you want to stay in Windsor (which I highly recommend) you should head to the Windsorian experience – it’s just 800m from the castle!

    While it’s not as heavily publicized as Buckingham Palace, Windsor holds more than its fair share of treasures: you’ll even get to tour the state apartments which are stunningly appointed with pieces from the royal collection.

    Your ticket also includes admission to St. George’s Chapel which is said to be one of most stunning Ecclesiastical buildings in Britain.

    • Rating: 8/10 – Treasure Trove
    • Cost: $37
    • Personal Opinion: A fascinating glimpse into royal life.

    10. Discover the City’s Oldest Literary Haunts

    Literary Pub Crawl and Tavern Tour in London

    Here’s another great option for travelers looking for secret places in London!

    Forget about those ultra-glitzy, ultra-popular pubs on Fleet Street and Convent Garden as you set out to discover some of the oldest pubs in the country. Best of all, you’ll see the very venues that inspired generations of creative minds. I’m talking about George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Charles Dickens…the works!

    In addition to discovering some less-popular pubs and venues, this activity also includes re-enactments of specific moments in British literary history. You’ll even get to enjoy poetry and book readings before ending the tour in Soho.  

    • Rating: 9/10 – Don’t Miss Out
    • Cost: $40
    • Personal Opinion: An eclectic hodgepodge that simply works.

    11. Wander Through Mayfair’s Pickering Place

    Mayfair London

    Given its popularity, you’re probably surprised to see Mayfair on this list, but I bet that not a lot of you know that this place holds its own share of treasures!

    One of the best London hideaways is actually found in Mayfair – more precisely in Pickering Place, a lesser-known space that is said to be the smallest square in London.  

    Now, Mayfair may have a squeaky-clean reputation that’s only punctuated by its vintage glamor but in reality, this area conceals quite the raucous past. Despite the stately homes that surround it, Pickering Place used to be a hotspot for all dueling, gambling, and even bear baiting back in the 18th century.

    Things got so unsavory that at one point, Pickering Place developed a pretty shady reputation as the kind of spot that you avoid after dark!  

    Today, it’s quite a safe, Grade III listed place known for its elegance and classic British charm. When visiting Mayfair, keep your eyes peeled for the small, unremarkable archway with ‘Pickering Place’ written on it in tiny letterings.

    • Rating: 8/10 – Hole in the Wall Wonder
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: Quaint and cozy with oodles of old-world appeal.
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    12. Lose Yourself in Venice

    Little Venice London

    Travelers looking for a peaceful setting away from the hustle and bustle of the city may wish to head to Little Venice, an area that will literally make you feel like you’ve stepped into a whole other country!

    By far one of the most magical places in London, Little Venice is located smack at the spot where the Regent and the Grand Union’s canals join.

    Characterized by its atmospheric houses and calm canals, this area even features numerous cafes and pubs that are perched right by the water’s edge. Families traveling with children can always treat themselves to a live show on the Puppet Theatre Barge which features an actual theatre found on a boat.

    While you’re in Little Venice, I would totally recommend a ride on the London Waterbus that’ll take you all the way to Camden in less than an hour.

    • Rating: 7/10 – Diamond in the Rough
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: A slept-on spot ready for its close-up.

    13. Marvel at the Tulip Stairs

    Tulip Stairs London

    In my opinion, the Tulip Stairs are probably among the most magical places in London- not to mention the most Instagrammable!

    This underrated place is found in Greenwich, more precisely in The Queen’s House. Just a quick heads-up though: this spot is free to visit but I would recommend booking your tickets ahead of time to guarantee entry.

    Not only is the Tulip Staircase quite a sight to behold with its ornate, wrought-iron design punctuated by flowery motifs, but it’s also the very first centrally unsupported staircase in the country. In fact, it was hailed as a real engineering feat when it was first built!

    After visiting the staircase, I would also recommend that you check out other London hideaways that lie nearby, such as the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and the Painted Hall.

    • Rating: 6/10 – Worth a Deeper Look
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: An Instagrammer’s paradise bursting with photo ops.

    14. Have a Cuppa at the Hidden Coffee

    After all that sightseeing, there’s nothing quite like winding down over a fresh cup of coffee while watching the world go by!

    If you’d rather avoid the crowds, I can recommend a visit to the Hidden Coffee which, true to its name, is a real hidden gem cafe in London! Located just a few steps from the Camden Overground Station, this place may look like any regular station café, but step inside and it’s a whole other story that awaits.

    Despite its deceptively small exterior, the interior is pretty spacious, with a retro vibe and the best vegan banana bread in London!

    • Rating: 5/10 – Intriguing Enough
    • Cost: $
    • Personal Opinion: Nice spot if you’re in the area.

    15. Squeeze your Way through Sir John Soane’s Museum

    Sir John Soane’s Museum London
    Photo: Joyofmuseums (WikiCommons)

    Here’s a secret spot in London unlike any other!

    This unusual place was once the house of John Soane, a renowned Neo-Classical British architect. And if you’re wondering why this spot made the list of hidden gems in London, wait until you see this place for yourself!

    To begin with, the house in itself is a stunning maze of narrow rooms and corridors. Despite the tiny spaces, virtually every surface is covered with paintings, sculptures, and various types of artifacts. A real treasure trove indeed!

    Because the spaces are so small, visitors aren’t allowed to bring any backpacks or large purses with them but rest assured that you can always drop your belongings at the door. It’s also important to know that The Sloane Museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  

    • Rating: 6/10 – Worth a Deeper Look
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: There’s substance under the surface.

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    Hidden Gems in London FAQs

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    Final Thoughts on London’s Hidden Gems

    I’m sure you’ve realized that London is an absolute master of disguising its (many) treasures. Now that you’re in on the secrets too, it’s time to get out there and do some serious exploring!

    Wherever you end up in the city’s treasure trove, just remember to keep your eyes peeled since there are heaps of amazing spots that are just waiting to be uncovered… if you know where to look, of course!

    Dani smiling wearing a big backpacking walking in front of colourful shops
    All smiles!
    Photo: @danielle_wyatt
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