Tired of the beaten London track? Visit these places in the British capital for unique holiday memories on your next city trip!
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” is a famous quote by Samuel Johnson.
A very accurate one as London has so much to offer. But what if you’ve been to London a couple of times already and can do without another visit to Harrods or roundtrip on the London Eye?
The city is filled with historical buildings – Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey come to mind – and impressive architecture – such as the famous Houses of Parliament but also the more modern Tate Modern (what’s in a name?).
You can also find plenty of museums – from the classical National Gallery to the more whimsical V&A or Natural History Museum – and of course plenty of places to eat – from the touristy Borough Market to Charlotte Street where every six months a new pop-up restaurant tends to appear.
But if you are like me and have visited London more times than you can remember, you might want to see something different than just where all the other tourists seem to gather.
Getting squashed on Oxford Street loses its charm quickly and staring at Buckingham Palace through the phones of other visitors is only fun for one afternoon.
Therefore, let me introduce you to more unconventional places in London you can visit. Places that are a bit more off the beaten track, and still fulfil all your photography, art, and food needs.
Take a picture of more than just Big Ben by exploring the whimsical architecture of Kensington
Kensington borough is famous for its palace, museums, and the Royal Albert Hall. For the most memorable London pictures, however, you should wander just a little bit beyond these tourist destinations.
Kensington is a rich borough, both in terms of wealth and its history. It boasts the typical London Edwardian houses, has plenty of hidden cafes with the best high teas, and houses museums with a vast collection of the most impressive art.
The borough oozes luxury and is well worth a nice afternoon walk. Especially during springtime, when the sun finally stays out beyond four o’clock and the first signs of spring can be felt in the air. The whole borough feels light and airy, not least due to the white and well-kept houses that can be seen all around it.
Kensington is not only a great destination for ‘spot the celebrity’, but also has some of the best whimsical architecture. The best example of this is the so-called Thin House.
This house is at its widest only 6 feet (2 metres) wide. The house has this weird narrow shape due to the tube running immediately behind it. The entire apartment block around the Thin House had to make way for the tube back in the 1800s.
You can find this funny-looking bit of architecture on 5, Thurloe Square, near the V&A Museum.
Continue your picturesque walk through Kensington by crossing Hyde Park and visiting the apartment buildings that are only a façade.
The fake houses of 23-24 Leinster Gardens seem, at first glance, like all the other buildings on the street. But a closer look reveals that there are no post boxes, the windows are always the same shade of grey and there seems to be nobody home.
The fake houses are only one wall of concrete with the exterior of a house painted onto it. If you go into the street behind Leinster Gardens, you will see that the façade is there to cover up a tube line. It seems that the tube running through Kensington borough has left a lot of whimsical architecture in its wake.
Bring back some unique souvenirs by visiting some unconventional shops
A keychain of a red bus, a tea towel from Harrods, or a plate featuring the Royal Family are maybe not the most original souvenirs to bring back from London. Would it not be so much more exciting to give them a more unique gift?
If your loved ones are big movie buffs, pick up a nice present for them at The Noble Collection. This little gem of a shop is hidden away just off Covent Garden.
In the picturesque Seven Dials – where colourful exteriors of buildings abound, the newest trends in food always tend to pop up and the latest fashion can be seen worn by everyone you pass – you can find this little treasure trove filled with marvellous movie memorabilia.
Whether it’s elegant jewellery from the Lord of the Rings series, an impressive chess board inspired by the Harry Potter movies, or some cute little plushies based on other famous movie characters, you can find it at The Noble Collection.
For those who think the book is always better than the movie, there’s also a vast collection of cute bookshops to be found around the entire city.
Skip the famous Waterstones, however, if you want to find a more original piece of literature. Daunt Books in the London borough of Marylebone, offers a vast collection of books that are hard to find in your mainstream bookshop.
Sure, they also have the more popular fiction at the front of the shop, but if you walk past those, right into the back of the bookshop, you will not only be greeted by an amazing bit of interior design that looks like the dream library you always wanted as a kid.
Daunt Books is specialised in travel literature and sell books from all around the world. Unique translations can be found on the many brown wooden shelves, as well as the best travel literature. The place looks like a library from a fantasy novel, and you can just spend hours looking at the vast collection of literature on display.
Apart from Daunt Books, other places to go for your book fix are second-hand bookshops.
Second-hand bookshops not only offer a more sustainable option but also up your chances to find a gift that cannot be found anywhere else. There are plenty of great second-hand bookshops in the city centre, but if you want to visit a place that looks straight out of a British postcard, go on a short tube ride to Ealing.
In the Oxfam Ealing bookshop near Ealing Broadway, you cannot only find rare vintage books and good bargains for all things fiction, but also quaint postcards made from the leftovers of old, unusable picture books.
The cards are both sustainable and too cute not to take home. Take a stroll through Ealing if you find yourself down there anyway, to see a bit of London outside of the famous city centre. You’ll be greeted by a great-looking mismatch of English architecture, hidden art exhibitions, and green parrots flying over anyone who dares wander here.
Marvel at the fantastic art in these museums
Sure, the National Gallery houses an impressive display of Van Gogh and Da Vinci masterpieces, and the Natural History Museums has a great collection of dinosaurs. But if you want to truly find new places to explore, there are plenty of hidden museums that you can find outside of these more touristy areas.
Back in Kensington borough there’s Leighton House for example.
Hidden among endless rows of beautiful Victorian and Edwardian houses, a tiny museum that was once the home of an eccentric artist hides real architectural treasures.
Leighton House was once the home and art studio of Victorian artist Lord Leighton. Not only does the house boast beautiful art, but also embodies Leighton’s idea of how an artist should live. Influences from Middle Eastern architecture are blended with colourful walls, golden chandeliers, and even a peacock greeting you on the staircase. Step into a world of its own by visiting this unique little museum.
For those who love to combine architecture with nature, a visit to the Barbican might be right up your alley.
The whole building is made in the brutalism style but is surprisingly gentle in decoration on the inside. It even houses a botanical garden, filled with rare cacti, palm trees, and magnificent flowers. Not many other places can offer both a botanical garden visit and a nice classical concert at the same venue.
London is a unique place to visit and combines the best of architecture, shopping, and art. However, if you want to truly surprise a loved one with a gift or post a picture on your feed that has not been posted a thousand times before, it might be wise to go off the beaten track a bit and wander beyond the London of tourists.