If you live in London or you're visiting, you might be tired of the major sights and landmarks that everyone knows and loves. Whilst places like the Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral are iconic parts of the city, perhaps you want to explore some of London's secret places that give you a different experience of the capital. We've put together some of the city's more unexpected spots that are a far cry from all the stereotypes. This is our guide to hidden gems in London.
Guide to hidden gems in London
In this guide
The best hidden gems in London
- St Dunstan in the East – A garden amongst ruins
- Parkland Walk – An unusual walking route
- Leake Street Arches – Hidden street art
- Hyde Park Pet Cemetery – Secret cemetery
- Kyoto Garden – London meets Kyoto
- Neal's Yard – Vibrant shopping spot
- The House of Dreams – Not your typical terraced house
- Leadenhall Market – Centuries-old market
- God's Own Junkyard – An explosion of neon
- Inner Temple Gardens – London's secret garden
- The Mosaic House – Public art in Chiswick
- Postman's Park – Garden with a memorial
- Bunhill Fields Burial Ground – Non-conformists' burial ground
- Eel Pie Island – Mysterious island on the Thames
- St Ethelburga's – Church building packed with history
- The Hardy Tree – A one-of-a-kind tree
- Camden Passage – Picturesque shopping street
- Chelsea Physic Garden – Diverse medicinal plants
- Leighton House – Unchanged 19th century home
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – Traditional Hindu temple
- Dennis Severs' House – Discover the history of Spitalfields
- York Road Tube Station – Abandoned station in North London
- Severndroog Castle – Gothic castle in the woods
- Sir John Soane's Museum – Eccentric museum
- The Thames Barrier – Massive and modern
- Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – Gifts that'll surprise you
- Ruislip Lido – Head to the beach
- Greenwich Foot Tunnel – A unique river journey
- Brixton Windmill – London's working windmill
- St Katharine Docks – A marina in central London
- Golders Hill Park Zoo – Long-established local zoo
- Crossbones Graveyard – A vibrant site of remembrance
- Eltham Palace and Gardens – Medieval meets modern
- Barbican Conservatory – Tranquil conservatory
- The Hunterian Museum – Fascinating surgical museum
- The King's Cross Tunnel – Walk towards the light
- Novelty Automation – Quirky one-of-a-kind museum
- Highbury Clocktower – Islington's take on Big Ben
- Onion Garden – Peaceful garden retreat in Westminster
- Winchester Palace – A ruined medieval palace
The best hidden gems in London
A garden amongst ruins
Visit St Dunstan in the East for a city park with a difference. Formerly a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren, these bombed-out ruins are now a photogenic and peaceful garden that opened in 1970. Gothic architecture combines with leafy foliage and places to sit. It's a popular destination for photoshoots too.
An unusual walking route
Parkland Walk is a 3.1 mile nature reserve running along a disused railway line between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace. It's popular with walkers and cyclists and is maybe best known for the surprising sculpture of The Spriggan, which peeps out from a railway arch. Along the path you'll find street art and disused train tracks and platforms.
Hidden street art
At Leake Street Arches you can immerse yourself in street art from a huge range of creators. This covered tunnel street is packed with visuals, with new pieces popping up regularly. Adding your own mark to the walls is both welcomed and encouraged. The space is enhanced with live music and an artist in residence.
Hyde Park Pet Cemetery opened in 1881 and was once the most fashionable place in London to bury your pet. This burial ground is now out of use but you can arrange a visit with the Royal Parks, or peep through the railings in Bayswater Road. The inscriptions on the headstones are sure to tug at your heartstrings.
London meets Kyoto
Discover a piece of Japan in London at Kyoto Garden. This elegant garden was gifted to the city in 1991 by the Chamber of Commerce of Kyoto. There are koi ponds and water features, landscaped plants, and peacocks that roam around freely in this tranquil space that'll transport you to another world.
Vibrant shopping spot
Colourful Neal's Yard will liven up your Instagram grid. Tucked away in Covent Garden you'll see numerous vibrant buildings that make for ideal photo opportunities. You'll find plenty of interesting shops to browse in and if you're feeling peckish there are lots of food and drink options as well.
Not your typical terraced house
The House of Dreams might look like a typical dwelling in East Dulwich but inside you'll find an elaborate personal art museum. Artist Stephen Wright has lived here since 1982 and in 1998 began turning it into something decorative, inspired by his interest in outsider art. A vast range of objects are sourced, donated, and created to form the rich displays here.
With a history dating back to 1321, Leadenhall Market boasts striking architecture and lots of shops and eateries to enjoy. It's also been used as a location for filming. Inside the market you'll find independent traders, upscale restaurants, a variety of wine bars, and an award-winning pub for drinks in a unique setting.
An explosion of neon
Enter a neon wonderland at God's Own Junkyard in Walthamstow. This place is a showcase for the work of neon artist Chris Bracey. You'll find dazzling displays of salvaged and purpose-built neon signs in a myriad of colours. This includes signs used in famous films like Batman and Eyes Wide Shut.
London's secret garden
Inner Temple Gardens feels like a secret escape from the city, accessible only through a manned gate. Gardens have existed in this spot for centuries but much of the current form was set out in the 19th century. You'll uncover a great variety of plants and flowers, including some more unusual species, expansive lawns, and canopies of trees.
Public art in Chiswick
Head to Chiswick to see The Mosaic House, which instantly stands out from the houses around it. This colourful building is home to artist Carrie Reichardt and is covered in intricate mosaics by her and some of the world's leading mosaic artists. You're welcome to admire it and take photos of this unique structure.
Garden with a memorial
In the heart of the capital you'll find Postman's Park, named for its proximity to the former headquarters of the General Post Office. It opened in 1880 in a former churchyard. You can visit to enjoy the peaceful grounds or view the Watts' Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, which commemorates ordinary people who died saving the lives of others.
Non-conformists' burial ground
Bunhill Fields Burial Ground near Old Street is notably the resting place of figures including William Blake and John Bunyan. In the past, this non-denominational burial ground was popular with non-conformists and it's also rumoured to have been a plague pit. Thousands of people are buried at these Grade I listed grounds.
Mysterious island on the Thames
West London's Eel Pie Island is perched in the middle of the Thames. It was once a hippy commune and a hotspot for counterculture. Today this private island is home to artists' studios, nature reserves, and homes. It's accessible by footbridge. Whilst access is restricted most of the time, you're free to visit on designated open weekends.
Church building packed with history
Once the tallest building in Bishopsgate, St Ethelburga's is now the smallest church building in the capital and one of its last surviving medieval churches. The building has survived the Great Fire, the Blitz, and an IRA bombing. Today it's a centre for reconciliation and peace, and everyone is welcome, regardless of your religious beliefs. A variety of events take place here.
A one-of-a-kind tree
Before Thomas Hardy became a literary great he was involved in making room for Britain's growing railway network in the 1860s. You'll see evidence of this at The Hardy Tree, an ash tree flanked by hundreds of overlapping gravestones that Hardy moved to their current location. This spooky sight is set within the ancient church grounds of St Pancras Gardens.
Picturesque shopping street
Tucked away from Islington High Street, Camden Passage is a hidden shopping street near Angel station. It's quaint and cobbled; a picturesque place to shop or enjoy a meal. You'll find a varied collection of retailers, flea markets, and dining spots including brunch places and refined European restaurants. It's especially good if you're shopping for antiques or vintage.
Diverse medicinal plants
Chelsea Physic Garden is a charming outdoor space packed with thousands of varieties of medicinal plants. It's one of the largest and most diverse collections of its kind in the whole world. The microclimate here means that rare and endangered plants can thrive. You can also relax with a snack at the on-site café.
Unchanged 19th century home
Head to West London to visit Leighton House Museum, the London home of painter Frederic Leighton. This Grade II listed building is decorated in an elaborate Orientalist style and remains largely unchanged since the 19th century. As well as the impressive decor, you'll see artefacts like ceramics and sculpture. The museum puts on a variety of exhibitions too.
Traditional Hindu temple
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, often referred to as Neasden Temple, will instantly transport you away from London. This ornate Hindu place of worship was constructed entirely from stone with guidance from ancient architectural texts. It's a working temple but you're also welcome to tour the building or admire the architecture and grounds.
Discover the history of Spitalfields
Dennis Severs' House dates back to 1724. It's now a museum preserving life at the dawn of the 20th century. Created by artist Dennis Severs, it tells the story of the house and area, and the changing fortunes of a fictional family living in it. As well as exploring the house, there are regular exhibitions and a variety of tours.
Abandoned station in North London
Walk along York Way and you'll come across York Road Tube Station. This former tube station was closed due to low usage in 1932 and the building is clearly visible from the street. You can also see the disused platforms as you pass through on the train between King's Cross and Caledonian Road. London Transport Museum organises virtual tours inside the station.
Gothic castle in the woods
Wander around in the woods near Shooters Hill and you'll discover Severndroog Castle. This folly of a gothic castle is open to the public. You can explore the ornate castle rooms, visit the tea room, or take in stunning views from the viewing platform. Large groups, including school groups, are welcome, and the castle lays on events like a monthly market.
Sir John Soane's Museum in Holborn is packed with all sorts of fascinating items acquired by the architect Sir John Soane. Amongst the exhibits you'll see drawings, paintings, architectural models, sculptures, and antiquities, including works by famous artists. Visiting this museum is absorbing and full of eccentricity.
Massive and modern
One of the world's largest moveable barriers is The Thames Barrier, which protects London from flooding. This dramatic modern barrier has test closures each month that the public are welcome to watch, but you can admire it at any time. A park runs alongside it that's a fab place for taking in unique views of the Thames.
Gifts that'll surprise you
Visit Hoxton Street Monster Supplies for a surprising shopping experience. The store has been supplying the living, dead, and undead since 1818, with traditional shelves stacked with all the things you never knew you needed. If you're after spooky edibles, creepy treats, and fun gifts, you'll find some great options here.
Head to the beach
If you thought London didn't have any beaches you're wrong – visit Ruislip Lido to relax on a sandy artificial beach where you can sunbathe, swim, and go boating. There are play areas for kids, an outdoor gym for the adults, and woodland surrounding the area that's perfect for a walk in nature.
A unique river journey
Get across the Thames in an unexpected way by crossing the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Open 24/7, the tunnel connects Greenwich with Island Gardens and takes around 15 minutes to walk. Thousands of people use it every day and there are visible domed entrances at either end. This is a fun experience if you want a unique way to get across the river.
London's working windmill
Brixton Windmill was built in 1816 and is now Grade II listed. It's the capital's only remaining working windmill - learn about how it works on a free tour. You can also buy flour milled here at the venue or from other local stockists. It's also a distinctive events venue for up to 60 guests.
A marina in central London
St Katharine Docks is the only marina located in central London. Come to this waterside area for picturesque views and plenty of interesting things to do. There's a thriving community here with shops, eateries, and bars to explore. Events also take place like boat festivals, tea dances, bike repair workshops, and Wimbledon screenings.
Long-established local zoo
Head to North London and you'll find a cute local zoo that's free to visit – Golders Hill Park Zoo. This surprising attraction has been present in Golders Hill Park for over 100 years and is home to a variety of animals and birds. You can expect to see lemurs, wallabies, donkeys, and chickens amongst the residents here.
A vibrant site of remembrance
Near to The Shard, Crossbones Graveyard is tucked away in a back street. Formerly a medieval pauper's burial ground, it's now been reclaimed as a vibrant place of remembrance. It's known for the shrine decorated in colourful ribbons and for the monthly vigils that are held here for outcasts both living and dead. Everyone is welcome.
Medieval meets modern
Known as the childhood home of Henry VIII, Eltham Palace is now a grand Art Deco home with a 1930s-style garden that visitors are welcome to explore. Here you'll see a unique combination of medieval and modern style. Another big attraction here is the moat, complete with one of the oldest working bridges in London.
Escape to the tropics at Barbican Conservatory, which is open on selected days. This lush conservatory houses around 1,500 species of trees and plants from all over the world, including orchids and cacti. The conservatory also has three pools with koi, carp, and terrapins. You can explore these peaceful surroundings or hire the space for events.
Fascinating surgical museum
If you're fascinated by medical curiosities then The Hunterian Museum is for you. This little-known museum is dedicated to surgery, showcasing surgical instruments, models, archive materials, and England's largest anatomical collection. You'll see thousands of specimens and discover the history of surgery from ancient times to modern advances.
Walk towards the light
Linking King's Cross St Pancras station with Pancras Square and the wider King's Cross area, this 90-metre tunnel has been turned into a mesmerising walkway thanks to the LED art wall spanning its entire length. Displaying a calming, dynamic colour palette, the King's Cross Tunnel has hosted fashion catwalks, yoga workshops, and many a photoshoot – especially by aspiring Instagram influencers.
Quirky one-of-a-kind museum
Novelty Automation is a small, whimsical museum featuring an assortment of unconventional arcade machines. Homemade by an inventor with quite the sense of humour, the automata include an “expert” who determines the artistic merit of objects, a Money Laundering claw machine that tests your skills in evading regulators, and The Chiropodist who'll treat your feet. It's all slightly deranged but incredibly entertaining.
Islington's take on Big Ben
Affectionately known in the local area as 'Little Big Ben', Highbury Clocktower is a historical clocktower in Highbury that's Grade II listed. This deep red structure was unveiled in 1897 to celebrate the 60th year of Queen Victoria's reign. It's an unexpected sight in a residential North London street and it not only looks impressive but the clock still works.
Peaceful garden retreat in Westminster
Secreted away within the heart of Westminster, the Onion Garden is a quaint non-profit haven nurtured by a dedicated local property owner and backed by the community. Locals and visitor can find a bit of serenity amongst the garden's rich tapestry of flora and hints of wilderness. You can also grab a hot cup of coffee at the glasshouse.
A ruined medieval palace
Wander through winding streets between Borough Market and the South Bank and you'll come upon Winchester Palace. These ruins are from a medieval bishop's palace built in the 13th century. The walls of its Great Hall remain in place today, but most of the building was destroyed by fire in 1814. You can't step inside but it's a curious and interesting sight.