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London Off the Beaten Path

I have traveled to London several times and will be going again next year (2022). I am looking for some things to see and do that are off the beaten path, not the typical tourist things. Anything out of the ordinary or little known about sites or activities would be amazing. Any suggestions?

Posted by
4354 posts

What type of thing are you interested in? It’s difficult to advise as there are thousands of options. Who knows what will have permanently closed due to Covid.

Eat in a traditional east end pie and mash shop

London Transport Museum in Covent Garden

Visit Colombia Road flower market on a Sunday morning

Eltham Palace for Art Deco style.

The Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

Wilton’s Music Hall

Tours of London’s closed tube stations

Ride the Post Office underground tunnels.

Posted by
7967 posts

Do you have any particular interests?

I've got a huge rolling to-do list going for London, lol:

  • Lots of smaller museums including Sir John Soanes, Hunterian (has been closed for refurb before Covid), Wallace Collection, Leighton House Museum, Apsley House (Duke of Wellington)

  • Have you done any of the London Walks? That might be more tourist focused than you are thinking of although on most of my walks there have been some "locals". Unknown what their offerings will be in 2022.

  • I'm a birder and want to go to the London Wetlands Center on one trip.
    https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london/#

  • Interested in off the beaten path churches? Church-finder is an interesting website, obviously not having their "friends" be church minders during this pandemic but might be back to normal-ish in 2022.
    http://www.london-city-churches.org.uk/index.html

  • Interested in cemeteries? Royal Parks covers Brompton Cemetery if you are in that neighborhood.
    https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery

  • Parks? I've not done any of these self-guided walks yet but they look interesting!
    https://www.londongardenstrust.org/guides/index.php

  • I've also got 2 specialty books of self-guided walks. One is Jane Austen-related and the other is Churchill's-WWII related sites around Westminster.

Posted by
547 posts

The best things I've done outside of central London, but easy to do by public transport are:

  • Kew Gardens: the best and biggest botanical garden in the world
  • RAF Museum, Colindale
  • Richmond: charming village within a city on the Thames (can be tied in with Kew)
  • watch a football (soccer) game, or at least tour the stadium. I've been to West Ham and both the old and new Arsenal stadiums
Posted by
7 posts

A couple of options come to mind...

You could take the Northern Line up to the Highgate and Hempstead Heath area. I lived in this part of London for a few months and loved it. I am not normally a cemetery person, but Highgate Cemetery is very atmospheric to walk around and you can visit the graves of several famous people. There is also Kenwood House, a grand historic home with many great works of art. Admission was free there as I recall and still might be. Finally, there are also some great historic pubs like the Spaniards Inn.

If you are blessed with a good weather day, I'd also recommend walking part or as much of the Thames Path as you want to. Be sure to walk over Tower Bridge (millions of people take a picture of it but only a fraction bother to walk on it), and then maybe pick out a riverside pub. I like The Mayflower in Rotherhithe.

London has so many little niche museums. Do a search and I'm sure you'll find a few that sound interesting to you. My final recommendation would be to get out of London altogether. My English friends often complain about how tourists often see London as the be all and end all of England and never bother to see other parts of the country. There are so many great day trips you can take from London such as Canterbury, Brighton, and several nice castles.

Posted by
1612 posts

If you're a James Bond fan, the London Film Museum has a permanent exhibition showing some cars from some of the movies. It's a fun couple of hours. Across the street is my favourite restaurant so far in London, San Carlo Cicchetti.

Posted by
44 posts

I second the Transport Museum in Covent Gardens, Hampstead Heath and Brighton. I would add: Watch well ahead of time both The Codebreakers (a docudrama about Alan Turing and The Imitation Game (with Benedict Cumberbatch). Then, take the train to Bletchley Park and relive the accomplishments of the codbreakers in WWII. I thought it was one of the coolest places I've ever been.

Posted by
6059 posts

Have a look at the Timeout and Londonist websites, both are kept up to date with everything that is going on in the city. If you have an interest in food look at the Infatuation and Hot Dinners websites.
All these websites send regular email updates if you subscribe for free.

For something different to do look towards the end of the tube lines. For example, the Victoria line has Brixton at one end which has some great food stalls in the Electric Market. At the other end is Walthamstow which has a traditional street market ( with excellent fabric shops and stalls, if that’s your thing) and the William Morris gallery for a bit of culture.

At the end of the District line is Richmond which is a really attractive suburb on the river. It also had the park if you want to go for a walk.

The “boring” London suburb I live in, Harrow, has some interesting stuff to explore if you really want to go off the beaten track. Hop on the Metropolitan line and in 20min you are in Harrow on the Hill. This is the centre of John Betjemen’s “Metroland” as recorded in his very English poetry and BBC documentaries. Ignore Harrow city centre and catch the bus up the hill where you will find the very historic Harrow School and ancient and very pretty parish church and church yard. The views towards the city in one direction and over the countryside to the other are stunning, Back down the hill stop off for a seriously good curry and to pick up herbs and spices from one of the Asian supermarkets.

Posted by
2928 posts

Lesser visited London sights:
The former White Chapel foundry where the Liberty Bell was cast. If you’re into visiting sights where movies or tv series were filmed, there are plenty, e.g., from Notting Hill or As Time Goes By. Neal’s Yard Dairy or Paxton & Whitfield (cheese shops), The Guildhall, Twinings Tea store, Cleopatra’s needle, Paddington bear statue at Paddington station, Little Ben by Victoria station, Highgate cemetery, Golden Hind, St Dunstan-in-the-West (most accurate depiction of Queen Victoria statue and first clock with a minute hand). Parliament Hill viewpoint at Hempstead Heath, Pickering Place (last duel in London) and nearby is the plaque where the Texas Legation was housed. A couple of the older pubs, such as, Ye Olde Mitre, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. If religious, maybe attend a service at the Queen’s chapel or St. James chapel.

Posted by
23 posts

Hampton Court Palace, really interesting and you can take a boat back to central London or stop off at Richmond and Kew
Greenwich, the Palace and Maritime Museum, Blackheath, Eltham Palace
Hampstead Heath, wild swimming in the Pools, Alexandra Palace

Posted by
5486 posts

Not in particular order:

Watch the Horseguards practice in Hyde Park.

Mercado Mayfair for food.

Evensong at St Brides.

Rent a row boat in Richmond and row along the Thames.

Tea and scones at Orange Pekoe in Barnes.

Enjoy a Sunday roast.

Visit Little Venice and walk along the tow path.

If it’s a clear day visit Greenwich Park for the vista views. Royal Naval College is worth a meander as well. Especially in the Painted Hall.

Rugby match in the Hampstead Heath. Google team schedules.

Museum of Water and Steam

Check the lift times for The Tower Bridge.

Reserve far in advance for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London

In Hackney visit the Viktor Wynd Museum of curiosities.

For Roman history the Mithrauem Bloomberg Space

I’ve read of tours of the underground at Euston station but have never been able to get a ticket. Timing always off. Look at the London Transport Museum website for details.

Check the schedule for what’s on at Wilton’s Music Hall, Cadogan Hall, Wigmore Hall and the concert Hall at St John’s Smith Square.

Visit the small but interesting Alexander Fleming Museum.

Tour Wimbledon.

Visit and walk about Richmond park. Lunch at the White Cross pub on the Thames path.

Wander through the graffiti tunnel near Waterloo station.

Look for pop ups.

Read Timeout London three months before your travel dates.

Visit the Leighton House

Check out the street art in Croydon

Visit Brick Lane food stalls

Visit the Cinema Museum

Tube to Ealing and have dinner at Pho Saigon and then if you wish to enjoy a pint of Guinness in an Irish Pub it’s a 10 minute walk to O’Brien’s.

Posted by
690 posts

Do a pub crawl between The Ship Tavern and the Ye Olde Mitre.

Posted by
723 posts

I was the only tourist there. They will check your bag, and no photos. But it is free. These are shops. Its not a museum. https://silvervaultslondon.com/
The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Good weather only
Don't know when BatterSea Powerstation will be having tours. Its on our list. There is a planned elevator to take you up to the top of one of the smoke stacks.
The underwater, Thames, Pedestrian Tunnel at Geenwich, near the Cuttysark, is very interesting.
Any ride on top a Double Decker Bus, is fun.
Abbey Road. Best people watching site in London.
The O2 has a roof walk tour. Good weather only.
Also, there are "MudLarking" outings, along the Thames at low tide. :)

Posted by
1512 posts

Most of the ideas that went into the Communist Manifesto were brainstormed over the course of a week and a half in a room above an English pub — a pub called the Red Lion, located in the Soho district.

Karl Marx had the job of drafting the ideas into something publishable. He was supposed to get it done by New Year’s Day, but he missed his deadline. He finished it, along with help from Engels, by early February — and it was on 21 Feb 1848 that the pamphlet was finally published.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Manifesto?

It and other nearby Soho spots of interest listed here as part of the Karl Marx tour:
http://www.shadyoldlady.com/location.php?loc=322

Posted by
488 posts

Agree with Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery. Also Kew Gardens and the maze at Hampton Court.

Posted by
10 posts

If you are sporty:
1. Visit Queen Eliz. Olympic Park. The park is a nice walk, there are bike shares to get around, or you can swim at the London Aquatic Center, or bike at the velo park (you can try the Olympic road, mountain, BMX trails or ride in the velodrome!) The Olympic flame tower is now an exhilarating slide ride! If you access the park via the Stratford tube station, you'll go through the Westfield shopping centre (what was the Olympic village is now a live/work/play community.) Although there were probably at least some tourists like myself, it is far enough away from central London that most people there seemed to be locals/families enjoying their own city amenities. https://www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/

2. Hyde Park isn't off the beaten path, but in the summer you can swim in the Serpentine! (just watch out for the goose poop!) The Lido is also close to the Diana memorial fountain, which looked like a hit with splashing kids. https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/sports-and-leisure

(most of above currently closed for covid but hopefully back to normal by 2022!)

Posted by
5486 posts

SQ If you visit London in Fall and Winter there will still be swimmers in the Serpentine. Most likely members of the Serpentine Swimming Club.

In fact on Christmas Morning the traditional Peter Pan cup race is held in the Serpentine by the Lido Cafe.

Added: after reading posts re: Karl Marx
His tomb is in Highgate Cemetary.

Posted by
9081 posts

Have you ever taken a London Walk? (http://www.walks.com). Every day they have different themed walks and many of us will recommend them highly.

Their schedule is limited now due to Covid but once the UK opens up I'm sure they'll go back to a full schedule.

Posted by
11203 posts

I didn't get a London Pass, but by looking at their website, I learned about the Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising, and about the London Jewish Museum. Both were very interesting, and took me to neighborhoods I wouldn't otherwise have visited. So, look at the list of covered items for the London Pass to see if you get any other ideas.

Assuming theatre is back in full swing at the time of your visit, a fun thing to do is to see a Fringe show. These are London's equivalent of Off-Broadway or Off-Off Broadway, and you'll usually be the only non-local there. They are also often in neighborhoods far from the West End (I remember I saw one show in Golder's Green and another in Hammersmith).

Posted by
3489 posts

Anyone with a cluttered mind should feel at home in Sir John Soane's Museum. Soane, who built The Bank of England, used his mansion as a teaching tool, packing antiquities and plaster replicas into every square inch. It has been explained that wars on the Continent prevented his students from taking The Grand Tour so he crammed the next best thing into his house. Be sure to ask about Hogarth, the searing political and social painter and cartoonist who was the scourge of the gin lanes. The museum has a big collection but they are stored for lack of space; eager volunteer guides will open them on request.

https://www.soane.org/

Posted by
989 posts

I feel like I'm carrying coals to Newcastle chiming in here but, did anyone else mention Dennis Severs House. I did two of Ricks London walks carrying along the pages ripped out of his book. The City, on a Sunday because it was less crowded and The East End. To help me to get thru the lockdown, I've been watching the Footloose series on Amazon Prime. Footloose in The Costwolds, Footloose in Oxford etc . Some of it is a bit dated but the spirit is still there. Since watching in London, I've added the Post Office Museum, the Brunel Museum and a couple of other things to my "rolling list" another poster called it. On my bucket list is visiting all of the cabmans shelters and, talk about off the beaten path, the Sewing Machine Museum. I miss England so much.

Posted by
1117 posts

This is a great post and I will bookmark for all the ideas. I absolutely agree with many of the suggestions. I went to the Transport Museum on my very first trip to London in 1984. I still have a poster I got there hanging in my flat and enjoy looking at it every day. It is a turn of the century ad for the Underground. If you like history, especially Tudor history I recommend going to Hever Castle, home to the Boleyns. The gardens are marvelous. I could never find a day tour so went myself via train at Victoria Station. I think it was about an hour with 1 change and a short walk along a marvelous public path through the woods at the end. (Directions on their website.) It was an unforgettable day and the getting there added to my pleasure. I am a woman of a 'certain age' and being able to do this all by myself made this an adventure. One of my favorite photos is a group of sheep I met along that path.

Posted by
3 posts

I love all of these ideas. Suddenly I realize I still have so much more to see in London. I can't wait to start traveling again!

Posted by
17890 posts

I don't believe anyone has mentioned the Design Museum. It's just south of Holland Park, less than 1/2 mile from the High Street Kensington Underground station and less than 1/4 mile from the Leighton House Museum recommended upthread. The museum is in a new facility with a contemporary approach to display layout. It's free/donation-requested, though it sometimes has a special exhibition running. The entry fees for those temporary exhibitions can be quite high. I found the permanent collection more than sufficient. I especially liked seeing how the Underground signage and schematic maps have changed over the years.

Posted by
723 posts

Thank you Laurie for mentioning Hever Castle. Never would have known, since its not in RS England or London. , or even in Lonely Planet's Great Britain. Looks like a great day trip from London, and is now on our list. :) This is a great thread!!!!

Posted by
423 posts

I would second London Walks. We took one of their tours last time we were in London and it took us to an area we had never been before. Had lunch at the Mayflower Pub - where the Mayflower launched - in Rotherhithe area of London. Quiet, small, OLD pub on the Thames bank. We then walked back along the river towards Tower Bridge. Lovely day.

We also did an upper Thames river walk one day. Took the District Line to Putney Bridge and then walked on the river path to one of the very old pubs for lunch. Very quiet and peaceful part of London. Lots of greenspace along the river, Fulham Stadium (for those football(soccer) fans), Fulham Palace and gardens, to name a few. There are some old pubs along the river that make good destinations - I guess it depends on how far you want to walk.

I would also second The Wallace Collection. Lovely, quiet, small museum with a great restaurant in the center of the building.

Posted by
989 posts

Another museum on my list is the Geffrye Museum. I think its now called the Museum of Home (?)

Posted by
202 posts

There are three volumes of books called London's Hidden Walks. They take us off the beaten track and plan on using them for several days in London this summer. I think Amazon has them.

Posted by
15 posts

Hi there, a lot of my suggestions have already been mentioned so I will just give them another vote, some of my favorite are:
Highgate Cemetery, London Transport Museum, Wallace Collection, Brighton (day trip), Beatles Walking Tour, Tower Bridge, (taking the tour inside), old, old Pubs beyond the Docklands, (Rotherhildt), Knights Templar Church, Mudlarking in the Thames, Littke Venice, Primark!, Camden or Portobello Road Markets, (weekends), Silver Vaults, a day in Greenwich, Gordon's Wine Bar, Have Fun! 😉