Worried that your weekend in London is heading towards Tourist Central, calling at all stations via Boring Break? In that case we strongly suggest you change onto our Secret Seven line and alight at any of these intriguing stops…
Welcome to the very first post in what will be a new regular feature on Urban Travel Blog… a list of “Secret Sevens” in the hippest cities around the world. The concept? To make sure your wild weekend away isn’t spent queuing up for overrated and overpriced touristic attractions but given a totally unique direction by some original and inspired choices of cool – often hidden or unknown – things to do. We are asking our local experts in each city to come up with a list of seven little known or underrated attractions, tours, and venues that will make your visit that much more memorable, and we hope provide one or more top highlights of your trip. Who better to turn to first than regular contributor and London blogger Chris Osburn, who reveals some of his favourite spots and activities in the city he calls home…
Take it away Chris…
1# Kyoto Garden
Created in 1991 by a team of Japanese gardeners sponsored by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in association with the Japan Festival of London – and as tranquil as anywhere you’re apt ever to come across in Central London – Kyoto Garden is a traditional Japanese garden situated within Holland Park. Its fairly large waterfall (about 15 feet at a guess) feeds a medium sized pond filled with colourful koi carp. A lovely stone path outlines the pond with a little bridge and viewing platform, which crosses the pond at the base of the falls. Other highlights of Kyoto Garden are a stone washbasin, Japanese-style shrubbery and red maples. With the sounds of the rushing waterfall enhancing the bucolic feel of this garden, it’s easy to forget you’re only a short walk away from Notting Hill or Kensington High Street.
2# Lea Valley Walk
Oh sure, the bigger and more centrally flowing River Thames gets way more attention, but don’t rule out East London’s Lea River for some amazing moments of urban escapism. With country-like bits, post industrial bits, some of London’s best graffiti, bobbing narrow boats, modern skylines, waterfowl, impressive views of the Olympic Park and more, this East End riverside towpath reveals some of London’s most varied wanders. And if you don’t mind taking time to venture from the path now and again, there are awesome galleries, cafes, pubs and myriad more rewards to be discovered. Wikipedia has some good extra info for visitors.
3# Joe Allen
Long before Londoners went completely gaga over all foods Americana, Joe Allen was serving up an excellent vareity of US style steaks and such. Home of the best Caesar salad in town (and one of its most awesome burgers – just be aware that the beefy “in the know” item is not listed on the menu), this Theatreland basement bar and grill with the nondescript exterior and an exposed brickwork interior that’s all but plastered with posters from West End shows offers a dimly lit retreat from the streets with friendly table service and an absolutely ace bar for pre and post theatre elbow bending.
4# Nunhead Cemetery
Keen for a mortality pondering picnic, a fantastic shutter bug day out or an evocatively excellent place to jog or walk the dogs? Think Nunhead Cemetery. For dappled sunlight, ancient graves, and scenic views over London, the 52 acre cemetery can’t be beat. A brilliant place to let out your inner goth while still soaking up some rays in a historic setting, people literally have been dying to get in here since 1840 (sorry, couldn’t resist).
5# Old Operating Theatre Museum
For a potential glimpse of the ghosts of London’s gruesome past and a fascinating trip back to less hygienic times, climb the creaking spiral stairs to this museum of surgical history. Set within one of the world’s oldest surviving operating theatres nearby London Bridge Station and beneath the mega-modern architectural marvel, The Shard, this museum is open to the public and hosts a range of events – typically with a macabre bent.
6# Postman’s Park
Postman’s Park takes its name from its original proximity to the old General Post Office. Another, more representative, name for this sweet little park, might be heroes’ corner, as what really makes this place special is the wall commemorating the brave acts of otherwise ordinary people who died while trying to save the lives of others in peril. With a lovingly manicured and smartly landscaped garden, a babbling fountain and plenty of benches in the sun or shade, it’s a wonderful place to sit and reflect for awhile and serves as a bit of a relaxing oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city. Originally a popular spot for postal workers to take their breaks and have lunch, these days you might see some local workers or an occasional tourist, but often enough it’s empty. Film buffs might remember the park’s role in the movie Closer, with Natalie Portman.
7# Soho Food Walk with London from Scratch
Organized and led by Michelle Francis – a chef, ex-restaurateur, and supper club host – the London from Scratch Soho Food Walk takes small groups of enthusiastic foodies on tours to discover the “Ten Tastes of Soho” and learn about “the Big Five” – a quintet of local restaurateurs and chefs whom Michelle reckons are the most important movers and shakers in the Soho dining scene. Tours feature plenty of stops with more than enough, and super delicious, food and drink provided along the way.
Regular readers of Urban Travel Blog will know that the Big Smoke is one of our favourite places to hang out, and we’ve covered the English capital extensively. If you’re heading here on a weekend break, be sure to check out our district guides to Camden Town and the South Bank, and of course our comprehensive City Guide. We’ve also penned articles on practicing the forgotten martial art of Bartitsu, a top five on the city’s winter ice rinks and a photo story on the capital’s atmospheric canals – amongst other London stories!