Whether you’ve spent time in London or not, most people could tell you the city’s main highlights; Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge… And while these places are all certainly worth visiting, there’s so much more to the capital than the postcard-perfect image.
From tranquil canal-side walks to underground theatre venues and uniquely located restaurants, here are 15 of the best hidden gems in London you shouldn’t miss…
15 hidden gems in London not to miss
The top London hidden gems split by area of the city…
Central London Hidden Gems
Neals Yard, Covent Garden
Despite its location in one of London’s busiest neighbourhoods, plus its prominent social media presence (Instagram influencers love a colourful facade!), Neals Yard still remains one of London’s best kept secrets and is surprisingly unvisited by the majority of tourists and locals.
The main reason that Neals Yard has managed to retain its London hidden gem status is that most people don’t know how to find it, and it’s unlikely to be stumbled across by accident. The colourful courtyard is accessible via two small alleyways; one leading from Short’s Gardens and on the other end via an alleyway on Monmouth Street.
Inside of the courtyard itself you’ll find a collection of independent restaurants, bars, cafés and shops, many of which focus on keeping their products organic, sustainable and ethical. Most notable is the now internationally renowned Neal’s Yard Remedies organic health and beauty store.
The Attendant, Fitzrovia
When it comes to hidden gems of London, I could definitely make a list just of the capital’s coolest hidden cafes, restaurants and bars, but the Attendant in Fitzrovia has to be one of the most unique of London’s secret spots.
Enjoy your morning coffee in a former 19th-century men’s toilet, located underground and still intact with the original Doulton & Co porcelain urinals which have been transformed into elegant green seating to match the original Victorian floor tiles.
Don’t worry, it’s undergone a thorough cleaning since its day as a men’s bathroom.
Check out more of the most unique and unusual places to eat in London.
The Vaults, Waterloo
Situated in a maze of converted underground tunnels in the railway arches underneath Waterloo station, The Vaults is London’s coolest alternative performance and arts venue.
The unique and somewhat gothic underground space plays host to a revolving schedule of immersive theatre and alternative arts and is where you’ll find some of the most unusual, surprising and sometimes downright bizarre experiences in the whole of London. Be prepared to be pushed out of your comfort zone at The Vaults!
Leake Street Tunnel
On the subject of The Vaults, when it comes to cool secret locations in London, the underground spot takes the crown for more than one reason.
The venue’s entrance is concealed within the Leake Street graffiti tunnel, another one of London’s hidden gems which was founded by Banksy and is one of the only spots in the city where graffiti is tolerated.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot a local artist adding a new piece to the colourful and ever-changing artwork.
West London Hidden Gems
Little Venice, Maida Vale/Paddington
Little Venice is a charming and tranquil area in London’s Maida Vale, just north of Paddington and centred around a triangular basin at the junction where the Grand Union Canal, the Regent’s Canal and the short connecting canal of the Paddington Basin all meet.
The pretty canal-side district is home to many colourful houseboats (some of which serve as cafes and tearooms), relaxing walks down the tree-lined waterways, lush green gardens and even a floating puppet theatre. It is also home to London’s biggest annual waterways festival each May bank holiday weekend.
Little Venice is one of the best secret London spots to visit on a sunny day to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Kyoto Garden, Holland Park
Holland Park’s Kyoto Garden was gifted by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the Japan Festival in London in 1992.
The hidden park reflects Japanese culture with its large pond filled with koi carp, a beautiful waterfall, red Japanese maple trees, colourful plants, stone lanterns and some resident Herron and Peacocks. If you catch it on a quieter day, the garden is a beautiful and serene place to wander around.
Check out these other things to do in Holland Park.
Churchill Arms Pub, Kensington
For those who also enjoy a drink, the Churchill Arms Pub is one not to miss.
Located on Kensington Church Street, in between Notting Hill Gate and Kensington High Street, the unique spot has what is probably the most elaborately decorated facade of any pub in London. The building is adorned with hundreds of flower beds, hanging baskets and window boxes which apparently costs over £25,000 a year to maintain and won them an award at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Asides from its exterior, the Churchill Arms has many other reasons for being one of the top hidden treasures of London, such as the fact it was regularly frequented by Winston Churchill’s grandparents, hence the name and abundance of Churchill memorabilia inside, and that it was the first pub in London to serve Thai food.
East London Hidden Gems
St Dunstan’s in the East, City of London
St Dunstan’s in the East makes a regular appearance on any list of hidden London gems, and rightly so.
The gothic church has a long and interesting history, having been built in the 12th century, severely damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt and upgraded by Sir Christopher Wren then finally severely damaged again in the Blitz of 1941 before falling to ruins.
The ruins of the impressive church are now a peaceful public garden unsuspectingly nestled between the much busier attractions of London Bridge and the Tower of London.
Barge East & the Milk Float, Hackney Wick
While the London Olympic Park and Stratford to its east are pretty well visited London attractions, Hackney Wick to the west is more of a local hot spot.
While the neighbourhood may look run-down at first glance, it’s actually a hub of art and creativity in the capital, with artist studios in former industrial spaces (it was once known for having more studios than anywhere else in Europe), coworking spaces for hip new start-ups, as well as many theatre and music venues.
But the highlight of the area for visitors has to be the floating bars and craft breweries which line the River Lee Navigation canal. In particular, Barge East and The Milk Float.
Barge East is a unique floating bar and restaurant on a 114 year old Dutch barge, with charming rustic decor and an outdoor deck overlooking the East London skyline where you can enjoy their luxury British menu designed by head chef Stefano Camplone.
Right next door to Barge East is the somewhat more relaxed Milk Float, which serves a summer-ready cocktail menu, beers, wines and spirits, as well as locally made ice-cream and dairy-free sorbets, on their lawned upper terrace overlooking the canal. The Milk Float also has it’s very own Moo Canoes available for hire.
Hackney Wick is one of my personal favourite spots to visit in London off the beaten path.
The Barbican Conservatory, City of London
Hidden inside the harsh brutalist buildings of the Barbican, the Conservatory is a secret haven of tranquillity in a busy area of the city and certainly one of the best hidden spots in London for nature lovers.
Plus admission is completely free, you only need to book a time slot ahead of time.
Exploring on a budget? Check out the best free museums and galleries in London.
Cockney Cash Machines (Several Locations)
Another of the coolest hidden London attractions you may not have heard about are the Cockney Cash Machines.
Tucked away unsuspectingly on several streets in East London, the Cockney Cash Machines will ask you to enter your ‘Huckleberry Fin’ (pin) to withdraw ‘sausage and mash‘ (cash) from your ‘taxi rank‘ (bank).
Even if you don’t actually need to withdraw cash, the ATMs are still worth a visit.
Where can you find some of the Cockney Cash Machines in East London?
Spitalfields: 73 Commercial Street, E1 6BD.
Mile End: 447 Roman Road E3 5LX.
Walthamstow: 24 High Street, E17 7LD.
North London Hidden Gems
Regents Canal, between Regents Park and Camden Lock
If you follow the Regents Canal on from Little Venice in the west, you’ll eventually end up passing by Regents Park and Camden in north London. The stretch leading between the park and Camden Lock is one of my favourite secret gems in London for finding a little peace and quiet by the water.
The relaxing canal-side walk, which is usually quieter than the slightly better known Little Venice, will take you past more houseboats, the occasional group of kayakers or paddleboarders, ‘The Pirate Castle’ (a boating and outdoor activities charity based inside a unique castle-like building) and St Marks Church, which during the warmer months has a stall serving drinks and ice creams.
Plus you can grab a tasty lunch from Camden Market once you reach the other end!
Pre-book your boat ride down Regents Canal from Little Venice to Camden Lock.
Highgate Cemetery, Highgate
Next is one of the best hidden London attractions for history buffs; Highgate Cemetary.
Why would I visit a cemetery you ask? Because Highgate Cemetary in North London is is the burial place of many famous and prominent people and can be explored on an organised tour.
One of the cemeteries most famous residents is the German philosopher, author, political theorist, economist and socialist revolutionary Karl Marx, while other notable graves include those of painter Henry Moore, inventor of the modern postal service Rowland Hill, novelist George Eliot, actress Jean Simmons and, most recently, singer George Michael.
Check out these other things to do in Highgate.
Underground Supper Club, Walthamstow
Finally, eating on the London underground is acceptable…
That’s right, you can go for dinner on board a decommissioned 1967 Victoria Line tube carriage at Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum, at their regular supper clubs hosted by some amazing guest chefs. Definitely one of the coolest places in London for a unique dining experience!
Find out more about my experience at the Underground Supper Club here.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple, Neasden
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a huge Hindu temple in the multicultural area of Neasden in north-west London, although when you see it you could easily mistake it for being somewhere in south-east Asia instead.
The beautiful traditional Hindu temple stands at 70 feet high and is made entirely out of stone, with each section intricately carved back in the town of Kandla in India before being shipped over to London to be reassembled. Plus the temple is just as amazing on the inside as it is from the outside, with a colourful central mandir and individual shrines to each of the deities.
The local community are obviously very proud of the impressive temple and therefore it is open and free for anyone to visit, and they even offer guided tours. Just remember that it is still a place of worship so dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering.
BONUS – London hidden gems tours:
Explore many of the best hidden gems London has to offer on a guided tour…
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