Like any of the world’s great cities, there’s no shortage of instantly recognisable landmarks and must-see sights in London. However, there are also a number of lesser-known but equally fascinating gems hidden down the side streets in urban backwaters. Here, we go beyond the obvious sights you’ll see on postcards in the tourist stores to see some unfamiliar and yet exciting sights of this fine city.
St Etheldreda’s Church
Hidden away but in plain sight, St Etheldreda’s Church is both incongruous and beautiful. The one-time seat of the Bishops of Ely, it was constructed way back in the 13th-century. The stained-glass window on the east is sublime. It’s now open on a daily basis and is available to visit for free. However, it’s typically a place of tranquillity as the majority of tourists don’t even know of its existence.
Many people are familiar with the Barbican Estate, the huge complicated complex of public spaces and homes constructed in the Brutalist style. However, few are familiar with its hidden gem: a steamy conservatory that resembles a tropical oasis, with more than 2,000 species of plants. It’s a magnificent environment that’s also home to birds, fish, and terrapins. In fact, this may be London’s only tropical oasis.
18 Stafford Terrace
When looking at this terraced house from the outside, there’s no suggestion at all that it bears any significant difference with its neighbours. Once you’re inside, however, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s a Victorian family home complete with William Morris wallpaper and Turkish rugs. It was also the home of Edward Linley Sambourne. After the illustrator died in 1910, the home was passed on through various family members, who chose not to change a thing and later made it available for public visits.
Dennis Severs’ House
This one is a stunning attraction, part theatre, and part museum. It’s also the creation of its namesake, the American artist who resided here from 1979-99. Severs’ aim was to produce ‘still-life drama’ throughout the home’s 10 rooms. Mocking up a family of Huguenot silk-weaving occupants, he ensured that each room would provide a glimpse of Spitalfields domestic life from the early 18th-20th century. Candle-lit openings in the evening are especially atmospheric.
Phoenix Garden may just be the most unlikely pocket wilderness you could find anywhere on the planet. It lies right in the heart of the West End, and yet has managed to remain both secluded and something of a secret. Its benches, ponds, shrubbery, and grassy patches continue to provide a sanctuary for people and wildlife. Keep your eye out for frogs as you won’t see them anywhere else in this part of the capital.
The arched gatehouse on the St Bartholomew-the-Great approach is one of the few examples of London’s Tudor architecture that has managed to remain after most of it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The stunning space inside is another rare example- this time of Norman architecture. It’s one of a small number of such buildings in London that has stood the test of time. Make sure you don’t miss the tomb of Rahere, the church’s founder.