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We are all well aware that when visiting huge cities like London we’ll be only able to explore just a small part of them.
But this doesn’t mean that it is not also possible to discover at least some of the lesser known places hidden around those cities; this time we’ll find ten spots definitely not included in any traditional city tour or city guide.
They are not listed in a random order, but in a way intended to let us walk as little as possible.
So, if you are ready, our circuit will start at one of the main, usual tourist attractions…
1- St. Martin’s Window, Trafalgar Square
Don’t hesitate, visit St. Martin in the Fields church, an impressive building that’s really worth a visit on its own. Once you are there, it’s time to go to see the rather unique St Martin’s Window.
Its design inspired by the movement of water, the window was constructed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary in collaboration with architect Pip Horne, and was first displayed in 2008.
2- The smallest “Police Station” in Britain, Trafalgar Square
You’ll never imagine that this tiny stall, barely distinguishable on the east side of the square, was built in the 19th Century for the police officers to stand inside while monitoring marches and protests going on in Trafalgar square.
While it is no longer actively used as a Police station -nowadays it is only used for storage- it’s still an interesting sight when you’re at Trafalgar Square.
People who supposedly know about its history asseverate that the lamp on top of the station came from the HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s ship -don’t stare at me, I have no idea about this-.
3- John Snow’s water pump, Soho
I know I’ll disappoint “Game of Thrones” fans now, but the name doesn’t refer at all to the series’ character.
Dr. John Snow was a physician, considered one of the founding fathers of Epidemiology, whose work led to a major change to the water systems in London. Back in 1854, he traced a cholera outbreak in the city -that killed about 500 people in a few months- to this pump.
His research allowed him to figure out that the water pump was the source of that outbreak, and so he had the handle removed to avoid people using that water.
After that the cases declined; later the outbreak ended, and the pump remained as a reminder of Dr. Snow’s initiative.
4- The hidden ears, Covent Garden
Not the most beautiful subject for a photo, really. Yet I believe they deserve a place in this list.
These “ears” were created by artist Tim Fishlock. I’ll only show you one -quite well known- of Floral Street, but supposedly he placed several more around the city –
I did not try to find them, anyway, so do not expect me to help you on that matter, but be my guest if you want to do the search –let me tell you: I believe that there are better sights to look for around London-.
5- Strand Station/Aldwich Station , Temple
This station was part of the Piccadilly line from 1907.
However, it was gradually relegated to be an off-peak shuttle service, and finally closed in the 90s after its lifts broke.
Nowadays the station remains as an underground silent display of the past -I went the poetic way here, I know-, though the platform on the right is still frequently used for filming, having been part of some notable movies and series productions including “Sherlock”, “Mr Selfridge” and “V for Vendetta”.
Be advised that it is only accesible taking one of the tours offered by The London Transport Museum.
Since there is a limited quantity of tours around the year, check in advance for availability.
6- Samuel Johnson’s Cat, Farringdon
Honoree by an unusual, small sculpture in the middle of Gough Square, “Hodge the cat” was the poet Dr Samuel Johnson’s favourite pet.
Behind Hodge’s statue is Dr. Johnson’s house, a 300 year-old townhouse fully restored some years ago.
Hodge’s sculpture aside, Gough Square itself is a peaceful, quiet and perfect place for a snack or just for a short pause in our path.
7- St. Dunstan in the East, London Bridge
This beautiful garden, with its gorgeous Gothic architecture ruins, is perhaps one of London’s best kept secrets, even for average Londoners. But not for us…
Located between the London Bridge and the Tower of London, the garden was built in the 12th Century. It suffered a significant fire damage from the Great Fire in 1666, but was partially repaired about 30 years later.
Severely damaged once again by the German air raids in the Battle of London, during World War II, it was finally destined to public gardens in 1971.
8- The Whitechapel Bell Foundry
You may be probably thinking now : “A bell foundry? Really?”
This is the same company that built the Big Ben –which is actually the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower, not the tower itself as is popularly named- and the Liberty Bell -the iconic symbol of the United States’ independence, currently displayed in Philadelphia-.
As members of the friendly staff will surely remind you, it is the oldest manufacturing company in the UK, since having been established in 1570 it has operated for almost 450 years.
The foundry also cast a new bell for Trinity Church of New York, damaged in the attacks of 11/9.
Guided tours are available on some Saturdays (check their website), but on weekdays they carry some limited but yet interesting exhibits in the foyer, and you can buy bell-related items from the shop (they are also available at their web store, but don’t be lazy and make a visit to their place).
9- The seven noses of Soho, St. Pancras
As little beautiful as the “Ears” in Covent Garden, these unusual sculptures were created by artist Rick Buckley in 1997.
It is said that he had originally hid around 35 of these noses, but only seven survived (or ten if we trust in another versions) until today.
Distributed around Soho, they can make for a not-so-original “treasure hunt” if you are in the mood -and once again I’ll not join you in it-.
A few urban myths have originated around them, for instance the one erroneously stating that the nose inside the Admiralty Arch mocks Napoleon’s one.
Another belief is that if you can find all the seven noses you’ll be “wealthy forever” –I’ll not even try to make the effort; still waiting for the wealth that the “Bridge Monkey”in Heidelberg should bring me…-.
10- The Rolling Bridge, Paddington Basin
Undoubtedly a distinctive and unique creation of British designer Thomas Heatherwick.
It looks like a regular metallic bridge when fully deployed, but each Friday at Noon –which we all know that in England means EXACTLY at 12:00pm- the entire structure rolls up and until it ends forming an octagonal shape.
It’s said that an image is worth a thousand words, so let’s see it.
Here it goes
And this is how it ends
Don’t panic, I’ll not end this post without drink and food making their way into it.
So it’s time for 3 special options :
- The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
OK, to go here you have to follow my instructions to the letter :
First head to The Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane.
Once inside, look around until you see a normal looking Smeg fridge.
Good, that one.
Now -since we are between the people in the know- comes the interesting part: you simply have to ask a crew member to see the Mayor, and then you’ll be discreetly invited to step in through the fridge door.
Yes, yes, you got it right: I’ve said through the fridge door…
Just go downstairs, and you’ll discover a trendy dimly-lit cocktail bar, with great music, a good selection of drinks, and a wise range of small platters and sandwiches.
Being located within the breakfast club, it seems reasonable that they also offer an early morning option, the “Hair of the Cat: Brunch behind the Fridge”.
The bar is quite strict in keeping their secret –even while having a web site here-, having one main rule: NEVER, never exit through the fridge door. So don´t…
About the secrecy, since I’m far enough from London, no matter if you tell anyone you heard about the Mayor from me…
- La Bodega Negra
I’m pretty sure you will agree with me that there should not be many restaurants in the world hidden inside a sex shop. Well, this is one.
Just walk to number 9 of Old Compton Street, in SOHO, where you’ll find the illuminated entrance to a sex shop with a sleazy appeareance. An entrance so authentic and crude that you’ll never expect the place being anything else that what it looks to be.
Once you finally decided to trust me and left your doubts behind, venturing beyond the neon signs and the mannequins in PVC suits, you’ll find a man holding a clipboard while he stands close to a glass cabinet displaying erotic paraphernalia.
He’ll ask you if you have a reservation. If you don’t, do not worry : you’ll still be able to say you’re just going to the bar. This is just their simple code to check if you know that the place actually is a restaurant.
Once the guy confirms you do, he’ll point you to go down the staircase at the back of the shop, entering a candle lit basement with battered concrete walls, old tequila barrels, one large and rather deconstructed piano, and –for your relief– other diners who have also managed to access the restaurant…
A really great place for tequila-based cocktails and a solid menu leaded by the BBQ’d Octopus “El Negro”, and including seared steak and sweetbread tacos, duck and guacamole “tostaditas”, and ceviches.
Take it from me, and ask for the Scallop Ceviche, the Slow Roasted Lamb Barbacoa Salsa Borracha (for 2) or the Pork Belly Mezcal & Salsa Verde or Salsa Arbol.
Reservations are required, so be wise and make yours in advance -check their website-, and be aware that you must look for the restaurant, not the cafe. }
Are you bored of going to a restaurant and just sitting down to wait for your meal?
Are you in an adventurer mood?
Then you should give GingerlineHQ a try.
Hideout in a way, parallel reality in another, Gingerline HQ is an everchanging “undercover” dining experience held in secret locations along the East London Line (or the “ginger line”, as is also known). Be advised that it’s only for ages 18 and up.
The destination and “theme” is as intriguing as the menu; ideal for the audacious ones ready for a bit of unexpected madness usually held in hidden basements. Events’ themes may go from Victorian banquets to Siberian circuses or spy missions, from underground tunnels to submarine locations, Gothic Christmas, Secret Order, or 60’s style “spies’ secret bunker”…
How does it work? You must book a place in advance; then, around 6 PM on the evening of your reservation, you should wait near any station on the Ginger line (the Overground stations between Highbury and Islington and Crystal Palace) until the organizers send you a text message telling you where to go.
Once you arrived there, you’ll be usually received with a welcome cocktail, an up to five courses menu of delicious seasonal cuisine, and a piece of menu art souvenir.
And don’t worry, your experience will stay between you and me…
As always, remember : “Life is about the journey and not the destination”.