The Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace: landmarks we know and love when we think of London. But sometimes, these tourist hot spots can make it easy to forget that London has a lot more to offer when you know where to look.
Mountains and dinosaurs, one-hundred-year-old tiny pet burials, forests with towering oak trees, streets brimming with treasures: these are the secrets London has to offer, and I’m here to tell you exactly where to find them.
Vertical Chill, Covent Garden
If you’ve always dreamed of scaling Mount Everest, but the fear of frostbite, dramatic weather changes, a lack of oxygen, and freeze-dried meals has put you off, London can offer you a kinder alternative (with the help of your imagination). Vertical Chill offers challenging ice walls for you to conquer in the heart of Covent Garden within the safety of four walls. The facility will supply your equipment (ice axes, crampons, the works), and you’ll have a dedicated trained instructor to lead you towards the Chill’s metaphorical peaks.
Pet Cemetery, Hyde Park
It’s 1881, and Mr Winbridge, the groundskeeper of Victoria Lodge, has taken on a peculiar request. Cherry, a little Maltese terrier, has passed away. His owners, who were friends with Mr Winbridge, wanted to bury their favourite dog in the park they frequented for walks. And so Hyde Park’s pet cemetery came into creation. Throughout the Victorian Era, pets like Freaky, Bogie, Baby and Smut were buried here, upon the request of their distinguished owners. It’s the only VIP Victorian pet cemetery in Britain, which is probably why the tickets are expensive (£50 per visit), but this peculiar landmark is well worth a visit to experience a rare part of Victorian London.
Epping Forest, Edge of London
London is notorious for its busy streets, glamorous shops, lavish bars and historical sites. But woodland areas teeming with wildlife, lakes and rivers? You wouldn't think so unless you happened upon Epping Forest. This gorgeous area sits just on the edge of London and offers a beautiful setting for an afternoon picnic or a gentle stroll with the family. And if you’re looking to make a day trip, don’t forget to stop at Queen Elizabeth's hunting lodge for an insight into how the Royals like to spend their spare time. The word on Epping Forest hasn’t reached far, so go now, before the secret gets out...
Evans and Peel Detective Agency
It’s the evening, and you’ve had a busy day shopping and sightseeing. Now is the time to relax and have a drink or two at a detective agency. Wait, what? You want a glass of wine, not to solve a crime! Luckily, this is a special kind of detective agency, offering delectable refreshments in an unforgettable setting. To enter, give 310c Earls Court Road a buzz, and be greeted by your personal investigator. They’ll lead you through a bookcase (yes, a bookcase!) into a candlelit room where you can unwind and exchange murder mystery stories over a cocktail or two.
Crystal Palace Park
Speaking of the weird and wonderful, London’s hidden world of crazy doesn’t end there. Head over to Thicket Road, and feel like you're on the set of Walking With Dinosaurs (without the questionable graphics). Here’s a place that is perfect for your kids to let their imagination run wild (warning, getting them to leave may be difficult). And you can’t come to the Crystal Palace park without exploring its stunning gardens, admiring how the dino residents look a little too real hiding in the foliage, and the many gorgeous flowers and trees injecting vibrancy into this curious green haven.
It’s not difficult to see where this serene gem got its name from. Walking along the canal is like meandering along Venice’s romantic streets. It’s a little slice of Italy that celebrates London’s rich multi-cultural identity, with canal boats inches apart from one another resting along the river. On a hot summer's day in London, there’s nothing better than retreating to a little water relief and enjoying an ice cold beer at one of the waterside quaint pubs. And if you fancy an evening out, dinner on one of the canal’s floating restaurants would go down a treat.
If vintage is your aesthetic, Camden Passage is the place to be. The alley, adjacent to Upper Street in Islington, is more than just a row of shops: it’s cute cafes, independent boutiques, and vintage shops teeming with exquisite one-offs. You won’t find a better place to hunt down treasures for your antique collection, or to have the best pick of shabby-chic furniture in all of London. And if pretty architecture is your thing, Camden Passage offers cobbled paths, Harry Potter like shop windows, and an array of stunning flower bouquets to marry all the beautiful trinkets and jewels displayed along the street.
Can you keep a secret?
Share what you’ve learnt here with your closest comrades. London’s hidden must-dos are all the more special for being away from the tourist throngs. So visit these wonderfully peculiar spots before the secret gets out, and enjoy the peace and wonder in a city full of surprises.
And if you’ve found a little haven of your own in our beloved capital city, share it here. We promise not to tell!