The British capital may be one of the world’s most visited cities, but behind the legions of tourists and sightseers lies an invitingly hidden London. From your base at the Rubens At The Palace, located conveniently close to Buckingham Palace in West London, you’re ideally positioned to do a bit of cultural digging. From the homes of London luminaries like Dickens and Keats to its many secret gardens, these lesser-known landmarks prove there’s more to the city than the London Eye.
The Horniman Museum
Open since Victorian times, the quirky Horniman Museum is home to a collection of cultural artefacts, ancient instruments and exotic taxidermy (one notable piece is the overstuffed walrus, now something of a museum mascot). While visitors are permitted to handle some of the items on display, this policy isn’t recommended for the jellyfish tank.
Hidden away in central London, the Cartoon Museum includes an incredible collection of long-running British comics and magazines, including Viz and The Beano. Exhibitions trace the medium’s origins in the 18th century up to more contemporary works, like the dystopian, London-set V for Vendetta.
Those with a romantic streak will want to visit Keats House, where the tragically short-lived poet resided from 1818-1820. It was here that his romance with Fanny Brawne (immortalised in the film Bright Star) was first kindled. The accompanying garden is the ideal venue for reciting his famous Ode to a Nightingale – it was composed here, after all.
Charles Dickens Museum
48 Doughty Street is the only surviving home of the British novelist and social critic Charles Dickens, and is now host to the eponymous museum. The place where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist has been carefully preserved, and today houses the world’s largest collection of memorabilia relating to his life. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a tour led by one of his housemaids.
The Temple Church
Built at the end of the 12th century, the Temple Church was originally used as a headquarters for the Knights Templar (as indicated by its rare, round shape). Today its majestic architecture attracts visitors…as do its famous acoustics (the church’s historic pipe organ was used when recording the score for Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar).
The delightfully unusual Postman’s Park, filled with historic memorials, commemorates the lives of heroic Londoners who died saving others. To bring the stories to life, visitors can also download a free app that uses image-recognition technology to scan the tiles and reveal more information about the departed.
In 1799, the government purchased the unbelievable collections of esteemed surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, which later became the Hunterian Museum. Amidst 3,500 specimens is an intimidating 2.31-metre skeleton of “the Irish Giant” Charles Byrne, as well as a set of dentures belonging to Sir Winston Churchill.
St. John’s Lodge Gardens
One of the highlights of hidden London is St. John’s Lodge Gardens. Just north of the Inner Circle in Regent’s Park, the petite garden is usually empty of other visitors. You’ll know you’re there by the statue of Hylas and the Nymph – and hopefully they’ll be the only people you bump into during your private promenade.
Holborn’s Conway Hall is an essential stop for culture-seekers. During the week, the venue hosts talks with leading intellectuals, while weekends bring the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts – a recurring chamber music series held since the 1880s (the oldest of its kind in Europe).
Highgate Cemetery in North London makes for a beautiful, if slightly macabre, spot to while away an afternoon – and if celebrity-spotting is your thing, see if you can find the final resting places of luminaries like Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, and George Eliot. Just keep an eye out – it is, reportedly, haunted.
Header image: Sleeping Angel © Hugh Thompson / Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust