Less-well-known but unmissable attractions in London: a selection
Sir John Soane’s House
John Soane’s House sits on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, stuffed full of the relics from an eccentric London life. An eighteenth and nineteenth-century architect with a taste for the ancient and esoteric, Soane left his house for public enjoyment much to the annoyance of his sons. We can be grateful to him, though: as well as Canaletto and Hogarth painting to review there are chunks of ancient masonry and enough secret passages to delight the most hard-to-please voyeur.
Best time to go: the candlelit evenings on the first Tuesday of every month.
London’s great green lung is a delightfully rambling sort of place, with trees and fields to wander amongst when the city gets a bit much. Parliament Hill offers windy views over the city and is a paradise for kite-flyers. To the north of the Heath the grand Palladian mansion of Kenwood House serves up high-class history and a mean slice of cake in the cafe. Best of all there’s a 1930s lido and three unique, natural swimming ponds – one mixed and one for men and ladies only. They’re much loved by locals. Take the train to Gospel Oak (for the lido) or Hampstead Heath, or the Northern Line to Tufnell Park.
Best time to go: for a swim in the lido or ponds on a summers day, or a winter’s Sunday for a walk anytime
Crystal Palace’s dinosaurs
Crystal Palace is a superb excursion. The former pleasure gardens still have evocative statues and commanding views across Surrey, and the park’s lower reaches hides the world’s oldest life-size dinosaur models. This makes for a surreal stroll among otherwise innocuous London parkland, with ichthyosaur and plesiosaur rearing up out of the water at unsuspecting dog-walkers. There are a couple of excellent cafes at the top of the hill for a post dino-spotting fry up.
Best time to go: on a damp, misty afternoon, which you may find easy to come by in London
Lord’s Cricket Ground and Primrose Hill
London has a rich sporting history, and nowhere is more sacred than Lord’s Cricket Ground. The spiritual home of the game hosts London’s best sporting museum. Here you’ll find the Ashes, an urn scrapped over by England and Australia. Stroll through upmarket St John’s Wood to Primrose Hill, one of London’s finest vantage points.
Best time to go: when there’s an easy to get into county match on, so you can tie in seeing the museum with a pint in the sun in front of the action.
Walk from Putney Bridge to Kew and Richmond
London’s south-west is green and leafy and makes the most of the gently meandering waters of the Thames that flow through here. The river has yet to become the mud-brown beast that passes under the great bridges further downstream, and this is the haunt of rowers, pleasure boats and fishermen. Take in this timeless, bucolic scene by taking the District Line to Putney Bridge, crossing the bridge and turning right. Follow the path as far as you like: Kew Gardens is within reach, but you may get no further than the first pub with fantastic river views.
Best time to go: anytime it’s dry. If wet, take the train to Richmond for a riverside lunch or dinner.
St Bartholomew the Great
If St Bartholomew the Great looks familiar, it’s because the Norman interior of this City of London church has been used in many films. It was here Hugh Grant takes a thwack from his jilted fiancée in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the church was also in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This beautiful building, hiding near Smithfield, is packed with history and is bypassed by visitors aiming for London’s great churches. Don’t be fooled by the secluded location: this is one of them. There’s an entry fee to get in.
Best time to go: a quiet weekday for a solitary nose around.
The Thames Clipper
Tourist-oriented riverboat services roll up and down the Thames, mumbling commentaries about attractions en route. Give these a miss and instead grab a day ticket for the Thames Clipper. These services run three times an hour and are aimed at commuters, but they stop at most famous riverside sights and, once south of Tower Bridge, get up to an invigorating speed en route to Canary Wharf, Greenwich and ugly-lovely Woolwich.
Best time to go: twice – once during the day and once in the evening to see the twinkling Thames-side lights.
Dennis Severs’ House
Odd, odd, odd. If John Soane’s house is everything a glorious old London house should be, Dennis Severs’ House on Folgate Street is a trip into the gloomy, impoverished murk of London’s east end over the centuries. This art project, taken on by the man himself, aims to create the exact atmosphere of a Spitalfields house through the ages, complete with flickering candles, pamphlets fluttering in the draught and half-eaten meals.
Best time to come: on a cold, windy Monday evening – book ahead, it’s worth it
Arsenal’s stadium, old stadium and museum
Highbury is little-visited by non-Londoners, but the area is rich in history. Walk from Highbury & Islington station across Highbury Fields to the Emirates Stadium, gleaming home of Arsenal Football Club, one of the world’s leading teams. There’s the usual shop and museum here, but best of all is a short walk away on Avenell Road, where the club’s former home has been redeveloped for flats. The art deco frontage to the East and West Stands remain extant to be admired, and there are excellent pubs in the area for refreshments.