In a city as historic as London, there’s tons to see and do. If it’s your first time in the English capital or your time is short and sweet, sticking to the classic highlights is wise. But for travelers willing to venture out beyond the usual tourist routes, London has a treasure trove of hidden gems just waiting to be unearthed. Drop your luggage and get ready to explore the city like a local – off the beaten track!

ARTS & CULTURE

Novelty Automation

The windows of a small 17th century shop front in Holburn give a glimpse into the satirical funhouse of Novelty Automation. Buy a handful of tokens to play the handmade arcade games, which often poke fun at the British tradition of coin-operated games in pier arcades. Instead of playing Space Invaders, you’ll play divorce, nuclear reactor operation, or even try your hand at money laundering.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

A few minutes up the road is the labyrinthine Sir John Soane’s Museum, which winds through several levels of an unassuming townhouse. Here you’ll find the astounding collection of British architect Sir John Soane. It includes thousands of artworks and antiquities, from works by Canaletto to the sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. Bags, photography, and ink pens are a no-go here, but London art students can sometimes be spotted sequestered between marble busts, pencils and sketchbooks in hand. Why not bring your own and try your hand at Aphrodite or Hercules?

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The Viktor Wynd Museum

Over in Hackney, an even more curious collection can be found at The Viktor Wynd Museum, a modern day take on the Victorian shop of horrors. Look carefully in this fascinating ‘Wunderkabinett’ for the mystical and marvellous: dodo skeletons, living coral, taxidermied polar bears, and even a mermaid!

The Magic Circle Museum

Victorian London’s obsession with the unknown didn’t stop at Egyptian artifacts or esoteric curios. Right by the bustling Euston train station is the hidden theatre of the Magic Circle, a long-standing and secretive group of magicians and illusionists. While entry to the club is members-only, the Magic Circle Museum is open to the public during the Circle’s regular public events. Book in to take a peek at the real history of magic, including items from Houdini’s magic kit. If you’re visiting London during the winter, make sure to book a ticket to the spectacular annual Christmas show.

God’s Own Junkyard

You don’t have to endure the crowds in Camden Town to find London’s weird and wild shops. Close to the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow is God’s Own Junkyard, a psychedelic kaleidoscope of handmade neon signs. Originally a manufacturer of neon signage for Soho strip clubs, it’s now a gallery for the public and a prop shop for creatives. If you find yourself feeling a little peckish while lost among literally thousands of neon lights, the shop runs The Rolling Scones, its own bar and cafe.


GREEN SPACES

Little Venice

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The peaceful area of Little Venice lies on the canal in Maida Vale, but it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of London. While there aren’t any gondoliers like its its namesake, the banks of the canal are lined with leafy trees and a rainbow of painted narrowboats, which makes for a gorgeous walk. In the warmer months you can take a canal ride, while the Canal Cafe Theatre is open for performances year-round.

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The Barbican Conservatory

The Barbican isn’t necessarily London’s most beautiful building (unless you’re really into Brutalist architecture or concrete) but it is home to the tropical paradise that is the Barbican Conservatory. This inner-city rainforest is London’s second-largest conservatory after Kew Gardens’. Tours are available to guide you through verdant palm fronds and past bubbling koi ponds, and if you make it there on a Sunday you can treat yourself to afternoon tea among the greenery!


SHOPPING

Old Spitalfields Market & Brick Lane Markets

For the best shopping in London, skip the relentless crush of Oxford Street and head to one of London’s many markets. Anything you could possibly want can be haggled for at Old Spitalfields Market, which has been serving Londoners since 1638. This enormous market in East London hosts a rotating cast of market stalls plus permanent fixtures, such as restaurants, homewares, and wine shops. With themed days (retro Thursdays) and specialized market events (record swaps and the African market), you’ll always be sure to find something unique. It’s also impossible to recommend London markets without mentioning Brick Lane. While it’s not exactly a local secret, it’s worth braving a few queues for some of the best street food in the UK. Our top choice is the proper Jewish style bagels from Beigel Bake.

Bargains & books in Marylebone

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The perfect spot to shelter from the showers. ⁣☔️☔️☔️ ⁣ Don Paterson reminds us that there is poetry even on the gloomiest of days.⁣ ⁣ I love all films that start with rain:⁣ rain, braiding a windowpane⁣ or darkening a hung-out dress⁣ or streaming down her upturned face;⁣ ⁣ one big thundering downpour⁣ right through the empty script and score⁣ before the act, before the blame,⁣ before the lens pulls through the frame⁣ ⁣ to where the woman sits alone⁣ beside a silent telephone⁣ or the dress lies ruined on the grass⁣ or the girl walks off the overpass,⁣ ⁣ and all things flow out from that source⁣ along their fatal watercourse.⁣ However bad or overlong⁣ such a film can do no wrong,⁣ ⁣ so when his native twang shows through⁣ or when the boom dips into view⁣ or when her speech starts to betray⁣ its adaptation from a play,⁣ ⁣ I think to when we opened cold⁣ on a starlit gutter, running gold⁣ with the neon of a drugstore sign⁣ and I’d read into its blazing line:⁣ ⁣ forget the ink, the milk, the blood –⁣ all was washed clean with the flood⁣ we rose up from the falling waters⁣ the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters⁣ ⁣ and none of this, none of this matters.⁣ ⁣ #donpaterson⁣ #poetryforrainydays⁣ ⁣📸 @justhelenmarie

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Snap up a bargain in upscale Marylebone’s charity shops, where London’s affluent discard their unwanted clothes. If you’ve got a keen eye it’s easy to find vintage and designer gear at a fraction of the price, plus accessories and even furniture. In the heart of Marylebone is Daunt Books, an Edwardian bookshop filled with volumes on every country in the world. This oak-paneled, skylight-flooded shop was originally aimed at travelers and maintains its specialization in travel books and world literature, with some popular fiction for good measure. You might spot arty-looking Londoners with one of Daunt’s classic tote bags slung over a shoulder, which make excellent (and lightweight) souvenirs to bring back home with you