Hidden Gems in London

Life in London is never boring. It’s a city that seems to provide you with an endless list of things to do.

Seriously, endless.

I’ve been there so many times I’ve lost count, and still find new fun, exciting and unusual things to do in London every time I visit. 

 If you are visiting London for the first time, you may want to focus on the main tourist attractions and standard London sightseeing route, like the London Eye or Buckingham Palace. 

But if it’s your second or third visit to the city, it’s a good idea to go beyond the classic London bucket list and go see some places off the beaten path.

 The hidden gems of London are little known places that are worth visiting, from eccentric museums to secret gardens. 

 If you’re planning an itinerary for London and you’ve already seen all the famous places, use this list to discover some of the lesser known spots in London. 

Some of the places on this list are a little out of the way, but others are in the city centre. I think it’s worth travelling outside the centre occasionally for some hidden gems.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Photo by Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park is right in the centre of the city, and pretty hard to miss when you visit London.

It’s so big though, that visitors might miss the theatre hidden in the middle of the park.

It features a range of productions, from classic drama to stand-up comedy.

The idea of an open air theatre in a place like London, where it may rain at any time, can sound a bit weird.

Though the shows only run during the spring and summer months, between May and September, always bring your rain jacket with you.

I once sat through an entire show in the rain at this open air theatre and nobody in the audience seemed to think it was strange 😉

Check what’s on at the Open Air Theatre

Address: The Regent’s Park, Inner Cir, London NW1 4NU

Leighton House Museum

he Narcissus Hall in Leighton House Museum
The Narcissus Hall ©Leighton House Museum, RBKC. Image courtesy of Will Pryce

Lord Leighton was an artist from a well-off family in the Victorian era, who filled his house with his own artworks and art from his collection.

His love for interior design and architecture is evident and the house is just magnificent.

The result is delightful, elegant and somewhat eclectic, and the space was turned into a museum that’s open to the public.

The most extraordinary part of the museum and the highlight of the house is the Arab Hall, based on a room in a palace in Palermo.

It’s a room too gorgeous to describe in words, covered in Islamic mosaic tiles with a dome above a fountain.

The Arab Hall at Leighton House Museum
The Arab Hall ©Leighton House Museum, RBKC. Image courtesy of Will Pryce

Leighton travelled around Europe and the Middle East and decided to bring those decorated tiles from Damascus to London

I ended up spending a really long time there observing all the details.

The way the house looks today is a recreation of how it looked originally. Some items are replicas and some are original.

As part of the visit, you’ll also get to see the artist’s studio, a large room with marvellous carpets and beautiful natural light.

Leighton House Museum is sort of hidden on a side street and from the outside it may look like an ordinary house…

It is now undergoing restoration work, so it’s open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5:30pm.

I highly recommend you plan your visit to London so that you can see this gem!

There is a lot to do in London during weekends, but you can easily combine the visit with other West London attractions.

It is very close to the Design Museum in Kensington, so it’s best to visit both.

Also take the opportunity to see Holland Park while you’re there, especially Kyoto Garden, which is another London hidden gem.

Leighton House Museum

Address: 12 Holland Park Rd, Kensington, London W14 8LZ

Kyoto Garden in Holland Park

Holland Park - Kyoto Garden
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This Japanese garden is a personal favourite of mine.

It is so pretty, peaceful and serene that I keep going back there every time I visit London.

There is no lack of beautiful green spaces in London of course, but this one is quite unique.

Created by Japanese landscape architects, the garden was a gift from the city of Kyoto to Britain, given as a sign of friendship.

It’s designed in the traditional style of a Japanese garden, with a pond and a fountain, Japanese trees, stone lanterns and that pure zen atmosphere, interrupted only by some Instagrammers in the midst of photo shoots.

Kyoto Garden - a hidden gem in London

Even though the Instagrammable qualities of this little corner of London are not a secret anymore, I’d still call it a hidden gem, just because so many people I’ve met, including Londoners, have never been there.

Right next to Kyoto Garden is another Japanese garden, opened years later.

The Fukushima Memorial Garden was a gift from the Embassy of Japan to Britain for their support in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Tip! Look out for the peacocks 🙂

Address: Kyoto Garden, Holland Park, Holland Park Ave, Kensington, London W11 4U

Dennis Severs’ House

This is a London experience you might describe as bizarre in a good way 😉

The imagination and creativity that went into this house are remarkable.

Dennis Severs’ House is a Georgian townhouse turned into a semi-fictional time-machine.

Each room inside the house shows you what living in the 18th and 19th century looked and felt like.

However, this isn’t a standard historic house. It’s not intended to tell you historical facts.

Dennis Severs, an artist who used to live there, invented a fictional family and designed each room with objects that tell their story.

He turned his house into an immersive work of art and storytelling.

It’s a bit difficult to understand what’s going on when you first walk inside. It is all quite mysterious.

Everything is designed to engage your senses and create an exceptional atmosphere, from candlelight to sound effects… and it works… It feels like a fantasy world.

Each room is completely unique and full of surprises. I especially liked the bedroom and the drawing room, but I’m not going to give away any spoilers!

You may be disappointed to hear that no photography is allowed inside the house.

In a way, I found it liberating. It lets you focus on the objects and the arrangement of the rooms, and you really want to look everywhere and observe everything…

Located in East London, Dennis Severs’ House is easy to get to from Liverpool Street station. You can combine it with a visit to Brick Lane which is close by.

Dennis Severs’ House

Address: Dennis Severs’ House, 18 Folgate St, Spitalfields, London E1 6BX

The Musical Museum

 The Musical Museum London

One of the best places to visit in London if you’re fascinated by music history and musical instruments.

The place has a name that sounds very general, but the collection is very specific: It’s a collection dedicated to automatic musical instruments.

From old music boxes to self-playing pianos, this is a pretty amazing display.

They date back to the time when the only way to hear music was when it was played live.

Way before records, jukeboxes and radio, people came up with innovative solutions and built extraordinary machines that could play by themselves.

Some were used in pubs, where owners didn’t want to pay a live orchestra every night.

Others were used by wealthy people with houses large enough to place a huge music machine in their living room.

The instruments in the museum are in working order, so have your phone ready to make some spooky videos of piano keys that move by themselves 😉

In the concert hall upstairs, you can see and hear the Wurlitzer theatre organ. It plays all by itself and was designed to accompany silent films.

Today the museum runs silent film nights, so you can hear it in action.

I highly recommend visiting with a guided tour, so you can hear demonstrations of the instruments (Check the website for the current times of the tours, they are included in your entry ticket).

Beyond the novelty of seeing instruments playing automatically, the museum documents how listening to music has changed over the years.

It has old gramophones and very early synthesizers, plus some more familiar gadgets such as mp3 players and an iPod.

Before you leave, don’t skip the shop, it has some cool souvenirs.

The Musical Museum website

Address: 399 High St, Brentford TW8 0DU

The Barbican Conservatory

The Barbican Conservatory in London

The Barbican, a large cultural institute with striking brutalist architecture, has a hidden gem on its 3rd floor.

It is the last place you’d expect to find a tropical garden, but it’s right there, full of plants, flowers and trees, a couple of fish ponds and an impressive cacti and succulent collection.

We visited on a Sunday in August. It was a bit crowded as you might expect, but still very enjoyable.

This is a refreshing surprise in the middle of London.

When you’re done exploring the greenery, you can also have your afternoon tea there amongst the palm trees.

The Barbican Conservatory is free to enter and is open to visitors on selected dates. Check the exact dates and times on their website.

The Barbican website

Address: Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS

The Kings Cross Light Tunnel

Kings Cross Light Tunnel - London hidden gems

It’s one of the coolest things to see and photograph in London and probably the most artistic underground tunnels I’ve ever seen 🙂

While you’re more than likely to pass through Kings Cross Railway Station at least once on any average visit to London, the station is huge, so you may miss this tunnel.

This pedestrian tunnel connects St Pancras International and King’s Cross stations and is covered with colourful LED lights.

The lights turn it into “a memorable and immersive experience”, as the designers put it.

The Kings Cross Tunnel

Address: 1 Pancras Square, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AG

London Neasden Temple

London Neasden Temple

It’s a little hard to believe this building is actually in London.

It looks like a huge, white palace from a movie… but it is in the London Borough of Brent. As a tourist, it’s probably not an area you’d visit in London.

But this stunning building is well worth a visit, even though it’s a little out of the way.

It’s a traditional, authentic Hindu temple (Mandir), the first one to be built in Europe.

It’s full name is BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Neasden is just the name of the area in London it’s in.

The temple was made of marble and stone carved by artisans, and the result is just marvellous.

After a quick security check, I went in and immediately stopped to admire the wood carvings inside.

But that’s only the beginning…

Go upstairs to see the incredible marble carvings and take your time, appreciate the art and the craftsmanship and absorb the peaceful atmosphere.

There’s a chance to see the sacred deities several times a day (check the website for details), so try to time your visit accordingly.

If you’re in the mood to educate yourself about Hinduism, go into the exhibition rooms.

The history and principles are explained in a way that anyone from any background can understand.

There’s also a fascinating video about how the temple was constructed.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir website

Address: 105-119 Brentfield Rd, London NW10 8LD

The Horniman Museum and Gardens

This museum is one of my favourites in London.

Part of the reason why it’s one of London’s hidden gems is because it’s in Forest Hill and a bit far from the usual places tourists tend to hang out in.

Still, it’s not too far to reach on the train from central London and it’s well worth a visit.

The museum’s collections can be best described as diverse, covering anthropology, natural history and musical instruments from around the world.

It also has a massive garden worth exploring if the weather’s nice.

Entrance is free and check the museum website before you go to see what’s on, as they run a lot of events.

The Horniman Museum

Address: 100 London Rd, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ

The Garden at 120

The Garden at 120 London

This roof garden is one of the coolest hidden gems in London.

The garden is right on top of the Fen Court office building, open to the public and free to enter.

You’ll have to go through a security check to get in, but it’s very quick, and then you can take the lift to level 15.

It’s a very elegant roof garden, with plenty of space and lovely plants.

You’ll get to see some great views of London: Its skyline, some famous landmarks, both old and new, London’s iconic modern architecture, River Thames and Tower Bridge.

Go all around the garden to see London from different angles.

If you can, try to go on a sunny day for better views and better photos.

There are benches to sit down and relax, and when it’s quiet it looks like a perfect place for meditation.

The Garden at 120

Address: 120 Fenchurch St, Langbourn, London EC3M 5BA

Leadenhall Market

London hidden gems - Leadenhall Market

A couple of minutes away from the Garden at 120, there’s another hidden gem that’s worth visiting.

Leadenhall Market is a super elegant Victorian Market, that design lovers will definitely enjoy.

It’s a covered market with shops, pubs and restaurants, but I spent most of my time there looking up…

Leadenhall Market London

Harry Potter fans may know it as some scenes were shot there, but even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan you’ll notice a certain magical atmosphere 😉

Leadenhall Market

Address: Gracechurch St, Langbourn, London EC3V 1LT

Sir John Soane’s Museum

A short walking distance from the famous British Museum, there’s a much smaller museum that many visitors don’t know about, but it’s a spectacular hidden gem well worth discovering.

Inside the former Georgian townhouses of architect Sir John Soane, there’s a curious collection of objects from around the world that he gathered in his lifetime and turned into a museum open to the public.

You’ll be asked to leave any large bags in the cloakroom before you enter, and when you go inside you’ll see why.

The museum is packed with a mix of sculptures, antiques, artworks, furniture and a myriad of other objects from Soane’s collection.

Some of those are quite eccentric, and they seem to be displayed in no particular order.

I later found that the museum offers guided theme trails that make sense of the connections between the objects.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Address: Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn, London WC2A 3BP

Extra Tip: Open House London

If you’re in London in September, you’re in for a chance to see some of the most interesting buildings in London.

During the Open House weekend, you can visit many of the buildings around the city that are not usually open to the public.

It’s a way to discover some truly secret places in London. For example, last year I got to visit a Masonic Temple, hidden inside a hotel in East London.

A Masonic Temple in London that was open to the public during Open House 2019
A Masonic Temple in London that was open to the public during Open House 2019

The Open House programme is usually published on the website in August, about a month before the festival.

It includes hundreds of buildings, all providing free access during the Open House weekend.

It’s a very popular event and for some of the more famous buildings you’ll have to wait in line for a while.

Some offer guided tours, but most just open their doors and you can have a self-guided tour.

TIP: Many of the guided tours are sold out on the same day the programme is published on the website, so you want to be quick!

How To Find Even More Hidden Gems in London

Books about London’s Secrets

London Uncovered: More than Sixty Unusual Places to Explore

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

Unique London Tours

There are tons of walking tours in London. These are the ones that will show you the more unique and unusual sides of London:

More Unique Places in London to Discover

I’ve written a few more guides on this blog about special places to see in London.

Brixton

No longer a hidden gem, but still a part of London that many tourists haven’t discovered.

It’s a super cool place and great for music lovers and foodies.

Here’s what you can do and see in Brixton.

Regent’s Canal

Walking along Regent’s Canal, especially to or from Little Venice, is one of the most relaxing activities in London.

Here’s a self-guided walk, and you can also do this tour with a guide.

Unique Museums in London

I’ve included some pretty unusual museums in the list above, but there are more!

Read my reviews of the Design Museum, The Cartoon Museum, Geffrye Museum and William Morris Gallery, as well as the best photography galleries in London.

Brick Lane

Not exactly one of the most kept secrets in London, though I remember the days when it still was…

Brick Lane might be one of the most famous streets in London, but it’s still a very special place to visit.

It is popular especially during weekends, with busy markets, food stalls, vintage shops and street performers.

Read my full guide to all the great things to do in Brick Lane.

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16 Comments

Always love a London blog post- lots of ideas here. I adore the Kyoto Garden, took it for granted when I worked nearby. Rare bit of tranquility. I miss London so much, my town, i wrote about it too on my lockdown wishlist! Let me know what you think.

What an amazing list of off the beaten path things to see. I’ve never been to London—-gasp—not a city traveler too much. But I’d love the Japanese garden and the cactus place.

London is massive, so i find this guide to be very helpful! This post makes me desperate to want to plan a trip! I can’t wait to start traveling again and head back to London!

I lived in London 5 months and never saw any of this stuff! Regents Park was even my local park where I’d go for runs, and I never saw that theater! Great list – will def be using it for when I return. 🙂

What is amazing about Tal’s posts is the fact that every time you think you’ve exhausted everything there is to see / enjoy / travel / love in a certain place, Tal comes and shows you many other hidden layers of the place that you didn’t see, even though they were right in front of you.
This post about different hidden places (in the positive sense, for the better), made me wonder how I didn’t see all of these in all the times I was in London?
Thanks for this splendid post.

It’s been such a pleasure to travel in London with you! I love this city and can’t wait to go back there. Saving your perfect recommendations.

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