Living in London long-term is a fascinating window into the eccentricities of British history – so I just had to share my favourite 15 London secrets that the tourist crowds miss. Buildings that have survived more than 10 generations of human stories, streets that echo the rambling paths of underwater riverbanks, rolling acres of grassy parks and the delicious smells of a melting pot that is London cuisine. History books be damned, this city is alive with the most incredible tales.
And what‘s more, as lifers, we get a chance to discover the small and precious moments of 1,972 years of inhabited streets (yup, London was apparently founded in 43AD. Let me repeat that – 43AD. My home country was founded in 1840, some 1,797 years later). We obviously get to enjoy the major sights and sounds of tourist London every time we have visitors, but we can also slowly and deliciously discover the in-between bits over time. The nooks and crannies, the local history and finally answering the loaded question of what to do in London (and best of all, every single one is absolutely free – hello staycation ninja status).
Uncover a lie that’s been told about the Eros statue overseeing Picadilly Circus for years. The statue has been called “London’s most famous work of sculpture” – but although the statue is generally known as Eros, it was created as an image of that Greek god’s brother, Anteros.
Admire the decorating genius that is running the river Tyburn through the basement of a collection of antique stalls, such as Greys Antique Market.
Make friends with the regal inhabitants of Holland Park, before absorbing some of the zen-like calm of the remarkable Japanese Gardens – the biggest outside of Japan.
Stumble upon The Elfin Oak, a c. 800-year-old Oak stump relocated from Richmond Park, carved and painted with elves, princesses, fairies and woodland creatures situated in Kensington Gardens, a stone’s throw from Kensington Palace (aka the royal “Aunt Heap”.)
Sample the pleasures of wandering along the Canal network on a sunny day; in a two-mile or so stretch of the Regent’s Canal you’ll see a Pirate Castle, the glory of Regent’s Park, skirt the London Zoo, walk past a Chinese floating restaurant, make friends with a few swans and spot incredibly palatial follies of many styles.
Puzzle out the hidden depths of painted codes and personalities hanging carefully along the walls of the many museums and art galleries. If there is an unusual interest, I can just about guarantee there is a museum dedicated to it.
Visit a local newsagents shop and duck behind the displays to see a 3,000 stone. The London Stone no less, known as the ‘Heart of London’. It’s now housed in a specially dedicated Portland Stone enclosure in the front wall of 111 Cannon Street.
Take a running jump at a magical brick wall at Kings Cross Station’s Platform 9 & 3/4s, Harry Potter style. You know you want to… (Note: Anyone can walk up to the Platform 9 ¾ sign for free, but if you want a professional photo taken, The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾ charges.)
Watch deer act as cricket fielders in the sprawling acres in one of the small oasises (oasii, oases, troubled 90’s bands?) of green where you can go to get a breath of fresh air and relax, shielded from the busyness of London such as Richmond Park or Bushey Park where herds of fallow and red deer roam the park.
Discover the measure of a secret hiding in plain sight at the world-famous Trafalgar Square. Tell me, where would the English be without their Pint (apart from sober, and less in trouble with their wives)? Jamie Oliver would be caught short without his Pecks of spices, and Irish and Scots would be bereft without their Drams of Whiskey (I actually typed Whishkey there… what a Freudian typo).
While you’re in Trafalgar Square, pay attention to the pedestrian crossing lights – they have a delightful LGBTQIA+ surprise!
Slow down that commuter march and subtly consider the door ornamentation of a local home. Is it a relic of the home’s original Victorian history used by rich young women after a night dancing with their beau? Was it found in the car boot of an antiquing entrepreneur? Is it a modern knock-off added to a brand new door by a family wishing to prove their new-found fortunes have endowed a touch of class?
Sing along to the Saint Clement Dane bells joyously ringing out the slightly scary Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme.
Take one of these. Go on, you know you want to – it’s the best way to discover more than these 15 London secrets that the tourist crowds miss.
What is the most incredible, crazy and fascinating thing you have found locally?