Written with assistance from Visit Britain
You’ll never be bored in London – the UK capital is full of surprises. While many of you would know of Big Ben, the London Tower, Buckingham Palace and all the Big Smoke’s time-honoured tourist attractions, there’s much more to London. In fact, it has quite a quirky side. Little wonder: with all that history you’d expect some strange, weird and wonderful sights to spring up over the years. With a little help from our friends at Visit Britain, we’ve curated a list of some of the city’s more ‘left-field’ features.
Experience the ancient city in the London Mithraeum, a Roman temple excavated after World War II, where over 600 Roman artefacts including the earliest writing tablets were discovered by archaeologists. The mysterious cult of Mithras, for whom the temple was erected during the 3rd century AD, first appeared in Rome in the 1st century AD and spread across the Empire over the next 300 years.
Members of the cult met clandestinely in hidden, mostly subterranean temples which featured a mythological scene of Mithras killing a bull as the focal point of ‘worship’. Known as the ‘tauroctony’, there is much speculation surrounding the iconic image that was the heart of the cult, but its full meaning is still a mystery.
Alternatively, transport yourself back to wartime London with a visit to Churchill’s War Rooms, the underground bunker from where Winston Churchill coordinated the Allied forces during World War II, eventually leading them to victory.
For those who think museums are boring, think again.
London has the Natural History Museum, home to 80 million specimens from a 9000-year-old human skeleton to a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, while the Museum of London tells the entire story of this great city from 450,000 BC to the present day.
And for a ‘slice’ of the darker side of Victorian life, the Jack the Ripper Museum has recreated scenes in the heart of Whitechapel during the reign of the still-unidentified serial killer.
You’ll find all manner of animal oddities at the Grant Museum of Zoology with around 68,000 specimens from the bones of a dodo to a jar of preserved moles.
And there’s living, breathing wildlife too. When you think of London, lush wetlands may not be the first thing that enters your mind, but that’s what you’ll find – along with waterbirds, newts, bats, butterflies and all manner of wildlife – at Woodberry Wetlands.
You’ll discover the final resting places of Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Sir Sidney Nolan and Malcolm McLaren (plus more) among the grand memorials and elaborate monuments at the Victorian-era Highgate Cemetery. Explore the newer East Cemetery independently or take a guided tour of the original (more architecturally impressive) West Cemetery.
For something truly peculiar, head to House of Dreams, a delightfully odd collection of items found by artist Stephen Wright; his personal memories and scavenged curios, from dolls’ heads and bottle tops, to false teeth and wigs, all artfully displayed in his East Dulwich home.
At God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow, you’ll find an eye-assaulting collection of neon art, created and curated by late designer Chris Bracey from salvaged neon signs, old movie props and retro film sets. Open to the public as a homage to his life’s work, it’s freeto visit, and you can buy, rent or simply ogle at the glittering kaleidoscope before you.
Eating out needn’t be a staid affair in London.
Grab a coffee with a kitty at Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in trendy east London, where you can relax with the three C’s: coffee, cake and cats. If you prefer your food cold and crunchy, visit the Cereal Killer Café, where every meal is of the breakfast bowl variety from Coco Pops to Lucky Charms. And while we’d love to tell you about the Chambers of Flavour, we don’t have a clue. What we do know is you arrive at a secret location for an evening of gastro and theatrical treats …
London has a long and storied history and while many associate it with relentless hustle and bustle, there’s so much going on beneath the surface, behind the scenes, in bystreets and alleyways. So, embrace the eccentric and start exploring!
Have you been to London? What was the quirkiest thing that you saw there?