London is probably one of the trickiest places to write about, the immensity of the city and the amount of things to do and see is so huge that it feels overwhelming when you think about where to start. My top 5 hidden gems in London seemed like the best option, these are personal to me and everybody visiting London will discover their own hidden gems too, if you stay long enough.
I moved to London at the beginning of 2016 and spent a couple of years in this wonderful city. Coming from Barcelona the first thing that I was worried about was the weather: is it going to rain very often? Am I going to miss the sun? Will the winter be very cold? Well, yes, yes and yes! No surprises with the weather, we all know how London is not famous for its glorious sunshine and heat.
The truth however, is that you get used to it. If you are from a Mediterranean country like me, rainy days are for cozy sofa and movie plans, you don’t even think about going out, you stare at the window enjoying the storm. This is not the case in London and most of the countries in the centre and north of Europe. Rainy days here are just a regular day where you still have to go out and you can’t let it ruin your plans.
Having covered the most popular topic let me tell you about my favourite thing about London. I had heard about the multiculturalism of London, but I never would have imagined the extent of it. London is home to more than 270 nationalities and the people here speak over 250 different languages. Meeting and living with Indians, Africans, Pakistanis, Chinese and Europeans every day enriched my life; and not only mine but everyone else’s as well. You learn about different cultures, habits, languages and histories behind every person, you become more respectful and understanding. It’s just like travelling with your eyes wide open.
I loved how you could go in the tube with the weirdest custom ever or the craziest blue mohican punk style hair and no one would even take a glance at you. It doesn’t matter if you are a Shakespeare fan, an eco-hipster with a bamboo bike or a highly educated nerd obsessed with boardgames; London will have a place for you. I love how you will always fit in no matter what, the tolerance of this city made me like it from the beginning.
I enjoyed discovering many hidden gems in London. I visited all of the famous tourist spots but also a lot of the less talked about places and these would become my regular haunts during my two years as a London expat. So if you’re visiting London soon and you’ve already checked out a few of the big tourist spots like Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Big Ben etc then it’s time to delve a little deeper…
Here are my top 5 hidden gems in London
I am personally not very fond of visiting cemeteries, they usually give me the creeps and I don’t enjoy the nostalgic feeling I get from them. Highgate Cemetery however, was an exception. I went there with no expectations and I found one of England’s greatest treasures.
Not only the funerary architecture is beautiful but what got me was the integration with the plants and semi-jungle all over it. It is calm and pretty, you discover past lives and get knowledge of years of traditions. The cemetery has two parts, the East and the West. The East part, where Karl Marx is buried and the part I visited, has only an entrance fee of £4. For the West side you will need to book a tour guide and pay extra.
The cemetery is situated in north London, you can get there by tube in the Northern Line stopping at Archway and then either taking a bus (210, 143 or 271) for two stops or walking uphill.
“Ain’t Nothing But” London’s Original Blues Bar
If you have ever lived in another country you might know how there are places that become home to you. Places where you become a regular without even noticing, that have that special vibe that make you feel proud of taking the hard decision of leaving your country. Ain’t nothing but (20 Kingly Street, Soho) was that for me. That place where, rarely enough, made me feel like home. I discovered it by luck through an Australian friend of mine, it is right in the city centre, near Carnaby Street, W1. This tiny blues bar gets crowded in minutes, there’s barely ever a free seat and the people that play are not always professionals.
But let me tell you a secret, if you go there on a Sunday afternoon at 4pm the place is empty enough to grab a seat. Order a pint, chit chat with your friends and admire all the instruments hanging in the walls and the ceiling. Eventually, the owner will start making a list of musicians and will introduce the jamming session. By that time the place will be full and some amateur musicians will start playing songs together, trying to adapt their beats to each other and magic will happen.
I bet you’ve seen London from several different perspectives, but it is rare to find a place where you can see London with perspective.
Sky Garden was a discovery for us and we visited this place every time someone came to visit because our family and friends just loved it. Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden, located in the 37th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street. The building, called walkie-talkie, is 160m tall and has a concave shape that melted part of a car from the reflection of sunshine on it’s windows, or so they say. You will need to book a free ticket in advance, once you’re there you will discover extraordinary views of the city as well as a pretty inner garden where you can walk around. There’s also a very famous restaurant but trust me, not for all pockets…
Brixton neighbourhood was a discovery for me. I usually didn’t spend much time in South London but as soon as I understood how cool Brixton was and how easy it was to get there, I came back every time.
Near the Brixton tube station there’s a project that has turned dis-used land into a creative space called Pop Brixton. There are restaurants, bars, concerts, retail shops and the trendiest environment.
I love the fact that visiting Pop Brixton means that you are supporting small local businesses, start-ups and young creative entrepreneurs. It is only planned to remain until 2020 so don’t hesitate to visit before it’s too late. I personally recommend to try the crepes at L’Amuse Bouche, delicious!
Any board game freaks around? I wouldn’t consider myself to be one but I do like them and I always find it hard to locate a place where to spend a relaxed afternoon playing.
Candid Café (3 Torrens St in Angel) was one of these hidden gems in London that took way too long to discover. The great little cafe has a very basic website (don’t be put off by it) but it was close to my house so I decided to go check it out.
When you get to the address you only see an old board with the Café name and a staircase that goes up 3 floors. My boyfriend was about to chicken out as the place looked suspicious, but I told him that we should give it a try and we were so glad we did. Candid Café is one of those quite and nice places that rarely exist in a rushed city like London. It is full of candles, mis-matched tables and weird paintings. It is the perfect place to disconnect, work, have brunch or play board games on a Saturday afternoon.
I hope you enjoy checking out my favorite hidden gems in London and I am sure you will discover so many of your own too! If you’ve visited London or even lived here yourself then feel free to share your own top hidden gems in London in the comments section below. Ok so it won’t be hidden anymore but you might make someone’s day 🙂