The Ultimate List of Hidden Gems in London & Free Activities

The Ultimate List of Hidden Gems in London

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When you think of London maybe you think of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye or even the Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross but there are so many hidden gems in London too.

And best of all, even though they’re in one of the most expensive cities in the world, a lot of them are free, like walking tours through London and seeing the leaves turn in some of London’s lovely parks in autumn

Read through this ultimate list of all the unusual things to do in London or jump to any of the names that take you fancy by clicking on the links below. 

If or when you’ve had enough time in London and want to escape the city, take a look at these great day trips from London by train. Or if you like me are endlessly facinated by Stonehenge take a day trip from London to discover the mysteries of Stonehenge


 The Ultimate List of Hidden Gems in London

1. Leadenhall Market

2. The Counting House Pub

3.The Ruins of St Dunstan in the East

4. The Dickens Inn

5. Sky Garden

6. Rooftop Views of St Paul’s

7. Hot Tub Down the Thames

8. STIK Graffiti

9. Spitalfields Market

10. Curry on Brick Lane

11. Columbia Road Flower Market

12. Nomadic Community Gardens Brick Lane

13. The Barbican Conservatory

14. Sir John Soane Museum

15. Leake Street Arches and The Vaults

16. Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Southbank Centre

17. Oldest Wine Bar in London

18. A Pub Split in Two

19. Lights of Soho

20. Portrait Gallery Bar

21. Neal’s Yard

22. Restaurant in a Sex Shop

23. Mercato Metropolitan

24. Kyoto Gardens Holland Park

25. The Churchill Arms

26. Little Venice

27. God’s Own Junkyard

28. Greenwich Foot Tunnel

29. Tulip Stairs

30. The Painted Hall

31. Climb the O2 Arena

32. Brixton Village

33. Frank’s

34. Stephen Wright’s House of Dreams

35. The Secret Tube Tunnel



1. Leadenhall Market

It would never occur to me as a tourist in London to go into the main financial district in London, or Square Mile as it’s known, around Bank and Liverpool street where you’ll find the Bank of England (the outside of this building is beautiful to look at and there’s a museum attached to it).

Just behind it is also the Royal Exchange built in an 1844 trading centre building and housing boutiques, restaurants and bars.  theroyalexchange A short walk from there, towards Fenchurch street and you’ll find yourself a Leadenhall Market. The architecture of Leadenhall Market is incredible and it’s worth going just to wander around and start at the ornate decoration of the arches.

The market, which doesn’t actually function as a market anymore, is home to various shops, restaurants and bars. Head there on a Friday lunchtime or around 5 pm to find the bars packed with people working in the city, having a liquid lunch!

Where: Bank

Cost: Free leadenhallmarket



2. The Counting House Pub

The counting-house pub, opposite the royal exchange, is set in what was a banking building from 1893. It’s a stunning building but not too overpriced a pub as it’s now run by the Fuller’s chain. You’re not going for the pub though, you’re going to marvel at the building.  


Where: Bank

Cost: Drinks from a few pounds up



3. The Ruins of St Dunstan in the East

St Dunstan in the East is a church that was badly damaged by not only the Great Fire of London but also the Blitz so please don’t go there expecting a full church.

It is very much ruins however in 1967 because it seemed futile to keep re-building the church the City of London turned the area into a public park instead. With the ruins now sitting inside it with vegetation growing over, around and through them.

The park is a very much needed bit of calm right in one the busiest spots of London and the gardens would make a great place to stop for a picnic midway through your day exploring London.

If you’re looking to see traditional tourist attractions as well as these hidden gems in London too it’s right by the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

Where: Monument

Cost: Free towerbridge


4. The Dickens Inn

If you didn’t pack a picnic and would rather have someone make lunch for you but also want to continue your sightseeing why not stop off at the Dickens Pub.

Located just by the Tower of London in an old warehouse building the pub was set up by the grandson of Charles Dickens and is one of the largest pub buildings you’ll find in central London.

Where: Closest Tube is Tower Hill

Cost: a pub lunch will set you back about £10


5. Sky Garden

Just by monument in what’s known as the Walkie Talkie Skyscraper, is Sky Garden. With floor to ceiling windows, you’ll get fantastic views over London and can stroll through the gardens houses within it at the same time.

There’s even a bar and it’s free to enter.

Where: Monument

Cost: Free (but best to book your spot to visit online) londonwalkietalkieskygarden


6. Rooftop Views of St Paul’s

Since you’re in the area anyway, after visiting St Dunstan in the East head across to St Paul’s (if you’re reasonably fit and healthy this distance is very much walkable).

Feel free to walk around St Paul’s first and go inside but the actual hidden gem in London here is located in the shopping mall just behind it.

You could easily miss One New Change and what it actually has to offer as it just looks like a normal shopping mall but at the top of it is a roof terrace area that houses some of the most spectacular views across London. And given it’s just behind St Paul’s it offers the best view in London from which to see it.

There’s a bar at the top of St Paul’s you can enjoy a relaxing drink in once you’ve soaked up the views too.

Where: St Paul’s

Cost: Free stpaulshiddenviewlondon


7. Skuna Boats – Hot Tub Down The Thames

Time to get weird.

Want to be ridiculously boujie and have people stop and stare at you? Then rent a Skuna boat and go down the Thames in your very own hot tub. It’s a bit like going Punting in Oxford, but with less effort, more warmth and drinks.

Not for those traveling on a budget, or solo, but they do provide a 50% discount if there are just two of you.

The boat goes right through West India Quay/Canary Wharf which houses some of the tallest buildings in Europe and will certainly make you feel small tucked away in your little hot tub. The same company also do BBQs down the Thames in a boat that’s still round like the hot tub, but without water in if you don’t fancy getting wet but would like to eat!

Where: West India Quay

Cost: £112 – £225 quirkylondon


8. STIK Graffiti

STIK is one of my favourite graffiti artists and if you spend an afternoon wandering around Shoreditch (the hipster cool area of London) you are likely to spot some of his work.

He’s become so popular now some of his work was even displayed on the Piccadilly lights in a show of solidarity during COVID-19. You can see where his biggest murals are here. This will also give you an idea of the size of some of them.

Where: Shoreditch/Old Street/ Hackney

Cost: Free


9. Spitalfields Market

Less of a hidden gem than some of the other items on this list, but still one nonetheless as everyone always focuses on Portobello Market or London Bridge Market but the one in Spitalfields is one of the best Markets in London.

Since it is more popular now it has proper shops around the outside, many of which are on the higher end, however, the market itself is still in full swing and you can find anything you’d possibly want there.

I have a coat I bought from there 8 years ago for £50 and is only now starting to die on me. And a necklace that I absolutely love that cost about £10.

You can get vinyl records too and they have an antique day on Thursdays.

The market is open every day of the week. Brick Lane market is also just nearby running every Sunday and mostly focused on fashion.

Where: Spitalfields (Liverpool Street)

Cost: Depends on how much you buy


10. Curry on Brick Lane

Unless you live in London you probably wouldn’t know about this quirk but Brick Lane, in East London, is the best place in London to get Indian Curry.

Hands down.

There are curry houses all along the street and you won’t find curries like it anywhere else in London.

Where: Brick Lane – Closest stations Shoreditch High Street/Liverpool Street

Cost: Depends on how much you eat but the restaurants are reasonably priced, for London. A meal will probably set you back about £15.


11. Columbia Road Flower Market

Not far from Spitalfields is Colombia Road flower market. It’s about a 20-minute walk or you can take a bus.

The market only runs on a Sunday but the shops lining the street are all small independents that are great for picking up trinkets and souvenirs any day of the week.

When the flower market is on at Colombia road it will give you a sense of traditional market sellers in England with vendors calling out prices and deals to entice you in.

Where: Colombia Road – Closet stations Shoreditch High Street/Hoxton

Cost: Free


12. Nomadic Community Gardens Brick Lane

The Nomadic Community Gardens in Brick Lane are such a hidden gem in London. The gardens aim to bring back a sense of community, which is no small feat in London where no one gets to know their neighbours.

They found a derelict area and set it up so that people can grow their own produce there, learn new skills and bring some much needed green space to the city.

There are little coffee trucks and it has space to just sit and take a time out from the city.

Where: Brick Lane – Closest stations Shoreditch High Street/Liverpool Street

Cost: Free


13. The Barbican Conservatory

I’ll admit I didn’t even first go to the Barbican for the first time until recently. It’s huge and the Barbican conservatory is really something impressive.

It reminded me a bit of Jewel at Singapore’s Changi airport and has plants growing off parts of the building and balconies with ponds nestled in amongst the trees.  The Barbican is predominantly a theatre so there might be a show on you want to catch while there too.  

Where: Barbican

Cost: Free


14. Sir John Soane Museum

Sir John Soane’s museum is certainly something a little bit different unusual to see in London.

Unlike most museums which try to give you space to wander around them everything is tightly packed into Sir John Soane’s Museum with the museum being housed in the old house of Sir John Soane, a famous British architect.

The museum houses items he acquired over his life, from Egyptian artefacts to Roman Sculptures. He used them for inspiration and they’re place by the models they inspired him to create.

Where: Holborn

Cost: Free


15. Leake Street Arches and the Vaults

The railway arches under Waterloo station have really come to life in recent years. This quirky thing to do in London started with Banksy setting up the Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel.

Which is exactly what it sounds like. A tunnel with graffiti all along it.

The graffiti is always changing so you never know what you’ll find on a visit.

The Vaults were then set up to make use of the disused railway arches. There are performances, food places, bars all with a range of weird and wonderful decoration with a focus on creating the visually unusual

Where: Waterloo

Cost: Free/Depends on the event


16. Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Southbank Centre

The Southbank is by far one of my favourite places in London.

Walking along it on a warm summer evening makes you feel like you’re somewhere in Europe and there’s always something going on. The options of places to sit and have a drink can be a bit concrete heavy however with all of the spaces outside the theatre.

There is a secret garden, however.

On top of the Southbank Centre is the Queen Elizabeth Rood Garden. It’s free to visit but it also has a bar and is a great spot to soak in the sun (if there is any) which is surrounded by beautiful plants.

Where: Southbank/Waterloo

Cost: Free queenelizabethroofgardensouthbankcenter


17. Gordon’s Wine Bar – The Oldest Wine Bar in London

A secret that slips even many Londoners by for years is that there is absolutely no point, ever, taking the tube between Embankment and Charing Cross.

You can’t tell from the tube map but they’re almost right on top of each other. If you exist at the embankment and walk up to Charing Cross you’ll find yourself on a cute cobbled street with paths containing the train arches on the sides.

To your right is a small set of stairs that will take you down to Gordon’s Wine Bar. There’s also a street-level entrance.

This is by far one of my favorite bars and such a hidden gem to find in the center of London. It’s different in the surrounding areas of London where more people live like Brixton but right in the center of London, everything can get a bit sterile and samey. Not Gordon’s Winebar.

Gordon’s wine bar is thought to be the oldest wine bar in London, originating from 1890, and to preserve what people love about it they have maintained the original décor and only serve wine!

Don’t worry they also serve food from more traditional fare like pies to a wide range of cheese. The location itself is steeped in history with Rudyard Kipling having lived there in the 1890s.

Where: Embankment/Charing Cross

Cost: How much you drinking?


18. Ship and Shovel – A Pub Split in Two

Don’t worry these suggestions aren’t all going to just be bars now (although hanging out in pubs is basically British culture and there are a lot of alcohol-related activities in London, you can even take cocktail making classes) but while you’re in Embankment there is another bar you should check out, the Ship and Shovel.

Located just a bit further up the street leading up from embankment but down a side turning on the left, Craven Passage, the Ship and Shovel is a pub of two halves, literally.

While it would look like a normal traditional English pub if you just walk straight through the door, if you stop on the street first and look both sides of the passage you’ll notice you’re seeing double.

The pub is actually split across the street with one half of it on one side and one half the other side in two seemingly completely separate buildings. They are however connected by a passage underneath and are very much the same pub, despite the unusual set up of their buildings.

Where: Embankment/Charing Cross

Cost: Same question as before


19. Lights of Soho

Lights of Soho is part art gallery, part bar. The bar exists to champion great artists and while you relax and have a drink you can see the array of art displayed all around you.

Where: Soho – closest tube Piccadilly Circus

Cost: You know the answer by now


20. Portrait Gallery Bar

The Portrait Gallery is well worth a visit anyway, although there’s nothing hidden or unusual about that as an actor in London.

The Portrait Gallery’s bar however is a much lesser-known gem. Set at the top of the building the bar offers views out across London, of Big Ben and the London Eye.

Put your feet up for a bit after a busy day of sightseeing while taking in the sights from the comfort of your chair.

Where: Trafalgar Square – Closest tube Charing Cross

Cost: More than you’d usually pay for a tea but you could even go full British and get afternoon tea while there


21. Neal’s Yard

Neal’s Yard courtyard is such a tiny tucked away gem it’s so easy to miss. Nestled behind Covent Garden on a cute cobbled street Neal’s Yard is a vibrant little square of London.

With cafes, restaurants and the Neal’s Yard Remedies shop. Sitting outside one of the café’s there feels more like sitting on the corner of a Parisian café than on a London street.

Where: Covent Garden

Cost: Free


22. Bodega Negra – Restaurant Inside a Sex Shop

You might be wondering why this is a hidden gem right?

Just sounds like a Mexican restaurant. Bodega Negra is a great Mexican restaurant but the main restaurant is actually hidden inside a sex shop.

Soho, the area it’s in is famed for its wide array of shops offering sex shows, bondage gear and just about anything you can imagine really.

It’s London’s version of the Red Light District, except there’s no legal prostitution there. The outside of Bodega Negra is light up with signs says “Sex Show” in neon lights and has a blacked-out window, as all similar establishments do, but walk through the door anyway and you will be greeted with a coat check lady who will then take you downstairs to the restaurant.

Where: Soho – closest tube Leicester Square Station

Cost: about £30 for dinner


23. Mercato Metropolitan

Going right into the throng of things, just off Oxford Street in Mayfair is Mercato Metropolitan. If you’ve been shopping in Oxford Circus for the day swing by for dinner when you’re legs are feeling weary.

Mercato Metropolitan Mayfair is set in an old church so the building itself is stunning but as are all the options of food and drinks they sell.

With a focus on natural and sustainable products, the food stands offer everything from delicious pizza to charcuterie and cheese boards. Downstairs there’s even a wine and craft beer cellar.

Where: Mayfair – closest tube Bond Street

Cost: £10-£15 for some food and a drink mercatometropolitanhiddengemlondon


24. Kyoto Gardens Holland Park

The Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park provide a very much needed respite from the city with tranquil lakes and sculptures dotted around the quiet gardens.

The garden was a gift from Kyoto as a symbol of the friendship between Japan and Great Britain and while Holland Park itself is great to walk around make sure you don’t miss this hidden gem within it.

Best part is, since not many know about it, it really is as tranquil as intended.

Where: Holland Park – closest tube High Street Kensington

Cost: Free


25. The Churchill Arms

One of the most famous pubs in west London due to its spectacular display of flowers all over the outside of the building. But whilst the outside is definitely playing up to the Instagram crowd the inside is not.

The inside of the pub is a proper old British pub with dark wood and small doorways you have to duck to get under and through. But while the inside is fantastically small and cozy there is also a large beer garden with heaters to keep you warm in winter

Where: Notting Hill/ High Street Kensington

Cost: An alcoholic drink in most London pubs will start at about £5


26. Little Venice

Away from central London and just north of Paddington is Little Venice named for its winding canals reminiscent of Venice itself.

You can reach little Venice by getting off the tube at Paddington or Warwick Avenue and following the signs to Little Venice. You can walk all the way from Little Venice to Camden Lock Market or hop on a narrowboat tour to take you there which is about 45-55 minutes.

Jason’s Trip run these tours and are part of the London Pass too. It’s worth noting that they’re usually only open from March to November but it’d make for a great activity if you’re in London with kids especially.

If you’re feeling very adventurous you can even do a kayaking tour of the 8 mile long regents canal.

If you decide to walk the canals there are plenty of beautiful riverside restaurants to stop off in too.

For those who are into all things pink before you start your walk down the canals, you could stop by Saint Aymes café which honestly feels a bit like walking into a Unicorn’s bedroom.

Where: Warwick Avenue or Paddington

Cost: Free to Walk. £12 for a boat tour one way londoncanals


27. God’s Own Junk Yard

For the truly weird and wonderful make the journey to Walthamstow to check out God’s Own Junkyard.

Founded by neon artist Chris Bracey God’s Own Junk Yard houses hundreds of pieces of Neon art as well as old movie props retro displays.

Where: Walthamstow

Cost: Free


Greenwich is well worth a visit anyway with the National Maritime Museum (if you’re a Turner fan definitely check it out), markets and Greenwich park providing spectacular views over London.

It’s also where the Greenwich meantime royal observatory is, hence the name, which claims to be the home of space and time.

While there you can stand on the meridian line where East meets West and explore the museum. I don’t know how but I spent about 7 years living in London before I realised the Greenwich Foot Tunnel Existed.

Right next to Cutty Sark (that’s a historic boat you can tour for those who don’t know) is the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It’s free to enter with both lift and stair access.

The tunnel itself is pretty ordinary but it’s certainly unusual walking underneath the Thames and then popping up the other side in the isle of dogs, just south of the financial district of Canary Wharf. There’s a park just the other side of the tunnel which I stopped in to have a picnic lunch when I visited.

Where: Greenwich

Cost: Free


29. Tulip Stairs

While you’re in Greenwich check out the Tulip Stairs in the Queen’s House.

The stairs are beautiful to look at and were the first self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain. There are rumours that the house and staircase, in particular, are haunted with a photograph having been taken in 1960 that appears to show ghosts on the Tulip stairs

Where: Greenwich

Cost: Free


30. The Painted Hall

I first stumbled into the stunning Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College by accident as I spent the day walking around Greenwich and just walking into anywhere that looked interesting. I made the right call on going into this one.

Known as Britain’s Sistine Chapel the incredible painting on the ceiling of it took 19 years to complete.

Where: Greenwich

Cost: Free


31. Climb the O2 Arena

Want spectacular views over London but don’t fancy sitting on the world’s slowest Ferris wheel (London Eye I’m looking at you) then why not get adventurous and climb the outside of the O2 Arena at UP.

That’s right the O2 Arena, previously known as the Millennium Dome, can be climbed. You can even time your climb to be there for sunset and see the twinkling lights of the city come out as the sun goes down.

Where: North Greenwich

Cost: Prices start from £30 per person


32. Brixton Village

One of my favourite places to go in London, probably because I used to live in Brixton and it has a piece of my heart, but also because there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in London.

Brixton Village and Market Row are two shopping arcades in the centre of Brixton that date back to the 1960s. In a weird mishmash of shops, you’ll find local butchers and grocery shops right next to Jamaican clothing shops and hipster cafés.

The best pizza chain in London started in Brixton Village, Franco Mancas, and it is also home to the best crepes that you will find anywhere int eh world. Really (ok that’s not an official ranking, but I’ve never found any better and I’ve traveled a lot of places.

If you find yourself in South London make sure you go to Senzala in Brixton Village and try out their savoury crepes with hot sauce. You can thank me later.

Where: Brixton

Cost: £10 for a crepe and a drink hiddenlondongemsenzalabrixtonvillage


33. Frank’s

Frank’s in Peckham is a hipster hotspot of South London which you know means it must be a hidden gem!

It has some of the best views you’ll find in the city.

Located at the top of a car park Frank’s has that cool hipster vibe, with minimal décor and just a spattering of seats strewn across the rooftop. It’s only open in the summer though so check it’s opened up again before you go (also it would be a dreadful place to be if it rains!).

Where: Peckham

Costs: Drinks start from about £5 frankslondon


34. Stephen Wright’s House of Dreams

Staying in South London and moving onto the weird and wonderful Stephen Wright’s House of Dreams is about as weird as it can get.

The museum, located inside his house has every surface covered in items he’s found bringing to life what he describes as “the spirit and freedom of outsider art”.

Where: East Dulwich

Cost: £12


35. The Secret Tube Tunnel

This is most definitely hidden, whether you’d describe it as a gem or not is debatable, but it’s also technically not something people are supposed to know about or do intentionally.

This is some proper secret London stuff. There is a hidden secret loop of the tube tunnel that you can ride on even though you’re not supposed to.

For those who aren’t aware the northern line of the tube has two branches, one going into the city, one to Soho, and that split in the branches happens in Kennington. There are therefore a number of tubes that come into Kennington going south but then stop and need to go north again.

I assumed they just went to a dead end and then just started moving back the other way however they actually go into a secret part of the tube called the Kennington Loop.

All you have to do to experience it is when they announce on the tannoy that your southbound tube is terminating at Kennington, stay on and you’ll soon find yourself going through a deserted part of the tunnel all on your own, only to pop back up in Kennington shortly afterwards.


Bonus – Hidden Bars

If you’re looking for hidden gems in London you can always go on a hunt for all the hidden bars.

With bars located behind bookcases and inside fridges there are plenty of these secret bars to seek out as you travel around London.

From the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town in East London to the Vault in Soho.


What’s your favorite hidden gem in London? Let me know in the comments below or if you have any you think I should add.

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