Curious places to visit in London

In Cities, Days Out, London, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by Janis12 Comments

A little different from the norm, if it’s not your first visit

You may have visited London time and again, you might even live in London, or like me, worked up in the ‘smoke’ for many years. However, what I adore about this bustling metropolis, is that I’m always filled with a sense of adventure when we visit.

Bright red phone boxes; two large, two regular sized, in front of the Inns of Court in the City of London

Little 'n' Large at the Law Courts

The ancient city of London has so many secrets, I just feel the urge to explore more of the unusual and sometimes quirky spots around England’s multi-cultural capital.

Quick Links

Gary and I are off to revisit London in a few weeks, and my list of districts to discover and to search out those lesser-known facts and blue plaques is ever-growing.

Keep a lookout for my follow up post  'More curious places to visit in London'

I have a little knowledge upfront for you, and that’s although London is a city and the capital of England, it also has two cities within it. The first is the ancient ‘City of London’ which the Romans founded in AD 43 and named it Londinium.

2 brass statues of soldiers standing aside of a sandstone monument to the fallen from the City of London in front of the neoclassical styling of The Royal Exchange

The London Troops Memorial in front of the Royal Exchange

This is now the hub of London’s financial district and referred to by the locals as ‘The City’. Some may question that the financial centre is now Canary Wharf, but, I’m old-school, and I’m having none of that.

Just to throw a spanner in the works, The City is also colloquially known as the ‘Square Mile’. Which as you may guess and covers an area of around one square mile, this small region of London is bursting with history and facts.

The Guildhall in the centre of the City of London. This medieval town hall dates for the middle of the 15th century but has been restored a number of times due to damage through fire and war.

The Guildhall - City of London

Keep an eye out for those little differences when you wander into the city.

Not only do the street signs and the cast iron bollards alter.

However, if you head along one of the main routes in, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with a pair of silver dragons.

The pewter coloured dragon with bright red tongue holding shield displaying the coat of arms of Saint George signifies the entrance to the City of London.

The edge of the City of London

Follow the River Thames west, and you’ll come to London’s second city, and that’s the City of Westminster.

Here you’ll find all that is Regal about London along with some of London’s beautiful parks and the haunts of many a politician and aristocrat.

A black and white portrait shot of the Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square, of him dressed in a heavy overcoat.

Statue to Winston Churchill

A helpful guide

If you've yet to discover London and its ancient history, then let's start planning. I find these DK Eyewitness Travel Guides invaluable. They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those fascinating sites.

You can now grab a recently revised copy of this guidebook, so you won't miss a thing.

Some Londoners may call themselves cockneys; however, it is believed, that to be a true cockney, you must be born within earshot of the chiming of the Bow Bells.

The Bow Bells are located in the heart of the ancient city, in St Mary-Le-Bow church along Cheapside.

The Bell tower of St Mary-le-bow in the heart of the City of London, home to the famous bow bells.  If you are born within earshot of these bells you can consider yourself a true cockney.

The bell tower of St Mary-le-Bow

You may want to swat up on your Cockney rhyming slang, you never know when you might need it ‘me old china’.

Last year Gary and I decided to dig a little deeper into some of London’s districts, one of which was Smithfield. Most people will know Smithfield for its meat market, which has been trading for over 800 years.

A bright green shuttered entrance to the warehouse in Smithfield in the City of London. This warehouse is used to store meat for a catering firm

Catering Meats (Smithfield)

However, just within a few lanes, you’ll find England’s oldest continually running hospital “St. Barts”, founded in 1123. Which astonishingly survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. On the outside walls, scars from a Zeppelin raid can still be seen.

A large classically styled stone wall featuring 2 arched windows filled with black wrought iron railings.  Clearly visible in the stonework are bullet marks that date from a Zeppelin raid in the 1st World War

Scars from the Great War

Smithfield also has a very dark past, as it’s here that many hangings and executions were carried out. One of the most horrific was that of William Wallace in August 1305.

Want to discover more than about London?

We have a little book on our shelves that we sometimes delve into when we're about to hit an area of London.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different regions of London, it's a great resource to help you see what's hidden in plain sight.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves London.

Spitalfields has gone through a bit of a revival in recent years since the fruit and veg market moved to Leyton. A market has been trading on this site at Spitalfields for over 350 years, and today it emits a different vibe.
Looking into the bustling Spitalfields arts market that occupies an area where a market has been held for over 350 years.  The stalls are covered by glass roof these days things have become a little more artisan.

Spitalfields Market

Instead, street traders hollering out their veg bargain of the day, there is more a hip, cool and trendy vibe. I certainly don’t include myself in the hipster camp; however, the transformation is incredible. It’s such a pleasant and friendly place to relax with friends and also pick up a quirky piece of vintage clothing or even replace that lost vinyl.

Now, Postman’s Park in St Martin’s Le-Grand is a delightful place to retreat away from the world. Although make sure you bring a tissue or two as there are some heart-warming touching tales of kindness here.

The flower beds in Postman's park in the City of London in front of the memorial for heroic sacrifice.

Postman's Park - A hidden gem

This little park is home to the Watts Memorial, which is a memorial dedicated to Heroic Self-Sacrifice and was founded by George Frederick Watts.
Watts fought to have a place of remembrance created, to ensure that the lives of ordinary people would not go unforgotten. Under the roofed terrace, take your time to stop and read the glazed Royal Doulton plaques, commemorating multiple acts of heroic bravery, often involving children.

Plaques in the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice detailing those who gave their lives to save others.

The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice

A little tip

If you are heading into London by car on a Sunday, then you’ll find there are plenty of free parking spots in the financial district. From here you can either walk or jump on the London Underground to further locations.

I know, surely not another memorial. But, so often these thought-provoking places are located in such wonderful areas. The Tower Hill Memorial stands proud in Trinity Square Gardens, just by the Tower of London.

Overlooking Tower Hill Memorial Gardens towards the memorial colonnade to the fallen from World War One with the Tower of London in the background.

The tower from Trinity park

The memorial commemorates both men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, who died during both world wars and have no grave but the sea. Spare some time to reflect on the heroic sacrifices of the 35,839 names that are displayed from floor to ceiling.

A sandstone statue of a naval officer, wrapped up warmly against harsh conditions, looking into the distance. In the background is Trinity house, a neo-classical designed piece of architecture on the edge of Tower Hill Memorial Gardens

A naval sentry at Tower Hill Memorials

Standing inside the Tower Hill memorial arch looking out to the Church of all Hallows by the tower.  The columns are filled with plaques of the names of the fallen from World War One.

Inside the WW1Tower Hill Memorial

Also, in this garden lies a memorial to the Scaffold site once used for public executions, dating from 1381 to 1747. Many of whom were dignitaries and clergymen.

Our Tip!

Don’t assume that to reach London’s top sights you’ll always need to jump on a tube, the underground map can be deceptive at times. Head there on foot, you’ll see so much more and save money.

A little more upbeat and not too far from Tower Hill is St. Katharine’s Dock. At its height, St Katharine’s Dock was a grubby wharf, with men struggling to earn a living amongst the muck and grime of life working on the River Thames.

The Marina at St Katharine docks with a small selection of boats moored up in front of a brick built Victorian former warehouse with a clock tower

The Marina at St Katharine Docks

It’s a little bit different today as the yachts moored in the intimate dock are somewhat more buffed and certainly hold an air of wealth. Often at weekends, there is now an eclectic food market, lively bars and something a bit different from the ancient architecture just a few streets away.

A sailing barge moored in front of the Dickens Inn at St Katharine docks

The Dickens Inn in St Katharine Docks

Let us know!

If there are any quirky places in London that you love to chat about, then share with us and drop a comment below.

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  1. I’ve not been to Postman’s Park so will definitely hunt it out on our next visit. Thanks for the tip! #farawayfiles

  2. Author

    Oh it’s definitely worth it, it’s only a small park; however, the memorial is extremely interesting, Which are your favourite parks in London?

    1. Author

      I think that’s also what I love about the City of London, the you wander by something ultra modern and then turn a corner and your looking at centuries of history.

      Yes, St Katharine Dock is often a little unexpected, it’s full of life in the summer.

    1. Author

      Thanks very much there are just so many unusual places and tales about London. I have done another London article to follow on from this one, that I’m posting next week. So hopefully there will be a few more things to add to your list.

      Where is your favourite place to visit in London?

  3. I walked past St-Mary-Le-Bow just yesterday. Wish I’d read this first! A friend told me just recently that Spitalfields has scrubbed up really well – you’ve reminded me to revisit. I always love discovering the lesser-known places in a city and this post is a real gem. Thanks so much for sharing on #farawayfiles

    1. Author

      Well that’s a coincidence, were the bells chiming?

      Thanks Clare, I really enjoy visiting each little district of London, they so often blend from one to another; however, there is always an interesting tale to be found.

      Yes, Spitalfields was really a pleasant surprise.

  4. I did not know that about the Bow Bells and Cockneys! Say, have you ever used a cockney cash machine? We’re there in a few weeks too and I’m determined to find one! Have a lovely trip! #farawayflies

    1. Author

      I’ve never heard of a cockney cash machine, I’m going to have to take a look now. Drop us a line if you do find one, I’d love to know what you thought of it.

    1. Author

      I know what you mean, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface, it’s an incredible city for concealing so many bizarre and unusual tales.

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