11 Unusual Things to Do in London
As a city, London is not short of a few things to do. It’s been around for more than 2,000 years so it’s not surprising.
What might surprise a few, however, is that behind the big and obvious attractions that everybody clamours to see are some much more quirky things to see and do.
For anybody wanting a more unique trip, here are some of the more unusual things to do in London right now.
Visit a Victorian Toilet, for a coffee
London has a number of still functioning underground toilets which hark back to Victorian days. If wandering through Fitzrovia though it’s best to have a thorough check before using the facilities.
The Attendant has a coffee shop located in what was once one of these underground toilets and the old urinals are still proudly displayed (having been thoroughly cleaned, of course).
Enjoy a coffee whilst enjoying the regular sight of baristas explaining the situation to people who still come down expecting to find another form of relief!
Visiting a cemetery which doesn’t contain a friend or family member is definitely up there when it comes to weird things to do when visiting a strange city. However, London’s most famous and spookiest cemetery is definitely worth a look.
There are some famous headstones and memorials to see, among them Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Michael Faraday, Malcolm McLaren and George Michael. Diverse to say the least.
But it’s not all about the people who chose it as their final resting place. The cemetery itself looks and feels like something out of a gothic novel, mostly in a Victorian style but also tombs which are influenced by cultures as far and wide as ancient Egypt.
Swim in a Pond
If in the Hampstead Heath area then this is a real option that may appeal to some brave souls. This activity is probably best left until the weather is a little warmer although the ladies and mens ponds are open and lifeguarded every day of the year (the mixed pond is closed for the winter season).
The ponds themselves are located in the peaceful wilderness of the heath and are open from 7am for most of the year.
God’s Own Junkyard
For the handful of people who wonder what happens to neon signs which are no longer wanted, they actually end up here (or some of them do anyway), in God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow.
This is a warehouse full to the brim with neon signs, kind of like a messy Vegas. There are signs from bars, restaurants, shops, churches as well as some more adult ones rescued from previously more lurid lives in Soho.
It’s all in the name of art and is free to enter, though it is only open at weekends. There’s a licensed cafe on the premises and there are also food outlets and bars on the same industrial estate.
Magic Circle Museum
The Magic Circle Museum is not only one of those unusual things to do in London, it is also one of the most difficult things to do in London.
There are some rare occasions throughout the year where presentations and shows open up the facilities to the public, but most of the time the Museum is as secret as those who curate it.
Officially, the only way to see it at will is to become a member of the Magic Circle itself. However, this means being sponsored by two existing members, a two year apprenticeship followed by a magical test.
For any Muggles lucky enough to see the inside, they’ll find a treasure trove of artefacts and props used by illusionists and magicians over centuries of magic.
The London Dungeon
Sells itself as part historical tour when in reality it’s a gory, bloody scare fest.
There are recreations of some of London’s more gruesome events, albeit with the gore embellished somewhat. The tales of Henry VIII, Guy Fawkes and Jack the Ripper are on display, as well as other less than light hearted events, such as the Plague.
For anyone who finds history dull, this will certainly make it that little bit more memorable.
London’s Smallest Police Station
Located in a corner of the thronging tourist area of Trafalgar Square, this London folly is understandably easily missed. It’s not well known and there’s unlikely to be a crowd of people outside it.
It’s round, about the size of a phone box and it has a large lamp sitting on top. Back in the 1920s, when it was built, Trafalgar Square was not much different to what it is today, a central gathering place for marchers, protestors and rioters.
The station has enough room for one police officer to stand inside, there are slits for windows from which the officer can see the goings on in the square. When things got a bit rowdy they could use the phone inside to call for back up. The light on the top would also flash to alert any other officers who might be passing.
A peek inside nowadays is slightly disappointing. It’s now used as a store for local cleaners.
The Crystal Palace Ruins
For anyone prepared to venture south of the river, there are some pretty famous, if sparse, ruins to be found in the area of Crystal Palace Park.
The area gets its name from the magnificent glass building that was erected in Hyde Park to house the World Expo back in 1851. An exhibition which displayed technology and art from across the British Empire.
This area of South London is a long way from Hyde Park though, so why the name?
Although the structure was supposed to be temporary, it created such a buzz that it was moved and completely rebuilt in an area of South London called Sydenham, part of the area would later be renamed after the structure itself.
Magnificent gardens were added, dinosaur sculptures were commissioned, water towers were constructed, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself as well as the largest aquarium in the world.
Festivals were held in the structure as well as in the surrounding grounds and fairground rides were a common site.
Unfortunately, the venture was not a long term success and it effectively closed in 1911. The structure remained until it burned down in a famous fire in 1936. Some of the gardens (as well as the unusual dinosaurs) remain, and some of the stairs terraces and sculptures of the palace can still be seen today.
The London Wall
Spotting the wall is a great activity to undertake when travelling about the city doing other things.
The City of London used to be walled, this wall was constructed in around 200AD. Astonishingly parts of this wall can still be seen today amongst the modern structures of this ancient city.
The wall was constructed when London was part of the Roman Empire and it was used as the primary defence mechanism in the city. Although it’s such an important part of the city’s history and it is well protected, it isn’t particularly well advertised and it’s possible to be standing right beside it without realising its significance.
The trick is to find the part of London which is called, rather appropriately, London Wall, most of it can be found here.
Some of the modern structures surrounding the wall have had to be designed with the wall in mind. It’s a great juxtaposition to see modern glass and steel buildings running alongside the ancient stone structure.
The Burlington Arcade
There’s a few of these covered alleyways to be found in London which were basically some of the world’s first shopping arcades. Times have changed very little and the shops inside are still peddling expensive, luxury goods at exorbitant prices, the same as they did when the arcade first opened back in 1819.
What does make the Burlington Arcade a little bit unique, however, are the Burlington Beadles.
Back in 1819, the Metropolitan Police Force was still yet to be established. and Lord Cavendish, who commissioned the arcade, quite rightly thought that the luxury goods contained within needed protecting. Hence he created a private police force, specifically tasked with protecting the arcade. He called them the Beadles.
Incredibly the Beadles are still in existence today, making them the world’s oldest private police force. They are still in top hats and frock costs and these are still designed by Henry Poole of Savile Row, as they always have been!
Be warned, some of the old rules are still enforced by the Beadles. No running, no cycling, no boisterous behaviour and definitely no singing, humming or whistling. The only exception to the whistling rule is, apparently, Sir Paul McCartney.
The Original Telephone Box
Every tourist who comes to London gets the iconic shot of a red telephone box, even though they are now fewer and farther between thanks to the mobile phone.
However, there is a place where the original red phone box can be seen and photographed and not a lot of people know that.
In the 1920s the Post Office held a competition to find a practical telephone box. A chap called Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won with what was known as the K2 design, a design still familiar today with over 200 still in and around London.
The two that can be found at the entrance to the Royal Academy of Arts are that little bit more special, however. The first is one of the first cast-iron K2s to be installed in London. The other is the original wooden prototype that Gilbert Scott produced for the competition.