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London is one of our favorite destinations in the world to visit. One of the reasons is that there are so many hidden sights in London that we’ve never heard of before. But with each visit there’s less and less new, or in London’s case, old, to explore. That’s why I was so intrigued with a new book by David Fathers called London’s Hidden Rivers: A Walker’s Guide to the Subterranean Waterways of London. It’s that last part that intrigued me. Sure, we all know about the strolling along the River Thames through the heart of London, but there are also underground waterways? This was worth checking out.

The book highlights 12 ancient rivers that helped form the city into its current layout. In medieval times these waterways were used for drinking, cleaning, powering industry, and sewage disposal. Due to this latter use, they were not pretty. In fact, as Fathers points out, by the 17th century the water wasn’t even drinkable.

London's hidden Rivers book review

 

As the rivers became literally toxic, they city started to bury them. An 1849 cholera outbreak that cost 49,000 lives also led to the creation of a city water works to provide clean water to Londoners. Over time the buried rivers were largely forgotten, but much of the path of development in the city can be traced to their prior uses. In fact, many of the city’s borough borders were defined by the rivers. These days, that’s more often a road that rides over the covered stream below.

Book Review London's Hidden Rivers Wilkinson Sword Company

The book features 75 miles of walks along 12 of these former rivers. The illustrations that accompany the maps of these walks were also drawn by the multi-talented Fathers. I particularly enjoyed learning about little anecdotes like walking along the track that Sir Roger Bannister used while training to be the first human to run the mile in under four minutes.

London’s Hidden Rivers is a great book for anyone who thinks they know London and is looking for something else to explore. Despite its compact size, it also makes for good reading about the history and development of London.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites like in the book review above. We earn a very small commission on these sales and it does not affect your price for the item. These commissions are one very small way we can continue this blog and provide readers like you with valuable travel advice for free.

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, with some museums costing over $20 for a ticket. But with a little planning the tourist can find plenty of free things in London that are still outstanding.

1)      Westminster Abbey

What’s this doing on a list of free things in London? We approached Westminster Abbey and were shocked to find an admission price of 16 pounds, about $26. For a family of four it would cost over $100 to go to church, granted it’s a famous church, but still. . .

But you can visit Westminster Abbey for free. Five nights a week Evensong services are offered at 5pm (3pm most weekends). This service isn’t highly publicized. To attend the service, walk over to the iron gate by the main entrance to the Abbey, not the side entrance used for paid admissions. Guides wearing bright scarlet capes and stern expressions stand blocking the gate. Tell them you’re there for Evensong and they step aside while cheerfully welcoming you.

The 45-minute service is beautifully rendered by the Abbey choir. There is not much time for strolling about the Abbey after the service but you do get to see enough. In many ways, Evensong is preferable to walking around the Church with hundreds of other visitors during the day. The visitor gets to experience Westminster Abbey for what it was originally designed, worship and prayer.

Click the link for more information and current service times: Westminster Abbey Evensong services.

2)      The Wallace Collection

Free things in London Wallace Collection London

We love museums that can be visited in about an hour or so; with many interesting items on display but whose size isn’t so daunting that we feel like we’re missing most of it. The Wallace Collection, housed in a historic London mansion, is one of those museums. It was owned by five generations of collectors, including a few Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, before becoming a public collection.

The collection has a little something for everyone: 18th-century French masterpieces and furniture, Galleries of Old Master paintings including Rembrandt, medieval religious manuscripts and a sterling collection of swords and armor.  The museum surround an open-air courtyard restaurant for snacks and afternoon tea.

Website: www.WallaceCollection.org

3)      Royal Air Force Museum

Free things in London RAF Museum

The RAF museum is about a 30-minute Tube ride from central London. It has an incredible amount of planes and helicopters on display in four large hangars. As airplane geeks we’ve been to many aviation museums and this may be the largest. One building is devoted to RAF’s derring do in the World War II Battle of Britain. Antique plane enthusiasts will enjoy the collection of pioneering airplanes in the 1917 Grahame-White Hangar, the UK’s first aircraft factory. If you are traveling with young kids there is LOTS of room to run around and burn off some energy.

Website: www.RAFMuseum.org

4)      Museum of the City of London

Free things in London Museum of London

Photo courtesy www.TravelCultureMag.com

Long before the kings, queens and Big Ben, London was a prehistoric settlement and then a Roman outpost. This museum takes the visitor on a time travel tour from the city’s distant past up to the present day. A combination of displays and interactive exhibits hold the attention of all ages. Feel the heat of the Great Fire of 1666, attend an 18th-century garden party and stroll through Victorian streets before going to the movies in the Roaring Twenties and hanging out with Mick Jagger and Twiggy in the 1960’s. The museum’s location gets visitors in the mood: a starkly modern structure built along the remains of ancient Roman Walls.

Website: www.museumoflondon.org.uk

5)  Victoria and Albert Museum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto courtesy of Walter Lim, Flickr

If decorative arts is your thing, the “V&A” is the place to go. This mammoth museum, located in swanky South Kensington, has some of the world’s largest collections of fashion, textiles, ceramics, jewellery (the “Veddy British” spelling), furniture and glass. Channel your inner designer by viewing the stunning collection of drawings, many of which provide insight on the design process. If you still have the energy, they have wonderful paintings as well.

Note: Although admission is free, the V&A can be a little overwhelming. If you’re pressed for time, or simply prefer to have someone point out the best things to see, we recommend booking this V&A Highlights tour from Viator.

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A few other free things in London:

6)  British Museum – Massive collection of over 8 million objects. www.BritishMuseum.org

7)  National Maritime Museum – The largest maritime museum in the world with pride of place going to Admiral Nelson, including the bloody uniform he was wearing when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. www.rmg.co.uk

8) National Army Museum — Great Britain has a pretty long military history so the Army Museum is a sprawling complex detailing battles going back centuries. I did find one glaring gap though. Their army didn’t seem to be involved in any activity between the War of Spanish Succession that ended in 1714 and the Napoleonic Wars that started in 1795. It seems a little skirmish that occurred in the American colonies has been forgotten.
Web Site: http://www.nam.ac.uk/

[Note: The National Army Museum is temporarily closed until spring 2017 due to a major retrofit.]

9)  The Wellcome Collection – The ghoulish may be interested in this medical collection which includes various body parts and antique medical devices. www.WellcomeCollection.org

10) Tate Modern – We’re not that into modern art, a pile of bricks that looked like they were left by a worker was one of the displays. But if you’re into that sort of thing this is the place to see them. Here’s information on visiting the Tate Modern.

Bonus Pick:

11) Abbey Road – Don’t forget to be a Beatle for a day and cross Abbey Road. It’s free and a lot of fun. Here’s information on how to cross Abbey Road.

This list highlighted 11 free things to do in London. Here’s a list of the 25 best things to do in London.

Sign up for Airbnb through our referral link and you'll get at $35 on your first stay (& so will we :)

Here are the top books about traveling to London.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

London is a fascinating city filled with history. From its official naming in the Roman era to its bustling streets today, the city has always been important to England..

We’ve already written about free things to do in London, and are now revealing many unusual attractions and historical sites that you can visit there. (Many of which are also free.) These are hidden sights in London, the ones that many visitors, and even locals, never see. Here are seven interesting and sometimes bizarre things that you can find in the capital that you won’t want to miss.

Hidden sights in London

The Eisenhower Centre

During World War II, several protective deep level air shelters were built. With kitchen and medical facilities, they were able to hold 8,000 people. The reason that this particular shelter on Chenies Street in Bloomsbury (near the Goodge Street Station) is so famous is because it also doubled as a signals and command facility for General Eisenhower’s during the war. It’s now leased as storage space, but the exterior is a must-visit for military history buffs.

Click here for info, tours and tickets to more World War II sights.

Burlington Arcade Beadles

Burlington Arcade beadles

Burlington Arcade can be found just off Piccadilly and has had its own legal jurisdiction since 1818. It’s like walking into a slice of Edwardian England, with Beadles walking around instead of security guards. If you run, whistle, hum, open an umbrella or do anything that might show a jovial nature, these guards in Edwardian dress will politely ask you to leave. It’s all part of the fun in this odd corner of London.

Ferryman’s Seat

On the South Side of the Thames, near to the Globe is an inconspicuous stone chair that is carved into a wall. This is what could be described as a Middle Ages taxi service where people would wait for the waterman so that they could get a ride through the city and to the other side of the river. A quirky scene, it’s a good site to visit.

Sewer Lamp

We’ve toured the sewers of Paris, but didn’t realize London had an “effluential” attraction too. Just off The Strand stands the Sewer Lamp. It’s long been rumored that the lamp runs on methane produced by the guests at the Savoy Hotel next door. There were actually lamps like these in England to help remove the methane from sewers, but sadly the original lamp was destroyed in a traffic accident. While this one is a replica, it is still an interesting and little known London fact.

York Watergate

Hidden sights in London York Watergate

Before the Victorian Embankment in the 1800s, the houses on the Strand had pride of place with beautiful gardens that fronted the Thames. The home of the first Duke of Buckingham, York House, was one of these and was built in 1237. The gate is all that remains after the house was razed during the 1600s. Here’s more about the tangled history of York Watergate.

Kensington Roof Gardens

The roof garden sits atop the former Derry & Toms department store above busy Kensington high street and consists of 1.5 acres of absolute beauty. With rose bushes and fruit trees sprawling across the grounds, it is also home to wandering flamingos and a stream filled with dazzling fish. It truly is like stepping through a portal to a completely different world.

Skeleton of Jeremy Bentham

In the south cloister of University College London, you can see the remains of the renowned philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham. A respected man, he requested that his body be mummified and displayed after his death, which it was. Unfortunately, it’s decayed so only his bones remain. The head is made from wax but actually contains his skull. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Hopefully you will pay these hidden sights in London a visit. With so many attractions hidden from the public eye and missed out in guidebooks, London offers much for the curious visitor to explore.

Interested in exploring some of these and other unique sights in more detail? Check out this great list of London Walking Tours from Viator!

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We’re global nomads who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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In 1757, Benjamin Franklin left his hometown of Philadelphia for a move to England, where he represented the diplomatic interests of the American colonies. His stay turned into a nearly 16 year London sojourn as he mediated disputes between Parliament and the increasingly restless colonies.

Franklin rented a single room in a circa Read more