Hidden right beside some of London’s biggest tourist attractions, you’re never more than a few steps away from a secret wonder. Explore for a few minutes longer near the big tourist sites and you’ll easily discover some London hidden gems.
Here at MapTrotting, we’re all about encouraging people to travel beyond the obvious. So, come with us and take those extra few steps away from the tourist hotspots to uncover some wondrous stuff…
1. St Paul’s Cathedral >> Postman’s Park
Standing proudly at the center of the ancient City of London district, St Paul’s is high on the list for many visitors to the English capital. There’s a superb view of the iconic cathedral dome as you cross over the Millenium Bridge (footbridge) from the Tate Modern and Bankside area.
Pop inside St Paul’s and you can get a stunning 360-degree view from the ‘golden gallery’ at the top of the dome. It’s a 528 step climb to get there but the views across London from the top are well worth it.
Upon exiting St Paul’s most visitors rush off eastwards to The Tower of London but take a few minutes to explore nearby and you’ll find some hidden wonders.
Explore Postman’s Park
Find your away towards the Underground station, behind and to the north of the cathedral building, then onto the street named St Martin’s Le Grand. Further along this street, on the left side, you’ll find the oddly named church Saint Botolph’s Without Aldersgate. Beside the church is the entrance to Postman’s Park.
The park, like many in this area, is actually the graveyard of the attached church which has now been landscaped into a pleasant spot to escape the weekday bustle of the city.
Why is it called Postman’s Park?
The park takes its name from the General Post Office (GPO) HQ which used to be based next door. This was the central hub for all mail passing through London when the park opened in 1880 but has long since gone.
The real hidden wonder here is the ‘Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice’ located under the wooden structure against one of the walls. It features three rows of tiles which remember those that died whilst trying to save the lives of others.
For example, there’s a tile remembering Alice Ayres who ‘by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her own young life’.
If that name sounds familiar, it was used as a fake name by Natalie Portman’s character in the 2004 movie Closer.
2. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament >> Victoria Tower
The world’s most famous clock is a must-see for any visitor to London. The iconic clock face and chimes of Big Ben are well known for seeing in the New Year, but it’s well worth taking a closer look at the surrounding area of Westminster after getting your essential snap.
Most selfie-takers here don’t realise that Big Ben is actually the nickname given to the 13-ton bell which chimes on the hour. The tower itself is officially called the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee back in 2012.
This famous structure is just one part of the muddle of buildings which make up the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. Most of the building dates from the mid-1800s but was designed in a Gothic style to look older than it actually is. Just one of those British quirks of looking back to look forward.
Magnificent Victoria Tower
Follow the railings around the buildings, away from Westminster Bridge, and you’ll see the large sloping roof of Westminster Hall which is over 900 years old. The hall survived a fire back in 1834 which destroyed most of the surrounding palace and even predates Westminster Abbey across the street.
Carry on to the opposite end of the building and you’ll be at the base of the mighty Victoria Tower. It’s slightly wider and taller than the Elizabeth Tower but then Queen Victoria was wider than Queen Elizabeth II so it’s easy to remember which is which.
The tower is home to over three million parliamentary records dating back to 1497, stored on 5.5 miles of shelving. Impressive stuff.
At the base of the tower is a sign depicting the Sovereign’s Entrance. This is the door which the English monarch uses for the annual State Opening of Parliament.
This is the real hidden gem of this area, it’s so overlooked as many visitors never venture down this end of the building.
3. Tower of London >> All Hallows Crypt
Nearly 1000 years old at its core, the Tower of London is one of the oldest structures you’ll find anywhere in the city. This place oozes history from every stone of its vast structure and should certainly be on every London visitors must-see list.
That’s why it gets nearly 3 million visitors a year. Blimey.
One of the best things about the Tower of London are the guided tours which are given by the Yeoman Warders (often called Beefeaters) who live and work at the Tower. Ex-military service personnel, there are over 40 of them residing at the Tower with their families, what a cool place to live.
Their knowledge of the place is unparalleled and shared via no-nonsense stories with some very dark humour. It’s well worth joining onto one of these tours if you’re entering the Tower of London.
Creepy All Hallows Crypt
Just a few steps up the hill from the entrance of the Tower, you’ll see a church known as All Hallows by the Tower. This structure has just as much history as its more famous neighbour but the real gem here lies hidden underneath.
Make your way inside the church and follow the signs down to the Crypt below. It’s a spooky little place which contains some fascinating displays and even a model of Roman London from centuries past.
Take a look at the church record books in the cabinets and you’ll see entries that record the baptism of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) and the marriage of John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the USA).
The star of the show is the Roman tessellated floor which was unearthed here. It’s from a domestic house in the late 2nd Century AD. Mind-blowing stuff, just a few steps from the busy Tower of London. Enjoy.
4. Tower Bridge >> Dead Man’s Hole
Possibly the most iconic bridge in the world, the mighty stone, and iron structure is a magnet for thousands of visitors a day. Finished in 1894, it is the bascule feature which enables the bridge to lift open in the middle, making it truly special.
You can check the bridge lift times on the Tower Bridge website to ensure that you capture a rather special photo from the banks of the River Thames. It lifts up a few times a week these days but, would have been very busy 100 or so years ago, when this area was packed full of exotic goods shipped here from across the globe.
You can go inside to explore the towers and walkways of the bridge. There’s now even a glass floor from where you can watch traffic crossing the bridge below your feet. Yikes.
Discover Dead Man’s Hole
Our London hidden gem here is under the bridge, on the Tower side of the river, close to St Katherine’s Docks. As you walk along the north bank of the river you can turn up a set of stairs to walk up and onto the bridge itself.
At the base of these stairs, you’ll see a white tiled archway leading down to the river. It’s now fenced off but, look for the information board here which tells you all about the macabre history of this spot.
Dead Man’s Hole refers to the use of this tiled area as an open-air mortuary. This was where any corpses floating in this section of the River Thames would have been pulled out and left to dry for identification. Don’t worry, it’s not used anymore!
If you walk through the archway next door you can even see an 8ft long rod, which some people believe was used for fishing out the floating bodies. Nice.
5. London Eye >> Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel
The large Ferris wheel on the Southbank of the River Thames is a massive draw for millions of folks a year. With long lines and limited capacity, it can be a miserable place to hang around in the summer months.
In our humble opinion, you’d be better off getting your London views from The Shard, Europe’s tallest building, where things are generally a little quieter. Plus, it’s included in the London Pass card, ideal if you’re looking to save some time and money.
Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel
Take a short stroll away from the river and you’ll find Leake Street. It’s an access tunnel, two blocks back from the riverside and across York Road, which runs underneath the busy Waterloo Train Station above.
Back in May 2008, the renowned street artist Banksy held the first ‘Cans Festival’ right here. The festival was a debut of the works of 29 famous street artists who were invited personally by Banksy to do their best work on the tunnel walls.
In the years that have passed, countless artists have rocked up here to spray away in this designated graffiti zone, free from the worries of the authorities. The ever-changing works on display mean there’s always something new to cast your eye on in this London hidden gem.
We hope you’ll enjoy exploring these 5 London hidden gems next time you are in the UK capital. Don’t forget that you could save some time and money on your visit with the superb London Pass visitor card.
Check out our full London Pass review article for details.