We’ve all been there. Whether you’re walking off a plane, getting out of a car, jumping off a ferry or disembarking from a train, that first moment in a new city is exciting. The possibilities seem endless and who knows what you’ll find around the next corner.
It also follows that the bigger the city, the more there is to take in. London definitely fits the bill in terms of things to do, see and eat. For most visitors, the biggest problem will be deciding what to do first.
For the lucky few, there’s also the other side to the coin. What happens when you’ve seen all the major sites already and though you may love the city, it no longer excites you like it once did?
With that thought in mind, here’s a list of quirky and unusual things to do in London. Whether you check them out before heading over to see Big Ben or after catching the changing of the guards while looking for royals at Buckingham Palace it’s up to you.
Look like too much work?
If you’re looking for a fun tour that will help you navigate London, check out Viator, which offers a plenty of highly rated and popular tours in London. You can even opt for small group or private tours.
God’s Own Junkyard
If you like bright lights and big color you’ll want to check out God’s Own Junkyard in London. This eclectic collection of old neon signs will leave your eyeballs searing for days but you’ll find everything from I Heart Elvis to old Soho sexshops signs covering every wall. With it’s own cafe, The Rolling Scones Cafe, you can grab a bite to eat before checking out the free neon sign gallery.
Only open on weekends, God’s Own Junkyard occasionally features live paid performances however the entrance to see the neon gallery is always free. Located in London’s Ravenswood Industrial Estates.
Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosities
Hosted by The Last Tuesday Society, this eccentric collection of oddities will question what makes a museum a museum. From rare dodo bird bones to diamond studded dildos you never know what you’ll find in Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors. With a flair for the inappropriate and the occasionally wonderful, this tiny museum will delight and leave you asking more questions than answers. What more can you ask for?
Officially named The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History, you’ll see everything from shrunken heads and two headed lambs to occult paintings and old master etchings. The lifelong project of artist and writer Viktor Wynd, this unique museum also contains a decent cocktail bar/art gallery and hosts both artist workshops and weekly lectures.
Overnight at the London Zoo
Ever dreamed of staying overnight surrounded by lions? Neither have I, but getting a behind the scene tour of a working zoo after hours is always fun. The London Zoo has nine lodge cabins right on the grounds just outside the lion exhibit for those brave enough to sleep within roaring distance of the big cats. Not only will you wake up to the sounds of lions, you’ll also hear monkeys howling and parrots hooting.
With your overnight stay at the London Zoo, you get a complimentary drink on arrival, three after hour tours, a two course buffet dinner, a full English breakfast as well as free entry for two full days at the ZSL London Zoo. What more can you ask for?
The Magnificent Seven
Not exactly the classic cowboy movie, London’s Magnificent Seven refers to the 7 private cemeteries that can be found around London. Opened from 1833 to 1841, these 7 Victorian era cemeteries were created to offset the overcrowding that London was facing at the time. Between the Kensal Green Cemetery, West Norwood Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and Tower Hamlets Cemetery, there’s more than a few famous gravestones that can be found in the overgrowths from the grave of Douglas Adams, to Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery.
Though half are still open for business, all of Lonson’t Magnificent Seven cemeteries feature areas of wild overgrowth, often with park like settings, complete with some of London’s best architecture.
Hoxton Street Monster Supplies
Established in 1818, Hoxton Street Monster Supplies have been supplying everything a little vampire or ravenous werewolf could ever want. From Fang Floss (twine) to Cubed Earwax (creamed fudge) to Tears of Sorrow (sea salt), this quirky store is sure to please those who enjoy the dark and sweet side of life.
If you’re just visiting London, the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies store would make a great place to pick up a souvenir to take back home. Who wouldn’t want a tin of zombie breathmints or a jar of canned sunlight?
The Hardy Tree
Back in the 1860’s, before he became a famous novelist, Thomas Hardy was responsible for moving hundreds of graves to make way for the British Railway System. After moving the remains, he was left with several hundred tombstones. Not knowing what else to do with them, he placed them in concentric circles around an ash tree and, over the course of the past 150 years, the tree roots have grown over, under and around the aging tombstones.
Found in the cemetery alongside London’s St. Pancras Old Church (one of the oldest Christian churches in London), the Hardy Tree is sure to leave you speechless.
The Monty Python Foot
For those that are even the slightest bit familiar with Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV show, as well as the numerous Monty Python movies, and even the award winning London play, it’s worth noting where the iconic Monty Python foot originated. Taken from Bronzino’s Mannerist masterpiece An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, made in the 1500s for King Francis I, Cupids foot, in which Terry Gilliam uses in numerous opening scenes, is hanging in Room 8 of London’s National Gallery.
Though entrance to London’t National Gallery is free, you can find inspiration for a lot of Terry Gilliam’s collage and animations throughout London including some of London’s best museums.
The Clink Prison Museum
If you like your museums more on the notorious side, the Clink Prison Museum is home to one of England’s oldest and most notorious prisons. First opened in 1144, the Clink Prison Museum can be found on the original site in the heart of Central London’s Southwark district. Infamously attributed to our current saying of “sending someone to the clink”, this is the where it all started.
Housing everyone from drunkards and vagabonds to church and state criminals, the 600+ year history of the Clink Prison is on display at this unusual London Museum and here you can experience the sight, sounds and smells of those unfortunate men and women who were once incarcerated there.
The Mail Rail
Ever dreamed of riding the rails under London’s 19th century underbelly? The Postal Museum has finally opened the doors to it’s underground labyrinth of 100 year old tunnels that travel for miles beneath modern London. Riding through 15 minutes of London’s history in a postal sized miniature train will not only give you insights to how semi-modern London handled its postal deliveries, but you can also watch a theatrical experience to highlight London’s 1930’s quirks and eccentricities.
With exhibitions, audio guides, and a postal museum, if you want to know anything about London’s postal past this is the place to be. If you have little ones, make sure you check out Sorted! The Postal Play Space that’s an awesome childrens area that will have your kids sorting mail, delivering parcels and dressing up.
Grant Museum of Zoology
With over 67,000 specimens, the small and quirky Grant Museum of Zoology, located in a former Edwardian library owned by the University College of London, houses a large collection of fossils and stuffed animals ranging from dodo’s to quagga’s to tasmanian tigers. Complete with hundreds of jars of well preserved mice, moles and other assorted creatures, this tiny museum is especially cool for those with a slightly morbid taste.
Be sure to spend some time in the Micrarium, a three sided, back-lighted floor to ceiling space with over 2000 microscopic slides of some of the smallest creatures to ever walk the earth.
New London Architecture
This one’s a great place to start your trip and give you a bird’s eye view of London.
No, it’s not from the giant (and expensive) London Eye Ferris wheel, we’re talking about the free miniature exhibit at New London Architecture. They’ve painstakingly recreated the city in miniature scale from King’s Cross to the Royal Docks. At 1:1500 scale, you can even get a feel for just how much the city has changed over the centuries and what’s in store for it next.
They’ve also recently expanded the model with a 12 metre (40 foot) long virtual interactive map complete with touchscreens and historical maps spanning numerous centuries marking how London has changed over the years.
If you need some fresh air and you happen to love water, there’s no better way to enjoy a little sunshine than at one of the many Lidos (outdoor pools) that crisscross London. Unlike the majority of the lidos with their defined lanes and heated pools, the Serpentine is a non chlorinated, open lake in Hyde Park in the heart of London. What makes Serpentine really stand out is the small group of swimmers that swim (without wet suits) the entire year.
The Serpentine Swimming Club’s semi-famous Christmas Race will have you cringing as you watch these brave souls battle the elements to become the champion. Members can be seen most mornings before 9:30 with races starting at 8 every Saturday throughout the year.
James Smith & Sons
If Mary Poppins was looking for a new umbrella, we’re pretty sure she’d check this place out. Making umbrellas since the 1830’s, James Smith & Sons is a scene straight out of Victorian London with it’s rows of vintage umbrellas to its custom-designed animal head walking sticks.
If you don’t have an umbrella yet, and let’s face it, you’ll probably need one while you’re in London anyway, check out their amazing and varied collection at 53 New Oxford Street.
Attendant coffee shop
Haven’t you always wanted to enjoy superb coffee in a late-nineteenth-century gents’ toilet? I mean, who wouldn’t? One of London’s newest quirky places is Attendant. This tiny coffee bar only has six small tables and is jam-packed at lunchtime with locals. Besides, it’s not everyday you can have a drink and a bite to eat in a former Victorian urinal.
Built in 1890 and left for ruins in the 60’s, Attendant was painstakingly restored to its original Victorian shine and has won numerous awards for its excellent coffee and cool decor.
The Traffic Light Tree
On a roundabout next to the famous Billingsgate Fish Market, this eight meter tall traffic light tree by French sculptor Pierre Vivant holds 75 fully operational, computer controlled traffic lights in a dizzying array of directions. Don’t worry, they don’t actually command traffic, but they will definitely command your attention, especially at night.
If getting lost while driving a car scares you, this tree is sure to give you traffic nightmares.
Speaking of traffic lights, no tour around London would be complete without stopping off at one of the 13 remaining 19th century cabman shelters found in the city. Originally created as a place for carriage and taxi drivers to get a bite to eat while stepping out of the rain, you can still grab a cup of cheap coffee and a delicious hot sandwich for a fraction of what most restaurants charge.
To find a Cabman Shelter, just look for a small green shuttered shed on the side of the road. If you can’t find them, there’s one in Russell Square and another just outside Temple Tube Station.
Itching to catch the latest movie, a cult classic or some indie fare? Don’t waste your time in a closed theater, check out one of the cities many outdoor cinemas. After a long day checking out the sights and before heading back to your hotel, sit back and enjoy an outdoor theater experience unlike any other.
If you’re in the mood to watch a movie under the stars, you can check out the 4 venues at the Rooftop Film Club, enjoy a night out via Luna Cinema or enjoy one of the many events on the Dalston Roof Park.
The Geffrye Museum
Curious to find out what the average London living room has looked like for the past few hundred years? The Geffry Museum houses 11 highly detailed period rooms ranging from 1630 to 1998.
If you’ve always wanted to see what’s behind the door in a typical Londoners living room, then this museum is sure to give you an eyeful. Coupled with the beautifully laid out herb and period gardens, the free entrance to the Geffrye Museum will make you appreciate life on the quieter side of London.
The Ginger Line
This one is as mysterious as it is quirky. Imagine booking a table at a secret, ever changing location where they send you a text only a few hours before your meal. Sound intriguing? London is chock full these days of supper clubs and instant pop-up eateries and the Ginger Line is one of the best of the bunch.
The Ginger Line operates only on selected dates and features an entertaining themed meal somewhere along the ginger colored East London line. Not only is the food supposedly delicious, but you’ll be part of a delicious secret as well. Make sure you book early if you want to be part of it.
The Drawing Room
If you’re craving alcohol and someplace a little out of the ordinary, you can check out the Drawing Room in the Benugo Bar & Kitchen at the British Film Institute (BFI). Hidden behind the bookcase in the upscale bar is a private lounge filled with old fashioned leather chairs, mahogany tables and lots of soft lighting.
This hideaway is the perfect place to sip your cocktails after a tasty meal and having experienced all the quirky and unusual things that London has to offer.
Big Ben and London Double-Decker Bus photo by Kevin Poh.