Tulip Staircase at Queen's House Greenwich

London’s hidden gems

22 July 2022

Whether you live locally or are visiting London for the weekend, you might be in search of something a little different from the usual tourist traps. London is filled with incredible things to see and do; sometimes, the best things to explore are those off the beaten track. But we call these ‘hidden gems’ for a reason, and naturally, it’s not always the easiest to uncover them!

If you’re searching for new and quirky things to do in London, then our guide is perfect for you. We’ve put together some of London’s best-kept secrets, from hidden bars to stunning architecture you otherwise wouldn’t have spotted. Even better, all are easy to get to using our network.

Gardens and viewpoints

Eltham Palace and Gardens

english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/

Court Yard, London, SE9 5QE

Why visit? Greenwich is one of London’s most beautiful spots, with a sprawling park and breathtaking views from the famous Greenwich Observatory. Eltham Palace and Gardens fly under the radar in comparison – good news for avoiding tourist crowds! Eltham Palace was built by a wealthy couple in the 1930s, an art deco mansion set in medieval castle remains. The 19 acres of gardens include a sunken rose garden and London’s oldest working bridge.

Price: ££; If you’re visiting more than one English Heritage site in Britain, such as Osborne and Stonehenge, you might want to become a member. That way, you can enjoy unlimited access to hundreds of historic places for yourself and up to 6 children for one low annual cost.

How to get there: From London Waterloo, take the Jubilee line (eastbound) and get off at North Greenwich. From there, catch the 132 bus towards Bexleyheath, getting off at Eltham Church. The gardens are then an eight-minute walk away. Or why not redeem a SWR Reward and enjoy savings on a 24-hour Thames River Cruise? Hop off at Greenwich Pier, walk five minutes and take the number 286 bus from the National Maritime Museum to Eltham Church.

Eltham Palace and Gardens
Eltham Palace and Gardens

Buildings and architecture

Saint Dunstan in the East

cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/city-gardens/find-a-garden/st-dunstan-in-the-east-church-garden

St Dunstan's Hill, London EC3R 5DD

Why visit? If you’re looking to escape the bustle of the city for a bit, then Saint Dunstan in the East should capture hearts and minds. This eleventh-century church was partially destroyed during WWII. The remains of the chapel have since been incorporated into a beautiful garden. You wouldn’t believe this tranquil oasis is mere metres from the skyscrapers in the City of London.

Opening hours: Open daily, 08:00 to 17:00

Price: Free

Dunstan in the East
Saint Dunstan in the East

How to get there: From London Waterloo, take the Tube northbound on the Northern line for one stop, switching at Embankment for an eastbound District or Circle line service to Monument. Once you get off, it’s only a four-minute walk.

Tulip Staircase

rmg.co.uk/queens-house

Romney Rd, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF

Why visit? As the first centrally unsupported staircase built in England, The Tulip Stairs are a feat of engineering and an architectural marvel. The grand, spiralling staircase is inside Greenwich’s magnificent seventeenth-century Queen’s House. It’s considered one of the most beautiful staircases in the world – so don’t forget your camera!

Opening hours: Open daily, 10:00 to 17:00

Price: Entry to Queen’s House is free of charge

How to get there: Queen’s House is just a stone’s throw from Cutty Sark (for Maritime Greenwich) DLR Station. Take the Tube via the eastbound Jubilee line at London Waterloo. At Canary Wharf, change for the Bank-Lewisham DLR service and ride six stops. Or, hop on the Uber Boat from London Eye to Greenwich Pier and enjoy the excellent views of the city along the way.

Tulip Staircase at Queen's House Greenwich
Tulip Staircase (Image credit: © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)

Food and shopping

Exmouth Market

exmouth.london

Exmouth Market, Islington, London, EC1R 4QA

Why visit? Islington is one of London’s best boroughs for foodies. Surprisingly, this restaurant-lined street has maintained its locals’-only atmosphere despite the area’s gastronomic reputation. Head to Exmouth market at any time of the day; it’s a charming hub for coffee, pastries, and chatter in the morning. The street comes into its own on weekday lunchtimes when food vendors pop up to offer a selection of irresistible international dishes. Visiting after dark? Dine inside one of Exmouth Market’s many excellent restaurants, or pull up a seat on a street-side terrace. A couple of pubs and bars stay open late, making this a perfect choice for any evening in London.

Price: Free to walk around; street food and restaurant prices vary

How to get there: From London Waterloo, hop on the 341 bus towards Upper Edmonton to reach Exmouth Market. Ride for 25 minutes and get off at Tysoe Street, then the market it just a two-minute walk away.

Netil Market

eatworkart.com/netil-market

13, 23 Westgate St, London, E8 3RL

Why visit? London Fields is a food lover’s haven, and the bustling Broadway Market food stalls make it even more tempting at weekends. But heat to the north end of Broadway, towards London Fields Park, and you’ll hit one of East London’s best-kept secrets – Netil Market. This artisanal market is home to street food vendors and independent shops. Shared tables and a sun terrace make this a perfect spot for leisurely days and laid-back nights.

Price: Free to visit, food stalls £

How to get there: Those travelling from London Waterloo can catch the number 26 bus towards Hackney Wick, getting off at King Edward’s Road. The journey will take around 50 minutes, giving you plenty of time to admire the streets of London along the way.

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

themayorofscaredycattown.com

12-16 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS

Why visit? Thanks to social media, many ‘hidden’ bars don’t remain secret for long – but The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is a spot that maintains a shroud of secrecy. Inside a restaurant called The Breakfast Club, this small and friendly bar is accessed through a fridge door, leading to stairs that guide you to a basement. There’s a password to get in – if you’re unsure, simply “ask to see the Mayor”.

Opening hours: Hours differ each day; check the website before visiting

Price: ££

How to get there: Arriving via South Western Railway services into London Waterloo, cross the river to Embankment station on foot or one stop on the northbound Northern line. Then ride eastbound on the Circle line until you reach Liverpool Street. The bar’s a three-minute stroll from there.

The Dickens Inn

dickensinn.co.uk

Marble Quay, St Katharine's Way, London E1W 1UH

Why visit? Converted from a reconstructed eighteenth-century warehouse, The Dickens Inn is a sight to behold. With flowers winding their way up the timber exterior, this pub looks best in spring or summer when everything’s in full bloom. Heading inside, the pub serves delectable modern British food and drink, plus kids are welcome during the daytime.

Opening hours: Open Monday to Saturday 12:00 to 23:00, Sunday 12:00 to 22:30

Price: ££

How to get there: From London Waterloo, you can travel to The Dickens Inn by Uber Boat from nearby Waterloo Pier. The journey takes just 20 minutes, and it’s a great way to do some London sightseeing from the capital’s waterways. If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, take the 188 bus outside the station instead.

The Dickens Inn
The Dickens Inn

Saint Aymes Café

saintaymes.com

59 Connaught St, St George's Fields, London W2 2BB

Why visit? Look no further if you’re searching for a quirky place to eat in London. An Instagrammer’s paradise, Saint Aymes Café is becoming more popular by the day – but thankfully, it’s still a secret for now. With its flower-adorned exterior, pastel-coloured drinks and unicorn-themed menu, it’s no surprise that some have declared this café London’s most beautiful.

Price: ££

How to get there: Starting at London Waterloo, join the northbound Bakerloo line until you reach Paddington, then walk for around 10 minutes to get to Saint Aymes Café.

Art

The Vaults

thevaults.london

Leake St, London SE1 7NN

Why visit? A network of underground tunnels called The Vaults is hidden underneath Waterloo Station. While they may sound eerie, the tunnels are quite the opposite, popping with colour and creativity thanks to brilliant street art. The Leake Street tunnel, founded by Banksy, is a particularly welcoming spot. Plus, if you have your own paints, you’re welcome to get artistic on the tunnel walls.

Price: Free

Opening hours: Hours differ each day; check the website before visiting

How to get there: Since The Vaults are directly underneath London Waterloo, you won’t need to look far to find them. If you’re leaving along Waterloo Road, simply turn right and walk toward the Old Vic. Turn right twice more and reach the entrance.

Leake Street Arches
Leake Street tunnel (Image credit: © www.southbanklondon.com)

Museums

The Postal Museum London

postalmuseum.org

15-20 Phoenix Pl, London WC1X 0DA

Why visit? The London postal system’s history is much more fascinating than you might think. But if we can’t convince you, a trip to The Postal Museum will! You can tour the museum’s underground railway system by miniature train, or there are also walking options if you’d prefer. If you’re looking for things to do in London with kids, this museum is the perfect place to spend a few hours.

Opening hours: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00 to 17:00

Price: ££

How to get there: The nearest South Western Railway station to the Postal Museum London is London Waterloo. Catch the 341 bus towards Upper Edmonton, get off at Rosebery Avenue Mount Pleasant (Stop CM) and walk for six minutes.

Postal Museum post train
Postal Museum post train (Image credit: © Royal Mail Group 2022 courtesy of The Postal Museum)

Get planning your next London trip to tick off this list of hidden gems. Discover our flexible range of ticket types to find the right one for your journey and make the most of cheap train tickets by going off-peak. For additional discounts, check if you’re eligible for a Railcard.