I asked some of London’s top bloggers to come up with that one place that should be on every visitor’s radar – a must-see London gem. Imagine you only had half a day to spare in the city…here’s a curated list from those in the London know. I hope you enjoy jaunting around the city with our bloggers and reading their top recommendations of cultural things to do in London.
London bloggers share unusual and cultural places to visit in London
- 1 Diary of a Londoness (yes, that’s me!)
- 2 Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays – The Wallace Collection
- 3 It’s Your London – Greenwich
- 4 Just Helen Marie – Royal Exchange
- 5 Little London Whispers – Tate Modern
- 6 LookUp London – Westminster Abbey
- 7 Map and Family – Horse Guards Parade
- 8 Mum What Else – GoBoat in Little Venice
- 9 Museum Mum – The Postal Museum
- 10 Swedish Girl in London – Phillips Auctions
- 11 The Curious Pixie – Leake Street
- 12 This Postcard Life – St Paul’s
Diary of a Londoness (yes, that’s me!)
Forget Madame Tussauds and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and head straight over to my favourite must-see London gem: the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn. It’s one of London’s most eccentric house museums, stuffed full of jaw-dropping treasures collected by the neoclassical architect during his globe-trotting years. Soane even wrangled himself an Act of Parliament prior to his death which stipulated the house was to be left exactly as it was. Crossing the Soane Museum threshold means you step straight into a London time-capsule.
Some of the 40,000 eclectic objects include a sarcophagus of Seti I. Soane inaugurated his treasure with a three-day candlelit party to which who’s who London was invited. It also houses an extraordinary collection of paintings by Canaletto, Turner and Hogarth as well as ancient sculptures and plastercasts. Don’t leave the museum without entering the Picture Room in which a museum assistant will do a big reveal. I will say no more.
You can read about the Soane and some other of London’s best historic houses here. If you love Soane and his wacky house, you’ll also love a visit to his other London home, Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. PS John Soane’s design for his wife’s tomb was the inspiration for the iconic red phone box.
Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays – The Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is tucked away just behind busy Oxford Street and is ideal for a flying visit. Inside, you will find a perfect small collection that reflects the passions of the three men who gathered it together. Flirty French romantism is here with Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’. Marie Antoinette’s writing desk nestles nearby. Frans Hal’s ‘Laughing Cavalier’ merrily oversees the great gallery. Visitors with small boys in tow will be delighted to discover one of the world’s best collections of armour. Best of all, in the middle of it all is a delightful tearoom.
Catherine is a culture vulture par excellence. You will often find her in a museum, a bookshop or a café (or a combination of all three), munching her way through cake, of which she is a connoisseur. You can follow her cultured journeys on her blog.
It’s Your London – Greenwich
Make sure Greenwich is high on your list when visiting London. The UNESCO sites and Greenwich town will take you back to the 17th and 18th centuries and to a London of architectural splendour and scientific discovery. Stand across the Prime Meridian, stare at the awe-inspiring Painted Hall, board the Cutty Sark tea clipper, or visit the Maritime Museum’s historic collections. There’s a covered market and the delightful streets of Greenwich town to stroll around, and don’t miss the spectacular views from the Observatory over London and the Royal Naval College below.
No one knows London quite as well as Sue. After 30 years of living here, she is still just as much in love with the capital, and you’ll often find her in a museum, a gallery, at a concert or at the theatre. Sue also organises bespoke tailored tours.
Just Helen Marie – Royal Exchange
When Scarlett asked me to provide a must-see London place that I would recommend above anywhere else, I knew instantly that it had to be the Royal Exchange in the City. This place not only looks incredible from the outside with its majestic pillars and stunning architecture, but the inside is a total design dream, full of elegant bars and restaurants with balconies above a galore of beautiful shops -even if only for sparkly glitzy window shopping. A must visit in my opinion.
Helen zooms around London snapping shades of the city in Florence, her pink Figaro (a superstar in her own right). She’s the Queen of Instagram and also has her own blog.
Little London Whispers – Tate Modern
Without question I would head over to the Tate Modern for an afternoon with Olafur Eliasson. He has weaved his magic into a visual senses overload of an exhibition. There are exhibits that will appeal more than others, but his message of exploring the exhibition by sensing yourself is an interesting one. From playful lighting, to corridors of dense beautifully lit fog, to a big bang fountain – you can’t help but leave the exhibition joyful.
The area around the Tate Modern has developed so much over the years: the shopping, eating, culture, architecture and iconic London views make it a one hit wonder. The Tate Terrace also has a collaboration with the exhibition offering locally sourced vegetarian food. You can do it all in an afternoon, but you may not want to leave.
Emma and her team at Little London Whispers explore and eat their way around London. Their fingers are always on the pulse with the latest in theatre, art, food and shopping and they feature their favourites in a monthly Super Seven.
LookUp London – Westminster Abbey
Ok, I know this isn’t a ‘hidden gem’ but hear me out. I’ve lived in London all my life and I had never been inside the Abbey until I became a qualified tour guide. It blew me away. Not only is it jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but each square inch of it is covered in history.
Walk amongst the graves of Kings and Queens as well as national heroes like Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. You should also be sure to visit the Diamond Jubilee galleries to enjoy this stunning church from above. It’s a unique view in London.
Katie is a Blue Badge tour guide and an award-winning blogger. She knows all of London’s stories and secrets and is always encouraging people to look up.
Map and Family – Horse Guards Parade
I love a bit of London pomp and circumstance, so my must-see is a glimpse of the historic regiments who guard the Queen. The scarlet uniforms, tall black bearskin caps, plumed metal helmets and immaculately turned out black horses are an iconic London sight. But you don’t have to wait for London’s big ceremonial events to see them. The Foot Guards and the mounted Household Cavalry, along with a regimental band, carry out ceremonial duties on several days a week. Crowds gather around the gates of Buckingham Palace to see the Changing the Guard ceremony. But you’ll probably get a better view if you watch the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard on Horse Guards Parade or even track their progress up and down The Mall. Check the official website for details and times.
Nancy wanders around London’s nooks and crannies and beyond with her teens in tow. She’s always sure to highlight all the best bits – and the worst – wherever she goes. If you have teens, you’ll definitely want to check out her excellent blog.
Mum What Else – GoBoat in Little Venice
A recent discovery and one of the top things I would recommend is boarding a self-drive GoBoat for a trip down the London canals. We rented a small boat, and from Little Venice we reached Camden Town, the punk soul of London. There are several routes to choose from and of different lengths. On the boat you can also have a picnic or drink a glass of Prosecco whilst admiring a unique perspective of London. The boats are electric and made of 80% recycled plastic which make this experience totally environmentally friendly! You can read about my full experience here.
Francesca is an Italian mama-of-two who lives in London. Her blog is bilingual and is stuffed full of things to do with kids in London.
Museum Mum – The Postal Museum
I recommend a unique London experience – the Postal Museum. Start with a ride on Mail Rail, the Post Office’s own underground railway. This tiny train takes you on a 15 minute immersive ride through abandoned tunnels and platforms, followed by fun, hands-on games in the gallery. The Postal Museum itself tells the fascinating story of the first social network through hands-on and digital interactives, intriguing people stories, bright and wacky vehicles, historic dressing up for kids AND adults, and a Jolly Postman Trail. Under 8s will love Sorted! It makes for a fun half day for all the family – and you’ll never look at a letter the same way again!
Vyki is a museum curator and writes her award-winning blog with hands-on help from her very cultured Museum Kids.
Swedish Girl in London – Phillips Auctions
One of my favourite “hidden” spots in London must be Phillips Auctions on Berkeley Square. I love popping in whenever I’m in Mayfair just for a glimpse of what is up for sale. If something is of interest, I will attend their auctions to try and acquire a new treasure.
What many people don’t realise is that one doesn’t have to be a registered buyer to go to a Phillips auction. It is like stepping into an ever-changing museum. You can often come really close to the pieces and even touch or hold them (if you ask), as well as of course buy them! Many of these beautiful items will never be seen in public again, which makes it extra special to visit.
At Phillips they also really know how to display the pieces in the best possible way, with daylight streaming through the floor to ceiling windows on the ground floor and the clever way they use lights on the other floors. And their basement is amazing! I hope you feel as inspired as I do to pop-in to Phillips when you are next in Mayfair.
Annmarie is London’s coolest Swedish girl. You can find her wandering around galleries, museums and design shops, and she’s always dressed to impress. You can follow her on Instagram.
The Curious Pixie – Leake Street
Underneath Waterloo Station is a street artist’s paradise and hidden hotspot for food and entertainment. Leake Street Arches comprises of eight former railway arches next to the famous graffiti tunnel. Most tourists and Londoners in fact will inadvertently bypass it for the allure of the Southbank and the London Eye.
The 300-metre tunnel is a great way to see some organic art for free. It was made famous in 2008 after Banksy hosted the Cans Festival with 30 artists turning the tunnel into an ever-changing art gallery. Now, it’s one of the largest areas to legally allow street art in the city. If you’re a fan of political expression, humour and unique design this is one place not to miss!
Sima is a travel, culture and foodie junkie. She shares her adventures with and without the mini pixies and is always on the look-out for the extraordinary in London and beyond.
This Postcard Life – St Paul’s
Steeped in history, St Paul’s is one of the anchors of London’s cityscape. Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece links to a range of London’s stories: the Great Fire of 1666, the Blitz during WWII and Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, to name a few. Climb its steps to get panoramic views of the city from the exterior viewing galleries. Finish in the cathedral’s crypt at the cafe and one of London’s best gift shops. Round out your St Paul’s experience by walking across the street to the shopping complex One New Change, taking the glass elevator (for free!) to the rooftop terrace (also free!). There you can take in the magnificence of the dome and see St Paul’s from a different perspective.
Beth is an American living in London and writes about family travel with a focus on teens and her expat life in the UK. You can follow her on her blog here.
Feature image of the Soane Museum by Gareth Gardner
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