As a Deal Expert in the UK, here's my must-visit hidden spots in London:
Dennis Severs' House: A little time machine tucked off a street in the Dickensian inner-city quarter of Spitalfields. The life’s work of its eccentric eponymous late owner, Dennis Severs’ House recreates life in London times past on each floor of the atmospheric Georgian property, complete with unfinished meals, half-read books and a (live) cat that wanders through the eras in the candlelight. Wonderfully spooky.
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern: Hatton Gardens is interesting enough: right in the middle of the ancient London locale of Clerkenwell, the capital’s diamond-trading neighborhood is nonetheless off the map for all but the most curious of tourists. Yet, peopled by Hassidic Jews and the odd “diamond geezer” Cockney (to deploy some appropriate local argot), the area is full of interest, especially the tiny tavern sequestered in one of its blindest alleys. Unknown even to many Hatton Garden regulars, this little drinking den spurns the accoutrements of modern British pubs, in the form of poker machines, TVs and piped music, in favor of cozy, wood-paneled conviviality.
The Phoenix Garden: A real Londoner’s secret refuge from the waddling tourist hordes of Trafalgar Square and Oxford Street only meters away. What is this wild, heterogeneous little garden, complete with ponds, associated visiting bird species and office workers lounging in their lunch break, doing in built-up, fiendishly pricey central London? As you lie down on a well-maintained patch of glass and get into the mellow glasshouse vibe, you’ll soon cease to wonder … and just wonder.
The French House: Non-British visitors will probably not recognize the old soap opera stars and faded poets who prop up the bar at this insider’s favorite of a London pub. Not that you need to, to appreciate the atmosphere. One thing that makes the French House stand out from the myriad surrounding Soho watering holes: it sells beer only by the half-pint, concentrating instead (note the name again) on wine. Another thing: that wine goes very well with the counter meals, some of the tastiest and best-value in London courtesy of the fine-dining restaurant upstairs, from which they also come. Bag a seat at a rickety little wooden table at the back and imagine the former habitués whose photos plaster the walls (including the famous artist and drunk Francis Bacon) milling around the then smoke filled place, swilling Chateau Something and braying into their cravats.
Alfie’s Antiques: Portobello, Camden Passage and Borough Markets: these are hardly unknown to tourists. In fact, hardly anyone but tourists visits them! Alfie’s Antiques is different. What sounds like a single shop is in fact a collection of some 74 dealers in a big old art deco hall in the slow-paced, affluent area of Marylebone. This is like some (very) superior lost property office housing relics from every era of the 20thcentury and a few before. You’ll find vintage posters, clocks, glassware, curios and larger items such as antique posters. Come on: what would you prefer as a souvenir -- some Union Jack gewgaw made in China or a venerable old bit of Britain? Pricey, but don’t forget the traveler’s first maxim: haggle.