Quirky London: unusual & offbeat things to do on your next visit
I’ve been writing about London for a long time and love to find the unusual things in a city I know well. Here I’ve rounded up a selection of offbeat, unusual and unexpected things you should keep an eye out for when you’re next in London – some of which appear on our list of 101 Things to do in London.
Earl’s Court TARDIS
This “Doctor Who” TARDIS arrived outside the eastern entrance of Earl’s Court tube station in 1996-97. It was a local security experiment with CCTV and a phone for alerting the police. Neither now work but it makes for a great photo opportunity.
While actual visitors to 238 Earl’s Court Road can’t see inside you can on Google Street View. Just search the address and then check the navigational arrows to get inside. And yes, it does look bigger on the inside.
Metropolitan Police Hook
Have you ever noticed the Metropolitan Police hook? It’s on the outside of the black-tiled building opposite the Leicester Square tube exit on Great Newport Street, WC2, near the red telephone box.
The location is near a busy junction where six roads meet and, in days gone by, a policeman was regularly posted here to help with the traffic flow.
There was a simple nail in the wall for a policeman to hang his cape on – used for wet weather – but it’s reported that this hook was added in the 1930s by a builder who was working on the property and wanted to add something more elegant for the local constabulary.
“Press for champagne” at Bob Bob Ricard
On the 101 list at No 8 is Soho institution Bob Bob Ricard. This glamorous restaurant is a great spot for a decadent dining experience. It feels as if you are dining in a luxury train carriage, and who can resist a “Press for Champagne” buzzer than summons a glass of bubbly to your table?
Indulge with a menu of Russian and European comfort food including steak, caviar and lobster. And while it’s not cheap, dining here is worth every penny.
These opulent surroundings really do have everything as there’s even a plug socket in every booth to charge your phone so you can take plenty of photos of your food too.
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Afternoon tea on a double decker
The converted vintage Routemaster bus has dining tables for a full afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, then cakes and sweet treats. And you get to enjoy all that while seeing the sights as the bus goes past the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Harrods and Hyde Park so you’re on for long enough to relax. Just remember to wave at all of the faces who look up as you pass wishing they were on board.
The basement of the British Library
You’re probably thinking, how can a library be quirky? But you clearly haven’t been down to the basement of the British Library to see “Paradoxymoron” by Patrick Hughes – a stunning optical illusion-style painting. And did you know the second largest atlas in the world can be seen in the lobby of the Maps Reading Room?
This certainly isn’t a stuffy library just for academics as there’s a family trail and regular, interesting free exhibitions. And there’s a Treasures Gallery with a copy of the Magna Carta, Da Vinci’s notebooks and original Beatles lyrics – yeah, all in one room.
Board games & beer at Draughts
There’s a library of over 600 board games available and a fiver gets you unlimited game time. In-house “games gurus” can explain rules and make recommendations.
This is Hackney so it’s craft beer and, yes, the menu includes smashed avocado, but it’s a fun place to spend a few hours with friends.
In St Stephen’s Hall inside the Houses of Parliament, there is something quirky about the lions on the encaustic floor tiles. The tiles along the edge of the room have lions with their eyes open and the lions down the middle of the hall have their eyes closed. It’s said the reason for this is so ladies in large dresses could walk down the middle of the room without the lions looking up their skirts!
A glass or two at London’s oldest wine bar
Gordon’s Wine Bar is at No 20 on the 101 list. Established in 1890, it’s London’s oldest wine bar. Close to Trafalgar Square, it’s a wonderfully atmospheric cellar bar – especially when candlelit in the evenings.
It gets busy as it’s rather a well-known ‘secret’ but there’s a long beer garden for outdoor seating too. It’s an unpretentious drinking den that has a strict no beers or spirits policy but does have an extensive wine selection.
Impress your friends with a bit of historical knowledge when here by telling them the London diarist Samuel Pepys lived here in the 1680s (obviously, before it was a wine bar). And The Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling lived above the bar in the 1890s and was often seen writing in the Little Parlour of the wine bar.
23-24 Leinster Gardens
Just north of Hyde Park, these townhouses look like all of the others along the street until you look more closely. Now known to many after they appeared in the Sherlock TV series (His Last Vow, Series 3 finale), 23-24 Leinster Gardens are in fact simply facades.
The 1.5 metre thick and 5-storey fake frontages have grey windows and merge in with the terraced houses very well. But walk around the back to Porchester Terrace and you’ll see that the rest of the building is simply not there.
The reason for these dummy houses is because the Metropolitan Line literally cut through the middle of the street so the facades were built to restore the continuity of the houses and to hide the plumes of smoke from the steam trains that were released behind the building. When the Met Line opened in the 1860s, this section of open air space was for trains to ‘vent’ off to keep the steam and smoke out of the tunnels.
Even more quirky London
Every day in London you can find something unusual that can make you stop and wonder.
Have you seen the carpeted walkway in London Bridge or the Ferryman’s Seat at Bankside? How about the Canary Wharf traffic light tree? Or have you been on the Egyptian escalator in Harrods? Next time you’re in Trafalgar Square have a look for the crying cherub. It’s on a lamp post on a traffic island at the top of Northumberland Avenue. When it was repainted a paint drip remained which now looks like a teardrop. Hat tip to Secret London for this quirky find.
It’s safe to say, London is very quirky indeed.
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Laura Porter writes AboutLondonLaura.com and contributes to many other publications while maintaining an impressive afternoon tea addiction. You can find Laura on Twitter as @AboutLondon and on Facebook as @AboutLondonLaura