London is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, if not the most. Every corner hides a story to be discovered. Every new building is a challenge for a city which has evolved organically. And there’s so much history embedded within its walls that the fun facts are uncountable. With so much going on so quickly, the unusual has become the norm.
As many of you know, I’ve been exploring every corner of London while writing Architectour London Guide. I’ve visited some of the most amazing places in the English capital and today I want to share with you my favorites. If you are planning a trip to London soon, continue reading.
Which is your favorite?
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1. Spot the bearded woman at Westminster Abbey
A statue of Saint Wilgefortis stands in the Lady Chapel of Henry VII and is notable for being the only statue in the Abbey of a bearded woman. Legend has it that Saint Wilgefortis prayed to be made repulsive in order to escape a forced marriage. Her prayers were answered and she was given a beard (a massive one). Now she is the patron saint of women who wish to be liberated from abusive husbands. Well, don’t miss this statue, it will make you chuckle.
Location: 20 Deans Yd (Google)
2. Have a pint at an 19th Century Bank Hall
Built in 1893 as the Counting House, a magnificent banking hall in the middle of the City. You will be surprised to know that many of the old fixtures and fittings are still there but probably the most impressive: the chandeliers and high domed ceiling look as it used to look back in the day. The atmosphere is quite original too, as you’ll be surrounded by proper English businessmen in immaculate suits.
Location: 50 Cornhill (Google)
3. Surprise your special one with a movie night in the best cinema
If you are a movie addict, you will love watching the new releases from the amazingly confortable front row beds of the Electric Cinema. London has quite a few remarkable cinemas, being this the best one. Can’t explain if it’s the Notting Hill’s unique atmosphere or the red velvet furniture but coming here is quite a thing.
Location: 191 Portobello Rd (Google)
Admission: £35 (two people)
4. Buy an architecture book at London’s best designed book store
Selgas Cano Architects, best known for designing the Serpentine Pavilion of 2015, have other amazing buildings in London such as Second Home (what a design!) and this little and delightful book shop. I could spend hours and hours here, browsing anything from contemporary design to fashion. It’s specially charming on rainy days by the way!
Location: 65 Hanbury St (Google)
5. Witness Notting Hill’s fake houses
There’s a block of fake houses in the middle of beautiful Notting Hill. The Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway, had a route between Paddington and Bayswater and needed the demolition of 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens to keep the underground tunnels clear of smoke and steam. The exposed area was used by steam locomotives to let off steam and smoke, which may not have been too pleasant for the neighbouring houses.
Location: 24 Leinster Gardens (Google)
6. Take a friend out for coffee in the crypt of a church
If you want to impress your friends, take them to the crypt of Saint Martin-in-the-fields, just at Trafalgar Square. There has been a church on the site since the medieval period. The church, right in the middle of Trafalgar square, is famous for its work with homeless people and the crypt houses a café which hosts jazz concerts whose profits support the programs of the church.
Location: Trafalgar Square (Google)
7. Discover the real location of the Globe Theatre
Almost everyone gets disappointed to find out the present Globe theatre wasn’t built in the 16th century nor it’s located on the original site. Some even chuckle when they realize they’ve paid £16 for a tour of it. Well, don’t be disappointed because we’ll share with you the original site in which a little mark states where it used to be.
Location: Park St (Google)
8. Smell the flowers of this quirky florist
Surprisingly this triangular-shaped pavilion designed by CZWG Architects is both a flower shop and public toilets (weird!). The flower shop is a true wonder hidden in between streets on Notting Hill so next time you visit the area, don’t miss it.
Location: 222 Westbourne Grove (Google)
9. Meditate at the most beautiful Hindu Temple in town
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is not exactly in the middle of London. However, it’s worth a visit regardless if you are a hindi or not. If you have been in India, you’ll appreciate straight away how clean and white the temple is. It was built entirely according to ancient Vedic architectural texts – using no structural steel whatsoever.
Location: 105-119 Brentfield Rd (Google)
10. Scare a child with this park’s spooky inhabitants
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs section of the park is free to visit so if you have family under 10 years old, they’ll thank you after you show them this park. They were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, pre-dating the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by six years. The funny thing is that some of them aren’t accurate at all as the bones were misinterpreted and they look especially weird.
Location: Thicket Road (Google)
11. Attend a public court in this amazing Gothic building
The Royal Courts of Justice is a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic style built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. The courts within the building are open to the public meaning anyone can attend court.
Location: Strand (Google)
12. Pretend to live in a Victorian House
Home to the Sambourne family, 18 Stafford Terrace is a unique example of a late Victorian townhouse. It survives with almost all of its furniture and fittings intact and it’s the only original Victorian house in London open to the public. The way everything is kept is as if a friend was inviting you to their home for a cup of tea. It’s still a quite secret place so rush before everyone discovers it.
Location: 18 Stafford Terrace (Google)
13. Swim in a Zaha Hadid Olympic Pool
The architectural concept of the London Aquatic Centre is inspired by the fluid geometries of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment that reflect the riverside landscapes of the Olympic Park. After hosting the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games, the stunning venue is now open for you to use – and not many people know this.
Location: 18 Stafford Terrace (Google)