London’s an amazing city, that can keep visitors entertained for weeks, if not months. But what if you’ve seen all the famous sites — Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower of London, St. Pauls — and, in the process, burned a huge hole in your wallet? Well don’t despair. Firstly, London is packed with enough odd and unusual activities to keep you entertained indefinitely. Secondly, everything’s well within reach because of the incredible London Underground transport system.
And thirdly, many of the ‘hidden’ attractions of London are free or comparatively cheap when compared to the big tourist attractions. This, of course, makes them ideal for anyone on a budget. Here are five ‘excursions’ that I'd recommend — all guaranteed to take you right off the beaten track and give you a taste of local life. In actual fact, I’d bet farthings to guineas that few Londoners have done them all...
1. Walk on Hampstead Heath and admire city views from Parliament Hill — Hampstead Heath is just 15 minutes from central London and known as the “iron lungs” of the capital. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the countryside, when you wander there, but many visitors to the capital don’t even know it exists.
Take the Underground’s Northern line (marked black on the map) to Hampstead and ten minutes from the tube you’ll be strolling in fabulous greenery. Whether exploring South End Green (where Karl Marx used to fly kites) the bathing ponds (perfect for lounging on a summer day) or the imposing 17th century Kenwood House, you won't be disappointed. At the top of Parliament Hill, admire the view of St. Paul’s, The Shard and even Crystal Palace on a clear day. And it’s all free!
2. Stroll down Columbia Road Flower Market — Situated in London’s East End, between Shoreditch and Brick Lane (both hipster areas), each Sunday the street is transformed into a beautiful flower market.
You can find begonias and banana plants, English roses and exotic orchards, and many of the stall owners grow the plants they’re selling. Columbia Road isn’t just a flower market though — it’s a real neighbourhood, packed with pubs, cafes, vintage clothes stores and antique stores. It’s a world away from the designer stores of Bond Street and Chelsea, and with more character too. Just make sure to get there reasonably early to avoid the crowds (although if you’re there around 1.30 pm -half an hour before it closes — you might find yourself a bargain).
3. Wander in the Kyoto Gardens, in Holland Park — discover Japan in West London in this haven of tranquility. Opened in 1931, it was a gift from Kyoto to London to commemorate the two countries’ long friendship.
With its tiered waterfalls, stone lanterns and koi pond, it’s designed to give anyone curious about Japan a taste of this faraway land. Walk around, bask in the calm, admire the cherry blossom and laugh at the squawking peacocks who roam the grounds. It’s an unforgettable experience…and only 15 minutes from the centre of London on the Underground’s central line.
4. Explore Kensal Green’s catacombs — this cemetery, in west London, is home to one of of London’s oldest burial grounds and actually modelled on the design of the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It it houses three catacombs and twice a month, on Sundays, you can take a tour there.
It also has a tremendous literary pedigree — authors such as Trollope, Thackaray and Rymer (the co-creator of Sweeney Todd) all chose this place as their final resting place. 25 minutes on the Bakerloo line from Oxford Circus is all it takes to reach this ghostly place...
5. Visit the Fan Museum at Greenwich — Greenwich is renown for its Observatory, Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, but few tourists take the time to visit this quirky little museum. Opened over 20 years ago, It is home to a world-class collection of fans that span from the 12th century to the present day.
Set within beautiful grounds, you can also take afternoon tea there at the “Orangery.” A true niche museum, and a perfect way to spend an hour or two, enjoying scones, jam and cream whilst surrounded by an array of beautiful objects. And if the idea of staring at antique fans doesn't grab you, simply walk around the neighbourhood, and the market itself, which is incredibly charming. A quick trip on the Jubilee line or the Docklands Light Railway will get you there from central London in 30 minutes.
What are you waiting for? Buy yourself an Oyster Card for the London Underground, pack a picnic and head off.