Anyone who knows me will know that I LOVE London. I lived there back in the 1990s and visit every couple of years.
Whilst most visitors flock to the usual tourist sites (and I have visited many of them, at least once over the years), London has many hidden gems and quirky places to satisfy both book lovers and history buffs, if you just know where to look.
So here are ten places in London that are perhaps not quite so well known, that I always enjoy visiting (and some of these just happen to turn up in my novels.)
1. The Banqueting House
This historical gem on Whitehall is often overlooked by visitors to the city, but it is well worth taking the time to lay back in one of the beanbags scattered throughout James I’s fabulous banqueting hall to admire the amazing Rubens ceiling – one of the few such decorations to survive Oliver Cromwell’s reformation. You can also stand where Charles I walked out onto the scaffold to his execution.
2. The Brunel Museum
Brunel’s Thames tunnel was the engineering marvel of its day and the Grand Entrance Hall is now host to musical and theatre events throughout the year. This scheduled Ancient Monument was described as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in the mid-19th century.
3. Brompton Cemetery
There’s something about wandering through an old cemetery reading headstones and watching squirrels and other wildlife going about their business. Brompton Cemetery was designed to be a tranquil garden as well as a cemetery when it opened in 1840. Over 200,000 people are buried here including the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.
4. Churchill War Rooms
Beneath the streets of Westminster, lies a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms which were the top-secret home of Churchill’s war cabinet during the Second World War. Featured in many books and movies, visiting the real thing is endlessly fascinating. The addition of a museum dedicated to the life of Sir Winston Churchill puts it right up there on my list of must-sees in the capital.
5. The Queen’s Walk
Get above ground and wander along the Queen’s Walk from Westminster Bridge along the South Bank to the Millennium Bridge. Hailed as one of London’s great walks, it will take you past not only the London Eye, the National Theatre, the Tate Modern, and the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, but you also get fantastic views across the river to St. Paul’s and the city of London. If you don’t cross the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, keep walking towards London Bridge and you come to the foodie haven of Borough Market. As you pass Southwark Cathedral, be sure to pop in and see the Shakespeare memorial which appears in The Carlswick Mythology.
6. The Albert Memorial
The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is one of the grandest Victorian moments around and commemorates the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert at the age of 42. The intricate detail of the monument and magnificent gold statue of Albert gazing across the road towards the spectacular Albert Hall makes it well worth a visit, as Stephanie found when she stops to admire it, in The Carlswick Treasure. The statue was painted black during World War I, so that he wouldn’t be a shining target for the German Zeppelins and it wasn’t until an extensive restoration project in the 1980s that the gold leaf was rediscovered under the paint and Albert was re-gilded to his former glory.
7. 221B Baker Street
Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will love the period museum created at 221B Baker Street, the fictional home to his famous detective Sherlock Holmes.
8. Disused Underground Stations
There are several disused underground stations around London, many of which have a fascinating story. Some were used to hide treasures from institutions such as the British Museum, V&A, and National Gallery during both World Wars and a number were used as air-raid shelters during the Blitz. Some have now been converted into underground hydroponic vegetable gardens supplying fresh salad ingredients to many of the city’s restaurants, whilst others are used as film sets. Perhaps the most famous, Aldwych Station, is now open for guided tours and this is where Stephanie took refuge in The Carlswick Mythology.
9. London’s Pubs
No visit to London is complete without a drink (and usually great food) at one of the many historic pubs. Some of my favourites include The Blackfriar, the flower festooned Churchill Arms, the Dickins Inn (where Jess and Will met for lunch in Shadow of Doubt) and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, especially for its famous literary links.
10. London Bookshops
There is something special about spending an afternoon trawling through bookstores and London has an impressive array, from new to second-hand to those stocking rare collectibles. My favourites include the always wonderful Daunt Books, Waterstones at Piccadilly covering eight floors (I can recommend their bar, 5th View on the top floor), Persephone Books (overlooked women writers of the 20th century, anyone?) and any of the bookshops in Cecil Court a narrow Victorian alleyway comprised almost entirely of book sellers (this was apparently JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.)