London is full of fantastic tourist attractions and offers plenty of entertainment for those visiting the city. However, if you don't fancy fighting your way through the surges of selfies, we've found the things to do in London that are a little lesser-known.
See the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’
That’s the moniker the Thames Tunnel, the first ever tunnel to be constructed underneath a river, earned itself when it opened in 1843. Today, ironically, the tunnel is part of London Overground and opportunities to stroll around father and son Brunel’s marvel of engineering are limited. But you can still pop down into the now disconnected tunnel shaft, or Grand Entrance Hall, when you visit the Brunel Museum. Getting down into the shaft does require squeezing yourself through a tiny doorway and negotiating some rickety temporary stairs, but you do get to experience an awesome, hidden bit of London’s engineering history in return.
Travel back in time
Step back even further in time on a visit to Dennis Severs’ House, one of London’s more eccentric museums. Severs lived in the house on Folgate Street from 1979 to 1999, and in that time he turned it into what can only be described as the original immersive theatre show. Each room in the house represents a different era in the lives of the fictional Jervis family, Huguenot silk weavers who lived in the house 1725 to 1919. But this is not just a house with period furniture: there are sounds, smells, plates of half-eaten food and household items hastily abandoned. You feel like the occupants are always just out of sight, in the next room. Getting the best out of your visit requires a bit of imagination, and the kookiness of the experience will not appeal to everyone, hence the house’s motto: Either you see it or you don’t!
Climb a castle
Well, not quite a castle… but the Victorian water pumping station that’s home to the Castle Climbing Centre certainly looks like a proper castle. The centre offers bouldering, abseiling, top-rope and lead climbing facilities and has routes for everyone from kids and beginners to experienced climbers. You can climb both inside and outside, where you can properly enjoy the Castle’s beautiful exterior, and you can abseil down the 45 meter high tower.
Photo credit: Jim Linwood
Educate yourself for free
Gresham College has provided free lectures in the City of London for more than 400 years. Founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham, the college has employed proper A-list professors like Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. Today, Gresham College lectures take place in venues including the Museum of London and the Lloyd’s building and take in a wide range of topics, from ‘Maths goes to the movies’ to ‘The rise and fall of sourdough: 6000 years of bread’. However niche the topics, one thing is guaranteed: you can only come out smarter.
Photo credit: Elliott Brown
No, not that way! Far beyond the reach of the ‘regular’ Underground, the Chislehurst Caves are a 22 mile complex of man-made tunnels with a very colourful history. Among other things, the caves have served as a mushroom farm, a music venue, an ammunition depot and an air raid shelter housing some 15,000 people. These days you can join an oil lamp lit-tour of the tunnels, and perhaps even encounter some of the ghosts who reportedly like to hang out in the caves.
Lock up the Crown Jewels
The Tower of London: been there, done that, didn’t buy the hideously over-priced t-shirt, right? But what not many people know, is that you can visit this iconic landmark after hours as well. The Ceremony of the Keys takes place every evening at exactly 9.53 PM, when the Yeomen lock the Tower’s main gates for the night. A small number of visitors can attend this 700-year-old ritual that keeps the Queen’s jewellery safe, but the free tickets have to be booked well in advance: at the time of writing, the first slots available are half-term October 2017. Perhaps get that one lined up for next Christmas, then.