10 hidden gems to explore when you're ready to rediscover London

In order to stay safe and minimise the spread of coronavirus, most people have stuck to their local neighbourhoods over the past few months.

But as daily cases continue to drop and restaurants, pubs and other entertainment venues are given the go-ahead to once again open their doors, the capital is awakening.

London is a feast for the eyes in terms of architecture and history, but often we forget to appreciate its beauty.

That’s why this is the perfect time to rediscover the city, and find hidden gems that you might not have noticed pre-pandemic.

With the help of Ellie Walker-Arnott, Time Out journalist and author of Nostalgic London – which features 350+ places, parks, shops, cafés, pubs and buildings that ‘evoke a sense of another era’ – we have put together a list of secret spots to explore.

From gorgeous ruins, hidden gardens and even a stuffed walrus, here are her top 10 places that will make you fall in love with the capital all over again.

Horniman Museum & Gardens

Ellie said: ‘Interactive exhibitions and super-modern museums are great, but this is a proper Victorian experience.

‘The Horniman’s anthropological objects are displayed in traditional cases, like they would have been more than a century ago.

‘Oh, and the walrus, who was overstuffed by his taxidermist, is a London icon.’

Hatchards, Piccadilly

Ellie said: ‘London has countless incredible bookshops that I can’t wait to explore again now that I can, but none are as historic or atmospheric (those creaky floorboards!) as Hatchards.

‘It’s the oldest bookshop in London and maybe even the entire country, and the staff are really great at recommending gems.’

Hill Garden and Pergola, Hampstead Heath

Ellie said: ‘Built by a lord in 1905, Hill Garden and Pergola is a Georgian terrace made up of walkways and trellises on Hampstead Heath.

‘It’s the last thing you’d expect to stumble upon in the greenery and was once the setting for the fanciest garden parties.

‘The kind that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in lockdown.’ 

St Dunstan’s-in-the-East, London Bridge

Ellie said: ‘This spot is so close to big attractions like Tower Bridge and the Tower of London but still somehow feels secluded.

‘It’s a pretty public garden in the ruins of a church that was bombed in the Blitz – a lovely reminder that wonderful things can grow out of terrible things.’

W Martyn, Muswell Hill

Ellie said: ‘Stepping inside this unassuming store in Muswell Hill is like stepping back in time.

‘Biscuits, jams, chocolates and dried fruit – all the good stuff – sits on original 1890s shelves.

‘The coffee is especially ace – it’s roasted daily in the window in a machine that’s been running since the 1950s.’

St Augustine’s Tower, Hackney

Ellie said: ‘You could pass this tower countless times without really noticing it – and you probably have.

‘It was built in the 13th century and is actually the oldest building in Hackney.

‘It’s incredible to think it was stood right there when Hackney was a rural village outside London.’

The Royal Arcade, Mayfair

Ellie said: ‘Westfield has nothing on London’s old arcades.

‘There’s a handful of these elegant yet easily-missed walkways around Mayfair, and they are basically Victorian shopping centres.

‘This one is especially pretty. Look up to spot pink and orange pillars and arches.’ 

Cabmen’s Shelters

Ellie said: ‘Ever wondered what those little green cabins dotted around London are? Run by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, which was established in the 1870s, they were built for cab and carriage drivers as places to wait in between fares.

‘A few of them are still running and will even serve tea and bacon butties to non-cabbies through the takeaway hatches.’

Pickering Place, St James’s

Ellie said: ‘London is dotted with ancient alleyways and passages well worth swapping well-trodden pavements for.

‘If you do, you’ll stumble upon secrets like this. Pickering Place is said to be the smallest public square in the city, accessed through an unusual, wood-panelled passageway.

‘There’s also a plaque on the wall from when this embassy of the Republic of Texas was based here.’

Postman’s Park , Barbican

Ellie said: ‘A quiet green space near the Museum of London and the Barbican, this park is more than just a great place to eat your sandwiches.

‘It’s home to the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, which commemorates Londoners who have died trying to save the life of another.

‘It’s surprisingly moving and uplifting to read.’

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