London: Ten quirky things to do and see
Heading across the Irish sea for a weekend break? Looking to avoid the stampede of tourists making their way to all the usual places in London? Here’s our guide to some of the more unique and unusual attractions that London has to offer plus a few experiences that you wouldn’t normally associate with the British capital.
Henry Solomon Wellcome collected more than one million items, many of them medical artifacts. The 125,000 medical objects that the well-known pharmacist amassed before his death in 1936, are on display at the Wellcome Collection at 183 Euston Road. This is a unique museum-style attraction looks at medicine and science throughout human history and the role of such knowledge in art and culture. Currently, the collection is running an exhibition on Skin which looks at advances in skin science, the art of tattoos and changing anatomical theories about this organ from the 16th century to modern times. This is a great place to take curious teens. Please note that much of the content is aimed for those over 14 years of age and that some displays contain human remains. For more information on the Wellcome collection, visit www.wellcomecollection.org.
Churchill’s War Rooms
Built in the basement of the Office of Public Works in 1938, Churchill’s bunker had bedrooms, a kitchen, the Cabinet room, the map room and the transatlantic telephone room. The Whitehall underground complex offers a fascinating look at how this iconic leader and his cabinet faced the many challenges of WWII. It’s also a fascinating look at the day-to-day life of those who lived and worked in the bunker. You can see Churchill’s desk from where he made many of his famous BBC broadcasts and you can take a closer look at the room which housed the original hotline from London to the White House in Washington. You can learn more about the ordinary staffers who worked in the bunker during the Blitz. For more information about opening hours and tours for Churchill’s War Rooms, visit the Imperial War Museum website at http://www.iwm.org.uk.
‘Feeling gloomy’ is held every Saturday night at the O2 Academy 2 in Islington where clubbers gather to celebrate music of a melancholy nature. Billed as ‘the club night that brings a tear to your eye’, this is one night out you are unlikely to forget. The playlist regularly includes tracks from The Smiths, Joy Division, Violent Femmes, The Verve, Tom Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Kylie, The Clash and many more. With an entry fee under a tenner, this is also one uniquely London experience that won’t break the bank. Visit feelinggloomy.co.uk for more information about miserable clubbing.
Old Operating Museum
Built in the roof of the baroque Church of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1821, this surgical ward was designed for students to watch surgeons at work in an era which predated the use of anesthetics. The patients were all poor women who were either suffering from a superficial complaint or required an amputation. Clearly, this is one attraction that is not for the faint hearted. However, it does offer a fascinating insight into the history of surgical medicine right down to getting a closer look at the tools that surgeon fashioned for various operations. The Old Operation Museum is open from 10.30am to 5pm, most days and entry for an adult is £5.80, for more information visit thegarret.org.uk.
Kensington roof gardens
Originally built above a department store in the 1930s and spread over 1.5 acres, this hidden gem is located 100 feet above Kensington High Street and includes fully grown trees, wildlife and a flowing stream.
There are three themed gardens which are open to the public on selected days of the year. The Spanish garden is based on the Alhambra in Grenada, the Tudor garden is best seen in summer and the English Woodland garden includes four flamingos and is at its best in spring.
There is a restaurant and bar with spectacular views that are also part of the package, though they operate as commercial entities. The space is often hired out, so it is best to call ahead on 0207 937 7994 or visit roofgardens.virgin.com.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s photography collection
Founded in 1852 from the profits of the Great Exhibition of the previous year, this museum is dedicated to the arts and design. Many style watchers and fashionistas would be familiar with its clothing, furniture and jewellery collections. What you may not know, is that it is also home to over 500,000 photographs which date back to the 1850s.
The museum is home to a photography gallery focusing on the history of the art form and some of the collection’s more striking images. The V&A regularly hosts photography exhibitions. The latest is called ‘The Other Britain Revisited’ and looks at arresting images and works of photojournalism published in New Society from the late 1960s to the 1980s. For more information and opening hours, visit vam.ac.uk/collections/photography.
Travel down a canal
Long before the Tube became the best way to get around London, canals were used to transport both people and goods in and around British capital. The London Canal Museum and its army of volunteers run Sunday tours of Regent’s canal which passes through the picturesque Islington tunnel. The tunnel was opened in 1820 and originally narrow boats made their way through it by a process known as ‘legging’ where by men lay down on their backs on raised planks and pushed against either the wall or the roof to propel boats forward. An iron ‘tug’ was soon introduced to speed up traffic through the tunnel. The one-hour trip offers up some unique views of London and the on-hand tour guides give visitors a real sense of the history of this form of travel. Tickets can be booked online at canalmuseum.org.uk, where you can also find out more about tour dates and times.
Dennis Severs’ House
Take a trip back in time and experience life in 18th century London in this weird and wonderful space. Artist Dennis Severs spent more than 20 years restoring this Georgian terrace to its former glory down to the last detail, until his death in 1999. Severs created a live artistic space, where by the house plays host to a fictional family who illustrate the area’s complex history. The house tells the story of the Jervis family, a Huguenot silk-weaving clan who lived in the house from 1792 to 1919. Huguenots also known as French Calvinists, were driven from their homeland by religious persecution, many settled in Spitalfields, where the house is located, and took up work as weavers. Each room in the Severs house has been meticulously decorated, giving visitors the impression that the occupants have just left the room. Tourists are asked to respect the wishes of the late Mr Severs, by participating in the theatrical nature of the tour. For more information about tour times and prices, see dennissevershouse.co.uk.
Built on the site of the Newgate prison and opened in 1869, this pub retains many of its original features, including a host of underground cells that were once part of the notorious prison. The cells located in the pub’s cellar were actually used for debtors, with as many as 20 crammed into an incredibly small space without much air or sanitation.
There are those who claim that the cells are haunted by some of the former inmates. It’s a chilling reminder of the way in which justice was dispensed in Victorian England. The pub upstairs is one of the last remaining Victorian gin palaces complete with an ornate iron ceilings, decorative glass windows and works of art painted on the walls. Tours of the cells can be arranged at the bar.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Visit the home of one of the world’s most famous detectives with this Baker street museum. The first-floor study which features so prominently in the stories about the famous detective and his sidekick, retains many Victorian features. Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creations come to life in a unique way at the museum with actors playing the key characters and greeting visitors and answering questions. There are three floors of displays and exhibits to explore and a shop for fans who want to take home their own bit of Holmes’
world. Clearly this spaces is designed for the fans of the stories and the many films and TV series it has generated. So if you aren’t into Sherlock Holmes, then chances are this museum which takes you inside his world, isn’t really for you. For more information, see sherlock-holmes.co.uk.