In a society as seemingly “prim and proper” as the British one, sometimes you can find small acts of rebellion in the form of creative expression. Many cities have strange things that are worth visiting, and London is no exception. Statues, art, museums and even homes can offer some of the strangest things that you can see in London. Check out some of these places and don’t forget to visit then when you go to the city.
1. The penguin of LSE
The London School of Economics (LSE) is an organization for students called Club Penguin. The club recognizes students who have graduated in the last five years and have made a donation to the annual school fund. In tribute to the club mascot, the Clare Market has a statue of an aluminium penguin. It cost 10,000 dollars and was a gift that came from Canada. It has been stolen twice: once in 2001 and again in 2009. The second time, the thieves left behind a pair of penguin’s wings. After the second robbery, students left flowers, chocolate bars shaped like a penguin and cans of sardines in the Memorial. Now there’s a new statue that we hope won’t be stolen.
2. The Elephant and Castle
One of the strangest places in the city is at a junction in Southwark. It is believed that this area was named after a pub that once stood here. Since the original, several bars have been opened here, and the current pub can be found at number 119 Newington Causeway. The famous statue of the Elephant and Castle is outside the New Kent Road shopping centre.
3. The smallest house in London
The smallest house in the city dates back to 1805 and is only one meter wide. It is believed to have been used by the local cemetery. The original house was hit by a bomb during the bombing of London, and the current building serves as part of Tyburn Convent. Grant Lewis Wallace was there and was the house’s only occupant.
4. A tour of London toilets
Have you ever been fascinated by London’s most architecturally interesting toilets? No? Well, London Loo Tours takes you to visit the public bathrooms that stand out because of their heritage, size or location. The visits are mainly guided by Rachel Erikson, also known as “Mrs. Loo”, who provides visitors with information on public health. The tours usually end in a bar called Cellar Door, which was formerly a public bathhouse for men. The city has plenty of other bars and cafes that used to be used as bathrooms.
5. The house that melts
Alex Chinnick built this art installation so that it resembled a small Georgian house. It’s distinguishing feature is that it is made of wax. Its nearly 8,000 bricks were merged in paraffin wax in terracotta sand and slowly melted using hand warmers. The house was a temporary art installation in Southwark.
6. Eltham Palace
Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are well-known in London, unlike this royal residence, located in Greenwich. The palace was given to Edward II in 1305 and was used by Henry VIII until Greenwich Palace was completed. Over time, it fell into disuse until it was acquired by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in 1933, who restored the house, primarily in an art deco style. Later, it was acquired by the Royal Army Education Corps, and then by English Heritage in 1995, which opened it to the public for the first time.
7. The Pollock Toy Museum
The Pollock Toy Museum is housed in a pair of old Georgian houses just a few blocks from the British Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of toys, and exhibits wooden items, games, puppets and dollhouses. It also has some of the oldest toys in the world, including a teddy bear and a 4000-year-old mouse made of clay from the Nile River.
8. The magic shop Davenports
Davenports is located under Charing Cross Station. The Store is run by professional magicians ready to help magic enthusiasts and experienced illusionists. They offer magic courses on their website.
9. The pet cemetery of Hyde Park
In Victoria Gate Lodge’s Garden, in Bayswater RoadGate Lodge, and behind the iron gates of Hyde Park, you can find the final resting place of many pets. In 1881, the garden manager, Mr. Winbridge, allowed Mr. and Mrs. J. Lewis Barned to bury the family dog, “Cherry”, in the park. The last pet was buried there in 1903. To prevent the place from being filled with curious tourists, there is a small entrance fee and you need to book the visit in advance.
10. A secret cinema
You buy your Secret Cinema ticket without knowing which film you will see. There isn’t even a real location. You can buy the entry on the website secretcinema.org and the organizers tell you where you have to go. For example, once an empty school Hackney organized a screening of the film The Shawshank Redemption.
11. The Chislehurst caves
There are twenty-two miles of caves just below London’s city centre. Nobody knows exactly who made these caves. The caves became a concert venue during the 1960s, and David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, among others, performed there. The caves are now open only for guided visits from 10am to 4pm.
12. Eat at Gingerline
This restaurant works like Secret Cinema: you buy a ticket on the website and the organizers at gingerline.co.uk will tell you where to go to eat. Are you ready to be surprised?
13. ATMs with the cockney dialect
A normal ATM will always ask you in what language you want to be attended, but not all of them offer the cockney dialect. There are five places in London with ATMs that give their customers the choice between English and Cockney. According to Ron Denelvo of Bank Machine Company, approximately between 15 and 20% of customers opt for cockney English when asked.
14. The enigmatic Bodega Negra
You’ll find this Mexican restaurant hidden in a sex shop right between Old Compton Street and Moor Street. The restaurant’s cafeteria is located on Moor Street and is open for lunch.
15. The bridge that curlsg
Rolling Bridge, in Paddington Basin, is the creation of British designer Thomas Heatherwick. During the day it looks like an ordinary bridge, but at noon on Fridays, it rolls up to form an octagon.
16. The longest-standing concert hall
Wilton’s Music Hall is the world’s oldest concert venue. It was founded in 1743 as a brewery for ship captains, but became a music hall in the 1800s. Today it is a listed building, a concert hall and a place where different events are held.
17. The seven noses of Soho
The seven noses of Soho were created by artist Rick Buckley in 1997. Apparently, they originally hid about 35, but only seven (some say 10) survived. A lot of myths have arisen around the noses: many people believe that the nose inside Admiralty Arch was put there to make fun of Napoleon. Another legend says that if you find the seventh nose, you will be “rich forever”.
18. The hidden ears of Covent Garden
The hidden ears of Covent Garden were placed there by the artist Tim Fishlock. There are two in Floral Street, but you can find more in other parts of the city.
19. Let’s melt bells
Whitechapel Bell Foundry is opposite Aldgate East and Whitechapel Gallery. This is the place where the Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were forged and remains a foundry. The staff are very friendly and more than willing to tell their story if you go chat with them.
20. The fountain of cholera
Almost directly behind Oxford Street, in Broadwick Street, you’ll find the water pump of John Snow. A cholera epidemic swept through Soho in 1854, killing 500 people in a few months. John Snow (physicist, not the character of Game of Thrones), discovered that this water pump was the source of the outbreak, so the handle was removed. Then the number of cholera cases dropped and the outbreak ended.
21. A different window
St. Martin’s Window in Trafalgar Square was designed by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary, who was inspired by the way water reflects and changes images. He did this installation in 2008 with the collaboration of architect Pip Horne.
22. The smallest police station in Britain
This small police station is on the east side of Trafalgar Square. It was built in the 1800s and was used by the police to control protests and marches. It is said that the lamp at the top comes from Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory. Today, it is used for storage by the local council.
23. The Windmill Brixton
Brixton Windmill is located in the centre of Blenheim Gardens. Built in 1816, this windmill was used by the Ashby family and ceased production in 1934, after the death of Joshua-John Ashby. It opened to the public in 2011, after the Heritage Lottery Fund received a grant from Lambeth Council for restoration.
24. Clean air on Camley Street
Camley Street Natural Park is an oasis in the heart of King’s Cross. There is a nature reserve, as well as picnic facilities, forests, wild meadows and paths along the side of the canal.
25. Samuel Johnson’s Cat
Little is known about the cat Hodge, only it was poet and essayist Samuel Johnson’s favourite pet, and a statue of it was built in Gough Square. Created in 1997, the statue is at shoulder height. Sculptor Jon Bickley, who moulded Hodge on his own cat, Thomas Henry, said this is so you can put your arm around the animal. Hodge is behind Johnson’s house: a 300-year-old house that has been restored. Gough Square is very quiet; a perfect place to take a sandwich at lunchtime.
26. The naked women
Although Twickenham is most famous for rugby and its riverbank, York House is its hidden treasure. Little is known about the origins of the naked ladies: they are thought to be the eight Oceanids from Greek mythology, and they are carved in white Carrara marble and probably came from Italy in the late nineteenth century. They were taken to York House in 1906 by Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, a high society London.
27. In Search of Space Invaders
28. The pelicans of St James Park
While St James Park is widely known, not many people know about the pelican colony there. They were introduced to the park for the first time in 1664 by a Russian ambassador and recovered in 2013 as a gift from the city of Prague. The pelicans are fed between 2.30 and 3pm each day, although the naughtiest pelicans fly to London Zoo in Regent’s Park to steal fish. They are relatively docile and will happily join you for lunch on a park bench.
29. The literary tombs of Bunhill Fields
Bunhill Fields is a place where nonconformists were buried, so hosts the graves of many writers and radicals like Isaac Watts, William Blake, John Bunyan, George Fox and Daniel Defoe. There is also a monument to Thomas Hardy.
30. The origin of the phone booths
This mausoleum was designed by architect John Soane to be the final resting place for him and his wife at St Pancras Old Church. Years later, Giles Gilbert Scott, the manager of the John Soane Museum, was inspired by this structure to design the red phone booths that are now symbols of London.
Did you know any of these secret places in London? If you have a favorite that is not on this list, let us know in a comment.