Although places like the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Piccadilly Circus are an essential part of any first-time visit to London, there’s more to this great city than these iconic places. Whether it is your first trip to London or your umpteenth, check out some of the more authentic English experiences you can have in the city. Here are five unique things to do in London that will help you make the most out of your time in the city.
Visit Historical Houses and Mansions
In London, the National Trust preserves historical houses and unusual buildings that range from 17th century merchant’s homes to modernist homes.
Both of the previous examples are in Hampstead. Fenton House is a 17th century merchant’s home in Hampstead that regularly run programs for visitors, such as Apple Day in the Autumn and Christmas events in December.
Two Willow Road, is another National Trust house in London that was owned by an influential member of the British modernist architects, Erno Goldfinger. Yes – THAT Goldfinger everyone knows from the James Bond movie is an inside joke. Ian Fleming loathed that Goldfinger had removed some traditional Hampstead cottages to build his modernist house. In response, Fleming named his megalomaniac baddie Goldfinger in the plot of his 1959 book which subsequently was made into a 1964 movie.
English Heritage also conserves old properties in London, such as the former gentleman’s estate Kenwood House in Hampstead and Eltham Palace, a Tudor royal residence in Greenwich.
Spot the London Street Art Scene
To get to know the pulse of a city, you only have to look at its street art. East London is known as the best place to see the work of some of the world’s best street artists. While the art may come and go, the streets surrounding Shoreditch and Hackney are always vibrant and colourful. In North London, visit the streets around Camden Town for some great street art as well.
You can even take part in a walking tour that will let you try your hand at making some street art! As we found out, it’s actually a lot harder to control spray paint than you would think!
Play the Classic Game of Bingo
For many years, bingo was a national pastime throughout the UK (which was a surprise to an American like me where bingo is considered a rainy day activity for school kids). And now like many things made retro cool, bingo is seeing a revival. TimeOut London shares that bingo halls like Dabbers Social Bingo are bringing the activity to a new generation, equipped with a DJ and a bar.
However, there are still many bingo halls in London that have stood the test of time if you want to go old-school. 90-ball bingo is one of the most popular versions of the game in the UK. To the uninitiated on the rules of bingo, progressive jackpots by Foxy Bingo explains that to win 90-ball, a player needs to get a full house in 36 calls or less. Visit one of the many bingo halls across the city, and you will get caught up in the fun and intensity yourself.
Discover Historical Graveyards
The Magnificent Seven is the collective name for the large seven Victorian cemeteries located all around London. Today, the cemeteries are beautifully overgrown and filled with wildlife. They’ve all also got their own story to tell. For example, according to Atlas Obscura, Highgate Cemetery was said to be the site of duelling magicians and ‘mobs of stake-carrying and silver-wielding vampire hunters’.
To be fair, the creepiest thing we saw on our visit to Highgate Cemetery was the giant bust of Karl Marx rising from the ground. Among the other statues you will see are a sleeping lion and lots of sleeping angels (the Victorian funeral art of choice). There’s even an entire section with an Egyptian motif thanks to the craze at the time for all things Egyptian.
Take a Dip in an Outdoor Pool
How much outside of your comfort zone would you go to find unique things to do in London? Check out some of the outdoor pools. Some of the best locations can be found in Hampstead Heath. The Hampstead swimming ponds are popular bathing locations that are open all-year round. I have a friend who swears by the invigorating effect of outdoor swimming in the Hampstead ponds. You have a selection of mixed gender, men only and women only ponds.
I have not been brave enough to try the Hampstead Heath ponds but my husband and children have trained for triathlons in the Parliament Hill Lido also in Hampstead Heath. They wore their wetsuits because the water is unheated.
There are Lidos all around London from Tooting Bec in South London to the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park.
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