Originally published 25 November 2018 | Updated 1 September 2019
London has had a long, dark history. I guess that’s unavoidable in a city as old as London, though. Still, this makes it a pretty ideal dark tourism destination. It is also means there are A LOT of macabre and unusual things to do in London. We set out to see as many of the sites, monuments and other hidden gems associated with London’s dark history as possible.
London is full of creepy activities, but it’s huge. So it was super time consuming, but worth it to compile a list of our favourite scary, weird, and unusual hidden gems in London for dark tourists. Or anyone, really. This list is full of fun and historical places to visit, as well as dark, spooky and non-touristy things to do in London!
Since we know not everyone has time to see all there is to see in London during a short holiday (or in a lifetime, if we’re honest), we wanted to provide a list that showcased some of the best alternative dark tourism spots rather than reiterating the main ones. Sites like the Tower of London, Churchill’s War Rooms, HMS Belfast and St Paul’s Cathedral all fall under the purview of dark tourism – and many of them are unique and different in their own way.
However, all those sites will also come up on nearly any ‘top things to do in London’ list alongside the most iconic London landmarks. So we didn’t want to include them here since this list is all about celebrating the dark AND unusual places to visit in London. Thus, below are our recommendations for those interested in being a dark tourist in the city, or for those merely interested in discovering some hidden gems while exploring the London’s darker history.
If you’re bag of unusual and off the beaten path is a little less macabre and a little more books, then you’ll enjoy this London literary itinerary (say that 10x fast!).
1. GET LOCKED UP IN THE CLINK
Before we break this list down into more specific and helpful categories, why not first start with the perfect place to rest your weird little dark tourist head!
The term ‘clink’ (i.e. ‘lock him up in the clink!’) comes from London. More accurately, it comes from a specific prison in London called ‘The Clink Prison.’ Nowadays, there are several ways you can explore this history.
One great and unique way is to stay at London’s very own Clink Hostel 78. This hostel was converted from an old courthouse with prison cells. A few of the former prison cells are now outfitted with refurbished cell block beds, which you can opt to stay in for the night! You must select this option when booking – it’s not random! In addition to staying the night, visitors may also be able to catch a music gig in the basement. If you’re a musician, you can even arrange to stay for free so long as you play a show. Music is important to the hostel’s history, as this is the courthouse where The Clash were tried.
This place is a hostel, and seeing as they have live shows not always the quietest one, but the vibe is pretty chill, the included breakfast is quite hearty and it just so happens to be down the block from one of my favourite Vietnamese restaurants in London.
Staying here is definitely one of the more unusual things to do in London, but make sure you stay at Clink Hostel 78, NOT 261! They are run by the same people, but the second one is just a building and doesn’t have prison cells. This goes for their location in Amsterdam, as well.
If that doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, check out The Clink Museum (where the actual prison was). But, just beware, it’s quite theatrical and a bit of tourist trap. Still, you can see Medieval torture devices and heads on sticks. Be sure to get a photo of yourself behind bars!
Unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to stay in the old prison cells (they’ve always been booked up!). But I have stayed at the Clink 78 twice, and although I’m not a partier, it definitely had a good vibe. I also lived around the corner from here for awhile and attended a few gigs. Highly recommend!
Sound like your kind of place – prison cell, or not? Then book here!
NOT YOUR THING?
If the Clink just isn’t your cup of tea, we have a few other recommendations for where to stay from budget to high-end!
Monopoly Accommodation is a self-catering hostel (with free breakfast) on the border of the Whitechapel and Spitalfields districts. We had a great stay here. The beds were comfy and the hosts were quite friendly. If you stay in Whitechapel, you’ll be surrounded by dark history from Jack the Ripper to the Kray Twins! The original Bedlam Hospital was even in this neighbourhood. Plus, within 5 minutes is Spitalfields Market, Shoreditch (yay street art!), and Brick Lane! Try to ask for a top floor room as they are by far the best!
The Barmy Badger Backpackers… This place surprised me! Honestly, when we booked this hostel last minute before heading to Morocco, I thought I was going to hate every second. The name just screams party hostel. And maybe it is, but up on the top floor, sleeping on one of the comfiest mattresses I’ve ever lain on, I didn’t hear a thing. I can’t speak for the comfiness of the dorms, but our double bed was immense! Also, their wifi speeds are AMAZING! And there’s two dogs!
The Kensington Prime is a higher-end hotel – okay, maybe mid-range, we’re not rich and London is expensive! The rooms are small but incredibly comfy. Great location if you like the Kensington area and comes with free breakfast! If you want top-end without breaking the bank, we recommend!
Weird and Different Things to do in London: Food & Drink
2. GRAB A DRINK WITH SOME OF LONDON’S GHOSTS
Visiting a pub might not seem like one of the most unusual things to do in London – after all, it’s part of the culture, right? But London pubs are full of history! When so many of them are hundreds of years old, they kind of can’t help it. You can find any type of dark history in London pubs, from bare knuckle fighting and cholera outbreaks to Jack the Ripper and London’s gangster scene. And of course, ghosts!
We had a great time doing our own haunted histories pub crawl of London.
You can find out about all of London’s pubs with killer histories in our post. However, I will talk about my favourite just to whet your appetite.
The Ten Bells on Commercial Street, across from Spitalfields Market, is quite unique as far as British pubs go. Although it has certainly been refurbished since its Jack the Ripper era days, the pub has maintained many of its original fixtures.
It’s also not designed like any other British pub I’ve been in, making it one of the more unusual places to visit in London for a drink. There are a few seats and booths around the edges of the first floor, but most of the area is standing area. Don’t get me wrong, there’s standing area in most pubs, but it does look very distinct inside the Ten Bells.
Just don’t order a diet “coke” here. I made that mistake once, and it was grim. But hey, who goes to a pub to order a soda? Other than me, apparently.
The Ten Bells only
Location: 84 Commercial St, Spitalfields, London E1 6LY
Nearest Tube Station: Aldgate East
Opening Hours: Sunday – Wednesday 12:00 to 00:00; Thursday – Saturday 12:00 to 01:00
Related: Haunted Pubs in Norwich
3. GET CAFFEINATED AMONGST THE DEAD
Alcohol not your thing? We feel you. We’re not actually huge drinkers (contrary to the above suggestion and corresponding post).
Or, maybe drinking is your thing, but you need your coffee fix and you’d prefer it to be somewhere a little creepy?
Either way, London is home to not one, but two crypt cafes!
There is the Cafe in the Crypt at St Martin’s in the Field, just across from the National Portrait Gallery. This crypt is believed to have once been the resting place of over 70,000 bodies. However, it was cleared out in 1859 due to lack of space. Presumably the bodies were moved to other burial grounds, such as the Magnificent Seven cemeteries around the city.
Today it is a pleasant and lively cafe just beneath the church. Don’t be fooled by the giant ‘London’s Hidden Cafe’ sign above, though, cause it’s pretty popular!
By contrast, the Crypt Cafe at Christ Church, Spitalfields is an equally unique place to visit, but nowhere near as busy. At least not in our experience! Enjoy an afternoon tea before exploring the Shoreditch street art scene, or going for a Jack the Ripper walking tour.
You can find out more about their history and opening times towards the bottom of our historic London pubs post (I know, I know).
4. HOXTON STREET MONSTER SUPPLIES
I fell in love with this quirky little shop before ever stepping foot in it. A monster supply shop that sells edible oddities like ‘a vague sense of unease’ (boiled candies and a poem) and werewolf biscuits (clotted cream shortbread)? Yes please!
Everything about the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop and their website is so well thought out and brilliant. From the monster pen pal post office at the shop to the invisible store cat who meows from time to time (Jeremy searched desperately for one to play with until the lovely shopkeeper told us the cat was invisible).
Even little touches on their website, like the fact that a bar at the top informs you it has been “automatically translated for humans.” If you click on the drop down, you’ll find the site can be viewed in mummy, werewolf, vampire bat, and zombie. And I thoroughly recommend you view it in each one.
So whether you need toasted bone chunks, fang floss, zombie mints, or you’re just looking for unusual places to visit in London, the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop is for you!
PS: Due to a rather inconvenient curse, all profits go to the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing and mentoring charity for young humans!
Location: 159 Hoxton St, Hoxton, London N1 6PJ
Nearest Tube Station: Hoxton
Opening Hours: Thursday – Friday 13:00 to 17:00; Saturday 11:00 to 17:00
Spooky and Unique Things to do in London: Parks & Rec
5. SEARCH FOR CREEPY STREET ART
Now, it might come as a bit of a surprise that we’re including street art on here. However, we saw some seriously spooky pieces. Granted, some went up just for Halloween, but others were more permanent fixtures.
Not only is London’s street art scene epic, but many of the more prolific neighbourhoods, such as Shoreditch, Brixton, and Camden are some of the more unique and quirky parts of the city. It’s honestly one of the best free things to do in London, and I’m also impressed how relatively non-touristy it remains. Plus, wandering around looking for street art is just a great way to find some random hidden gems in London.
We always advocate getting out and about to search for some street art, and in London you can’t go wrong. Here are some more of our creepy faves!
Related: The Perfect London Street Art Tour
6. INDULGE IN A DARK TOURISM THEMED WALKING TOUR
I think it’s pretty well established by now that we’re big fans of walking tours! No? Well, you must be new here; you’ll soon learn!
If you’re on the fence about walking tours, London is a great place to give them a go due to the sheer number (and therefore competition to be good). Because there are so many uniquely themed tours, finding new ones is easily one of my favourite unusual things to do in London. The tours available range from Harry Potter sites to food tours to street art to all manner of the macabre.
If you’re looking at this list, I can only assume that you’re at least mildly interested in that last category. In which case, here are a few darker themed London walking tours we recommend.
7. HAVE A PICNIC AND REFLECT AT ST. DUNSTAN’S-IN-THE-EAST
Poor St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East. This church was nearly destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666. It took over 150 years before it was rebuilt and reopened. Then, tragically, the church was once again destroyed during the Blitz bombings in WWII. This time around, the city decided against rebuilding. Now it stands as a testament to what the city suffered through.
Still, it’s awfully pretty, if not hauntingly so. Although visitors can see straight through the now hollowed out church, its skeletal remains are shrouded in foliage, truly showing there can be beauty from destruction. Nowadays it’s a popular spot for businessmen and women on their lunch breaks. Families often picnic here.
But few realise that St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East has an even darker history. Like most old churches in London, St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East donated land for burials during the plague. As such, it is a plague pit. Hopefully that doesn’t ruin your sandwich next time you’re there!
And if it does, you really shouldn’t even be in London. Because pretty much anywhere you go in the city, you’re probably standing on a dead body.
Location: St Dunstan’s Hill, London EC3R 5DD
Nearest Tube Station: Monument OR Tower Hill
Opening Hours: Everyday 08:00 to 19:00 or dusk (whichever comes first); open every day except Christmas (Dec 25), Boxing Day (Dec 26) and New Years (Jan 1).
8. SPEND AN AFTERNOON WITH HEROES AT POSTMAN’S PARK
Just behind St Bart’s and around the corner from St Paul’s Cathedral lies a small, inconspicuous little park. Its name is Postman’s Park. You may have even passed by it without realising just how special this green space is.
If you’re looking for relaxing and non-touristy things to do in London for the macabre tourist, you can’t go wrong with a stroll through Postman’s Park. It is one of the remaining hidden gems in London.
The park was initially opened in 1880, and in 1900 painter George Frederic Watts erected the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice installation. Watts created the memorial to honour the everyday men and women who died saving the lives of others. There are 62 memorials in total, and it is reported that Watt’s wife said each one took months, sometimes years for her husband to research.
It has been theorised by some that the earliest documented memorial plaque, that of Sarah Smith who died in 1863, might have been friends with the Watts family.
Sarah’s plaque reads:
“Sarah Smith | Pantomime Artist
At Princess Theatre
Died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion.
January 24 1863”
The youngest listed is that of eight year old Henry Bristow who, similarly, died by ripping off the flaming clothing of his little sister, but himself caught fire.
You can find out even more about Sarah and Henry, as well as all of the heroes memorialised at Postman’s Park in this book.
If the park looks familiar, that’s because it’s featured in the 2004 Natalie Portman film, Closer.
Location: King Edward Street London EC1A 7BT
Nearest Tube Station: St Paul’s
Opening Hours: Everyday 08:00 to 19:00 or dusk (whichever comes first); open every day except Christmas (Dec 25), Boxing Day (Dec 26) and New Years (Jan 1).
9. GET IN A DEBATE AT THE TYBURN TREE & SPEAKER’S CORNER
This really is for those invested in dark tourism sites. Not because it’s full of severed heads or horrific paintings, but because it will only mean something to hardcore dark tourists since today little remains. The histories of the Tyburn tree and Speaker’s Corner, however, are quite gruesome.
Tyburn used to be a village in Middlesex, near present-day Marble Arch in London. For most of its history, Tyburn was the execution capital of London, even earning the nickname ‘God’s Tribunal’ during the 18th century.
Prior to being executed, prisoners were driven on horse and cart from Newgate Prison, down Oxford road to Speaker’s Corner. Here, they were permitted to say any last words, before being loaded back onto the cart and taken to the Tyburn Tree.
The eponymous Tyburn ‘tree’ was of course not a tree, but a gallows where prisoners were publicly hung. Spectator numbers were often as high as 20,000. The site was in operation for over 650 years. Although it is impossible to know the exact number as many of the deaths were not recorded, the figure is certainly quite high. 105 Catholics died between 1535-1681; and during the 1570s, 704 felon executions were recorded. Oliver Cromwell’s remains were also posthumously executed at Tyburn. On 3 November 1783, the Tyburn tree witnessed its final execution.
Public debates and protests often still occur at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. If nothing is going on, visitors can still read about the corner’s history. The Tyburn Tree is commemorated by a plaque and three trees on the floor of a traffic island.
Location: The Tyburn Tree plaque is located at the junction of today’s Edgware Road, Bayswater Road and Oxford Street; Speaker’s Corner is Located across the street in Hyde Park; There is a plaque to the Catholic Martyrs executed at Tyburn around the corner at 8 Hyde Park Place.
Nearest Tube Station: Marble Arch
Opening Hours: 24 Hours
Scary and Unusual Places to Visit in London: Graveyards & Tombstones
10. GET LOST WANDERING AROUND THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Call me weird, but I’ve always loved cemeteries. I find them quite humbling. And they are certainly one of the more macabre non-touristy things to do in London.
In case you’re unaware, there are a lot of dead people buried under London. For hundreds of years, the dead were buried in small parish churchyards outside of the city. These parishes quickly became overcrowded, leading to numerous health crises. Most notably, rotting remains polluted the water supply and caused outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. However, the government refused to allocate funding towards the construction of private cemeteries. Until, that is, Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery (built in 1804) galvanised the British to request a vote on burial reform. In 1832, London’s first privately owned cemetery, Kensal Green, was built.
Over the next nine years, six more urban cemeteries were built around London. Together, these became the Magnificent Seven.
To be honest, unless you have a significant amount of time in London, you’re unlikely to have time to see all seven. If you do have time, each has its own vibe and architecture – they were, after all, designed by famous architects of the age.
If you can only pick one, I would be cliche and pick Highgate as it is the most famous, most atmospheric and most uniquely designed. And, while they all have numerous famous people buried within, Highgate cemetery arguably has the most well known famous people (such as Douglas Adams’ ashes, George Michael and Karl Marx). And it’s next to Waterlow Park, which is beautiful!
Location: Swain’s Lane, Highgate, London N6 6PJ
Nearest Tube Station: Archway OR Highgate
Opening Hours: Daily: 10am to 5pm (March to October); 10am to 4pm (November to February)
Cost: Highgate east cemetery costs £4 and includes a map (or £8 for a guided tour). The west section is only accessible through a guided tour, which also includes entrance to the east cemetery and a map. For more information on dates and times, or to book a spot, check out their website.
11. CROSS BONES GARDEN
If you truly want to see a less touristed side of London, while still being in the heart of the city, head to the Cross Bones Garden. At least, in my experience, there is almost never anyone here. And that is a damn shame, because this memorial park is really beautiful and peaceful, easily one of the best hidden gems in London!
The Cross Bones graveyard was originally established as a graveyard for some of London’s poorest residents in one of its most horrific slums; Southwark. The graveyard dates back to at least 1598, as indicated by the oldest excavated tombstone. At the time, the Southwark district was rampant with poverty, prostitution and violent crime.
Although little is known about the origins of the gravesite (including its exact inception date), it is believed that the Crossbones graveyard was originally established as a makeshift gravesite (i.e. dumping ground) for the “Winchester Geese.”
The Winchester Geese were the local Southward prostitutes, called such as they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Liberty of the Clink. The Liberty of the Clink was an area of London that lies outside of the City of London’s jurisdiction. As such, it was not held to the same laws, and many illicit activities illegal elsewhere with London were legal in the Liberty of the Clink district, such as bear baiting.
However, whether or not it started as a gravesite for only the Winchester Geese, by 1769, it was used by the whole district as a burial site for the poorest among them.
In 1992, the Museum of London Archaeology Service unearthed 148 graves on the site. It was discovered that more than a third of the skeletal remains were perinatal or less than a year old.
Now the graveyard is a peaceful memorial garden, and one of my favourite unusual places to visit in London.
Location: Union Street, London SE1 1SD
Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge OR Borough
Opening Hours: Honestly, it’s impossible to find exact opening times, mostly because it’s down to volunteer availability. I think the only time it seems to be “guaranteed” to be open is Wednesday – Friday 12:00 to 14:00. But I’m pretty sure I’ve been there outside of these times – you can also still see in and appreciate the knotted gate from the outside, regardless.
Cost: Free! (Donations welcome)
12. TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN LONDON GIRL
In 1995, while excavating the land that would soon become 30 St Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin), archeologists made an unusual discovery: a skeleton.
It was concluded that it belonged to a young girl, between 13 to 17 years of age. Thanks in part to pottery that was also discovered near her body, they were able to date her body back to Roman times, and guessed she died between 350 and 400AD.
The skeletal remains were kept safe throughout the construction of the Gherkin in a makeshift tomb. But when the building was complete, she was given a permanent burial site within the foundation of 30 St Mary Axe.
Supposedly, the grave has actually been moved once more to be slightly closer to where she was initially found. Nevertheless, if visiting the Gherkin, you can see the inscription where she is buried. It reads in both Latin and English:
To the spirits of the dead
the unknown young girl
from Roman London
lies buried here
Location: 30 St Mary Axe, London EC3A 8BF
Nearest Tube Station: Aldgate
Opening Hours: 24/7
Even more bodies!
The unknown London/Roman girl is not the only Roman body to be excavated from beneath the city. As more and more is built – or rebuilt – archaeologists keep discovering hidden remains.
In the 1990s, excavations at Spitalfields Market unearthed a rather large section of a Roman cemetery, including a mostly intact sarcophagus of a woman. This cemetery would have sat just outside of Londinium, a Roman settlement established in 43AD, which is now the City of London.
Even more recently, in 2006, a Roman man in a sarcophagus was discovered during an archeological dig of St Martin’s in the Field (yes, the one with a Crypt Cafe from #2).
The man discovered at St Martin’s in the Field was actually initially believed to only be a couple hundred years old. However, rigorous analysis and carbon dating indicated he was in fact Roman, and is now thought to have died sometime between 390 and 430AD. He is often referred to as “London’s Last Roman.”
If you’re looking for more unique things to do in London, the Spitalfields woman and London’s last Roman are on display at the Museum of London.
Location: 150 London Wall, Barbican, London EC2Y 5HN
Nearest Tube Station: St Pauls OR Barbican
Opening Hours: Daily from 10:00 to 18:00
13. THE HARDY TREE
So this is definitely one for those seeking out weird and unusual places to visit in London.
When the Midland Grand Railway announced their plans to turn St Pancras into a great train station, they quickly discovered a bit of a wrinkle in their plan. See, at the time, the main reason anyone came to the area was the St Pancras Church and Cemetery. The owner of the railway did not like the idea that his passengers would alight the train only to be greeted by the dead.
At the time, the cemetery held over 88,000 bodies. To add to the issue, the St Pancras Cemetery was also rife with grave robbery and bodysnatchers. It was kind of the main site in the city for it in the first half of the 19th century. Charles Dickens even has one of his characters, Jerry Cruncher, bring his son to the cemetery for a bit of “fishing” in A Tale of Two Cities. (Just so we’re on the same page, “fishing” is 100% body snatching)
Architect Arthur Blomfield was hired to fix the problem. However, Blomfield didn’t really care to do it himself. Instead he assigned his assistant, Thomas Hardy, to come up with a solution.
Most of the gravestones were dismantled, and sadly many of the former occupants were moved into a mass grave (I’m not really sure where). Although this was not the fate of all the residents. One notable resident in particular, Mary Wollstonecraft, was initially buried at St Pancras Churchyard. Although her tombstone remains, her body was moved to the family burial plot in Bournemouth.
Following the removal of most of the bodies and graves, Hardy did wind up keeping a few. These were all piled together in a corner of the churchyard, and a tree was planted in the middle. It was meant to be a constantly evolving monument.
Today that tree is known as The Hardy Tree. It still sits in the cemetery of St Pancras Old Church and it is one of the best hidden gems in London!
Location: St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Rd, London NW1 1UL
Nearest Tube Station: Kings Cross & St Pancras OR Mornington Crescent
Opening Hours: Can’t find exact times, but I think the cemetery might always be open. To be safe, maybe stop in between 10:00 to 17:00.
14. GIRO THE “NAZI” DOG’S TOMBSTONE
One of the most unusual places to visit in London – if you can manage to find it – is the gravestone of a dog named Giro. Giro belonged to the German ambassador the Britian, Leopold von Hoesch. Hoesch and Giro moved to London in 1932.
Sadly, after only two years in his new home, Giro chewed through a cable in the garden and died by electrocution.
Heartbroken, Hoesch had a full gravestone made for his beloved dog, whom he buried in the backyard.
The inscription on the gravestone reads:
EIN TREUER BEGLEITER! (A faithful companion!)
LONDON IM FEBRUAR 1934.
The gravestone no longer rests in its original spot as this was dug up for additional parking. It is believed that a member of the construction crew saved the tombstone as he was unable to see it be destroyed and placed it where it lies today – just outside of Hoesch’s old London home.
Although he is referred to as Giro the Nazi dog, this is an inaccurate and unfortunate misnomer. Hoesch, who was a representative of the Weimar Republic, would have switched to belonging to the Nazi party (the ruling party) by default when they took over. However, it seems unlikely he actually shared the beliefs of the Third Reich. In fact, although he was well loved in Britain, not a single member of the Nazi party attended his funeral in Germany when he died soon after Giro in 1936.
Also, as far as we know, dogs don’t have political ideologies.
If you want something truly unique to do in London, come pay your respects to Giro, a faithful companion.
Location: 9 Carlton House Terrace St. James’s, London SW1Y 5AJ – nearby in a small, walled off garden area
Nearest Tube Station: Charing Cross
Opening Hours: 24/7
Dark and Different Things to do in London: Monuments & Memorials
15. SEE WHERE THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON STARTED – AND ENDED
The great fire of London raged for only 5 days (Sep 2, 1666 – Sep 5, 1666), but it devastated the city, destroying the homes of 70,000 of London’s 80,000 residents. Although the official death count is only six, it is believed to be much higher. There are two main reasons for this: (1) Losses amongst the poor and middle class probably went unrecorded; and (2) The fire likely incinerated many people, leaving behind no bodies to count.
However, the fire was also thought to be a blessing in disguise, as it is believed to have eradicated the plague. Although this fact is disputed.
Regardless, it is irrefutable that the great fire of London was horrific. For those interested in this aspect of the city’s history, there are three sites to visit.
Two are right next to each other: Monument and Pudding Lane. The fire is believed to have started in a bakery on pudding lane. Those inclined, can buy a pastry in a shop and eat it beneath the Pudding Lane sign and Fire of London plaque. Across from Pudding Lane is ‘the monument’ which commemorates everything lost during the fire. You may be wondering why the monument is not at the incendiary site. Due to building restrictions, this was not possible. However if laid on its side, the monument reaches to the exact spot on Pudding Lane.
The views from the top are some of the best views in London, but there’s typically a long line to get in. And we don’t really do lines.
The third stop associated with the great fire is a home on Cloth Fair across from St Bartholomew’s church, another one of London’s hidden gems. The Cloth Fair home is not an official site, but one can see the exact spot the fire stopped at due to the dramatic shift in architecture. It is someone’s house, so please be respectful.
PS: the site where the fire ended is much more off the beaten path!
Location: Started: Fish St Hill, London EC3R 8AH // Ended: Cloth Fair
Nearest Tube Station: Monument // Barbican
Opening Hours: The Monument is open everyday 09:30 to 17:30, closed December 24 – 26 // 24/7
Cost: Adult tickets are £5.00, Child tickets are £2.50 // Free!
16. WILLIAM WALLACE MEMORIAL
I’m sure you’ve heard of William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter. Yeah, the one Mel Gibson portrays in Braveheart.
Well, what you might not remember – or realise – is that he was actually executed in London, and visiting his grave is one of the more unusual things to do in London.
Scotland and England – despite currently being part of the same United Kingdom – have a rather contentious history. And it goes back hundreds – if not thousands – of years (we recommend you watch this amusing video about it).
The earlier years of William Wallace’s life had seen peace under King Alexander III. However, he died in 1286 after falling off of a horse, leading England to once again gain control of Scotland.
Wallace, like many Scots, joined the army to fight for Scotland’s independence. In May 1297, he participated in the assassination of the Sheriff of Lanark, William de Heselrig. This, and several other similar incidents were considered to be the beginning of the Scottish uprisings.
On 11 September 1297, William Wallace and Drew Moray led a small army into battle against the English at Stirling Bridge. The Battle of Stirling Bridge saw the first real victory for Scotland, despite being heavily outnumbered.
Upon returning home, both were awarded the title of Guardians of the Kingdom of Scotland on behalf of King John Balliol. Sadly Moray died not long after from wounds sustained during the battle.
Wallace continued to successfully fight off the English until 5 August 1305 when he was turned over by John de Menteith. Although Menteith was Scottish, he way loyal to King Edward I.
Back in London, Wallace was put on trial for treason. To the charge he is quoted as saying, “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.”
Not surprisingly, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was stripped naked, tied to the back a horse and dragged through the city to Smithfield (see #34). There he was hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was preserved by dipping it in tar and placed on a spike on top of London Bridge. He would later be joined by the heads of fellow Scotsmen, brothers John and Simon Fraser.
His limbs were also publicly displayed, as a warning to others, in Berwick, Newcastle, Perth and Stirling.
On 8 April 1956, a plaque was unveiled at the spot he was executed. Most of it is in English, but the end reads: In Latin: Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum nunqual servili sub nexu vivito fili (I tell you the truth. Freedom is what is best. Sons, never live life like slaves); and in Scottish Gaelic: Bas Agus Buaidh (Death and Victory), which is an old Scottish battle cry.
Location: West Smithfield, London EC1A 7AQ
Nearest Tube Station: Barbican or Farringdon
Opening Hours: 24/7
17. VIOLETTE SZABO & S.O.E. MONUMENT
In Lambeth between the Imperial War Museum and MI6 Headquarters is a memorial plinth dedicated to the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) agents of WWII.
The S.O.E. was formed on 22 July 1940. Agents were recruited to perform espionage and commit acts of sabotage in occupied countries. There were approximately 13,000 active agents throughout the war. However, 117 of them never made it home. This monument is dedicated to them.
The memorial is topped with a bronze head of a woman. Her name is Violette Szabo.
Violette was French on her mother’s side, British on her father’s. Although it is unclear why she opted to join the S.O.E., she believed in what they were doing.
Her first mission was to ascertain Germany bombing targets, which was successful. Sadly, on her second mission to sabotage German communication during the Normany landings, she was captured. Violette was interrogated and tortured and ultimately sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp in Germany. There she was executed on or before 5 February 1945. She was only 23 years old.
On 17 December 1946, she became the second woman to be awarded the George Cross, albeit posthumously.
Location: 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7LB
Nearest Tube Station: Lambeth North
Opening Hours: 24/7
18. BATTLE OF CABLE STREET MONUMENT & MURAL
Oswald Mosley and approximately 3,000 members of the British Union of Fascists (also called Blackshirts) fully intended to march through the streets of East London in full uniform on 4 October 1936.
Instead, over 20,000 anti-fascist protestors showed up on Cable Street to block the protestors.
The Blackshirts had specifically chosen East London due to its large population of Jewish residents. And knowing that because of this the march was likely to result in violence, over 100,000 residents of East London had petitioned for a ban from then Home Secretary John Simon. He denied the request and instead sent a police escort. During the march, between 6,000 – 7,000 police, many of whom were mounted, were installed to ensure the march was allowed.
The anti-fascist protestors set up road blocks and hurled insults, rotten food, and the contents of their chamber pots at the Blackshirts and police as they passed by.
After several confrontations, Mosley finally agreed to call off the march.
Although no one was killed, around 175 people from both sides were injured. 150 protestors were arrested, while many more managed to escape with the help of other demonstrators. Many of those arrested reported harsh and unfair treatment by the police.
The Battle of Cable Street remains an important moment in British politics and history. It is also frequently referenced, such as in Terry Pratchett’s novel Night Watch, which features a battle on a fictionalised Cable Street with Ankh-Morpork’s secret police.
Today, there is a small red commemorative plaque on the corner of Dock Street and Cable Street, and a rather intricate mural on St George’s Town Hall.
Location: Plaque: Corner of Dock Street & Cable Street // Mural: St George’s Town Hall, Shadwell, E1 0DR
Nearest Tube Station: Aldgate East OR Shadwell // Shadwell
Opening Hours: 24/7
19. PARK STREET PLAQUE
“An international incident happened here,” an unusual and unobtrusive plaque on Park Street proclaims. If you weren’t looking out for it, you might miss it. We saw it by chance, because we read all the random history plaques in London. And we’re so glad we did because learning about this plaque was one of the most unique things we did in London.
So what is the international incident?
In 1850, Julius Jacob von Haynau, a cruel and ruthless Austrian general, who had garnered the nickname “the Austrian Butcher” (among several others, such as General Hyena), was on holiday in London.
While there, he popped over to Bankside for a drink at the Anchor bar. Due to his reputation and very recognisable facial hair someone recognised him. After signing the bar’s visitor book, he was confirmed to be the butcher. A few of the bar’s patrons began to heckle him, and he realised it was time to run. As he fled, several people followed him, and more joined along the way. Eventually he was chased down and attacked in the middle of the street.
Most of the mob hit or kicked him, ripping at his clothes. Someone threw scissors at him, apparently in an attempt to cut of his mustache. While still others threw dirt, rocks and manure.
He did manage to escape, and hid in a nearby house until police arrived to escort him away. The next day he left for Austria, and the incident is said to have embittered the relationship between Britain and Austria for several years.
Location: Park Street, SE1 9EA
Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge
Opening Hours: 24/7
20. THE ANIMALS IN WAR MEMORIAL
This monument… Just all the feels.
I mean, if you don’t care about animals you won’t get much out of it. And also fuck you very much. But if you do love animals – as everyone should – you may find yourself getting a bit emotional.
The Animals in War Memorial was unveiled in 2004, and is in honour of all the animals who fought and died in wars throughout British history.
The monument depicts various animals that have been used in war such as horses, elephants, donkeys, even birds. One harrowing section even portrays an elephant stepping on the back of an exhausted dog.
As the memorial itself reads: They had no choice.
Truly, I loved this really unique, moving monument and think if you’re looking for dark or meaningful non-touristy things to do in London, this one shouldn’t be missed. The memorial is right next to Hyde Park, so you’d think it got more foot traffic. But no, it somehow remains one of the best hidden gems in London.
Location: Brook Gate, London W1K 7QF
Nearest Tube Station: Marble Arch
Opening Hours: 24/7
21. THE OLD BALTIC EXCHANGE MEMORIAL GLASS
On 10 April 1992, as Londoners went about their everyday lives—
A white vehicle filled with a one-tonne bomb, wired to fertiliser and 100lbs of SEMTEX (a plastic explosive) detonated just outside of the Baltic Exchange building at 21:20. Responsibility for the bombing was claimed the next day by the Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army).
Sadly, the blast killed three people: Paul Butt, 29; Thomas Casey, 49; and Danielle Carter, 15; and a further 91 people were injured. It was the worst attack on British Mainland since WWII.
The Baltic Exchange building, a historic landmark, was also badly damaged. Amazingly, the stained glass memorial that was installed inside the building in 1922 survived.
The stained glass was designed by English artist John Dudley Forsyth to honour those members of the organisation that lost their lives during WWI. The memorial is made up of five separate pieces each depicting the personification of the five virtues: Truth, Hope, Justice, Fortitude and Faith, as well as a dome with “Victory.” It had hung above a staircase at the exchange since 1922.
Following some restoration after the bombing, the stained glass was brought to the National Maritime Museum, where it remains today.
The National Maritime Museum is also just generally worth seeing as it has some fascinating exhibits and collections and is one of the more non-touristy things to do in London. My absolute favourite part is the ‘Polar Worlds’ exhibition. FYI: giant Antarctic sea spiders look like facehuggers – you’ve been warned!
That having been said, there are also some incredibly problematic parts of the National Maritime Museum, as well. For example, in the permanent collection that details the British (and the rest of Europe) conquering North America, one plaque actually suggests that the Native Americans enjoyed the British invasion. C’mon people!
In case you’re wondering what happened to the spot the Baltic Exchange was built on, in 1995 it was excavated; a tomb was found (see #11), and the Gherkin – now one of London’s most unique and iconic buildings – was built.
Location: Park Row, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10 9NF
Nearest Tube Station: Greenwich (DLR)
Opening Hours: Everyday 10:00 to 17:00
Cost: Free! (Special exhibits often cost money, check their website for what’s on).
22. BETHNAL GREEN STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN MEMORIAL
I bet if someone asked you where the worst civilian disaster of WWII happened, you wouldn’t guess Bethnal Green, London. You probably wouldn’t even guess London.
But on 3 March 1943, Bethnal Green saw the worst civilian disaster of WWII.
As hundreds descended the stairs into the Bethnal Green tube station to wait out an air raid, a woman with a child slipped, nearly at the bottom of the wet stairs. She toppled over, and before she could right herself in the dark, more and more people began to trip over, as well.
Just outside of the tube station, the unfamiliar sound of a new anti-aircraft rocket batter firing nearby, sent many outside of the shelter into a frenzy. As people tried to clamber in in a panic, nearly 300 people wound up piled on top of each other inside the stairwell which measured around 4.5 metres by 3.4 metres (15 ft by 11 ft).
It took over 3 hours for rescue services to finish pulling everyone out. In total, 173 people had died: 84 women, 62 children and 27 men. Over 100 more were injured.
The disaster went unpublicised until after the war as the UK government believed it could feed into propaganda for the Axis powers.
However, it wasn’t until 2017, 43 years later, when the Bethnal Green Stairway to Heaven Memorial was erected to honor those who lost their lives. Since Bethnal Green rarely gets the love it deserves, this is one of many London hidden gems in the area.
Location: Unnamed Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9QX (just outside of the Bethnal Green Underground Station)
Nearest Tube Station: Bethnal Green Underground (NOT overground)
Opening Hours: 24/7
Cost: Free! (However, upkeep fees are much appreciated. You can donate here.)
Related: Things to do in Coventry
Creepy and Quirky Things to do in London: Marvel at Dead Things in Jars
I know it’s super weird, but I’m absolutely fascinated by dead things in jars. Or just generally by the refuse of our bodies. I vividly remember the first time I saw preserved kidney stones. Having, luckily, never suffered from kidney stones (or gallstones), I honestly didn’t understand just what they were. But seeing a collection of literal stones – sharp, porous stones – really crystallized the image for me. It also made me terrified to ever get them!
So, being the creep I am, I appreciate the sheer number of unusual places to visit in London that enable one to walk among preserved body parts and specimens. Definitely dark tourism at its ickiest.
Unfortunately, Jeremy is less keen – as you’ll read about in #27. However, I did convince him to catch a talk on Death Masks at Bart’s Pathology Museum (#23).
Please be aware that it is illegal to take close up photos of human remains in the UK due to the Human Tissue Authority guidelines!
23. HAVE A CHAT WITH JEREMY BENTHAM
Jermey Bentham was an English philosopher considered to be the founder of modern utilitarianism. Upon his death, he requested that his body be dissected and then preserved as an auto-icon. His hope was that his friends could wheel him out for social events whenever they missed him!
Since his death, his body has been kept on display at University College London (UCL). While most of the body on display is Jeremy Bentham’s original one (albeit embalmed), his head is not. Unfortunately, during the early years of being on display, his head was stolen by UCL students multiple times. It was permanently damaged during a “football” match after being ‘kidnapped’ by students from a rival school.
Today, his head is made of wax and he is kept behind glass for his own protection. His original head, which used to sit at his feet, was removed for further testing. It is believed that Bentham may have suffered from autism or aspergers and that his brain may lead to further discoveries that will help those on the spectrum.
Stopping by for a chat with Jeremy Bentham is one of the more unique and unusual things to do in London. Luckily, he is always up for a discussion on philosophy or politics. He may not contribute much, though!
Be warned, it is a bit difficult to find the auto-icon. We wandered around the campus and asked multiple amused students before finally finding it tucked away and the end of a hallway.
Location: South Cloisters, University College London, Gower St, Kings Cross, London WC1E 6BT (might have to ask for specific directions from students or staff)
Nearest Tube Station: Euston Square
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 09:00 to 18:00
24. CATCH AN EVENT AT BART’S PATHOLOGY MUSEUM
Bart’s Pathology Museum is part of Queen Mary University, and is located in St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
Although Bart’s isn’t public, you can book to see a talk, and you can view the museum’s specimens prior. Bart’s typically puts on different talks throughout the year. Typically you can check out the current offerings here, but annoyingly I’ve noticed this hasn’t been updated in a while. I have searched for a more up-to-date site, but sadly cannot find one. Instead, if interested, you’ll have to google Bart’s Pathology Museum events and something typically hosted on EventBrite or another ticketing site pops up.
Location: St Bartholomew’s Hospital, 24 W Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE
Nearest Tube Station: Barbican OR St Paul’s
Opening Hours: Depends on event
Cost: Depends on event
25. LEARN WHAT A QUAGGA IS AT THE GRANT ZOOLOGY MUSEUM
UCL’s Grant Zoology Museum is part of UCL. It is a relatively small museum, but still one of the best free museums in London! Most of the specimens are kept within one, rather large, room. What makes it special is that unlike the others, the Grant Zoology Museum is for animal remains, rather than people. In fact, it is somewhat renowned for its jar of moles and Quagga skeletons.
Location: Rockefeller Building, University College London, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE
Nearest Tube Station: Euston Square
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 13:00–17:00
Cost: Free! You can even take a free tour, just book ahead of time here.
26. EXPLORE YOUR INNER WEIRDO AT BODY WORLDS
How are people put together? If you’ve always wanted to know, but don’t actually want to cut anyone open (which is good, keep NOT doing that!), then this is the exhibit for you!
Okay, so this one is cheating a bit. It’s not really a hidden gem in London, but it is super unique and weird. And creepy! So it stays because while not off the beaten track, it is certainly one of the more unusual things to do in London regardless. And despite being in the centre of Piccadilly Circus people still don’t know about it!
Body Works is an expensive, but awesome exhibit that looks at the inside of the human body. There are several exhibits worldwide if you can’t make it to – or afford – the London one.
Location: 1 Piccadilly Circus, London W1J 0DA
Nearest Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus
Opening Hours: 365 days a year from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm; London Lates (last Friday of the Month): 10 am-10 pm
Cost: Tickets start at £22.50 for adults (16+), £20 for students or 65+, or £16 for ages 6-15. It is free for kids under 5, but anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. I recommend you buy them in advance. However, you can typically get them at the door or the day for a few £’s more.
27. EMBRACE YOUR WANNABE SURGEON AT THE HUNTERIAN MUSEUM – TEMPORARILY CLOSED
The Hunterian Museum is sadly closed for renovation until late 2021. But it’s one of my favorite medical museums in London for the sheer number of specimens it has. I know, I know, I’m a creeper!
Location: 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
Nearest Tube Station: Holborn
Opening Hours: Closed for renovations until late 2020
Cost: Likely free, but won’t know until it reopens.
Unique and Unusual Things to do in London: Even More Medical Tourism
28. BE REGALED WITH HORRIFIC MEDICAL TALES AT THE OLD OPERATING THEATRE
The Old Operating Theatre in London is Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre. The operating theatre is closely linked to St Thomas’s Church. This is because initially, all public hospitals were associated with churches. Because of this, during the dissolution of the churches under King Henry VIII, the country’s churches and hospitals were shut down, significantly endangering the poor. Although the current building was built between 1698 and 1702, there has been both a church and a hospital on the site since medieval times.
The garret it is located in was closed and forgotten about due to the opening of a new railway line in 1850, and the hospital was moved further south. It wasn’t until 1956 when organologist Raymond Russell was researching the history of the church and discovered that a part of it was ‘missing.’ He was able to get permission to open up the loft – where the operating theatre was once housed – and was met with a monstrous stench. The blood and chemicals that had leaked into the wooden floorboards during the hospital’s operational years, had been preserved within the room during the years it was sealed off.
Jeremy is convinced this is what made him dizzy during our visit to the Old Operating Theatre. However, he refused going forward to see any more body parts in jars since he was hovering over some when his dizziness kicked in.
In any event, it’s still one of my favourite unusual things to do in London. And any fellow curious traveller or dark tourist can attend a few talks at the theatre during the weekends in order to learn about about some of the more gruesome details of its history. Turns out historical medical practices were pretty unpleasant and extremely dangerous!
Location: 9a St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY
Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge
Opening Hours: Monday: 14:00 to 17:00; Tuesday – Sunday: 10:30 to 17:00
Cost: Adult tickets are £6.50; Under 18s are £3.50
29. USE A FREUDIAN SLIP AT THE FREUD MUSEUM
The Freud Museum was actually the first London medical museum I ever visited, so it holds a special place in my heart. But even if you don’t like gross medical stuff like I do, I promise this museum doesn’t have much of it and is just generally one of the best unusual things to do in London.
As a psychology enthusiast, I’ve always been a bit of a Freud fangirl. Okay, so his theories are a tad outrageous, but who doesn’t idolise the founder of psychoanalysis? Just me? Yeah, that’s fair. But whether you love him, hate him, or have absolutely no idea who he is, you’ll definitely walk away from this museum have learned something new about Freud and/or psychology.
This small museum packs a punch and is one of my favourite hidden gems in London. Make sure to check out the special exhibits and events as there’s normally something interesting going on!
Location: 20 Maresfield Gardens Hampstead London NW3 5SX
Nearest Tube Station: Finchley Road
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Monday 12:00 to 17:00 (I believe it is only open on Mondays during the summer months)
Cost: Adult tickets are £9.00; Concessions are £7.00, 12-16 (£5.00) and Under 12’s are free
30. KNOCK YOURSELF OUT AT THE ANESTHESIA HERITAGE CENTRE
Okay, so you can’t actually knock yourself or anyone else out at the Anesthesia Heritage Centre. Sorry!
But if you find medical history fascinating, like we clearly do (particularly me), then you won’t want to miss on one of the most unusual places to visit in London.
The museum chronicles the history of anaesthesia, resuscitation and pain relief. My favourite part of the collection are the old inhalers, which seem to essentially be sponges in glass jars doused in soothing ointments.
My, how far we’ve come!
Location: 21 Portland Place, London, W1B 1PY
Nearest Tube Station: Regent’s Park OR Oxford Circus
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 10.00 to 16.00 (I will say, though, the museum doesn’t seem to always be open when it should be. So check the website ahead of time, and possibly even call.)
31. BE THANKFUL FOR YOUR DENTIST AT THE BDA DENTAL MUSEUM
We thoroughly enjoyed this tiny little museum. And as one of the more offbeat hidden gems in London, it’s unlikely you’ll have to fight to view.
The BDA Dental Museum is tucked away in the back of the library of the British Dental Association building. It is incredibly small, but packs a punch (as small things often do)! It’s incredibly informative and even has interactive elements – like practicing pulling teeth (not on yourselves)!
I’m weird, and I find teeth fascinating. Perhaps in another life I would have been a dentist. And the stereotype about British teeth – well, let’s just say it’s there for a reason. So it was particularly interesting to read about the history of dental care in a country that is, frankly, still kind of lacking in it.
Loved this super unique museum, though! Definitely one of the best quirky things to do in London for museum lovers and fellow weirdos.
Location: 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS
Nearest Tube Station: Regent’s Park OR Oxford Circus
Opening Hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays 13:00-16:00
32. LEARN WHAT MAKES US TICK AT THE BETHLEM MUSEUM OF THE MIND
Previously a priory, the Bethlem hospital once stood where what is today the London Liverpool Street Station. A plaque on the station’s (I believe) east side indicates that it was formerly the site of the infamous mental asylum. It was located in the parish of St Botolph, just outside of the London wall.
Aside from several changes in location, Bethlem Royal Hospital is Europe’s longest surviving psychiatric hospital. And certainly its most infamous. Yet it is unknown when exactly it transitioned to a psychiatric hospital. The building has been in operation for more than 750 years, while it is believed to have been a psychiatric hospital for at least 600 years.
Fun Fact: the word “bedlam,” meaning uproar and confusion, comes from the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which was nicknamed Bedlam. Although initially not intended to be a psychiatric hospital, Bethlem became synonymous with the horrific patient mistreatment we often associate with mental asylums. This is due largely in part to it being the most well known of its kind during the era of Lunacy reform in the UK. Bedlam is also used as a premise in many films, novels and TV shows. My favorite is the Boris Karloff classic, Bedlam.
The Bethlem Museum of the Mind is part of the updated – and relocated – institution that once housed London’s most unsettled and depraved minds. A section of the hospital has been converted into a museum showcasing its history, as well as the history of psychiatric care.
Location: Bethlem Royal Hospital Monks Orchard Road Beckenham Kent BR3 3BX
Nearest Tube Station: You have to go by train, I’m afraid. Nearest station is West Wickham OR Eden Park
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Friday (except public holidays); Saturday (first and last of the month) from 10:00 – 17:00
Cost: Free! (Donations welcome)
33. GET CREEPED OUT BY AN IMPRESSIVE COLLECTION OF INHUMANE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AT THE WELLCOME MUSEUM
I adore this little gold mind of a museum. I’ve been quite a few times, and I love that there’s always so much extra going on. It’s definitely top of my list for weird and unusual places to visit in London.
The museum is largely comprised of the personal collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. Wellcome held a strong interest in medical science, and collected numerous items from around the world that represented different medical practices and advances. These, as well as other items of interest and numerous medical books make up the museums permanent collections and library. If you like weird medical histories, you can spend hours wandering through their library collection.
However, the best – and scariest – section of the museum is Wellcome’s extensive collection of medical equipment that I never want stuck inside my body! There are a concerning number of obstetrical forceps that just look like full on torture devices.
There is also normally a special exhibition or two going on. We have seen special exhibitions on magic and the art of misdirection, Indian medicine and even Bedlam (see #31).
Location: 183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE
Nearest Tube Station: Euston Square OR Euston
Opening Hours: Depends on what you want to see, check their website for the different opening times for the galleries, library and other facilities)
34. CELEBRATE CLEAN WATER AT THE CHOLERA PUMP
… and then grab a drink afterwards because it’s RIGHT in front of the John Snow pub. And really, nothing is more fitting given that, ironically, alcoholism actually saved thousands during the great cholera outbreak of 1849.
The Physician John Snow (so no, not the Game of Thrones one), discovered that cholera was being spread by water – not air. He did this by extensively mapping out the outbreaks throughout London and realising that many originated from areas next to water pumps. He also used many of the prisoners of Millbank Prison – who suffered greatly during the outbreak – as guinea pigs. So raise a glass to John Snow and prisoners!
The cholera outbreak in London wasn’t as bad as other parts of London, in part thanks to John Snow. Although 6,536 died in the city (and 55,000 throughout the United Kingdom), this is small compared to the 20,000 that died in Paris.
Location: 44 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F 7AE
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus
Opening Hours: 24/7
Cost: Free! (unless you go inside the John Snow for a pint)
London Hidden Gems: Odds & Ends
35. SMITHFIELD MARKET
Today, Smithfield Market is a fishmongers market, and although you can walk through it at all hours of the day, you’ll need to get up early to catch the actual market.
But the dark side of Smithfield can be discovered at any time and wondering around Smithfield seeking out macabre sites is actually one of my favourite unusual things to do in London. Because thanks to London’s love of marking historical sites (I mean this sincerely), the market’s past is well documented on site.
If you want to visit a place with a wide range of dark history in London, Smithfield Market is for you!
You can easily do so by yourself, or on a tour. We did the Dark Side of London tour which passes through Smithfield, and loved it. Alternatively, if exercise is your thing, you can take a nice peaceful bike tour of the big landmarks, which includes Smithfield – despite it being a relatively less touristed area.
Here are some of the highlights at Smithfields
- William Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered here (see #15).
- John Hobbs is said to have tried to sell his wife at the market, but I can’t seem to find a date for this. Although the practice certainly happened in England, it is disputed that John Hobbs himself existed, and might be an amalgamation of other men. But he does have his own folk song!
Despite Henry VIII (you know, the one with six wives) creating the Church of England so that he could divorce Catherine of Aragon, divorce wasn’t really available to the masses until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act. Instead, from time to time, men would bring their wives – you know, their property – to the local market and sell them to other men as a form of divorce.
- In 1958, there was quite a bad fire at Smithfield Market – it was the worst fire in the city since the Blitz. Two of the firefighters on duty rushed into the flames to fight the fire. Sadly, both men died at the scene, despite several attempts to resuscitate them. Their names were Jack Fourt-Wells and Richard Stocking.
(Also, like most of London, Smithfield was mostly destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 – the house the fire stopped at is around the corner from the market.)
- Let’s end with the most horrific history. Mary I of England derived her nickname “Bloody Mary” in part because she used to have Protestant martyrs boiled alive in oil at the market. Often people who passed out would be removed from the oil until they regained consciousness and then lowered back in. Those who were not boiled, were burned alive at the stake.
To be fair to Mary, she didn’t start this practice – her father Henry VIII did. She was awarded the nickname due to just how prolific her murderous reign was, but he was just as cruel and sadistic as she was. Also, let’s be honest, it’s because she was a woman.
36. WAPPING EXECUTION DOCKS
Just down the side of the Town of Ramsgate Pub is a small path. If you blinked, you’d miss it.
If you follow the path, you’ll find yourself standing at the top of a flight of stairs leading straight into the Thames – across from another set of stairs leading into the river.
If you’re looking for something a little different and unique to do in London, try coming back at low tide and you’ll be able to see the remnants of something quite sinister.
It was along this stretch of the river that pirates and smugglers were kept in individual cages to wait their turn at the gallows.
Remnants of the gallows remain all along the river, but you can only access it during low tide, otherwise you’ll just find yourself wading through water. Plus most of the remnants are now underwater.
However, if you head further along to the Prospect of Whitby pub, you can actually see a hanging noose out the back of the pub, along the river. Although the original gallows is long gone, this one is kept as a reminder of the pub’s infamous patron, Judge Jeffreys. Jeffreys was known as ‘the hanging judge’ due to his role during the Monmouth Rebellion trials.
Location: Town of Ramsgate: 62 Wapping High St, St Katharine’s & Wapping, London E1W 2PN; Prospect of Whitby: 57 Wapping Wall, St Katharine’s & Wapping, London E1W 3SH
Nearest Tube Station: Wapping
Opening Hours: 24/7 (for the docks, not the pubs – but check here for information on low tide)
Cost: Free! (unless you go inside for a pint)
37. JACK THE RIPPER MUSEUM
To be honest, unless you’re a completionist or you would struggle to make it through a Jack the Ripper walking tour due to disability, I don’t entirely recommend the Jack the Ripper Museum. There’s just not a lot of new information here.
However, as a dark tourist and somewhat of a ripper enthusiast, I did get something out of it. And, I do feel it is somewhat of a worthwhile inclusion as an unusual place to visit in London purely because of the room dedicated to the man the museum clearly believes committed the crimes: Walter Sickert.
This room includes some creepy drawings made by Sickert, as well as medical equipment that Jack the Ripper would have used. Throughout there are also reprints of an illustrated newspaper from the time that showcased the ongoing crime in Whitechapel. And yeah, I know, I’m weird and creepy, but I kind of wish newspapers like that still existed!
I also thought the top floor room dedicated to the victims was quite moving.
Still, as I say, if you’re well versed on the case, or you are able to do a walking tour, perhaps give it a miss.
Oh, unless you want an adorable little Jack the Ripper teddy bear, then make sure to stop by!
Location: 12 Cable St, Whitechapel, London E1 8JG
Nearest Tube Station: Aldgate East OR Tower Hill
Opening Hours: Everyday 9:30 to 18:30
Cost: £10.00 if you book online, or £12 at the door
38. HITCHCOCK’S HOUSE
I mean, this isn’t all that exciting unless you love Alfred Hitchcock. But I do, so I’m adding it. You cannot go in the house, it’s just a blue historic plaque on the wall of the home he lived in from 1926 – 1939.
In case you live under a rock and somehow don’t know who he is, Alfred Hitchcock was a British film director who directed and produced a lot of films. He is also considered to be one of the most influential and studied film directors in history.
So why is he on this list? Because a good chunk of his films are considered to be horror.
You may also be interested in the Alfred Hitchcock walk with Sandra (I know it’s top of our list the next time we visit, and will undoubtedly be one of our new favourite unique things to do on London)!
Location: 153 Cromwell Rd, Earl’s Court, London SW5 0TQ
Nearest Tube Station: Gloucester Road
Opening Hours: 24/7
39. SIR FREDERICK TREVES’ HOUSE
No idea who Sir Frederick Treves was? Don’t worry, we’re massive nerds, so it’s in our DNA.
Frederick Treves was a well-known British surgeon. He is credited with saving Edward VII in 1902 after he was diagnosed with appendicitis – which at the time was normally fatal.
However, he is most well known for his “friendship” with Joseph Merrick, or “the elephant man.” I say “friendship” because although he supposedly did care for Merrick, he mostly treated him as an accessory and party trick.
Poor Merrick, who spent his life as a curiosity, died as one, as well. In fact, his skull is still on display at the Royal London Hospital Museum. You can also learn more about him from the 1980 film The Elephant Man.
So, while at the BDA museum just up the road, you may as well stop by and see where Treves lived for 21 years of his life.
Location: 6 Wimpole St, Marylebone, London W1G 8AL
Nearest Tube Station: Bond Street
Opening Hours: 24/7
What are your favourite dark tourist spots in London? Are there any quirky and unusual things to do in London that we missed? Did any of these unusual places to visit pique your interest? Let us know in the comments!