written by
Joe Boone



London is truly a 21st-century metropolis, though its rich history dates back nearly two millennia. Founded by Romans around 50 A.D., London’s rich and colorful past is filled with fabled stories of the enduring fortitude, resilience, and determination of this great city and its people.

London is known for its medieval castles and royal palaces, grand parks, stunning gardens, traditional English pubs, a thriving restaurant scene, legendary markets, narrow streets, cobbled alleyways, and some of the world’s best museums. While first-time visitors tend to fill their sightseeing itinerary with top tourist attractions like the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, the London Eye and Big Ben, London has so much more to offer off the beaten path and it’s often free to the public.

For a rewarding morning or afternoon treat, check out one of London’s many markets. You can spend a whole day wandering about some of the larger ones, including Spitalfields, Camden Market, and Portobello Road. For a real treat, be sure to check out Columbia Road Flower Market. Every Sunday for over 150 years, this East London street market transforms Columbia Road into an oasis of foliage and floral offerings. A popular photo op for photographers and movie companies, the 60 or so quaint shops, bakeries, pubs, and eateries lining this historic street make for a charming and romantic backdrop in quintessential old London style.

 

OFF THE BEATEN PATH
For museum lovers, there are more than 200 registered museums in Greater London. If you recognize the address 221B Baker Street, then the Sherlock Holmes Museum is the place for you. Take a step back to Victorian times and visit Holmes’ apartment. According to the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock and his loyal friend Dr. Watson lived at this exact address. The museum hosts an exhibition featuring life-size waxworks from Sherlock Holmes’ most famous adventures, and a shop full of quirky objects and souvenirs.

If you were a fan of the game Operation when you were a kid, you’ll dig The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett, one of London’s more unusual museums and the oldest operating theater in Europe. Pair your visit with one of their weekly Victorian Surgery Talks for a birds-eye view of surgeries including amputations in the days before anesthetics and antiseptic surgery.

For a truly creepy experience head over to the Clink Prison Museum, built upon the original site of The Clink Prison — the prison that gave its name to all the others! Dating back to 1144, it was one of England’s oldest and most notorious. Spanning more than 600 years, it housed a multitude of sinners, including debtors, heretics, drunkards, harlots, and later, religious adversaries.

Perhaps one of London’s strangest tourist attractions, the Dennis Severs’ House is a “still-life drama” and time capsule of sorts. Woven through this 1720’s Georgian terraced house is the story of the fictive Jervis family, who lived there from 1725 to 1919. Each room has been recreated and arranged as if they are in use and the occupants have only just left, with food uneaten, beds recently slept in and chores left undone.

 

BACK TO NATURE
Lovers of the great outdoors will enjoy the many public and private parks and gardens throughout London including any one of its eight Royal Parks. Richmond Park, the largest of the group and a National Nature Reserve, encompasses some 2,500 acres and is home to 650 or so deer that roam freely throughout much of the park. Its pastoral landscape of hills and woodlands offers peaceful respite, complete with ancient trees, grasslands and rare species including fungi, birds, beetles, bats, grasses, and wildflowers. Park guests can also enjoy the Isabella Plantation woodland gardens and dine at Pembroke Lodge or Roehampton Café. Recreational activities include power kiting, fishing, horseback riding, golf, and cycling.

Tucked neatly beside the Thames, Chelsea Physic Garden is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Britain. Established in 1673 as the Apothecaries Garden and known today as “London’s Secret Garden,” it contains a unique collection of over 5,000 varieties of edible, useful, medicinal, and historical plants within its sheltered walls. Guests can enjoy relaxing strolls, outdoor workshops and savory luncheons or afternoon tea overlooking the garden at Tangerine Dream Café.

 

HISTORY PRESERVED
Peace and serenity await at the ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, located halfway between London Bridge and the Tower of London. Over 900 years old, the church was largely destroyed along with more than one million other structures in London during the Blitz of WWII. One of the few casualties remaining of the war, the City of London turned the bombed out shell of the church and its Wren steeple into an enchanting public garden in 1967. Reaching upward on a secluded side street, overgrown trees, ivy and wall climbing flowers now grow among its ruined arches, making for a lasting monument to the horrors of the Blitz and the resilience of Londoners.

One of London’s best kept secrets is its many miles of canals and towpaths. Most of the canals were dug in the late 1700s during the Industrial Revolution to haul goods to and from London’s many factories. Today, they are primarily used for recreational purposes and are also home to thousands of Londoners who live on board the many “narrowboats” moored along its banks and docks. One of the favorite spots of locals along the canal is Little Venice, London’s answer to the famous Italian city. Home to cozy waterside cafes, friendly pubs, and quaint restaurants, the area comes alive during summer months as Londoners jump on canal boats or walk along the towpath to nearby Camden, Regent’s Park, or the ZSL London Zoo. Little Venice also boasts some of the most interesting independent theatre venues in London. Catch award-winning fringe and comedy from the candlelit tables of the Canal Café Theatre, or enjoy a show at the Puppet Theatre Barge, a real theatre on a canal boat.

While most visitors are familiar with St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and St. Martin-in-the-Field, few are familiar with London’s oldest surviving church, St. Bartholomew-the-Great. Founded in 1123 as an Augustine Priory, it has been in continuous use since 1143, surviving the Protestant Reformation during the 15th and 16th centuries, London’s Great Fire of 1666, the zeppelin raids of WWI, and the Blitz in WWII. Upon walking into St. Bart’s, one feels as if they have walked through time into the Middle Ages. Open daily, the church has appeared in numerous films including: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, Amazing Grace, and more. During the 17th century, part of the church was used for commercial purposes and it was here that Benjamin Franklin worked as a journeyman printer.

 

 

 

 

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