So you’ve seen all the major tourist attractions and now the crowds are starting to grate, so head off the UK capital’s well-trodden paths and unearth some of the quirkier gems instead. Around many a corner in London lies plenty of ultra-trendy hotels to stay at and cultish, offbeat and ultra-hip places to discover if you just know where to look. Here are 10 of our collective favourite cool and unusual places to visit in London to explore this summer (or winter)…
Outdoor swimming ponds, Hampstead Heath
The outdoor swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath would is easily one of the coolest places to hang out in London during the summer. There are three ponds to enjoy — the Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond (in the north-east of the park), the Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond (in the east of the park), and the Mixed Bathing Pond (in the south). Each pond is a dammed-off clay pit fed with water from the headwater springs of the River Fleet. The water quality is excellent and the ponds are deep enough to remain cold and refreshing in the warmer months.
After enjoying the ponds, you can explore the rest of the park. It is huge (320 hectares) and contains some remarkable flora and fauna. There are also panoramic views to enjoy and some incredible buildings like Kenwood House.
Trailer Happiness Bar, Notting Hill
Trailer Happiness is one of the unusual and exciting cocktail bars in London and has a friendly laid-back vibe which is sadly hard to find in the city. It’s designed in a Polynesian style, with kitschy art throughout the space. You can admire quirky paintings of Polynesian beauties from the 1950s while drinking a cocktail from a ceramic tiki cup — which is a somewhat unusual experience for a bar in the middle of London!
Trailer Happiness specialises in rum cocktails and has a huge range of different spirits available. Don’t leave without sampling a Trailer Colada, which is made from Don Q Anejo and Coconut Rum, fresh pineapple juice, coconut cream and molasses – a seriously delicious combination!
Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey
Maltby Street is perhaps the last place you would look for gourmet food in London. It is a fairly nondescript street in the middle of Bermondsey in the south-east of the city. However, on the weekends it comes to life, with colourful bunting flapping in the breeze, upbeat live music and dozens of food vendors and hundreds of people-in-the-know descending on the street for the Maltby Street Market. The weekly event is a foodie’s delight with traders like St John’s Bakery, Neal’s Yard Dairy, and Monmouth Coffee selling delicious food and drink. There are even local brewing companies like The Kernel Brewery selling tasty craft beers.
As well as the laid-back vibe, the unique location is also a major selling point for the Maltby Market. It’s tucked away under the arches of the Greenwich railway, which is a beautiful setting with plenty of character. Although the markets can get busy, you won’t find too many tourists here — just locals, visitors and the odd hipster or too interested in the best food market that the city has to offer. The Maltby Street Market is open on Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 11am to 4pm.
Rooftop Film Club, various locations
Watching a movie on a rooftop in the middle of London can definitely be classed as a cool and unusual activity! Rooftop Cinema runs regular screenings of movies on the top of buildings in Shoreditch, Stratford, Peckham, and other locations around London. The events are usually quite intimate, including less than 150 attendees.
The Rooftop Cinema programme focusses on iconic films like Casablanca, Pretty in Pink, or Dirty Dancing. These classic films are particularly enjoyable when you have the cityscape of London as a backdrop. The deckchairs are comfortable and there are also love seats available if you are taking a partner to the event (it makes a great date night). Some events use state-of-the-art wireless headphones, so viewers don’t miss any of the film’s dialogue.
God’s Own Junkyard, Walthamstow
God’s Own Junkyard is perhaps the most visually stimulating place to visit in London. It is a huge ultra-trendy collection of neon signs curated by artist Chris Bracey. Chris has spent years gathering a very eclectic collection of signs from around the world and what a collection it is! They range from signage for SOHO sex clubs through to signs from famous movies including Eyes Wide Shut and Byzantium.
Many of the signs would be more accurately described as art due to their complexity and visual impact. Entry to this neon wonderland is free and there is a great cafe to visit inside the venue.
Eel Pie Island, Richmond-upon-Thames
Eel Pie Island is one of the most interesting and culturally significant sights along the Thames, so it’s surprising that most people have never visited it. It is a tiny 8-acre island with an interesting history that is located in the River Thames at Twickenham. The island is currently home to a bowling green, boat house, Thames Electric & Steam Launch Works, about 50 private homes, and the Eel Pie Island Hotel, a historic hotel turned a museum.
The beautiful building used to host ballroom dancing events in the 1920s and 1930s and many a jazz band. By the 1960s, it even hosted a few rather well-known rock groups including the Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Pink Floyd. Yep, this was once the place to party. Although the atmosphere is more sedate these days, it’s still a unique place to visit in London, and there are also some artists’ studios which are open to the public in June and December of each year.
Live jazz at Nightjar, Hoxton
We can’t have a list of cool and unusual places to visit in London without at least one Hoxton bar and the Nightjar is one of the best. It’s a cocktail bar and restaurant styled like an old jazz club from the 1930s, expect plenty of timber, leather, brass, polished surfaces, and comfortable seating. It is a warm and welcoming space, with many little nooks to sit and have a chat or to simply relax and enjoy the music.
The bar specialises in vintage cocktails that were commonly made in the pre-prohibition, prohibition, and post-war eras – intriguingly tasty drinks that you’d probably have a hard time finding anywhere else! For example, give the Honeymoon a try — which combines 12-year-old Glenfiddich with Bulgarian Rose, Nightjar Forbidden Fruit Liqueur, Artichoke Honey Wine, and Fresh Lemon. Combined this with fantastic live jazz players and voila you have a very hip night out in London, well it is Hoxton after all!
Secret Cinema, various locations
The Secret Cinema is a much raved about events company that specialises in live cinema, which combines a film screening runs with interactive live performances. Their events are always entertaining to watch and one of the coolest ways to enjoy the performing arts in London. Performances are held at undisclosed locations ranging from abandoned buildings through to large public spaces. Their goal is to blur the lines between performer and audience, creating a fun and truly immersive experience for attendees.
The Hunterian Museum, Holborn
The Hunterian Museum is a unique and very intriguing location to visit located in the heart of London, at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. It is a collection of thousands of anatomical specimens that was established in 1799. One of the most interesting specimens on display is the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the “Irish Giant”. Born in 1761, Charles was the tallest person in the world at the time, measuring 7 feet 7 inches. Not for the squeamish, other curious specimens include a necklace of human teeth returned to England by explorer Henry Morton Stanley, the Evelyn Tables (Europe’s oldest anatomical preparation), and a Mummy’s dissected foot!
The Lyaness Bar, Sea containers Hotel, London
Stylish and hip are a few of the words that will probably pop into your head when walking into this place (which was also once called the Dandelyan Bar). Situated within the highly Instagrammable hotel Sea Containers (a five-star hotel experience with sophisticated design and luxury dining) in the heart of London, the bar is a fantastic destination for anyone wanting to enjoy a high-quality cocktail in a remarkable setting. The latest endeavour from the award-winning Mr Lyan and team has now been voted as one of the top 50 World’s Best Bars! Visit here for cool interiors, a creative drinks menu and stunning river views!
We also have posts on…
- The best places to visit in Dublin
- The best places to visit in Birmingham
- The best places to visit in New York
- The best UK Shopping towns
- Cool Boutique hotels in London
- The most beautiful parks in London
My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I’ve lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I’m a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian – from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world and running Global Grasshopper, you’ll find me walking my rescued Greek street dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Lanes on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Laos, California and the surreally beautiful landscapes of a wintry Iceland.