Ah, London, beautiful London – absolutely one of the greatest cities in the world… And having recently spent a few days back in the city where I lived for over seven years before I moved to the UAE, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite spots and secret tips for alternative attractions to see and do in London (especially if you’re looking to avoid the crowds and save some cash!).
1. Disused Underground Station Tours
I’ve always found the underground world of London fascinating, there’s a network of disused tunnels and stations from days gone by that are all but forgotten. Of course there are many underground stations you can take a look at just by catching the tube around the city, but for the curious amongst you who wants to see a piece of history frozen in time, check out one of the tours on offer for the disused and little known stations and tunnels around the city.
Book tours of underground secrets including Churchill’s Secret Station at Down Street, Clapham South, the lost tunnels of Euston Station and more through the London Transport Museum (which by the way, may sound quite boring, but if you have even the slightest interest in the history of the network of transport in the city, it’s really very good).
Brit Movie Tours also periodically offer tours of the disused Aldwych Underground Station which was used as a bomb shelter during the blitz and has featured as a location in many films.
2. Ride the Routemaster Bus
One of the first things new visitors to London want to do is ride the hop on hop off tourist bus, and although this is a great way to see the city, there is a better – not to mention cheaper – way to see the city.
One of the best and cheapest ways to see London is by the old routemaster bus, the traditional and iconic London double-decker bus with the open back door. Whilst most of these have gone now, they do still run on the number 15 heritage route which takes you from Tower Hill (Tower of London) to Trafalgar Square and passes a lot of the great tourist sights on the way. You’ll need to wait for the route master bus to come along as not all of the buses on the route are the old ones, but the buses run regularly and it’ll be worth the wait if you do!
The number 11 bus route is another alternative and is hands down the best normal bus route in London. It’s a normal commuter route and doesn’t have the old routemasters running on it any more but it passes everything you could pretty much ever want to see in London from St. Paul’s Cathedral, Fleet Street, the Royal Courts of Justice,The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Horseguards Parade, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and lots more! This used to be my favorite bus route to take when I was going between meetings in London, there’s so much to see! If you get yourself an Oyster Card for your stay too, you can also hop on and off like you would on the tourist buses, except it’ll only cost you a fraction of the price – and you won’t be surrounded by hoardes of tourists…. Oyster cards have a daily cap on them, so no matter how many trips you take between zones 1-3, the most it’ll cost you for one day is £7.60 or £6.50 if you’re only travelling through zone 1. Kids under the age of 11 travel free on tubes and buses in London too so if you’re looking for a bargain family day out, this is the way to do it!
Find out more about the bus routes and how to get your Oyster Card on the Transport for London website.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr. Robert Hooke is one of the unsung heroes of London, it offers great views of London for those who can face the 300 step climb and is entrance is really cheap at only £4.50 per adult!
4. A ‘Real’ British Pub Experience
For the quintessential British pub experience you can’t go past a visit to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street. The pub has been on the site in its current form since 1667 (though reportedly has stood on the site for much longer) and was frequented by the likes of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. A worthy stop on any trail for a pint of London’s finest.
5. Heritage Blue Plaques
Watch out for the English Heritage blue plaques on the side of old buildings wherever you are – you’ll be surprised at the people who lived in some places or things that were invented in buildings that aren’t necessarily mentioned in the guides!
6. The Inns of Court
The four Inns of Court in central London – the Inner and Middle Temples, Lincoln’s Inn, and Gray’s Inn – are as beautiful and historic as many of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, but far less crowded.
All four Inns of Court are all still the main workplaces for many of London’s legal eagles and barristers but despite this you can wander freely through the outdoor areas of the Inns of Court on weekdays during business hours.
This is a truly amazing part of London that tourists rarely visit – the Inner Temple has entrances on Fleet Street that aren’t necessarily the most obvious, but it’s really worth persevering for a wander through, not least for the round Temple Church – built in the 1200s and one of only five medieval round churches in England. The architecture and atmosphere of these areas really is unlike anything else you’ll find in London.
Have you got any top tips for secret or alternative London attractions? Let me know what I missed!