Being the extraordinarily diverse metropolis it is, London isn’t just about the obvious attractions for tourists – for instance, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the British Museum. Just as important when it comes to the overall tapestry of venues, locations and historical structures worth visiting are the rarely all too little mentioned ‘hidden gems’. Here are five fantastic examples you might wish to give a go…
(Hertford House, Manchester Square W1U 3BN)
Let’s face it, if you’re going to check out some truly fantastic fine art, you might as well do so in suitable surroundings. So how about in one of the grandest mansions you could choose to visit in London? Hertford House was originally owned by at least four different Marquesses of Hertford before passing into the ownership of Sir Richard Wallace (the fourth Marquess’s illegitimate son) in the late 19th Century, whose widow bequeathed the collection of great, classical European art the building contains to the UK nation at large. To step in and take a look around the Wallace Collection then is to discover wonders of ceramics, sculpture and furniture from both the 18th and 19th Centuries spread across 28 separate rooms, as well as paintings produced by some of art history’s greatest figures, including Poussin, Rubens and Rembrandt.
King Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar
(Ministry of Defence, Whitehall SW1A 2HB)
Think the grey, austere, concrete blockiness of the Ministry of Defence building is symptomatic of everything housed inside this most secretive of UK Government department homes? Think again. For in one of the nooks – or, if you prefer, one of the crannies – of the place (actually on the grounds of the centuries-old Whitehall Palace) is this marvellous monarchical wine cellar; granted, the palace tragically burned down over 200 years ago, but mercifully the flames somehow spared this cellar that’s located under today’s imposing MoD building. Truthfully, though, this is one attraction as much for history buffs as alcoholic drink enthusiasts, as the cellar – dating back, as it does, to the legendary days of King Henry VIII (he married two of his half-dozen wives in the palace and died there himself in 1547) – contains original Tudor era architecture, including stone pillars, brickwork and a vaulted ceiling.
Hyde Park Pet Cemetery
(Victoria Gate, Hyde Park W2 2UH)
Sure, some people aren’t, but many are intrigued by, curious about and willing to explore cemeteries; especially those that contain the tombs and graves of iconic figures from the past, devotees to North London’s Hampstead Cemetery being a good example. And here’s something on a similar vein but with a difference – and, perhaps, should you be on a stroll through the glorious green of Hyde Park, something that you may consider worthy of a few minutes’ detour. It’s the final resting place of 300 pets owned by, for the most part, the higher echelons of Victorian society; everything from doted-on dogs to cared-for cats and from beloved birds to much-loved monkeys, whose burials in the natural, peaceful and respectful patch of land dated from 1880 through to 1967 when the final animal, the mascot dog of the Royal Marines, was laid to rest. If you’re staying nearby (within walking distance at, say, The Marble Arch by Montcalm London hotel), it’s a novel little place in which to escape the hurly-burly human jungle of Central London for a moment or too and reflect on the animal companions that so many of us have lived, do live and will live with.
The London Library
(14 St James’s Square SW1Y 4LG)
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting the British Library, which lies between the Euston and King’s Cross-St. Pancras mainline train stations, you’ll probably agree that to go in the place is to enter a calm, quiet and relaxed airy, welcoming space. Not so if you were Thomas Carlyle. So much so, in fact, that the 19th Century philosopher, satirist and historian decided to set up his own big-time library to escape all the ‘crowds’ at the original one and enable people to indulge in ‘silent study’. Founded in 1841, it proved a roaring success in its Victorian heyday, listing the literary giants of the era as members – everyone from Charles Dickens to Rudyard Kipling and later Virginia Woolfe to Agatha Christie. Even Winston Churchill liked to pop in now and then. And no surprise, frankly, given its collection contains in excess of a million volumes from the 16th Century onwards on more than 2,000 separate topics. Now that’s what you call comprehensive.
Wilton’s Music Hall
(1 Graces Alley E1 8JB)
Retro entertainment’s definitely en vogue in London these days and no more immersive and charismatic an experience are you likely to have than by giving this place a visit, thereby dipping your toes into the unique culture of the Victorian/ Edwardian music hall. Essentially an old-fashioned variety show (in fact, it was the forerunner of British variety; the contemporary of American vaudeville), music hall was the major entertainment in the lives of the urban working class for decades and this East End venue one of its prime locations. In fact, John Wilton’s ‘Magnificent Music Hall’, as it was known in the latter half of the 19th Century, began life as a bar in the 17th and 18th Centuries and today embraces all aspects of its past (well, apart from the near burning down and demolition it experienced on separate occasions); in combining its role as an old-school performance hall and one-time drinks-focused venue, it now puts on a varied, vibrant selection of musical productions while cocktails are served in its oh-so stylish bar. Cheers!