Updated April 2020
Whenever I visit a city, I try to find spots that tourists rarely come across. I love discovering secret spots both randomly and through local advice and pride myself in my bizarre hobby of revisiting these secret spots every time I return to a city. The secret spots I’ve found in London are all close to busy thoroughfares or tourist attractions, perfect for a quick pause or a quiet lunch. They are also all centrally located and fit perfectly into your busy schedules visiting London, either for the first time or your 100th time.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Lincoln’s Inn Fields is a favorite spot for LSE students. I spent many breaks between classes there and enjoy going to watch all the dogs run around. The largest public square in London, Lincoln’s Inn Fields is located between High Holborn to the north and Fleet Street and Aldwych Circle to the south. It is surrounded by beautiful, old townhomes that now house LSE buildings, various legal and societal institutions, and Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Walk south on Serle Street until you hit the backside of the Royal Courts of Justice and you’ll find the best red telephone booths for your “I’m in London” photoshoot as well as several stores for barristers, including one that sells wigs.
Hidden between Victoria Embankment and Fleet Street, Temple is home to many barristers’ chambers and solicitors’ offices and is the legal heart of London. Temple was originally the precinct of the Knights Templar, whose Temple Church was the source of the name. I was lucky enough to walk through Temple every day I had class when I lived in London and I am always happy to return every time I make it back to London.
Walk north from the grand entrance facing the Thames and you’ll be greeted by wonky facades and beautiful, old buildings. Turn left at the stairs and you’ll find a beautiful courtyard facing Middle Temple Hall (closed to the public), some peaceful benches and a small fountain. Keep an eye out for fast-moving clerks wheeling suitcases full of paper or barristers wearing wigs (yes, it’s still a thing). If you walk north, you’ll find yourself in a quiet alley with a pub that will spit you out right on Fleet Street next to Twinings Tea.
Bonus Spot: Two Temple Place
Open every January to April, Two Temple Place is one of the best secret spots in London, both for its free, temporary exhibitions and for its incredible architecture. Built by William Waldorf Astor between 1892 and 1895 as Astor’s estate office, Two Temple Place features opulent rooms, beautiful stained glass, and more.
Most likely known for its Instagram fame, St. Dunstan-in-the-East is a hidden church located on St. Dunstan’s hill about halfway between the Tower of London and London Bridge and built-in about 1100. However, unlike most churches, St. Dunstan-in-the-East was bombed during the 1941 blitz in World War II. In 1967, it was permanently turned into a public garden.
Walk hike up the hill to be greeted with a quiet spot for thinking, not to mention a beautiful secret spot in London for photography.
Hidden next to Mansion Street Station you’ll find one of my new favorite places in London – Host Coffee. This secret spot in central London is not a normal coffee shop; it is a coffee shop housed in St. Mary Aldermary church. Inside, you’ll find patrons sipping on coffee and tea, snacking on cakes and light lunches, and chatting or reading in the old church pews.
The church itself was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren’s craftsmen. St. Mary Aldermary is the only remaining example of a late 17th century Gothic church in the City of London.
Victoria Tower Gardens
Tucked just behind Parliament, Victoria Tower Gardens seems rarely visited by tourists who are just interested in seeing Big Ben or Westminster Abbey. This secret spot in London stretches from Parliament to Lambeth Bridge and includes a cast of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, a statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and a beautiful fountain. If you have children, there is a cute little playground in the park right by Lambeth Bridge.
I love going to Victoria Tower Gardens for a different view of Parliament and, if you’re looking for a less crowded view of the Thames, Parliament and the Eye, walk across Lambeth Bridge.
Christ Church Greyfriars
Another bombed-out church turned into a public garden, Christ Church Greyfriars is another secret spot in the middle of London. It was built in the 13th century, destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. Christ Church Greyfriars is located just behind St. Paul’s Cathedral on Newgate Street.
Opened in 1880, Postman’s Park gets its name from the former headquarters of the General Post Office. In 1900, the park became the location for George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a memorial dedicated to otherwise ordinary people who died while saving lives. Located just north of Christ Church Greyfriars, Postman’s Park makes a perfect stop for not only a quiet respite from The City but also a secret spot in London that not many people know about.
I stumbled upon Cleary Garden on my last trip to London and am so glad I did! Located just off Queen Victoria Street between Millennium and Southwark Bridges, Cleary Garden is a hidden tiered garden that was built following bomb damage on a former residence during World War II. The site of the garden was the heart of the wine trade in the Middle Ages and was even once a Roman bath.
Tate Modern Viewing Platform
If you’re looking for panoramic views of London without the lines or the crowds, then the viewing platform at the Tate Modern is the best secret spot in London for great views. Take the lift to the top of the Blavatnik Building for views as far as Canary Wharf and Wembley Stadium (on a clear day).
Another lovely post about London. It might seem a little cliche, but some of the London cemeteries offer a welcomed retreat. To extend your mention of Emmeline Pankhurst, I also suggest visiting her grave at Brompton Cemetery. I also love Greenwich where I live for lots of quiet spots… though it can be busy in the summer!
Oh, I need to visit that cemetery! I’m hoping to spend more time in Greenwich next time I’m in London. I always try to visit cemeteries when I go to new places because they are so beautiful and peaceful.