My Favorite Secret Destinations in London
My friends think that I am one of the luckiest people in the world because I travel the world and get to see many new places all the time – a month in Vietnam, then Tunisia… name it, I am going! Yet, one of the places I am most attached to is London. I have lived there, I have worked there, I have so many friends that I try to visit as often as possible. Normally I’m looking for special airfare deals and to save on the lodging, because I don’t want to always crush in at my friends’ place, though they are most welcoming!
Yet, London is expensive which means that every time I go I end up spending a fortune. In order to save as much as possible, I generally make a list of the absolute essentials I may be needing, then go searching for coupons and discounts to help me save every cent I can. At the end of the day, I get everything I need and more for less than half of what I would normally spend!
One of the things I enjoy the more is hitting the tourist spots all around London. In the years I have lived there, I had visited all the popular places listed in most guide books – but I have always been more interested in the parts of London most people don’t know about, so that’s what I go looking for. And here is the list of my favorite undiscovered parts of London!
Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden
Coming from Sardinia, where there aren’t too many people in such a vast land, I am used to a lot of wide open spaces and spending time outdoors so I visited every green space I could find, and the Hampstead Pergola is probably one of the best ‘secret gardens’ I’ve ever found. Essentially a raised, colonnaded walkway constructed by a wealthy philanthropist to join two gardens divided by a public walkway, it must have been beautiful in its prime but is even more so now that nature has reclaimed much of it.
The ornate stonework and latticed domes are almost overgrown by climbing vines and other creepers including rambling roses, jasmine and honeysuckle – making for quite a heady perfume on a warm summer day! It overlooks the gorgeous Hill Garden below and both are eerily beautiful, elegant and a popular destination for artists of every kind. The Hill Garden also has a formal pond and little benches with sweet inscriptions for to enjoy – which I do as often as I can!
I am not normally one to count a cemetery as a tourist destination, but this one is incredible because there are so many famous people buried here and it has become a kind of nature reserve filled with mature trees, shrubbery and wildflowers that are a haven for birds and small animals. In Victorian times, people also had quite a romantic attitude towards death so there are hundreds of elaborately carved headstones, Egyptian sepulchers and Gothic style tombs.
It is no longer free to tour either section, but exploring the heavily wooded 20 hectares and trying to read the inscriptions on overgrown, often crumbling headstones while marveling at the beauty and intricacy of others is something I enjoy immensely. And if one is into that kind of thing, one fun thing to do is searching for the graves of Highgate Cemetery’s more famous residents or check out the Queen’s Wood or Highgate Wood nearby for a less morbid day out.
I visited Pickering Place for a number of reasons, the first of which is the fact that it was home to the Texas legation (effectively a small embassy) from 1842 – 1845 as commemorated by a small brass plaque. It is also located almost directly opposite King Henry’s old barn at St. James Palace and is accessed by a narrow passageway running next to the famous Berry Bros & Rudd wine merchant – their one day wine school being the main reason I was in Pickering Square to begin with!
Legend says that it was the venue for the last sword duel in London, although I couldn’t find anyone to tell me who the two duelers were or what they were dueling about! I can believe it though, because it is hidden away and quite close to the royal court of the time. The seclusion of the square made it a notorious bear baiting venue which is not so interesting to me – but now it houses nothing but some potted plants, a sundial and a snapshot of the 16th Century frozen in time!
Britain’s Smallest Police Station
Any visit to London has to include a visit to Trafalgar Square and with all the other attractions it would be easy to miss the little building that is discreetly located in one corner of the square. Calling it a building is a bit of a stretch really, especially considering the fact that the structure was made out of a hollowed out ornamental lamp post! But apparently it was supposed to be able to hold up to two prisoners, or at least one policeman with a direct line to Scotland Yard.
There is a little conspiracy surrounding its construction as there was originally some objection to a police presence in the square, which being in the center of London has been host to many public demonstrations and protests over the year. It would be nice if this little police station was dressed up and opened to the public in some way – basically used as more than a storage closet but for now it was fun to just peer through the windows and imagine a policeman inside!
As I mentioned already, I love the outdoors in all shapes and forms, but there is nothing more beautiful to me than flowers in full bloom – whether it is in the wild or in a garden somewhere! And Isabella Plantation takes that idea to a whole new level with a 40 acre woodland garden that is home to 100 different varieties of azaleas, 50 species of rhododendrons and more than 125 hybrid rhododendrons varieties.
The best time to visit Isabella Plantation is obviously in spring and the beginning of summer, when the majority of the flowers will be in bloom. But thanks to a few evergreen varieties of both flowers and trees, little ponds and mini lakes scattered throughout the plantation – it is beautiful year round and always worth a visit. Last year I was lucky enough to see the plantation in what was probably the most vivid display in years, and the best part is that it is completely free!
London is old, and dates back all the way to the Roman times – so there is a lot of history in this beautiful city. And with many years to explore it I found many more undiscovered parts of London that I will never forget, although I am pretty sure that there were many treasures I walked right past! But it just goes to show that no matter how well known and popular a destination is, there are secrets waiting to be discovered everywhere you go!
Have you ever been to London? What’s your favorite part of the city?