Carrying on from where I left off, here are my next five hidden gems waiting to be discovered in London.
Eltham Palace, Eltham
This has one helluva history but cutting the long story short, Eltham Palace started life as a royal medieval manor before being saved by the glamorous Coulthard family and converted into a stylish art deco home of the 1930’s.
Despite the renovations done over the years, many of its medieval pasts have been preserved. In fact, it has one of the best preserved medieval halls in England going back as far as the 15th century. There’s even a moat around the palace too.
The moment you enter the building you’re transported back in time (just in time for cocktails in fact). The art deco reflects the cutting-edge design of the 1930’s and the artistic and intellectual interests of its owners, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. It’s remained that way now and you get a feel for the glamorous lifestyle the 1930’s. You have a handy audio guide in different languages that talk you through the history of the building. It’s an impressive home with so many rooms to explore and secret passageways to discover.
Eltham Palace is huge, inside and outside, and even has an ornamental garden, a picnic and play area. It even has a bunker to protect the owners from the London bombing during the great world war.
It is a ticketed attraction which at the time of writing is £13.60 (without gift aid) but it is worth every penny and beautiful to visit in the summer. It may be far out in Eltham but with Severndroog Castle nearby, there’s enough in Eltham to justify a visit.
The Bowling Alley at Royal Naval College
I’ve visited the Old Royal Naval College a million times. It’s one of my favourites places in London. But when I was first told of this bowling in Greenwich I was a little perplexed. Where is this bowling alley you speak of?! How could I have missed it?! It just goes to show just how secret this place is.
The Skittle Alley is an underground Victorian Bowling Alley. Once an old infirmary, it was then converted into a bowling alley to relieve the boredom of naval pensioners in the times when the royal naval college was in active use by the navy.
Hidden beneath the grand building of the Old Royal Naval College, under St Peter and St Paul chapel opposite the Painted Halls, you can see and even impress your mates (or date) your game with the wooden cannonballs. It’s a proper challenge. Not only are they heavy but there are no holes likes you’d find at every bowling alley to hold and release the ball with your fingers. Man up – you’re going to have to bowl it under-arm!
It’s free to enter but sadly, opening times to the public is very limited, open only at certain hours. If I were you, I’d keep an eye on their website to find out when it does.
Dennis Severs House
By now, you can probably tell I’m a huge fan of history. In fact, it was my favourite subject at school. Carrying on with the history theme, Dennis Severs House is a time-capsule attraction in Spitalfields which I enjoyed immensely. The moment you step through the threshold, you’ve warped back in time to the 17th and 18th century England.
I was amazed and still am as to how very immersive and how very real it felt, right down to the last detail from the creaking floorboards, the haphazardly arranged items, the hissing teapots, crackling fireplace, the unmade beds and the half-eaten food. It’s like the family who lived here and had just left a few moments ago.
Only a few minutes walk away from Liverpool Street station, there are five floors to explore from the basement all the way to the top to the master bedroom.
The only source of light is from candle lights which all casts dancing shadows along the walls everywhere you go, and the entire is conducted in deathly silence. It is a bit creepy inside and feels a little haunted. I found myself all alone in the attic at one point. I’m not on to scare easily, but I was then.
It’s an intimate portrait of an English family and life in Spitalfields going back more than 300 years. I noticed that even the facade of this street around Dennis Severs still looks out of place in these modern times.
Sadly, no photography is permitted inside. But it’s unlike any other place in London you’ll ever find and it’s the most immersive experience I’ve ever been through. The best days to visit are on Monday lunch time and all-day Sunday when entrance fees are at it’s cheapest at £10 and they only accept cash. There’s a small queue but on a Sunday, but I waited for no more than 15 minutes.
Wat Buddhapadipa (let’s just call it the Thai Temple, eh?) is a traditional Thai Buddhist temple in Wimbledon South East London. Not far from the famous Wimbledon Tennis Association, it’s a home for the monks and nuns but welcomes everyone of every faith. It’s also the first of such temples to be built in the UK apparently. It’
There’s a zen flower garden and the Uposotha that houses the golden statue of Buddha. You’d think you are actually in Thailand. The best time to go is in the Thai new of Songkran which takes place over 2 days between 13-15 April. It will be busy but this truly is a slice of Thailand and London will feel a long way away.
Not many people know, but behind the monolithic facade of the Barbican is an exotic oasis on the 3rd floor of the Barbican Centre.
Covered by a glass roof, the Barbican Conservatory is one of the biggest in London and a home to tropical plants, trees and even marine life. There’s even a greenhouse humid climates are recreated and where plants typically found in the dessert grow including cactuses.
Opened only on Sunday, you can even book yourself a luxurious afternoon tea inside this leafy sanctuary. There’s no better way for a Sunday stroll than in this hidden gem.
Tell me, have you visited any of these hidden gems? How did you find it? Have I missed any? Let me know!