London Off the Beaten Track Itinerary
When it comes to London, everybody knows the main sights: Big Ben, the London Eye, the River Thames, etc. But there is another London that operates right alongside the more commonly known locations. This is London off the beaten track – sites, sights, and locations that will take you away from the crowds and into pockets of town you may not have ever seen before. Perfect for visitors to London who have been here before, or for those who want something a little bit different, this itinerary will guide you through a London trip that will take you well off the beaten track.
[NOTE: Budget-friendly stops will be marked with a **!]
10:00 – Canal Museum [12/13 New Wharf Road, N1 – Website]
The London Canal Museum is located inside an old ice-house that was used to store ice imported from Norway in the 19th century. The Museum here tells the history of the London canals and the people and goods that used to travel along these now little-used waterways. The outside terrace of the museum also gives guests a great view of the modern day canal and the old cranes that used to load up boats with shipments of Guinness on this site.
11:00 – Canal Boat Ride – read our comparison post on canal boat rides in London.
From the Canal Museum, consider taking a canal boat ride! The canals of North London are walked and enjoyed by Londoners as it crosses through areas such as Camden. But the boat tours themselves are a little-known treat to both locals and visitors alike. The boat rides here are part tour, part lazy journey and we recommend a journey through Regent’s Park on the Regent’s Canal toward Paddington. If you take the ride, be sure to read our post on visiting London’s Little Venice.
12:30 – Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising [Colville Mews, W1 – Website]
This is a truly off-beat museum. Tucked down a tiny mews street that you’d never find on your own, this museum is focused on the history of branding, advertising and packaging. From centuries ago to the adverts and posters that surround us today, this is a truly interesting journey through the history of advertising and packaging. Keep an eye out for shockingly offensive early adverts from two hundred years ago and also get a glimpse at the possible future of advertising today.
2:30 – Lunch at the Churchill Arms** [119 Kensington Church Street, W8 – Website]
This is a recommendation we have made on a number of occasions on our website! The Churchill Arms is a true London treasure. The pub itself is a brilliant place to grab a drink, just far enough off the main roads of High Street Kensington and Notting Hill to avoid major crowds. However, locals flock here every day after work so lunch time is a great time to visit. If you’d like more than a drink here, you’re in luck, because one of the best Thai restaurants in London operates in the back of this pub in a hidden secret garden. Cheap, cheerful and authentic, this is a personal favourite of ours at Free Tours By Foot.
5:00 – Kensington Roof Gardens [ 99 Kensington High Street, W8 – Website ]
There’s over 1 ½ acres of garden here, raised up high on the 6th floor of what used to be Barker’s Department Store. Today the gardens are maintained by the Virgin group, but the layout and plants date as far back to the 1930’s. A little oasis high up above the buzz of High Street Kensington, this is a great place to enjoy a relatively-secret garden.
10:00 – Syon Park [ Park Road, Middlesex, TW8 – Website]
Syon Park dates back to the 16th century, and has seen visits by royalty dating back to the time of King Henry VIII when his 5th wife, Katherine Howard, stayed a night here on the way to her final journey to the Tower of London before her execution. There’s the historic Syon House here – still home to the Dukes of Northumberland – which is a wonderful museum containing a huge collection of art and interior design. There’s also a conservatory and a garden to explore. The entire complex has been used for filming over the past few decades, including the most recent film to be produced here: Belle.
12:00 – Chiswick Park** [ Burlington Lane, Chiswick, W4 – Website]
Chiswick House and Gardens is a wonderfully preserved example of both Georgian architecture and landscape design. The house has played host to Prime Ministers, socialites and gentry, including the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire. The house is large enough to be impressive and interesting, but small enough to be comfortable and charming. Far enough outside central London to avoid big queues, exploring the grounds and gardens here can be a wonderful private experience.
2:00 – Richmond Green and Richmond Palace Gatehouse** [ Richmond Green, Portland Terrace]
Richmond Green today is a charming little square surrounded by luxury houses and traditional pubs. However, 500 years ago this green was part of a courtyard to a massive palace that once stood on this site – Richmond Palace. Queen Elizabeth I was a huge fan of Richmond Palace and it was here that she died in 1603. In the hands of the royal family until its’ destruction during the Civil War, today only the old gatehouse of the Palace remains. Fine red Tudor brick that today is an entry way to flats is the only reminder that one of the nations’ greatest Palaces used to stand here.
3:00 – River Thames and Richmond Park**
The Richmond area is a lovely little community that has been sitting on the edge of this beautiful stretch of the River Thames for centuries. The Park here was previously hunting grounds for King Henry VIII and it’s a magnificent place to deer watch! We recommend exploring the park – climbing King Henry VIII’s Mound (a hilltop with a view all the way toward St. Paul’s Cathedral!) and then finishing up on the edge of the Thames where there are a number of pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating to help you enjoy this lovely London suburb.
10:00 – Eltham Palace [ Court Yard, SE9 – Website]
On the outer fringes of London sits Eltham Palace, gifted originally to King Edward II back in 1305. In the 1930’s, the badly decayed palace fell into the hands of a pair of extravagant socialites who refurbished the entire building into a glittering example of art deco architecture. A fascinating mix of old and modern, Eltham Palace is also surrounded by stunning gardens.
1:00 – Horniman Museum [ 100 London Road, SE23 – Website]
Opened in 1901, the Horniman Museum houses a massive collection of natural history, anthropology and – somewhat curiously – musical instruments. There are wonderfully odd items on exhibition here including a glass-walled beehive, a stuffed mermaid, and an overly-stuffed taxidermy walrus. Charming and interesting, this Museum is just far enough outside the edges of London to ensure smaller crowds.
4:00 – Crystal Palace Dinosaur Park** [Sydenham Hill, SE19 – Website]
This little park is quickly becoming more well known as a destination for parents of younger children and adults who may be children at heart! The park itself here is perfectly lovely but what makes it worth the visit are the gigantic dinosaur statues. Carved in the early 19th century when the existence of dinosaurs was first being discovered, many of these creatures don’t look like the dinosaurs we would recognise today. But their odd looks are surprisingly charming and make for great photographs!
10:00 – Old Operating Theatre** [ 9a St. Thomas Street, SE1 – Website]
This little museum is a one-of-a-kind here in London: the only surviving Victorian operating theatre. The museum gives guests the chance to explore the theatre, where student surgeons would have learned their craft, and where countless patients would have undergone horrific procedures. The museum also gives a history of the hospital of Guys & St. Thomas, has an exhibition of old surgical instruments, as well as an old apothecary.
11:30 – Crossbones Graveyard** [Redcross Way, SE1 – Website]
Today, this small patch of land is easily overlooked and there is no indication to mark the fact that over 15,000 people are buried here. From 1161 this part of London was home to brothels and prostitutes – known as ‘Winchester Geese’ for the Bishop of Winchester who owned this land – and these women were not allowed burial services in hallowed ground. The land here was therefore set aside for them and became known as a “burial ground for misfits.” Memorial services are still occasionally held here to remember all those who finished their lives at this location.
12:00 – Lunch at the Libertine** [ 125 Great Suffolk Street – Website]
This is another personal recommendation from our London staff! The Libertine is a cozy traditional pub with mismatched chairs, sofas, and board games spread throughout the building. But the food here is anything BUT traditional – fresh hot pizzas with home-made bases are the order of the day here. The pizzas come with a plethora of toppings and are generous in their portion sizes, meaning you can have lunch and a drink for around £10! Off the beaten track, this pub is popular with the locals after work but makes a nice quiet spot for delicious lunch.
2:00 – Cinema Museum [ The Master’s House, 2 Dugard Way, SE11 – Website ]
This museum is well hidden, down a cul-de-sac in Kennington. However, what we have here is the world’s most extensive collection of film-related images and artefacts. As an extra bonus, the building that houses the museum used to be a Victorian workhouse where 9-year-old Charlie Chaplin worked! Artefacts here are extensive and various: a 1917 ticket machine, centuries-old film reels, and old advertising signs. This is a truly hidden gem and, best of all, it’s free!
4:00 – Garden Museum [ Lambeth Palace Road, SE1 – Website]
The Garden Museum is pretty much what you would expect, aside from the location. This Museum is located inside the former church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth, which was built on the site of Lambeth Palace – home to the Archbishop of Canterbury since the 13th century. This is actually the first gardening museum in the world and has gardens worth exploring but also a library and museum highlighting artefacts and archives of the history of gardening – there’s much more here than meets the eye.
5:30 – Morpeth Arms** [ 58 Millbank, SW1P – Website ]
Just opposite the Tate Britain Museum is a metal bollard that houses a small plaque marking the spot where, for centuries, prisoners at Millbank Prison would await to board the boats that would be deporting them to Australia. Previously there were underground tunnels here for shuffling the prisoners from the prison to the river. On top of the tunnels was then built a pub to serve the prison wardens – the Morpeth Arms. Still operating today, it is said that the ghosts of former inmates haunt the pub!
10:00 – St. Andrew Undershaft** [ St Mary Ace, EC3A ]
This little church is surrounded by the huge structures of London’s financial district. However, once inside, the church really comes to life. One of the few complete medieval churches in London, this building can be traced back to 1147. The church survived the centuries and even the Blitz of WWII and the 16th century interior is original. Keep an eye out for carvings celebrating King Henry VIII and a 17th century organ.
11:30 – Dennis Sever’s House [ 18 Folgate Street, E1 – Website]
Dennis Severs’ House is both a “still-life drama” as well as a historical time capsule. An original Georgian home, preserved by the previous owner, to act as a “historical imagination” to bring the house to life. This means that everything in the building is original, and guests to the House are told that they are exploring the home of a family who is still in residence – however, they have JUST left the room every time a guest walks inside. With sights, sounds, smells and textures, this building brings the 18th century to life.
1:00 – Postman’s Park** [ Saint Martin’s Le-Grand, EC1A – Website]
This, the largest park in the City of London, was constructed on the former churchyard and burial ground of St. Botolph’s Aldersgate church. A lovely place to relax, the most important reason for visiting the Park today is the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice – a memorial to ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others and who may have otherwise been forgotten as time has gone on. The park was also used for filming in the 2004 film Closer, which gave the area here a resurgence of popularity.
1:30 – Lunch at St. Katharine’s Docks [ 50 Saint Katharine’s Way, E1W – Website]
St. Katharine’s Docks has been a focus of commerce and trade since the 10th century! Previously the docks where shipments of goods to and from Britain would have passed through, the docks were also popular locations for notorious pirates! Today, with commerce taking place primarily via air, the docks have been converted into luxury flats as well as a great place to eat and drink. Hidden away, it’s only locals who populate the Docks these days, taking advantage of it’s hidden location and prime positioning on the water. Take lunch in the traditional Victorian Charles Dickens Inn pub, try tapas, or enjoy some dim sum – there’s something for everybody here.
3:00 – Wilton’s Music Hall [ Graces Alley off Ensign Street, E1 – Website]
Wilton’s is the oldest surviving Music Hall in the world! Guided tours run here to give vistors an insight into the history of the Hall, as well as the history of Music Halls in general as well as the East End of London. First opened in 1859, this venue was constructed to hold at least 300 guests but these days it is just the occasional tourist who comes through, lending it a somewhat surreal – but enchanting – atmosphere.
5:00 – Prospect of Whitby Pub** [ 57 Wapping Wall, E1W – Website]
One of the most delightfully historical pus in London, the Prospect of Whitby was constructed in 1520 and has been serving drinks here ever since. It is the oldest riverside Tavern in London and was traditionally associated with smugglers, pirates, cut-throats, and sailors. There’s a hang mans’ noose dangling over the river as a reminder of the fate of smugglers who were caught in the area in centuries gone by. Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys are known to have drank here – so add your name to the list!