You collect selfies with landmarks like they’re Pokémon cards and can out-fact the guide on most London bus tours. What has the city got left to share with you? Delve into our list of unusual things to do to find an inspiring experience.
Quirky things to do in the capital
Originally created in the late 1600s to cultivate native and exotic plants, this walled garden to this day holds a unique collection of thousands of plants that can be eaten or used in medicine. Popular for wedding hire and perfect for a peaceful stroll, the garden is also a charming spot for afternoon tea (at the Tangerine Dream Café) before you head back out into twenty-first-century Chelsea.
Imagine you’ve stepped into a painting by one of the Old Masters. Walking into Dennis Severs’ House is rather like that. Restored in the style of east London’s Huguenot period, it’s open for tours throughout the year. In silence, visitors pass through its ‘still life drama’, visiting each room to see evidence of an eighteenth century silk weaver’s family life without ever meeting a soul: a dinner lies half-eaten, a fire still crackles, a chamber pot needs emptying. A unique experience.
No one is allowed into Coram’s Fields playground unless they’re accompanied by a child. This small green space is a play haven, with playgrounds, sandpits and farm animals. In summer, children can splash about in water and the café is open, too. Surely the only place in Zone 1 where you’ll hear chickens and goats as you pass by on your way to work.
Restaurants, boutiques, theatres, markets – whether it’s a question of short attention span or high London rents, the pop-up experience has proved a huge hit. For pop-up fashion stores head to Boxpark in Shoreditch, for food head to Street Feast and for shows sign up for newsletters from Secret Cinema and Gingerline.
London’s outdoor cinema season usually runs from late spring to September, with more screens popping up every summer. Among your choices are the Rooftop Film Club in four urban locations across town, Luna Cinema, which tends to present evening screenings in pretty parks and squares, and Dalston Roof Park where you pay £5 membership and can see films for free.
One of the trendiest places for bargain gear is a school playground in Stoke Newington. Every Saturday and Sunday sellers just roll up (no need to book a pitch) and spread out their wares. Keen shoppers look for vintage fashions, vinyl and anything stylishly retro. Gates open at 8am Saturdays and 7am Sundays.
The metrosexual man may no longer have his own butler to attend to his barbering needs, but Geo F Trumper is here to help. Their Mayfair store on Curzon Street is a shrine to Victorian male pampering. Having a luxurious wet shave here is as relaxing as a massage, but if you’re attached to your bristles, other grooming services include moustache and beard trimming.
At its Chalk Farm store, General Eyewear is passionate about spectacles design from 1790 to 1995. Their collection of original frames reflects the timelessness of genuine style and if you have the money, they’ll make you a replica pair in acetate. Alternatively you can buy from their own ranges, including frames that rework English and Italian designs from the 1940s and ’50s.
We’re not talking about a glorified fruit machine asking chart trivia here, this live session every other Monday night is an interrogation in sound. Officially known as the Rough Trade Shop Pop Quiz, it’s a good night’s entertainment, with rounds featuring pictures, music exerpts and general pop questions. There are drinks and record tokens for prizes.
Venue says: New brunch menu now available on weekends! Evening private hire available, too. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to book
Don’t worry, these beautifully converted old Victorian toilets were given a good scrub down before the plates of cakes were laid out. Opened in 2013, Attendant has a small bank of tables where the porcelain urinals once provided relief to gents about town. It’s already a popular spot for attentively prepared Caravan-roasted coffee, sandwiches, salads and sweet treats.
Venue says: Come take advantage of our takeaway lunch special boxes, all at £5.50!
When it comes to Japanese culture, some things get lost in translation. Appreciating the art and grace of outsized men wrestling near-naked is one such mystery, and plastic models of food is another. Cascades of noodles falling from floating forks, dusty bowls of ramen and platters of intricately crafted sushi are intended to lure diners into Japan’s restaurants. These plastic replicas of their dishes are unlikely to get you salivating, but there’s no denying the fun. This Japanese spot in Marylebone is decidedly old-school in its looks - slatted wooden façade, monochrome interior and plenty of plastic food, both in the window display and on show inside. The extensive menu has a range of Japanese classics: sushi, tempura and deep-fried breaded pork (tonkatsu), plus ramen and other noodle dishes. All of which are undoubtedly done well - our sushi selection contained faultlessly fresh fish, while a selection of grilled skewers were pleasantly smoky. But there are also a few less common options, which definitely shouldn’t be ignored. A rich and meaty miso stew came packed with pieces of tender braised tripe and tofu. And a Japanese pub classic of rice in a green tea broth with salt-pickled plum (ochazuke) made the perfect conclusion to our meal. Though it was way too chilly on the table by the door (make sure you sit further in), the lesser seen dishes warmed our cockles.