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Ten quiet places to escape to on your lunch break in London

Written by
Charlotte Gunnell

So you’ve made it through the morning. Well done you! You deserve a break, surely, and it should be something extra special. Today is a day that deserves more than a Pret sandwich. Hell, not even a work picnic on the concrete steps outside Sainsbury’s will suffice (as opulent as that sounds).

So go and explore. A whole hour is stretched out before you, full of opportunities. Take some inspiration from the rich culture that makes up our beautiful city. Discover a little bit of London down a road less picnic’d. Escape the suits and the tourists for 60 precious minutes of your working day, and visit one of these quiet places that you can visit within the hour:

Grant Museum of Zoology

Euston: The Grant Museum of Zoology

If dissected animals in formaldehyde won’t put you off your lunch, then pay UCL’s natural history museum a visit near Euston Square station. Among their collection of 68,000 animal specimens – including some from London Zoo – are a dodo, a quagga, and a jar of moles. Because why not. See also: The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Farringdon: St Bartholomew the Great

Not only was this peaceful twelfth-century church used as a filming location for 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'Sherlock Holmes', 'Shakespeare in Love' and many others, it's a place where you'll get to admire a modern work of art in the bargain, too: Damien Hirst’s statue of St Bartholomew – called Exquisite Pain – will be at St Bart’s for the next few years. Oh, and if the area around the entrance to St Bart’s Hospital in front of the church seems familiar, that’s because it was the scene for Sherlock’s 'suicide' at the end of series two. See also: St Bart’s Hospital Museum and Marx Memorial Library

Fleet Street: Dr Johnson’s House

If words like conjobble, circumforaneous, and hatchet-face float your boat (and why wouldn’t they?) then pay a lunchtime visit to the former home of the creator of the dictionary, Samuel Johnson. Climb the original seventeenth-century staircase to the garret where Johnson wrote the dictionary, and peruse the healthy supply of eighteenth-century dictionaries. Sure to inspire an afternoon’s worth of creatively worded emails. See also: Temple Church and Inner and Middle Temple Gardens

Holborn: London Review Bookshop and Cake Shop 

Fill your brain with ideas, your bag with books, and your mouth with cake at this two-for-one shop near the British Museum. The charming book shop is known for its knowledgeable staff and an intelligent, scholarly selection of fiction and non-fiction books. You might go in looking for one book, but expect to leave with lots of others that you never knew you wanted, before following the smells of tea and cake down the corridor to round off the trip. See also: The Hunterian Museum, and Lincoln’s Inn Fields

© Andrew Brackenbury

King’s Cross: Camley Street Natural Park

This little garden is like a yoga retreat for London’s wildlife, and not too shabby for London’s humans either. Pop over the canal from Granary Square to find Camley Street’s two acres of lush green space, yards from one of London’s busiest stations. Just don’t tell anyone, because then everyone will want to come. See also: London Canal Museum

Liverpool Street: St Ethelburga's Centre

Leave the office politics at the door of a secret garden designed to bring about world peace. 70 percent of the medieval church that once stood here was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993, and the garden was reopened as a calming open space for everyone to enjoy, regardless of religion. The courtyard is a world away from the busy streets of Bishopsgate outside – and if you’re feeling particularly peaceful, the perfectly proportioned, 16-sided hut (covered with woven goat hair) has been designed for quiet contemplation. See also: Bishopsgate Library

© Tove Breitstein

London Bridge: Old Operating Theatre

Derelict for over a century before being rediscovered through a gap in the wall, this is the oldest operating theatre in Europe, high in the attic of St Thomas’ Church. When it was attached to the wards of the old St Thomas’ Hospital, the theatre would have been full of medical students, packed in to watch operations performed without anaesthetic or antiseptic: Thankfully, it’s less crowded now and digestible (if your stomach can handle it) within an hour. See also: Red Cross Garden

Oxford Circus: The Faraday Museum

Grab the opportunity to visit the basement lab where scientific history was made, which is only open during the week but a must-see for any science nerd. See the tube that told us why the sky is blue, the first electrical transformer, and the instrument that was used to prove that electricity is a force, among hundreds of other instruments that changed the face of science. See also: Bruce Haines Gallery, Handel & Hendrix, and The Photographers' Gallery and Café

Waterloo: The Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre

What better place for a break from Excel hell than a poetic heaven? The Poetry library has the most comprehensive collection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetry in Britain and is easily reached on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall. Relax among 200,000 examples of creative ingenuity, safe in the knowledge that Dave from accounts is a million (imaginary) miles away.

Westminster: Florence Nightingale Museum

Spend an hour in the company of the Lady With The Lamp at St Thomas’ Hospital’s museum charting the life of Florence Nightingale. Say hello to her pet owl Athena, discover the impact she had on the role of women in nursing, and see the lantern she used in the Crimean War.

Work around Borough? Here are six lunch options that aren't the market.

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